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Middle of Nowhere

[with poems by Donald Hall and Charles Martin]

Have you ever imagined, while walking a well-worn woodland trail, simply stepping off into the forest? What if you moved just ten feet, twenty, into the trees? Would you be standing on a spot untouched by human feet for years? Decades? Forever?

I considered this years ago when I led, with my son Josh as co-leader, a little crew of Boy Scouts on a 10-day canoe trek in the Boundary Waters Wilderness of northern Minnesota. We camped each night on the shore of different lake. Some mornings (sunrise 0400) while they still slept I walked away from the water into the trackless forest. Did the last human rest on this lichen crusted boulder more than a hundred years ago, a French voyageur taking a break from trapping? A thousand years ago, a young Anishinaabe scout hunting meat for his village? Ten thousand years ago?

Now Josh spends every day it’s not raining trekking the Blue Ridge & foothills as a surveyor. When did a human foot last jump this creek or climb this unforgiving steepness? This corner marked by a chestnut ten feet in girth – today Josh must discover the remnant of its stump. How long must the earth rest from the tread of human feet before all sign of our passage is erased? How far is it from here to the middle of nowhere?

Last Saturday I joined a trail crew to maintain a little section of the Mountains-to-Sea trail near Elkin. The MST is a work in progress – departing Elkin hiking east, you follow Rte 268 most of the way to Pilot Mountain. Our day’s assignment was an orphan – 1 ½ miles of footpath leading away from the road and on through the woods with no trailhead or connectors. Probably no one had walked this way since it was last maintained in 2020.

Everywhere a little sun penetrates the undergrowth thrives: Goldenrod, Burnweed, Wingstem, Boneset, all manner of grasses native and exotic – summer asters up to eight feet tall, especially through the Duke Energy right-of-way beneath power lines. Add obstructions from grapevine, Smilax, fallen trees and in one single year the trail had become impenetrable, almost disappearing except for the white circular MST blazes on the trees.

In a few more years it might have lead to the middle of nowhere. Which is how you get to the middle of everywhere. Which is the trail I want to walk.

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Surface

The surveyor climbs a stonewall into woods
scribbled with ferns, saplings, and dead oaktrees

where weltering lines trope themselves into stacks
of vegetation. He sees an ash forced around a rock

with roots that clutch on granite like a fist
grasping a paperweight. He stares at hemlocks

rising among three-hundred-year-old sugarmaples
that hoist a green archive of crowns: kingdom

of fecund death and pitiless survival. He observes
how birch knocked down by wind and popple chewed

by beaver twist over and under each other, branches
abrasive when new-fallen, turning mossy and damp

as they erase themselves into humus, becoming
polyseeded earth that loosens with lively pokeholes

of creatures that watch him back: possum, otter,
fox. Here the surveyor tries making his mark:

He slashes a young oak; he constructs a stone
cairn at a conceptual right-angle; he stamps

his name and the day’s date onto metal tacked
to a stake. His text established, he departs

the life-and-death woods, where cellular life keeps
pressing upward from underground offices to read

sun and study slogans of dirt: “Never consider
a surface except as the extension of a volume.”

Donald Hall

from Poems for a Small Planet: Contemporary American Nature Poetry. Edited by Robert Pack & Jay Parini, A Bread Loaf Anthology, © 1993, Middlebury College Press.

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Both of today’s poems are from Poems for a Small Planet, edited by Robert Pack & Jay Parini. This next one by Charles Martin stuck to my soul like beggar lice – I’ve imagined myself stuck in a dry spell for the past several weeks. I can’t resist the epigraph by Randall Jarrell, one of North Carolina’s most luminous poets. While waiting for lightning to strike I’ll learn to endure the rain running off my chin.

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Reflections after a Dry Spell

++++ A good poet is someone who manages, in a
++++ lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be
++++ struck by lightning five or six times.
++++ — Randall Jarrell

And the one that took this literally
Is the one that you still sometimes see
In the park, running from tree to tree

On likely days, out to stand under
The right one this time – until the thunder
Rebukes him for yet another blunder. . . .

But the one who knew it was nothing more
(That flash of lightning) than a metaphor,
And said as much, as he went out the door –

Of that one, if you’re lucky, you just may find
The unzapped verse or two he left behind
On the confusion between World and Mind.

Charles Martin

from Poems for a Small Planet: Contemporary American Nature Poetry. Edited by Robert Pack & Jay Parini, A Bread Loaf Anthology, © 1993, Middlebury College Press.

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[My immense gratitude to the Elkin Valley Trails Association for imaging, creating, maintaining, and improving the Mountains-to-Sea Trail from Stone Mountain State Park to Elkin and onward east through Surry County, North Carolina. And for inviting this lunkhead with a shovel to join in.]

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

Fairy Ring

[poems by Jeanne Julian]

The cosmos blossoms by the rotting stump.

“That’s not scary.” We’re hiking through the Haunted Forest with Amelia, age 5. Tree limbs drip with giant cobwebs and red-eyed spiders, bats dangle, skeleton hands reach up from pine needle cemeteries beside the path. The crew has outdone themselves decorating this stretch of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail that, except for the month of October, is nicknamed the Enchanted Forest. Now Amelia stops and calls, “What’s that?!” at the skull-faced ghost bound up in chains, but it’s more curiosity than apprehension.

Past the Halloweeny stretch, though, I see something well off the trail that causes me to stop and exclaim, “Look!!” An immense fairy ring coaxed forth by last week’s rain: chain of mushroom caps that loops and twists and branches through the pines before doubling back on itself. On and on, a new arc & angle appears every place we look. At the word fairy Amelia is instantly engaged. What sprite danced here before us? What might be hiding beneath the ghost-white caps?

