Friday, October 31, 2008




On a rainy day, filled with remorse, Melinda McMillan was laid to rest in a watery grave, the irony escaping no one. Tansy and rosemary leaves were spread all around to ward off danger from the corpse. The Irish Bagpipes played, “The Flowers of the Forest” and Maura Gillian sang a woeful rendition of “Down by the Salley Gardens.” Jack McMillan wept openly.

The railing that Melinda broke through was repaired with good solid timber the day after her burial. However, a shockwave of disbelief ran rampant through the valley, when within twelve hours of the renovation; the boards were broken up and busted through, as if they had not been repaired at all.

The repairs were made again, and for a second time the boards were broken through. When a third restoration was attempted, several men volunteered to stay at the bridge site for twenty-four hours to see if trickery and deception were involved.

The men rarely spoke of their experience, only to say that the bridge itself groaned loudly before the boards broke and exploded into the water below.

James Lilly, a young married man, was one of the volunteers who stayed at the bridge that night. His daughter, Annie, wrote an entry in her diary. “Da comed home from stayin’ on the bridge. Nobody knowed ‘im cause his hair turned pure white.”

People were terrified of the possibility that the bridge was possessed by Melinda’s restless spirit. They stopped using the bridge, opting instead to cross over dangerous wetlands a few miles further downstream.

“Jack, I wisht ye would eat somethin’,” his mother begged. “Yer gitten’ thin,” even though he still weighed 190 pounds and was as strong as a young bull.

“I’m alright, Ma, I don’t want any food right now. I’m goin' to the bridge. I want to try to repair it. Maybe the folks will start to use it again. Why should they be without a bridge?” He said, as he stood to leave. His mother’s worried look followed him.

Jackson rode his gelding through the early evening mist, as crows as dark as ink called overhead. He didn’t hear them, as his thoughts were only of Melinda and her porcelain skin and her mouth as soft and sweet as sugared cream. He tied his horse on a tree branch and walked onto the bridge. There was an absence of sound.

“My sweet darling’ where are ye now?” he whispered, as he gazed down into the creek. “I miss ye and I will forever.” He laid his head on his folded arms that rested on the bridge railing, directly across the span from the un-mended opening.

“Jack, I am here.” Had he heard Melinda’s whispered voice or was he mad.
Jack raised his head slowly and listened. He looked down into the creek and saw the faintest apparition of her, smiling up at him. She was in her wedding gown, holding the bouquet of oxeye daisies, standing on a flat rock in the middle of the creek.

“Melinda, my love. Is that you girl, or a phantom most fine?”
She beckoned to him with up stretched arms.
“Melinda, I cannot come to ye. You are in a place that I cannot go. Not now.”
Jack watched in terror as she rose into the air, stopping in front of him.
“But you have to come Jack. That was the wish I made the day we were last here.”
“No, Melinda – you didn’t make a wish. You fell before ye….”
“It was my dyin’ wish, Jack. Dyin’ wishes always come true,” she said, sweetly.
“No, Melinda…Melinda,” his breath came ragged now.
“But, Jack…My dying wish was that you and I would be together for eternity.”

Jack backed up, as she floated toward him, closer and closer. He was so frightened that he didn’t realize she was steering him right to the spot where she had fallen through, that un-repairable opening. As he started to fall backwards, she caught his hands in hers and pulled him into her, kissing his lips ever so softly, as together, they fell silently into Clay Creek, their spirits forever joined.

Everyone was saddened by the news that Jack had gone mad and "jumped" to his death. People from far and wide were fascinated by the romantic tale of Jack and Melinda McMillan. It was said that he could no longer draw breath in a world that was absent his raven-haired beauty. Ballads were sung and poems penned about the tragic events of the young married lovers. And… to honor Jack in his passionate, although dreadful act - the bridge, which had been known simply as the bridge over Clay Creek, was officially named “Lover’s Leap Bridge.”

Wednesday, October 29, 2008



~ May 30, 1840 ~

Melinda kissed her brother, her two sisters, her father and mother.
“Thank you, Mama, for the pretty weddin’ you gave me. I’ll remember it till the day I die.” Melinda said her farewells and with the help of her new husband, Jackson McMillan, stepped up into the wagon, holding her bouquet of Oxeye Daisies.

Jackson shook hands with Melinda’s father, bowed to her mother and sisters, and mussed the hair of her brother before jumping up onto the wagon’s seat beside his dainty, young bride.

Rice was thrown, tears were shed, and laughter lifted high atop the tulip trees, standing heavy with pink and white blossoms. Melinda tried to shout I love you over the rattle and bump of the tin cans and old shoes tied to the back of the buckboard, but her voice, faint with emotion, failed her.

The wagon had traveled only a few yards toward the settlement of Locust Hill, when Jackson put his arm around Melinda. “Ye’ve made me the happiest of all men today, Melinda. I’ll be a good husband to ye,” he said, as he kissed her forehead.

She leaned into him and squeezed his arm tightly, then reached up and kissed his cheek. “You were my dream, Jack. ‘Twas a wish that I made on a shootin’ star when I was fourteen years old that has come to fruition this day,” she looked adoringly at him.

The next few miles were filled with talk of future things – gardens, a barn, cows, and children. The mid-afternoon sun was warm on their faces, and added to their feeling of true contentment.

“Oh, Jack, let’s stop on the bridge so I kin make a wish!” she said.
“I thought I was yer wish,” he joked.
“I have another one,” Melinda said, demurely.

As she jumped off the wagon seat impetuously, the heel of her shoe caught in the hem of her dress. Dozens of starlings flew from the bridge in fear, as Melinda’s scream split the air. Jack reached out to grab her, but the delicate lace of her dress tore under his heavy hand. Still clutching her bridal bouquet, she plummeted thirty feet into the shallow, rocky waters of Clay Creek.

