Thursday, September 3, 2009

My Name is West Virginia

When I asked my three-years old grandson if he knew my name, he answered without hesitation: “West Virginia.”

“No,” I said. “Grammy’s name is Karen.”

West Virginia,” he said with a smile. “You are West Virginia.”

I am dirt road hollers

and creeks without bridges,

glowing piles of coal

and coal black, lumbering bears.

I am Black-eyed Susans

and sticky, silky Milkweed,

swelling and bursting

in Autumn scented air.

I am whispered family secrets,

kisses beneath windows,

blanket-covered porch swings

and promises made there.

I am born of revolutions

and wars against my brothers;

I am apple faced women

and men who try and dare.

I am pinto bean weekdays

with iron skillet cornbread;

I am fried chicken Sundays

and sweet'ning if you choose.

I am Onward, Christian Soldiers,

on prayer meeting Wednesdays,

embossed zippered Bibles

and patent leather shoes.

I am Mother Jones marches,

the passing of the torches,

and American dreams

that somehow do come true.

I’m the boys from the coal mines

and the girls who learned to write lines.

I am West Virginia -

a majestic mountain Muse.


  1. Beautiful....I am there...have been there a Tennessee Waltz..I can relate to every line

    Love this one Karen


  2. And I am crying.

    After your post.

    I've said this before, I am sure, but this one, this beautiful one, is my favorite. (To date.)

    I'm so sorry for my absense around these parts this summer--too much craziness to mention (it starts with weekly visitors of varying ease, and ends with a new dishwasher installation gone bad and an entire kitchen ripped out :) ) BUT this one pulled me by the heart off the google reader.

    I heart West Virginia. ;)

  3. Beautiful, Karen! (I'm known as 'grammy', too.) I laughed because I had red beans and skillet cornbread just this week...more than once, actually. This makes me want to come to your West Virginia and watch the leaves turn. Blessings!!

  4. I learnt a lot about your 'namesake' West Virginia through your wonderful poem Karen. Thank your dear grandson for inspiring you to write it.

  5. A beautiful poem--I don't know West Virginia well, but have spent a little time there--it's a beautiful state. Love the anecdote about your grandson!

  6. Well there you are a complete "STATE" of Being and Doing! The poem is pure delight! I can just picture the scene with your grandson - you in full agreement with him - giving full credence to his stated domain for you and he so joyful in your acceptance and validation. Well there you have it "Grammy," you are indeed a beautiful State of Being!! Big Hugs!

  7. Glad to see that being back to school hasn't put a damper on your muse. :) West Virginia is beautiful. I've never been there, but I know her.

  8. Linda - I know you, Ms. Tennessee Waltz! The connections here are strong, indeed.

    Jennifer! You can't know how I've thought about you and hoped you are well. I'm sorry about the kitchen woes but glad to know you're surviving. Maybe the relatives will go home now that summer's over! Thank you for your comments on this poem. I read back over it and think maybe it's not so good as poetry, but it certainly is comfortable to me, if you know what I mean.

    I look forward to your return to blogland!

    Marion - We have too many similarities not to have been connected somewhere, sometime! Even your skinny picture could be me! LOL Now, too many beans later, well...not exactly! Thanks for reading, Grammy. Blessings to you.

    Margaret - I'm glad to give you a little intro to this beautiful state. By the way, it has been compared to Switzerland, if that gives you an idea of its beauty.

    John - Thank you. It is an extraordinarily beautiful and varied state. Have a great weekend.

    Rose Marie - You're on a roll with this one! LOL Thank you for the big smile I'm wearing!

    Jana - Your last statement gladdens my heart. Thank you.

  9. This touched me in so many ways from the voice of your grandson, so cute, to my late grandads favourite Onward Christian Soldiers and the hominess of pinto bean weekdays.

    Thank you.)

  10. Karen~ This is just fantastic! Wow, this is so creative, so inspired!

    all of it, but these lines stopped me in my tracks:

    "blanket-covered porch swings
    and promises made there."...just sweet!

