Feeds:
Posts
Comments

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

#8: 200 yds uphill from True Word Baptist Church on L past brick house R

It’s a little before 6:30 a.m. on May 28, 2022, when I pull into the dew soaked grass and walk up to the pasture fence: Stop #8. Stop #1 was 5:33, Venus rising above the tree line, the chorus just rustling awake led by Chuck-will’s-widow. Now the eastern sky is peach and the birds are full throat.

For 25+ years I’ve been counting a route for the annual Breeding Bird Survey of the US Geologic Survey (Patuxent Wildlife Research Center). These courses were established in 1966 to monitor North American bird populations; there are more than 4,000 of the 25 mile courses in the US and Canada. It’s no coincidence that the impetus arose to study declining bird numbers around the same time Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published (1962).

Since 1995 I’ve counted the Copeland route in southern Surry County into Wilkes. This year I added a second route, Mt. Airy, mainly northern Stokes County. Start ½ hour before dawn, fifty defined roadside stops a half mile apart, count every bird you hear and see in three minutes.

Stop #8. The knob of Pilot Mountain emerges from shadow. Mist rising in the hollows. Click my timer. Listen!

❦ ❦ ❦

On March 31, 2011 I posted the first offering on my new blog, including the poem Hymn by A.R. Ammons, which is still my favorite. I named the blog Griffin~Poetry, Verse and Image – I imagined combining powerful metaphor and poetic imagery with my own photography. For the past two years I’ve posted at least once a week, usually Friday mornings: today (a Wednesday) is post # 208.

Today I’m changing the site’s name. I’m dropping “Griffin~Poetry.” I’m stepping back from the spotlight. For one thing, only about 5% of the poems I’ve ever included are written by me. I’ve so far featured about 185 poets, everyone from Abbott, Tony to York, Carolyn. This blog is not about Griffin’s Poetry as author, it’s about poetry I treasure as reader.

Secondly I’m changing the header photo to Pilot Mountain at dawn from Stop #8. The Pilot has always been a landmark for our family, an ensign of home. When we lived in Ohio and drove to North Carolina once a year to visit my Grandparents, spotting the knob from Rte. 52 meant we were almost there. Every April I’ll restore the header to artwork by my wife Linda French Griffin in honor of Earth Day, but for now let Pilot Mountain guide us.

Finally, there’s this:
It belongs to the nature of every ‘being’ that it is a potential for every ‘becoming.’
++++++++++++++++++++ Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality
Whitehead is saying that the fundamental building blocks of reality are not atoms or quarks or anything that ‘is’ but rather the constant flux of moments coming into being, ‘becoming.’ Everything changes but everything is connected. Whitehead’s book is all but impenetrable (although there are some excellent guidebooks, not unlike the ones about birds, ferns, and flowers I carry in my pack on every outing), but a world that is obtuse, confusing, seemingly malevolent can open to enlightenment via metaphor. Through poetic imagery.

Thank you, Poetry, for offering to give us a glimpse of reality.

❦ ❦ ❦

Birds – perfect metaphor for the struggle to find meaning. Familiar but elusive, civilized but wild, possible to recognize but impossible to fully know. The Dawn Chorus begins and we are inspired to go on pilgrimages to discover our place among them.

Cuckoo Song ++++++++++++++++++ Anonymous c. 1250

SUMER is icumen in,
++ Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweth sed, and bloweth med,
++ And springth the wude nu—
+++++ Sing cuccu!

Canterbury Tales   (lines 9-12) +++++++ Geoffrey Chaucer (1340(?)–1400)

And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,

❦ ❦ ❦

And of course here are three minutes of birds from Stop #8:
American Crow (2)
Carolina Wren (2)
Gray Catbird
Yellow-breasted Chat
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting

❦ ❦ ❦

2020-06-11a Doughton Park Tree

Making Sense

[with 3 poems by Joseph Mills]

Nothing makes sense. Even so we tell stories hoping to make sense, to create a little sense.

My brother just called from the beach to tell me my mother has had some sort of spell this morning. Maybe a seizure. Wee, pellucid, bone china and silver lace, she is smiling now and saying, “I feel just fine.” The doctor in me asks questions. The son I am worries but then pauses to touch myself on the shoulder and remind: “Her family surrounds her. She is 94 and smiling. She is fine.”

How can we make sense of all this? What should we do?

