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No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or in part without permission of the publisher.

Copyright Š 2015 by Virginia Literary Journal All rights reserved. Cover Photo by Dee Bowlin

PUBLISHED BY Cedar Creek Publishing, Virginia, USA Linda M. Layne, Publisher Many thanks to Jack Trammell, Volume Editor for this issue of the Virginia Literary Journal ISBN 978-1-942882-03-9


Winter in the Valley by Dee Bowlin ......................................................... 5 Uncle Harvey’s Deer by David Black ....................................................... 6 Chicken Gravy by James Gardner ............................................................. 7 Sometimes the Little Town by Sara Robinson ......................................... 17 Blue Ridge Sunrise by Stan Galloway .................................................... 23 March 23rd, Half Way Down the Valley by Wendell Hawken .................. 25 Blue Ridge Mountains: View from Route 29 by Marilou Schunter ........... 26 At the Footbridge by Dee Bowlin ........................................................... 27 Graduation at a Small College in Virginia by Susan Robbins .................... 29 Great Blue Heron by Molly O’Dell ......................................................... 30 Jackson River by Molly O’Dell ................................................................ 31 Kayaking the Jackson by William Vollrath .............................................. 32 Panther Creek by Clyde Kessler ............................................................... 33 Route 29, Brandy Station by Marilou Schunter ....................................... 35 A 21 Line Salute to Arlington by Judy Witt ............................................ 36 Common Ground by Dee Bowlin .......................................................... 37 Route 60 to Richmond by Brandon Patterson ......................................... 38 Cicada by William Vollrath .................................................................... 45 Touch and Go by Stan Galloway ........................................................... 46 A Condensed History of Words by Sara Robinson .................................. 47 Of a Place by Molly O’Dell ..................................................................... 48 With the Ham Radio Guys at Rocky Knob by Clyde Kessler .................... 49 For an Unknown Ancestor by David Black ............................................ 50

Photographs First Snow by Dee Bowlin ............................................................... (Cover) Cardinal in Winter by Lena Greer ............................................................ 4 The Fence by Sarah Kohrs ...................................................................... 24 Azalea by Sarah Kohrs ............................................................................. 28 Winter Rye by Sarah Kohrs .................................................................... 34

Cardinal in Winter Photo by Lena Greer – Chester, VA


WINTER IN THE VALLEY By Dee Bowlin – Roanoke, VA

With childish delight, I watch as mastered flakes tumble in a freefall ballet from laden clouds. It’s the first snowfall of winter. Delicate flakes, like tiny lace doilies, fall silently, no breath of wind impedes their journey to become shimmering ornaments on the pines. I grab my hooded coat to be first to mar the white blanket of perfection with boot prints and bask in the cool caress of snowflakes upon my cheeks. Soon, squeals of the young ring out as snowmen begin to take shape while sled runners brand the hillside. A playful day begins the season of mending, when seeds of nature rest beneath a crystallite quilt. Surrender to this tranquil slower pace brings cocoa, fleece and hardbound books, savored in the dim glow of warm embers on blustery nights. With my dog curled at my feet and few footsteps at my gate, peaceful introspection fills my days in the cleansing cold of winter.


UNCLE HARVEY’S DEER By David Black – Louisa, VA

One of those late-night sessions when Uncle Harvey spent a week of hunting season with Dad and us, and talk ranged from childhood pranks to The War and ancient relations, and Harvey’s days trapping coon and mink, and deer hunts here and yon….and finally to the story best remembered: the .06 shot dead center on the big buck’s heart, which exploded, but he kept running another fifty yards until he crashed to his knees and skidded several more, head erect till it too slumped to the forest duff. And then to bed for this eight-year lad, to lie there way too long retelling the many stories and lies, rolling over one last time and burying my head into the pillow until I could hear my own blood pounding deep within my ears, catching in that rushing stream and strong, youthful beat the sound of breath and hooves— the fierce running of a deer with no heart.


CHICKEN GRAVY By James Gardner – Roanoke, VA

“Tell me about your home, Blackie.” “What?” asked Blackie Goode. He pulled his sleeping bag down below his chin. “What did you say, man?” “I was asking if you’d tell me about your home again.” “Lord, Wilson, I’ve done told you all about it ten times or more. It’s late and I’m tired. Cut that flashlight off and go to sleep.” Blackie Goode rolled over and pulled the sleeping bag back up over his head. Wilson Grubb turned off the light. It was completely dark. He couldn’t tell if his eyes were open or closed. Snow was falling outside the little tent. The night was ice cold. The woods were deathly quiet. For a long time Wilson Grubb lay on his back listening to his friend’s breathing. It was the only sound. Blackie was lucky. He could fall asleep anywhere and anytime he wanted. “Hey Blackie?” said Wilson Grubb. “What is it?” “I can’t sleep. I’m too cold and I’m sick, too. Anyway, I can’t sleep.” “You ain’t tried to go to sleep. Think about something happy and pretty soon you’ll fall asleep and maybe you’ll dream about what you were thinking about.” “But, I can’t sleep. My stomach is killing me again tonight.” “I done told you, you need to go see the doctor at the 7

free clinic about that. You might have something terrible wrong with you.” “That’s why I don’t want to go,” said Wilson Grubb. “Shit, man, that don’t make a damn bit of sense.” “Come on, Blackie, tell me again about what it was like when you was a boy. Tell me about your family and all that.” “Maybe you ought to eat something. That might help your stomach.” “I don’t think it will. The pain ain’t really my stomach I don’t think. It sort of feels deeper than my stomach.” “What do you mean deeper?” “I can’t describe it, but it hurts bad.” “Do you have anything you can take?” “Nothing helps it don’t seem. If you tell me a few stories maybe I’ll start to feel better. Maybe I’ll be able to get some rest.” “Alright,” said Blackie Goode. “I’ll tell you a couple.” He pulled down the sleeping bag and sat up. “Damn it’s cold,” he said. “Where’re the cigarettes?” “Here, I’ve got some in my pocket.” “Thanks.” He lit the cigarette. “Which story are you going to tell?” “I don’t know. What would you like to hear about?” “Tell about y’all’s house and about the different rooms and everything so I can picture it all in my head.” “Okay, Wilson. Now when I’m talking you close your eyes and try to get to sleep. Don’t make it be like last time when we was up half the damn night.” “Oh, Lord!” moaned Wilson Grubb. “What is it? Is it your damn stomach?” “Oh mercy,” he cried. “The pain feels like somebody’s stabbing me with a knife or something.” “How about a sip of liquor? Do you reckon that would help?” Wilson Grubb laughed. “Maybe if I could get good and drunk it would.” 8

