Posts Tagged ‘Marty Silverthorne’


[poems by Marty Silverthorne]

I have a good friend with a titanium leg named Mike.
Oh yes? And what’s the name of his other leg?
Ugh. You should be ashamed of yourself. Although Mike would certainly declare there is nothing like a good joke.
And that was nothing like a good joke.
Who’s in charge of this story anyway? I was trying to tell you about Mike, the king of story tellers.

The story about losing his leg is pretty harrowing, the lightning storm, the catastrophic collapse of the radio mast. Also the one about how long it took the doctors (years) to finally decide to amputate and order the titanium. But Mike has more stories than a rose garden has June bugs. And if he’s known you for one day, you’re part of the story, too. Like his neighbor Marcel who saw Mike fall into the bushes and came running out of the house half dressed to help. Or the other neighbor who saw Mike and Marcel shoveling dirt off Mike’s driveway and came out exclaiming, “Y’all need a young man to do that!”

Add in all the stories that are taking root right now from this afternoon when our whole church gathered COVID-safe in Mike’s driveway to share the ribs and chicken he’d been smoking for 3 days (and smoked portobellos for the solitary vegetarian, me). How for days all the neighbors’ mouths were watering. How Marcel, Jeremiah, and Jonathan accepted the invitation to lunch and joined right in with us. How we sang Happy Birthday to Hal’s mom Charlotte who would be 103 today (and died less than a year ago) and loosed balloons to soar in her memory. And shouted Happy Anniversary to Marcel who got married a year ago. How we drove away from Mike and Linda’s home having been fed in body and spirit.

That’s what our stories are for: to draw us together, feed us, and send us out. Friend, next time we meet I want to hear your story. And I’ve got a few to share with you as well . . .

[Today’s jokes were unabashedly stolen from Disney’s Mary Poppins, 1964]

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I knew Marty Silverthorne from a dozen or so poetry event in as many years. Sometime after his motorcycle accident in 1976, he began to write. When he died in 2019, Marty had spent over forty years in a motorized chair but his poems and stories not only had wheels but wings. He published a number of books and had a long career counseling persons suffering with addiction. He inspired innumerable struggling people to find their own strength and their own voice.

These two poems are from one of Marty Silverthorne’s last books, Naming the Scars. Truth has hard edges, rough and sharp; Marty doesn’t grind those edges down or polish them up, but neither did the truth grind Marty down or polish him off. In the midst of the grueling hardship of quadriplegia, Marty Silverthorne celebrates families, legacy, caregivers, fellow sojourners; Naming the Scars is dedicated For my family and for the hands of angels.

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Inside of Me

Inside of me you expected to find
a motorcycle wrapped around a tree,
whiskey bottles beside the road.
You did not expect to find daffodils
blooming in a pine thicket,
crepe myrtles close enough
to threaten their beauty.

Inside of me you expected to find
the soiled pages of Penthouse.
You did not expect Yeats and Keats
on a linen table cloth,
one large candle with a wavering flame,
a bottle of chardonnay.

Inside of me there are bracelets of old lovers,
stuffed animals martyred by time,
tangled dreams of childhood.
You did not expect to find forgiveness here,
the flag of my soul waving in surrender,
a truce between our hardened scars.
Here in this temple I have created
among azaleas and gardenias, I live with a woman I love,
whom grandmother called beautiful.

Marty Silverthorne (1957-2019)

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Naming the Scars

My right eye is underlined
by a thick-fisted scar
I won in a fight
brawling over a girl
who belonged to no one.

Under my beard line, a scar
shines like a crescent moon,
burned by a girl with a razor
engraving her pain in unfaithful flesh.

Half moon between thumb
and finger on my contracted left hand
I carved with a Barlow,
deceitful blood dripping
moon-drops on the countertop.

Suicide slashes cross my wrist
form a constellation of scars;
the jagged edge of a pop bottle
sliced flesh in rhythms,
painted my portrait in blood.

Crossing my body like a sickle
is a handlebar scar.
One August night, drunk on wind,
I tried to quiet the voices
when the one I loved
said she could go on without me.
I straddled the metal-flake frame,
carved out curves,
filled emptiness with speed.

Black necrotic spot marks the toe
I lost to a surgical show.
In Winston-Salem one snowy Christmas
Missed love so bad I checked into
a private room in a public hospital.
Too long ago to remember, so scar-proud
I can’t forget, I branded this body
with wounds no thread can bind.