The evening before they left I sat beside Mom while everyone else made supper and packed. She’d been standing in the middle of the living room for several minutes – feeling that she should be contributing to the activity in the kitchen? – when I convinced her to join me on the couch. For a week she hadn’t been feeling well but a fruitless ER stay, a visit with her beloved family doctor, lab tests, an ECG, none had put a finger on the malady.

I asked Mom if she really felt well enough to ride five hours in the car. I didn’t have to guess how much she wanted to spend two weeks with my brother’s family, their once a year trip east from Montana. She smiled, said she was fine, then started to list all the spots they’d go out to eat during their visit. At least one restaurant there is older than me and the host recalls my name from when I was four. She couldn’t remember the names of several of the places but she could tell me just how to find them and what she’d most likely order.

Mom watched my niece bring glasses to the table and pour the wine. She leaned against me, my arm around her shoulder, and said, “I’m fine. I can’t wait!”

Nothing makes sense and for a moment it doesn’t at all need to.

the answers may be
in the trees, but the questions
are not what you think
+++++++++++from Wind Dancing by Joseph Mills

Joseph Mills tells stories. Wonderful wide-ranging stories, in each of which one of the characters is dance. The poems of Bodies in Motion (Press 53, 2022) take me to cities I’ve never visited; to foreign countries; to high school gyms, wild parties, intimate moments. Even more so they take me into relationships and conflicts and epiphanies I’ve never experienced but which I recognize, instantly familiar. The poems, the stories – do they hold the answers, do they make sense of life? Perhaps, probably not, but they do invite me into communion with the family of all humans – in joy and celebration we shall share our questions.

❦ ❦ ❦

At the Arts Conservatory

Music comes from practice rooms
a piano sonata, a cello being bowed,
scales on a clarinet.

Dancers slide out of studios
bend at the drinking fountain,
go to the bathrooms, check phones.

The hall smells of sweat,
detergent, the latex paint
institutions use on cinder block.

I’m here to talk about poetry,
but for now, I fold against a wall
in a way that eases my back,
and thumb through messages.

In a hospice room in Brittany,
my father-in-law is dying of cancer.
The doctor says when the pain comes
that will be a signal. The signal.

Through a doorway
I can see bandaged ankles,
knee braces, thigh wraps.
Dancers balance and jump
on calloused, scarred feet.

They are young and beautiful
and already know a great deal
about pain. The musicians do too,
talking with familiarity
about repetitive stress injuries.

And they too may know
someone who is dying
at this very moment,
perhaps nearby,
perhaps far away.

I turn off my phone,
and step into a studio,
crossing the threshold
that clears away concerns
at least temporarily.
This is what art making is,

a momentary amnesia,
a pausing, and perhaps
that’s all it is because
the signal will come
for those we love,
and nothing we do,
will stop it or change it.

The students regard me,
curious as to why I am there
and what I will ask of them.
A moment ago, I thought I knew.
but suddenly I consider telling them
how I used to bring my daughter
to the school to watch dances
and afterwards she would play
choreographer, each time ending
stretched out on the floor
with her eyes closed, and I consider
telling them how my father-in-law
lives in Finisterre, which means
the end of the earth, a name
and phrase I’ve always loved.
From his window, he can see

the sea, the edge of everything.
And I consider telling them
in the hallway I remembered
when my grandfather built a seawall.
A man, more comfortable with tools
than children, he kept grumbling
for us to get out of the way, then,
once he had shaped the cement
he lined us up to write our names in it.

The students watch and wait,
and I find myself saying something
neither in my notes or my memory.
I’m going to start by reading some poems,
and I want you to see if you can tell
which ones are by people still alive
and which by those long since dead.

Some students look worried,
some lean forward.

Joseph Mills
+++ from Bodies in Motion, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2022; first appeared in Sky Island Journal

❦ ❦ ❦

Physics

We may not have understood the laws of motion,
but we exemplified them. Inertia kept us from moving
onto the dance floor, but once we started we wanted
to keep going and grumbled when the band stopped.
We spent each night colliding with and recoiling from
one another. Forget the falling apple. Isaac Newton
would have looked at our rumpled sweat-stained shirts,
wayward hair, our staggering orbits, and said, Eureka!
Or perhaps he simply would have shook his head
as he drank and jotted formulas and vectors on napkins,
notes he would crumple after closing time as we all stood
on the sidewalk in the dark, a cluster of wandering bodies.

