This book will launch on Nov 15, 2020. Currently, only those with the link can see it. 🔒

Some Notes You Hold is about surviving what life throws at
us as we age. The so-called “Golden Years” are so named
because of the high admission price—the tremendous
losses, disappointments, illnesses, and failures we all
experience if we live long enough.
The first part of the book, called “Letting Go,” focuses on
surviving deep grief; the second half, called “Holding On,”
explores all the roads leading to survival: playing music,
prayer and meditation, deep communion with the natural
world, and writing.
The price paid for those “golden years” leads to the prize:
insight, joy, and a kind of peace we were incapable of when
we were young.
Rita Quillen’s new
novel Wayland, a sequel
to Hiding Ezra, will be
published by Iris Press
in fall, 2019. Her fulllength
poetry collection,
The Mad Farmer’s Wife,
was published in 2016
by Texas Review Press, a
Texas A & M affiliation
and was a finalist for the
Weatherford Award in
Appalachian Literature
from Berea College. Her
novel Hiding Ezra,
released by Little Creek
Books, was a finalist for
the 2005 DANA
Awards. One of six
semi-finalists for the 2012-14 Poet Laureate of Virginia, she
has received three Pushcart nominations.

The Gospel of Junior

The Book of Junior was economical,

only needing a half dozen commandments:

Gardening is a sacrament,

your tithe paid with hoe and bent back.

Keep everything Godly clean.

Keep the Sabbath, no matter

what the hayfield says.

In fact, go to church every time the door opens

but don’t crow about it.

Your life will tell the tale.

Most of all, don’t throw things away.

Everything, all of it, is a gift.

My dad’s dime store dungeon of detritus

down in the dark basement was a wonder.

Nothing escaped him,

not the broken or rusty

the warped or the worn.

Dozens of nails driven in joists

held bags of treasure:

screws, nails, nuts and bolts,

belts, brackets, brushes and buckets ---

anything you could ever want or need

or never want or need.

His underground hardware was a goldmine

to the tinkerer or child of the Depression.

He could’ve bought new

but that’s heresy

in his anti-prosperity gospel.

Living cheap is living humble.

Transcendence is to be saved

by what’s broken,



sanctification sent by self-sufficiency ---

Grace from going without.

Junior was the camel

passing through that needle’s eye

every day,

a piece of broken pipe in one hand

rusty wire in the other,

his dusty broken-down brogans

with the recycled laces

shuffling down that Redemption Road.


Garden Rite

Each spring on his postage stamp of earth the same rituals:

At the first warm breeze out came the two-by-fours

nailed together into a rectangle

where he tenderly pushed lettuce seeds into soft mud

draped the airy muslin covering over it all

like a communion table waiting for the church bell

stepped back and smiled.

Consecrate this crop.

The days had to lengthen

 before the rest could join in.

The old rusty push-plow of his ancestors

a hoe he had kept from the barn of his boyhood ---

lifelong tie to the gardens of the dead.

It is right to give thanks and praise.

He used the creek and tree line in April

to sight the straight line that would become

 by the hot buzz of August

a choir of corn releasing soft hallelujahs.

Beans would be the kneeling women at the altar,

onions the sour deacons of the doxology,

squash women in yellow bonnets and calico of his youth,

sweet fat cabbage babies wafting and waving,

in the blinding sun’s light.

We are what feeds us.

He plunged little crosses in the ground

where tomatoes, smeared with stigmata

of juicy joy, would shine over the garden.

Not a thing wrong with the bread and the wine

but a country boy had to have beans.

No communion wafer unless it was made with ground corn.

Let us keep the feast, lift up our hearts.


And my father, the high priest of the scriptural lines

of this bright dusty kingdom,

giving absolution with green garden hose in days of drought

would know precisely when to slowly lift the cloth

from that communion table, pinch tender shoots

to lay on his tongue, just the tiniest bite,


Take and eat.

This refuge, this is all ---

Our salad days.





When Dad stepped out the backdoor

he met Clinch Mountain’s majestic face,

her specter changing from green to gold

to gray and black and back again ---

reference point eternal

as year after year clicked faster by.

To his right, he could see

through trees’ bare winter arms

the home he was born in,

the pasture where he ran and cried

when first his father, then his grandfather died,

leaving him alone in a house of women.

He could see his cattle

grazing up there now, unaware

of any tragedy, peacefully breathing

under the mountain’s shadow and wind.

To his left, the church

that centered his days, built on land

deeded by great-grandfather,

cornerstone dragged

from that same mountain mother.

Its organ and piano rang,

rang through his days

just like the big bell

on its steeple overhead

his family had also helped hang up there

had prayed under, mourned under,

that often brought a smile to his face

with its noon tune as he plowed,

planted, pulled and hauled in his garden

merely yards away,

smiling at this life in the shadows

of all he was or could be


living where everything had happened that mattered ---

everything that mattered had happened ---

he could see it all right there

on that one little spot so small

invisible even to the heavens.

But to say it was a small life

is to misunderstand.

What profiteth a man to rush about,

live big, move off to hostile climates,

losing sight of that long arc

of loss and longing and love.

It is a special gift to bloom

where you’re planted,

grown in the fine sand

of blind luck and whimsy,

the tiny cosmos of root, stem, and vein.



So now it’s winter again yet

sunrise and sunset make us forget

so stunning the color spraying from ridges.

