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Love is Work

[with 3 poems by Maria Rouphail]

A stroll down the beach at dusk – I was sixteen and she was almost. Would you call it our first date? I think we held hands. I know we didn’t kiss. Fifty-four years later the beach is still there, although not the pier we walked beneath, things the earth makes, less so human desires. This afternoon she is upstairs writing a letter and I have just cleaned up after lunch. Where have we been and where are we going? Well, in an hour we’ll take a walk beside the river.

Oh Wise One, long-married, specialist in domestic bliss and expert in the cultivation of love, impart your secrets! Are you kidding me? I’ve spent all morning making a list and it is exactly two items long: (ONE) Never Imagine You Know; and, (TWO) Never Quit Working to Find Out. Number One becomes apparent every time I assume or jump to a conclusion or utter as comfort some empty platitude (or, cardinal sin, just wasn’t paying attention). Number Two is the quick corollary as Number One’s immediate aftermath and the sooner engaged the better – not Working to Find Out usually invites conflagration.

Which is probably why love is such a necessary obsession of poetry. Infatuation is the hot minute of attraction; love is the cool hour of reflection. Poetry may germinate unseen underground as the temperature rises, but its sprout becomes visible when the creature is leaned back in chair, pen hovering listless over paper, the image of affection growing into clarity within the cool, reflective mind. And as I reflect further, I perceive that the seeds of most of my own love poems involve messing up with Number One and Two, above, only to be rescued and reconciled by the big sighs and small gods of forbearance and forgiveness.

Even now I imagine her at her desk, pen and paper, that elegant typographer’s script, those meticulous phrases – oh yes, I want to love her and I do.

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Annunciation
++++ (after Lynn Emmanuel)
+++++++ for Robert

He wants to be born.
So first he enters the dream of the woman
a doctor has told will never conceive.

He lets himself in through the gate
of her sleeping brain
during a hard snow
in late November.

He give himself eyes and hair like hers,
wraps himself in thick fleece, his fingers curving
over the hem, like a paws of a burrowing mammal.

She wakes with the dream of him still clinging,
I’ve birthed a back-eyed baby boy, I’ve carried him
up the aisle of the church to the baptismal font.

She goes to the window where slantwise
snow erases the houses across the street.
Only a curbside lamp on its iron stalk breaks through,
++++ a yellow clot in the boreal blur.

After she has laid aside the dream or forgotten it,
he enters her body sometime in January.
His arrival ignites engines and fires up turbines

with power unknown to her, making her whole
being a construction zone for the laying of foundations,
the framing of the many rooms of his evolving body.

In April, cornerstone and beam well set and level,
he shows her his brain and spine, a string of perfect lights
blinking the in the midnight sky of the sonogram.

The doctor is speechless. But the woman
rehearses the names of her beloved living and dead.
She will pick one of them.

She watches the tiny heart strobe in its cage.
Beacon of what is coming in October.
A swaddling blanket. A christening.

Maria Rouphail
from All the Way to China, Finishing Line Press, © 2022

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One line echoes in each poem I read in Maria Rouphail’s collection: Even then, / I could not say you did not love me. All the Way to China is a conversation between daughter and mother that spans decades, even generations. Many different speakers inhabit the poems, in many places and circumstances, but the voice of daughter/mother is audible in each, even if only as a whisper. Through harsh treatments, neglect, destructive choices, and pain that whisper of love still works to keep itself alive.

Love is work. In one of Fred Chappell’s novels, a youngster asks his old grandfather how is it possible that he and grandmother have managed to stay married for so many years. The old guy’s answer? “You don’t leave, and you don’t die.” In Maria’s poems, leaving is a frequent threat and dying too soon is a reality, but the magical work of poetry allows the dialogue to continue in spite of, maybe even because of, mortality. Telling a story allows it to discover its meaning. Telling a hard and painful story allows it to discover new meaning that just may open a door to healing.

The final two poems in the book bring meaning and healing forward and invited me to turn back to the first page and read the cycle again: Laudate Omnes (in praise of everything), and Mother and Daughter, Two Voices – III, Daughter. Yes, this collection is the work of love.

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Laudates Omnes
++++++(for Asher, young grandson)

Let’s talk
to the bees.

++++++Let’s say

Ladies, thank you
each and all

for coming this day
to the hyssop and bergamot.

Thank you
for diving

into the boggy throats
of pale blue sage.

Thank you
for letting sticky

pollen crawl
up your hairy legs.

Thank you
for the sweet spit of the hive.

Now to the trees turn and say,
Brothers,

I don’t know all your name
or what families you belong to,

but you over there,
tall and handsome with your spiky green:

if you and I were lone survivors
of a meteorological catastrophe,

I’d live with you.
I’d hole up under your branches.

Leaves and rain
would be our food and drink each day.

