Clean Coal Burn

Kelsay Books

Forthcoming 2021   

What Two Bits Could Buy


               for Patsy Cline, 1932-1963

 

Your life ended not long after mine began.

I can’t remember ever hearing you before

I turned twelve, twelve years after your death,

when your voice wept, dispossessed

 

from an outdated and battered jukebox

in the corner of a miners’ dive bar in

Corning, Ohio, a carcass of a coal town torn in half

by the yellow gash of Sunday Creek.

 

It only cost two bits to release you

from the Wurlitzer coffin that some part of me

believed held some part of you

the way the altar of St. Bernard’s held its holy relic.

 

My grandmother, the bartender every miner loved

to call “Babe,” tossed me the special red quarter

she plucked from the back of the till.

I listened as the coin rattled down its metal shaft,

 

clicking and clinking like a round of shot glasses

struck on the bar after another cancerous shift.

It took a moment for the first high, lonesome violin

notes to wheeze between a cacophony of hacking

 

black lung coughs. But then, like a cry

rising above a crowd of smoke ghosts,

those permanent shadows each man dragged

with him from the darkest corridors of the earth,

 

your voice carried me off to a better place

where there were only “Sweet dreams of you.”

Early on in Clean Coal Burn Kip Knott says, "Somewhere a fire burns / in the belly of the world." The lit-and-burning fuse is, thus, summoned to help us see the vainglorious America in which we find ourselves. Since there is no such thing as "clean coal," Knott is insisting on Truth as more than elegy. If this book is an elegy, and it is, it is also rife with discovery and hope. I like and trust the voice in Clean Coal Burn; it's a voice we all know comes from someone who would rather cough up a lung, bit by precious bit, than lie to you. Someone who seeks "to harness loneliness like a plow / and make something out of hard ground."

                         Roy Bentley

In Kip Knott's Clean Coal Burn, the rural beauty of southeastern Ohio is threatened by coal, sulfur, and fire. Natural beauty and human love keep trying to hold on. In plainspoken, elegiac language, the speakers in these poems struggle to understand and forgive forefathers, and to understand wives, sons, animals, and ancestors. This is a loving, courageous collection of poems about vulnerable humans and landscapes as they try to endure and--briefly, modestly--to flourish.

                         John Hazard

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