“Here man, lean over here and take you a long drink of this.” Blackie Goode handed him the liquor jar and he drank. “Thanks, Blackie,” he said. “Tomorrow I’m taking you down to the emergency room. I don’t give a damn if there’s a foot of snow on the ground. We’re going to get you looked at!” “Don’t worry, Blackie; I believe that liquor helped some.” “We’re still going to the damn doctor in the morning!” “Alright,” he said in a soft voice. “Now tell the story, Blackie.” “Well, our house was an old house with a big front porch. It was painted white and sat up on a hill where everybody could see. My Daddy likes it bright white. He painted the house every three or four years and he painted the roof too. We had a tin roof and Daddy painted it silver because it helped keep the house cooler in the summer.” “Tell me about your Daddy!” interrupted Wilson Grubb. “Daddy was a particular sort of man. Everything had a time and place. He liked to go to bed right after supper and get up very early in the morning. He’d always be up way before Momma. He had two pair of boots. One pair he only wore on Sunday and every Saturday night he polished them until you could see your face in the toe. I never ever saw Daddy wear anything but bib overalls and he always kept a pack of Camels in the bib pocket. Daddy always had a yellow pencil too. I don’t know why he carried one because most of his life he couldn’t read or write. It weren’t until I was nearly grown that Daddy learnt to read. My big sister Jessie taught him. Daddy said he wanted to read the Bible before he died so Jessie got him to read.” “Did he ever read the bible?” “Oh good Lord, yes! He read it all the time. He’d sit on the front porch and read it out loud. He was mighty proud of learning to read.” “Have you ever read the Bible, Blackie?” “No. Have you?” 9

“I ain’t ever even cracked one open. I don’t read too good and from what I know the Bible is some mighty hard reading.” “Daddy read it cover to cover I don’t know how many times.” “Tell me about your sister. Tell me about Jessie.” “Jessie was a real pretty girl. She had wavy hair and light skin. I don’t know where she got her looks from. None of the rest of us had hair like that. Daddy used to claim Momma had her an outside man. Momma used to laugh at him. Anyway, Jessie was a pretty thing and smart? Lord, she was sharp as a tack!” “What became of Jessie?” “You know what became of her. I’ve done told you all this stuff ten times or more.” “I just love to hear it,” said Wilson Grubb. “Well, I’ve done already said how pretty she was. She looked like a full grown woman when she turned thirteen. I swear she did! I mean she had it all. Lord the boys was crazy about her. Momma didn’t allow her no makeup, but Jessie would sneak and put it on anyway. All the big boys that lived around used to try to be friends with me and Jerome so they could get to Jessie.” “You say it was Jessie that taught your Daddy to read and write?” “Oh yeah, Jessie was smart. She tried to teach Granny Mooreland too, but I reckon Granny was too old to learn something new.” “What happened to Jessie?” asked Wilson Grubb. “She ended up running off with Samuel Laughton. Sammy had him a nice big Dodge. It was one of them with the big fins in back, white with red down the side and red interior. Lord, that was one beautiful car. Anyway, Jessie and Sammy lit out one night for Manning, South Carolina. Sammy’s family was from down in there. When Jessie come back home she had two babies. She walked in the house with one under each arm. Sammy had done run off again with some other woman so Jessie brought them babies home to Virginia.” 10

“Where is your sister Jessie now?” “I reckon she’s in heaven if she ain’t still in Gretna,” answered Blackie Goode. “What become of them two young’uns?” “I ain’t got the slightest idea. I wonder sometimes about then two. When they was little I used to play with them boys all day. I used to love them to death.” “Maybe you ought to go home to Gretna and see if them two boys and Jessie are still there,” suggested Wilson Grubb. “Shoot, Gretna ain’t that far away. You could probably walk it in two or three days.” “No, now Wilson, that’s where you’re wrong. Gretna’s a million miles away from me. I don’t reckon I’ll ever get home to Gretna again; least wise, not in this life.” For a few minutes after that, neither man spoke. It was completely dark and silent. “Oh good heavens,” moaned Wilson Grubb. “How about a cigarette?” asked Blackie Goode. “Maybe that will help you feel better. Here, take one.” Wilson Grubb lit the cigarette and lay back down on his back. “Lord a Mercy it’s cold,” complained Blackie Goode. He pulled his sleeping bag up over the back of his head so that just his face was uncovered. “It don’t seem near as cold to me now as it did before,” said Wilson Grubb. “I believe the snow’s done stopped too.” “No man, it’s still coming down.” “How can you tell?” “I can hear snow. Can’t you?” “What are you talking about? Ain’t nobody can hear snow. Snow don’t make no sound at all.” “Sure it does. Be quiet and listen hard. You’ll hear it.” Both men stopped talking and listened for a while. Finally, Wilson Grubb broke the silence: “I can’t hear no snow! You’re shitting me. Snow don’t make no sound. Tell me about your Momma and your little brother Jerome and your dog. Tell me about all that!” 11

