Donna Coffey Little

The Church Ladies Are Coming to Get Me

The church ladies are coming to get me.
Their faces are whiskered like kittens.
Their loins are girdled, their breasts are bridled.
With cloaks and staves, they circle my home.

I am not there. I walk Stamp Creek.
I eat ferns with my eyes. Memorize
how leaves palm light and hold it,
send down dark where the creek pools
deep enough to swim. I step in.

Churched in laughter. Hands stained
with fern from where I lay.
Angel-spread, I pray.

The church ladies are trussed to carry
heavy loads. Mouths pursed around
their pickled tongues, the pink
they hide with vigilant teeth.
Their heads are bobbling, side to side.
Their eyes are stoned as sphinxes.

Hoods on their heads, a cross that burns,
they gather, a hanging mob with spoons
and brooms. They circle me and kneel.
Their pilgrim knees are pocked
with pebbles. Their legs are fat
and wrapped, white and uncaressed.

The Jordan is no bigger than Stamp Creek.
I’ve thrown a stone across them both.
My mother’s bones for a green kingdom.
Water taught me nothing can be kept.
When the bed went dry, I wept.
Rain returned and I unlearned fear.
Water, like blood and dogs,
finds its way home.

Come, ladies. We will practice immersion.
I will unbind you like a broken foot.
Enter the brown water, sink to silky mud.
Rest there, for the first time, rest.
In slow time hold your breath and watch
fish dart between the stones.
Almost decide to stay.
Then dig your toes in, rise and shout,
flapping your arms like water birds’
great gangly wings. Take to the sky.


Moonshine at Lost Town Creek

By Lost Town Creek I found a ruined still
where bootleggers brewed corn whiskey.
By moonlight they carried furtive sacks,
spilled them by the cold creek’s bank.
Fetched mountain water
in a copper cauldron.
Lit a fire in a circle of stones,
pounded grain to mash,
cooked it in a copper kettle,
smelling sweet corn
and woodsmoke and dying leaves.

Men caught spirits
in the coils of the still.
Plucked blaze from the autumn sky:
seven stars,
white lightning.

Making moonshine
where the Cherokee had danced
the Green Corn rite.
At summer’s end they bathed
in the moonlit creek,
lit their fire with a tree
splintered by lightning,
brought to the blaze old
furniture and grudges.
Burned it all and danced
in a line like a snake
until the fire and the dance
made all things new.

What could I bring to burn or brew
in the house of spirits?
I have no fields,
I have no harvest.
I could make a bonfire
of my store-bought life.
A mound of appliances,
VCRs and toaster ovens and old radios.

My surplus is plastic
and would stink to burn,
and melt into a twisted heap
by the side of the creek.
Distilled into a poison
that the ground won’t claim.

I carry home a brown glass jug,
a copper tube and shards
of rainbow glass.
I keep them like I keep
for luck
the split bark
of a lightning-struck tree.

I follow paths
I know by heart in the dark
to the moonlit creek
and gather moonshine
in the cauldrons of my eyes.

And pure like moon
I shed
my own dead skin
and burn and burn
until all that’s left is spirit.


Snow Angels on a Golf Course

We trudged to the gash
the golf course makes
at the foot of the mountain.
Snow draped it
like a crisp white altar cloth.

To the west, the clouds were a shroud
across the mountain’s head,
its dead eyes coined with a cold fog.
To the east, sheets of shimmering snow,
and the wide white eye of the sun.

We walked the line between,
as if we made the split.

We lay down to make our wings,
arms and legs spread open,
eyes open to the snowy sky.
We flapped our arms to fly,
and something took to the air.

The sky split open and I saw the sun
white like a moon behind the clouds.
Its white light kindled snow
into a field of stars.
We lay among the dazzle.

Snow stung us through our clothes
and left me numb and stunned
that a god should come
and kiss us children where we lay.
His lips pressed the center of our foreheads.
It was goodnight in day.

The dogs wheeled in circles
like large birds,
laughing their doggy laughs.
Let’s skate,
you said,
and we spun our wheelies
in the makeshift rink.
Your Dora coat was white and glowed.

And who could say what prayers we left?
When up we rose
two angels stayed to mark our fall,
one large, one small,
on the white green.


Hickory Log Petroglyph

I have lain on rocks and felt emptied
of my knowledge. It is dangerous
to sleep on rocks, lulled by the waves

within, as if rock were a boat.
As when after a day of paddling
I dream all night of gliding and rocking.

This rock speaks of water.
Of where it sat above the Etowah,
watched the wide brown river’s flow.

Marked with scattered circles
like pocks of rain, carved cups,
concentric rings and waves.

All that memory locked
in such thin skin and illegible
markings: a forgotten language.

The rock might be an owl.
The round top its head,
the jutting sides its folded wings.

If I laid on it, if I dared,
the angel that I’d make
would almost touch its edges.

Would the rock begrudge my touch?
Touching granite, I would dream
of the wild life beneath:

atoms and electrons,
stars and shooting stars.
All that matter, on fire and bursting.

Paper is too thin. I would write
in rock and burn and talk
as only stone can burn.


Donna Coffey Little

My meditation practice is Christian but deeply influenced by Buddhism, especially the work of Thich Nhat Hanh. When I rise each morning, I make my coffee and oatmeal, then sit alone and read scripture. I read a few chapters or focus on psalms I have memorized or am memorizing. I pray into the scripture and reach out my soul toward God.

Then I pull my shoes on and walk out the back door with my three dogs. We walk my 15-acre farm as the sun rises. There is a small creek that runs through the property and I walk across and along the creek. I practice mindfulness by looking closely and listening closely to everything: my neighbor’s cows, the spider webs and wildflowers in the grass, the flock of pigeons that swoop down off the barn at our approach, the sound of the creek running over the rocks, the crickets leaping out of the long grass and flinging themselves in the creek.

On a larger scale, I have embarked on a pilgrimage to explore the creeks, mountains and rivers where I live in North Georgia. While most pilgrims trek to a holy site, my own watershed and ecosystem are my holy site. After my house burned down in 2012, I embarked on this pilgrimage as a path of healing.

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