A Skiff of Snow

Melissa Range

BPR 41 | 2014

Winner of the 2014 Collins Prize
Melissa Range’s first book of poems, Horse and Rider (Texas Tech University Press, 2010), won the 2010 Walt McDonald Prize in Poetry. Her poems have appeared in 32 Poems, The Hudson Review, Image, New England Review, The Paris Review, and other journals.

Not a boatload but a sift that barely sticks—
the flour sloughed from a rolling pin,
flakes scarce as skiffs in a landlocked state.

In the ballads brought over
with the Scots, women pine for word
of a lover or a son put out to sea,

A skiff of song scabbing the ground
beneath the willow when they’re buried,
beneath the ocean when they’re not.

My father on a ladder doesn’t sing;
he cusses, banging boards
onto the wind-scrapped barn,

Roof half off, wood give out, sky
Spitting snow, salvaging
His daddy’s daddy’s daddy’s work—

And before him, even, a man
who didn’t row, he walked here
(when this was barely Tennessee)

from New Jersey, and before that,
his father drifted in from Holland,
England, Germany, or France

(the family trees disagree
about which accent
got mangled into mine).

When I left my mountain home to hitch
to cities, I became a hick,
my skiff of twang scuffing the air,

Breaking on scoffers’ ears like ships
busting on rocks. My granddaddy,
on a job in Cincinnati, drinking up

his paycheck, heard “You must be one of them
hillbillies” soon as he opened his mouth
to ask the baseball score;

he replied, “They is two kinds of people
in this world, hillbillies and sons
of bitches—so what does that make you?”

Then he slugged the feller one,
or got slugged, depending
on who’s telling it.

“It’s a-skiffin’,” we say,
to mean there’s not much,
there won’t be much, and it’ll be gone

in two shakes. It’s untelling
where it goes. It’s untelling
who’ll tell it once it’s gone.