“Momma was a wonderful sweet woman. She was big and round. Daddy used to joke and say that he was breaking the law because he had him two wives. He meant that Momma was big as two. Momma didn’t mind it though. Hell, she’d laugh too. Lord, she loved to eat. I reckon that’s why she loved to cook so much and my soul she was some kind of cook. I just wish I could carry you back to that old round table in our kitchen and set up down to a plate of Momma’s fried chicken. Mercy,” he said, “I can taste it now, and hot rolls and greens and sweet potatoes from out the garden. Lord, it was fine, and hot chicken gravy all over everything. Momma made the best gravy you ever tasted. You know there’s a secret to making good gravy, especially chicken gravy. That brown shit that they call gravy down at the rescue mission ain’t gravy.” “That old brown shit comes in a can,” said Wilson Grubb. “Ain’t no good gravy ever come out no can!” “That’s right,” agreed Blackie Goode. “Hell, gravy takes time and patience if you make it right. But you know I believe good hot chicken gravy is mighty nigh the best thing in the world there is. I used to put it on a big bowl of grits. Did you ever eat grits and chicken gravy?” “No,” replied Wilson Grubb. “But, it sure sounds good!” “By God, a bowl of grits and gravy would sure as hell warm us up tonight. I’ll bet it would soothe that stomach pain of yours too. You know, I’ll be damned if I can’t taste Momma’s gravy right this minute! You’ll say I’m crazy, but I swear I can taste it in my mouth now like it tasted forty years ago! Ain’t that something?” “Yeah,” said Wilson Grubb. “And pies, you want to talk about pies, good heavens above, man, Momma could bake some pies. She’d make the whole house smell of pies. You couldn’t think about nothing else. You’d just have to leave and go out in the yard or something until it was time to eat. She made peach and apple and cherry and plum and all different kinds, but peach was my 12

favorite! We had five nice peach trees behind the house. I love peaches anyway. Well, I love a fresh peach.” “I love peaches, too. Hell, I love canned peaches, too. I like them in heavy syrup. I used to love to put a can in the refrigerator and get it good and cold.” “Hell, I’m getting hungry talking about Momma’s cooking! Do we got anything to eat in here?” “There’s saltine crackers and peanut butter,” suggested Wilson Grubb. “Well hell, Wilson, them’s your crackers and peanut butter. I don’t want to eat all your food. After all, we made a deal not to eat each other’s food.” “Shoot, Blackie, eat it if you’re hungry. I don’t care about no deal.” “Thanks man. I won’t eat them all. I’ll save some for you.” “Eat all you want. I know they ain’t going to taste as good as your Momma’s pies or them grits and gravy, but at least it’s something.” “Where are they?” “They’re in that bag down by your feet. Feel around for a plastic bag.” Blackie Goode sat up and reached down around the foot of his sleeping bag. His hand brushed against a plastic grocery bag and he reached inside. He felt the familiar shape of a peanut butter jar and that of the cracker box. “Hell, Wilson, you ain’t got that many crackers left.” “Eat them all if you want them.” “I ain’t going to eat all your crackers, man!” “Well then, just leave me four for in the morning.” “Alright, I’ll leave four. Thank you, man!” “Sure Buddy,” he replied with a smile in his voice. “You want one now with some peanut butter?” “No, my belly is killing me.” “Did the cigarette help?” “It did some, but as soon as I quit smoking the pain was right there again!” 13

“Shit, man, smoke another one. I sure would if it made me feel better. Hey, you got a knife for this peanut butter?” “Open the lid. There’s a plastic spoon stuck down in the jar.” “I found it.” “Tell me more. Tell me about your brother Jerome. What about him?” “He was two years younger them me, but he was a lot bigger. Jerome was tall. Everybody wanted Jerome to play basketball in high school, but he didn’t care nothing about basketball or no sports. Jerome was crazy about hunting. That’s what he loved. He used to stay out hunting with his old dog all night long. He used to hunt on old man Clark’s place. Old man Clark owned all kinds of land on both sides of Flat Creek and down in the big bottom was thick with coons!” “Did you go coon hunting with Jerome?” asked Wilson Grubb. “Some I did, but not too much. I weren’t no good at it much and it was hard work coon hunting, at least the way Jerome done it. Hell, some coon hunters sit around and wait for the dogs to tree, but not Jerome! He ran right along with the dogs. He’d come home all cut up and bruised. But he nearly always had a couple coons to show for it. Momma would cook that coon meat up in the stew pot with plenty of salt and pepper. It was so good. Did you ever eat coon?” “I did one time. I had an Aunt that cooked some once, but what I had weren’t fit to eat.” “Well, it’s just like chicken gravy or anything else, you’ve got to know what you’re doing, I reckon.” “What became of your little brother?” “Momma said when he was nineteen he up and joined the Marine Corps. I don’t know what happened to him after that. That’s after I done moved off to Richmond. Back then I had me a good job in the maintenance department at American Tobacco.” “You loved your brother a lot didn’t you Blackie?” 14

“Oh, shit yeah. We used to go everywhere together, especially when he was younger. He used to just tag along behind me and Bullet.” “Talk about Bullet,” asked Wilson Grubb. Blackie Goode paused to pop a peanut butter cracker into his mouth. “You know, that Bullet was my dog and I reckon he was just about as smart as any dog that ever lived.” “How come you name him Bullet?” “Because that was the name of Roy Rogers’ dog. I used to love Roy Rogers when I was little. Momma got me a complete Roy Rogers’ outfit when I was in first grade. I used to wear it to school. It was red with white tassels and black patches and it had a white hat and pearl handled pistols. Shit, it was my favorite thing when I was a boy. I loved it! “Anyway you remember Roy Rogers’ dog was a police dog named Bullet. Well, my dog looked like the dog on television so I named him that. My Bullet was a great dog. We did everything together. He slept with me and Jerome every night in the bed. He’d be waiting right there at the bus stop every day when I’d get off the school bus. Several times him and me even took a bath together. Good Lord, how I loved that dog. Oh, I hated it the day he died. I cried until I just couldn’t cry no more. I remember lying in the bed in the dark just crying. He used to sleep right under my arm and then he wasn’t there no more. I swear, I’m tellin’ you the truth, I cried until my eyes wouldn’t cry no more. I reckon I was probably sadder about old Bullet dying them when Daddy passed away. It’s a terrible thing to say, but I believe it’s true.” Blackie Goode paused to eat another saltine. It was then that he heard Wilson Grubb softly snoring. At last, he managed to fall asleep. He smiled in the darkness and listened to the peaceful sound of his friend as he slept. Carefully Blackie Goode counted the crackers that were left in the wax paper sleeve. There were five. He pulled out one more, then rolled up the remaining saltines in the wax paper and slid them back down in the box. Then he pulled the sleeping bag up over his head and closed his eyes. He thought 15

