Poetry: Southern Summer #1 by Keri Withington

“If it doesn’t smell like bleach,” the speaker asks, “how do you know it’s clean?” Keri Withington’s “Southern Summer #1” is a poem that defines its own clean smell: of green things and wet things and the way young bodies feel invincible in the humid summer air.


Southern Summer #1

Humidity-thick air heavy with the smell of freshly
cut grass, pollen gilding cars and porch swings,
wish for gills, swim in sweat

The summer time ritual of patio furniture and clorox
scrubbing off a winter’s worth of mildew

They were baptizing in the river, clap hallelujah,
as we kayaked past radiation signs: no fishing,
swim at your own risk

If it doesn’t smell like bleach, how do you know it’s clean
If it doesn’t hurt, how do you know you’re pure

Rain gathers in everything, paddling pools
and buckets full of mosquito larvae and tadpoles,
cicadas calling from the trees at night




Keri Withington

Keri Withington is a poet, educator, and aspiring homesteader. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Wild Word and Dwelling Literary. She has published two chapbooks: Constellations of Freckles (Dancing Girl Press) and Beckoning from the Waves (Plan B Press). Withington lives with her husband, three children, and four fur babies in the Appalachian foothills. You can find her teaching Zoom classes for Pellissippi State, planting in her yard, or on FB (@KeriWithingtonWriter).

Close Menu