    What lovely word pictures you create~
    Love what your grandson said! Kids say the darndest things and inspire everyday.

    have a lovely holiday weekend~

  11. I have ancestors from there. Relations. Never been, though your poem takes me there somehow.

  12. I'm glad to have been introduced to this peaceful yet strong state I did not know much about (until I've read your poem, that is...)
    and also this poem made me think about how much I am Hungary or the region I've been living in the past ten (15) years.
    also, if we are the region we reside or the one we are coming from ?
    a thought provoking poem, indeed.

  13. My only previous knowledge of West Virginia came through Olivia Newton John and John Denver. It seems that to know her is to love her. A lovely piece, great rhythm, and the repetition of 'I am' is powerfully effective. Rose Marie's very clever pun - what is it with American's and puns? - hits it right on the head. The German poet Holderlin thought poetry was a state of being and you obviously agree with him.

  14. I'm liking the prospects of 'black-eyed Susans' :D :D

    This certainly not one of your best works in writing. But there is something about it. It is perhaps the closest you've come to revieling secrets about yourself. Its feels 'homely'. Thank you for this.

    PS: Jen has certainly become a celebrity commenter, hasn't she?

    Now its an incentive for us to write better and try to get her to make an appearance. :)

    PPS: I just wish am that rocking when am old that my grandson says "You are Las Vegas" Tee Hee!!!

  15. Oh my, that is a stunning picture. Just stunning!

    And the words of reflect so penetrating and beautiful.

  16. Obviously, being West Virginia is the highest compliment he could think to pay you. Lovely poem - of you both, no doubt.

  17. Sarah - Thanks, Selchie! I'm glad to have reminded you of your grandfather. I haven't actually heard that song since my youth, but it always recalls to me the little country church and another era.

    Calli - Thank you! I think my grandson probably hears his parents talk about coming to WV - they live in Kentucky - and he associates that with coming to see me. I loved it though, for the thoughts it provoked in me.

    Rachel - The heritage of the people here is one of strength, kindness, and courage. You're a luck gal!

    SzelsoFa - Thank you! I'm glad to provide an introduction to "almost Heaven"! In answer to your question, I think we are the one we're from - no matter who we become or where we live, we always carry the past within us. The West Virginia I have described in this poem is the one of my past. My life today looks very little like that one, but the ways I think and react today have their roots in that earlier life. I'd love to read your take on being Hungary.

    Mairi - No matter where I've been, if someone starts the chorus of "Almost Heaven, West Virginia," everyone else takes it up! I've heard it sung with numerous accents and great gusto. Thanks, John Denver!

    Aniket - Guess what I was called when I was a child? Susie - and teased about being "black eyed Susie" because of the color of my eyes! So, I really AM Black Eyed Susan! But Las Vegas? I don't think so! Not for me - although for a spot of fun...

    I absolutely agree with you about this not being one of my best poems - actually kind of "hokey", but somehow, it fits for me! As I said to SzelsoFa, the references in the poem are to my life in the past and to the heritage and history of the state, so it is quite personal and probably fairly revealing. I also think it speaks for the state itself, so not just me, but us!

    Jason - If you haven't come down to Dolly Sods or the Potomac Highland, you should make that trip in fall. WV is truly a beautiful state. Thank you for you comments.

    Dave - You've brought a smile to my face with this comment. Thank you.

  18. Karen, I think Aniket got it right (and you know it pains me to admit that!)--this is so touching because the amazing poet who set out to keep secrets keeps revealing what an amazing person she is, and this piece is the most directly revealing to date.

    My visitors are all gone, gone, gone. But now they are replaced with all of the workers who will install my new kitchen. The only good part? I don't have to talk to them if I don't want to and I definitely don't have to cook for them. ;)

  19. Good Morning Karen~ Oh this is profoundly beautiful. I am from the mountains of KY so I can relate to every word in your poem. You captured everything from the mountains to the coal mines, food and religion. Such an inspiring piece. Thanks for sharing such beauty this morning. Have a great day.

    Also, that's a stunning picture.

  20. love how you introduce this one - too small to know anything but the truth - and how you embraced it. apple faced women, porch swings, revolution - seems so disparate at times, but fluid and whole. and the photo is almost as beautiful as the poem.