about his boyhood and the many happy days so long ago back in Gretna. He could see his mother’s face and his father’s and Jerome’s and Jessie’s, too. But, most of all, he could see his dog running in the sunshine. Memories are funny like that, he thought. Sometimes they feel more real than anything else. That night, Blackie Goode fell asleep with his dog under his arm. The morning light flickered through the narrow opening between the flaps of the tent. Blackie Goode stared at the narrow strip of light. He didn’t hear the snow anymore, but he could tell that a lot fell during the night. The tent was bowed with the weight of it. He’d better get out there and knock it off, before the whole thing collapsed on top of them. “Hey Wilson, are you awake?” He pulled his arm out of his sleeping bag and poked his friend with his finger. “Hey Wilson, wake up man! It’s morning. The snow’s done stopped.” He poked him again, but Wilson Grubb did not move. “Wilson? Hey man, come on and wake up!” Blackie Goode wiggled his way out of the bag and kicked his sleeping friend with his foot. “Get up!” he shouted. “It’s another day. Come on now!” He pulled back his foot to kick again, but then he hesitated and listened. Wilson Grubb wasn’t snoring. In fact, it didn’t even sound as if he were breathing. Blackie Goode crawled over and pulled the blanket down from Wilson Grubb’s face. “Wake up, damn it!” he shouted, shaking the already stiffening body. In the cold gray light of the early morning, Blackie Goode sat silently beside the body of his friend. He thought that he should cry, but tears would not come. He supposed that Wilson was in a better, happier place. He liked to think it was so. Then he reached for the box of saltines. “Anyway,” he said to himself, “Wilson ain’t going to be wanting them last four peanut butter crackers.”


Sometimes the Little Town By Sara Robinson – Charlottesville, VA So I find words I never thought to speak/In streets I never thought I should revisit/ When I left my body on a distant shore. – T. S. Eliot

I Comes the valley in winter where frost lies in wait and the town angles in its repose. The sleepiness of the buildings overflows into the habits of those generations who’ve lived surrounded by much that is not moving. The sun rising over nearby mountains glances off the middling creek rushing to the grand Shenandoah now frozen on its edges. Sap of old spirits flows through the center in water moving fast to leave the town and makes its way to the bigger river, then on to a distant sea. No prospects for spring jump out at this moment. No blossom evidence or awakening creatures greet anyone on these cold mornings. No one can yet detect a spring aroma. Unless you count the memory of young locust wood in remains airborne from home fireplaces. If you drive across the river and find your way into town, you might


glance in your rear-view mirror and see what you have left. Your GPS doesn’t work backwards so just turn it off. You can see time and distance receding, separate from space as it changes with each mile you drive forward. If you drive into town you might notice old buildings still standing, guarding the past. Crumbling façades cling to sidings like faded make-up on old movie stars. A few might have transitioned to more recent times but they would be anomalies— themselves better relics than the old ones. How picturesque and yet sad for this little town in the valley. Your travels have brought you here not to document or study any history. That has been done. You are here to see the dead, those buried in the cemetery where resting among so many others no one speaks–especially not the living. For what would you say, but that you were passing through and thought you might look upon names of former residents. Some are your kin, some are friends, many are strangers, yet they all will speak to you in ways you cannot hear, but can feel. The language may be buried but it talks through your skin. You wander among the gravesites, pick here and there at hobo weeds, robbing them of their trespass while you proceed with yours in this little cemetery in this little town, where you will not be buried but where you will always reside. It is in your mind; and within the crevices and folds of your brain, memories will repose until you or some dead ghost nudges them awake. The rattling will tell you when. 18

II Along the sidewalks in concrete gutters and buried main lines, particles of the past meet particles of the present and neither recognizes the other. These are remains of fires which burnt down the town at the first turn of the twentieth century. Blazes seen across the valley and from mountain ridges took everything in their ravenous destined march of destruction. People grieved for properties lost and cried in relief for bodies saved. They would rebuild on this very soil, still covered with ashes. Burnt as the ground was, the char was either swept away or was blended into the mortar holding tight the new foundations. Trees were planted, roads recast over remains of thoroughfares. Birds returned along with residents and hands worn to blisters at the end of each day had enough tenderness left to touch a salvaged water pitcher or a sunburned cheek. When I see old pictures of those times I think of all the people in their black suits and black dresses milling about the remains. I wish I could see what they thought. I wish I could feel their grief. I wish I could believe in their hope. They did not take up their resurrection work in vain. Whether they thought future 19

generations would know of their efforts I cannot say. But I believe they did. Why else build? Why were they there? They would not rebuild for the dead. They built for the living, for those in the future. For me. For you. III When I return to the streets whose names and numbers I cannot recall, I feel this past come up through my feet and into my heart. To attempt to tell a stranger of my town would be recognizing my own journey between the two places that define me. I would need a new language filled with words from my past conjugated within the words that I speak now. To carefully merge these two worlds would be practicing syntax I once discarded and now must recover. That is why I am here. That is why I write about this little town in the valley. The town, it grew and prospered in my youth. Among the merchants was our family store where settlers and farmers came in to purchase and to barter. In the fall, baskets of southern yams would appear from wagons in hopes of trades for school shoes and Sunday-best shirts. Smoked hams came out of tired and worn burlap sacks as currency for ladies’ dresses and hats. Jars of pickles and canned tomatoes were stacked on our counter like casino winnings. We thrived on wooden buckets of late summer beans and corn, headed for the big pot on our stove. Like the other merchants, we believed we were rich having been given earth-born coins far greater than gold ones as these contained the rewards for labor 20

