We would like to introduce you to some fine work by poets in our region—the Ohio River Valley—in and surrounding Cincinnati.
Pauletta Hansel is a writer, teacher and author of four poetry collections, Divining (WovenWord Press, 2002); First Person (Dos Madres Press, 2007); What I Did There (Dos Madres Press, 2011); and The Lives We Live in Houses (Wind Publications, 2011). Pauletta serves as Thomas More College’s first Writer in Residence for the 2012/2013 academic year as part of its Creative Writing Vision Program. She facilitates the Practice of Poetry programs at Grailville Retreat and Program Center in Loveland OH and leads community poetry programs for the Urban Appalachian Council and other organizations. Pauletta is a current editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary publication of Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative. She received her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. Originally from southeastern Kentucky, Pauletta lives in Cincinnati with her husband, Owen Cramer.
Because I cannot bear to think of him,
my mother’s cat, yesterday warm
fur under my hand, now in the ground
beneath the cherry tree,
his body softening in spring rain,
I busy myself with prettying his grave.
We buried him in our yard,
not in hers—she said she had too many
hard things, roots and rocks. Because
I cannot stand here and remember
Mother’s tears at one more death,
knowing all death holds my father’s,
all loss the loss of him, I think instead
of strangers in my garden, years from now,
digging up these irises
that mark her old cat’s grave
to plant another lilac or a cherry,
finding a jawbone and the buckle of a collar
as they replace the old growth
we leave behind.
Love Poem, Upon Turning Fifty
Even at forty I could not have imagined you and the daily breathing in and out of marriage, sometimes in unison, sometimes in syncopated no-rhythm-at-all, sometimes the pant of labor or lust, but always your breath on the back of my neck as I sleep, and your hand reaching round to my waiting hand, and I could not have imagined a love poem without longing.
So much longing. So much want and need and doing without. I apologize now to myself at fifteen and thirty and even at forty for all that hunger come to naught, or not to what I thought would come to be. I’ve come to plenty, really, plenty of flesh on my bones; everything is just so comfortable rubbing up against everything else, thigh to thigh and breast to ribcage and your belly resting above my butt as we sleep; your breath, my breath, breathing not as one but as a pair of us. And me, rising to trip over that pair of your shoes flung akimbo….I could not have imagined a love poem with shoes.
We should get out more, I say, so we go out
dancing. In the storefront studio we foxtrot and waltz
in place. Our instructor shows how changing
directions is like a three-point turn, backing the car
into a driveway, pulling out again. He knows
his audience: we are mostly
Fords and Chevrolets tonight— I’m talking
early models, definitely pre-disco, the ones
with window cranks, that fishtail in the snow.
There is snow tonight, way too much of it, piled
above our heads in the corners of the parking lot.
Maybe twenty of us made it here, a Nissan
or two mixed in among us rear-wheel drives.
At least we’re not the oldest ones; I’m guessing
those guys still play eight-tracks. My husband says it’s
easier without the music, just remembering
the steps, not following the song. It’s hard
not to compare—the way that couple glides, another
tries a twirl we haven’t even learned.
When the music stops, we are
the only ones still dancing.
By the time I knew that coal
was something more than grit and fire
in the belly of the house
and had been held in deeper
vessels than the bucket
that once sent me sprawling
down the cellar steps
and on then to the gleaming room
where the doctor stitched
a crescent moon above my eye;
by the time that coal
was more than just the crack
in daddy’s windshield, black rocks
flung from trucks careening daily
up and down our narrow road,
the coal that lined the bellies of the mountains
where our houses perched precarious
as hawks’ nests or nestled in the hollowed
places at the joining of those hills
Only the ashy seams stitched just below
the sassafras and pine, beneath
the redbud, dogwood, hickory and ferns,
under the leaf-mulched soil and sandstone
Now that’s gone too,
blasted and stripped away,
the hills a moonscape up above
the sagging houses and the towns.
The road, its hairpin
turns and crumbling berms
is gone as well;
a new highway rumbles through
the place that doctor sewed my eye:
all scars remain.