Now let’s say thanks and thanks and thanks
for the hive’s honeyed paradise,

for meadows of thick-maned mares
drowsing with their foals,

for bees, horses, and trees,
ocean, plains, and the sky.

Let’s say thanks
for the darkness between stars

which is not an emptiness,
but a rookery

where God dreams us.
And if we found ourselves

on a comet flying
beyond Pluto’s orbit,

even there we would
be not separate and alone,

but we would be
as now we are

in the heart of things,
the very heart.

Maria Rouphail
from All the Way to China, Finishing Line Press, © 2022

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Margie’s Daughter Talks Back

Wood. Shell. Bone. Buttons
in every size and color your mother saved for mending.

You, too, saved them,
in the round cookie tin on a high shelf.
Rainy days, and you’d take it down
and we’d remember
buttons from faded summer dresses,
buttons from coats returned from war,
buttons with bits of garments still clinging,
flesh and tendon of them. Red grosgrain,
shock of silver wedding silk,
fingers of fragrance still clinging.
Attar of rose and vetiver still clinging.
Heft and pour, the cascading clack and clatter
of buttons, like coins or pretend jewels.

You, too, loved them.
You and I together breathed the old secrets hanging
like the kitchen smells in that Bronx apartment.
Buttons from a man’s flannel before zippers were.
Your father’s, you said. And the blue bruise
your mother tried to hide with a lock of hair when
you, looking, and in your small voice, asked,
What happened to your eye, Mama?
as she reattached the right arm of your school sweater.
In the next room the bleats of a baby boy,
and a darkness you hoisted onto your twelve-year-old hip
and hauled through the rest of your life.
Hauled it into my life, too.

Would you believe me if I told you?
I have survived the winter.
Here is the faith I’ve entered with myself,
rule, rite, and rigor of it:
I will not belong to whatever happens to me.
It’s OK to say these things.

Maria Rouphail
from All the Way to China, Finishing Line Press, © 2022

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2019-02-09 Doughton Park Tree

Poetry Submissions CalendarUPDATE JANUARY, 2023

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. Not to say one thrives on rejection, but the possibility of the occassional favorable comment from an editor, not to mention an acceptance, do nourish one’s motivation.

Here is the most recent update:

……….. Poetry Submissions Calendar – PDF file ……….

Since my last posted update in August, 2022, I’ve added another 20+ entries and corrected dozens, including sites no longer accepting submissions. There are currently 278 journals and contests listed.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .

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: January, 2023 —-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 only publication ?
Do they accept simultaneous submissions?
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 to which you’ve enjoyed submitting I can add them to the table! Please send me the details, especially the web address!

I will try to post an updated table two or three times a year and whenever I have made significant additions and corrections to the table. And . . . scroll all the way to the end of the document for extra tidbits, awards for most rapid response, and a new list of sites accepting art and photo submissions.

Here’s the original post from 2015 with a little musing about rejection:

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

.     .     .     .     .     .     .

Enjoy!

And if
++++++you find this useful . . .
++++++you discover errors . . .
++++++you would prefer to have me email you a .PDF . . .

. . . please contact me at comments@griffinpoetry.com

THANKS!  — BILL GRIFFIN

❦ ❦ ❦

 

Never Come Down

[with 3 poems by Terry Blackhawk]

Monty and I are trying some new knots, big husky knots, and we’re pretty sure we have it right this time. The stalwart little paratrooper I got for Christmas, his broad red and white plastic parachute and the web of thin strings that fix to his shoulders – they just won’t hold together. Each time we fold the chute just so, roll the trooper carefully so nothing tangles, throw it as hard and as high as we can, but the lines come loose as soon as the plastic banner deploys. Our man has plummeted to his death over and over.

It’s 1965. I’ve only been living in Wilmington, Delaware for a few months; the heritage of where I moved from to get here is firmly affixed in the nickname all the other sixth graders have given me – “Memphis.” My new school might as well be Mars Colony A, so distant it seems from Colonial Elementary. I have four different teachers, most of them are men, and they seem determined to require a boy to think. On this final afternoon of winter break, Monty and I are determined to have our last hour of fun.

The breeze has picked up. Most of the snow has melted but our hands are red and chapped – you can’t tie knots with gloves on. We pull the last string tight, tighter, fold and roll, and we’re ready. I hold the soldier like a grenade, lean back, and lob him straight up with a grunt. At the peak of its arc the little package unrolls; red and white unfurls and fills with evening’s breath. The knots hold.

And the wind takes our paratrooper higher and higher into the east.

Monty and I give chase through backyards and down long sidewalks in our housing development. The parachute dims and shrinks in the distance. We run until our sides ache and the brave soldier is out of sight. Gone. We stop, gasping, and stare into the lowering dusk as lights blink on in windows around us.