Joseph Mills
+++ from Bodies in Motion, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2022; first appeared in Change Seven Magazine

 

❦ ❦ ❦

Gratitude

After a dance,
thank your partner

no matter how good
either of you are.

Thank them to acknowledge
how unnecessary it is
such dancing

and so how much more
a gift

Thank them
for giving you
a part of their life.

Thank them
for allowing you
to give a part of yours.

Joseph Mills
+++ from Bodies in Motion, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2022; first appeared in The Power of Goodness

❦ ❦ ❦

Doughton Park Tree 4/30/2022

A Good Idea

 

[with poems by Joseph Bathanti]

In my post of May 20, I wrote this: Green is God’s best idea.

I wasn’t kidding. None of us would be here without green. Slugs, snow leopards, billionaires, and all the rest of us, we only have being by the beneficence of creatures that can turn sunlight into sugar.

I expected a rebuttal, however, to the best idea position. Wait, isn’t Homo sapiens God’s best idea? Humans, are we not the pinnacle? To have dominion over all (some would say dominance)? Do grey wolves and groundhogs even have souls? Not to mention old growth hemlocks?

Perhaps we humans, with our large and complex brains of which we are so proud, are the only creatures that have evolved an awareness of God’s presence. Perhaps, though, all other creatures live their every precognitive moment within that enfolding perfect presence. Perhaps we have yet to attain the harmony of oneness which must be every creature’s reason for being – perhaps grey wolves and ground hogs are born into it.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Genesis 2:15 (New International Version)

Here’s a good idea: Perhaps each one us, almost nine billion now, might consider one way we can contribute to the loving care we take of this single known planet in the cosmos which harbors God-aware organisms.

The contemporary ecological crisis, in fact, lays bare precisely our incapacity to perceive the physical world as impregnated with divine presence. We have swapped the lofty vision of the physical world as God’s own abode, sanctified by the incarnation of the Son of God, with the one-dimensional mechanistic outlook of modernity. Father Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity, and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. William Blake

To me, to worship God means to recognize that mind and intelligence are woven into the fabric of our universe in a way that altogether surpasses our comprehension. Freeman Dyson

Look at the animals roaming the forest: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the birds flying across the sky: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the tiny insects crawling in the grass: God’s spirit dwells within them. Pelagius

Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment. R. Buckminster Fuller

❦ ❦ ❦

April Snow

The grass whelps in biblical mien –
mowers spend themselves –

a writ of greenest green,
spangled in sunbursts,

as if Van Gogh decided on
the remnant petrified thistle,

the first violets at his feet,
and painted Billings’ meadow.

Robins pompously swagger.
Swifts (little crosses)

jet above them. Birdsong.
Frog-song. Early spring

by habit exaggerates itself,
the green a blinding recognition.

To the ridge mount pines and firs.
Ancient hardwoods swell

by the day with bringing forth.
Blackberry whip the swales,

its cane shrove-purple
from the long winter.

In Sugar Grove, daffodils worship
on the abandoned Ruritan diamond.

Bases bleach in the dirt.
Home plate is a pentagon.

It forgets nothing.
Life is more than fable,

but never stops stunning earth.
And so: hushed clouds, sheepish,

sheep-shaped, yet foretold,
slip over Snake Den Mountain.

Their shadows blanket the valley floor.
The snow they release is inevitable.

This is how we must think of it –
inevitable – how we must welcome it,

the white behest of silence,
the green beneath it jade, milky.

Joseph Bathanti

❦ ❦ ❦

April Snow and Floyd County, Kentucky are from Joseph Bathanti’s new book, Light at the Seam (LSU Press © 2022). The poems are about Appalachian coal country, its people, its deep spirit, its devastation by the mining practice of mountaintop removal. Many are inspired by photographer Carl Galie’s exhibition Lost on the Road to Oblivion: The Vanishing Beauty of Coal County and these lines are deeply visual and sensual. Joseph’s language is earthy and exalted; it synergizes with his intimate observations to make us reverent participants. Care for the earth as your beloved; enter as an acolyte into this tender presence; discover, deep within, light at the seam.

