A note from the poet:
This poem was inspired by “Appalachian Elegy #6,” a poem from a larger collection by the late Bell Hooks who passed away on December 16th. I wrote “Giles county rapture” before Ms. Hooks’ untimely passing, and, in my most naïve moments, I had hoped that she might read it one day. The one line I was most inspired by in Ms. Hooks’ poem reads: “angels make their hopes here, in these hills.” Now that Ms. Hooks has passed, perhaps this portion of the poem rings even more true — as now one more angel is wandering forever unbound, in and above the hills we have both called home.
Giles county rapture
— After bell hooks’ Appalachian Elegy #6
folks used to say
that there were angels in these hills.
i’ve never seen a celestial.
but i’ve felt the flight of swallows at dawn
stood on Huckleberry Knob at dusk
and picked sassafras on Craig Creek road.
still, i’ve read the scripture
at the bottom of a mason jar
and repented the next morning
on the banks of the Roanoke River.
but below, below bald and steep
i’ve wandered close to hell
and fallen twice as deep
into the abandoned Coddington mine
to the coal pits of Billy Oxidine’s farm
across the train tracks at Cove hollow
and among the ghosts entombed beneath my feet.
so if there are angels in the hills,
there must be demons in the hollers
and all of me in the valleys between.
Christian Shushok (he/they) is a poet and writer from the Appalachian Mountains of Southwest Virginia. His work explores regional place Southern lineage, queer identity in the mountains, labor rights, and the joy and grief wrought by his deep roots within Southern and Appalachian Christianity. He is the son of a college administrator and a preacher. Currently, he studies at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.
**Featured image of 1939 wind damage at Fiducia Church in Aspen Hill, Giles County, Tennessee – National Archives, Wikimedia