In the icy clear brittle blue air above,

the mountain grays like a grandmother,

death strolls close by — the mundane maudlin.

It would be fitting to go then.

But you left in summer

when sweet calves quivered on new legs,

peepers and lightning bugs surfaced at gloaming

supplying the soundtrack of summer.

The hay field was high green grace,

leaves reaching their full glory

bluebirds nesting, soft stems of new irises

waving in the wind’s parade.

Why then?

Why not wait until it would be easier to let go?

I think it was to carry the color with you

in the soul’s eye,

go out on top

in the highest of high notes

wearing the beauty shroud

to remind us all

our last day

will be sudden and bright.



My father owned silence

the way seasons own the trees.

He avoided words,

used looks, gestures, altered breathing

but nothing dramatic usually.

Emotion is what occurred

at other people’s houses.

I guess that’s why this clings like beggar lice:

After one of many long days when he missed supper

working two jobs he finally sat down at 9

before a plate that was four hours old.

I froze in disbelief in the doorway

when he threw a slice of mushy tomato

from his plate at my mother

standing at the sink,

missed her and hit the just-ironed curtain.

Her stiff back a signboard of rage and hurt,

she didn’t even turn around,

the only sound the splashing of the dishwater

that hid her hands while he ate and

I backed away, backed away from them

silent witness to their silent witness

the soft heart of the tomato

a blood red flag

by my mother’s head.



First Christmas

I wish I was

I want to be 1

who can quote chapter and verse

& just go on & don we now our gay apparel

build a fire roasting chestnuts

me of the 30-year Santa collection

3 Christmas trees every hall

decked out, goofy sweaters, presents

for everyone bells and snowmen

& tinsel and wreaths stale as Claxton fruitcake joy to the world

1 of the wise men is missing and the star, too

fa la la la lifetime of Kodak moments he was never in

but behind the lens except that 1 in the cheap Santa suit

cotton ball beard he wore every year

my baby sister’s eyes and mouth a perfect

O holy night of fear and awe not recognizing the stick skinny

Santa with grease under his nails let nothing you dismay let

nothing you dismay.


Maybe Tragedy Is Too Strong a Word

I hadn’t slept but a couple of hours.

           Excitement charged the air. At daylight all six of us piled in that Ford Fairlane

           --- our perpetual clown car. Twenty dollars a payday stuffed in his sock drawer

           fueled my father’s plan; long days, longer nights in the factory were now

           funding the Redemption close at hand. Once we hit South Carolina the road

           flattened out, the sky doubled. Gulls flew honor escort.

Factory workers with 4 kids can’t afford beachfront.

           But a street back we could smell the sea. My sisters spilled their suitcases

           Mother had spent hours packing and in minutes our father was leading

           the parade snaking across the street and down the dune all white bellies and legs

           marching into the sea. We hit the waves, surf so rough we could barely

           stand. I saw the black cloud way out on the horizon, the dark look crowding

           my father’s features. After less than an hour, the pouring rain drove us in.

           It rained and rained and rained. We didn’t even want to go scour the junk shops

           for those outhouse salt and pepper shakers, and turtles, and porpoises

           all with Myrtle Beach, SC on the side.

Six crammed into small hotel room watching soap operas, the two little ones

           bickering. It stopped raining on the third day, our last day, and we scurried

           back out into the salty froth. The sea was almost solid white, still breaking

           from the constant wind. The little ones could only splash at the edge. One

           big wave knocked me down, picked me up, sent me tumbling end over end,

           life blurred, I drowned for a minute, then the wave’s hard hand hammered

           my head straight into the sand, filled my ears, nose, lungs with the

           stinging brine. I crawled out with matted hair, spit out of the sea

           a beached mermaid. “Let’s go.” My father seemed a few inches shorter.

           The sadness sat on all of us, an anchor weight on our chests.

He didn’t speak all the way home unless he had to. I got to ride up front with him.

           By dark, down to the last long curvy road toward home, the sudden fatigue

           of a year’s savings wasted, another year looming standing over that hot machine

           in a room with no air, a life without a breeze, had reached his cellular level.

           He aged 10 years. He started taking the curves on the wrong side of the road



           as home and factory and life got closer and closer. Is he trying, I wondered,

           to kill us all? Maybe he thinks that’s best. “It will take me a week,”

           My mother said over my left shoulder, “There’s sand everywhere. Everything

           is gritty.”




Taking Inventory: His Hammer

You always appreciated good tools.

Your Craftsmen hammer fits balanced

Perfect in the hand

I grip the worn faded pink center

Of the red handle

Turn the smooth silver face to mine

See the pale reflection

Blur to abstraction

Then drive the white nail home

With one blow.

About the author

Rita Quillen’s new novel WAYLAND, a sequel to HIDING EZRA, is published by Iris Press in fall, 2019, and her new poetry collection SOME NOTES YOU HOLD is due out from Madville Press in 2020. She lives, farms, writes songs, and takes photographs at Early Autumn Farm in southwestern Virginia. view profile

Published on October 22, 2020

Published by Madville Publishing

10000 words

Genre: Poetry

Enjoyed this review?

Get early access to fresh indie books and help decide on the bestselling stories of tomorrow. Create your free account today.


Or sign up with an email address

Create your account

Or sign up with your social account