Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Meat

[with 3 poems by M. Scott Douglass]

I don’t eat meat. Just a decision ten years ago, my choice. It has nothing to do with you; I don’t think you’re “bad” if you eat meat. I has nothing to do with Bambi; I don’t think oysters are especially cute but I refrain from eating them as well. It has nothing to do with personal health; my cholesterol readings were already to (not) die for. And it certainly has nothing to do with ought or should; hominids evolved eating meat (and lots of insects) – perhaps all that protein made possible these brains we think are so big.

All it has to do with is my personal effort to make somewhat less of an impact on this planet. Leave it in a little better shape for my grandkids. Per pound of protein, how much acreage . . . water . . . diesel fuel . . . nitrates & phosphates . . . methane & CO2? Beans and beets will always beat out beef and poultry. How many billions of people can this planet sustain? Not nearly all the billions we have right now if we all want meat every day.

But what baffles me is how “vegetarian” has become a fighting word to some people. If I order plant-based sausage at Cracker Barrel will it make the guy at the next table choke on his chicken-fried steak? Simmer down, Dude. If nine billion people eating meat is going to hurry up and toast Mother Earth to a crispy golden caramelized finish, isn’t it kind of cool that a few people opt for rabbit food? Think of the choice this way – consider it my gift to you.

 

❦ ❦ ❦

A Tinderbox of Unsubtle Discourse
++++ It is the law: as a civilization dies and goes down
++++ to eat ashes along with all other dead civilizations
++++ – it is the law all dirty wild dreamers die first –
++++ gag ‘em, lock ‘em up, get ‘em bumped off.
++++ And since at the gates of tombs silence is a gift,
++++ be silent about it, yes, be silent – forget it.
+++++++++++ ~ Carl Sandburg, from At the Gates of the Tombs

There are those who prefer silence
to the sound of the wind in the trees.
For them, my voice rustles their peace
like a harsh unwelcome breeze.

I am the ghost of a storm they
would rather forget, as if they
believe a wave of their hand could
disperse an approaching hurricane.

There’s a red sky this morning,
red as the hot California hills,
and they think they can wish it
away with happy thoughts.

The wind has had its day, they say.
They want to muffle it, muzzle
the barking dog that wakes them,
shakes them from their comfort zone.

I am an inconvenient dog,
a crusty leaf skittering down the road,
a spark dropped in a dry forest:
Pretending won’t make me go away.

M. Scott Douglass
from Living in a Red State Blues, © 2022, Paycock Press, Arlington VA

❦ ❦ ❦

In the forward to his poetry collection Living in a Red State Blues, Scott Douglass wonders about attracting readers. The people on the reading end may have been burned out by it. Perhaps they were eager to move on from this period in our history or tired of hearing angry voices – . . . I prefer to think of it as exhaustion. Yep, I’d say that about sums it up. Exhaustion. Probably explains why the book’s cover stared at me from my desk for months before I finally cracked it open. I just get bone tired sometimes. Many’s the day I haven’t even opened my news feeds because I figure I already know all the headlines.

Also probably because I know Scott Douglass does not suffer fools gladly. Or quietly. But which of us has never been the fool? OK, I know this book will include at least one (high decibel) rant about all the bullshit of our current epoch, but it has been born from the pen and heart of a human being. One whose voice I respect. And hey, I’m a human being, too. Scott and I have something in common. Oh yes, we do.

❦ ❦ ❦

Reunion in an Airport Restroom

What do you do when
the man at the adjacent urinal
starts a conversation as if
resuming a thought left hanging
with a long-lost relative at
a wedding or picnic. You,
having held silent the business
at hand, the business for which
you have waited for hours stuffed
into a flying steel barrel, your
plumbing aching to be drained
for so long now that, amid this
scintillating discussion, it
sputters to a slow rebellious
drip, but wait, did he ask
a question; try to divert you
from your primary purpose
in this porcelain concourse,
where all the gates are full
and line runs from the door
to the tarmac; try to draw you
out of your self-conscious state,
shake off antisocial incivility,
embrace your fellow man?

M. Scott Douglass
from Living in a Red State Blues, © 2022, Paycock Press, Arlington VA

❦ ❦ ❦

March 13

Today is the anniversary of my
father’s death, or was it the day before
when his eyes last opened ore the week before
when he froze in mid-sentence, rigid fingers
reaching up to still air for stray words
that never returned to him again.

His words find me at odd times.

It’s only the last two minutes
of the game that matter.

But it’s unspoken moments
that haunt me most, moments
that echo throughout my day: the way

he turned a cereal spoon upside down
on the table when he was finished eating,
peanut butter spread to the edge
of a Ritz, a dab of Smucker’s
black raspberry jelly in the middle.

knowledge is the only thing that’s truly ours,
the only thing they can never take away.

On a shelf above my head he sits,
an eight-year-old on a black and white pony,
tall and proud, fists full of reigns. Sometimes
I look up to that pony boy and chuckle knowing
his parents paid a nickel to have it taken at
a carnival, how it was the closest he ever got
to riding a real horse, city boy that he was.

if you’re going to do something,
don’t do it half-assed

I though of my father every day
of the week leading up to this date,
but morning found me immersed in work,
the work he taught me, a job he envied.
When my nephew texted a photo of
his grandfather in a 1940’s Navy uniform,
shame swept a chill through me, realizing
I’d almost let the day slip by neglected.

do unto others as you would have them
do unto you

I look up at the pony boy on the shelf
and remember why, of all the photos
I have of him, I choose to display this one.
It’s because it frames him as someone
I know he never was, but reminds me
of his most cherished gift to me:
a sense of wonder, imagination,
the foresight to perceive the possible.

face the music, even when
you don’t like the tune

I am my father’s dreamer son,
the one who sometimes loses track
of time, the one who’s been tossed
from numerous horses, landed hard,
but always found a nickel to climb back on
because that’s what he expects of me.
While I may forget days and dates,
I will never forget that. Not that.

M. Scott Douglass
from Living in a Red State Blues, © 2022, Paycock Press, Arlington VA

❦ ❦ ❦

 

2020-03-07 Doughton Park Tree

Epicenter

[with 2 poems from The Ecopoetry Anthology]

On this night Earth shades her moon. In Padua, the Maestro climbs to the roof after supper and trains his marvelous compound eye on the fifth planet. He will continue until dawn diagraming in his notebook the movements of the tiny satellites about their fierce one-eyed God; his are the first earthbound eyes to perceive what he will call the four Medicean Stars. He pays homage to his patron as we do to ours – tonight with a strong pair of binoculars we as well can observe the Galilean Moons of Jupiter.

Galileo’s calculations of the moons’ orbits, his observation of the phases of Venus, the circulation of sunspots across the great orb’s face, all were cogs in the relentless wheel of evidence that the earth and other planets revolve about the sun – Ptolemy refuted, Copernicus triumphant. But Galileo was a devout man. Before the Inquisition compelled him to recant, he argued before the Pontiff that all his observations and equations simply confirmed the perfect creation of a perfect Creator. (Perhaps it was not in the Pope’s hearing that he also declared, “Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe.”) While the rest of Renaissance Europe praised with astonishment his Dialogo sopra I due massimi sistemi del mondo, Galileo spent the final years of his life under house arrest.

