Kentucky

In 1926, Kentucky established a state poet laureate position, which is currently held by Frederick Smock, who was appointed to a two-year term in 2017. Smock is the author of many collections of poetry, including The Bounteous World: New Poems (Broadstone Books, 2013).

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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.

Cattails

One woman drives across five states just to see her. The woman being driven to has no idea anyone's headed her way. The driving woman crosses three bridges & seven lakes just to get to her door. She stops along the highway, wades into the soggy ground, cuts down coral-eyed cattails, carries them to her car as if they might be sherbet orange, long-stemmed, Confederate roses, sheared for Sherman himself. For two days she drives toward the woman in Kentucky, sleeping in rest areas with her seat lowered all the way back, doors locked. When she reaches the state line it's misting. The tired pedal-to-the-metal woman finally calls ahead. I'm here, she says. Who's this? The woman being driven to, who has never checked her oil, asks. The driving woman reminds her of the recent writing workshop where they shared love for all things out-of-doors and lyrical. Come, have lunch with me, the driving woman invites. They eat spinach salads with different kinds of dressing. They talk about driving, the third thing they both love and how fast clouds can change from state line to state line. The didn't-know-she-was-coming woman stares at she who has just arrived. She tries to read the mighty spinach leaves in her bowl, privately marveling at the driving woman's muscled spontaneity. She can hardly believe this almost stranger has made it across five states just to have lunch with her. She wonders where this mad driving woman will sleep tonight. She is of two driving minds. One convertible. One hardtop. The driving woman shows her pictures of her children. Beautiful, the other does not say. Before long words run out of petrol. The woman who is home, but without pictures of her own, announces she must go. The driving woman frets & flames, May I walk you to your car? They walk. The driver changes two lanes in third gear, fast. The trunk opens. The Mario Andretti look-alike fills the other woman's arms with sable-sheared cattails. Five feet high & badly in need of sunlight & proudly stolen from across five states. The woman with no children of her own pulls their twenty pounds in close, resting them over her Peter-Panning heart. Her lungs empty out, then fill, then fill again with the surge of birth & surprise. For two years, until their velvet bodies begin (and end) to fall to pieces, every time the driven-to woman passes the bouquet of them, there, in the vase by the front door, she is reminded of what falling in love, without permission, smells like. Each time she reaches for her keys, she recalls what you must be willing to turn into for love: spiny oyster mushroom, damson, salt marsh, cedar, creosote, new bud of pomegranate, Aegean sage blue sea, fig, blueberry, marigold, leaf fall, fogs eye, dusty miller, thief-of-the-night.

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.