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Kari Gunter-Seymour



Where I'm from, girls learn

to conjure young—a dash of salt flung,

I lick my pointer finger, spin

three times, call forth the tufted trills

of wild beak and bone flute.


Early on, I partnered up, roused

with hope. What I got was someone

else’s stiff neck, the shape

of someone else’s arrogance

siphoning the pith from my spine.


My hollow bird bones winnow

stories I don’t want to hear,

I shush each saga—too much

prattle, unweighted,

could damn well loose a demon.




I taught myself who I was

by sounding out my name,                

heard the word for wanting

comingling my veins, a salty pulse,

letters disguised as life.


I was the silk gown my mother

would never own, the black dust

of coal-fraught mountains, the face

of my grandmothers and all who came

before, staring back from tintypes,

the copper taste of feminine rust.


My restless breaths shouldered

their way, history’s finger to its lips,

impatient with my niggling.

I quarried roots, digging in       

like my great-grandfather’s oxen

dragging a crusty plow,


a need in my belly, sagas flashing

against my back, the stories—

my people, crossing a cratered land,

a pregnant woman, lanky and twanged,

a thick muscled man, farsighted,

timbered the land, planted seeds,

prayed for rain, the soil so rich,

so ripe with possibility.



The pond below the house reflects

heaven no matter the weather.

A pair of Canada geese park themselves

along the edge, honk disapprovals

as me and Sadie Jae fly by


in her Jeep four-by-four, singing

Jambalaya, crawfish pie and a fillet gumbo.

Wind wicks our ponytails, prickles

our sun-burned shoulders, pilfers


our whiskey breath. We spin ruts into

the lower pasture, dart in, out of the pines,

come to a slide-into-home-plate stop, inches

from the front stoop, our laughter lawless.


Times when I go low,

I summon that sizzley summer,

ear to the wind, listen

for Sadie’s spicy Cajun yodels.

-from Dirt Songs, selected by Assistant Editor, Karen Carr 


Kari Gunter-Seymour is the Poet Laureate of Ohio. Her poetry collections include Alone in the House of My Heart (Ohio University Swallow Press, 2022), winner of the "2023 Book of the Year Award" for narrative poetry from the American Book Fest and finalist for the National Indie Excellence Award; 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 Dirt Songs (EastOver Press, 2024). A ninth generation Appalachian, she is the editor of I Thought I Heard A Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, winner of the "2023 Poetry Anthology Best Book Award" from American Book Fest; funded through an Academy of American Poets Fellowship Grant and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. She is the executive director of the Women of Appalachia Project and editor of it’s anthology series, Women Speak. Gunter-Seymour holds writing workshops for incarcerated teens and adults and women in recovery housing. She is a retired instructor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University; the founder, curator, and host of "Spoken & Heard," a seasonal performance series featuring poets, writers, and musicians from across the country. She was selected to serve as a 2022 Dodge Poetry Festival Poet and is an artist in residence for the Writing the Land Project and a Pillars of Prosperity Fellow for the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Verse Daily, World Literature Today, and on Poem-a-Day.

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