Jackson scrambled down the bank beside the bridge abutment and jumped into the water. When he reached her limp and broken body, he quickly felt her neck for a pulse. Jackson’s own breathing stopped, his face contorted, eyes shut tight against the looming possibility, as he felt for a sign of life. The contusion on her temple was a dark purple knot. She was bleeding from her mouth and nose. Feeling no pulse at her neck, he pressed his ear to her chest. There was no heartbeat.

The cry that tore from him was a guttural scream, raw and ugly; a primordial rendering that leaves the shell of a human intact, but shatters the spirit beyond repair.

Sunday, October 26, 2008



rise up
in a stubble
of gray warts
across the great
green body of
the memorial lawn
fungus of the
dead and gone
telling us about
who we used to be

Wednesday, October 22, 2008



I started out life flanked by my
mother’s wild flower garden
and the Kanawha river,
that ran cold and choppy
over the shoals that held
fresh water mussel beds,
ancient in their ruin.

I was captured at an early age,
held prisoner, then protected
by the mountains all around me.

At night, I was lulled to sleep
by the rhythmic clankety-clank
of the coal trains,
pulsing up and down the tracks
- like blood in veins -
keeping the people alive.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Painting by Merissa Gilbert Garrison

Someone said it was
time to go. I was loathe
to leave the whispers behind.
We traveled huddled together,
a knot of professional mourners,
with pasty masks covering
our suntanned faces.

“Listen” broke our stride,
and we stopped on our path
in the middle of our thoughts.

Galloping out of nowhere
a troop of tumblers arrived
for our entertainment and distraction.
How could we have torn our cheeks
and gnashed our teeth, when we were
much amused by apparitions of acrobats,
who were able to leap and rise above
the curtain of our false grief?

Like ghosts always do, one by one,
they jumped and somersaulted into
the thin air around us, tumbling and
flying above our heads. We watched
them until they disappeared from sight –
somewhere way up the path over
a stand of buttonwoods.

Again, someone said it was time to go.
In unison, we adjusted our false faces,
shuffled in step, slumped our shoulders,
and hung our heads. We had to get back
to mourning the dead.

Thursday, October 16, 2008



I saw your foot
move into my frame,
while I sat motionless
beside the bed of an invalid.

Cry for me,
your foot said,
cry for me!

I have walked around
the earth three times.
I have cut me in half
on the bone of a whale.
I have balanced on the
backs of sweating men.
I have been severely bound.
I have waded through nuclear ash.

I can’t cry for you,
I said,
at least you are a foot!

Suddenly, your soiled rags
could be seen beneath the curtain.
You picked them up with your toes,
as if your toes were fingers;
and one by one you
buried them beside you.

Monday, October 13, 2008



I am becoming Baudelaire’s sick muse,
mostly because of the nightmare visions
I have of myself – hollow eyes, steel hair,
knotted, twisted, burning – silent.

I once carried a dream, as if it were
a child, close to my breast - dying
now – consumptive, a blood veil
covering the one white iris.

You asked me, once, what sense could be
made of the delicate scent hovering around
our bed, as we floated to the moon
to light our torches and to fan the embers
that we thought were dead.

I had no answer then, but this I know -
this long weeping that you hear now, will roll
from age to age, from one generation of
muses to another, until we can no longer
inspire the poets who need us so desperately.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008



Amid bags of fruit
and coolers filled
with bottled water,
we sat on the bus
waiting for Ted.
We passed the time
in hushed tones
of polite talk and
civil manners, while the hour
to go came and went.
The bus driver shifted
and coughed, as he
ate a donut - wiping
the powdered sugar
off his fingers
onto his clean pants.
An old hippie jumped
off the bus and walked
around studying a map of
an arboretum, as he clicked
his heels and hummed.
The ruddy-faced art
students giggled nervously
in the back of the bus,
eating cold toaster pastries
and reading banned books,
waiting for Ted.
A young woman
fixed her already
perfect make-up
and smiled at herself
in her compact mirror.
Then, just as the
morning sun slanted
through the front
windows of the bus,
Ted showed up with his
big silly face and his fake
radio announcer voice.
Someone flushed the toilet
in the back of the bus,
as Ted bowed and Shakespeared,
“A pleasant morning all.”
I rolled my eyes and sighed
heavily - as I reluctantly
moved my mesh bag of apples -
so that he could sit down beside me.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Painting by
Merissa Gilbert Garrison


The immense white birch tree
in the back woods is dying -
its broken limbs now pasted
to the sorrowful sky,
as woodpeckers tattoo
its papery white skin
with black funerary designs.
Clusters of insects and blotches of mold
congregate and multiply in its folds
of scalloped bark and toothless grin,
as gatherings of birds in silence, grieve -
on rotting branches like feathery leaves.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008



I saw your boots at the door.
For years, I thought they
belonged to your father.
I didn’t know your friend
had given you his own boots
to wear when you were ill.

Whose coat did you wear?
Was it yours, or did it belong
to one of your neighbors?
Seeing only the memory of it,
cut black in a triangle corner,
it was hard for me to tell.

Studying your boots
over the shoulders of your admirers,
I noticed perfect scratches on them,
made by thorny weeds
that did not impede your daily walks,
nor hinder your getting well.

I never spoke the words to my companion,
- With his boots, I’ll start my own journey -
but leaning into her,
I saw the image of what I was thinking
painted on her face
in illuminations of ochre and pearl.

Can I borrow your borrowed boots
to trample down the weeds growing
up all around me?

Can I wear them
to walk myself well again?