Light shackles itself between my father’s old oaks in Pennsylvania.
As a child I thought my state’s name meant branch—Pennsylvania
the same as laurel, the same as cedar, maple, hemlock those trees my cheap state
school named its dorms after (you wouldn’t know it, up in northern Pennsylvania).
I called my first love’s eyes huckleberry, as if I could dip my fingernails
into her Indiana veins, stain my cuticles with the blue juice of Pennsylvania.
Where are all the trees, I asked as we barreled down I-70, her homeplace flat
as a Play-Doh pancake stamped with God’s palmprint (I meant where is Pennsylvania?).
Once I spent all night singing in a cave (live album, stalactites spitting water down
my neck) & wondered about the men buried in the slack mouths of Pennsylvania.
There’s an old folksong says colliers gave the fire to forge the steel that made
the tools for industry. All that fire & steel bound up in blood & Pennsylvania.
Coal’s gone now. Steel, too. But I’ve heard the trucks battering up & down
Route 6: wellbore, wastewater, frack fluid, the new machinery of Pennsylvania.
Don’t drink from the taps, they warned us at school. Cancer
rate’s tripled. The Saudi Arabia of Natural Gas, that’s Pennsylvania.
Pee-Ay’s big break, our governor assured us. Overnight millionaires.
Geysers of gold churning beneath the farmlands of Pennsylvania.
The only gold I want anymore is honey tongued straight from the comb,
the kind I used to get at the Apple Butter Frolic in Harleysville, PA.
Here in southern Illinois, the same train rattles through for years.
Dear train, does the sap tapped from my throat still sing Pennsylvania?
In college, my friend Wes nicknamed me after the beast lumbering down
our black-burred mountains: Cole-train. I’ve never loved a name more, Pennsylvania.
Emily Rose Cole is the author of a chapbook, Love & a Loaded Gun, from Minerva Rising Press. She has received awards from Jabberwock Review, Philadelphia Stories, and the Academy of American Poets. Her work has appeared in Nimrod, The Pinch, and Southern Indiana Review, among others. She holds an MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is completing a PhD at the University of Cincinnati. You can reach her via her website at emilyrosecolepoetry.com.