I’m thinking, Dang, that is one big organism, mycelia threaded through at least a half acre.

Amelia is thinking, Wonder . . . wonder . . . wonder.

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The Reservoir

I’m looking for Wildcat Road.
There’s a “Free Manure” sign,
two blossoming magnolias, and a boy
who, up here, gives this passing car
an over-the-shoulder glance
as he walks. I’m going the wrong way.
But, here’s a turn for a road
sharing the reservoir’s name.
Clouds cover the sun and move on.
Light sweeps the hills, harried by gloom.
Birches whiten and fade again.

There’s the expanse of lusterless
water through leafless trees:
I’ve found it, rounding a bend.
Angle and clouds shift, and
the landscape remembers its colors
as if a lady’s fan had opened
revealing a scene in lapis, henna, and rhinestone.

We sat her, on this rock,
years ago – April then, too – learning
to touch, and in late summer embraced
there, on the dam where youngsters
scrawl their names indelibly.
In the silence, eddies of air sound “hush”
at my ear. Those antique fans were meant
to conceal, weren’t they, and
we in shadow to forget.

Jeanne Julian

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These three poems are from Blossom and Loss by Jeanne Julian (Longleaf Press, Methodist University, Fayetteville NC, © 2015). The delicate volume follows the seasons with all the imagery and metaphor that organic cycle can reveal. Sometimes the captured moments, the vignettes, the narratives are so personal they become cryptic, but as I read on I discover my own stories flowing forth to fill unspoken phrases. Thus does poetry enlighten and inspire. Thus does it become, in the words of Andrea Hollander, entertaining and useful.

The cosmos blossoms / by the rotting stump. from Jeanne’s poem Loss and Blossom

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Haunted

Each Halloween we hang
ghostlets in the tree,
by morning off they’ve blown.

My friends’ lost boy: how
had he been retrieved? By whom?
Alone? What varnish glossed his veins?

In the hospital they hung
on every beat and breath,
clung to any chance

until their changeling offspring
splintered, vanished, leaving a hollow
husk for them to burn

like autumn leaves or questions or endless
mourning muddled with routine,
travail of the telling and retelling,

dread burden of cereal in bowls
recalling a pajamaed imp held
in the lap, reading The Giving Tree aloud.

How unstoppably he must’ve lapped it up,
a lacquer lulling the limbic brain
until the one dose shoved him over

that last callow October. Still each Halloween
children clamber up the steps for sweets.
“See, I am a butterfly,” the smallest says.

Jeanne Julian

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Melting

The snow that attacked so frantically while we slept
has blistered into water on the branches.
We also melt ut not as completely as Baum’s witch,
who cannot suffer water. Remember the crooner
in the small-town lounge, that ersatz L.A. club,
who kissed you on the left eyelid
when you were twelve? Remember that first
swig of Colt 45 Malt Liquor? Remember the cocoon
of oblivion that sucked you under before
the scalpel splayed your belly flesh? Remember
how the pressure of one finger spirals
your inner hold into ripples of languid indifference
to all but feeling?
One day too soon you’ll let go for good.
Dripping from the eaves, the fresh liquidity
will patter on unheard while you dissolve –
easily, let us hope, easily, and neither up nor down, while
on the roof the newly fallen expanse, unsullied,,
luxuriates under the sun.

Jeanne Julian

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Go on Living

[with 3 poems by Michael Beadle]

4 AM. Reason says you need to sleep; everything but reason says forget about it. Sweating, restless – how long? – I finally force into the background those pricks of regret past & future and focus on the faces of my friends. In silence I speak each name and visualize each person. Then their son. Their granddaughter. I wish for them enfolding arms of peace.

And as I see their smiles I also see their pain. Can I imagine a single one who has not been visited by grief? Who isn’t struggling, right now, 4 AM, with worries for the ones they love, with heartsickness, with loneliness? All of them suffer behind the smiles.

And all of them go on living. Remarkable, isn’t it? Unbelievable. All of us suffer and all of us go on living for those few moments of hope, of joyfulness, of connection with another, moments that waft through our days like some longed-for fragrance – we can’t tell where it’s come from, we can’t catch it and keep it, we simply trust it will return.

Moments that waft through our nights. 4 AM. I breathe out a word of love for each friend. Call it prayer. May we be one.

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Wild Horses

They know they’ll never stand again –
the bay colt missing a hind leg,
the palomino whose front hoof

came unglued, the cream-coated filly
with ebony ears and a clipped tail.
Porcelain stallions paraded for decades

on living room doilies, unbridled mares
guarding crystal jars of peppermints.
Silent companions of cocktail parties,

Christmas dinners, afternoon tea.
If Oma gave them names, I never knew.
After she died, they spent months

wrapped in newspaper,
boxed on basement shelves.
Perhaps they grew restless,

kicked each other in a barn-fire panic,
hoping to free themselves for the rainy day
when strangers came to haggle over

the china I’d never use. Let them
take the pewter goblets, the steins that smelled
like old pencils, tubs of tools

that bore the scars of hard seasons.
The tray of horses was all I hoped to keep.
I came to love them –

not for what they once were,
but, being broken,
how they went on living.

+++++ Michael Beadle

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Poets play with words. They select them as carefully as the chocolate from the sampler that must be raspberry truffle. They wiggle words around until uncomfortable becomes comfortable and we exclaim, Oh! I see! They tickle them until the words gasp out a new meaning they’d never revealed before.

Michael Beadle plays and frolics and romps with words. He flips over rocks and pulls out wrigglers that haven’t been seen on a page in a coon’s age, if ever. If he can’t find the words he wants he makes up some new ones right then and there. He cavorts, he rolls around on the floor with words until they all collapse laughing. He snuffs them up, he savors, he rolls words around in his mouth until he’s sure he’s found just the right flavor.