I imagine my little man has crossed the Delaware River, surprising people who happen to look up from the railroad yards, the factories and warehouses. He holds his lines tight; he swings and sways. Catching the last light from that high vantage, now he can see the Atlantic. I imagine him never coming down.

❦ ❦ ❦

The Woodcock

Weary of the daily terror I turn
to the mystic body of the bird. A woodcock
I found crackling the twigs and ivy,
barely escaped from a cat’s clumsy claws.
I feared for the odd angle of its wing,
the surprised flopping it made there,
but I did not fear the extreme length
of its beak or the eyes popping diametrically
on either side of its head. I loved the feathers’
deckled edges and the light weight it made
as I scooped it up and put it, limpsy and weak,
into an old canvas book bag, and when I
released it from that soft safe space
some time later, out on Belle Isle, I missed it
at once, as one would miss a friend.
It whirred straight up, explosively,
toward freedom on the other side of the river,
its pulse now gone from my hands.

Terry Blackhawk
from One Less River, Mayapple Press, Woodstock NY, © 2019 Terry Blackhawk

note: “samples Song of Myself, 10, in which the speaker imagines succoring a runaway slave”

❦ ❦ ❦

Sometimes a knot is so twisted and curlicued you can’t make out whether it’s one string or a handful, much less how it all connects. Let’s see, Catherine Carter told me about Katherine Wakefield’s book, which led me to Patricia Hooper, who inspired me to read Terry Blackhawk. Or maybe the lines snake in and out along different paths; maybe I’m leaving out a thread here and there, most likely it goes back way farther even than that. I know, however, that I can count on this – the connections stretch and extend and I’ve not yet reached the end.

Such a warp and weft Terry threads through her book, One Less River. The Detroit River, subtropical shorelines, paths through dunes and forest, paths through myth and memory – the poems take us someplace new with each turning page. But despite shadows and storms these poems don’t cast us alone into dark landscapes. There is light. Light rises from the companionship of solid friends like Whitman and Dickinson, from companionable invitations to partake and be filled of rich intent and novel images. It is possible to wander through this book and be surprised and also reassured. The path will definitely challenge, because living is a challenge and preserving our world is a challenge. At the end we may discover that we are all tied together a little more closely. Our knots are not fetters but the shared bonds of humanness.

❦ ❦ ❦

The Extinct Fresh Water Mussels of the Detroit River
+++++++++++++++ for Kathryne Lindberg (1951-2010)

These are gone: the deer-toe maple leaf, the fat
mucket, the snuffbox, the rainbow shell. Here, still,

the rusted manhole cover and the chipping paint,
the lights and arches of the elegant bridge,

all coated no doubt then in ice. Here the breeze,
here the freighters but not the car. Quiet as it’s kept,

it’s no secret the keys were left in the ignition.

Absence makes the fond heart wander, the mind
meander, the river to swallow its flow –

the self-same river, the self-same self, even the one
that knew better, the self that knew better

than to pick up a phony ten-dollar bill folded
to disguise some evangelical come-hither.

Com hither, said the bridge.

Little earwig mussel, pimpleback, northern riffle shell,
something lacy yet along the rim.

In the print gallery a dry-point fox in outline
(“Running Fox,” R. Sintemi, Germany, 1944) floats
as if on the surface of a river, water swelling upward
on the verge of breaking up its lines –

Did you float, dear bat-out-of-hell, dear gnashing teeth –
the pointed ears, the flowing tail outlined on water not water,

on paper not paper, on the not-water before there only was
water, where we are floating now, as over a great uncertainty,
a mirroring surface that hides as much as it reveals.

No more rayed bean, purple warty back, O fragile paper shell
Where was the artist in 1944? What did he do in 1939?

You would have wanted to know.

Terry Blackhawk
from One Less River, Mayapple Press, Woodstock NY, © 2019 Terry Blackhawk

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Again, the Moon

And now the moon, its vitreous pour
so quickly come again
moonstruck moon melon moon

I drive the unfamiliar
town, going where Siri tells me
through unlit streets

I cannot dial back to another
moon, although there have been many –
moons of loss, lists, listing oh the self-
consciousness of the moon

Look at the moon in the sky,
not the one in the lake, says Rumi
The pleasures of heaven are with me
and the pains of hell are with me, says Whitman

So which is the lake and which
the sky? With a moon this bright
I cannot find the stars.

Terry Blackhawk
from One Less River, Mayapple Press, Woodstock NY, © 2019 Terry Blackhawk

❦ ❦ ❦

❦ ❦ ❦

New

[with 3 poems by Katherine Soniat]

This morning is the thirteenth day of the first month in the Gregorian calendar. Outside my window the sunlight is thin and pale and all the birds wear their winter flannels. New Year, you say? Seems pretty frayed and achy this morning. Like me.

