59 vividly haunting poems by Susan Sheppard
Cover art by Susan Sheppard
6” x 9” 95 pages
Susan Sheppard (1955–2021) was “Black Dutch,” meaning that she was descended from the less than 850 Shawnee Indians who remained east of the Mississippi River after the other Shawnee (during the “Trail of Tears” removal) were forced onto reservations out west in the 1830s. Susan, along with others in the Friend family, was a direct descendent of Shawnee Chief Big Thunder through his daughter, Bright Lightning, whose name was anglicized to “Anna Friend.”
When I first read the poems of a young woman from Appalachia, thirty years ago, I knew she was one of the best poets I’d ever met. I never forgot the brooding witchcraft, the mystery and magic in her work. There’s no writer like Susan Sheppard. She writes like a woman who has nothing to lose and I place her at the top of poetry’s canon. It is the world’s fault that a Sheppard poetry book is not in our libraries. Every page of Glamoury is rich, resolving to bring truth to life with language smoldering, ready to burst into flame. I read this book and feel lucky to know a poet who keeps poetry alive. This is the book of the year.
—Grace Cavalieri, Maryland Poet Laureate
Within the pages of Glamoury there lies a mystical terrain where angels and Druids, witches and granny women, even fairies walk between dimensions, earthly and not. Eyes glow orange inside indigo nights, trees are bearded hags and the dead take form and gesture. It is a place where a child contrives to survive a father hounded by addiction, a mother who is indifferent and the crippling poverty that ensues. The language in this collection is so lush, the Appalachian lore and landscapes so vivid. Susan Sheppard has created an “other” world where water spills its cold diamonds over her hands, the moon sheds white blood and crows wear the dark clothes of a prowler. Trust me reader, this book will hold you spellbound, shake you to your bones, leave you beguiled and breathless.
—Kari Gunter-Seymour, author of A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen, 2020 Ohio Poet of the Year, Poet Laureate of Ohio
Things are never quite what they seem as you travel the unsettling paths threading this astounding and intriguing book. Composed primarily of narrative poems, Sheppard has created a world where shadows take on more substance than most would believe. Of course, this is not surprising for a writer whose bio states she’s a paranormal investigator. Even the poems betokening a quieter domesticity harbor a dark undercurrent, a sense of menace that breathes verisimilitude into the whole of the collection.
Though the storytelling takes precedence, there are arresting images throughout testifying to a fine attentiveness. In places “Cicadas whir / like wind-up toys over the lawn” while elsewhere we find a stream within which “crawdads floated like gallstones in a jar.”
Glamoury is an accomplished volume that should prove the crowning achievement for this fine poet whose literary forebears must surely include Mervyn Peake, H.D., and Margaret Atwood. I can think of no higher praise.
—Marc Harshman, Poet Laureate of West Virginia and author of Woman in Red Anorak, winner of the 2017 Blue Lynx Prize.
Susan Sheppard was a prolific poet from Parkersburg, West Virginia, whose work had been published in over 100 magazines. A descendant of the Blackfoot-Saponi and Lenape-Shawnee tribes, Sheppard wrote poetry imbued with her unique brand of Appalachian mysticism for over 40 years. In 1998, she was awarded a Poetry Fellowship from West Virginia Arts & Humanities and in 2005 she received the Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Poetry Prize. She was named first runner up for the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award in 2019. Her poetry chapbook, Balefire, was published in 2015 by Crisis Chronicles Press. Sheppard was also the author of four non-fiction books, one novel and two very popular card decks. She taught and facilitated the Sacred Way Poetry Group in Parkersburg for many years.
Publisher’s note: As this book was being in the process of being published, on April 19, 2021, Susan Sheppard died, leaving the copyright to her daughter Scarlet, to whom this book is dedicated. Thank you to Scarlet, her father Roger, and Susan’s friend Yun Wang, for their help and support in making this publication possible.
Glamoury sample poems
Tonight the world is knocked unconscious
Like a bum in the alley.
