In the car it was steamy, smoky. The heat on…
I grew up in southeastern Kentucky near Straight Creek, a body of water with bends and curves that contradicted its name. My friends and I often waded in its placid waters, hunting for crawdads as the heat bugs sang a steady chorus in the brambles and treetops. But the creek was also prone to flooding. Each spring, heavy rains, erosion, and the effects of environmental industry conspired to create a rising, muddy tide that flooded fields, covered roadways, and threatened homes. In those times, the creek had a fury that stood in stark contrast to the gentle companion we knew in the summertime.
The changing moods of water appear often in Southern and Appalachian literature. Bestselling novelist Amy Greene, in her 2014 tour de force Long Man, writes of a river with a “damp slate smell, its eroding banks studded with oval rocks washed smooth as glass” that held power over the people living along its banks:
Like the Cherokees, Beulah thought the river might be
speaking to her. She wondered…if it wasn’t Long Man
whispering to her about the people that lived along its
shores, communicating in some way much older than
hers, from before language. As close as the people of
Yuneetah had lived to it, having fished from and drunk
of and swam through its waters, maybe they too could
have heard the truths it told if they’d listened closer.
In this issue of Appalachian Heritage, a group of talented fiction writers—Mary Grimm, Tim Poland, and Jayne Moore Waldrop—have indeed been listening intently to the waters that have haunted them and their characters. Their stories have been compiled in a Special Fiction Feature titled “Deep Waters,” and each one reveals hidden fathoms of meaning found among the shoals, rapids, and dams.
As you read further, you will be submerged in the meditation of Susan Tekulve’s essay “Silent Song” and the poetry of acclaimed writers including Rebecca Gayle Howell, Erik Reece, and Jeremy B. Jones. You will want to swim in the depths occupied by Crystal Wilkinson—who discusses her latest novel and offers great writing insight in her interview with novelist Silas House—and Stephanie Barton, who contributes a fascinating craft essay on silence in the work of memoirist Mary Karr and photographer Cindy Sherman.
Like Greene’s character Beulah, you will want to listen to the truths in these pages.