Irene McKinney, a Professor Emerita at West Virginia Wesleyan College, is the author of five books of poetry. As a West Virginia native, McKinney often uses her poems to engage life in rural America, specifically in Appalachia. Her poems range in subject matter from the connections between people and the animals they raise to sexuality and womanhood.
The below poem is anthologized in Irene McKinney's collection Unthinkable: Selected Poems, 1976-2004, published by Red Hen Press. The poem first appeared in McKinney's 1976 poetry collection The Girl with the Stone in Her Lap.
"Summer Storm in the Animal Graveyard"
A shiver of violets runs over the ground,
the low branches of the Sour Russet dip and scrape.
Cows who died in labor, late apples pounding
the ground in the fall, piglets rolled on
in a wallowing grunt by the sow.
A wild rearing of the wind: it stands up and walks.
Dark scuds the sky, the quick touch of rain
over the bright level stretch of grass flattening.
A rumbling ache in the earth as
the storm breaks out, galloping.
The horse who died at the plow
fell to his knees after twenty years--
his legs must be cut off to fit him in the grave.
The limestone vein in the hill, loosened by rain,
replaced each cell and made him stone.
Flying home, hundreds of starlings killed
in the attic (their fluttering kept us awake at night)
bundled in a lumpy blanket into one large hole.
Now in the high wind, they speck the sky
like flecks of ash, twirling and rising.
Falling, the cool rain veers toward
the green line of the bitter hickories.
The sad sheep walk to death, so quiet,
like nothing was happening, and lie down.
The trees shift and settle after the storm.