Poems - Bio - Interview - Review
The Black Dog and the Blue Ridge
I believe in his black dog because he had no taste
my grandfather, no love for tricks
of the tongue (when his clever nurse/son called the stumps of his
Sugared-off legs “little whales lying beached
on the sheets,” it just angered him worse.) I believe in his black dog
because he was never the star
of his stories,
whenever saved lives or turned down all the millions
that liars so often decline.
Like the Gospels, in which the Apostles are so clearly schlemiels,
bad fishermen, running away,
(nowhere, Nathaniel calls it), they must
be telling the truth. If they lied
they’d have better PR.
So my grandfather spoke of the soul
he saw blazed into grace. He was late
to do chores for a sick neighbor, dawdling along picking chestnuts
(the blighted kind)
up, and he turned
at a gooseneck. The view opened. Flames filled the neighbor’s roof
clear air above. He lit out
running, pounding his way down the ruts—chestnuts flying from
pockets, hands, hat—and arrived to find no
fire, no damage except that the man he’d been sent to help milking
I believe in the black
dog my grandfather saw disappear, grizzly-big, burning-eyeballed,
that loped like a dog in
of his headlamps. he braked for the black dog and saw it leap through,
not over, but through the stone wall
of a springhouse and vanish.
No tracks in the dust or in the mud. No
disorder among the cool rounds
of pressed butter, no gap in the milkcans’ ranks, no blade remotely
like bent in the garden beyond.
In my grandfather’s
last days, he’d lie on the porch, stare downstreet
at dealers’ dogs, pacing their plot
of packed, glabrous clay.
They had worn out the grass, mauled
the inks of fence they kept running against.
They were angry as he was, and almost as trapped, and as like
to snap any hand that
but they’d never, those pitbulls, etherealized
themselves, never sail through a stone
springhouse wall into infinite
dusk like the vast
black dog he once was, I believed.
A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Car, of Dale Earnhardt at Daytona
Never, until we live again
where a girl can walk
to the basketball court
many pedestrians a pedestrian,
watching the red-tailed hawk
that roosts in bridge cable braid
swoop for its own delight
and hers, and play
a raptor-minded game
and walk back home that night
as safe as in the day,
the sidewalk crowds the same;
never, until we begin
to rise against what lurks
behind forty thousand poured
a year into Benz’s gin,
the Bavarian Motor Works,
the mouth of Moloch Ford,
those average annual dead,
will I attempt to grieve
for him in particular.
I have plenty to mourn instead.
I slap no sticky “3”
surrounded by a blur
of specious angel’s wings
on my window, no
“Gone to Race in a Better Place”
over the years of dings
scarring my bumper. Go,
buy your black t-shirts, efface
your own complicity
in his last crash. I
will admit I hold a grudge
against the whole jock galaxy,
but I didn’t want him to die
and I think you did, as much
as you want to, yourselves.
You eat the shafts
of your steering wheels. Cigarette
and gas stations pile their shelves
with his face folded, half
in love with asphalt death,
a cotton/poly blend
exclusive of decoration,
because it was no accident.
It was ritual. I won’t pretend
to buy into that rite, to pour the sponsor’s libation
at the foot of his monument.
Poems - Bio - Interview - Review
Elizabeth Leigh Palmer Hadaway lives
in Kingsville, Maryland. She was an instructor at Virginia Commonwealth University and worked as an historical interpreter
at Agecroft Hall in Richmond, Virginia. She was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and has received
scholarships to the Breadloaf and Sewanee writer’s conferences. Her first book, Fire Baton, was published
Poems - Bio - Interview - Review
An Interview with Elizabeth Hadaway, author of Fire Baton
is the book called Fire Baton? Can you twirl fire baton?
a little kid, I took baton lessons--until I broke my finger trying to get into a car and hold a baton at the same
time. Putting fire in my hands would be criminal negligence. Fire baton twirlers used to practice a few houses
up the ridge from mine, and watching them gave me aesthetic ambition—the impulse to make something dangerous
Is poetry dangerous?
Poetry can be dangerous in lots of ways.
I doubt that a coalition of fundamentalists, college professors, and NASCAR fans will off me for criticizing my
native cultures (I’m from a mountain whirlpool in the New River of Virginia where those three streams run
together), but better poets than I’ll ever be have been imprisoned or executed for expressing unpopular views.
More often, poetry is dangerous for writers and readers because it takes us to places we weren’t expecting
and may not be equipped to handle. For example, I had the start of a shiny academic career in creative writing:
the University of Virginia of Virginia , the University of North Carolina at Greensboro , Stanford University University
in California . I walked away from it because I was in love with John Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins and W.H. Auden;
I wanted to write with their theological depth but I had a lousy background in theology. So I threw myself
on the mercy of the Episcopal Church. They gave me two years at Virginia Theological Seminary, with the goal of
improving my poetry as a form of ministry.
did going to seminary have on your poetry?
still trying to figure that out. I wrote many of the poems in Fire Baton before I went—it’s
more about adolescence, Appalachia, and California than the poems I’m writing now are. One thing seminary
showed me is that arguing with God—which my poems do—is an ancient tradition, and much more engaging
than arguing about God. Auden says the ideal school for poets would teach, among other things,
Greek, Hebrew, liturgics, and cooking, and every student would garden and look after a domestic animal. After
seminary, in rectory life with the priest I met and married there, I have most of that covered. If my husband
counts as a domestic animal.
Why are so many of your poems in rhyme and meter?
The poem on the page is just sheet music. To really feel a poem, you have to say it out loud, let the sounds
roll around in your mouth and down your throat. You know a poem and it’s in your blood. Blood
has a beat, if it’s in a living body. When I started writing, as a very young girl, I imitated the things
my family quoted. My dad went around chanting Robert Service verse about gold mining in the Yukon: we had
this routine where I’d recite “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” up to the point where Dan “tilted
the poke of dust on the bar and called for . . .” and Dad would roar out “Drinks on the house!”
I was also isolated: small mountain town, no bookstores; most of my books came from the A-1 Flea Market. So
I was reading Christopher Marlowe and John Keats in those old editions where the page was divided up into two columns
and there weren’t any footnotes to intrude—I just read aloud to try to figure the strange words out,
and because it sounded so good.
Some of my teachers tried to convince me that formal poetry, that
is, poetry in meter and often in rhyme, was out of style and so I shouldn’t write it. That never made
sense to me. Obviously, English is a living language and our vocabulary is always changing. I don’t
use words like “o’er” or “morn” in my poems because I don’t use them when I speak.
I use slang, because I speak slang. But I don’t just transcribe my slangy stream of consciousness.
Why would anyone want to read that? If a poem has funny or surprising rhymes, if its rhythm pleases me—then
I want to keep on reading.
Does working in rhyme ever get in your way?
It helps me get a handle on slippery emotions, like grief and anger.
A lot of my poems are angry—anyone paying attention to what we’re doing to the world sees plenty to be
angry about—but poetry shouldn’t just be ranting. That’s what blogs are for. Poetry
comes from the impulse to make something admirable out of that anger, and you can’t do that if you’re
focused on how angry you are.
Form can also fend off self-censorship.
I tend to judge myself quickly: can’t say that, no, that sounds stupid; am I hurting my gay friends’
feelings or betraying feminism if I write that I’m happy to be married? Occupying that censor in my brain
with technical problems—Hey, judge! Find a rhyme for effulgent!—frees the rest of my mind to say
things I never would otherwise.
Is that need to fight
self-censorship especially strong because you’re from Appalachia?