I could not count myself to sleep.
Chessie sang a trembling music,
entered my body like a kiln.
Engine red with heat pulled
out of the depot with the freight
of a fractured life, rocked
deeper into the past, rolled
by my liver swollen like a stone.
Shaking with delirium, boxcars
rattled past jailhouse bars under
liquor-ignited stars, dragged me
past graveyards, decorated stones
of dead friends. I begged for the train
to derail, prayed for collision, but
she kept pushing, pulling, grinding
down guilty ribs, up the track
of severed spine, through braided
lines of uncoupled nerves.
In the midst of my gut, waist deep
in bowel, a black man shoveled shit
into the boiler firing the engine
to pull over trestled rivers of blood.
She thundered past Grandmother
staggering through asylum halls,
over Grandfather’s grave on a hill,
rumbled through Daddy’s cancerous colon,
past the dead and those waiting to die.
Roaring out of the rich land of dreams,
I prayed for sleep, hoped never to wake,
never to see the burden of lame legs
still as sleepers, nothing but grief-born
bones, smoke of the angriest dawn.
© 2017 Marty Silverthorne
Marty Silverthorne earned degrees from St Andrews Presbyterian College and East Carolina University. He received the Bunn-McClelland Chapbook Award in 1985, Sam Ragan Award of Extraordinary Contributions to the Fine Arts of North Carolina in 1993, the Persephone Press Award in 1997, and won the NCPS Poet Laureate award in 2015. He has received numerous regional arts grants from NC Arts and a NC Arts Fellowship. He has authored six chapbooks: Holy Ghosts of of Whiskey, Ten Poems by Marty Silverthorne, Rewinding at 40, No Welfare No Pension Plan, Pot Liquor Promises, and Dry Skin Messiah. His poems have also been published in NCLR, Tar River Poetry, Pembroke Magazine, St Andrews Review, and many others.
For a few decades, I’ve been reading with immense admiration Marty Silverthorne’s poems, yet nothing could’ve prepared me for the harrowingly beautiful and outlandishly courageous poems in his new work, Naming the Scars. In poem after poem, Silverthorne – through sheer bravado, wrought with iron, still white hot from the forge – gives voice to the ineffable. I’m not sure how he managed to pull these poems off – the jolting candor, the emotional voltage, the jackhammer beat. If I could, I’d stretch this epistle to include, in its entirety, “Living Will,” the concluding spectacular poem of this searing volume. Let its final lines suffice: “Burn the air / with my body, scatter me around / bellbottomed cypress, and river birch, / then suicide shift past the Slade Farm / where slave chains jingle under the chill / white light of the moon.” In Naming the Scars, Silverthorne brandishes his living will and his will to live. Lord, these are poems.
—Joseph Bathanti, NC Poet Laureate, 2012-2014
Marty Silverthorne’s latest collection, Naming the Scars, is a visionary work of purity without sentimentality. His lines brim with a jagged, haunting music all his own.
—Michael White, author of Vermeer in Hell
Naming the Scars by Marty Silverthorne is a powerful and disturbing book. “Disturbing” is the right word. If you are not disturbed, you haven’t read it. Silverthorne’s direct and forceful words, and his unrelentingly honest images force us into a world that we would not know without his poems, a world both horrifying and blessed, horrifying because of the continuing illness the quadriplegia the narrator must face, and blessed because of the extraordinary caregivers whose portraits Silverthorne paints so vividly, caregivers and family member who become healers. This book will stay with me a long time.
—Tony Abbott, author of The Angel Dialogues