And Michael sits down on the sofa with words, arms around each other’s shoulder, while they speak to each other oh so softly. I understand. We’ll get through this together. What are friends for?

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The Naming

“What about this one?” I asked.
“Mylax,” he replied.
“And this one?”
“Plumdrum.”

We were at the lakeshore again
among the cool bed of rocks,
our words echoing
across the water.

Ghozlak +++++ Aya +++++ Zephanos

Lifting each rock,
we felt its weight in our palms,
closed our eyes
until a name arose.

Millanthium +++++ Whillet +++++ Lippery

We hurled the rocks
as far as we could
into the lake,
giving them
a new depth to find.

There we sat for hours,
the only ones left in this world
who could conjure
its litany of names.

Perio +++++ Shezai +++++ Calex

As darkness crept into the cove,
we chose new rocks,
hardened by time, tempered by water,
and steadied our minds
for the Naming.

+++++ Michael Beadle

 

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These three poems are from Michael Beadle’s The Beasts of Eden (©2018, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC). Its three sections include deep memories and deeply poignant moments; raucous celebrations of Western North Carolina roots and language; pointed retelling of myths, local legends, and Bible stories. Michael, you’ve made me laugh and you’ve made me cry. You’ve brought a sweet fragrance into this moment. I am restored and refreshed by joining you as friend.

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Yay-long

It is most certainly not a member of the metric system,
perhaps a distant relation to the foot or yard.

Snubbed by the methodical and meticulous
who pride themselves with empirical accuracy,

it endures as a standard among Southerners
when a tape measure won’t do.

How big was that possum? the man at the gas station asks.
‘Bout yay-long, his friend replies, hands spread wide, like so.

Yay-long or yay-high declares without stretching
the truth to eleventy feet. Used sparingly,

yay-long approximates for those who didn’t see
the neighbor’s copperhead startled in the wood pile.

A breath of anticipation between those hands,
experience borne from the invisible.

Yay-long serves memory as memory serves the teller,
and so we nod, eager for the rest of the story.

+++++ Michael Beadle

 

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

Stories We Tell

 

[poems by Marty Silverthorne]

I have a good friend with a titanium leg named Mike.
Oh yes? And what’s the name of his other leg?
Ugh. You should be ashamed of yourself. Although Mike would certainly declare there is nothing like a good joke.
And that was nothing like a good joke.
Who’s in charge of this story anyway? I was trying to tell you about Mike, the king of story tellers.

The story about losing his leg is pretty harrowing, the lightning storm, the catastrophic collapse of the radio mast. Also the one about how long it took the doctors (years) to finally decide to amputate and order the titanium. But Mike has more stories than a rose garden has June bugs. And if he’s known you for one day, you’re part of the story, too. Like his neighbor Marcel who saw Mike fall into the bushes and came running out of the house half dressed to help. Or the other neighbor who saw Mike and Marcel shoveling dirt off Mike’s driveway and came out exclaiming, “Y’all need a young man to do that!”

Add in all the stories that are taking root right now from this afternoon when our whole church gathered COVID-safe in Mike’s driveway to share the ribs and chicken he’d been smoking for 3 days (and smoked portobellos for the solitary vegetarian, me). How for days all the neighbors’ mouths were watering. How Marcel, Jeremiah, and Jonathan accepted the invitation to lunch and joined right in with us. How we sang Happy Birthday to Hal’s mom Charlotte who would be 103 today (and died less than a year ago) and loosed balloons to soar in her memory. And shouted Happy Anniversary to Marcel who got married a year ago. How we drove away from Mike and Linda’s home having been fed in body and spirit.

That’s what our stories are for: to draw us together, feed us, and send us out. Friend, next time we meet I want to hear your story. And I’ve got a few to share with you as well . . .

[Today’s jokes were unabashedly stolen from Disney’s Mary Poppins, 1964]

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I knew Marty Silverthorne from a dozen or so poetry event in as many years. Sometime after his motorcycle accident in 1976, he began to write. When he died in 2019, Marty had spent over forty years in a motorized chair but his poems and stories not only had wheels but wings. He published a number of books and had a long career counseling persons suffering with addiction. He inspired innumerable struggling people to find their own strength and their own voice.

These two poems are from one of Marty Silverthorne’s last books, Naming the Scars. Truth has hard edges, rough and sharp; Marty doesn’t grind those edges down or polish them up, but neither did the truth grind Marty down or polish him off. In the midst of the grueling hardship of quadriplegia, Marty Silverthorne celebrates families, legacy, caregivers, fellow sojourners; Naming the Scars is dedicated For my family and for the hands of angels.

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Inside of Me

Inside of me you expected to find
a motorcycle wrapped around a tree,
whiskey bottles beside the road.
You did not expect to find daffodils
blooming in a pine thicket,
crepe myrtles close enough
to threaten their beauty.

Inside of me you expected to find
the soiled pages of Penthouse.
You did not expect Yeats and Keats
on a linen table cloth,
one large candle with a wavering flame,
a bottle of chardonnay.

Inside of me there are bracelets of old lovers,
stuffed animals martyred by time,
tangled dreams of childhood.
You did not expect to find forgiveness here,
the flag of my soul waving in surrender,
a truce between our hardened scars.
Here in this temple I have created
among azaleas and gardenias, I live with a woman I love,
whom grandmother called beautiful.

Marty Silverthorne (1957-2019)

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Naming the Scars

My right eye is underlined
by a thick-fisted scar
I won in a fight
brawling over a girl
who belonged to no one.

Under my beard line, a scar
shines like a crescent moon,
burned by a girl with a razor
engraving her pain in unfaithful flesh.

