Excerpts from Julia Nunnally Duncan’s “A Neighborhood Changes”

Julia Nunnally Duncan

Julia Nunnally Duncan’s forthcoming poetry collection A Neighborhood Changes (Finishing Line Press, August 17, 2018) explores the lives of the lonely, the aged, the ill, and the injured.

The collection’s first section, A Neighborhood Changes, documents the author’s experiences from childhood to the present in a Western North Carolina town and explores the theme of change in people’s lives. The poem “Front Porch” poignantly captures such a change:

Front Porch

On summer nights
my father and I spent
our best times there,
listening to whippoorwills
in cool air and starlight.

Now the front porch
seems forlorn to me,
my creaky swing taken down
and his rocking chair empty
and still.

The second section, In the Time of Old Age, reflects upon people and situations in a nursing home. The poems compassionately but realistically depict life in this isolated world. “Arlene” portrays a resident clinging to her previous lifestyle:


The nursing assistants imagined Arlene rich
because of the jewelry she wore
and the clothes that filled her wardrobe.
She sometimes asked me to hang up a pastel jacket,
and I took pains to do so neatly,
for I could see how much clothes meant to her—
a little vestige of past pride.
Some workers didn’t hide their scorn for her,
thinking she had been spoiled by middle class comforts
they had never known.
Yet her presence at the nursing home reminded me
that luxuries didn’t always last
in a world where age and illness
took so much away.

The third section, True Friends, offers poems inspired by moments in literature that reminiscent of moments in Duncan’s own life. The poem “Gift” is a nod to a scene from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, in which Francie Nolan unexpectedly receives a gift from her late father. But it is also a tribute to the author’s uncle who arranged a posthumous gift for his daughters:


He knew he was dying.
And the hardest part of letting go
was leaving his children,
with whom he’d had too little time.
His voice was already lost to the disease,
so he had to write messages to convey his thoughts.
He placed some cash in an envelope
along with a note that asked his wife
to take their girls to Disney World
after he was gone.
He wanted something happy for his family
in the dark days ahead.
This gift was typical of my uncle Glenn,
one of the kindest men I ever knew.

The fourth and final section, The Human Cost of War: Victims of Petersburg, includes reflections upon Civil War medical photographs by R.B. Bontecou, MD, that are collected in Dr. Stanley B. Burns’s volume Shooting Soldiers. The poems document the injuries and emotional responses of the victims—mostly amputees and some quite young—whose lives were forever changed by war. One poem, “George Garrison CO A 95 NY,” portrays a young victim:

George Garrison
CO A 95 NY

The boy in a profile pose
has an upturned nose
and a face speckled with
adolescent acne and freckles.
His jacket tail is lifted to show
a wound on his left side
where a minie ball exited,
fracturing a pelvic bone.
This gunshot injury,
followed by gangrene,
must have caused him
great suffering.
And his aloof expression
suggests he is quite weary
of this adult business of war.

Former North Carolina Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti proclaims that “A Neighborhood Changes, with its stirring, often heartbreaking, portraiture, puts one in mind of Spoon River Anthology, even Wineburg, Ohio.” A Neighborhood Changes may be pre-ordered here.


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