❦ ❦ ❦

Floyd County, Kentucky

No lintel to speak of,
but a chicken wire screen
door hinged on twelve-inch

block and lattice, jittering,
wind chimes knelling,
each time a charge grunts –

off-thunder rumbling the hollows.
The masonry had been sound;
shock split the seams: gashes

of mortar where it’s been repointed,
caulked sashes.
Number 2 pine gone ashy, fixing

to rot; the dooryard
held in a brazen of peonies,
rickety picket once-white

to corset them, pink-red
like the font in Luke
where Jesus says to John:

. . . the Son of Man hath not where to lay His Head.
Just inside hangs a woman’s shawl,
slick, see-through as onion skin;

maybe it’s parchment,
scrivened in bodement,
the letters gone to blood.

It can drive you to your knees:
how folks set out flowers
and look upon the earth.

Joseph Bathanti

❦ ❦ ❦

❦ ❦ ❦

Doughton Park Tree, 2022-05-17B

Green

[with poems by Carl Phillips, Janice Harrington, Ross Gay]

Green is God’s best idea.

Yesterday afternoon Linda and I drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway for a hike at Doughton Park. Crossing Air Bellows Gap (elevation 1,135 m / 3,724 ft) we noticed the new leaves still flashed mint, gold, orange, pink, some foreshadowing their autumn hues. Once we’d climbed up to the overlook at Bluff Mountain, though, we saw the hardwoods down in Basin Cove fully decked in rich deep emerald and kelly, gradations of green from full summer in the bottoms to pale spring at ridgecrest. Which is all just to say: Go, little Chloroplasts, Go!

The first chloroplast was born about 2 billion years ago when an ancient cell engulfed an ancient cyanobacterium. And then didn’t digest it! The cyanobacterium became a tiny green internal organelle and its chlorophyll turned sunlight into sugar for the big cell; the big cell provided a safe home for the cb. They became first plant cell – a match made in heaven! In another mere billion years or so of reproducing like mad (and cranking out oxygen as a waste product), the earth’s atmosphere changed from having zero oxygen to having oxygen enough to support the development of the first animals. Of which you and I, of course, are two. Thank you, Green!

Postscript re: good ideas and all – Linda and I had parked beneath an oak tree. When we’d finished our five miles (including detour around a herd of steers that grazes on NPS land to keep the balds bald) I opened the car door and raised a visible cloud. Swelling eyes, paroxysms of coughing, nose gusher: oak tree in flower = pollen.

To make a seed you need an ovum and pollen. Every green thing that doesn’t make seeds makes spores instead and is a fern (well, OK, or moss, or liverwort, or lichen, or . . . ). Spores work pretty well but about 400 million years ago the gymnosperms appeared (conifers, ginkgo) and brought with them the first pollen, and when plants became smart enough to make flowers about 135 million years ago (angiosperms) the variety of living things on earth really skyrocketed. Go, Flowers, Go! So if you’ll hand me a tissue, God, I’ll grudge you this: pollen might be your second best idea.

❦ ❦ ❦

The Cure

The tree stood dying – dying slowly, in the ususal manner
of trees, slowly, but now without its clusters of spring leaves
taking shape again, already. The limbs that held them tossed,

shifted, the light fell as it does, through them, though it
sometimes looked as if the light were being shaken, as if
by the branches – the light, like leaves, had it been autumn,

scattering down: singly, in fistfuls. Nothing about it to do
with happiness, or glamour. Not sadness either. That much
I could see, finally. I could see, and want to see. The tree

was itself, its branches were branches, shaking, they shook
in the wind like possibility, like impatient escorts bored with
their own restlessness, like hooves in the wake of desire, in

the wake of the dream of it, and like the branches they were.
A sound in the branches like that of luck when it turns, or is
luck itself a fixed thing, around which I myself turn or don’t,

I remember asking – meaning to ask. Where had I been, for
what felt like forever? Where was I? The tree was itself, and
dying; it resembled, with each scattering of light, all the more

persuasively the kind of argument that can at last let go of them,
all the lovely-enough particulars that, for a time, adorned it:
force is force. The tree was itself. The light fell here and there,

through it. Like history. No – history doesn’t fall, we fall
through history, the tree is history, I remember thinking, trying
not to think it, as I lay exhausted down in its crippled shadow.

Carl Phillips

❦ ❦ ❦

Today’s selected poems are from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA.

Carl Phillips is the author of nine books of poetry, most recently Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems 1986-2006 and Riding Westward. A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, he teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.

Janice Harrington (b. 1956) grew up in Alabama and Nebraska. After working as a public librarian and as a professional storyteller, Harrington now teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has also written award-winning children’s books.