Half moon between thumb
and finger on my contracted left hand
I carved with a Barlow,
deceitful blood dripping
moon-drops on the countertop.

Suicide slashes cross my wrist
form a constellation of scars;
the jagged edge of a pop bottle
sliced flesh in rhythms,
painted my portrait in blood.

Crossing my body like a sickle
is a handlebar scar.
One August night, drunk on wind,
I tried to quiet the voices
when the one I loved
said she could go on without me.
I straddled the metal-flake frame,
carved out curves,
filled emptiness with speed.

Black necrotic spot marks the toe
I lost to a surgical show.
In Winston-Salem one snowy Christmas
Missed love so bad I checked into
a private room in a public hospital.
Too long ago to remember, so scar-proud
I can’t forget, I branded this body
with wounds no thread can bind.

Marty Silverthorne (1957-2019

Both selections from Naming the Scars, Longleaf Press, Methodist University, Fayetteville, NC; © 2017

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Books by Marty Silverthorne

Naming the Scars – Longleaf Press, 2017

Holy Ghosts of Whiskey – Sable Books, 2016

Marty Silverthorne – Ten Poems – St. Andrews University Press, 2016

Rewinding at 40 – Pudding House, 2009

No Welfare, No Pension Plan – Rank Stranger Press, 2006

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

Kissing Cousins

[poems from VISIONS INTERNATIONAL by Jack Coulehan and Stan Absher]

Mysterious hominid group left a big legacy in the Philippines . . .
+++++++++++++++++ SCIENCE NEWS, Vol. 200 No. 5, September 11, 2021

The black bear in last night’s dream was only mildly interested in the sunflower seeds I offered. It ate one mouthful to be polite. Dang that bear smelled funky, exactly like Pip, my ancient Cairn Terrier, times ten. And the bear was obviously itchy – I reached gingerly to scratch near the bare patch on its back. Telling myself, “This is a bear. Wild. Be gentle.”

The bear wandered away to sun itself in the hay. I’ll bet my cousins were happy whenever the sun came out. That cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia looks pretty dank and funky. The locals named it Denisova after the old hermit who lived there, Dyonisiy, and when they found a girl’s finger bone fossil way back in the shadows in 2008 they named her Denisova, too. My cousin.

Well, not a close cousin. Completely different side of the family, actually, those funky Denisovans, though we have some grins at reunions. Lately it turns out some closer relatives used to hang out in that cave at times. Real close – Neanderthals. Kissing cousins. I’ll bet we all dream of scratching bears.

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Neanderthal

My three percent that came from you
is chopped and sprinkled like confetti
among my twenty thousand genes.
Just junk, os so the experts tell me.
A legacy as mute as the hundred

millennia that passed before we met,
though I sense echoes of your voice,
your lyric bird-like tongue, and glimpse
the clan, the tools, the hunt. I feel
your hunger, fear, and satisfaction.

Ancient cousin, what can you teach me
about becoming human? Brutality?
My species doesn’t need your help for that.
Reverence for the earth? We understand
but choose ambition and destruction.

When I visualize beyond the fog of time
your presence, receding ice appears,
a camp of ten or twelve around the fire.
You are sitting beside a peculiar
stranger, so different from the others.
You reach for her hand. She offers it.

Jack Coulehan, from Visions International #104, © 2021 Visions International Arts Synergy

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These poems by Jack Coulehan and Stan Absher are from the most recent edition of Visions International, a small but tenacious journal published continuously for over 40 years by Visions International Arts Synergy, reprinted by permission. I asked the founding editor, Bradley R. Strahan, for a little history:

“As to me and the journal, we’re inseparable. I started it in 1979 in D.C. at the Writers Center. I have done just about everything on it except printing and art work. For the first couple of dozen issues I had someone do the layout but after that I’ve done it myself on an old fashioned light table. It’s a 501(c)3 non-profit and it definitely is.

“As for just me, after retiring early, 1990, from the Feds I taught for 12 years at Georgetown University, then 2+ years in the Balkans as a Fulbrighter. After that I moved to Austin where I taught part time at U.T. for several years. During my travels I’ve kept the magazine going with 2 issues published in Macedonia and then 2 in Ireland and then one by the University of Liege in Belgium. [We have] a subscriber base that includes several major libraries like Yale, U. Cal., U. NY, U. Penn, etc.” ####### — Bradley Strahan

The journal is illustrated by Malaika Favorite. The poetry takes you around the world and deep into your own psyche. Contact and subscribe at:

http://www.visionsi.com/
Black Buzzard Press / 7742 Fairway Rd / Woodway, TX 76712 USA

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Every time I read a poem by Stan Absher I feel a pinch of my soul rolled between the fingers of God. Softened and warmed, ready to be restored and molded that much closer to the shape it was meant for.

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We Lay Our Burdens on Time

Head bent to earth it carries them off.
We hear it shuffle its leaden feet
and wheeze and cough.

Poor thing, we think, the swelling
ankles, the rheumy eyes
that look at us without seeing,

at each trembling step
it drops something we gave it –
a grief, a pang of regret,

a vow we thought would outlive it.
It even forgets its own cruelty,
what it filched from us, a bit

of stature or memory or cheer,
what it plentifully gave
of sickness and despair,

it forgets, and doesn’t care,
stands mumbling in the street,
staggers to the corner bar.

Stan Absher, from Visions International #104, © 2021 Visions International Arts Synergy

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IMG_1827

 

[poems by Jaki Shelton Green, Joseph Bathanti, Shelby Stephenson]

Perhaps you saw the photograph in last week’s news: Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee at Kabul Airport cradling an infant evacuee in her arms. A few days after the shot was taken, Sgt. Gee was killed by an ISIS-K suicide bomber while she worked at the airport gates. Twelve other American soldiers were killed; one hundred fifty Afghan civilians were killed. The world is full of hate which can only be answered with vengeance and punishment.

