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Kari Gunter-Seymour

Kari Gunter-Seymour’s poetry collections include A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen, winner of the 2020 Ohio Poet of the Year Award and Serving, runner up, Yellow Chair Review Chapbook Award. Her poems appear in numerous journals and publications including Verse Daily, Rattle, World Literature Today, The NY Times, and on her website: A ninth generation Appalachian, she is the founder/executive director of the Women of Appalachia Project (WOAP) ( and editor of the WOAP anthology series, Women Speak. She is a recipient of a 2021 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship and Poet Laureate of Ohio.

Alone in the House of My Heart

Without warning, my son’s ex sends me
a text about a 4-inch-long scratch
on my toddler grandson’s arm, one that,
swear to God, he already had when
he arrived for our last visit.

I know she is trying to set up my son,
document false evidence so he will lose
privileges or the right to see his fragile boy,
who runs on all fours, hides in the dog’s crate
the minute anyone sets foot inside the house.

When I think of her, this young woman,
obviously lonely, who wanted to get married—
a sharp-edged prickle inside my head
repeats beware!

She started sleeping with crystals,
my son says, scratching his head—
I mean actual rocks in our bed,
charming one minute,
word you to your knees the next.

On nights I drink too much wine
I blame myself—my A-line skirts,
Weight-Watchers diets, my son
growing up single-mommed
inside small-town America,
lured off course by a spritz
of patchouli, a flash of black lace.

Tonight I weep for all I cannot fix,
wish for a newfangled deity to implore,
a let’s make a deal beyond altar and incense,
a clearing house for the backlog of Karma.
I drape a makeshift veil over my head,
one hand raised in supplication,
the other shielding my heart.

Hella Barbie 1968

I was thirteen, she was Barbie–
tight waisted, pointy ta-tas,
teensy purple pom-poms glued
to sexy high heeled slings.
Ken and Madge, a glamorous
seaside life splashed on the cover
of every teen magazine
in the A&P Food Store checkout line.

I come from farm folk, short, stocky
built to dig a ditch, throw a bale.
My mother bargained:
lose five pounds, earn Barbie.

Life blurred into a ragged routine—
beef patties, cottage cheese,
running the path from the barn
to the woods. I passed out during
gym class, my teacher furious to learn
of my mother’s arrangement.

Barbie came to me pasty pale, pouty
lipped, nose pugged, in a stretchy
strapless striped swimsuit that provoked
the pink in my daddy’s cheeks.

No crease or fold, no nest of pubic wonder,
she could not stand, her arches cruelly
vaulted, gravity and her ginormous
chesties faceplanting her without fail.

She could not manage her white plastic
sunglasses or floppy flowered hat,
her quarter-sized woven wicker beach bag
forever slipping off her rock hard
plastic shoulder. One attempt to comb
her sun-streaked coif and off popped
her vacant head.

Come haying season, I lost five pounds
throwing bales good as any of the boys.
My new obsession? To insist
ordinary things be somehow more—
a brittle leaf laced in snow,
the sugary smell of clover-filled pastures,
my mother’s voice, twanged and weedy,
calling don’t be late for supper!
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