It has been awhile since Laura Swearingen-Steadwell e-mailed my wife, Libby, asking permission to publish my poem, “Sedimentary,” in a literary journal. Of course I said yes. It is an honor to be considered for publication by PEN America, whose august members have encouraged and mentored my writing career for over 30 years.
This week I received a copy of the book, “PEN AMERICA, A Journal For Writers And Readers, #19 HAUNTINGS,” and I’m taking my time slowly reading all the selections of poetry, fiction, memoirs and essays, enjoying the works of internationally-known writers and poets.
I was intrigued by the journal’s theme, “Hauntings,” and how my poem fit in. I wrote “Sedimentary” a couple of years ago (March, 2014), and had to re-read the poem a few times to refresh my memory. And I could see some connections, subtle, not overt, memories of childhood, which I’ve been writing about for years.
Some of the writers talked about ghosts, and their experiences with ghosts, a topic I’ve explored, still feeling close to so many of the dead who affected me in life, and continue to affect me in death. I’ve written about them in my poems, perhaps the only way I can express my feelings of loss, and desire to keep their memories alive, not to be forgotten. Thinking of those other poems, I realize that there are probably better ones, more applicable to PEN’s theme, but “Sedimentary” is the one that made the cut, I’m proud to say.
Years before we moved into the little white house
on the hill a road construction crew sliced off
the hillside edge to make way for the highway
as easily as Mama cut a loaf of sourdough bread.
Rains washed down the hillside and flowed into
a drainage ditch beside the road, revealing layers
of soil, sand, clay and limestone rock that provided
endless hours of fascination for three little boys.
Standing back and taking in the colored layers before me,
digging into interesting hues with a teaspoon, I uncovered
a broken chipped flint arrowhead crafted by
some hunter forgotten and long-dead, transporting me back
to a prehistoric Florida wilderness untamed by the
white man’s machinery, imagined hunting with the Creek
ghosts for deer and squirrel, leaving behind no evidence
of their passing except for that sharpened arrow tip.
Another day I dug into a deeper orange clay and
found fragments of petrified wood lying where the
tree fell onto the forest floor eons before men came.
Then came ancient seashells embedded in a
mysterious layer of sand that tasted salt on my
tongue, tiny white periwinkles, clams and scallops
still perfect in their symmetry, sleeping
next to a darkened, stained sharkstooth I saved.
Our miniature Grand Canyon never failed
to reveal hidden treasures to my digging,
mementos I saved in a cigar box with old coins.
One day as I silently pondered my life and events
from childhood, digging deeply for lost memories,
I realized that my life was like that hillside, composed
of layer upon layer of sedimentary experiences
waiting for me to scrape away the sand with my spoon.
Ordering information: www.pen.org/issue-19-hauntings or phone 646-779-4816
$10.00 per copy; also available for Kindle, Nook, and iBooks
Hope you enjoy the read,