Coal River Road
ISBN: 978-1-60489-115-7 Trade paper $16.95
ISBN: 978-1-60489-114-0 Library binding $27
Born in West Virginia, Kathy Cantley Ackerman was raised in Ohio but has lived in the Carolinas since 1984. She has published three poetry chapbooks as well as a critical biography of proletarian novelist Olive Tilford Dargan (The Heart of Revolution, University of Tennessee Press). She earned a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of South Carolina and is now a Writer-in-Residence and the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Isothermal Community College in Spindale. She resides in Tryon, NC.
Inside the earth
his point of view is tunneled
by the grime and grind
where canaries cannot hide.
He passes time with histories,
digs them from his mind
slightly curved as through a ball,
slightly stooped in the underground.
Gloved hand brushes deep
grooves of his mother's face,
she taught him nothing
of value can be stripped from the earth
and nothing of value returned.
It is folly to chip at the layers with picks,
to scoop black rocks of time into cars,
into the air to breathe in.
It is folly to go down
where the spirits haven't gone.
lungs turned to slag,
he’s sold his breath
to the trickster
who promised to pay.
Coal River Road exposes the powerful role that a rapidly fading oral history can have on one’s perception of cultural identity. The poet’s connection to the West Virginia mountains is as ephemeral as her connection to hearth and family, simultaneously formative and destructive, yet impossible to resist. These poems are about heritage learned and loved and lost, the quest to retrieve one’s self in the ordinary domestic day, and the ferocity of familial relationships that can never quite be fulfilled.