In 1822 the College of Cardinals ruled to permit publication of books teaching that the earth revolves around the sun; in 1835 the Vatican removed Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems from its list of banned books. Not until 1992 did Pope John Paul II concede that the earth is not stationary in the heavens. But in 1622 all politics was religion. And in 2022?

Today evolutionary biologists will tell you that dinosaurs are not extinct: they’re hunting worms and singing in your front garden. Neither is the Inquisition extinct but only sporting different feathers. Each time I hear that a book has been banned, a scientific fundamental barred from schools, evidence ignored, warming climate denied, scientific breakthroughs refused in favor of the cult of ignorance, I ask myself: Why are you so afraid of ideas? Why are your ideas of God so small? Now the James Webb Space Telescope reveals with crystal clarity light reaching us from 13.4 billion years ago. God of all the universe, how unimaginably large you are! How wide, how old, how great, how ever new.

Haven’t you and I experienced the beautiful complexity of our natural world? I have also experienced the ineffable wonder, I guess you would call it joy, of living on this planet with my fellow humans and all creatures. I want to believe that there is a deep and abiding presence within the universe that desires us to feel this joy as we together revere creation. I do believe this. And I do believe that one thing is central for us to survive and thrive as a species: to acknowledge all Truth and allow ourselves to be guided by it. I am grateful to be part of a faith community that teaches this:

The earth, lovingly created as an environment for life to flourish, shudders in distress because creation’s natural and living systems are becoming exhausted from carrying the burden of human greed and conflict. Humankind must awaken from its illusion of independence and unrestrained consumption without lasting consequences.

and this:

. . . the call [is] to every generation to witness to essential truths in its own language and form. Let the Spirit breathe.

❦ ❦ ❦

The Big Picture

I try to look at the big picture.
The sun, ardent tongue
licking us like a mother besotted

with her new cub, will wear itself out.
Everything is transitory.
Think of the meteor

that annihilated the dinosaurs.
And before that, the volcanoes
of the Permian period — all those burnt ferns

and reptiles, sharks and bony fish —
that was extinction on a scale
that makes our losses look like a bad day at the slots.

And perhaps we’re slated to ascend
to some kind of intelligence
that doesn’t need bodies, or clean water, or even air.

But I can’t shake my longing
for the last six hundred
Iberian lynx with their tufted ears,

Brazilian guitarfish, the 4
percent of them still cruising
the seafloor, eyes staring straight up.

And all the newborn marsupials —
red kangaroos, joeys the size of honeybees —
steelhead trout, river dolphins,

so many species of frogs
breathing through their damp
permeable membranes.

Today on the bus, a woman
in a sweater the exact shade of cardinals,
and her cardinal-colored bra strap, exposed

on her pale shoulder, makes me ache
for those bright flashes in the snow.
And polar bears, the cream and amber

of their fur, the long, hollow
hairs through which sun slips,
swallowed into their dark skin. When I get home,

my son has a headache, and though he’s
almost grown, asks me to sing him a song.
We lie together on the lumpy couch

and I warble out the old show tunes, “Night and Day”…
“They Can’t Take That Away from Me”… A cheap
silver chain shimmers across his throat

rising and falling with his pulse. There never was
anything else. Only these excruciatingly
insignificant creatures we love.

Ellen Bass
from The Human Line. © 2007 Ellen Bass. Copper Canyon Press, http://www.coppercanyonpress.org.

❦ ❦ ❦

Both of today’s poems are collected in The Ecopoetry Anthology; Edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

Ellen Bass is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Her most recent collection is Indigo (Copper Canyon Press, 2020). She has founded poetry workshops at Salinas Valley State Prison and the Santa Cruz, CA jails, and she currently teaches in the low residency MFA writing program at Pacific University. In 1973 Ellen co-edited (with Florence Howe) the first major anthology of women’s poetry, No More Masks! (Doubleday).

Linda Hogan is Writer in Residence for The Chickasaw Nation and Professor Emerita from the University of Colorado. Rounding the Human Corners (Coffee House Press, April 2008) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and her many honors include the 2016 Thoreau Prize from PEN. Linda has worked with “at-risk” teens in various places, including the Chickasaw Children’s Home. She teaches Creative Writing workshops for all ages, and was inducted into the Chickasaw Nation Hall of Fame in 2007 for her contributions to indigenous literatures.

❦ ❦ ❦

Moving the Woodpile

Never am I careless,
yet when I lift the wood,
before I even see the wasp nest

I see spiders and ants, some preserved in pitch
and when I lift the wood
the bark falls from the log
and there are silk cocoons,
worm-carved lines worked into the
woodflesh,
the beautiful work of insects
before they were white-winged, dusted creatures
who never asked the tree, What am I, who could I be,
never did they say, Oh world I love you
yet I loosen your skin and then I fly into the night.

As I lifted the log,
there they were in the wood, not yet anything,
the paper wasp nest of the barely alive,
only pale fingers searching, without eyes.

It’s been so many years ago now
and still I have the haunting
memory and feel, standing there with the nest,
offering the wasps back their young,
but they could not approach a human holding their nest.

Maybe our sin is not enough
of us get on our knees and ever see
how everything small and nearly gone
is precious, the paper wasp nest,
made by the moment-by-moment creation of care.

Maybe our human sin is for us never to say
all these are great.
And I, the one who took it, in innocence, apart
as if being human I could not help it,
despite myself, generous and thieving
at one and the same time.

I’ve always wished
to hold the truly stolen, broken world together
but my every move is to break
by degrees, acres, even the smallest atom.

Still, from this other body continent
I offered them their young
and they could not come near the untamed woman,
only fly with desperation
and I think of this still
every evening, like a prayer,
that day holding out the nest for them, placing it down,
but never for them to approach,
and how I waited, how I watched.

Linda Hogan
from Rounding the Human Corners, © 2008 Linda Hogan. Coffee House Press, http://www.coffeehousepress.org.

❦ ❦ ❦

[Scriptural references above are from the open canon of Community of Christ:
Doctrine and Covenants 164:4b and 162:2e.]

 

Doughton Park Tree -- 5/1/2021

Center

[with 4 poems from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing]

Eyes closed I listen as if casting a great spiral net into the forest. Behind, around me, above, although my two ears fixed in the horizontal plane are not excellent at discerning degrees of vertical, the vibrations arrive. Rarefaction and compression, faint means far, high amplitude is close beside me. A great disk of song and squeak and rustle, a half globe. What is the definition of a sphere? A surface whose every point is equidistant from the center.

How difficult, then, not to imagine the center is me. Plant my feet in sand and watch the sun descend below the western horizon; lie on my back at night for an hour and notice how Taurus and the Sisters wheel around me, I the fixed tether of all movement, I the pivot of their dance. My mind will argue against such silliness but my senses know its truth. As kids we never question the solar system we learn in school, later we even snicker at Ptolemy, his deferents, epicycles, and yet centrality is burned into us, ten thousand years of human psyche.

But imagine. What if? Hardwood creaks upstairs, Linda out of bed, but instead of imaging her descending soon to join me I am with her now, stretching, brushing teeth, gathering her hair and braiding. The first step is to step away from the imaginary center. The second is to not look back at self. Look out, look into the space between the hickory leaves and ferns, fly up with feathers and lace-veined wings. Claw the earth, creep between the rootlets. Not just imagine – be the other lives that pass in cars, that tend a child, that worry. Be the angry ones, the broken, the sad & silent. Behind, around, above. First step is to give up the center.

