Mt. Athos

By Emma Aylor

Featured Art: “Skin ‘N’ Bones” by Arianna Kocab

1936-2013

My granny died facedown in the kitchen
of the isolate house: atop a hill named for ruins
of a burned plantation near, whose owner was rumored
to be buried standing so he could continue to survey
the land from his summited tomb, up a lick
off Opossum Creek, itself off a bend

in the body of the James. A stroke. And grandpop
made a big show of never looking at her face
again; he said he couldn’t overlap his memory;
he let her lay crashed in her own bones until help came, 
let her face settle into its death with no witness,
and I don’t know where her ash was scattered
after that, if it was, the memorial just a party in the house without
her around – a body never really there – and closing night

for my grandfather’s fifty-eight-year claim
to a good marriage. I took a train from New York
down through Virginia, eight hours marked
at intervals by the crumbling backs of Newark,
Baltimore, Washington, Charlottesville – 
to Lynchburg. At one stretch, hard pink spray paint over
a whole swatch of dry grass. To tell the truth,

the ease of missing her then was almost a comfort.
Its relative water-fed simplicity. When I got the call
I had space set for further clearing.
On the walls she was nineteen and already flickering,
her hair in my mother’s curls, or mine, careful set
of her mouth, her heels and her dresses.
Down the dark hill, weeds lushed by June,
our dead gathered to murmur through the river’s red throat.


Emma Aylor’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, Colorado Review, Pleiades, Sycamore Review, and the Cincinnati Review, among other journals, and she received Shenandoah’s 2020 Graybeal-Gowen Prize for Virginia Poets. She lives in Lubbock, Texas.

Originally appeared in New Ohio Review 29.

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