My grandfather let it slip like a joke
that years ago in Widener’s Valley,
back in that Virginia sawmill town,
Grandmother drove herself to the college
at Emory and had a conversation with the dean,
convincing him with Appalachian logic
to let her audit classes for free.
She soaked up the things they taught
like sorghum on biscuits, like hog lard
simmering with beans. In her stiff bodice
and ebony skirt, she turned away
from the boys’ snickers and didn’t lay
her usual sharp tongue to whipping
those scalawags. She held her strong back
straighter, pointed her chin to the purple clouds
stewing over the hollow like she knew
something special and would keep it close.
When I got the nerve, I asked her why
she’d done that peculiar thing, let slip
my secret wish to stand at the college
in Jefferson City and learn my way out
of this mountain life. She patted my knee,
leaned into my shoulder, You won’t be catching
much of nothing chasing dreams around here.
Then she stopped, blue eyes long over the hills,
her voice low as the whisper I keep hearing
on lonesome nights, but child,
you keep on chasing them anyway.
Sandy Coomer is a poet, mixed media artist, and endurance athlete. Her poems have most recently been published in Big Muddy, Icarus Down Review, Hypertrophic Literary Magazine, and Main Street Rag. She is the author of two poetry collections: Continuum (Finishing Line Press) and The Presence of Absence (2014 Janice Keck Literary Award for Poetry). www.sandycoomer.com