❦ ❦ ❦

Common Ground

What’s incomplete in me seeks refuge
in blackberry bramble and beech trees,
where creatures live without dogma
and water moves in patterns
more ancient than philosophy.
I stand still, child eavesdropping on her elders.
I don’t speak the language
but my body translates best it can,
wakening skin and gut, summoning
the long kinship we share with everything.

Laura Grace Weldon
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

❦ ❦ ❦

Cardinal

I know my mother’s weeping is real by the way
she exhales, fragmented and flailing,

like someone newly mourning. My head only hip-high,
I stare up to her saddened face, too young to understand

any of this, but old enough to know something
is broken, and that with breaking, anguish follows,

old enough to know she would want to watch
the male cardinal she feeds every morning

newly perched in the bare Maple outside
the kitchen window. I nearly tell her to look,

to witness its bright red flame up against all
that white winter. But I wait, keep quiet

and listen, trying to hear in place of her grief,
the cardinal’s song just beyond the glass.

William Scott Hanna
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

❦ ❦ ❦

As I read deeper into I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing, I feel my center shifting. In good poetry I discover how the poet feels; in excellent poetry I discover how I feel. These pages enfold an entire world – gardens and farms, back roads and highways, mining towns and river towns; people who struggle, joyful people, yearning, grieving, loving. Line by line, image by image these voices create a powerful place. I am drawn in, I am invited and indeed welcomed in. Hearing with their ears, seeing with their eyes, feeling their hearts I discover what has made meaning in my own life.

Thank you, Ohio’s Appalachian Voices. I am humbled to become part of the family.

Oh, and don’t forget the cardinals. I’ve lost count of the poems with the singing of cardinals. Spirits of the dead and still desired; messengers of color in a countryside too often locked in grey and white; outstanding singers of endless variation – and shared by OH and NC as state bird (along with WV, VA, IL, IN, KY)! Visitors from the West Coast see their first Cardinalis cardinalis and say, “I didn’t believe they were real!” Yes indeed, as real as these poets and as real as their poems.

❦ ❦ ❦

Chink

Backyard,
this is as small
as the cardinal’s good cheer gets,
sharp shard of sound
chipped from as-if-frozen air.
Still, if it were to have color
it would be pointed scarlet,
like a splint of fire,
or blue-white
like the flame of acetylene.
If it were music
it would be one high C,
some maestro’s hot-headed urge
of his horns.

In the woods,
chink is enough.
Under pine signs,
near the stony mumble
of the creek,
it speaks everything needed
to cardinal:
Here.
I know you’re there.
Listen.

Richard Hague
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

❦ ❦ ❦

This Place Does Not Care If I Am Happy

This ruby-throated world is not for me.
Not mine, this jack pine tar, this chunky sunlight.
Not mine, the eggs or weeds or garter snakes.
This limping yellow willow is not for me,
Nor is the wrinkled willow that the lake makes.

These thrushes will still be here when I go.
Maybe not this robin and maybe not these reeds
But some robin in some reeds will be here when I go.
Some or another maple, some lightning-bent bough,
Some summer-sick magnolia will be here when I go.

This place has never cared if I am happy.
The fungus does not care, the fox does not care,
The deer looks as though – for just a moment –
But no. This place does not care if I am happy.

And I am thank you, thank you, I am.

Erica Reid
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

❦ ❦ ❦

❦ ❦ ❦

IMG_0880, tree

 

Making Magic

[poems from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing]

Last week our sister Jill sent us photos from her recent camping trip in the Allegheny National Forest, a favorite spot called Kelly Pines. Big trees, moss & ferns, campfire, nylon tent – nothing lacking. There were also a few shots taken by our niece April – Jill hiking a trail between massive trunks, Hobbit Jill looking up into the giants. Jill’s comment – “Truly a magical seeming place . . .”

Gentle sun-dappled trail; open understory beneath a high canopy; mature second- (or third- or fourth- ) growth pines – a beautiful woodland setting . . . but magic? If I were to visit this spot for the first time would I discover more magic here than any other moderately impacted wood lot in the Appalachians, from Pennsylvania to northern Georgia? Ignore magic incantations and transmutations, ignore any lapses in the laws of physics, even so magic must create something around and within us that we don’t experience without magic.

But Kelly Pines (which, as a member of Linda’s family for over 50 years, I too refer to as Kelly’s Pines) does create magic. This little patch of forest, stream, rocky incline has been accruing magic since before these seven siblings were born. It’s the magic of shared stories – big Mama Bear crossing the trail just minutes after Linda had been walking there alone. It’s the magic of special visits – Linda and I camped at Kelly’s Pines for our honeymoon. Definitely the magic of roots – a bit of Linda’s Mom’s and Dad’s ashes are sprinkled there. And greatest of all is the magic of memories – those family camping expeditions have provided every sibling with their own recollections, carefully preserved treasures they dust off and pass around whenever any of the seven get together.

We make our magic. Our memories create magic. Sister Becky sums it up perfectly when she sees the photos: “It creates a great longing to be there with my loved ones.” Such magic!

Linda and I regularly hike a number of local trails where, when we listen, we hear the fey whispers of magic. Some are old trails with deep roots – we’ve visited Doughton Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway since the kids could walk. Some are newer, their magic bright and sprite and still emerging – the Grassy Creek “forest bathing” spur of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, where our grandson worked beside me to scrape a first pathway into the riparian gloom.

Every week, in every season and weather, we discover the healing magic these footpaths through forest desire to share with anyone who’ll visit. Some magic is tangible: today the tiny Adam and Eve orchids are just opening, and to appreciate them I have to kneel with my nose in the leaf mould. Some magic is inchoate: the breeze on our necks, how it stirs ferns in the glade, the color of light ferns hold and release when we pause from all motion and let the woods overtake us.

When we return from these walks it isn’t the sweat and tired old muscles we remember. The magic of memory creates connection, shared presence, becoming one. Yes, Jill, that is a magical place. Oh yes, the trees, the mountains, but what really brings each place’s magic into being is what we share there together.

Fern Glade above Grassy Creek, MST

❦ ❦ ❦

Girl in the Woods

Before the earth became her bed, she raked away
+++++ the rubble and rocks, scraped the soil smooth.

There are no candy men here, no dope peddlers,
+++++ no pill pushers, no one to hand out 40s and 80s –

those perfect stones with their false promise to cut her
+++++ pain with their fuzz and blur – the way they do

at her apartment in the projects, a home more makeshift
+++++ than her nylon tent with its walls stretched taut,

its strings staked between oak roots. In this quiet,
+++++ she sketches her children’s faces with charcoal,

applying skills she’s learning in community college
+++++ art classes. She outlines their curved cheeks,

their almond-shaped eyes, uses long, sweeping strokes
+++++ for her daughter’s hair, a softer mark for the scar

on her son’s chin. Dark comes early beneath the trees.
+++++ Without the luxury of electric light, she’s learning

how to smudge charcoal, how to block in the mid-tones,
+++++ by battery-powered lantern – a small sacrifice

for this shelter of trees when she most misses her kids,
+++++ when her brain won’t stop buzzing.

