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‘Appalachia’ by Erin Jin Mei O’Malley

— Andrew Sargus Klein

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a season so weaponized as autumn is in ‘Appalachia,’ by Erin Jin Mei O’Malley in Tinderbox Poetry Journal.

Within a setting so easily associated with transformation, rumination, and softness we have this:

Here, where all wild-
life startles easily, I miss
the bullseye on every rabbit’s back.
I grieve the living
I fail to dress
and undress like small children.

It’s not that autumn isn’t a place of darkness, or violence. This is likely me telling on myself—that I’m so shaken when three of four stanzas make explicit reference to guns and/or death says as much about me as the poem itself.

I’m shaken in a way that keeps the poem close. I’m stunned by the image of a sheep—pastoral, calm, unbothered—“bringing its mouth closer / to the earth” in the last lines of a poem so focused on the hunting and the hunted.

The poem begins with “So,” as if what comes next is an aside, or a continuation of a conversation outside the poem. It ends in finality, in a gesture not unlike prayer, and I return to the beginning wondering about the summer before this autumn, the spring before that, and on and on.