Becoming Appalachian

first published (in slightly edited form and without illustrations)
Appalachian Journal Vol. 38: 2-3 (Winter/Spring 2011)

© by Chris Bolgiano

The Fall, 2010 issue of Appalachian Journal, which focused on regional identity, hit me where it hurts: in my self-proclaimed, hardly-won, and wholly un-censused identity as Appalachian. Because nowhere in seventy pages of scholarly surveys, speculations, and definitions could I find myself.

Chris Bolgiano's view from the deck
Looking at Little North Mountain from the author’s deck in autumn.

Researchers reach out to fourth generation descendants born in industrial cities far from the mountains and deem them Appalachian, and I totally get that. I’ve come to understand, and not just from Loyal Jones, that you can get an Appalachian into Heaven but she’ll still insist on going home to the mountains every other weekend.

I understand, because even though I wasn’t born here, I couldn’t live anywhere else but here on Cross Mountain, with Little North Mountain in front of me. And the trailer court down the road. Continue reading “Becoming Appalachian”

Milagrito: Eye of the Raven

This entry is part 35 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011


“Milagros are religious folk charms traditionally used for healing purposes and as votive offerings in Mexico, the southern United States, other areas of Latin America, as well as parts of the Iberian peninsula. …[T]hey can be constructed from gold, silver, tin, lead, wood, bone, or wax. In Spanish, the word milagro literally means miracle or surprise.”

Dear red striated muscle, vascular and
slightly bigger than my two cupped hands,

I saw your image stitched and stuffed as a well-
worn pincushion with the legend “There

is a place in my heart for you”. I cringe
at the thought of needles; and also because

I know that every eye, finger, bone, or body
part left by the wayside altar means something

has been sacrificed, given at cost for another’s
due. Crow feasting on that bit of severed

flesh, do you stop your fevered work to notice
the day is overcast and cool, doused with

the creosote smell of rain? It doesn’t fall,
only makes threats that cast a pall on our

determined plans. And your rejoinder comes alongside
calls exchanged by ravens: how mystery is never led

nor haltered, but even the bird clothed head to claw
in ashes, flashes a tin orb: a jewel in its drusy eye.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Woodrat Podcast 43: Marly Youmans in Wales

Marly Youmans with an ancient yew on the grounds of Powis Castle
admiring yew #35 on the grounds of Powis Castle

Even though my friend the poet and novelist Marly Youmans lives just five hours away from me in upstate New York, we went all the way to Wales to record this podcast. How’s that for dedication? We start out at a tea house on the grounds of Powis Castle, where we’re joined by another novelist and blogger, Clare Dudman. Then we go to Ty Isaf, the stately Clive Hicks-Jenkins residence near Aberystwyth, where we talk about such topics as the ghosts of Cooperstown, New York; whether children are an inspiration or a hindrance for a busy writer; women leaving the world for the woods; and how writing in rhyme resembles surfing. We are serenaded by rooks.

Marly’s latest book of poems is The Throne of Psyche and her latest novel is Val/Orson. She blogs at The Palace at 2:00 a.m. and tweets about raspberries and radishes.

Podcast feed | Subscribe in iTunes

Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).


This entry is part 34 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011


Overcast sky, the rain that falls
elsewhere. The canopy of electric sound
cicadas weave throughout the trees.

You have me scour the pockets
of such moments for some remnant
change— and here I lay them down

and balance them on a rim of glass.
A silver-spotted skipper drinks
from the bergamot and I want

to tip my face toward the flower’s
starburst cup. So long at work,
and teetering from one impossible

task to another. I count and recount
an abacus of spilled grain, water flowing
from a sieve: o gather me now in.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Stepping into the heat

Watch on Vimeo.

A small, volunteer sunflower growing alongside the footpath between my house and my folks’ house has attracted a huge following, from mordelid beetles to flea beetles to some kind of plant bug that lurk on the back side. Add to that the small wasps and bees coming in for shorter visits, and it’s quite a happening little scene.

That’s what tempted me to stand out in the sun for ten minutes yesterday evening videoing it. But when I brought up the clips on my desktop monitor, it was the sun-struck footage rather than the footage focused more on the insects that seemed the most striking. I hadn’t had anything specific in mind when I shot it, but I picked up my copy of Nic S.‘s book Forever Will End On Thursday and quickly found a nearly perfect fit: the poem “homesteader,” which begins:

I step into the heat
as into a dress

the sun fits me, it is
my size

and the heat is

Every time I make a videopoem, even one as simple as this, I feel I learn something new. This time, I discovered that the natural sound from the video itself made a perfectly satisfactory soundtrack, as long as I was careful, in my couple of splices, not to cut off the field sparrow in mid-song. I’m also refining my technique for massaging the poetry reading. In general, I find it necessary to lengthen the spaces between phrases when adapting a sound recording for use in a videopoem, in order to counteract the distraction-effect of the video images and give the words time to sink in. Nic’s readings lend themselves especially well to this kind of spacing, since her readings are already slower and more clearly articulated than most other people’s. On the other hand, there’s nothing that says a viewer or listener has to catch every word on the first listen. We certainly don’t have that expectation with music!

This is my third video so far for a poem by Nic S.. In case you missed them, the other two were “on being constantly civil towards death” and “the wanderers’ blessing.” Two other videos used Nic’s readings (originally recorded for Whale Sound): “hollow” (text by Peter Stephens — possibly my best videopoem to date) and “A Bigfoot Poem,” Nic’s rendering of one of my own pieces.

