Peg Bresnahan: Four poems

Southern Legitimacy Statement:

Born and raised on the shores of Lake Michigan, my poetry was heavy with water. I’ve lived in Western North Carolina for ten years and now write about copperheads, turkey vultures, waterfalls, (all water being vertical save for the man-made lakes I don’t count), lichen and moss, balds, cougars, smilax, chiggers, laurel and rhododendron. I’ve learned that ‘bless her heart’ is the kiss of death, that almost everyone has an arsenal either in their car or house, and despite the fact drinking liquor is frowned upon, many people drink it. I have made the greatest friends, have wonderful neighbors, and wouldn’t move away from the Blue Ridge Mountains for anything. When I first arrived, I saved the messages on my answering machine just so I could hear the accent. Of course, being from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, I don’t have one.



Visiting a Member of the Cedar Mountain Smuckers Club
(To Join You Must be over 90)

Did I tell you about the time
I opened the back door
and saw ten copperheads
coiled on the stoop?
It was the rain.
They were hunting
high ground.
I shook my broom,
shouted ‘shoo’
and away they went.
I can show you the spring
near the state line
across from Rocky Hill
Baptist Church. In summer,
Daddy took us there to cool off.
I know I could find it.
Pansy wanted to ride Grandpa’s
horse all by herself to the river.
When she got lost she let go
of the reins and old Chestnut
took her right to the still—
he knew the way sure enough.
276 used to be a two-rut road.
One summer we were coming  
here from Aiken in Daddy’s Ford.
We got behind a cow headed
up the mountain. Daddy drove
cow time all the way to the top.

Every August I picked berries.
Rode my horse across Buck Horn
Creek to that patch near the bald
 shaped like a giant’s foot.
Put up jam and syrup for days.
Mama found arrowheads on the land.
I saved them with the rattles
from the diamondbacks Jim killed.
Look, here’s a boxful in case
somebody wants to display them
behind glass.


At the Sweet Hollow Baptist Church

Pastor Harker predicts
the only way
to reach paradise
is to look straight ahead,
do not wobble.
There’s a mansion
with your name engraved
right up there. Miracles
lined with fire
roll from his tongue.

Mary Alice wants so hard
to believe she reads
the New Testament
front to back, sticks the symbol
of a fish on her old Dodge,
buys a gold cross and chain
from the antique store
in town to wear around
her neck so everyone
knows whose side she’s on.


A Very Small Disaster
in the Scheme of Things

I put the potting soil
in the shed, don’t see
the dark wings folded
like an envelope
above me, shut the door,
think it stuck, push
hard ready to get on
with my to-do list.

But I can’t ignore I am part
of one more mammal’s
slide to extinction, so
I find the spade and pull out
a prayer from childhood.
Long after I’ve buried it
the last hiss sounds,
a wound in my ear.


Rescue Dog

She follows the sun around the house
as if it’s her job.
The only time she moves
is when we’re near,
shifting from side to back,
dusting a spot with her tail—the signal
for a belly rub we don’t always give.
Hands full, too stiff
to stoop, we step over, around her,
with our day.

Her body twitches.
She cries with her muzzle closed.
I reach down to stroke the dark coat,
the old scars. I talk to her. Somewhere,
deep inside her canine brain
she races through forests and meadows
the way humans imagine
every dog must dream.
Or she’s chained to a stake
with the stick coming down
again and again
and again.