One the last day of her life, Sgt. Gee continued her mission to give Afghan women and children hope. She saved their lives. The world is full of hate which can only be answered with love.

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You are part of the human heart. With her beautiful voice and beautiful heart Chanda Branch opened the book launch for Crossing the Rift last Sunday (September 12) in Winston-Salem. Editors Joseph Bathanti and David Potorti shared the vision that led them to create this anthology of North Carolina poets writing on 9/11 and its aftermath. About a hundred of us gathered in the breezeway at Bookmarks on 4th St. to listen, to remember, to witness, to continue to heal.

Among the poems we heard that afternoon are these three by current NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green and former Laureates Joseph Bathanti and Shelby Stephenson. Twenty years: it’s hard to imagine it’s been that long; it’s hard to believe that it has been only twenty. The world changed on 9/11/2001. It’s hard, but if we seek them hard and also work hard to create them we may find some signs of change for the better. What is the answer for hate? Where will we be at the thirtieth anniversary?

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lifting veils

++++ 11 september 2001

++++ ++++ I

it is a bloodstained horizon
whispering laa illaha il-allah
prelude to a balmy evening
that envelops our embrace
we stand reaching across
sands, waters, airs full of blood
in the flash of a distant storm
i see you standing on another shore
torn hijab
billowing towards an unnamed wind
we both wear veils
blood stained
tear stained
enshrouding separate truths

++++ ++++ II

misty morning
teardrops of dust
choke and stain lips
that do not move
will not utter
it is a morning of shores
sea shadows that caress memory
of another time
another veil
another woman needing
reaching
lifting

++++ ++++ III

into your eyes i swam
searching for veils
to lift
to wrap
to pierce
dance with
veils that elude such mornings
veils that stain such lips
veils tearing like music

++++ ++++ IV
it is the covering of spirit
not the body
my hijab your hijab
connecting interweaving crawling snaking binding
into a sky that will not bend

Jaki Shelton Green (ninth and current NC Poet Laureate, since 2018)

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Katy

After the first plane,
Katy phoned her brother.
She was safe, in another building.

They were evacuating. DJ thought
she had said the other building—
the South Tower—crashed into

by United Flight 175 at 9:03,
moments after the line went dead.
That’s all Katy’s mother, my sister,

Marie, could tell me when I called.
All we had to cling to:
a single syllable, separating another

from other, negligible, mere nuance;
but, in this case, the difference
between escape and incineration—

a seam notched for her in the secret ether,
should she stumble into it,
to pass through unharmed.

To cast wider our search,
Marie and I tuned to different networks,
watching for Katy among the fleeing hordes.

They had talked the night before
about what she’d wear to her client meeting:
a brown suit, a black bag; her black hair

was shorter since last I’d seen her.
All day I peered into the TV—punching
the cordless: Katy’s office, home, cell,

office, home, cell, over and over—scanning
faces unraveling diabolically
like smoldering newsreels, smeared

with hallucinatory smoke and ash.
They came in ranks, wave upon wave,
leagued across the avenues:

the diaspora into John’s Apocalypse.
Those still on their feet staggered.
Others lay in the street snarled

in writhing weirs of fire-hose.
The firmament had been napalmed:
orange-plumed, spooling black. Volcanic stench.

Somewhere beyond the screen,
inside that television from which we all, that day,
received, like communion, the new covenant,

for all time, was my niece in her brown suit
and new haircut, her purse—outfitted
for her seventh day in Manhattan,

her fourth day at the World Financial Center,
six days past her twenty-second birthday.
I would spy her, coax her back to us

through the TV’s lurid circuitry
into my living room. Our perfect girl,
my princess—she had lost her shoes—

wandering the skewered heart of the future—
finally arrived, black-hooded, afire,
eerily mute—toward the Upper East side:

a bus, a shared cab with an old man
who befriended her, then barefoot blocks
and blocks to her apartment on 89th Street

where she dialed her parents and announced
with the sacrificial modesty of saints
that she had made it home.

Joseph Bathanti (seventh NC Poet Laureate, 2012-2014)

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September Mourning

O limbo of life—
the wings dapple
mourning,
a twitter in the field,
color in the wind,
a spider on feet of purest gossamer.

Trust goes up in flames.

Girders

change

loved ones,

doors strange to touch,

all the lovely times

sinking

in the face of the steely plumes

breaking apart

brilliances
under the jet, so silver and
beautiful—
gone—

the going on
lifting

dreams

competing for truth

for dear life’s sake

holding the screams

held together by need.

Give me breath.

Cockleburs on an old man’s knees—
roses November leaves—

the memory of this place

catches us
off center

loses hold
and holds to nothing,

the world seeming
seamless
days of glory,

a tapestry
of women and men
dawdling
and scuffling their
shoes, eyeing their toes,

knowing there is nothing to say

that might lighten the load
turning around, coming back, onward,
never to finish telling the story

numb in the name
of the fluttering flag
o say can the tattered one
defend the fences fenced around
and in and through this century of all times
the way a baby’s wrapped in a shawl or shirt for the
tucking into the arms
clutching dear life so thin
the stubborn holding on
a giving in

Shelby Stephenson (eighth NC Poet Laureate, 2015-2017)

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Crossing the Rift – North Carolina Poets on 9/11 & Its Aftermath
edited by Joseph Bathanti and David Potorti, © 2021
Press 53, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA

Available from Press 53 and from Bookmarks

Links to the NC Arts Council regarding current and past NC Poets Laureate

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Sum of Moments

[with 3 poems by Shelby Stephenson]

While I sit with Dad in the hospital we make a checklist of everything we need to do to close up the house. He had a TIA last night – “a little health problem” is how he’ll describe it to the agent at the News & Observer to explain why he’s canceling his subscription. His scans show no stroke. We wait for the doctor to discharge him, then he’ll take it easy (will he?) for a few days while I do laundry and winterize the cottage in Pine Knoll Shores, avoid the Labor Day traffic for the drive back to Winston.