Not every culture celebrates the new year in the depths of Winter. Chinese New Year, based on a lunisolar calender, arrives with the new moon between January 21 and February 20. In much of Asia this timing includes the first glimmers of Spring, so New Year is a celebration of new growth and new arrivals. In 2023 that date is January 22.

The Islamic calendar is strictly lunar; the new year commemorates the Hijrah, the migration of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina (year 622 in the Gregorian). This can fall in any season of the year; for 2023 it’s Summer, July 19.

Rosh Hashanah (“head of the year”) is the Jewish New Year. By tradition this is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. It is celebrated 163 days after first day of Passover at the new moon closest to the Autumn equinox, between Sept 5 and Oct 5. For 2023 that’s September 15.

In every season, a new year. God’s course is one eternal round. Gray, dormant, stuporous, on hold, nothing happening you say? Linda and I enjoy celebrating the New Year with the arrival of our NC Wildlife Federation Journal. On the back page of every issue is a seasonal almanac, “Jeff Beane’s Guide to Natural North Carolina.” Just a sampling –

Dec 25 – Christmas fern, running-cedar, mistletoe — plenty of GREEN
Dec 28 – Winter holly and yaupon berries are RIPE AND READY
Jan 2 – hardy butterflies out & about on warm afternoons:
+++++++++ buckeye, fritillary, red admiral
Jan 7 – Bald Eagles are laying eggs
Jan 12 – Great Horned Owls nesting and hooting up a storm

And my favorite, on my birth date:

Feb 11 – Gray squirrels are having babies

Life goes on. Time is not standing still. The year is no straight line but a circle always new.

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For Sweet Dreams

Crimson with rash, I’m in bed in a hotel, my box of blue
capsules for sleep labeled: por sueños, dulce y tranquilos

beside me. Swallowing three with red wine, I doze off
to wander from door to door calling – I’m here for sweet dreams

until a figure ushers me into the room where you’re dying. Winter here,
embers smolder in the grate. The scarlet rug with a bear woven at its center
covers you, almost up to the eyes – as if I need a reminder in this room with your
white metal bed on wheels.

Again, I insist that I’ve come only for dreams, knowing that when you’re gone,
part of our darkness will be complete.

From down the hall comes the smell of stew, that domestic porridge,
and I want you, the father of my children, not to die. I promise to stay on the path
with our basket of food as slowly you rise from bed

to hold me from behind. With your hands on my stomach, you say
we’re headed home, and this time it feels right to be going, sundown
in a gold winter day.
++++ ++++ ++++ Then, as if doused,

++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ that dream goes black,

++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ blank –

++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ my basket stone-heavy
++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ and empty.

Katherine Soniat
from Polishing the Glass Storm, Louisiana State University Press, © 2023 Katherine Soniat

 

❦ ❦ ❦

I’ve been stretched on the couch for an hour reading Polishing the Glass Storm. I close my eyes. Pale lights, words with subtle breath, stalking figures fourstep slowly. They don’t make sense – they are sense. But now I’ve opened my eyes and they release my hands and the dance moves elsewhere. On and back.

Katherine Soniat’s poem sequence is the birthing place of memory, dreams, archetype. Time is fluid; memory shifts, now deceitful, now suddenly tangible. The speaker is child and mother, daughter to the dying, confessor, lover. The poems are conversations with the speechless, conversations of the soul with those living and those past living. Katherine recommends reading each section and its poems in sequence so that context can dissolve and reassemble. The images weave and drift; from an expressionistic landscape emerges the story of a life.

This is a challenging collection but worth the sojourn, the journey. From one comment on the cover: Soniat has the audacity to create a mythic language for the soul’s adventure that is utterly unguaranteed, adamantly open to the unknown . . . . More than a sequence, this is a cycle, a turning into and around. No straight line but a circle always new.

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In Bed at Night

In my mother’s house there was no heart.
In my mother’s heart she was always looking
for a home.
++++ ++++ I threaded stories of her, ones neither
of us had heard. Soft ones with feathers
at the bottom.

When my son had a daughter, she came into this blueness
knowing details with a past.

In bed at night playing puppets with the covers, she had
the smallest one whisper, You know, there’s so much sadness in this world.
She was three, and I almost didn’t hear that.

It was dark in the room, and inside her head. ++++ She thought in stride
with nothing — humped-up sheet, her cave in a city on earth
that must might go away.

Katherine Soniat
from Polishing the Glass Storm, Louisiana State University Press, © 2023 Katherine Soniat

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Place Where the Wind is Born

My promise is to stay by the bed, one finger tracing
his forehead into a fountain – up and out of the hospice,
over the garden wall.

He stays and I stay, the loping past, tail to mouth,
circles the room. Feeding. Time twisted about, only hours
left to count forward.
++++ ++++ ++++ Sound disappears. His vocal cords
sigh a bit – the syllabics of this life, done.