  21. When we drove through WV years ago I was struck by the way it felt like wilderness, like maybe you could turn a few corners and be very far away from the city. I still think of it as one of the more beautiful states and definitely of its own, not like the others. Of course you can say that of most states. Oregon is the kindest wild state though. :) The best weather without the water struggles of California and the crowds of Washington. They say it rains too much here. But of course that means the coast and the valley, not the high desert. I love Oregon the most for the diversity of its climates and geographies. There are places in Oregon you can drive kind of like Montana, not see another soul for a few hours even in midday.

    Karen, thank you for your share at my blog, I appreciate knowing your heart.

  22. Jennifer - I hope the fall brings you some peace and time to write and study. I hope the kids are well and happy in school, too. Sending good thoughts your way!

    joaquin - WV was formed by the struggles of the Civil War but finds its values in family, generosity, and hard work. I am honored to be part of her. (Of course, television depicts us as backwoods hicks with no teeth, poor hygiene and bad grammar, so if this little verse does nothing else, maybe it paints a different picture.) Thank you for knowing and learning about this place and its people.

    Christopher - I am happy to know that you've been here and that you recognized the wild beauty of this place. I haven't been to Oregon, but I have a nephew who lives there, and he is a rugged, independent man who loves the mountains of that state. His descriptions and yours make Oregon strongly appealing.

    I am happy to have come to know you, Christopher. Mutual, for certain.

  23. Michelle - I am pleased to have met a kindred spirit, born and bred of the same sort of stock, here on the blogs. I look forward to reading your work and looking for Kentucky there!

  24. What a beautiful poem, Karen, and what a wonderful place it describes... I can feel your love in it, and your pride. Just wonderful!
    The photo is magnificent. Have you taken it?

  25. Karen, I don't know if this is one of your best poems, but it is certainly one of my favourites... its so evocative...
    maybe when he is older, you'll show your grandson this poem, so that he can understand the grain of wisdom he sprouted in his innocence. he'll be very embarrassed too,if i know kids :)

  26. Karen, I saw your comment by way of Dave King in regard to the question, "unsettling work of art" to find that we made the exact same choice. You may wish to see my blog post in response to this sculpture"

    More hugs,

    Rose Marie

  27. Vesper - Thanks for recognizing the pride and love I have for my home. I didn't actually take the picture, but I have been there, and it is an accurate, untouched representation of WV.

    Little Girl - Thank you. You're probably right about my grandson, but if it lasts long enough, I'm sure he'll treasure it simply because. Thanks for reminding me of this.

  28. Hi, Karen! Once I got home, I couldn't wait to see what you had up. I love West Virginia, and I love this poem!! I'm sure it hits at the heart of every native, but you have also painted a picture so the rest of us can see the real WV through your eyes.

    I love the descriptive lines full of dirt roads, iron skillet cornbread, and embossed zippered Bibles. How I can relate to all of those beautiful images. But I also love how you add history and people. What a beautiful portrait of a beautiful state!

  29. The way you paint West Virginia is beautiful and I'm sure people who have lived there take this post to heart. Nice to drop by.

  30. Julie - Welcome back! I'm semi-happy with this. I know it's not great poetry, but I do feel a pride in my state and my heritage, so for that reason, it's okay.

    You're the only one who expressed recognition for the embossed zippered Bible -- Yay! I still have mine - white with my name on it. Inside with childish hand I wrote, "I was saved." How's that for a little Appalachian girl?

    I'm glad you're back. I've missed you.

    Quackster - Thanks for stopping by, John.

  31. Karen this is one hell of a poem! I loved every word. I relate to all that is here. I can't hear Onward Christian Soldiers without shedding a few tears. Pinto beans and cornbread - a staple then, cuisine now!!! LOL
    My little white Bible, which is yellow now, is up in my room next to my bed!!!!! West Virginia - you ARE wonderful.

  32. Cat - Thanks!

    Hey, Kaye - I knew you'd get this if anyone on earth did. I love your comment on "cuisine"! My sister can't wait to leave the city to get home for that cuisine! I still have my Bible, too, with my childish writing and a hand-drawn picture of my protestant Jesus in it! I'm glad you read this. I thought of you when I posted it.

  33. this is a lovely poem, i don't know West Virginia at all, but i feel as though i do now I've read this poem!

  34. Juliet - I'm glad to show you a little bit of Appalachia (or as they say here in West Virginia - "Almost Heaven"! I wanted to tell you, too, that I like the new silk on Bolts of Silk! Very pretty.