Ross Gay was born in 1974 in Youngstown, Ohio. He is a Cave Canem Fellow and a recipient of a grant from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts. He teaches poetry at Indiana University in Bloomington and gives readings and workshops in various venues across the country.

❦ ❦ ❦

What There Was

Pine, catalpa, pin oak, persimmon,
but not tree.

Hummingbird, hoot owl, martin, crow,
but not bird

Cannas, honeysuckle, cockscomb, rose,
but not flower.

Wood smoke, corn, dust, outhouse,
but not stench.

A spider spinning in a rain barrel,
the silver dipper by the back porch,
tadpoles shimmying against a concrete bank,
but not silence.

A cotton row, a bucket lowered into a well,
a red dirt road, a winging crow,
but not distance.

A rooster crowing in the evening,
wasps humming beneath the eaves, hounds
baying, hot grease, but not music.

My mother running away at fifteen,
my grandmother lifting a truck to save a life,
an uncle at Pearly Harbor, Webster sitting
at the back of the bus when he looked as white
as they did, but not stories.

The entrails of a slaughtered sow, the child born
with a goat’s face, the cousin laid on a railroad
track, the fire that burned it all, but not death.

This poem, a snuff tin sated with the hair
of all our dead, my mother’s nighttime talks
with her dead father, my great-grandmother’s
clothes passed down, passed down, but not memory.

Janice N. Harrington

❦ ❦ ❦

Thank You

If you find yourself half naked
and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
again, the earth’s great, sonorous moan that says
you are the air of the now and gone, that says
all you love will turn to dust,
and will meet you there, do not
raise your fist. Do not raise
your small voice against it. And do not
take cover. Instead, curl your toes
into the grass, watch the cloud
ascending from your lips. Walk
through the garden’s dormant splendor.
Say only, thank you.
Thank you.

Ross Gay

 

❦ ❦ ❦

 

Doughton Park Tree, 2022-05-17A

 

[with poems by Anthony Walton, Camille Dungy, Marilyn Nelson]

The first time down the path leads // to enlightenment, the second, to wonder; / the third finds us silent, listening

What path have you and I walked that led us here? Anthony Walton’s path is through the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge: between firm ground & marsh, between tidal creek and sound. What paths do we recall through life that carried us between extremes, that brought us to new places?

Literal paths: Bogue Sound when I was ten, over the dunes to the ocean at Emerald Isle when there wasn’t a single house in sight. The old orchard cum housing development in Michigan when I was 13, Larry and I walking to the old pond with the rope swing. Fifty miles of New Mexico I hiked at Philmont at 16, thinking every day of returning home to ask Linda on our first date.

And figurative paths: symbolic journeys, decisions made, setbacks, mistakes, turning points. In hindsight do they seem to have become inevitable, foreordained? Could my life have been different if . . . and would I have even wanted it to be?

To walk a path for the first time – well, of course you can only do that once. It’s been a couple of years since I first hiked the trail I now follow at least once a week: pick up the MST at Isaac’s trail head, westbound to Carter Falls, loop trail and back, about seven miles. I walked it today. This morning for the first time along Grassy Creek I saw a Redstart. Every walk, another first time. And those metaphorical paths – each time I recall, revisit, isn’t it another first time of a sort?

The first path, the first encounter, leads to enlightenment, the next to wonder, then finally silence. Keep walking our paths, whether they be sandy tracks, a mountain climb, an untangling of recollection and past reflection. The first time opens the mind, door to contemplation. The second opens the eyes, to see and be amazed. The third time opens the heart, and in silence may meaning enfold us.

❦ ❦ ❦

In the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge, Thinking of Rachel Carson

The elements raveling and unraveling:
groundwater misting into rain, falling

back into groundwater; salt water wash
through brackish freshwater bordering

sea; we two wandering in late March
along the upland, among evergreens

and bare deciduous and bushes held fast
by the last of the snow, the rush and bubble

of the tidal river winding through low tide,
salt hay, cord and spike grass, walking

the path between firm ground and marsh.
The first time down the path leads

to enlightenment, the second, to wonder;
the third finds us silent, listening

to the few gulls lift and caw as we watch
the wind, which makes itself known

in the sea grass and as it dimples the water,
skimming like sunlight until a Coast Guard

chopper drowns for a moment the drone
of cars and trucks in the distance.

