Haskell: Truth’s Tender Art

Faces can mean the opposite
of what words say, even though the soul
always tells the body what it knows.
Why don’t the brain just shut up and
let the tongue tell God’s plain truth?
Eli Stambaugh, a man from my youth,
was the only man I ever knew
who told the whole truth all the time.
“Haskell,” he’d say, “you ain’t got the guts
of a worm or you’d git yourself a girlfriend.
You’re so shy, ye must’ve blushed
at your own mommy’s breast!”

I had to deck that rascal more than once;
now I’d give a lot for a friend as blunt.
I know we need Eli’s way with the truth:
tougher’n a dozen ten-penny nails
drove right through your heart:
the real lover’s cruel and tender art.

about Haskell
Haskell T. Phillips, the subject of my 1987 chapbook Haskell, is a 93-year-old southern West Virginian. Father of thirteen children, innumerable grandchildren and husband to his beloved wife Brownie (deceased), he now lives alone in his own home, making observations about his life, past and present, in the Appalachian dialect that I heard growing up, typified by modes of speech that crossed the ocean with English, Scottish and Irish immigrants—words, phrases and even grammatical constructions which, like many songs and stories, are no longer found in the British Isles but still live in the hills and hollers of Appalachia. To some ears, these locutions will sound odd, even incorrect, but, to me, they’re the sound of home. I thought Haskell was through speaking through me until my friend Dave Garrison suggested I begin listening to him again.

about the author
West Virginia native Ed Davis recently retired from teaching writing full-time at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. He has also taught both fiction and poetry at the Antioch Writers’ Workshop and is the author of the novels I Was So Much Older Then (Disc-Us Books, 2001);The Measure of Everything (Plain View Press, 2005); and The Psalms of Israel Jones (West Virginia University Press 2014), which won the Hackney Award for an unpublished novel in 2010. Many of his stories and poems have appeared in anthologies and journals such as: Evansville Review, The Vincent Brothers Review, Appalachian Heritage, For the Road: Short Stories of America’s Highways, Aftermath: Stories of Secrets and Consequences and Wild, Sweet Notes: Fifty Years of West Virginia Poetry. Four poetry chapbooks have been released as well as a full-length collection, Time of the Light (Main Street Rag Press, 2013). He lives with his wife in the village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he bikes, hikes and blogs mainly on literary topics. Please visit him at http://www.davised.com.