Silence enters every muscle. Visceral stillness. His lungs keep
breathing. Little motion but mine that afternoon in the shade-slated
room, the Dalai Lama’s chant playing by another sickbed. The fan
moves back and forth, as I blow breath on him.

He receives me like a sail.
Old Fudo, I tell him, purrs at this feet, the ocean vast and clear –
the tiller in his hand. In a strange, fierce tongue I speak
of what is no more.

Not much to let go – diminished relic of a man, something Franciscan
and medieval about him. ++++ ++++ By the window Buddha sits

with a load on his jade back.

Katherine Soniat
from Polishing the Glass Storm, Louisiana State University Press, © 2023 Katherine Soniat

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2020-03-07 Doughton Park Tree

Walking Through

[with 3 poems by Scott Owens]

. . . walls that don’t line up, some bricks
uneven, some not quite the right size,
and that’s what the mortar’s for,
the gray areas of tolerance,
forgiveness, understanding,
empathetic appreciation of things
being left imperfect, only as good
as we can stand to make them be.
+++++++ from Reclamation

E&A Nature Trail, Elkin rec center, Mountains-to-Sea, Forest Bathing – none of these trails today. Instead Mom and Dad and I walk their customary course behind the townhouse, traversing maybe 200 meters of blacktop. They tap their canes on the far curb to mark the first turnaround; it’s a little uphill and a lot slower approaching the second turn but then all downhill back to their doorway. Some days we keep going a little farther. This afternoon we feel like it’s been enough.

And why do we spend 45 minutes on our little trek, 3 or 4 careful steps per meter? Just needing the exercise? A breath of fresh air? Halfway through our circuit, Maggie’s owner appears and drops her leash, little fluffdog who gallops to Dad because she knows he always carries biscuits in his pockets. Norris stops to share the latest (oldest) joke. Here’s Peggy to check on how Mom and Dad made it through family travels over New Year’s (and to say Hi to this particular family person still staying with them tonight). Wave at Julia who’s expecting company for supper, wave at the FEDEX guy. Comment on all the little gardens behind each townhouse – Nice wreath! Is that a new bench?

This slow-gaited noticeably-hunched deliberate meander is the mortar of Mom and Dad’s days. These few folks they greet, and never overlook the dogs, are their neighborhood. “I’m going to get better, I’m going to walk farther,” says Dad, but even this afternoon it no doubt strengthens him just as much to hear, “I just can’t believe you’re 96.” Acceptance, understanding, empathy for the relentlessness of aging and decline – these hold the chipped, uneven bricks together. Let’s take another walk tomorrow, no matter how meager, no matter how slow.

And you can keep an eye out with me – I have yet to catch Dad slipping those dog biscuits into his pocket.

❦ ❦ ❦

Common Ground

My brother has never kept a single lake,
a single lost grave to himself.
Always he calls, then waits until I
can come, lets me lead the way,
find it like the first time,
proclaiming the names I know, the shapes
of bird and stone, cloud and tree.

Once in the same day I saw
a kestrel, a mantis, an arrowhead
and took it as a sign, though since
I have seen each in their own days
and miles away from each other.

I do not believe God will bend
to kiss this mouth. I do not believe
the wine will turn to blood. But something
knows the moment of sunflower,
the time of crow’s open wing,
the span of moss growing on rock,
and water washing it away.

In the pictures I remember, there is you
letting me stand on the fallen tree
as if it were mine. There is you
letting my arm rest on top of yours
around our mother. There is you
lifting me up to the limb I couldn’t reach.

This is the faith I’ve wanted, to know
that even now we are capable of such
sacrifice, such willingness to love.

Scott Owens
from Prepositional, New and Selected Poems, Redhawk Publications, The Catawba Valley Community College Press, © 2022 Scott Owens.

❦ ❦ ❦

Scott Owens travels through life in this solid, substantial collection of poems, Prepositional. He is coming from it, being of it, finding its deep inside and its dark under, discovering its thrall over and above. And as Scott sees through and into life, he invites us to accompany, to courageously push things forward.

As the newest in a long line of books from a prolific poet, this collection yet seems to be an inflection, an exhalation of breath long held. These poems walked a long way to take their seats here. Some are new but all have been selected to become new. Or maybe it’s their relationships to each other that have grown new, as Scott explains in 13 Ways of Prepositions: every way a squirrel can be / in relation to a tree. These are poems about poetry, its art, its craft, but more so the arising of something greater out of something lesser. These are poems about students and teaching and being a student; these are poems about family ties in every Venn you can imagine. All these poems have gathered here, though, for a common purpose: to water the seeds of relationship; to somehow connect with each other and with you and me, their readers.

When I finished the last poem and laid the book down, this is the reverberation I still heard ringing in my mind: “The world is a wonderful place. You are a wonderful person. I’d like the two of us to sit down and share something of these two wonderful facts.”