from neighbors and friends who formed the true character of our little town in the valley. We all made do with what we had. We may have lacked some of the cultural assumptions of a larger place but we had the purity of a culture formed from dust, honeysuckle, blackberries, mudpuppies, corn rows, arrowheads, musket balls, milk buckets, coarse woolen yarns and naked creeks. We called this town our beginning and our end. We took leaving to heart even when we left for just a day or a few hours. When we left for what we thought was for good we took some of the town with us. We might find it later as some old mud stuck on a shoe or a discovered letter from an old friend, but these elements were our bond. IV I’m on a trampoline where all the years of my life have been stenciled. I watch my ages bounce off one number and boomerang back to another. When I jump up, I don’t look down. When I land I’m instantly that age, but I cannot stay. I either have to keep moving or jumping. No matter what, the ages still catch up with me and all I can do is wear the years like costume jewelry, that either sparkles in the light, or simply fizzles out. My aging creased skin is my façade and my hair is the glowing reminder of how our past can burn white hot. V We talk to the dead in our town and we listen for their replies. We know they have departed and yet we still talk to them as if we think they will return to us. We are a town with a history and I am part of this history. My redemption 21

will only come in time when I find that I measure my life in moments. My history will rapidly come full circle and I will return to reside in this last place on earth. The river will run swiftly around me, pulling against the gravity of my past as it competes with the gravity of my present. My ashes will come ashore and mingle with the long gone ashes used to rebuild. In a winter whirl of time someone may remember the town’s beginning and recite it as what remains of me swirls in the purest water on earth that nurtured my little town in the valley.


BLUE RIDGE SUNRISE (3 parts of 5, 4, and 9 lines) By Stan Galloway – Mount Sidney, VA 1 A perfect disk of scarlet Brands the epidermal fog Beside a vertical horizon, Wisping shades of gray-white chaos clearer As the sun climbs Massanutten’s face. 2 Stars snapped like Far coal bed embering false heat Supine undulate frost sparks Cloud bank flipped above Afton 3 Black on coal Lone star-prick glinting Dawn birthing Black on crow Line gliding, subtle Light labor Black on steel Momentary flush Morning born


Photo by Sarah Kohrs – Mount Jackson, VA


MARCH 23RD, HALF WAY DOWN THE VALLEY By Wendell Hawken – Boyce, VA -Thou preparest a table UNLOAD TRAILERS HERE: a shadowed pen beside a barn behind a white farm house with hollyhocks where spring lambs shipped in yesterday. A red rooster drinks from a run-off trench. One thick-wooled ewe on folded legs chews what I guess is her last cud. Inside, I don’t ask if here – stainless table, hosed-clean concrete, sloped drains – is where. A taste like copper wets my mouth from a dwelling odor, animal and sharp. Cleavers, knives, odd instruments line the walls. Sixty-five bucks, says the workman, for processing. He hefts the box of packaged chops, roasts, the burger for my often-asked-for shepherd’s pie.


BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS: View from Route 29 Madison County By Marilou Schunter – Culpeper, VA

ghostly blue wall fades in and out like a desert mirage but everything here at Honeybee Lane is green and cool faraway peaks become gray apparitions faint and wispy as smoke difficult to discern flesh from spirit in early spring chill


AT THE FOOTBRIDGE By Dee Bowlin – Roanoke, VA Beneath the delicate dogwoods and towering spruce, a river rolls through the valley, Majestic waters are crowned with a gray wooden footbridge where I come at sunrise to watch for you, carrying with me the hope that you’ve changed your mind, while I relive the woeful day you chose to stay behind. Dawn caresses the mossy bank as I marvel at the timid bluebirds shimmering in the morning sunshine, but the moment is not shared with you and my whimsical thoughts slide into cracks between the timbers, to be forgotten before I see you again. As daylight brightens, I abandon my vigil to wander into the meadow of wildflowers blooming with promise, but when the oaks cast their long evening shadows, I come back to the footbridge to watch for your silhouette. Each day, I venture out a little farther and the return path becomes longer and much harder to climb as I miss your hand in mine even more. Continued


The boards of the bridge splinter and weaken as rotting leaves, ice, and blistering sun steal life from the once sturdy and spirited planks, yet the foundation of rocks settles in, ready to be built upon a second time, should you leave your fears and doubts in the city and come to me.

Azalea Photo by Sarah Kohrs – Mount Jackson, VA


GRADUATION (at a small college in Virginia) By Susan Robbins – Cartersville, VA

So the bright day called to us, and cried aloud, Saying, Look! Look at this light, and witness Through these shimmering, transparent panes And be glad. And so we did, and so we were, And holding hands in our community, We strolled across the green grass To where we filled our plates with cole slaw, Rolls, and barbeque, before sitting down With the converted multitudes, By the edge of the artificial lake. The beautiful women then assumed Their positions of adornment to the scene, While the men lounged and listened, And all of the mothers stood up When they were told to stand up, And a little girl sang in clear tones About how this was the time to let go. Then, the greater oracles who had been summoned Appeared, and prophesied that only those Who listened to their inner voices Could possibly achieve their desires, And in murmuring affirmations we all agreed that this was good. But then the sky darkened, and an unstoppable wind Blew the plastic plates and cups across the lawn, As a voice of unexpected anger filled the sky, Shouting, “The great god Pan still lives!” And terrified, we arose, to scatter in all directions Like the silly flocks of the field.


