Laying My Brother to Rest on the Cumberland Plateau
“Go rest high on that mountain / Son, your work on earth is done.”
– Vince Gill
Three weeks after your death, I stand atop
the Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee heat
distilling sight as I gaze at the vast
plat of the world: a wide light-soaked sky hinged
to valley below, prelapsarian,
steaming new born and empty, sketched in green.
When they played Go Rest High on that Mountain
at your funeral, song swirled through me, then bumped
against stained glass. I wanted to believe,
just as days before, I’d longed for family’s
faith, their prayers swaddling your hospital bed.
I wanted purpose in the cellular
betrayal — tumors flowering, blotting
out speech — tried to decipher your inner
monologue as you lifted your forearm
to your face and stared, over and over,
at the IV’s black-bloomed bruise, lingering
dark splotch in the coffin, tainted last days.
Now at Green’s Point lookout in Sewanee,
I remember you once drove through Nashville
on the way to somewhere else. Did you stop
here, stand in hushed light? I feel your footprints
beneath mine, brother, here in this shimmer-
cradled valley, these lullabying pines.
A native Texan, Janice Northerns now lives in southwest Kansas with her husband, two dogs, and a laptop. Her poems have appeared in The Laurel Review, Chariton Review, Roanoke Review, Southwestern American Literature, descant, Cold Mountain Review, and elsewhere. Her awards include a 2019 writing residency from Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, a 2018 Tennessee Williams scholarship to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, second place in Southwest Review’s 2017 Marr Poetry Contest, and the Robert S. Newton Creative Writing Award from Texas Tech University.