Denton Loving
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

❦ ❦ ❦

Southern Ohio, pronounced “Ohia” if you’re from there, is Appalachia. Forget Cleveland and Toledo and their Lake Erie, forget Columbus and its gateway to the great plains. Think Athens, Portsmouth, Logan, Hocking Hills. Nearly one fourth of the area of Ohio is hills, glacial carvings, forest, and streams flowing down to the Big River that borders West Virginia and Kentucky. These poems are from the new anthology, I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, poetry called forth and collected by current Ohio state poet laureate, Kari Gunter-Seymour.

These voices are remarkable. Inspiring. Dire. Funny as hell. Every day I pick up the book and just leaf to a new page at random, and every poem speaks to me. It’s not just because I have family in those hills and know the smells and sounds of those back roads and farms, the funkiness of those river towns, the long lightless days of winter, the disappointment of “Ohio false spring.” It’s because these poems are honest and human and speak to anyone who has ever looked to discover another person standing beside them. Join me, open the book, let’s see where it takes us! Let’s us be part of the community, bigger and bigger.

You’n’s, us’n’s, all of us together.

❦ ❦ ❦

Some Kind of Prayer

What can I tell you that you do not already know?
Listen to the grass, its long legs whistling as it swishes.
Touch the brush of cattails, the brittle wings of pine cones,
the dry skin of chokeberries – feel
their burst. Taste rain. Say you’re sorry

not for what you did but for how you doubted
yourself for so long. This life is filled
with a million cocoons and you can choose
how long, which one, or none.

Sleep is so close. Run now, run.

Shuly Xóchitl Cawood
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

❦ ❦ ❦

To No One in Particular

I am never happy to see summer go,
earth stripped of its finest voice.
I am sitting outside in my heavy coat,
porch light off. There is no moon,
no ambient distractions, the sky a Zion.

I take solace in considering the age
of this valley, the way water
left its mark on Appalachia,
long before Peabody sunk a shaft,
Chevron augured the shale or ODOT
dynamited roadways through steep rock.

I grew up in a house where canned
fruit cocktail was considered a treat.
My sister and I fought over who got
to eat the fake cherries, standouts in the can,
though tasting exactly like very other
tired piece of fruit floating in the heavy syrup.

But it was store-bought, like city folks
and we were too gullible to understand
the corruption in the concept, our mother’s
home-canned harvest superior in every way.
I cringe when I think of how we shamed her.

So much here depends upon
a green corn stalk, a patched barn roof,
weather, the Lord, community.
We’ve rarely been offered a hand
that didn’t destroy.

Inside the house the lightbulb comes on
when the refrigerator door is opened.
My husband rummages a snack,
plops beside me on the porch to wolf it down,

turns, plants a kiss, leans back in his chair,
says to no one in particular,
A person could spend a lifetime
under a sky such as this.

Kari Gunter-Seymour
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

❦ ❦ ❦

Linda and Bill at Kelly’s Pines, 1974

❦ ❦ ❦

 

[with 3 poems from PINESONG]

Do you see me . . . writing you back into the world?
+++++++++++++++++++ Maria Rouphail

What is reality? Perhaps it does require ten dimensions to explain quantum phenomena but we sentient creatures are stuck with four, all we are able to feel. That’s as real as we can get. And with entropy dictating the direction of time’s arrow, it’s a one-way street.

But what about dreams? What about memory? The one is all hallucinatory confabulation, jetsam from the brain’s real work of making sense. The other – random imprint of synapses in hippocampus, little tangles and sparks of wishfulness, wholly unreliable. Then why do dreams open doors into worlds we are absolutely compelled to explore? Why are memories so deeply, viscerally, demandingly real?

My Grandpop Cooke died when I was five. We lived states apart; I spent only a few weeks with him each year. Most of my memories are stories told about him later – his eclectic brilliance, his inventions and patents, his ferocious calling as physician and surgeon. In most of the photos from our few shared years he is behind the camera composing, the rest of us the subject, the scene. Mostly I sense him in the recalled scent of his workshop, oil & sawdust, or in the heft of the books he left. I never hear his voice.

But in these two memories Grandpop is real to me. We’re standing on the bluff above Bogue Sound while he tosses corn to his mallards, wordless memory, me the child allowed to reach his hand into the pan of grain. He is kneeling, my 4-year old hand in his while he outlines the little bones in those fingers and teaches me, “Phalanges, Metacarpals.”

I tell you these stories. I write them down. Time holds its breath, reverses its flow. I bring Grandpop back into the world.

❦ ❦ ❦

After “After Years” by Ted Kooser

At once when you walked by,
I noticed something on your face that I
hadn’t seen in a long time.
You, smiling into your phone,
stepping over a dead rat on the street vent,
were a revelation.
Around us, the collapsed a skyscraper into the ground
and, as you rushed past without realizing,
a breeze blew a lamppost into a hurricane.
For this instant of infinity,
God must have a heart to
let me see you among the mills of people
coming and going, back and forth
between the drone of city life and the thrill of living at all.

As I lose you to the background,
the weightlessness of your memory bombards me.
How quietly did you leave to ensure
I wouldn’t notice your absence?
Where did you possibly go if not
further into the pile of things I swore to forget?

We are all bound by finality.
To stop living in circles, you take flight
and I watch the world wear away my stubborn grief
until I forget why I ever had to grieve at all.

Claire Wang
PINESONG, Sherry Pruitt Award, Third Place
11th Grade, Marvin Ridge High School, Waxhaw, NC
Teacher: Bobbi Jo Wisocki

❦ ❦ ❦

Today’s three poems are from PINESONG, the annual anthology of the North Carolina Poetry Society. Ten adult contests, four for students; winners and honorable mentions. Judges from all over the country, diversity of poets as well – no two year’s collections are similar. Some of these names will go on to glean literary honors; many already have.

You can buy a copy (or if you are a NCPS member request a copy gratis) by contacting me and I will forward your request to the appropriate address: comments@griffinpoetry.com

❦ ❦ ❦

The Waters

A naiad swims to the bottom of the ocean
feels the great press of all that water,
the suffocating embrace of the dark.
At these depths, she wonders, does the giant squid
feel a need, like childbirth, to release her ink?
She lays her hand on the throat of beginnings;
and Earth takes a tremendous breath,
blows out bubbles, bubbles, bubbles –
multitudes that almost shine like light.

A woman sinks to the nadir of life,
where every single thing is hard.
Not just difficult – that’s brushing hair,
teeth; saying the right thing;
avoiding saying the wrong;
awakening before the sun sits atop a vast blue.
Truly hard:
the corners of counters, cement floor,
the slam of a door. Glass breaks
behind her eyes every single day,
glittering, blinding, refracting,
reflecting failure, filling her mind’s eye
with shard of adamantine static.

A girl swims the abyss of her nightmare.
Hears a voice – maybe her mother’s – but garbled,
muted the way a fetus hears in the womb.
It is hard to breathe.
Treading the water of sleep, fear and desire
swirl in the dark below her. Shy bumps the land,
the bed, the sheets twine her legs like kelp.
Consciousness slips around her, a gleaming eel
she finally lays hands on. Here is morning,
bright and smooth as a clam’s mantle.

