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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.

Mountain Time [excerpt]

Kathryn Stripling Byer
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, dark roads with drop-offs
we can't plumb. It's time to be brought up short
now with the tale-tellers' Listen: There once lived
a woman named Delphia
who walked through these hills teaching children
to read. She was known as a quilter
whose hand never wearied, a mother
who raised up two daughters to pass on
her words like a strong chain of stitches.
Imagine her sitting among us,
her quick thimble moving along these lines
as if to hear every word striking true
as the stab of her needle through calico.
While prophets discourse about endings,
don't you think she'd tell us the world as we know it
keeps calling us back to beginnings?
This labor to make our words matter
is what any good quilter teaches.
A stitch in time, let's say.
A blind stitch
that clings to the edges
of what's left, the ripped
scraps and remnants, whatever
won't stop taking shape even though the whole
crazy quilt's falling to pieces.

From Black Shawl by Kathryn Stripling Byer. Copyright © 1998 by Kathryn Stripling Byer. Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press. All rights reserved.

From Black Shawl by Kathryn Stripling Byer. Copyright © 1998 by Kathryn Stripling Byer. Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press. All rights reserved.

Kathryn Stripling Byer

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

by this poet

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
Without hands
a woman would stand at her mirror 
looking back only, 
not touching, for how could she? 
Eyelid.
Cheek.
Earlobe.
Nack-hollow.
The pulse points that wait to be dusted 
with jasmine
or lavender. 
The lips she rubs 
rose with a forefinger. 
She tends the image 
she sees in her glass, 
the cold
poem

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