To Save a Life

Co-Winner of the Movable / New Ohio Review Writing Contest

by Kari Gunter-Seymour

Featured Art: Aperture, by John Schriner

We did what we could,
hid the bottles, drove what
was left of him deep
into the yawning hollow,
built a campfire, drank water
from a long-handled gourd,
a galvanized bucket.

We set up tents for triage,
counted his breaths, worried
over irregular heartbeats,
sweats, persistent vomiting,
his jacked up adrenal system.

We waited. Listened for a canvas
zipper in the night, each long slow
pull a call to duty, our legs folding
over duct taped camp stools,
tucked tight around the fire,
his gut-punch stories, stenched
in blood and munitions,
overpowering the woodsmoke’s
curling carbons.

Crows haunched on branches
behind our backs, sentinels,
silent as we wept.
We doused him in creek water,
a sharp sheen of moon over our bones,
recited communions, sang songs
our mothers taught us in the womb,
every neighbor dog and coyote
within earshot barking hill to valley.

Some people think they
don’t deserve to be loved,
every story scratched
into the dirt an ache.

That week, down in the lower forty
we all got born again.
It was hard to say who saved who.


Kari Gunter-Seymour is the Poet Laureate of Ohio. Her poetry collections include Alone in the House of My Heart (Ohio University Swallow Press, Fall 2022), A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen (Sheila Na Gig Editions, 2020), winner of the 2020 Ohio Poet of the Year Award, and the chapbook Serving (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2018). Her work has been featured on Verse Daily, Cultural Daily, World Literature Today, and in the New York Times. A ninth generation Appalachian, she is the editor of I Thought I Heard A Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, funded by the Academy of American Poets and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Women of Appalachia Project’s anthology series, Women Speak. Gunter-Seymour holds a B.F.A. in graphic design and an M.A. in commercial photography and is a retired instructor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. She is the founder, curator, and host of Spoken & Heard, a seasonal performance series featuring poets, writers, and musicians from across the country; an artist in residence at the Wexner Center for the Arts and a 2021-22 Pillar of Prosperity Fellow for the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio. http://www.karigunterseymourpoet.com

Judges for the Movable / New Ohio Review Writing Contest were Kelly Michel, Emily Nason, Nick Roberts, Stephanie Rogers, and Jeff Tigchelaar.

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