Author: Michael Chitwood

Poet and essayist Michael Chitwood earned a BA from Emory & Henry College and an MFA from the University of Virginia. In his work, Chitwood explores the Appalachian landscape of his youth and frequently draws on colloquial speech and themes. His many collections of poetry include Salt Works (1992), Whet (1995), The Weave Room (1998), Gospel Road Going (2002), which won the Roanoke-Chowan Prize for Poetry, From Whence (2007), Spill (2007), and Poor-Mouth Jubilee (2010).

His collections of essays include Hitting Below the Bible Belt: Baptist Voodoo, Blood Kin, Grandma's Teeth, and Other Stories from the South (1998) and Finishing Touches (2006). A freelance writer, Chitwood is also a lecturer in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


I came into the shop quietly.
With the bright sun outside,
it was like entering a cave.
He called it a shop—
table saw, wood plane,
two walls hung with tools.
Women didn’t come in here.

His back was to me,
something broken on the workbench.
He was singing, almost a croaking,
old frog-throat gear screaking
something something Red River Valley.
He swayed a little who never danced,
the man who was model of how to be a man.
I backed out into the blinding sun
and never told him I heard him sing.

Working Graveyard

Once, at the end of his shift,
he came out
and in the first slant light
the parking lot glittered
like the one time he’d seen the sea.
The machines still roared in his-ears.
There’d been no breakdowns the whole night.
His sandwich in its brown bag
had warmed and the cheese melted a little.
He had eaten around midnight.
For some reason that night
the aisles between the looms,
had seemed church-like
and his shift-mates like ushers
taking up the collection.
And now the morning sun
sprang off the asphalt
and he had the morning to putter
and then the afternoon to sleep.
People were leaving the parking lot,
breaking up the group slowly,
the way you do at the end of a service.

Blast Mat

The blast mat was made of old tires,
cut in half and strung on steel cable,
all those trips—to Iowa, the grocery,
the hospital, and orchard in the fall—
cinched together like a bracelet of travel,
and the bracelets, six of them,
were joined with more cable to make the mat.
It took a crane to lift the thing
We had to drill into the rock,
dog-work with the pneumatic drill,
first the four-foot bit, then the six,
then the eight, grinding the hole deeper in to the rock.
You could taste the chalk of the rock dust.
We threaded sticks of dynamite
into the holes, the last one with a blasting cap
and then the frilly wires to the detonator.
The crane operator would drape the mat
over the rock like a blanket on a bed:
with the thump of the blast the mat jumped
but held down the shards and chips,
not much of a fireworks payoff after all that drilling.
But one day the foreman had to go bid a job
and we drilled and loaded the holes.
We were blasting out a foundation
for a house at the lake.
A blistering day and we’d worn
bandanas bandit-style to not breathe the dust,
and when we were ready,
we said, what the hell, no mat, forget it.
We crimped the wires to the detonator
and got behind some trees.
When it went, we heard the shrapnel
nicking the trees and one chunk
the size of suitcase hurtled
in almost slow-motion catapult
toward a sailboat moored on the lake.
A direct hit would sink the boat sure,
but it ca-choomed to the right side,
water spouting up four or five feet
and all of us releasing the breath we’d held.
A couple came from below deck,
scrambling up, waving and shouting,
and Bill, who most wanted payoff after labor,
shouted back. “Wake up. Wake the hell up.”