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In drawing class the day before
Thanksgiving break,
our instructor called one of us up
to pose. Fully clothed, I should hasten

to add. This was a woman’s college,

deep in the Bible Belt South,

where all of us good girls wore Madras
and Villager skirts, underneath which

our Bass weejuns plodded respectably.

The model du jour

was an unsmiling beauty

whose long neck our virile instructor

admired, her hair teased bouffant

in the style of the period.

She set her stare hard against

us, then turned her face

into the afternoon light

of the windows through which

she’d have seen the flag still

at half-mast after JKF’s murder.

She moved not a muscle for almost

two hours. Nor did her face soften

when she surveyed

what her classmates had rendered,

our two dozen versions of Modigliani’s

signora tricked out southern belle-style.

She transferred at term’s end

to the state university,

got married,

lived in Atlanta,

a lawyer’s wife,

till she was killed

in a car wreck on I-85.

that was her name.
She of the coldest stare ever
I withstood.
Whose swan’s neck I grudgingly


A man walked our country road
swinging the stub of his left arm,
the sleeve dangling uselessly underneath.
Lock the door,
fasten the gate, we cried,
Here he comes wanting a drink of fresh water.

He’d let his arm dangle
out of  his driver’s side window.
A truck clipped it off. Just like that.
Hurry, lock the door,
shut the gate.
Here he comes wanting something to eat.

So much blood spurting out
of the stump. Somewhere lost on the highway
his hand still believing it felt itself reach.
Bolt the door,
latch the screen.
Here he comes wanting more money.

His mind followed after his hand
but could not bring it back.  He was looney,
my mother said.
Deadbolt the door,
pull the shade.
Here he comes wanting your daddy’s whiskey.

There he stood, at the end of his stub
a red seam like a mouth that could not open,
ever, to ask of us anything other than pity
which we gladly gave, saying, sorry,
so sorry, as we took the gun
from the gunrack and told him to leave. 

Kathryn Stripling Byer, North Carolina's Poet Laureate, grew up in southwest Georgia. Her books of poetry include Catching Light (Louisiana State University Press, 2002); Black Shawl (1998); Wildwood Flower (1992), which was the 1992 Lamont Poetry Selection of The Academy of American Poets; and The Girl in the Midst of the Harvest (1986), which was published in the Associated Writing Programs award series.

Byer's poems have appeared in Arts Journal, Carolina Quarterly, Georgia Review, Hudson Review, Iowa Review, Nimrod, Poetry, and Southern Review, as well as numerous anthologies. Kathryn Stripling Byer has received writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council. She blogs here

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