GREAT BLUE HERON By Molly O’Dell – Buchanan, VA

Your in-flight squawk wakes me, predawn, beside the Corotoman River. I don’t know what sight provokes your voice or whether you intend for me to stir. Over the bank, I watch you land, stilted legs anchor in black mud, rich as truffle butter. From water’s edge, your gaze guides mine. Grey trunks of loblolly pines stencil veneer where we sit in wait. Each moment clears a shadow and draws the current of my shallow life deeper until urgent cries from crows and gulls try to drag me back to the surface.


JACKSON RIVER By Molly O’Dell – Buchanan, VA

Crotch deep in snowmelt, with plans to hook that trout I missed last time, my fly takes a strike. I strip, stop at twelve o’clock and two as I’ve been taught, then startle at a dark force under my line. A paddle tail breaks water smashing its greeting in the silent stream. I am honored, beaver.


KAYAKING THE JACKSON By William Vollrath – Charlottesville, VA

Past Sam Snead’s final tee box back road curving on a dime down to shaded singing waters cool mists cleansing distressed minds Widening eyes of eager children odd crafts wait on slippery shore then slide into the watery drama might a river open shuttered doors Trusty kayak pulled by current caught in nature’s power pure submerged rocks hiss white warning mines along a churning tour Rushing water fights each stroke till peace is found in blessed calm lofty osprey dives for dinner we all need nature’s healing balm

NOTE: Legendary golfer Sam Snead is buried on family land just off the road to the Jackson River in Virginia’s Highlands. His grave site is designed as a golf tee box with the hole marker pointing toward his beloved nearby home golf course.


PANTHER CREEK By Clyde Kessler – Radford, VA (if you learn it in deep time)

This creek begins a cliff that growls at midnight stars. It’s a quarter cobble to an eye. It’s the haze turned to sand for all believers, carving stone. A four-legged ghost stretches its name across my parents. Its parents could claw life away screaming through the pine woods to kill us by its distance. My sleep will listen tonight to its cliff drifting with clouds. We don’t doubt it’s a creature, blurring lightning to my house. It strikes twice times forever.


Winter Rye Photo by Sarah Kohrs – Mount Jackson, VA


ROUTE 29, BRANDY STATION By Marilou Schunter – Culpeper, VA

seismic blue line splits quartz sky shadows rise from cornfield and thicket Union and Confederate spirits mingle in meadow and wood beside streams that fed cattle and farmers filled tin cups with clear cold water historic battle demolished green fields blood and gunpowder mixed in the Rappahannock dark slurry slipped down to Chesapeake Bay spilled into Atlantic Ocean clear cold water to rinse and rinse and rinse the blood away


A 21-LINE SALUTE TO ARLINGTON By Judy Witt – Glen Allen, VA

Long shadows cast stone upon upright stone in dentil rows, as if symmetry could be impressed on the detritus of war—meadows of soldiers who rallied for one revolt, suppressed the next. Visitors crunch peace among blanketing leaves. How many pairs of boot-soles under this grass, bequeathed before souls’ sands have drained? Four hundred thousand—four hundred thousand who rest beyond weariness, march without steps, endlessly trooping hills in measured precision. Lee, from the portico of Arlington House, do you review boxed armies returning from Iraq? You must mourn grass still greened from our young, maples still reddened from their drying blood. A soldier strides back and forth, stiff and solemn, honoring bones unknown, unknowing if the time may come when—all graves filled, stones erected, all memories erased, inscriptions eroded he can discard his pointless gun and turn away, live among the living, let moldering leaves collect, let war be buried in one last grave, unmarked.


COMMON GROUND By Dee Bowlin – Roanoke, VA

We place bouquets of flowers on cold graves in numbered rows too long to comprehend. One flag salutes each soldier as it waves— a husband, wife, a child, perhaps a friend. America’s been saved throughout the years by myriads of warriors like our son. We gather now to mourn with prideful tears and celebrate the battles bravely won. We’re here to honor all who gave their lives, but one alone remains in memories. The story of our valiant boy survives to share with those around us on their knees. You say your son knew ours while in the war? Come sit with us a while and tell us more.


ROUTE 60 TO RICHMOND By Brandon Patterson – Staunton, VA

“Now, Buddy,” Derwin told his son, “I just want you to know we’ll be the only black folks out this way.” Buddy responded by retracing the route with an index finger that squeaked slightly against the atlas, settling their upcoming trip and making Derwin feel like he had just warned his son about boogeymen. He couldn’t mimic Buddy’s nonchalance. One day they would have to talk race—the dirty, real parts of it. It was something he never wanted to do, not when the world he had built around his child was secure, where Buddy came from visiting his friends not talking about dealers or fights in school, but about the flatbread he ate at Pankil’s, or watching English Premier Soccer League matches with Luis. Buddy didn’t care that US 60 was a vast span of nothing bordered to the east by Richmond, to the west by I81, and holding only grass and trees in its center. Maybe a place where he might see his first real Confederate flag, or worse. Derwin’s promise was made: Buddy’s path avoided the straight line of interstate that plunged from DC into Richmond like a needle (its point just miles from Grandma May’s house), and instead looped through the state on a circuitous trail that added hours of driving. The first leg of their trip had them speeding between tractor trailers on I-66 and I-81 for almost two hundred miles, each truck getting passed with Buddy pressed against the passenger 38