Check lists. Dad already has a dog-eared collection, each one another page on his yellow pad. I create an updated list on my phone while we wait – first entry, “check Dad’s check lists.” When we finally buckle in on Tuesday and tick off the last item we will have accomplished something.

Or so I want to think. The next five hours in the car generate their own list: find accessible bathrooms, some roadside shade for the lunch we packed. Damn, forgot to give Mom a COVID mask at the rest stop. Unload, unpack, raid the freezer for supper. Make sure we’ve sequestered all the medical records for his appointment with his local doctor.

When I shoot a macro of a flower I want that anther tack sharp, but the blur of stem and leaves hinders identification of the species. Hey, I know all these lists I make are just to keep me hopping from one moment’s task to the next but I see the big picture. I read Dad’s echocardiogram and joke that he’s 94 in the body of an 80-year old. I know there’s a check list whose final box is his final breath.

But then flip the page. Another list. At the top: Remember. Let me tell you all the stuff we talked about on that drive home.

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[TIA – transient ischemic attack: a brief episode of decreased brain perfusion
that may herald an impending stroke]

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The Local Falls

When I come home I walk to Middle Creek
through thirty minutes of springtime bushes
to where the Mouth of Buzzard Branch trickles
with water to bridge the bubbly rushes.

Dangling their legs, a few bank-fishermen
mumble to Chub Robin full moon in May,
cigars and cigarettes in roll-your-owns,
eyes on lead-lines for bottom feeders they

bait with grub-worms dug behind the outhouse.
They fish too with fat swamp-worms freed from mud
near head of Cow Mire’s spring, a pudding-souse
Time works into clumps like huge Angus cuds.

All’s quiet: Daddy sets a turtle-hook
and baits it with chicken guts, one motion
as he stabs the stob, slings the cord the brook
settles, waffling under his location.

His hands gather Nature’s complete cunning.
Love allows for fresh food on our table,
His tongue, lips, face, limbs, and actions winning
affection of his wife, my mother, Maytle.

He’s gone; I help turtles cross Sanders Road.
Interstate-40 whizzes loud nearby.
Every waking day’s a different load.
What glory warriors must have wooed with sighs.

Pollution’s out of honor and our shame.
The sunfish’s eyes bloat like old eyes.
They wear bumps like my psoriasis (blame
chemicals on crops – fertilizers).

I bid the owl keep me pitched with tenor
to carry this: run blue-tailed swamp-rabbit?
I hear the beagles yow-yowing: Jake Mills
says those rabbits taste like the swamp run-off.

Shelby Stephenson

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These selections are from more, by Shelby Stephenson; Redhawk Publications, Hickory, North Carolina; © 2020 Shelby Stephenson. Used by permission of publisher.

A new book by Shelby Stephenson in his 82nd year is an anchor to the past and a beacon to the future. His lines settle you down and hold you fast like the mud near Cow’s Mire spring. His lines open your heart to love, death, redemption – to all of life. His lines advocate for the heritage of language and the language of heritage spoken in unflinching truth. There is no sentimentality here. And woven through each poem is the music of his tenor cum baritone – never forget Hank Williams! – and the gentle humor that wraps an arm around your shoulder and lets you know you’re welcome here.

Shelby has been professor, editor, NC Poet Laureate, minstrel, and most of all traveling ambassador of the word. If you’ve met him or heard him, you’ve been encouraged to read more, to write more. During years of submitting to Pembroke Magazine while Shelby was editor, I came to treasure his rejections, hand written on a tiny slip, invariably with a message like “not quite, Bill, but keep trying.”

Shelby Stephenson still lives on his family farm, Paul’s Hill; his family has “owned” it for generations. Shelby always adds those quotation marks. It must be quite a lofty hill because from there Shelby seems to be able to survey and discern all of human nature, as well as animal and earth nature. His poems may nest in the springtime bushes near Middle Creek but they fly over the countryside and lighten all the sky. He reminds me of North Carolina’s second Poet Laureate, James Larkin Pearson (1879-1981), who in his poem Fifty Acres (1937) sees all the world from his home in Boomer, Wilkes County, NC.

I’m just beginning to see a bit myself.

More please, Shelby – more!

 

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Circling Sonnet Number Two

You call it “realistic” that we should stay
where we are, you among your friends for life
and I, here, on Paul’s Hill miles away
from you and the very feel of a knot
sanctimonious ceremonies would
sour tightly sweaty aspersions barren
of Discord and Disdain and just a ton
of regret that we two should let heaven
outstrip all praise for earthly things and fame.
The easy new is not décor but blood
turned jelly in emotions and refrain.
Your reputation may dull those whose load
might turn both sides from love’s scent
if we do not sound out Love’s instrument.

Shelby Stephenson

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For Robert Frost

When you came to Memorial Hall to read,
Your black coat made your white shirt muss your hair,
As if you were standing outside in wind.
In a speech class I presented a “there”
in “Birches,” letting music in your lines
Lead the way of conversation in rhyme.

