Six Poems

by Cathy Smith Bowers

storySouth is pleased to present six poems by Cathy Smith Bowers reprinted from her books Traveling in Time of Danger (Iris Press, 1999) and A Book of Minutes (Iris Press, 2004). We also present in this issue An Interview with Cathy Smith Bowers by Julie Funderburk.

Cathy Smith Bowers is author of three poetry collections, including The Love That Ended Yesterday in Texas, which was the first winner of the Texas Tech University Press Poetry Award Series, subsequently named for Walt McDonald. Her other books are Traveling in Time of Danger and her most recent, A Book of Minutes, from Iris Press. A native of South Carolina, she has received a South Carolina Poetry Fellowship and was a winner of the 1990 General Electric Award for Younger Writers. Her poems appear in The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, The Southern Review, Kenyon Review, and The Gettysburg Review, among other journals. She teaches in the Low-Residency MFA Program at Queens University of Charlotte. I spoke with her in Tryon, North Carolina, her new town of residence, which offers a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.


I had a boyfriend once, after my mother
and brothers and sisters and I
fled my father’s house, who worked
at the Piggly Wiggly where he stocked
shelves on Fridays until midnight
then drove to my house to sneak me out,
take me down to the tracks by the cotton mill
where he lifted me and the quilt I’d brought
into an empty boxcar. All night
the wild thunder of looms. The roar of trains
passing on adjacent tracks hauling
their difficult cargo, cotton bales
or rolls of muslin on their way
to the bleachery to be whitened, patterned
into stripes and checks, into still-life gardens
of wisteria and rose. And when the whistle
signaled third shift free, he would lift me
down again onto the gravel and take me home.
If my mother ever knew she didn’t say, so glad
in her new freedom, so grateful for the bags
of damaged goods stolen from the stockroom
and left on our kitchen table. Slashed
bags of rice and beans he had bandaged
with masking tape, the labelless cans,
the cereals and detergents in varying
stages of destruction. Plenty
to get us through the week, and even some plums
and cherries, tender and delicious,
still whole inside the mutilated cans
and floating in their own sweet juice.


When my brother
finally spoke its name,
the white cells of his body
having relinquished
their ancient
instruments of war
the small bombs
and the hand grenades
the tanks slow
retreat into mirage
the horses
and the bright swords
the sticks
the stones
finally down
and the little lost
animal of the spirit
stepping its soft
hooves into the light,
I wanted
to know that peace
walk into that quiet
to lie down
in a life like that.


                             “It was one of those moments
                            you wish you could
                            marry forever.”
                                          —James Seay

                             My father, as he pulled
off his beaten shoes and unbuttoned his shirt
after a hard day in the spinning
room, the whistle he would ease through the slit
between his tongue and palate, too tired
to press his lips into the tight o
of the realer whistle whistled Sunday mornings
before the world went bad, the clear,
pure strains of Fraulein called up
from his healing lungs

                             Beth’s snowflakes,
before she died, how, when she opened
the door to let us in, hundreds
of them she had cut and hung from the ceiling—
sloppy paper flakes spinning above the heat
of the big-bellied stove, unbelievable
soft blizzard of white

                             the look on Flint’s face,
its sweet incredulity of loss
as if in the telling of the story
he suddenly realized the girl
in the men’s restroom of that New Orleans
oyster house was the one true love of his life,
the way he turned from the urinal
and there she was, pushing him aside
pleading—I’m going to throw up
and I’ll need you to hold my hair—

and, done, she was gone, as he stood there
stunned, still holding his penis,
his other hand cupped tight to his mouth and nose,
breathing in, breathing deep
the still lingering jasmine of her hair.

Anatomy of a Southern Kiss

She said, Just put your stuff right there.
He said, Right whar?
Mimicking her

drawl. Tells now how it took so long,
that dreaded No,
(Oh, man's worst curse)
oozing from her

lovely mouth, he’d tasted each slow
sweet O, O, O
before she could
get the word out.


Maythen to the Anglo-Saxon.
Egypt’s minion
offered up to
sun. Little weed

of our childhood picked to appease
our mother’s ire
when father turned
to drink. Too soon

we learn, as field and cove and ditch
we tread, the more
it is trodden
the more it spreads.


So I’ve come to love the flower
whose name some jerk
shouted at my
brother as we

walked past. Beneath my dormant rose,
it alone bears
the weight of snow.
Pensées. Thoughts no

less numerous than its many
names: Call me to
you. Hearts-ease. Kiss
me ere I rise.

“Groceries,” “Kingdom,” and “Three” originally appeared in Traveling in Time of Danger (Iris Press, 1999). “Anatomy of a Southern Kiss,” “Chamomile,” and “Pansy” originally appeared in A Book of Minutes (Iris Press, 2004). These poems are reprinted here by permission of the author.