window imploring the truckers to sound their horns. Even though it was a hopeless gesture, Derwin thought to unload his son at a gas station near where US 60 intersected with interstate and civilization, and maybe make their three-hour trek through rural Virginia nonstop. There were two cities to choose from as they exited I-81; Derwin drove towards Lexington. It was the wrong direction, though he had at least heard of the small college town, as opposed to the neighboring nowhere of Buena Vista. Buddy pointed to a roadside marker. “You know who that is?” “‘Stonewall Jackson Birthplace.’ He in the Revolution or something?” “He was a hero general for the South in the Civil War.” “‘Hero?’ They told you he was a hero?” “Ms. Dillard said that each side of a war has its own heroes and that understanding the war means you have to know what both sides felt and thought.” “That so,” Derwin said. He made a mental note to add nuance to Ms. Dillard’s nuance when he was a little less upset. They stopped at a gas station with a McDonald’s built in. Tanks were emptied and refilled, and lunches purchased. Derwin noticed a change in Buddy. Since leaving Arlington, his son had raced to the car after the first fill-up and again when they left a crowded rest area. In Lexington he wanted to eat in the restaurant (not on the road), and he let his father reach the car first when they were done. Derwin watched him walk along the top of a parking sledge, his arms out for balance, and then make a slow, weaving path back to the car. Buddy was eight years old, which was almost old enough for him to stop enjoying trips with his father. The measured pace made Derwin wonder if his son had grown up a little, the touch of maturity developed somewhere between mile markers 260 and 188. Derwin’s girlfriend had teen daughters whose lives were a series of cell phone conversations and eye rolls. He was blessed that this much of the trip had been exciting for 39

Buddy, and he told himself to be grateful for it, even as he felt a touch of unfair anger. The final three hours of his son’s sullen attitude didn’t arise: a mountain intervened. They skirted Buena Vista and almost immediately were slaloming up a wooded ridge. The road was nothing but curves switching into curves, and in the opposite lane logging trucks with tree-stacked trailers swung across the dividing lines. Buddy spent the crossing swaying from side-to-side and hooting like he was on a roller coaster, pausing only long enough to point out the Blue Ridge Parkway he had seen in the atlas. The mood carried through as mountains turned to hills, and hills to pastures and low forests. Buddy spotted tractors, a deer, even a flock of black turkeys that exploded from an embankment and fluttered into the cover of trees, and a dozen other random gems of the world. They passed a town called Buckingham Courthouse, the sight of which prompted more of Buddy’s History of Virginia recollections. This time, Derwin let his son ramble on about towns called “courthouse,” until another sign pulled Buddy’s attention in an entirely different direction. “Is that were Granddad Jones is?” “That’s Buckingham Correctional. Your Granddad’s in Baskerville right now.” “Oh. Does Grandma May ever go see him?” “They ain’t together any more, Buddy.” Buddy’s head turned back to the road. “You think we’ll see him when he gets out?” “I figure we could. I mean, that’s kinda up to him, too.” They drove on. When Derwin noticed his Buddy’s knee bobbing like it was keeping time to a song, he pulled over at the first gas station they saw. The station was a white cinderblock building that looked like it was made of Buddy’s Legos. A red neon sign advertised fried chicken from the front window, and two roofless gas pumps sprouted from the parking lot. Most 40

noticeable to Derwin was the only other vehicle in the lot, a massive pick-up truck that sat in the front. It had doubled rear wheels and a cab so high from the ground that there was a handle next to the door and short steps along the side. The body was doused in dried mud, and a crust of dirt hung from the truck’s underbelly. It pulled an open-top trailer that held two ATVs showing spots of camouflage paint through a patina of caked grime. When he looked closer, he saw a gun rack in the back window. Derwin parked at the station’s corner, two spaces away from the truck. “Hold up, Buddy,” he said, though his son had dashed ahead. Derwin stiffly followed his son into the store. He imagined the boy finding a carved pickaninny grinning from behind a slice of watermelon. A bell clinked as he stepped inside. No one was behind the counter. He heard Buddy’s feet thumping along at an adventurous half-trot; he came around the corner with a candy bar in his hand. The interior was divided by cases, shelves, and protruding walls so that he couldn’t see to either end of the small food mart. A toilet flushed. The sound came from beyond the counter, so he watched for a second. A white girl, no older than twenty, appeared. “Miss, is it all right if my son uses your facilities?” “No problem. It’s unlocked.” Derwin whistled at Buddy and nodded towards the restroom, then walked to the back of the store. He wanted another energy drink—his bladder would hold until the Midlothian suburbs. He rounded a display of sandwich bread to where the coolers and freezer cases were. Two men, dressed head–to-toe in camouflage and swipes of fluorescent orange, stood in front of the beer display, facing away from Derwin. Their hands were their most remarkable feature: not white, but black— callused and dry, deeply lined, and black. Weatherworn, like Derwin imagined an outdoorsman’s hand should be, and yet next to mottled clothes they had the appearance of 41

mismatched mannequin parts. He stared until he became aware of his attention, then turned and grabbed a drink before he could be seen. Buddy waited at the front, a pouch of gum and a cola added to his haul. The clerk rang up the total, and as Derwin thumbed through his wallet, he felt a tap on his hip. “Dad, I thought you said there weren’t any black people around here.” He heard a deep laugh. The two hunters loomed behind them, both smiling. One carried a case of Yuengling under his arm. “Nah, I just meant ‘don’t be surprised if we don’t see none,’ that’s all.” The taller one chuckled. “Naw, there’re plenty black folk around here,” he said to Buddy, the voice something Derwin had heard only in movies. “Where you from, little man?” “Arlington. It’s near Washington DC.” “DC?” the second said. “What’s got y’all out this way?” “We’re going to see his grandma in Richmond.” There was a pause before one spoke, this time to Derwin: “Ain’t lost, are you?” Buddy cocked his head. “We’re not lost. I picked this way in the atlas.” “My man’s got a knack for navigating,” Derwin said as he patted his son’s back, cutting off what would have been a mile-by-mile account of their trip. “Anyhow, we best be heading on. You go pee?” Buddy looked away and gave an “uh-huh.” “Good meeting you,” Derwin said to the hunters. They nodded and said much the same. Derwin could tell that Buddy’s embarrassment over the bathroom question eased at about the same moment he began opening his candy. His own embarrassment eased at a similar pace. He tried to imagine Buddy growing up in 42