Anthony Walton

❦ ❦ ❦

Language

Silence is one part of speech, the war cry
of wind down a mountain pass another.
A stranger’s voice echoing through lonely
valleys, a lover’s voice rising so close
it’s your own tongue: these are keys to cipher,
the way the high hawk’s key unlocks the throat
of the sky and the coyote’s yip knocks
it shut, the way the aspens’ bells conform
to the breeze while the rapid’s drum defines
resistance. Sage speaks with one voice, pinyon
with another. Rock, wind her hand, water
her brush, spells and then scatters her demands.
Some notes tear and pebble our paths. Some notes
gather: the bank we map our lives around.

Camille T. Dungy

❦ ❦ ❦

Ruellia Noctiflora

A colored man come running at me out of the woods
last Sunday morning.
The junior choir was going to be singing
at Primitive Baptist over in Notasulga,
and we were meeting early to practice.
I remember wishing I was barefoot
in the heavy, cool-looking dew.
And suddenly this tall, rawbone wild man
come puffing out of the woods, shouting
Come see! Come See!
Seemed like my mary janes just stuck
to the gravel. Girl, my heart
Like to abandon ship!

Then I saw by the long tin cylinder
slung over his shoulder on a leather strap
and his hoboish tweed jacket
and the flower in his lapel
that it was the Professor.
He said, gesturing, his tan eyes a blazing,
that last night, walking in the full moon light,
he’d stumbled on
a very rare specimen:
Ruellia noctifloria,
the night-blooming wild petunia.
Said he suddenly sensed a fragrance
and a small white glistening.

It was clearly a petunia:
The yellow future beckoned
from the lip of each tubular flower,
a blaring star of frilly, tongue-like petals.
He’d never seen this species before.
As he tried to place it,
its flowers gaped wider,
catching the moonlight,
suffusing the night with its sent.
All night he watched it
promise silent ecstasy to moths.

If we hurried, I could see it
before it closed to contemplate
becoming seed.
Hand in hand, we entered
the light-spattered morning-dark woods.
Where he pointed was only a white flower
until I saw him seeing it.

Marilyn Nelson

❦ ❦ ❦

❦ ❦ ❦

Today’s selected poems are from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA.

Anthony Walton was born in 1960 in Aurora, Illinois. He is the author of Mississippi: American Journey, and editor with Michael S. Harper of The Vintage Book of African American Poetry. He is a professor and the writer-in-residence at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

Camille Dungy edited Black Nature, which won a Northern California Book Award and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. A past professor in the creative writing program at San Francisco State University, she is currently a professor in the English department at Colorado State University.

Marilyn Nelson (b. 1946) is author or translator of many award-winning books and chapbooks, including A Wreath for Emmet Till. She is Professor Emerita of English and University of Connecticut and former Poet Laureate (2001-6) of the state.

❦ ❦ ❦

2020-06-11a Doughton Park Tree

Naming

[with 3 poems by Gerald Barrax Sr.]

Next month I’ll be leading a couple of nature walks for our local trails association. My fellow naturalists-for-a-morning – as we enter the world of trees and ferns, birds and bugs, what special guidance shall I give you? I’ll mention the primary tasks of the naturalist – notice; ask questions; make connections – but what might make our small journey together even more personal and meaningful?

I think I’ll say, Let’s be slow to name things. Yes, we are each going to encounter some things we recognize. We will also each see or hear or smell something unknown, maybe an odd shaped leaf, a bird call, a pungent mushroom. Either way, may we allow everyone to fill their senses with the thing, share the encounter, before we speak its name.

Am I correct in this: once I give something a name do I stop noticing it as fully? I end my close attention, my exploration of its flower, its leaf. I quit asking myself, What does this remind me of? What is this like and what is it not? I’m done. I’ve finished wondering.

Let’s be slower to name things. Let’s extend wonder as long as we can. Wonder is why we’ve come here.

On the other hand, working together to figure out something’s name is bonkers. As in, we share a crazy laugh when we’ve done it. Yesterday Linda and I visited the NC Zoo with our daughter and her family. All day and many miles of walking through Uwharrie forest to visit Africa and North America with a four-year old, what a blast.

Late afternoon SIL Josh and I lagged behind Linda, Margaret, and Bert – we’d heard a very unfamiliar bird call in the canopy and were craning our necks. Sort of a half-hearted cluck framed by a sharp tik or two fore and aft. I’d been listening to birdsong CDs and it kind of reminded me of the hiccup of Henslow’s Sparrow. Nah, super rare, plus completely wrong habitat. Then we caught a glimpse – way bigger than a sparrow or warbler, long bill, yellow all over.

