HOW TO TALK ABOUT THE DEAD
Mention them by name only if you must.
Give them death’s privacy. Let them be
no more than ghosted syllables, word-
shapes. Talk about their hands, the lined
palms, a lifeline that branches to anabranch
and disappears. Remember veined wrists,
purple and thin as pine saplings. Resist
the urge to turn those lines to words.
Remember instead aftershave and lilac
or alcohol and sweat, the presence they left
behind. Do not quote the dead. Their words
will not resurrect them. Instead, recall
only the timbre of a voice, how it brought
you here, now. You grunt and gasp at meaning,
a traveler in some foreign land, each ached
sentence a muted plea. The natives could
take you for dumb. They pity you instead.
THE BOTTOM-FISHER’S PRAYER
Lord, I don’t need a cork
to know when the line is tight.
Just give me the muddy water’s
ripple, the stillness
broken my something swift
deep beneath. I’m rooted
like a slash pine trunk,
sunk deep into this sandy soil.
Though mayflies and gnats
haze, I’m faithful.
Keep that bait in the water,
my father once taught me.
You never know the life
below. You never see
the channel cat’s sleek
juke and turn—how he eyes
the cricket just to brush
against it, to dare the lip-sunk
hook, the tugging from above,
the promise to drag him into the light.
--Lang Newberry (1939-1990)
It looked like a stunted orange tree
in our backyard, the waxy leaves
shining in sunlight, glistening after rain,
tiny fruit the size of thumb’s fat tip.
My father picked them by the bowl
and ate them at the kitchen table.
Once, I popped one into my mouth,
the bite so sour tears burned by eyes,
the taste so sharp I couldn’t see
how he chewed them with a smile.
My thoughts of him have been
like that: the tart sting that sears
the tongue and blurs my vision,
the fruit I pick although I know
it will sour my mouth. I take a bite
because I like to taste the burn.
-from How to Talk about the Dead, (forthcoming from Red Hawk Publications), selected by Assistant Editor, Karen Carr
Jeff Newberry tells stories in poetry and prose. A native of the Florida Gulf Coast, he is an essayist, fiction writer, and a poet. His most recent book is a collaboration with the poet Justin Evans, a collection of epistolary poems entitled Cross Country (WordTech Editions 2019). He is the author of the novel A Stairway to the Sea (Pulpwood Press), the poetry collection Brackish (Aldrich Press) and the chapbook A Visible Sign (Finishing Line ). With fellow Gulf Coast native, Brent House, he is the co-editor of the anthology The Gulf Stream: Poems of the Gulf Coast (Snake Nation Press). He reviews books for The Florida Review and other publications.
Newberry's writing has appeared in a variety of print and online journals, including The American Journal of Poetry, Connotations, Florida Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Cortland Review, Chattahoochee Review, North American Review, Memorious, Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art, Southeast Review, Sweet: A Literary Confection and Waccamaw: A Journal of Contemporary Literature. He has served on the faculty of the prestigious Sanibel Island Writers Conference and given talks and led panels at The Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference (AWP), the Flannery O'Connor and Other Georgia Writers Conference, The Conference on Christianity and Literature, The Florida Literary Arts Coalition's Other Words Conference, the Southeastern Writers Association Conference, and the Gulf Coast Association of Creative Writing Teachers Conference. The recipient of a Tennessee Williams Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers' Conference, he teaches in Writing and Communication Program at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia, where he lives with his wife, Heather, and his two children, Ben and Madi.
Newberry earned his BA and MA in English from the University of West Florida in Pensacola, where as a graduate student he served as the managing editor of Panhandler. He holds a PhD from the University of Georgia.