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Whispers of My Mortality

Three Poems by Kayli Hinkley

The Hanging Tree

“I was just a boy when I watched them

hang a man from that tree,”

Papaw said from the driver’s side of his rusted pickup.

I held my breath and

grasped at my youth,

which always seemed to fade a little

when he showed me his past.

He stared ahead, knuckles white

eyes like pools, swimming

and brimming

with old memories,

and things seen

much too young.

The grass was worn to the soil

all around us–a threadbare spoil of remembrance–

where tires had come, and stopped,

and gone, much too frequent

for mother nature to hide

the marks in the earth that matched the treads

on Papaw’s beat up Ford.

He was a regular at the CO-OP and Hardees on weekdays,

the ballpark in the spring, and the duck blinds in the fall,

but his Sundays weren’t spent in a church pew,

like all the other good country folk.

Papaw spent his Sundays in silence,

searching for his lost innocence

at the base of an old sycamore.

The Mighty Age of Six

I often wish I could go


Back to an old home I once inhabited.

It sits in the little town of Cornelia, Georgia–

a two-bedroom home with a sloping


that always froze over in the winter.

Cornelia, Georgia.

It was the place where I discovered magic

and awe

at the mighty age

of six.

Cornelia, Georgia takes me back

to a time

when I still had religion,

and my grandfather wasn’t blind,

when I trusted myself,

and I swore I’d never let a drop

of alcohol

pass my lips.

Sometimes, the want for that place

for before,

is so great

I sit on Google maps for hours

just to stare at the indention

that little house in Cornelia, Georgia makes

in the earth. Even if I cannot touch it,

it helps me to know

that this piece of myself



I can cling to it—

Its satellite image,

even when everything else

has changed.

But I can never go back there,

because I am two thousand

seven hundred

and forty-one



teetering off the edge

of the Oregon coast.

It’s the coldest day of the year,

with a mist

so dense

I cannot see my own fingers

as they wriggle in front of my face.

Here, I’ve forgotten how to pray,

and I can’t seem to shake the feeling

that there’s nothing waiting for me

on the other side of a beating

heart and a conscious brain—

No “job well done,

my good and faithful


No warm embrace

from that glowing deity

in the sky.

So with nothing

left to do,

with no one to save me,

I wade

into stormy waters,

letting it toss me

from here

to there,

with no life vest,

no safety, no hope of return

to Cornelia, Georgia

or to the mighty age

of six.

The Ache of Humanity

No matter how old,

no matter how far removed we may get

from our primordial forms,

humans will always ache

for magic and Santa Claus,

for shooting star wishes made in the width of a breath,

and for a heaven—one that’s so in reach,

so tangible,

we swear we skim its threshold

every time we call to the sky.

We write books, and sing songs,

build temples, and churches, and altars

to fill the empty space

some creator made

in each of us

And so

the ache of humanity

becomes the string

that ties us all


It’s the thing

that makes us


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