I did not try to imitate you, as ome would.
That crackle down in your throat, the doting
Tone seeking for you that turn in your woods,
When you paused, said someting about the road
You took that made for you the difference.
You reminded me of Luke the Drifter,

One of my childhood heroes who brought me
To songs and music, along with sermons
That wadded the pulpit at my Rehobeth
Primitive Baptist Church, yes, the come-ons,
A Brother, never a Sister, lining
Off a hymn for me in perfect timing.

I had never been to a poetry
Reading, by the way, would not have been there
Except for Charlie Whitfield who barged in
My dorm room in Lewis, saying, “Shelby,
You want to see a cadaver?” (Charlie
Was studying hard for medical school.)

I was silent; my mind flashed to Rehobeth,
Mortality, death, promises, and grace,
While there beside a long scalpel she lay,
Uncovered, more naked that a fish, scaled.
I said, “Charlie, let’s get out of this place.”
We arrived at The Hall; I sat blank-faced.

A few years later I failed the law; my
Memory never did lose your presence.
I bought easements, rights-of-way, for towers
Around New Hampshire, saw birches bending,
And boulders sunning, plus those rambling walls,
And I could hear you leading me, always.

Shelby Stephenson

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

[with 3 poems by Crystal Simone Smith]

First day of kindergarten – we pick Amelia up from the bus stop. Glassy-eyed. She climbs into the carseat and takes off her mask but won’t say a thing. Or can’t. We paw through her backpack to find Tammy, well-worn fox companion – nuzzle, no words. We search her face for psychic trauma. “How was school?” “Are you OK?” Silent nods.

I drop them off and drive to fetch her brother from middle school. When we return Amelia and Granny are playing Candyland. Audible levity. After the rematch Amelia hops over to me. “Play, Pappy.”

Hummingbirds in the Andes descend into protective torpor every cold night. Their heart rate drops from 200 to 30. When sun reaches them next morning it takes 30 minutes for the little engine to rev back up. You can watch the brief shiver, flexing feathers, accelerating vibration of their chest. The tiny eyes pop open and they fly.

Amelia wants to ride her scooter to the mailbox, fly through August heat and sweat to chase the rainbow soccer ball across the yard, run and kick and score. When we take her home at suppertime, Mom meets us in the driveway, hugs her bouncing vibrating child, says, “My, your hair is wet.”

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Eastern Horsemint, Mondarda punctata

Eastern Horsemint, Mondarda punctata

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It Took a Village

It took a village to raise me
+++++and when my best friend’s
++++++++++islander mother shouted

in her broken tongue for me to ge’ toff
+++++the building roof, I listened –
++++++++++saved moon rock scavenging

for a safer day. It was a sort of lovespeak.
+++++I was no different than her own
++++++++++bouquet of fatherless children –

a brood of six, all hues and ages. She had lived,
+++++had become religious and arthritic,
++++++++++grimacing as she peeled the smooth,

maroon skin from mangos she offered,
+++++and I’d scoff down
++++++++++before I scaled a tree

to peer at the building – a colossal dollhouse
+++++or real live stirring.
++++++++++and when she stood,

crying and talking to the sun,
+++++I looked away. I knew
++++++++++she was talking to God.

Crystal Simone Smith

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Uncloudy Day

At the tenth year’s dark mark
+++++the clouds are white as bones

and the sky is the sky
+++++where the ocean stand
+++++after the last splattering of night,
a horizon so convincing even
+++++the cynic can glimpse the other side.

For so long I resented the swallowing earth,
held every pinch of darkness –

+++++a co-worker’s harmless but sharp remark:
++++++++++Exhume a body after a year
++++++++++and it’s basically human soup.

my mother stood stove-side once,
+++++her eyes filled with a clumsy glee
+++++as she spoke of fourth Sundays.
Her mother fried chicken after church.

The preacher might come.
All other days they ate beans and ham hocks.

+++++She gave it a name, uncloudy day,
a day that is just so, you are unbroken
+++++by memories where you stand
gazing at the sky, unfisted and glad.

Crystal Simone Smith

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Can a poem be a shovel, stabbing the earth to turn over what’s hidden and dark, to bring up a spadeful that smells also of fecundity and life? Dig, demand these poems of Crystal Simone Smith, into the heart of things, weeds and flowers worthy and alive, discover them all. Dig to the roots.

Perhaps a few poems can dig into our hearts and make us one family.

Amber Flora Thomas writes, “Has freedom made us lazy, we might wonder as we read these incredible poems in Smith’s Down to Earth? Are we tourists in our lives, troubled by a history of enslavement? The voices and stories of black lives penetrate these questions in this collection of poems that don’t coddle or pull away from our earthly struggles to find hope and meaning in our human work. Down to Earth is an asking, a plea to take comfort in the stories and people who anchor our living.”

These three selections are from Down to Earth, Longleaf Press at Methodist University, Fayetteville, NC, © 2021.

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Still Becoming

+++++~after Full Frame Documentary Film Festival

Age forty plus & I still consider
what I can become.

The slave wage of an adjunct is a choice,
the gatekeepers say.

So I teach the slave narrative
to white, affluent students.

A lesson they’ll never find use for – how to
escape bondage without it killing you.

I drive thirty miles with the sun rising in the east.
Every morning I speed – a lesson

taken from oppression – never offer
overtime without the compensating penny.

Often I pass a pulled-over brother struggling
to gaze into the cop’s face through riotous rays.

Those days especially, I consider a career change
or at least, how I can be a better citizen.

The narrative being, we are all keepers
with our iPhones and droids on standby.

I could become the viral documenter
of what can still become of a man

freed a century & fifty plus years
under the same magnificent sun.

Crystal Simone Smith

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Crystal Simone Smith holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte and lives in Durham, NC with her husband and two sons where she teaches English Composition and Creative Writing. She is the Managing Editor of Backbone Press. Her other books are Routes Home (Finishing Line Press, 2013), Running Music (Longleaf Press, 2014), and Wildflowers: Haiku, Senryu, and Haibun (2016).