Letter to Stone

This entry is part 33 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011


Dear constant chafing
under heel and ball
of foot, teach me patience

for the long, slow simmer
under water, in the wild;
teach me the inward-

turning gift of each
lunar hollow, smaller
than the eye could reckon.

Within the pebbled garden
where monks rake labyrinth
upon labyrinth, juniper

and pine open in the wind
to praise. Shingle and shale
upon the beach: buffed

by seafoam and crowned
by the gods’ careless spit,
you’ve promised

like a lover to mold
me smooth, to lilt me
quick across the water

to the other side.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Landscape, with Incipient Questions

This entry is part 32 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011


Question-mark Butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis)

The underside of every moment is a shimmer you
might hear, but not see: curved and silvering
as an echo of bells at sundown, mottled

or muffled from mallet-blows. When the last
of the herd is driven into the barn, the man
latches the gate and washes up at the pump.

Shadows streak the linen on the supper table.
Shadows soften the winged bodies in love
with the dangerous heat from the lamp: listen,

they frame most of the questions at this hour.
In the corner of the room, a woman dozes off
in an armchair. The knitting has slipped

from her hands. The child by the window
has brushed her long, black hair and gazes
at a wilderness of stars in the dark.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Heat Indices

This entry is part 13 of 20 in the series Highgate Cemetery Poems


Sad broken angel

Bombs go off right across the world
from where I live, among a people who
look like me. This is news because
they are not at war — or at least,
not very much — & because they look
just like me. Meanwhile in America
we are blowing up mountains
& burning their black hearts to keep cool.
Meanwhile in America we are setting off
three & a half million pounds of explosives
every day in this undeclared war
against ourselves. This is not news because
it happens every day & is therefore
nothing new; because there is no easy-
to-tar enemy except perhaps for
the black-hearted mountains;
& because the people who die from it
die slowly & unspectacularly,
& are too often guilty of being poor.
Meanwhile in America it is hot
& getting hotter, & this is news
because it keeps us indoors, glued
to the news or at least to the sweat-
sticky couch. Meanwhile in America
the news anchors make a show
of indignation at the sun, righteous
& well-coiffed as fallen angels, &
never speculate about why we might
really be so hot, never mention
that we are blowing up mountains
& burning their black hearts to keep cool.


Note: I don’t mean to minimize the horror of the events in Norway, which now seem actually to be more about the massacre on the island than the initial bomb blasts. Every violent death, especially the death of a child, is a tragedy regardless of where in the world it happens — even schoolchildren in Appalachia who get brain tumors from having the misfortune of living too close to coal processing plants.


This entry is part 31 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011


“…and at the iron’s point
there seemed to be a little fire.”
~ St. Theresa of Avila

Sunflower bowing to the east,
tethered to the blazing sun—

Sparse carpet of moss with hidden
tongues desiring volumes of water—

Tell me again the story of the saint,
her every shudder pressed in sensuous

folds of marble; and of the angel standing
above her with his spear of gold—

Red brick dust, planks of weathered
wood crumbling in the courtyard—

No golden dome here but relentless sky
under which everything’s stripped of rapture—

Pots of baked earth, each marked
sin cere, distinct, unalloyed—

I run my hands over the rough, dry clay,
loving best those surfaces whose cracked

veins might lead divining rods to all
the parched suburbs of the heart.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

John Davis visits Plummer’s Hollow as part of TrekEast

Cross-posted to the Plummer’s Hollow website.

John Davis photographing downy rattlesnake plantain in our 3-acre deer exclosure

UPDATE (6/22): Listen to Emily Reddy’s interview with John in Plummer’s Hollow for a news story on our local NPR station, WPSU.

(For the record, Bruce Bonta is Marcia Bonta’s husband, not her son! I’m the son.)


We’ve been honored to host John Davis from the Wildlands Network for two nights in Plummer’s Hollow as part of his epic, 6,000-mile muscle-powered journey to raise awareness of wildlands connectivity in the eastern U.S. and Canada. He started in Key Largo in February and hopes to make it to the Gaspe Peninsula by October, traveling by boat, hiking, and biking, visiting as many wildlands in the East as possible. You can follow along via the TrekEast blog on the Wildlands Network website and/or follow @TrekEast on Twitter for more up-to-the-minute photos and brief audio blogposts.

John pitched camp in the woods up beyond the garage, and uploaded three different audio posts last night and this morning, before getting underway around 7:00.

Woodrat (2:48)

Energy Assault (3:04)

Nature and Energy (3:21)

John Davis' campsite in Plummer's HollowJohn was one of the founders of Wild Earth magazine and the Wildlands Project, as it was then called, which together played a pivotal role in shaping our own thinking as eco-centric forest stewards, helping us see how our property fit into the larger conservation picture, and making us strong advocates for ecosystem recovery and large carnivore restoration, among other things. So we were pleased to be able to meet John and show him around the property, and compare notes about the environmental movement over the past 25 years. Also, as a long-time blogger and multimedia guy, I must say I’m very impressed by the electronic communications system John and his support staff have set up. He’s an excellent extemporaneous speaker, as the audio posts demonstrate, and also a gifted listener, so if you get a chance to go see him as TrekEast continues, don’t miss it. (His next appearance is this very evening in State College — see the Centre Daily Times for details.)

John Davis - heading out