by Ken Autrey

Every morning she feeds the dogs,
walks them, lighting a cigarette
before starting coffee.
She makes small talk
on the telephone, not sure
who’s on the other end.
Some days she walks down
the porch steps, across the yard,
and through the picket fence
to get the mail, casting it upon
the kitchen table.  Sometimes
she eats lunch.  Two or three beers
help her through the afternoon.
When the landlord comes shirtless
to mow the grass, she eyes
his wide shoulders, his smooth back,
and remembers the man who went
with her to Alaska twenty years ago.
After his son’s Army helicopter crashed,
he was never the same.  He left
for California to live near his grandson.
The scent of mown grass engulfs her
and for a while she’s again helping
muscle hay bales onto a flatbed
in a field just south of Fairbanks.

by Ken Autrey

Sun just creasing the cold sky, she steps out,
lights up and takes a deep draft,
her brain clears, and as the smoke drifts
toward the water oak, she settles into
the day, ready to tend dogs and chickens,
then retreat to the warm kitchen for eggs
and toast, the sweet honey someone brought
last week.  This morning the house seems
cavernous and empty.  The cats lie inert
on her unmade bed.  The ticking clock, the silent TV,
her computer with its snarl of wires,
the mantel arrayed with photos—
none of it seems quite her own.  She tries
to recall when she left Alaska, how she came
to these rooms, sometimes so welcoming,
now so empty.  When she reaches into her pocket
for another cigarette, she’s glad to find the pack
almost full, tilts one out, and spots her lighter
on the window sill.  Remembering she’s not
supposed to smoke inside, she lifts her hood,
passes through the heavy door onto the screen porch,
then moves outside where the first drag pulls her
back into herself.  The smoking connects her
to a dimming echo of Alaska: tight cabin, horses
steaming and patient in a snow-laden barn, the way
the sparse light ignited ice-crystalled birches,
the comfort of warm boots and fur-lined gloves so thick
she could barely grip a cigarette between their fingers.

by Ken Autrey

Beside a bare Christmas tree, cedar,
Penelope hugs herself in a chair.
She’s always cold these days,
so we spread a blanket over her.
She tucks her red hands in so that
all we see is her head, her John Deere
baseball cap.  We strip to our T-shirts
and click wine glasses, a toast
to the season, promise of tinsel,
benevolent fire.  It has been a year
since we last lay tinder, kindling, and logs,
touched a match to dry news underneath
and waited for the flicker to become
conflagration.  We meant to get lights
on the tree today but find something
primal in branches unadorned,
like flame on a cool night, an axe
lodged in an oak round, a cat’s
random cry.  Penelope gets restless,
has drunk her Merlot and is ready to eat.
We want to stretch out time, a rope
plunging into a thicket, a strand
we follow, hand over hand, single file,
oblivious to weather and the old dark
that is sure to overwhelm us.


Ken Autrey’s work has appeared in Atlanta Review,
Chattahoochee Review, Cimarron Review, Poetry
, Southern Poetry Review, Texas Review, and
elsewhere.  He is also the author of three chapbooks:
from Main Street Rag, Rope Lesson from Longleaf Press,
The Wake of the Year from Solomon and George.  Now
retired, Autrey was a Professor of English at Francis Marion
University in Florence, South Carolina.  He is currently a
resident of Auburn, Alabama, where he coordinates the Third
Thursday Poetry Series at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of
Fine Art at Auburn University.  

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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 12, Number 2
(Fall 2017)

Copyright © 2017
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

All future rights to material
published in the
Valley Review
are retained
by the individual authors
and artists.