Marty Silverthorne (1957-2019

Both selections from Naming the Scars, Longleaf Press, Methodist University, Fayetteville, NC; © 2017

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Books by Marty Silverthorne

Naming the Scars – Longleaf Press, 2017

Holy Ghosts of Whiskey – Sable Books, 2016

Marty Silverthorne – Ten Poems – St. Andrews University Press, 2016

Rewinding at 40 – Pudding House, 2009

No Welfare, No Pension Plan – Rank Stranger Press, 2006

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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Many Native American cultures – Iroquois, Oneida, others – express the sacredness of earth and family in this guiding principle: make your decisions according to how they will affect the seventh generation. The idea of planning for seven generations has been adopted by ecologically minded groups from California to Vermont. Engineers, builders, civic planners – “7 generations” appears in their name or their mission statement.

Why seven? Besides being a number with plenty of mystical portent, there’s a practical matter to it. With a good memory, reasonable longevity, and a little luck you yourself have a good chance of knowing personally seven generations of your family. Linda had a long and close relationship with her great-grandmother, who lived into her nineties. In fact I met Great-Grandma White several times when Linda and I were dating (along with a houseful of about fifty cousins, aunts, uncles, and greats, all of whose names I had been carefully coached to memorize – and folks, this wasn’t the rural South, this was the Rust Belt). And if Linda and I live to ninety our grandson Saul will be 35, surely old enough to have had a couple of great-grandkids for us. Add it up – seven generations.

Extended family. Reaaaally extended. It does make you want to think a little more critically about where you place your priorities. Saul, I’ve already planned to bequeath you my best binoculars, solid enough to stand the test of generations, a legacy I hope. May you see things with them that I’ve only imagined.

Imagining. Seeing. It happens when I read this poem Conversations on the Leaving by Marty Silverthorne. I find myself smack dab in the middle of the generations. It’s one thing to experience a poetic image that brings a vivid scene to your mind, but it’s quite another to find yourself in the room, in the conversation, stammering to add your own voice to the dialogue. So poignant, so immediate – I wish I were kin to Marty. Maybe after reading his poetry I sort of am.

The poem is from his book No Welfare, No Pension Plan (2006, Rank Stranger Press, Mt. Olive, NC). The entire collection is exquisitely personal – much of it is an elegy for grandmother, grandfather, father. The language embodies the rough life of the farm and the pride despite poverty of Eastern NC; the language rises with gut-felt power like a revival preacher; the language sings mournful like nightbird and swamp. Great Granddaddy Fred was water, / fluid and free. / In his palms, seeds sprouted; / sap seeped from his pores. (from Water Walker). There are smells and sounds and dog-tired feelings here that we don’t want to lose. We can’t stand to lose them. We can’t afford to. They need to be recalled to the seventh generation.


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Conversation on the Leaving

He was speaking of the leavings;
his voice broke in a rhyme,
poverty, poems he had witnessed.

They didn’t leave much – trinkets
mainly trinkets – nothing of value;
you knew their poverty, son.

So I didn’t get much.

Did you get the green elephant?

Yeah, I got the elephant.

Wasn’t it a stencil to draw by,
with a thumb tack for an eye,
wasn’t it a stencil?

No, it was a napkin holder,
a broken napkin holder
she pinned above the plate rack
with a white thumb tack.

Oh a napkin holder! I never knew.

They didn’t leave much – trinkets
just trinkets – old odd things –
that mean nothing to no one, son.

Did you get the horse heads,
the wooden horse heads,
brown, wooden horse heads
nailed above the headboard in the bedroom?

They were dogs.

They were dogs?
I never knew they were dogs.

Yeah, they were dogs.
Cut’m in woodshop
with a coping saw
I’ve still got.

Like I said, I didn’t get much —
trinkets I saved
they were going to throw away.

Your brothers won’t want much;
they don’t remember the oak floors
covered with linoleum
or the day we framed the new cabinets.

Dad, did you remember the church
how about the church;
not the Eiffel Tower but the church?
remember the church? It was broken;
the children broke the church.

Son, I didn’t get much;
they didn’t have a lot to leave
but the church, I got the church,
the family was forged in the church.


Four Poems by Marty Silverthorne

Feature at NC Arts Council

Asheville Poetry Review

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