A female summer tanager! High fives. Yeah, we were a little slow but we worked it out together. Totally bonkers. Or maybe not.

 

❦ ❦ ❦

To Waste at Trees

Black men building a Nation,
My Brother said, have no leisure like them
No right to waste at trees
Inventing names for wrens and weeds.
But it’s when you don’t care about the world
That you begin owning and destroying it
Like them.

And how can you build
Especially a Nation
Without a soul?
He forgot that we’ve built one already –
In the cane, in the rice and cotton fields
And unlike them, came out humanly whole
Because our fathers, being African,
Saw the sun and moon as God’s right and left eye,
Named Him Rain Maker and welcomed the blessing osf his spit,
Found in the rocks his stoney footprints,
Heard him traveling the sky on the wind
And speaking in the thunder
That would trumpet in the soul of the slave.

Forget this and let them make us deceive ourselves
That seasons have not meanings for us
And like them
we are slaves again.

Gerald Barrax Sr.
from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA

❦ ❦ ❦

As I recently began reading Black Nature I stumbled through the sections at random until I happened upon a name I recognized – a name may be an anchor or it may become a sail to catch the wind. I followed the guyline of Gerald Barrax through all the pages it touched. Lines so rich, so provoking and impeaching, I can’t be the same after reading.

Gerald William Barrax, Sr. (June 21, 1933 ~ December 7, 2019) was the first African American professor at North Carolina State University, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, and winner of the North Carolina Award for Literature. Other awards include the Sam Ragan Award and the Raleigh Medal of Arts. In 2006 he was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. His teaching career at NC State spanned 27 years and he served as the editor of the Black literary journal Obsidian.

I’ll be sharing more poetry discoveries from this amazing anthology as I continue my explorations.

❦ ❦ ❦

What More?

My lawnmower has awakened the resident god of my yard
who rugs its leafy hand in anticipation
of troubling me again with one of its cruel koans,

this one a small bird dropped
from the sky, or thrown out,
out of the sweetgum tree

where I was cutting
that long triangle of grass outside
the back fence: put there

when I wasn’t looking, it lies
on its back twitching half in and out of the swath
I cut a minute before.

I’m being tampered with again,
like an electron whose orbit and momentum
are displaced by the scientist’s measurement

and observation. If I’d found something already stiff
and cold on the ground
I’d have kicked or nudged it out of my path:

but the just-dead, the thing still warm,
just taken its last breath, made its last
movement, has its own kind of horror.

I leave the small patch of uncut grass around it.
Back inside my enclosed yard
I see a brown thrasher come and stand over the body,

with some kind of food in its bill.
(I was careful to say “bill” and not “mouth.”)
By the next time I cut myself around the yard,

I see the thrasher sitting on the fence above the still dead,
still holding whatever it has in its bill. I’ve described
it all accurately. What more could anyone expect of me?

Gerald Barrax Sr.
from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA

❦ ❦ ❦

I Called Them Trees

The last time
+++ +++ +++ I went to the library
I looked at the flowers
surrounding the statue of Steven Collins
Foster and the old darkie ringing
+++ the banjo at his feet
+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ :flowers planted
in four triangular beds
alternating red and white.
I saw they were all the same kind.

There were others
+++ +++ +++ +++ in front of the building
in long wide rectangular rows
bordered by round clusters of pastel green
and white that were too deep, too dark
+++ red, maroon, for easy images
+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ :I called

them all flowers.
And the stunted trees I
wished I had known, bending over the green

terrace above the flowers
+++ like women whose faces
I couldn’t see washing
their hair in deep green pools, I called
trees. If I had told you would you
+++ had known them?

+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ There were
flowers for me. There
were trees. There were kinds
of birds and something blue
that crouched
+++ +++ +++ in the green day waiting
for evening.
If I had told you would
you have known?

I sat
+++ on a bench among flowers
and trees facing
the traffic +++ surveying all

I knew of impalas, cougars, falcons
barracudas, mustangs wild
+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ cats,
marlins, watching cars
go by. +++ I named them
+++ all.

