Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Irene McKinney

I just learned from a friend that Irene McKinney died this week. She was a POET and an inspiration. Irene was the first writer I read who was from West Virginia and who wrote about our home country. Here are two of her poems.

Visiting My Gravesite:
Talbott Churchyard, West Virginia

Maybe because I was married and felt secure and dead
at once, I listened to my father's urgings about "the future"

and bought this double plot on the hillside with a view
of the bare white church, the old elms, and the creek below.

I plan now to use both plots, luxuriantly spreading out
in the middle of a big double bed. ---But no,

finally, my burial has nothing to do with marriage, this lying here
in these same bones will be as real as anything I can imagine

for who I'll be then, as real as anything undergone, going back
and forth to "the world" out there, and here to this one spot

on earth I really know. Once I came in fast and low
in a little plane and when I looked down at the church,

the trees I've felt with my hands, the neighbors' houses
and the family farm, and I saw how tiny what I loved or knew was,

it was like my children going on with their plans and griefs
at a distance and nothing I could do about it. But I wanted

to reach down and pat it, while letting it know
I wouldn't interfere for the world, the world being

everything this isn't, this unknown buried in the known.

--from Six O'Clock Mine Report (Pitt Poetry Series, 1989)


I'm stained with the iron-red water from the mines
and I'm stained with tobacco and red wine and
the rust of perpetual loss. Near Mabie,
West Virginia I pulled off the narrow road one
morning on my way to work as a substitute teacher.
I wanted to stand there awhile to see how bad
it was, my shuddering in ten-degree weather
on my way to something that couldn't
possibly matter. I had quit smoking and I felt
like a squirrel about to be shot, looking around
in a frenzy. There was a squirrel there, not
afraid at all, turning a hickory nut in its
hands and ignoring me. I must've looked
like what I was, a woman who had lost her
bearings and refused to admit it. It was 
another day in my history of posthumous 
days, another day when nobody touched my body.

--from Vivid Companion (Vandalia Press, 2004)

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