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Words and What They Say

Some say you can’t tell anything
from the language that people use,
that Eskimos in fact have no
more words for snow than we,
nor Anglo-Saxons more
for cut, stab, thrust,
and the fact that our words for animals
when we eat them, beef, pork,
poultry, all come from French
doesn’t prove they’re better
cooks or bigger carnivores,
any more than 23 acronyms
for laughter shows that texting
teens just want to have fun,
but when I hear my carful of 2nd graders
from Sandy Ford Montessori School
making up names for the sun,
and the moon, and the stars that only
come out when you’re camping and the fire
goes out, and you turn off your flashlights
while our mother holds you in her arms,
I can’t help but believe
that not only is there hope for us all
but that the hope we have
is strongest when we find a way
to put it into words.

Scott Owens
from Prepositional, New and Selected Poems, Redhawk Publications, The Catawba Valley Community College Press, © 2022 Scott Owens.

 

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Of

Poetry is contrary to productivity.
Poetry encourages idleness.
Poetry stands at the window
because it is curious about the flowers,
this flower with its yellow fringed face
around its one brown eye.
Poetry stands at the window
because it is curious about the trees,
this tree with heart-shaped leaves,
some turning yellow in the first
days of fall, some fallen off and still
the limbs reaching up to the sky.
Poetry stands at the window
because it is curious about the sky,
how it got there, where it goes,
what it’s like where it ends.
Poetry wants the window down.
Poetry walks back and forth
through a field going nowhere.
Poetry thinks it’s okay to look
at the same sky day after day,
sometimes minutes at a time,
sometimes with no other purpose
but remembering blue.

Poetry refuses to follow the rules
of efficiency: get in line,
speak only when spoken to,
never say anything that would embarrass your mother.

The first poem ever written was a drum.
The first poem ever written was a foot
tapping on the side of the crib.
The first poem ever written was a rope
slapping the red clay playground
of William Blake Elementary School.

It is not necessary for poetry
to be beautiful
though sometimes it is.
It is not required of poetry
that it be profound
though it rarely closes its eyes.
It is not expected that the face
of poetry be etched with tears,
the hair dripping with sweat,
the mouth expressing awe.
Poetry owes nothing to anyone.

Still, poetry wakes up each morning,
walks to the edge of the world
and jumps, believing one time
it will fly, believing one time
the dive will not end, believing one time
an answer will rise from somewhere beyond.

Scott Owens
from Prepositional, New and Selected Poems, Redhawk Publications, The Catawba Valley Community College Press, © 2022 Scott Owens.

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Redhawk Publications; The Catawba Valley Community College Press;
2550 US Hwy 709 SE; Hickory, NC 28602.
Prepositional, New and Selected Poems by Scott Owens.

❦ ❦ ❦

A Parting Glass

[with 3 poems by Brad Strahan]

Though faces fade as years fly past
I raise to you this parting glass.

What shall we keep when the house has shed its bustle and the clock makes known its ticking from the next room? Bright paper discarded, plates stacked, car doors slammed as farewells spiral out into the cold, biting, stark? What shall we keep when not presents but this present settles itself again into the chair beside us, all its remarks past uttering?

My hands in the suds, Linda passes me crockery and remarks, “I wonder what the next year will be like.” “Different from this one,” I say without thinking, but then I start the tally. What gloom do I hope will not be repeated and how shall I number the gathering portents that threaten? Whoa, there. Why does it slip in so easily, no effort at all, this brooding on past troubles and fretting about some foreboding future yet unseen?

Share in the closing refrain from the Irish folk song, “The Parting Glass”:

But since it has so ought to be
By a time to rise and a time to fall
Come fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all!

I have no resolutions; so little of this past year seems resolved. I have responsibilities and unfulfilled tasks and hovering demons aplenty, but let us pause a moment in this rare quietude to let the little mice of joy creep in from the corners. A young girl’s laughter, a little boy’s raised eyebrows, an afternoon walk with a teenager grown suddenly voluble, a recollection shared with a beloved companion – there is time enough to fall, time enough to mourn, but time as well for a smile if we but make it so. What we keep and what we carry – may they rest light upon our shoulders tomorrow.

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What Shall We Keep?
(a moment in Ireland, where the world ends)

And the answer that comes back
is the wind off the Irish sea.
Not to be, not to see,
beyond understanding.

This damaged flesh we hold,
a fortress against nothing,
like the ruined Viking towers;
exclamations left
after the words are erased.

Should we care what wind blows
our dust into tomorrow?
Could we feel the rain
that washes clean the green face
of this unsceptred isle?

Would we matter when
even our names are washed
clean as the stones in those
abandoned churchyards?

Somehow, blessed between green
and gray; sometime, bound between
the blaze of Fall and white Winter
I have loved you and maybe
that is answer enough.