Alison Toney
PINESONG, Thomas H. McDill Award, Honorable Mention

❦ ❦ ❦

Abuela

In the dream,
my dead father speaks the same words
as when he was in the flesh.
Leaning into my ear, he says
Imaginate, hija –
the nuns at the convent school
taught your grandmother to write –
My lips part again,
as when he told me the first time
about the black-eyed girl
with a birth and death date no one remembered,
who saw visions and wrote them down.
That was before she became the too-young mother
abandoned by her impatient man
who refused the burden of a tubercular wife
and their two baby boys – Poemas,
my orphaned father said.
I turn to face him,
as though he were
the door to a vast room.
But then I wake,
and breath streams out of my body like a tide – ¡Abuela, abuelita!
Do you know that I see you, the poet at her desk?
Do you see me at mine, writing you back into the world?

Maria Rouphail
PINESONG, Thomas H. McDill Award, Second Place

Maria also won the 2022 Poet Laureate Award from the NC Poetry Society for her poem, Two Variations on a Theme of a Tenement (as Viewed from the Window of a Moving Train) With a Song Interposed.

 

❦ ❦ ❦

❦ ❦ ❦

Falingo!

[with poems from Tar River Poetry]

Neon yellow, fluorescent orange, that’s a lingo we can understand: road work ahead; survey crew; litter pick-up. Why on earth, though, did Robert Price dress all his lawn & landscape guys in this eye-popping pink, his name in big bold black across the back? So no one would want to steal their shirts? So we’d be sure to notice?

Oh, and we do notice. Our three-year old adores the stilt-legged birds in her favorite color, one last night on her little jammies, a sudden mob of them last weekend in the neighbor’s yard turning 50. Now she startles as we drive past them with their zero-turn radius mowers and tyrannosauric leaf blowers – recognition, yes! Excitement! From her car seat she points and announces . . . !

❦ ❦ ❦

If You Could

Would you unstitch the world,
pick it apart until you held in your cupped hands
a burning heap of atoms that glowed
like the last stars fading
into the sun? Say if you believe
the plants are doing God’s work
when they insinuate themselves
into foundation cracks and chips
in ancient stone walls, when
they tease apart the edges of brick,
begin crumbling concrete back to sand.

Tell me, if you believe
you could have done better,
what you would have omitted
when you spit into that handful
of dark earth and stardust
and worked it in your palm
to make a mannikin, when you breathed
your sweet breath with its scents
of rainwater and crushed clover
into its lips, when you watched it rise
and strut around the world, eyeing its riches
like a hungry dog eyes meat. What
would you have done to make it
less arrogant, less dangerous –
or could you? Would you have simply
smashed it, declared the world
complete?

Rebecca Baggett
from Tar River Poetry, Volume 61 Number 2, Spring 2022; © 2022 Tar River Poetry

insect

 

❦ ❦ ❦

Why am I featuring Tar River Poetry in the same post as Falingos / Flamingos? Is this twice-a-year journal as arresting as a yard full of men in pink, as much fun as a yard full of plastic birds? Is it because when each new issue arrives in the post I exclaim from my car seat and want to point it out to the world? Is it that the words it contains and the way they’re arranged are so deliciously novel, so eye-popping, such exotic new sensations on the tongue?

All of the above and none of the above. Who knows why, as I was sitting on the porch reading TRP as I have most every issue for a bunch of years now, I suddenly remembered that story of our granddaughter at 3? Who knows why bits of hippocampus are jangled and what bits of limbic system will be spangled when one reads a poem that jumps up and shivers? All I know is the poems of TRP are always so various, so beguiling, so full of and stimulating to imagination that I always want to read them all.

Oh, and maybe I’ve been wanting to share that Falingo story for a good while now.

❦ ❦ ❦

The Rope

Today a junco –
And yesterday, I think, some kind of sparrow.

Their lives flown on
Without them, they now lie still. Were these two drawn

By what they saw
As a threat in the glass they didn’t see? Claws

Raised for a foe
That wasn’t there, they pierced the air that froze

And knocked them out
Of this world. Seeing such things, it’s hard to doubt

A flight can end
In the middle of its arc. We like to pretend

The path is clear
Straight to the goal. We think music we hear

Means all is well,
So we ignore it. But the inverted well

Of a bell is full
Of nothing, most hours: silence. Someone must pull

Its rope to knock
Its music loose. Had these two birds been hawks,

I want to insist
I’d have watched. But is this true? I barely noticed

Their flights and songs.
I only write them down now that they’re gone.

Michael Spence
from Tar River Poetry, Volume 61 Number 2, Spring 2022; © 2022 Tar River Poetry

❦ ❦ ❦

Rebecca Baggett is the winner of the 2020 Terry J. Cox poetry award from Regal House Publishing; her collection The Woman Who Lives Without Money was published in March 2022.

Michael Spence was awarded the New Criterion Poetry Prize for his collection Umbilical.

Pam Baggett was awarded the 2019-2020 Fellowship in Literature from the NC Arts Council; her book Wild Horses (2018) is from Main Street Rag Publishing.

Tar River Poetry: Editor – Luke Whisnant; Founding Editor and Editor Emeritus – Peter Makuck; Associate Editor – Carolyn Elkins; Advisory Editor – Melinda Thomson; Assistant Editor – Caroline Puerto; Contributing Editors – Phoebe Davidson, Elizabeth Dodd, Brendan Galvin, Susan Elizabeth Howe, James Kirkland, Richard Simpson, Tom Simpson. East Carolina University, Greenville NC.

❦ ❦ ❦

The Losses to Come

A mild April day, the smell of death
leads me past half-grown oaks to pond’s edge,
where I find a snapping turtle,
big as a hay bale, flipped on its back,
startle a vulture that lifts away, leaving holes
where the turtle’s head and feet belong.
Nothing that stalks these woods strong enough
to capsize a creature whose slashing tail,
snapping jaw held such fury. Then I spot
the pond’s dam, short but steep,
pond shrunk by drought so the turtle
tumbled down it onto dry ground.

The horror hits like a hard fall –
I walked this path every day
as the snapper paddled its stubby legs
in mid-air, sank into stillness.

++++++++++++ ~

Early November, leaves sifting down,
I see the shell in the woods a hundred feet
from where I first found it. Bleached
beige, a dishpan, nowhere near a hay bale.
What had made me believe I mourned
so huge a creature, except the size of this grief,
insistent as sunrise, over losses to come:
catfish and bream, bullfrogs and peepers,
the pond’s dragonflies that swoop and dive,
seeking mosquitoes –

all may perish, along with the snapper,
on Earth for sixty-five million years,
built to survive almost anything.

Pam Baggett
from Tar River Poetry, Volume 61 Number 2, Spring 2022; © 2022 Tar River Poetry

❦ ❦ ❦

IMG_6432

 

Walk with Mom

 

[poems from CAVE WALL]

. . . a person is a museum of rooms they’ve visited . . .
++++++ ++++++ ++++++ Han VanderHart

Hold the door for her, even a low threshold is an invitation to fall. Scuff of sole syncopates with tap of cane, I listen and watch sidelong along past the neighbors’ for any evidence of stumble. Hold hands over rough spots. Now here’s the road – is it safe to even think about crossing?

At the corner garden Mom asks me to remind her of the name of each flower. Zinnia, phlox, coneflower. At the picket fence she points to the bottommost backer rail, This is where we leave a biscuit for Penny but I forgot to bring one. At the next house, Boz lives here, he always barks.