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2017-03-06a Doughton Park Tree

Earth Trail

[with 3 poems from ecotone]

Several winters ago I built a trail behind our house down the steep wooded slope to Dutchman Creek at the edge of our property. In the forty years we’ve lived on these four acres the trees have grown to spread interlocking arms into a canopy of deep shade; the impenetrable blackberry thickets have marched along elsewhere; deer have eaten all the poison ivy. Now to reach the creek there is only the steepness to contend with.

There was no obvious tread for me to follow except a deer trail I adopted for one leg of one switchback. It took a month or two of Saturdays to rake, hack, hoe, and level about an eighth of a mile of narrow footpath. Even on cold days I shed layers. Sweat and sore shoulders – gifts for Saul, Amelia, and Bert. They will climb back up the hill from throwing rocks in the creek without the scratches and itches their Dad and Mom endured.

As that winter began to fade I returned to the trail to pace its length and decide where to widen, where to stack more native stone for steps. Just into the woods beyond the powerline right-of-way, just before the first switchback, the litter of last autumn’s leaves was dappled white. I knelt to see. Tiny delicate petals, notched fingertip leaves – rue anemone; about a dozen plants blooming to border my trail and nowhere else down the slope. No, wrong, let me restate that. Not my trail – the grandchildren’s trail. The earth’s trail.

 

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Anemonella thalictroides — Rue Anemone

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ecotone is published by the Department of Creative Writing and The Publishing Laboratory at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. The ecology of the featured poetry, essays, and fiction is described in the journal’s apt defining statement: ecotone (n) – a transition zone between two communities, containing the characteristic species of each; a place of danger or opportunity; a testing ground.

These selections are from ecotone number 29, fall/winter 2020, “The Garden Issue.”

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Invasives

The love we walk around with is a dull
tool – though it hangs from our belts with a rusty grace,
like planets expertly wired in a model of space
that slowly turns when whoever built it pulls

some secret string. The other love, the cold,
sharp one, the one that keeps a quiet place
behind our lungs, is harder to see, its face
(some tools, of course, have faces) unreadable.

But I know it, in my life, from the way it makes
me see the lovely world as lovely. Rain,
bull thistle, rabbit tracks, a friends’ face, even,

might be its face. Or does it have your face? a lake’s
face? a galaxy’s? Or phlox? the profane
honeysuckle or maybe tree-of-heaven?

Nathaniel Perry

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Pavement

Arlington, Virginia

Asphalt, bituminous, concrete, cement –
the whole place is case-hardened, carapaced.
The air shimmers with heat; tree roots can’t breathe;
no poured libation seeps down to the dead.

When we were children, this was open ground,
farm field once, where we scraped and scrounged, intent
on grubbing up that other world, the past.
Old wounds – the Minié ball, the arrowhead –

spat blood here. Now the grimy runoff seethes
into the storm drain from the parking lot.
This is the way we cloak our own unease,
muzzling what the cracked clay might have said.

The pavement lies tight-lipped, impenitent.
The scabrous memory writhes here, underneath.

Maryann Corbett

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Nectar

Here, late in August, when even the bean fields
are heavy with pods, it is blossoms that I want,
not the fruit of the season, not the acorns

and buckeyes that the squirrels are carrying off.
I want nectar, the death-defying food of the gods,
honeydew, or the distilled winelike sap of apples

and pears, anything intoxicating enough to make
an insect eat in spite of summer storms, three days
of wind and cold, enough to blow us all off course.

Trapped indoors, twelve, fourteen, now sixteen
monarchs cling to the mesh in the far corner
of the cage where the sun last appeared.

I’ve exhausted my garden, already raided
the parks, brought home coneflowers and
daisies, clover and black-eyed Susans.

Pulling on muck boots, I drive to the ditches
looking for goldenrod, and blue-eyed grass –
all the stuff the makes my family sneeze.

I want the best that the earth has to offer,
not the produce, but the promise of immortality,
that these butterflies, through their children

and grandchildren, will live forever, will fly away
and rise again among the Texas bluebells, will mate
and return to us each spring. I crush an orange,

garnish it with flowers, set a butterfly on the sticky
rim of the saucer. I roll out her proboscis
until it touches the sweetness, and she drinks.

Cathryn Essinger

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Photographs by Bill Griffin. Header Art by Linda French Griffin.

 

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2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

Poetry Submissions Calendar – UPDATE 08/23/2021

Placing yourself at the mercy of the editors, are you?! In 2015 I originally posted a table I use to keep track of when and where to submit poems for publication. Here’s the original post with description:

https://griffinpoetry.com/2015/08/31/editors-mercy-part-2/

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And here is the most recent update:

……….. Poetry Submissions Table – PDF file ……….

There are currently more than 160 journals and contests listed.

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Here’s how I use the calendar:

It’s arrayed by month – look down the column to see what journals and sources are open for submissions right now!

Subscription Calendar Screen Shot: August, 2021 —-CLICK TO ENLARGE

Each row includes the web address – be sure to check before you submit, because requirements may have changed since I last updated!

The row also includes other information such as:

Is this an online publication only?
Should your submission be a single document?
What format files do they accept?

There are more instructions on the table itself. Feel free to print it out. And I would really appreciate it if you notify me of any errors or suggested changes!

In particular, if you have journals you’d like me to add to the table please do send me the details, especially the web address!

I will try to post an updated table several times a year and whenever I have made significant additions and corrections to the table.

Enjoy!

And if you find this useful or discover errors please reach me at comments@griffinpoetry.com

BILL GRIFFIN