Kentucky

In 1926, Kentucky established a state poet laureate position, which is currently held by Jeff Worley, who was appointed to a two-year term in 2019. Worley is the author of many collections of poetry, including A Little Luck (Texas Review Press, 2013).

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Notes on the Below

—For Mammoth Cave National Park

Humongous cavern, tell me, wet limestone, sandstone caprock,
      bat-wing, sightless translucent cave shrimp,

this endless plummet into more of the unknown,
                            how one keeps secrets for so long.

All my life, I’ve lived above the ground,
            car wheels over paved roads, roots breaking through                              concrete,
and still I’ve not understood the reel of this life’s purpose.

Not so much living, but a hovering without sense.

What’s it like to be always night? No moon, but a few lit up
      circles at your many openings. Endless dark, still time
must enter you. Like a train, like a green river?

Tell me what it is to be the thing rooted in shadow.
      To be the thing not touched by light (no that’s not it)
to not even need the light? I envy; I envy that.

Desire is a tricky thing, the boiling of the body’s wants,
            more praise, more hands holding the knives away.

I’ve been the one who has craved and craved until I could not            see
      beyond my own greed. There’s a whole nation of us.

To forgive myself, I point to the earth as witness.

To you, your Frozen Niagara, your Fat Man’s Misery,
            you with your 400 miles of interlocking caves that lead
only to more of you, tell me,

what it is to be quiet, and yet still breathing.

            Ruler of the Underlying, let me
speak to both the dead and the living as you do. Speak
to the ruined earth, the stalactites, the eastern small-footed             bat,

to honor this: the length of days. To speak to the core
      that creates and swallows, to speak not always to what’s
shouting, but to what’s underneath asking for nothing.

I am at the mouth of the cave. I am willing to crawl.

Tell Me a Story

[ A ]

Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood
By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard
The great geese hoot northward.

I could not see them, there being no moon
And the stars sparse. I heard them.

I did not know what was happening in my heart.

It was the season before the elderberry blooms,
Therefore they were going north.

The sound was passing northward.

 

[ B ]

Tell me a story.

In this century, and moment, of mania,
Tell me a story.

Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.

The name of the story will be Time,
But you must not pronounce its name.

Tell me a story of deep delight.

Kentucky River Junction

to Ken Kesey & Ken Babbs

Clumsy at first, fitting together
the years we have been apart,
and the ways.

But as the night
passed and the day came, the first
fine morning of April,

it came clear:
the world that has tried us
and showed us its joy

was our bond
when we said nothing.
And we allowed it to be

with us, the new green
shining.

          *

Our lives, half gone,
stay full of laughter.

Free-hearted men
have the world for words.

Though we have been
apart, we have been together.

          *

Trying to sleep, I cannot
take my mind away.
The bright day

shines in my head
like a coin
on the bed of a stream.

          *

You left
your welcome.