Bradley R. Strahan
from A Parting Glass, BrickHouse Books, Baltimore, MD; © 2014 Bradley R. Strahan

plant, trail

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“A remembrance of Ireland” is how Brad Strahan describes A Parting Glass, his collection inspired by a year in Mallow, County Cork. His wife Shirley had “filled the long-vacant post of organist” and in addition to the congregation of St. James, Church of Ireland, they were welcomed into the community of poets. These fourteen poems are themselves a spare congregation, the lines spare, reverent, musing, and infused with the philosophy of rain-washed green island and mossed stones in ancient churchyards.

Fitting and more than fitting are these poems for the final few days of another roiling storm-tossed year. These are the days when we plant our feet and hope to feel what anchors us to the turf before the next year launches forth, uncertain, yes, but bright and hopeful for what it may discover. This is the reckoning, the nod of acquiescence when my grandson calls out to me, “Old man!”, the acceptance that a new year is no newer than any day which begins with taking another breath.

Read these poems in the warm companionship of ghosts that welcome your presence. Read and find company with the distant traveler and the warm hearth. With days of green and gray passed, passing, yet to pass. Raise your glass, all of us raise our glasses to the joy that may find each one.

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Hymn

Winter, solid to the bone,
melts in the music.
Colored light pearls
the faces in the wooden pews.

The news, good or bad,
has no foothold here.
The cold rain and snow
vanish in a flame of song.

Here we robe our tarnish
in vestments of harmony:
snow crystal bells
and a storm of organ-sound.

Here we are, not what we are
but what we would be,
notes on a purer staff,
leaning hard from brass to gold.

Bradley R. Strahan
from A Parting Glass, BrickHouse Books, Baltimore, MD; © 2014 Bradley R. Strahan

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A Book of Common Prayer
(St. James Church, Mallow)

Let me not for the flowers
by the altar placed.

Let me not for the windows
that gleam with grace.

Let me not for the music,
simple voices raised.

Let me still recall
the goodness that amazed

though nothing follows
being in this state of grace:

no more smiles, no more roses
and none there to embrace.

Bradley R. Strahan
from A Parting Glass, BrickHouse Books, Baltimore, MD; © 2014 Bradley R. Strahan

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NOTE: if you would like to purchase a copy of A Parting Glass from Bradley Strahan, please comment on this post or email me at comments@griffinpoetry.com.
++++++++++++++++++++++ Thanks! — Bill

 

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2017-03-06a Doughton Park Tree

A Morning to Astonish

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

❧ ❧ ❧

Let the Stable Still Astonish

Let the stable still astonish:
Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child,
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.

Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said: “Yes,
Let the God of all the heavens and earth
be born here, in this place.” ?

Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms of our hearts
and says, “Yes, let the God
of Heaven and Earth
be born here —-

in this place.”

Leslie Leyland Fields

❧ ❧ ❧

from
The 2022 Elkin Community Chorus
60th Anniversary Christmas Concert
Tonya Smith Directing
Lillie Sawyers – Alto Solo
Amy Johnson – Piano
Sylvia Grace Smith – Cello

 

Let the Stable Still Astonish
composed by Dan Forrest, lyrics Leslie Leyland Fields

[Digitally recorded on December 4, 2022,
First Baptist Church of Elkin, North Carolina
by John Rees, GodsChild Records, Mt. Airy, NC
Digitally mastered and distributed by John Williams,
Engineer, Douglasville, GA]

 

❧ ❧ ❧

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

❧ ❧ ❧

 

 

❧ ❧ ❧

2016-10-17b Doughton Park Tree

Join the Lays

Lessons & Carols

Linda and I opened our favorite Christmas present early. In November, our friend and fellow vocalist, Rebecca, had invited us to sing with her choir for their Festival of Lessons and Carols this fourth Sunday of Advent; their small group was dwindling in size and they had no tenor. Becky is a director of deep sensibility and infectious joy, and her husband Eric is a virtuoso organist and musicologist. If a naturalist is someone overcome with wonder at the organization and life history of tiny wildflowers and beetles, then a musicologist is one who discovers wonder and creates joy in the ecology of music.

The Lessons are a series of readings from Old and New Testament that reveal God’s presence in the world: creation; prophecy of the Messiah and the promised kingdom of peace; the arrival of Immanuel, God With Us. Each lesson is punctuated with music, the Carols. For this year’s service, Eric compiled a sequence of early American hymns and folk tunes, melodies that were once on every tongue but through the decades have largely fallen from familiarity and favor: Shape Note, Shaker, Appalachian, Moravian. We practiced, we rehearsed, and on Sunday morning with the Corda String Quartet and thundering pipe organ, we sang.

