Linda Parsons

Nothing about it is pretty, this habit carried
from my father’s mother, a timid woman
behind Coke-bottle glasses who cut oranges

for Christmas in a compote dish, sugared
in her country way, with shredded coconut
or apples. Nothing easy about the dull knife

my husband would take to his cabin
on the river and sharpen on the whetstone, 
who has forsaken the name and easy habit

of husband. And nothing but navels will do, 
thick rind pried bit by bit, coating my thumbs
with pith, the essence of citrus in winter’s grip. 

I should take it as a sign in the east, these fists
spitting juice on the counter, swaddled against
the inner sweet, a sign the year has brought,  

hard pressed and tearing flesh, when all I wanted
was a bowl of unriven suns. When all I asked
was love’s labor gained, light’s advent  

pouring into humble quarters, the still point
of waiting for hopes to align. There’s nothing
pretty in the silenced night except, as wise men 

over dreams of sleep keep watch while others
turn from banked fires, an orange flame
borne high and long to pierce the darkest deep.

Linda Parsons

What is it about the black spring dirt
that drives him to distraction, nose planted
in earth’s crotch? At fourteen, in human years
nearly a centenarian, he herds me waking
to sleeping, our pathways known beyond
breadcrumbs or moonlight. I believe the earth
itself draws him, wet with April, its rare metals, 
lead and silt mysteries, inked in life’s pictures—
our first joy of a certain voice to the end of all
listening. Earth that now thins his haunches birdlike
calls him from supper, my plea to stay, stay—
its pitch otherworldly, siren whistle in the wood
he will track unbound, deaf to this other world, 
to my clay feet dogged in earth’s rank blaze
                                          here, here.  

Linda Parsons

Those feathered days in secret coves
when silks of ivory, wings of down
eddied through your hands. I used to be
a swan those days when pen and bill
winnowed stream for swill, my neck, 
held high, lassoed the air. You laid your head
in tufted breast, no undertow till weathers
turned from spring to dire and stormed
away desire. Now hair blinds white, 
gown shed at water’s fold. I’ll be undone
of mates, of pretty ropes and ruffled hopes, 
shallows clear of seine. Needle eye on silty
hatch, black feet free of net, sun drops
low on nymphs alit, bright ease to pirouette.   

Author’s Commentary:  'All of these poems straddle the losses of the past and turn to the future as I wing my way over grief and hard realizations, finding firmer ground on which to land and remake my old self into my true self.'

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Linda Parsons is a poet, playwright, and an editor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She served as poetry editor of Now & Then magazine for many years, and her work has appeared in such journals as The Georgia Review, Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, Shenandoah, in Ted Kooser’s syndicated column American Life in Poetry, and in numerous anthologies. This Shaky Earth is her fourth poetry collection. Parsons’ adaptation, Macbeth Is the New Black, co-written with Jayne Morgan, was produced at Maryville College and Western Carolina University, and her play Under the Esso Moon was read as part of the 2016 Tennessee Stage Company’s New Play Festival and will receive a staged reading in 2017.