Coal River Road

Kathy Ackerman

ISBN: 978-1-60489-115-7 Trade paper $16.95    Sale: $8.50

ISBN: 978-1-60489-114-0 Library binding $27    Sale: $13.50

 Pages 86

 About the Author: 

Born in West Virginia, Kathy Cantley Ackerman was raised in Ohio but has lived in the Carolinas since 1984.  She has published three poetry chapbooks as well as a critical biography of proletarian novelist Olive Tilford Dargan (The Heart of Revolution, University of Tennessee Press).  She earned a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of South Carolina and is now a Writer-in-Residence and the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Isothermal Community College in Spindale.  She resides in Tryon, NC.



Inside the earth

his point of view is tunneled

by the grime and grind

where canaries cannot hide.


He passes time with histories,

digs them from his mind

slightly curved as through a ball,

slightly stooped in the underground.


Gloved hand brushes deep

grooves of his mother's face,

Cherokee, storyteller,

she taught him nothing

of value can be stripped from the earth

and nothing of value returned.

It is folly to chip at the layers with picks,

to scoop black rocks of time into cars,

into the air to breathe in.

It is folly to go down

where the spirits haven't gone.


He coughs,

lungs turned to slag,

he’s sold his breath

to the trickster

who promised to pay.



              Coal River Road exposes the powerful role that a rapidly fading oral history can have on one’s perception of cultural identity.  The poet’s connection to the West Virginia mountains is as ephemeral as her connection to hearth and family, simultaneously formative and destructive, yet impossible to resist.  These poems are about heritage learned and loved and lost, the quest to retrieve one’s self in the ordinary domestic day, and the ferocity of familial relationships that can never quite be fulfilled.