Buckingham, as those men had done. Afternoons spent hunting or fishing. Backyard cookouts. Perhaps the men worked on farms, and that was where their hands had roughened. Or they were farm owners, and that was how one afforded such a large truck. Every thought was probably wrong in the way only an outsider passing by on a highway could be. Even knowing his limited perspective, Derwin found it hard accepting them as being black in the same way he was. “Dad, I have a question.” “What’s up?” Buddy twisted in the seat so that he faced his father. “How come you don’t know if we’ll see Granddad Jones when he gets out of jail?” “I just don’t know.” “Do you want to?” “If he wants to see us.” “Why wouldn’t he want to see us?” “It’s hard coming out. He’s been away a long time. And we haven’t talked in a long time. That’s got a lot to do with it.” Derwin flicked his eyes towards Buddy and nearly laughed at his son, whose serious gaze was negated by the wad of chewing gum jammed hamster-style into his cheek. “You wanna meet him pretty bad, huh?” “Yeah, sorta.” “We’ll visit him, then.” Buddy returned his attention to the road, an “okay” his parting shot. Derwin watched his son and wondered how long and how often the boy thought about his grandfather, and if the rest of their drive would be burdened. Sometimes Derwin felt like he carried the old man on his back, the old man’s arms wrapped around his neck and digging like canvas straps. It was a weight he did not want to share. There were a few miles of silence until Buddy pointed to a dilapidated barn, and immediately after to a dead skunk. Derwin spotted a herd of fenced llamas or alpacas several minutes later, their narrow heads pivoting slowly on post-like necks. “Now that’s the strangest thing we’ve seen right there,” 43

Derwin said, genuinely proud of his first sighting. “Ain’t never seen them living on a farm like that. I tell you right now, there’s no way you’ll be seeing anything weirder than that.” Buddy nodded and leaned forward in his seat, as sure a sign as any of his unshaken focus.


CICADA By William Vollrath – Charlottesville, VA

buried chorus reaching upward sacred rhythm nature’s heartbeat timeless soundstage prana’s meter Blue Ridge music holy poem


TOUCH AND GO (Eagle’s Nest Airport, Waynesboro) By Stan Galloway – Mount Sidney, VA

Sitting by the airstrip watching touch-and-goes, knowing this is how we’ve lived – we touch each other then go separate ways, waiting for another circle, high and given up for gone, until the other comes down from clouds to touch again but never stay, the hangar always empty.


A CONDENSED HISTORY OF WORDS By Sara Robinson – Charlottesville, VA When I write of my small town roots dug in beside cracked mortar and broken bricks, I’m not selling out to a bigger scheme. I’m not fearful of going further nor do I abandon my native soil, winsome prairie that it is. I feel my localism fed from creasy greens. My speech is a long gone clumsy blend of Eastern European and middle Elktonian. Forged into this amalgam is Southern vernacular education and springwater-induced syntax, learned from the confluence of cultures babbling around our family store. Mountains holding forth over deep hollows create originality only locals can grasp, speak, and cry over. I feel the arable earth plowed by sunburned fellows whose farms bordered our town. I see the soil on their skin, the sun, and rain in their eyes. They speak of crops homes and sheds which hold family treasures, crammed into faded orchard boxes and dented biscuit tins. I wish I could see their places, eat off their cracked-tile kitchen floors, and sit on their squeaky porches. Then I could really feel what it must be like to speak words born from dark, buttery earth. 47

OF A PLACE By Molly O’Dell – Buchanan, VA Where Jackson River courses reconnect, at the end of Meadow Lane, roots of the bearing tree cling to a shady bank eroded by late summer floods. Sycamore limbs dangle shadows over the river. Autumn light on limestone rock dimples shallow water soaking our feet. Upstream there’re two channels; one flows from a place where pumpkins frost by late September, blue green ridges steal sun early and offer logs of hickory, locust, oak. The other branch supports a corsage: orange maple, sycamore skin, spotted sassafras, pimpled sumac. At the point of the rocky island these currents connect. We enter here and slosh downstream. Minnows, crayfish, rainbows chubs join our small parade. Leaves tumble gold in late morning. Where the river bed widens, water slows to shimmer with a slow cricket. Monarchs flit from aster to milkweed. I draw comfort from this valley, hidden between two mountains, our oldest and most trustworthy friends.


WITH THE HAM RADIO GUYS AT ROCKY KNOB By Clyde Kessler – Radford, VA The old operators gather here in the fog. They ratchet a tall antenna at the edge of the overlook, and run wires to an oak tree, and over a wall. September will fit them to radio waves. There’s a camper and three small trucks parked like a huddle in the northwest wind. One of the old men tells me they’ll try messaging down the ridge, then towards Canada, or across the Atlantic. Two crows fly by to flog a buzzard on a snag not far away. Then the fog sinks back down then it gets torn apart in the wind, the way the crows want to tear into the buzzard, except they just cackle and caw then they flutter away. Then I focus on the old men. One pets a hound. Another unwraps a granola bar. Two others turn serious and try tightening something on a radio, then one of them begins to whistle, says we’ll see. Test it, he adds. Then we all begin listening.



There’s no picture of him and I can’t remember his name, Dad’s story being that dim, but these facts I do remember: that he was courting a local beauty; that late one evening a rival waiting behind a tree shot him through the neck and left him on the dusty road; that he came to, wadded his torn-up shirt against the wounds and walked home; that Saturday he called on her again. Nothing about revenge, the girl, or marriage, but among the other facts are these: the bullet which his flesh snuggled about for a brief moment before it dropped to the earth; that, and those puckered white scars, like the filmy eyes of blind prophets, saying again and again each time he touched them that he meant to live forever.


Virginia Literary Journal - 2015  

An online literary publication featuring works by Virginia (US) writers, photographers and illustrators with a Virginia setting or theme. ht...

Virginia Literary Journal - 2015  

An online literary publication featuring works by Virginia (US) writers, photographers and illustrators with a Virginia setting or theme. ht...