Shepherdstown Keeps Falling on My Head

The Civil War never did anything for me. I prefer the part of American history when people wear hats made of raccoons. So it was weird to me how the current solar eclipse in Pisces had been affecting my own myth. Always a doer, I’d somehow settled into a dull routine of waiting around each day for Melissa Broder to make a tweet.

My book was published in February. I didn’t take any photographs of the box of books, or my cats and dogs reading a copy. Instead, I thought about Shepherdstown and the secret Rule of Twenty. The little town was twenty minutes west of Frederick, which was twenty minutes from the back road I took to find Interstate 70. The exit was twenty minutes south from where I was born in Westminster, which was twenty minutes southwest of where I parked my dented Scion at night.

The publisher, Somondoco Press, was based in Shepherdstown. So you might say I already had Shepherdstown on the brain when I learned about the Appalachian Studies Conference which was coming to the West Virginia “panhandle.” It was slated for mid-March when the rest of the country was preoccupied with sixty-four brackets.

Savannah Sipple

I knew a few poets who’d be attending. What could be better than to have an off-site reading at some craft brew pub located on the gravel block between the creek and the Norfolk-Southern rail line? I could debut my book in my book’s home town and introduce Savannah Sipple and Shawna Kay Rodenberg and Jessica Lynn Dotson to a hundred thousand blue and gray ghosts.

That’s the thing about Shepherdstown. If you’re driving, it’s about one cigarette to Antietam where 27,000 died in one day of fighting. And two cigarettes to the Battle of South Mountain. And three to Monocacy. And maybe six cigarettes to Gettysburg. You could knock out two years worth of Lee and McClellan in a day or so if it didn’t give you cancer.

Not very trustful of the internet, I drove to Shepherdstown to find the perfect bar with the perfect stage and the perfect sausage bread pudding dinner special and the perfect arcade because pinball sometimes just wants to happen. I locked-in the date, March 11, at the Town Run Brewery and was so thrilled that I didn’t mind getting lost on the drive home.

The other poets seemed a lot more important than me. Savannah Sipple, well, I was just crazy about her. We’d met online when she was guest editing Revolution John for Sheldon Lee Compton. I submitted an auto-immune piece which she accepted, but I rejected her acceptance, saying that I needed to pull it to keep working on it. She was so kind in her response that I almost rejected my own rejection of myself.

I stayed with Savannah, keeping up with her poetry, her bad-ass feminist impulse, her big-hearted joyous joy, her literary citizenship, her fight with Sheldon (which had recently been anthologized).

Jessica Lynn Dotson

And Jessica Lynn Dotson had a nice chapbook, Time Trials, out from Lines + Stars. Jessica and Shawna Kay Rodenberg were both contributors to my literary journal, and Jessica was also its web designer and Pay-Pal manager. Jessica wrote about engines, speed, stuck moments, angles, rituals, the night. Shawna Kay wrote about slaughtering goats, transcendence, smashing stone, the spirit, the day. Like me, Shawna Kay had some experience with Sisters of the Sacred Heart assisted living…basically, hospice for nuns. It was a strange thing to have in common when you didn’t really have anything else in common except poetry.

Everything was set. And then I got a message from Sheldon. His publisher wanted him to come to Shepherdstown. Oh Jesus. This all had the potential for a bodacious pillow fight, brother against sister, poet against prose. There would be fiddles. There would be daggers. What I hoped was that everyone would be so much in love with language and voice and singing that nothing would matter. It was the first reading I’d ever planned all by myself and I wanted everyone to be as excited as me that I could plan something.

My fetish for minutes should have been a fetish for days. Two weeks before the Shepherdstown reading I went to the Appalachian Studies website and realized I’d picked the wrong Friday. No one would be around for the eleventh. They were all coming for the 18th. I called the brew pub. No, I couldn’t have the 18th. It was booked for a square dance.

Damn, damn, damn. Sometimes I just hate myself. There wouldn’t be a reading, but there’d always be a Shepherdstown and a nice lump on my head. At least there was AWP and the chance someone would let me read in California, next May.


Shawna Kay
Shawna Kay Rodenberg







Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s