Potent, peaty, brine-filled dram
like the salt-washed rocks of sheltered bays;
like the turf fires beneath thatched roofs; like rain
falling hard and soot blackening the stone hearth;
like the venerable who curl into themselves
and wait for spring, old women, grown diaphanous,
who flutter like moths embalmed in their silver-haired cocoons,
aged, at last, into their ghostlier selves; like their men
no longer storming pastures as fierce scouring winds,
but, lost in their suffering, now gnaw remorse
and grasp at guilt as they once did pipe and pint.
This is the alchemy of fire and air, the chemistry of creek and valley.
The distillate of place and time. Distillate of memory.
Soft, sugary, amber-clouded elixir like the lure
of meadowsweet and chicory, like October smoke
hanging over maple and oak; like the sophistry of sex
on sunlit mornings in late December,
cold hands along the flushed length of spine and breast,
breath passing across the altar of tongue, frosting bedroom windows;
like the dulcet notes of mandolin, the sorrowful soaring of fiddle;
the primal groan of Cash’s Ring of Fire,
or Elvis’s moaning call to Love Me Tender.
This is the push and pull, the liquid mystery train
of peril and possibility we can’t explain
though it carries a little of everything: the bog, the raisin,
the raison d’etre, the pie safe and gun safe, the morning promises
and midnight faults, the scars forgotten and reclaimed,
the ice, in expectation, clanging in a glass.
is the author of five books and chapbooks, including most recently Ravenous: New
& Selected Poems and Toward Any Darkness. Recent poems and essays
have appeared in a variety of periodicals such as Crab Orchard Review, Poet Lore,
Poetry East, South Carolina Review, Southeast Review, and Southern Poetry
Review, among others. He has received the Gearhart Poetry Prize, a Hawthornden
Fellowship, and The Literary Review’s Charles Angoff Award, among
others. Mulkey currently directs and teaches in the low-residency MFA program
in Creative Writing at Converse College.
Everywhere Becomes Home, a review by William Wright of
Mulkey’s book Ravenous in Flycatcher Journal
⚡ Beautiful and Terrible: An Interview with Barbara Hamby in
The Southeast Review (2 December 2018), in which Hamby discusses her choice
of Mulkey’s poem “Cured” as winner of the 2018 Gearhart Poetry