Staying these weeks with Dad and Mom I sometimes enter a room to find Mom perfectly still, halfway between chair & table. Not staring at anything, not expecting particularly, not even struggling to discover something lost because even the idea of something lost is lost. Rooms of her life that she no longer visits.

But when I touch her arm she will tell me again where the flowers on the table have come from, See how long they’ve lasted? Every house we pass on our walks she knows the life of the dog it holds. Dogs and flowers. A walk with Mom. What could be more beautiful?

❦ ❦ ❦

When My Grandmother Barbara Jean was Dying, My
++++++ Mother Sat on Her Bed and Played “House of the
++++++ Rising Sun” on Her Guitar, Because It Was the Only
++++++ Song She Knew

And this is also ekphrasis: the song plucked
out of the guitar, held on a child’s lap, sat on a sickbed

My mother shaping the air around herself
and her mother: a small rain of notes.

There is a house in New Orleans, she strummed
not knowing her mother was dying.

Bobbie with her hair that waves like mine,
resists the clip that holds it back.

Don’t wish your life away, my mother still says,
words her mother, shadow-sick, said.

If a person is a museum of rooms they’ve
visited, inside my mother is a room

with a bed, a guitar, and her mother
who is not dying, only resting.

It is called the rising sun.

Han VanderHart
from Cave Wall, Spring/Summer 2022, Number 17, © Cave Wall Press LLC

❦ ❦ ❦

Rhett, tell me if this memory is true. When we first met at a poetry meeting at Weymouth you were wearing a t-shirt with a comic book character (in a room of dresses and neckties). What you didn’t know was that my basement was full of boxes, mostly Marvel, and I was way more into John Byrne, Frank Miller, and Barry Windsor-Smith than T.S. Elliot and Ezra Pound. When you stood up at open mic, though, I was rocked. Here it is – this is it. Absolutely real.

And Cave Wall continues to be it. Every issue’s poems open layers in my heart I had forgotten I possessed, or else had halfway bandaided back together. Well, yes, sometimes it hurts in inward person to fall into a well of emotion, but sometimes the deep sigh is healing. And sometimes I want to toss the little book into the air for a high five as it descends. This issue, though, Number 17, I just can’t get over. Thanks for opening door into all these rooms and inviting us to step through.

Cave Wall editors Rhett Iseman Trull & Jeff Trull; Assistant Editor Michael Boccardo; Contributing Art Editor Dan Rhett; Official Poem Accepters Audrey & Cordelia Trull; Editorial Assistant Tracey Nafekh; Contributing Editors Sally Rosen Kindred, Renee Soto; Editorial Advisory Board Dan Albergotti, Sandra Beasley, Natasha Tretheway. www.cavewallpress.com

❦ ❦ ❦

August

and swollen as I was
with our first son, we stopped at Bennett Place,
the nineteenth century farmhouse
outside Durham, where
one general surrendered
to another, ending the Civil War.
Hot as blazes, but a stray breeze
lifted our spirits and we kept at it,
touring the wooden farmhouse,
the outbuildings, the grounds.
While you inspected the rows
of tents, I lingered
in the log kitchen. Something
about the narrow window panes
and the orchard view
made me think an earlier century
might have transformed me
into the wife I longed to be –
a patient woman, filling and refilling
the porcelain pitcher
as you bathed at the white bowl.
A woman blameless, steady
at her weaving, aflame only for you.

Dannye Romine Powell
from Cave Wall, Spring/Summer 2022, Number 17, © Cave Wall Press LLC

 

❦ ❦ ❦

The three poets selected from this issue of Cave Wall all have connections to North Carolina:

Han VanderHart lives in Durham. They host Of Poetry podcast, edit Moist Poetry Review, and review at EcoTheo Review; their collection What Pecan Light is from Bull City Press (2021).

Dannye Romine Powell lives in Charlotte. Her fifth collection, In the Sunroom with Raymond Carver, won North Carolina’s 2020 Roanoke Chowan Award.

Anne McCrary Sullivan received an MFA from Warren Wilson College. Her publications include Ecology II: Throat Song from the Everglades.

 

 

❦ ❦ ❦

Driving Loop Road

after cocoplums with their dark fruit,
wax myrtle, firebush, wild coffee

small openings, like keyholes
through which I could see

how a swamp darkens beyond fern
how a prairie extends into light

a young alligator sprawled in the road
three hawks held to their branches

shapes ahead of me scurried into scrub
an otter crossed in the rearview mirror

time was longer than it was,
so much in it –

the limestone gravel road
always narrowing

then the rain and milk-white puddles
wet green +++++ and solitude

hawk time, alligator time
storm coming, rainy season

but since you ask, three and a half hours
dragonflies whirling over the road

Anne McCrary Sullivan
from Cave Wall, Spring/Summer 2022, Number 17, © Cave Wall Press LLC

❦ ❦ ❦

 

2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

 

Father’s Day

[with poems by Kathy Ackerman]

On Father’s Day I drove six hours to visit Dad in the ICU.

That’s it. That’s all there is to tell. That’s everything, except maybe the phone call from a neighbor who found Dad confused and incoherent, then hearing Dad himself on speakerphone repeat the same nonsense phrase over and over. Everything except helping my suddenly-in-charge niece, talking her through gathering everything the paramedics would need when they arrived to take Dad to the ER. Except the packing, the hitting the road, the canceling of all plans except the one of getting there. The sitting beside his bed, he pale, swollen, faintly blue like something that has washed in from the sea, me beached with uncertainty, unknowing. Him opening his eyes when I speak, him answering as if from a great distance, “I feel OK.”

Everything is sitting beside Dad’s hospital bed with Linda who has come with me. The next morning discovering Linda propped up reading after my mostly sleepless night. Waving to Linda on the porch with Mom when I pull into the driveway on the afternoon Dad is discharged. Hearing Linda say, “Come away. Take a walk. Just a few minutes.” Kissing Linda goodbye as she heads home, both of us knowing I’ll be staying to take care of Dad and Mom full time for . . . how long?

What to tell? Maybe the only thing is wonder. I wonder how Dad survived. I wonder what he’ll be like as much as a week from now (I wonder if I’ll ever again think in “months from now”). I wonder what I will be like. Wonder and gratitude — I don’t wonder who’ll be waiting for me someday when I come home.

❦ ❦ ❦

The Men Who Are My Father

++++++++++ i

He says it was a mistake
chopping the lizard in half with the garden hoe
believing it was a scorpion. I know
he is not blind enough to blame his sight
for such an error – I know when in doubt
he defaults to kill.

++++++++++ ii

He defaults to kill, yet it wasn’t always so.
At twelve years old, he slid a chicken leg
from his plate into his pocket,
held his hand just so to hide the hole it left,
filled it with potatoes.

Later he pierced it with a three-foot hickory stick,
extended it like an offering toward the fox in labor
wanting her to have the strength it takes
to release the blood-eyed pups.

++++++++++ iii

When I ask what color was the snake
he knows I want to hear the rattle of danger
or see the copper crossbands he believes would justify
his crime, a rake this time.

++++++++++ iv

Though he is not a god he makes his choices.
Songbirds over squirrels, stray cats, bigger birds.
One attempt at trapping, then the rifle.

++++++++++ v

Tadpoles, bluegills, slippery forms
of saying yes to a child.
He helped me fill the pails
with the slow deaths of what’s too small to eat.

