Archived Mountain Voices

A few poems as spring awakens the mountains

Since the year 2000, I have written going on 750 Back Then “columns” for The Smoky Mountain News. I am enormously proud of that association. Many of the “essays” in my books have been filtered through SMN to their benefit. Even though I have always thought of myself as a poet, only four or five of the BT pieces have contained verse.

As SMN editor Scott McLeod has noted (for my benefit) on several occasions: “A little bit goes a long way.” Newspapers are not the vehicles of choice for poems. 

Nevertheless, it’s that time again. These poems are part of a collection of 35 essays and 25 poems — as well as artwork by my wife, Elizabeth Ellison — that will be published this summer by The Natural History Press (a subsidiary of The History Press located in Charleston, S.C.). They are simple poems. But they are the best that I can do and I want to share them with you. I almost forgot to add that the title of the collection is Near Horizons.   


Dark Angels

Buzzards are not pretty and they cannot sing.

But their days are filled with clouds and sun –

Related Items

light and long dreams of landscapes seen in

flight over which their shadows trace the

contours of a folded terrain embedded

in ancestral memory. Not having a voice

box they can only hiss and growl. Never-

the-less at a high elevation overlook when

they come close riding an updraft you will

hear the music in their wings as they slice

through the air and descend in circles

until the last moment when suddenly

they hold wings high and alight with

well-timed awkward grace.


Spring & Branch & Creek

Below the high divide water issuing

from vertical rock gathers itself &

becomes a branch … darting here

& there … lingering in ornate asides

as eddies that spiral one way coming

& the other going in defiance of the

Corialis … shining in sunlight &

darkening in rain … moving on …

gravity flowing … seeking confluence

at a prong or a fork & becoming a

creek …  pursuing its own syntax

to the ocean despite enjambments

encountered along the way.


Points of Light

Try to remember whenever we meet

and I have little or nothing to say that

doesn’t mean I’m neither here nor there ...

look for the random points of light in the

hooded shadows of my eyes … listen to

the rhythms in each of these lines beating

slowly ... oh-so-slowly ... just for you.


Evelyn Z. Smyth (May 1, 1815-December 3, 1909)

Every Thing That Could Go Wrong Did

And Pursued Me Over The Water And

Into A Far Land Where I Now Reside In

Dark Discontent Under This Cold

Slab Of Nantahala Blue Marble 


Sardines at Whiteside Mountain

(for Bob and Glenda Zahner)


they were

there waiting

for us because

we brought sar-

dines. Riding up-

drafts and swirling

currents of air the

ravens performed

for their exotic fare

by gliding steady as

an arrow in full flight

before adjusting wing

or tail so as to execute

sudden turns or dives

with self-assured grace

... and then they ate their

well-earned tin of sardines.


Rave on Shining Water!

Name the mountain ranges & rivers:

Bald … Black … New Found … Balsam

Smoky … Cowee … Nantahala … Fish Hawk

Snowbird … Tusquitee … Unaka  … Unicoi … Iron

Cohutta … New … Nolichucky  … Swannanoa

French Broad … Oconaluftee … Tuckaseigee

Cullasaja … Hiwassee … Little Tennessee

Ocoee … Tellico …Tennessee

Ohio … Mississippi.


Welcome vast slow-burning chemistry of stars!

Welcome sunlight galvanized by thermal waves!

Welcome comets a-blaze for 1,000,000 miles!

Welcome lightning connecting earth & sky!

Welcome raindrops strung on fence wire!

Welcome gold rings in a bitterns’ eyes!

Welcome iridescence of raven wing!

Welcome emerald fire from moss!

Welcome silvery flakes of mica!

Welcome silica glint in sand!

Welcome electron orbiting!

Welcome eyes gleaming!


Roar mountains with

praise for your ancient rivers

that begin here & find their way down to

the Gulf of Mexico … rave on shining water

& welcome the flame that resides within

& flows through all things ...

rave on!


George Ellison wrote the biographical introductions for the reissues of two Appalachian classics: Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders and James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees.  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..      

Leave a comment

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.