Poetry Sunday: “Solstice,” by Kathryn Stripling Byer


for PCP

Riding home on the subway,
you tried not to look at the old woman
mumbling in Spanish, “Mi corazón,
Mi corazón de soledad.”

Longest dark. Hours after sunset
and no coffee left in the pot, you are saying
your rosary, each word a wing beat against
Blackened window glass. (Mother of Letting Go,

Mother of Dust, Holy Mother or Mothers’
Hearts). Outside, the lights of New York
gleam like candles, burning till dawn
for the souls of the lost.

“It is easy to pray to her,
she is so human,” you told me last night,
though your voice on the long-distance line
stammered, trying to clarify something

you feared I’d dismiss as no more
than nostalgia, old charm
against darkness. I stared at the crèche
where a virgin in wooden robes knelt

while you spoke of her blood seeping
into the straw, how her hand,
holding close to the child’s face
a guttering candle-stub, trembled.

Then silence. I thought the line
dead till I heard a match strike
for your cigarette. “Who knows,”
you sighed, watching smoke find

its way to the ceiling.
“Perhaps there is such a thing as grace,
the smallest twig kindling,
the empty hearth filling with light.”


From The Girl in the Midst of the Harvest (Press 53 2013), published with permission of the press.


Kathryn Stripling Byer grew up in southwest Georgia and graduated from Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. She received an MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she studied with Allen Tate, Fred Chappell, and Robert Watson. Her books of poetry include Catching Light (Louisiana State University Press, 2002); Black Shawl (1998); Wildwood Flower (1992), the 1992 Lamont Poetry Selection of The Academy of American Poets; and The Girl in the Midst of the Harvest (1986), published in the Associated Writing Programs award series and reissued by Press 53. Byer’s poems have appeared in Arts JournalCarolina QuarterlyGeorgia ReviewHudson ReviewIowa ReviewNimrod, Poetry, and Southern Review, as well as numerous anthologies. Her essays have appeared in Bloodroot: Reflections on Place by Appalachian Women Writers (edited by Joyce Dyer; University Press of Kentucky, 1998), Dream Garden: The Poetic Vision of Fred Chappell (edited by Patrick Bizzaro; Louisiana State University Press, 1997), The Boston Globe, and Shenandoah. She received writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council. She was poet-in-residence at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. She died June 5, 2017. [from Academy of American Poets website, here] Her obituary appears here.

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  • Kelly Cherry January 3, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    Gone too soon.

  • Meryl Natchez December 18, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    Lovely ending–perfect poem for this time of year.

  • Kristyn Appleby December 17, 2017 at 11:48 am

    As always Rebecca, you chose pieces of writing that go directly to the heart of the reader. “Mother of Letting Go. Mother of Dust. Holy Mother of Mothers’ Hearts.” A new mantra to quell, perhaps, the unease I feel in my own heart these days. Thank you.