++++++++++ vi

What lesson did I learn from
my first death – my first named pet
a white mouse quivering in my palm
as I lay her on my sleeping mother’s chest
on a dare?

Did he really stomp it with his boot
in the woods behind our house
or did he set it free?

++++++++++ vii

The moment my mother
breathed her last breath five decades later
I knew whose life
he’d kill anything
to save.

Kathy Ackerman
from Repeat After Me, © 2022 Redhawk Publications, Hickory, NC

 

❦ ❦ ❦

Kathy Ackerman’s poems are just as real as life. They are life. Her lines give life’s breath to moments that need to be held in the heart and not forgotten, to people who need to be remembered and cherished, to love and to anger and to fear and to redemption that need to remain real and alive. So that we, not just her readers but now her friends, can live. So that we can live with what we might have mistaken for pointless or cruel or simply quotidian and mundane and realize that all of that, every bit of it together, is what comprises our life. What makes our life. What gives us life enough that we might have the possibility of sharing it with another.

Repeat After Me is Kathy Ackerman’s seventh book of poetry. If trees continue to grow, if creatures continue to crawl and call and chatter, if people continue to need other people, this book will not be her last.

❦ ❦ ❦

Wedding Day Baptism

++++ April 14, 1984

My unworn discout wedding gown
hugged my closet’s farthest wall for years
meant for an Ohio spring,
that flops from frost to sun and back again,
not this Florida heat.

My mother-in-law-to-be I met only yesterday.
She steams my dress with memories

newly wed so far from home her own gown hung
on homesick skin
those tropical years of mission work
in “heathen” Honduras.

She lacked all familiar sustenance
while I am frugal and pragmatic
flung to Florida by Fate who knew
her son would walk into a bar one night. . . .

Here I am surrounded by all I need –
fried chicken and an open bar,
friends who drove a thousand miles
to see me finally dressed like this
to see my finally sweat like this.
Committed

unlike the cake whose upper tier is sliding
to escape like me its lacey layers.
Sleeves cuffed on my wrist and collar like a hippie choker
are just too much.

The swimming pool outide is shining
like a future filled with cooling waves
so like a lover I leap

To learn a billowing gown
gone upside down
balloons on impact,
tangles like a parachute.

I struggle some but do not panic
finally drowning the past
in chlorine and champagne.

Tested, my groom
++++ the right one this time
doesn’t hesitate
to taint his rented tux
to save me from myself

while all the guests are aghast or thrilled
depending which side of the family they’re on
and what they need to be saved.

Kathy Ackerman
from Repeat After Me, © 2022 Redhawk Publications, Hickory, NC

❦ ❦ ❦

IMG_0877

Making

[with 3 poems by Catherine Carter]

Some people have to make. They just have to. Rising on the trencher, wheat and yeast; the oven to hold the fire to bake it. Seeds in earth raising beans and tomatoes to complete the meal. Pastel eggs and multicolored hens and the lavish coop that keeps them happy laying. And the little boy running through it all to glean the beetle, lizard, feather that make him ur-shaman of this world.

Of course, making is both taking apart and putting together. Bits and pieces. Sweat and cussing, grabbing the hawk off the pullet which lives but not the broke-winged raptor, the fear, the sadness of it all balanced by an afternoon watching the boy pull grass seed and chickweed and feed them to the ladies. Making dinner, great globes of sun-gold yolk the color of squash blossoms and pumpkin rind, all the energy of single-minded pecking and imagination.

Some of us imagine we are not makers, we lack the skill, we can’t get the pieces to fit. Tough loaf, corners never square, life unlevel despite every attention to its foundation. Aren’t all of us just children running through it? Glean color and community, bread of joy, fruit of noticing. Tell it. Share it. Make it grow.

 

 

❦ ❦ ❦

Mortal Minerals

It’s a rainy night in April;
before the thunder came the year’s
first wood thrush, a young
one, half-croaking as he tried out
his marvelous syrinx. Before that,
the tree frog, forecasting. The steady rain
is a slow rushing past the window,
hard on asphalt, soft
on dirt: tomorrow, ordinary
blessing, there’ll be no need to call
on the well to quench the potato patch.
in one fine mesh of the screen a tiny drop
of rain slows the lamplight
that spring from the dirty burn
of carbon, the stored fire
of the local star: and that drop gleams
like a moth’s eye.
Through the screen and the drop come
the cool scents of water, earth,
clove pinks, April
all over again, piercingly
sweet: I’d say unearthly
sweet, except that it is
earthly, entirely earthly, these are
the sweets of earth, this
is us, mortal minerals
in the brief era of stars, this is it.

Catherine Carter
from Larvae of the Nearest Star, Louisiana State University Press, © 2019

❦ ❦ ❦

Catherine Carter sees the world as it is, imagines the world as it also is, makes the world and us as it is and as we may be. Fine honed blade, loupe, wicked wit, soulful compassion, she is the master of all instruments and qualia. I feel I’ve been waiting all my life to read these poems, to see what I’ve seen before and recognize now with new eyes, to hear the hymns of fern and turning seasons. Survey the squash vine that may shade the whole world; whisper to ancestors in oak leaves. Anguish runs beneath and through it all but goodness as well that shines from lit night-windows, real for at least a moment if we can imagine it so. In the first poem Catherine says, seeing it again / out of your own sore eyes, telling / what no one else can. And in the closing poem: some wordless joy / into the day’s high air, I will / not cease telling. Thank you for the telling, the making!

Catherine Carter is Professor of English at Western Carolina University in the mountains of North Carolina. Today’s selections are from Larvae of the Nearest Star, Louisiana State University Press, © 2019 by Catherine Carter. Mortal Minerals first appeared in the chapbook Marks of the Witch (Jacar Press, 2014); Night Driving, Lighted Windows, and Chickweed, Hens first appeared in the journal Still.

❦ ❦ ❦

Night Driving, Lighted Windows

Despite all the night terrors, despite
the knotted fists and brutal words,
toilets and trash cans running over,
chained dogs, the reek of meth
or whiskey, fabric softener or vomit,
every lamplit window glows gold
as every other—no matter what’s gone
on inside, or is still going.
And each white shed-fluorescent speaks
of workbenches, oiled chisels,
screwdrivers, someone shaping
a shelf or rewiring a washer,
making, mending. Passing
those calm yellow squares,
I can almost believe
in someone quietly handing coffee,
a towel, a deep cup of soup,
and someone else glancing up: thanks.
I can almost believe
that if someone lost came
tapping at that window,
the bolt would fly back in welcome.
Those windows’ warm gleams
shine out for miles, telling their
beautiful stories, some of them
maybe true.
+++++++ — And I, on my way home,
plunging into my brief funnel of light,
I fly past like a witch on the gale,
soothing down fear, smoothing
wrath with my passage: my invisible
gaze remaking the world
for a moment into that place where even now
we are all warm and have enough
inside our square stars, we are
forgiving those who share
the world with us, we are making
and mending what we can.

