a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
A fiddle takes you all the way to the edges of your skin like a sapling that clings to a cliff. It is a mountain road ditch filled with flowering weeds, my tongue on the waxy topside of a teaberry leaf, my teeth crushing its minty veins. It is every chimney made of riverstone still standing out in a wood, while the rest of the house has been chewed up by weather and roots. It is the old plank-wooded footbridge where we’d park on one side of the river and cross over by foot. It is our feet crossing over. An old gravestone unearthed by a plow blading its way through a hillside pasture. My bones opened up and sucked of marrow like the last fat pig we slaughtered that fall when the chestnuts stopped. It’s an old squeaky screen door that slams in a good way to say, I’m here or I’m leaving or I’m never coming back or I’m back. A floodlight in the yard that burns its light all over the leaf litter. A flood of corncribs and paint-slacked doors pulled from their last hinge. A fiddle can vine through you like poison ivy, furry on the outside and thick as a branch stuck to its trunk. A fiddle is the space in a mountain stream that tumbles off an overhang and keeps on going until it meets another stream at the rivercane and goes on underneath your porch floor while you and your friends are drinking too much above it. The joy you feel when you lie down in that stream, when you get all your friends to get inside Troublesome Creek. How you scrabble down the bank and someone suggests a baptism. And you all baptize each other and pass the bourbon.
A fiddle is the sad low moan of that girl that was tricked into going into that old abandoned house full of batshit. It’s the crooked nail in a plank of poplar, fresh milled and headed six feet under the earth. A fiddle will set your feet to dancing and your heart to weeping. It’s like the preacher who marries and buries. It’s the wavy lines on a road headed west and the fog that gathers inside the mountains when headed home. It’s a long drive on the cool riverbottoms and the long hike up a dusty ridge. It’s the way a boy watches you pick a raspberry and put it in his mouth. It’s the bridge we call the singing bridge and the bridge’s shade on the laurel beneath it. The dump trucks full of coal, timber, and gravel that diesel their way up US-24. When we sat in your old truck, floorboard rusted out on the passenger side, and listened to the radio because that’s all that worked between us. When we read the pregnancy test. When I said yes and you said no. And it’s the drive down Old Railroad Road where my tires got stuck in the mudbank. It’s that car in a flood floating down the river.
Kentucky poet, educator, and folklorist Sarah McCartt-Jackson has been published by Indiana Review, NANO Fiction, BRINK, Journal of American Folklore, The Maine Review, and others. Her books include Stonelight, Calf Canyon, Vein of Stone, and Children Born on the Wrong Side of the River. She has served as artist-in-residence for Great Smoky Mountains, Catoctin Mountain, Homestead, and Acadia National Parks. She is obsessed with writing about rivers, particularly the Kentucky River.