Nancy Dew Taylor, Found

Nancy Dew Taylor
for L.F.

Once a rain-soaked envelope
stamped with a mule’s muddy hoof,
once a letter borne by wind
before a storm which she snatched
out of air, ruled lines on back
blank. An old notebook, used
pages torn out, miracle gift
from a traveling teacher.
Lou hoarded these found papers
and late by lamplight in the loft,
she wrote with a tiny stub
miniscule letters from edge
to edge until wick blackened.

She wrote of things she shouldn’t:
how deep in woods on Sunday,
the preacher touched Miz Bell’s breast,
how she recognized their need
on in-drawn breaths. How the whole
congregation heard that day
the sound of misery’s axe
whacking madly at raw oak
at the preacher’s new cabin,
his wife’s voice berating him:
Don’t you know it’s the Sabbath?

She wrote of a bug the size
of the word designed in dots
of black on charcoal body,
its round amber eyes one-third
its longish-oval size, wings
standing straight up on its back,
opening like crab’s pincers.
Or a white moth stitched under
and over along edges
with amber filament, its
white nearly transparent, all
frothy wings, head hidden by
feet, yet somehow clinging up-
right on a rolled blade of grass.

Every waking minute,
hoeing weeds, sewing, walking,
even as she looked, she wrote,
words swirling, taking mind-shape
to keep until night arrived,
shadowed loft floating in shades,
her haunted hand pausing, then
pacing sure across the page.

Her father called her lazy,
a stubborn dreamer. She knew
he would trade her for a son.
Her mother endured his rules
for chores but stood up for Lou
when with scorn he spoke to her

until the day he found her
found papers, built up the fire.
Stood over her. Piece by piece.

Dry-eyed, she fed everything,
even the nub of pencil.
The fire sent tatters and scraps
into the scattering air,
smacked its word-singed chops, snapped, sang.

Author’s Comment: Its form is a seven-syllable line characterized by internal rhyme; the form was that of the Welsh epic The Mabinogion. Although I changed the world in which the incident occurred, the story itself was real.

Bio: In 2008 Emrys Press published my chapbook, Stepping on Air. My poems have been published in journals such as Appalachian Journal, The South Carolina Review, and Tar River Poetry and in anthologies (among others, A Millennial Sampler of South Carolina Poetry and the Appalachia volume of Southern Poetry Anthology). In 2011 a group of my poems, Mill Creek Suite, won the Linda Flowers Award from the North Carolina Humanities Council.


5 thoughts on “Nancy Dew Taylor, Found

    • Seeing Taylor’s poem this morning was a kind of gift–it’s thoughtful precision is something to inspirit the day. I feel quite grateful!

  1. Simply heart-breaking. What a testimony to the redemptive power of writing. To write about my own childhood honestly I, too, had to hide what I wrote, and periodically went back and destroyed those words out of fear they would be found.

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