Catherine Carter
from Larvae of the Nearest Star, Louisiana State University Press, © 2019

❦ ❦ ❦

 

 

 

❦ ❦ ❦

Chickweed, Hens

The chickweed in its loose lush
viridian sprawl hurls out
arms and spokes, wheels reeling from
heart-hubs into green galaxies
of spear-heart leaves, spattered with
speckled stars—all light-spawned
themselves from the nearest star,
this one sun. To eat of this
opportunistic shallow-
root, this transfigured sunlight,
you must grasp the center;
you must take it by the heart,
then bear its pulsing spirals
to hungry hens whose harsh beaks
peck it apart, snap it down,
gulp up tiny lives riding
its long sprays and spurs, devour
the vivid freshness of spring-
greens to reverse those spinning wheels,
turn those armed clocks back to sun-
orange, yolk-gold, fat food: the
other transfiguration,
this work of winged, warm-blooded
reptiles, the savage women
of summer, the layers of life.

Catherine Carter
from Larvae of the Nearest Star, Louisiana State University Press, © 2019

❦ ❦ ❦

Today’s words and images are dedicated to Josh, Margaret, Bert;
to lovedog Rudy and three-legged Zoe;
to the Silver Laced Wyandottes, the Black and the Blue Australorps,
the almost cuddly Americaners, the Barred Rocks.

❦ ❦ ❦

Doughton Park Tree 2011-04

 

Two

[with 3 poems by Les Brown]

Nana has shown the toddler the bright blooms in the bed along the driveway of the house above Bogue Sound. Because the world back then was black and white we can’t know if they were red or yellow, all we have is this story she told for years and the photo Grandpop snapped of the little boy with two stems he’d just snapped. And the punch line of Nana’s laughing and proud rendition: “I want two tulips,” a little proud perhaps because he knew their names, or could already count, or maybe just the declaration’s poetry.

Did Nana place the flowers in a jar of water for the family to enjoy a few more days? Was she already laughing in the moment or only later at re-telling? And the most mysterious, the cipher, is Grandpop and the camera, how did he happen to have it with him, what made him decide to click the shutter?

How did he really feel about this first grandchild he would know for only two more years, just long enough to begin to teach him the bones of the hand – metacarpals, phalanges – never reaching arm or leg or spine? Never to share with the boy any of the other of his strange and wonderful crafts, his doctoring, his designing and creating, his imagination, only remembered by the books on his shelves, the tools in his workshop, all the stories told by others.

If only now the boy could remember how Grandpop told this story!

❦ ❦ ❦

Abandoned Spring

Smooth salamanders still slip
+++++ over sand and angled stones
into dark crevices. Green moss
+++++ and fern festoon the cool dampness.
Once it gave relief to sweaty
+++++ tired men with calloused hands
who lifted gourd dippers
+++++ to parched lips and sat in shade.

Abandoned now, it remains
+++++ beneath aged walnut trees.
Deer and bobcat drink where dark men
+++++ sought cool refuge from cutting rock
and laying creosote ties, where farmers
+++++ removed their hats and splashed
comfort on dust-stained brows,
+++++ where young boys camped telling lies.

Les Brown
from A Place Where Trees Had Names, © 2020, Redhawk Publications, Hickory, NC.

❦ ❦ ❦

Memories, stories, and resurrection of what has been abandoned – that’s how Les Brown connects us with the places and the times of Southern Appalachia. These are his personal stories; the characters may be an overgrown glade or on old railway line, but just as often they are cousins, aunts, and assorted kinfolk, sometimes audacious, sometimes forlorn, sometimes only ghosts. Alive, though, alive – it is Les Brown’s gift to grant new life to what should not be abandoned.

Seems like a long time ago, seems like far away – but it’s really not, is it? The stories are still doing their jobs creating us, creating our future.

A Place Where Trees Had Names, © 2020 Les Brown; Redhawk Publications, Hickory, NC.

❦ ❦ ❦

Let Loose to Run

The Model T sat axle-blocked,
belted to a singing blade,
beside the woodpile, the power
of twenty horses in four churning
cylinders still coaxed to life
by kicking crank up front
on the skeletal frame. I once
held soft seats and enclosure
for church-bound folks,
bouncing them along the rutted,
muddy road, while Henry and Maude
watched and grazed in the pasture.

It had been left beside a barn,
rusting, rotting until the glorious
machine was reduced to sawing
firewood. After winter had passed,
curious boys cut loose the belt
and dropped the tires to earth.
Climbing upon rusty seat frame,
they set spark and throttle
to let the steel horses loose
to run a few circles of the pasture
one more time.

Les Brown
from A Place Where Trees Had Names, © 2020, Redhawk Publications, Hickory, NC.

❦ ❦ ❦

At Sixty-Six

Long gone, they are in this valley,
lean in clay-stained overalls and floured apron,
cooking, canning, crocheting,
loafing on Homer’s store porch,
committing to Jesus.

Coursing back and forth across broad fields
within gold-splintered cornstalk shade,
through hazy fog of wheat, reaping for bread,
they follow their teams, year by year, turning
dark still earth within which they now lie.

They put away hay in a barn of
gray planks bearing Barlow-carved names.
In overgrown fields of flaxen stubble
they lean on rusted pitchfork and cradle,
chewing yellow straws.

They sit in my memory of golden lantern-light
before a mountain of pale shucks, glowing
yellow ear by yellow year, story by story. They
tease blushing boys about finding the red ear,
omen of getting to kiss a pretty brown-haired girl.

They stand warming forever cold bodies
before glowing cast iron stoves,
sit at wavy glass windows, knitting,
rocking sour milk in green Mason jars
until flecks of yellow butter appear.

Grapevines still cling to a log smokehouse
where hams once cured, thick with salt and mold
hung from adz-marked chestnut rafters.
My wraith cousins climb the vines,
sit in the pigeon roost eating yellow-green grapes.

Dead hog specters hang
from tendons, on walnut trees,
split chin to groin. Steaming pale pink guts
spill into galvanized tubs,
quivering to still rawness.

An apparition brown walking horse
circles the long-gone cane mill.
A ghost stirs, skims, sweats, yields
to small eyes that watch. He dips and gives
sweet sticks for faded children to sop.

A smell of yellow sulfur rides the wind.
I hear the clinking of hammer and anvil
by the red forge in an empty log shop, where
glowing horseshoes steam cool,
then hang for use in the summer’s plow.

Fathers wander through creek-runs, searching
for the perfect cedar tree for popcorn, for
silvered balls, for string os bubbling lights.
Family number grow at Christmas, crowding,
eating, laughing, hiding toys for children.

They sit around the long dining room table
surrounded by grace, reaching, passing,
talking of beans and corn, of butter
molded like wheat, adorned with holly, amid
bounty of summer after summer forever gone.

They huddle in dim parlor warmed by
whiskey and bouncing firelight,
laughing through lost nights at
toys made of wood, of flour sacks,
vanished to time and avaricious kin.

Through mist, scalded cream coats a spoon.
Wrinkled hands pour phantom custard
to chill in spring house until
poured again, sprinkled with nutmeg,
ending the season, beginning another year.

Silent fireworks rise shimmering silver over
dark turned earth of New Year,
and the smell of bourbon and homemade wine
still drifts on scented wind,
a toast to make or break the dead.

A chill wraps around memory
of feather tick and warmed flat-iron
against my floor-chilled feet,
Dutch Doll, Butterfly and Nine Patch quilts
weighing heavy against another January.

Les Brown
from A Place Where Trees Had Names, © 2020, Redhawk Publications, Hickory, NC.

❦ ❦ ❦

2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree