Alva Considers the Valley


From the highest hill of the property,

the mountains resembled a man sunk heavy

in prayer: two slopes for muscled shoulders


and a point that rises between the way

a vertebrae of a neck lifts higher

than a bowed head.  I was a connoisseur


of prayerful necks: fat lumping over tight

collars, red lines cracked like a river bed

in drought, pores gaping and crusted from sun.


There were prayers for everything. For nervous

brides and red-cheeked babies. For crops bent

like old men clutching at the gauntlet


of a kidney stone.  Far across the ridge,

boys hummed old songs into walls of earth.

My brother wrote us letters from a hole.


In the valley, a bell clanged its tongue

while my dog ran nervous circles, knowing

soon I’d go.  When I called him, he worked


his muzzle into my hand, his nose

a blind-man’s cane tracing the wind’s path

over the land: its course over artificial


ponds and wild rivers, over the muddied backs

of cattle and the grass licked raw:

I wondered if he could smell the hot metal


of a train’s passing. The timbered knees of a bridge?

Magnolia blooms the size of a grown man’s fist?

For a while he followed when I took


the path down, his tongue’s shadow lolling behind

the shadows of my feet while a bell rattled in the steeple.

Like a caged bird nodding at the sky.


L.S. McKee’s work has appeared in Blackbird, Birmingham Poetry Review, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. She received her MFA from the University of Maryland and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University.  She has received scholarships, grants, and awards. A finalist in recent book competitions, she is completing a collection of poems based on WW II era Appalachia and the atomic bomb, as well as a novel set in East Tennessee. She teaches composition and creative writing at the University of West Georgia.

(Note: An earlier version of this poem first appeared in The Louisville Review) 

Photo: Emily Carlin