We tilt with the planet barely,
Our brains lunar flowers
Turning on their stems.
Nothing lives here except the dead
Who lie on their hammocks
Waiting to be let in.
Let the rest of us be thoughts
That move in the mind
Of God like swans,
Where the heart is confounded by love,
Wanting to own beauty,
Where the moon sheds her white blood,
Where we become hastening flames
Left over from the animal brain . . .
Here, I am a skirt walking,
I am a figure with beautiful hair.
Tonight I go outside
Where the air is cold as an assassin’s heart,
Where the sky is unclear like the future
And the hills are the black
Of waking up in a box.
The Indians on the Hill
Once my grandmother and her sister overheard a clerk in a small town
Dress shop whisper to the other: “Don’t wait on them. They look like dagos.”
Ashamed, the girls quickly left. They did not know what dago meant,
But they knew it must mean something bad.
Years later, high on a hill, the earth gave way to buffeting winds, shook
The mulberry trees into fists. I dream-walked in skin slippers over the rib cages
Of ancestors, layered deep into the world’s drum, our faces broad as clay pots.
Skeins of clouds layered back into the verdant breath of woods.
Below me, in a tin-can house was another Saponi grandmother who sat
Under green awning, face dark as a chestnut, apron pinned to her dress,
Wearing men’s shoes. This grandmother held her cane between her knees.
We both stared. I crouched at the edge of her garden, I was five,
With umber wing of hair over my eye, face smeared with the war paint
Of pokeberries. Neither of us blinked. She gazed as I grasped dirt
Loose as soap powders in her garden, I wanted her to notice
As I flung it where crows argued with the jays but she said nothing.
Among the red cabbages, among the glint of pie plates that sent out codes
In the wasting sun, there was nothing for me to do but go home.
Later, red spirits multiplied into the evening, I felt them through my hair,
Glimpsed their spirits weaving through trees bloody and painted.
I imagined my Piqua-Shawnee great-grandmother wringing cloth,
Rinsing pale moons of fingernails of sienna-skinned hands in creek water,
Only to be shut away later in the TransAllegheny Lunatic Asylum to die alone.
We never found her grave but fell into her way of drying out
Gourds for seed rattles in Halloween colors, hung like otter skulls from a rope.
Through the smell of dying fields, I ran into the arms of my grandfather who
Quieted the evening into dreams. That night we found crow feathers
Left on the stone walk like obsidian blades on the way to the outhouse
And those eyeless pelts of fox stretched out over the door.
Grandma stayed inside to stitch together
Cast off rags into wondrous designs. Grandma
And her sister never went back to that store
The sky drops like a lavender hem.
Tonight is the night dusty souls
Languish in their sewers
Watched over by granite lambs,
A night saints wear kilted skirts splattered
With coffin dirt, when skull-faced children
Carry lanterns of skinned and grinning heads.
It is the night trees release
Leaves of red witchery, when angels
In flimsy gowns ride their fiery discs.
This is the night a dark wood swoons
Around us like the rings of Saturn, when death
Beautifully polishes things, leaves them there.
It is the night blackness
Drives away the indigo light
And slaps us back inside our caves.
Tonight is the night I will nail a board
Over the face of anyone
I have ever loved.
Dark Static of Hair
Rain outside hisses against the slate roof.
There is a sweet darkness in the room like spaces
Between fingers. The air is moist as radiant skin.
Lying close, we shift into
The branches outside
Where trees transform into black swords.
Under a floating moon, our spirits
Slip into the coffin rooms of the sky
Yet never are we so alive.
Now you are caught
In the dark static of my hair.
The mole under your eye is a small planet
That spins in a mystery of planetary love.
My heart blooms under your hand, something
You gathered from your mother’s garden.
I touch the strong blade of your shoulder,
Listen to the brave soldier of your heart.
Here in this night,
Nothing is really terrible,
Everything is beautiful
As our bodies move with the heavens,
Filling up the houses of other worlds.