A! Magazine for the Arts

Rita Sims Quillen

Rita Sims Quillen

Poetry: What Made Rita Sims Quillen Be A Writer?

March 24, 2009

Rita Sims Quillen, a fifth-generation native of Scott County, Va., is the author of three books of poetry: October Dusk (1987), Counting the Sums (1995) and Her Secret Dream (2007).

Last year she selected poems by regional poets for the April edition of A! Magazine for the Arts celebrating National Poetry Month.

She is also author of a collection of critical essays: Looking for Native Ground: Contemporary Appalachian Poetry. She is widely published in literary journals and in major anthologies.

She was featured in the public radio series Tell It On the Mountain: Appalachian Women Writers produced by Appalshop Radio and broadcast nationwide in 1997.

Currently an assistant professor at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, Va., she is a popular workshop leader and teacher.


What Probably Made Me A Writer

by Rita Sims Quillen

I ventured in to her root cellar
The open door driving a wedge
Of day across the grave
Of last year's harvest.
My flashlight fixed
On the brass button lids
Grandma's hidden cache--
Spiders dropped
Spinning crazily like tortured prisoners
The dampness settled
On my hair, my eyelashes
But the coolness
Could not distract my overworked
Overpowered imagination
And my grandmother screaming
To hurry and get the pickles
Didn't stop me from hearing voices
From the jars.
The beans preached the straight and narrow.
The pickles told jokes and played cards.
The corn and okra relived the old days, sang opera.
The peppers did unspeakable things and then bragged.
And I began to giggle out loud
Rolled out into the green grass
Yellow sunshine
Blue sky laughing
Into the eternally practical
Face of my grandmother
As she grabbed the pickle jar
Asked me if I was crazy
And stomped off
Without hearing me say


Sunday School Lesson

(for Teague)

by Rita Sims Quillen

"What is the chief end of man?"
I ask,
But the boy doesn't hear.
His serious brown eyes
Sweep the hurrying water
For bluegills and suckers.
We walk this way every Sunday
Along a quick, clear creek
Watching for the grouse --
The same one, we're sure --
Who startles us to silence
Each time he rises,
A sailing miracle
Heading for a lightning-struck mulberry.
"I don't know," he finally says.
"What do you think
About this God stuff?"
So he was listening.
I glance at him
Notice the keenness
I admired from the start
Thinking again
How each of my children
Resembles someone long dead
As if God had run out of new faces
And started over.
The girl is her great-grandmother
Right down to her fused toes
And unbending will.
The boy is my father
With red hair.
"I think God is something
Different to each of us."
I consider what more to say,
But he answers,
"I think God is up there,
But he expects us
To do for ourselves."

It took me 26 years to figure that out.
We watch two frogs
Leave the shadow of a peeling log
And the boy smiles at the day's bounty.
He stoops
Pokes them with a stick.
"So what is the chief end of man?"
He asks.
"To glorify God," I begin
But I realize
I asked the wrong question.
What is the chief end of boy?
To fish, catch frogs,
And laugh at snakes.
To read the waters.
To answer the right questions
And walk in dusty grace.
To enjoy forever.

-- Warren M. Harris: 'String Theory'
-- Back to Main story: Regional Poets Celebrate National Poetry Month