Gerald Barrax Sr.
from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA

❦ ❦ ❦

Doughton Park Tree 4/30/2022

A Wider Bowl

[with 3 poems by Joanne Durham]

As my years advance does the bowl of my life become deeper, wider, more capacious? Joanne Durham’s new book of poetry from Evening Street Press has me reflecting, and not least because of its title. Events, experiences, memories fill the bowl; when I return to the bowl and drink I discover that the more I refresh myself the more the bowl fills itself. And me. Never emptied, always replenished. As Joanne reminds us with this opening quotation by Naomi Shihab Nye: Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us we find poems . . . .

Certainly. If you are a poet the bowl of memory will give you a poem. If you’re an artist, a painting. If a novelist, a houseful of spicy characters, no doubt. Writers intentionally revisit the milestones and landmarks of the past like a traveler trying to find their way back home after a long absence. Or like a possum in the compost heap convinced there are tasty bits concealed there.

But if I am simply jotting down recollections for the purpose of crafting a few lines, I am missing the deeper power of this image: to drink from a wider bowl. Not a cup, narrow and designed for only one person; a bowl, a communal vessel, something we all may dip into. Something that perhaps actually requires more than one for it to be lifted and poured. Not necessarily to say that advancing years invariably bring wider perspective and wisdom. If only that were true.

The converse, though, certainly is true – one does not need six or seven decades to open oneself to the wider world of human feeling. The wider bowl is the horizon that embraces not only my own recalled experiences but invites me to drink understanding and compassion for the experiences of others as well. When I drink from a wider bowl, I value and treasure the lives of those I don’t even know. Poetry knows how to do that. Poetry invites, includes, embraces – three gestures the world will always need.

❦ ❦ ❦

Learning

What happens to the sun at night?
I ask the four-year-olds,
cross-legged on the carpet,
Marcos confidently explains,
It goes to New Jersey.
April, whose Mom has read her books
about everything
helpfully chirps,
The earth tilts and you
can’t see it anymore.
Darnell with raised arm churning the air
counters, The sun breaks up
Into little pieces and fills the sky
with stars. It the morning
they come back together
and make another sun.

Science and poetry
poised on the edge of cosmic battle,
until my smiling voice
intervenes, celebrates
how children’s minds tilt
on their own axes.
You are creators of stories,
to explain the world.
You carry on
an ancient tradition.

On my way home, I ponder
if we could learn
to live this way:
Each in the darkness
illuminating
one small stretch of sky,
and then together making
a brilliant, focused energy,
from all we’ve seen,
from all we’ve learned.

Joanne Durham

❦ ❦ ❦

To Drink from a Wider Bowl, Joanne Durham, Evening Street Press © 2022, Sacramento CA; winner of the 2021 Sinclair Poetry Prize.

Joanne has divided her book into seven sections to create a chronology, from recollections and tales of her grandparents, to the heritage of her parents, to today’s experiences with her own grandchildren. The themes that recur are love for family and also wider love for community and for the earth.

Perhaps Joanne’s seven sections are deliberate: if I hold a memory of my great-grandmother and my great-grandchildren have memories of me, we create a span that connects seven generations. And if our families, communities, and nations consider in all our deliberations the impact we will have down to the seventh generation, perhaps we could truly discover solutions to the world’s poverty, ignorance, disease, and injustice. Perhaps we would learn this through drinking from the widest bowl.

[Seventh Generation Ethics is recognized as an essential part of the ethos of the Iroquois Nations and that of other indigenous peoples.]

❦ ❦ ❦

Repair

The dishwasher repairman
politely speaks
with a deep Nigerian accent

reading us fine print
on the receipt: accept treatment
or pay anyway for the visit

his body rigid to absorb
the anticipated blow
of our irritation

before we leave him, disgusted,
to do the job
he’ll get a fraction

of the charge for.
Then my husband
offers him a beet

lush purple half-moons
of some alien
landscape

freshly boiled, peeled, sliced.
Ever had one?
I never cooked them before.

the gesture doesn’t
sweep the counter clean,
but it leaves

an even surface
for three people
to laugh, talk, and eat.

Joanne Durham

❦ ❦ ❦

Maps

Every home
needs a map of the world.
Hang it by the entrance.
Bless it as you might
a cross or a mezuzah
when you come and go.
Trace your finger across continents
not your own.
Say names of countries whose sounds
tickle your throat and move your lips
differently from your own language.
Be curious about who lives there,
sharing seas and stars.
Hope to meet them,
fellow earth-dwellers,
all calling this planet
home.

Joanne Durham
[ a recitation of this poem ]

❦ ❦ ❦

IMG_1822, mountain

❦ ❦ ❦

IMG_0768, tree