NPM 5: Pennsylvania & Beyond

YARN’s National Poetry Month project “Crossing Country Line by Line continues with this poetry chain started by Eric Schwerer of Pennsylvania–and takes us all the way to Guam, and back again.


Image courtesy of Geographicus Rare Antique Maps (Wikimedia Commons) PD-US


Eric Schwerer (Pennsylvania)

Rewind; Pause; Pennsylvania, 1952

Even in winter daddy’d make us cross
Paint Creek to fetch chunks of coal
that’d stuttered off train cars as they rocked across the bridge.

Old enough to pack a bucket, ankle-deep in frozen mud,
I’d scour the bank, even wade hip-deep, then trudge

to where he waited with his one good arm.
He’d help me hoist my bucket on the truck, haul me up
to dump my share onto the steaming load.

I’d rest until another son dragged up a bucketful
then daddy’d say, Get us one more before we go. We didn’t

waste boots—my pale feet stuck to the bed
as I shook in back beside our dark ton driving home.

P. K. Harmon (Guam)

Rongalap, 1946

my name is Souvenir

and I’ll be

years old this year
H. Truman the U. S.

just like God

he made it snow
we didn’t know

we played in the snow
saw that white angel

drift down
to our waiting tongues

Deni Naffziger (Ohio)


Long after the crow had died
Long after the bird called your name
and flew from the sill in your room,
through the wide second-floor hallway
down the double-walled staircase
past your mother slicing pork at the kitchen window
Long after the bird sat on your shoulder in the schoolroom,
preened your hair, had forgotten the nest he fell from,
the .22 rifle you playfully aimed into the catalpa grove,
the seed pods you smoked like a child gangster
Long after you lifted his small body from the ground,
caught his eye, tucked him beneath the aralac sweater
that smelled like sour milk in the rain — after the regret,
after the healing, you became an old man
and somewhere along the way you remembered
what mattered.

James A. Riley (Kentucky)

My Father on the Fire Tower

He’s a young man in the photograph,
Leaning into the swagger of youth
With his shirt tucked into his jeans
And his sleeves cuffed. The casual flip
in his hair seems almost effortless,
though there’s no escaping that steel geography,
the sky behind triangular with crossbars and beams
as he leans against the rail and smiles.

I was a boy when the picture was taken,
Afraid to follow him any higher
for the uncertain sway of those metal steps.
Despite his assurance that everything would be fine,
I held to the rail and didn’t look down,
the hills stretching into the distance
like the upturned palm of his hand
across the wide angle of our lives.

Imagine my surprise when I look down
And realize it wasn’t my father who got old.
These babies that cling to my knees
are not my children but my grandchildren,
asking will I lift them up in the air.
And I do because that’s what they need.
I know this ground as sure as I know
the voice I hear calling for me to follow
And not be afraid, each measured step
A homecoming.

After working as a carpenter in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Ohio, Eric Schwerer earned a PhD in Creative Writing from Ohio University. Prior to that, he received an MFA from The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Schwerer has taught poetry to people recovering from mental illness and is an Associate Professor in the Program in Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown. Schwerer is the author of two books of poetry, “Whittling Lessons” (a chapbook, 2005, nominated for an Ohioana Book Award) and “The Saint of Withdrawal” (2006). His poems have been published in many literary journals, including Prairie Schooner, NOR, Paper Street, Fence, The Journal, Diagram, Rhino, Northwest Review, Third Coast, Quarter After Eight, The Laurel Review, Artful Dodge, Beacon Street Review, Poems & Plays, Sonora Review, and Elixir.

P. K. Harmon is the Founding Editor of Al in Aelon Kein: the Marshall Islands Literary Review, and former theatre director and Humanities professor of the College of the Marshall Islands. A graduate of Ohio University’s Program in Creative Writing, he was recently visiting Professor of Creative Writing for the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. He is currently a writing professor at the University of Guam.  He has had individual poems published recently in Riverwind, The Marshall Islands Journal, and the Laurel Review. His poetry collection “What Island” was the recipient of the 2011 Fairleigh Dickinson University and Serving House Books First Book Prize in Poetry.

Deni Naffziger’s poetry has been published in journals such as Swallow’s Tale, Pig Iron Press, Spoon River Quarterly, and Crazy River. She has two two chapbooks, “No One Knows” (Spoon River Anthology) and “Traveling” (Pikeville Review); she was a co-writer for a collection of poetry and prose pieces, Revenants: A Story of Many Lives, based on the history of the canal district outside of Dayton, Ohio. Naffziger edited Riverwind Literary Magazine from 1984-2001, published by Hocking College, where she teaches Creative Writing. In 2000 she founded the Athens Writers’ Collaborative, a project that partners creative writing students and adults with disabilities to write poems, short stories, songs, and essays.

James requested that we use this rocking' pic of his dad, created by his brother Randall Riley.

James Alan Riley has taught Creative Writing at the University of Pikeville since 1987. His work has appeared in The Kentucky Review, Kentucky Monthly, The Greensboro Review, The Connecticut Review and a number of other literary magazines over the years. He is the recipient of an NEA Fellowship, two Al Smith Fellowships from the Kentucky Arts Council, and an Individual Artists Fellowship from the Ohio Arts Council. He has a Ph.D. in Modern British and American Literature from Ohio University in Athens.

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