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November's Book
River of Earth
by James Still

The following poem by Frank X Walker is included in his collection Affrilachia, which was our April 2001 selection. In a bookclub interview conducted around the time of that program, Walker said that he was inspired to write “Kentucke” because “one of my other favorite poems about Kentucky was written by Mr. Still, the dean of writing in the state. But his poem focused more on the landscape and how beautiful Kentucky is, and I wanted to write something that acknowledged that but really focused on the people and the icons and all the things that are stereotypically Kentucky, plus everything that in my opinion has been left out.”

(for James Still)

once bloody ground
hunting Eden
for native tongues
apologetically eliminating buffalo
for sustenance
not sport or profit
or pleasure

un common wealth
with immigrants
and freedmen
who discovered black lung
was as indiscriminate
as calluses
& hunger

you remain north & south
interstate highways
your crucifix
blessing yourself with
64 and I-75

you have derbied
and dribbled yourself
a place in a world
that will not let you forget
co-Rupped basketball
your cash crop causes cancer
& the run for the roses
is only two minutes long

kin tucky
beautiful ugly
i too am of these hills
my folks
have corn rowed
laid track
strip mined
worshipped & whiskied
from Harlan to Maysville
old Dunbar to Central

our whitney youngs
and mae street kidds
cut their teeth
on bourbon balls
and though
conspicuously absent
from millionaires row
we have isaac murphied
our way
down the back stretch
cassius clayed
our names in cement
we are the amen
in church hill downs
the mint
in the julep
we put the heat
in the hotbrown
gave it color
some of the bluegrass
is black

Watch the Video
Video: Frank X Walker
reads “Kentucke”

[Requires RealPlayer®]

Copyright 2000, Frank X Walker. Reprinted by permission.

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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15-Dec-2009 17:30:10 EST