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About this poet

Kathryn Stripling Byer grew up in southwest Georgia, graduated from Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and earned her Master of Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she studied with Allen Tate, Fred Chappell, and Robert Watson. Her books of poetry include Catching Light (Louisiana State University Press, 2002); Black Shawl (1998); Wildwood Flower (1992), which was the 1992 Lamont Poetry Selection of The Academy of American Poets; and The Girl in the Midst of the Harvest (1986), which was published in the Associated Writing Programs award series.

Byer's poems have appeared in Arts Journal, Carolina Quarterly, Georgia Review, Hudson Review, Iowa Review, Nimrod, Poetry, and Southern Review, as well as numerous anthologies. Her essays have appeared in Bloodroot: Reflections on Place by Appalachian Women Writers (edited by Joyce Dyer; University Press of Kentucky, 1998), Dream Garden: The Poetic Vision of Fred Chappell (edited by Patrick Bizzaro; Louisiana State University Press, 1997), The Boston Globe, and Shenandoah.

Kathryn Stripling Byer has received writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council. She is poet-in-residence at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina.

Coastal Plain

Kathryn Stripling Byer

The only clouds
forming are crow clouds,

the only shade, oaks
bound together in a tangle of oak

limbs that signal the wind
coming, if there is any wind

stroking the flat
fields, the flat

swatch of corn.
Far as anyone’s eye can see, corn’s

dying under the sky
that repeats itself either as sky

or as water
that won’t remain water

for long on the highway: its shimmer
is merely the shimmer

of one more illusion that yields
to our crossing as we ourselves yield

to our lives, to the roots
of our landscape. Pull up the roots

and what do we see but the night
soil of dream, the night

soil of what we call
home. Home that calls

and calls
and calls.

Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press from Coming to Rest by Kathryn Stripling Byer. Copyright © 2006 by Kathryn Stripling Byer.

Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press from Coming to Rest by Kathryn Stripling Byer. Copyright © 2006 by Kathryn Stripling Byer.

Kathryn Stripling Byer

Kathryn Stripling Byer grew up in southwest Georgia, graduated from Wesleyan College

by this poet

poem
I hoe thawed ground
with a vengeance. Winter has left
my house empty of dried beans
and meat. I am hungry

and now that a few buds appear
on the sycamore, I watch the road
winding down this dark mountain
not even the mule can climb
without a struggle. Long daylight

and nobody comes while my husband
traps
poem
This, he said, giving the hickory leaf
to me. Because I am poor.
And he lifted my hand to his lips,
kissed the fingers that might have worn
gold rings if he had inherited

bottomland, not this
impossible rock where the eagles soared
after the long rains were over. He stood
in the wet grass, his
poem
Up here in the mountains
we know what extinct means. We've seen
how our breath on a bitter night
fades like a ghost from the window glass.
We know the wolf's gone.
The panther. We've heard the old stories
run down, stutter out
into silence. Who knows where we're heading?
All roads seem to lead
to Millennium,