Joyce Compton Brown is the author of two chapbooks, Bequest (Finishing Line) and Singing with Jarred Edges (Main Street Rag) as well as Standing on the Outcrop (Redhawk, 2021) and Hard-Packed Clay (Redhawk, 2022)She grew up in the rural community of Troutman, NC, in a family with long and deep local roots. After earning degrees from Appalachian State University and the University of Southern Mississippi, she taught at Gardner-Webb University, publishing in scholarly journals and pursuing summer opportunities for study in Appalachian culture, roots music, and poetry. She publishes poetry when lucky and lives in Troutman, NC with husband and cat.
After the neighbors died
we trespassed their holy grounds,
hovered among the fig trees
near an empty bedroom window.
We peered through glass at iron beds
and danced among the figs,
pulling nimble branches closer,
like partners in a waltz, reaching
toward rich dark fruit we plucked
free from green stems. Wrapped
within the ancient scroll of time,
we cradled them in our laps
like Cato, who caught fat figs
within his gown so that
the Senate might take notice.
The leaves, palmate, fuzz-tinged,
brushed soft against our tender skin.
We ate like Aesop’s wicked servants
prepared to deny our sick-sweet feast.
We knew only the fat brown turkey figs,
not Pliny’s twenty-nine varieties
from Cyprus and Mount Ida,
Lydia, and African shores, those
warm and azure lands where
even the slaves could feast,
eat their fill, then lay ripe fruit
in the sun for winter in numbers
nearly beyond measure,
where gladiators stuffed sweet
pink innards down their throats
between final performances.
We did battle with sticky wasps,
gorging on moments of plenty.
These days we’re lucky if the tree is spared
by winter freeze, that bone-chill wind
that leaves limbs frozen and brittle,
deadened to spring harvest.
But this is a bountiful year— tree drips
with drooping fruit, the feel is royal.
Fig’s lush leavings brush my arms.
Nimble limbs move to my touch.
Warm fuzzy leaves hold
pleasure like tender hands,
offer the globular fruit, purple skin,
rosy lush tinge of sweet taste.
I come with sugar and syrup and knife,
slice away myth and mystery—slave
of my own compulsion—
spoon oval disks floating into jars,
their rose-wrinkled petals
pressed against the glass,
syrup-sweet and pink,
joy-rich nectar, denying
the paucity of last year’s harvest.
Sightseeing in Pompeii
It’s the dog I remember
most, not the rich man stretched
on his leisure couch,
the housewife, or servant,
bending over the oven
checking on her baking bread,
It’s not even the sex slaves.
The murals have lost their glow,
faded and cracked, on the walls
of wealthy men who hung
around in easy togas,
near their fine baths
where they soaked
and chatted at leisure, their
wine jugs now piled in corners.
It’s the little dog—
sleek, legs bowed, tense,
claws tight, maybe barking
at the red-ash rush that
ate him while he was just
being a dog in the street,
looking for a handout maybe,
a toss of hard bread,
a pat on the head.
Hog Pen Days
When we were neighbor-young
and played in a pack wild-running-
screaming for something to do besides
ride bikes and make cookies,
our mothers made us go outside
where we could do no harm
to antimacassars and Sunday pies.
We’d find solace down past mowed-
grass boundaries at the Jordan’s pigpen
where the hollyhocks grew tall and lush—
pink, purple, and white—
while the mud-caked hogs, unaware
of Fate, wallowed in the summer heat.
We didn’t mind the smell of slop and scat.
Maybe we were a little jealous,
the hogs grunting with sleepy pleasure,
no philosophical snorts of doom and choice.
They didn’t understand the Tragic Flaw.
The scalding tubs sat grounded in the barn,
the pulleys ready for hanging hoofs,
the trappings cleaned for pink slick guts.
A bucket of scraps and a garbage-filled
trough brought lazy slobbers and oinks.
And when the aroma of pigpen came to drift
in the chilly gust, suddenly another wallow
and grunt—then the blinding slash—
bloody entrails curled in an old tin pail,
no steaming message left for man or beast—
No visit from the Gods, no thunder
against Greed and Sloth.
I like the way
The leaf-light sifts
translucent burnished red
against the green
and yellow maple
through the screen filter
of my porch
illuminating the frail
and certain paths
the shiny silver stories
of patience and questing
in the dark and shrouded night
when moths fly beautiful
in twilight’s shadow, unafraid.