 

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THIRD LESSON: The king is coming and will usher in a reign of justice for the poor and peace for all of God’s creation. There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. (Isaiah 1:1)

Behold a Lovely Vine
. . .
Shall feeble nature sing
and man not join the lays,
O may their throats be swell’d with notes
and fill’d with songs of praise.
. . .
++++++ Jeremiah Ingalls (1764-1838)

If nature itself sings the praises of earth and all it holds, how can we help but join in? Lays are medieval ballads, songs sung by minstrels. This hymn from 1805 retells Old Testament prophecies using metaphor and symbolic imagery. Interwoven is the theme that Nature fulfills its purposes and exists in harmony with the flow of creation. May we humans hope to be restored to that same harmony and oneness? Nature may become our “spiritual training ground.” Poetry and song throughout the 19th century reflect this vision of the perfection of nature as an example for humankind, as in the book length poem Wilderness and Mount by Ellen T. H. Harvey:

Here is the field: the insects in the grass
Sing praise as by their little tents we pass.
They are in harmony with all God’s move:
Ah, why can man do any less than love?

++++++ Ellen T. H. Harvey, 1872

Observation, identification, contemplation: is it possible that these insignificant grasses and insects reveal wisdom? Is it possible that I might see past the fractures and trials of my daily preoccupations to discover a truer purpose? To love?

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NINTH LESSON: John unfolds the great mystery of the incarnation. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (Gospel of John 1:1)

Surely at my age, threescore and ten, I have discovered my life’s purpose. I have degrees in biochemistry and medicine; I’m a trained and certified naturalist. Where is God in all of this? Where is the natural theology that integrates quantum reality and molecular genetics and the transcendent experience of oneness with the universe?

Word – Logos – is intrinsic and essential to every atom and its component quarks, to nucleic acids infinitely recombining, to each minute dust-like spore of the luxuriant fern, to tangles of neurons from whose organized chaos arises thought. Word is that which calls us; that which explains and enlightens; that challenges and assures; that speaks the inchoate and expresses the ineffable, uncreated and continuously creative.

Word is the beak of the finch and the long tapered nectary of the orchid. Word is Hawking radiation and Planck’s constant. Word is the affinity of carbon to bond with nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, and most wonderfully of all with itself. Word is the specific heat of water which permits a planet the proper distance from its star to moderate its climate.

Where is God? In all of this. There is nothing that is not God.

We have words, paltry words, but we use them the best we can to express Word. Sometimes we call it poetry – non-linear, condensed and rarified, transcendent. Ponder the individual words and they scatter like grains of sand running through your fingers. Cup them and hold them whole, lift them on the wings of music, organ and strings, melody and harmonies. In this fullness and flow of words we might hope to experience Word.

A crescendo sung by a choir – a goldfinch plucking down from a thistle – a speck of grey-green lichen on a metal post: O may our throats be swell’d with notes!

Behold a Lovely Vine

Behold a lovely vine
her in this desert ground;
the blossoms shoot and promised fruit
and tender grapes are found.

It’s circling branches rise
and shade the neighb’ring lands;
with lovely arms she spreads her arms,
with clusters in her hands.

This city can’t be hid,
it’s built upon a hill;
the dazzling light it shines so bright
it doth the vallies fill.

Ye trees which lofty stans
and stars with sparkling light;
Ye Christians hear both far and near,
Tis joy to see the sight.

Shall feeble nature sing
and man not join the lays,
O may their throats be swell’d with notes
and fill’d with songs of praise.

Glory to God on high,
for His redeeming grace,
the blessed Dove come from above
to save our ruined race.

++++++ Jeremiah Ingalls (1764-1838)

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And of course the most important and utilitarian facet of the word Lays is that it rhymes with Praise.

Thank you to Central United Methodist Church, Mt. Airy, NC.
Thank you to Rebecca Cook – she lifts her arms and we raise our voices.
Thank you to Eric Cook, master of multiple manuals, for devising this inspiring program and equal thanks for his copious and enlightening notes.

Ellen H. T. Harvey, Wilderness and Mount: A Poem of Tabernacles. John Bent, Publisher; Boston, 1872.

Brett Malcolm Grainger, The Vital Landscape: Evangelical Religious Practice and the
Culture of Nature in America, 1790-1870. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Divinity School (2014).

❦ ❦ ❦

IMG_7952

 

Darkness

 

[with 4 poems by Joan Barasovska]

In just a few days our home planet will reach that point in its yearlong circumsolar peregrination at which it will feel the maximum effect of its 23 degree axial tilt off the perpendicular. In other words, today is way too close to the solstice for us to have waited until 3:30 to begin our 5 mile hike.

Byrd’s Branch to Grassy Creek and out to the far terminus of Forest Bathing: when we turn at last to retrace our steps we see that the shadows have lengthened into no shadows at all. Splitting the utter stillness as we skirt Klondike Lake, fifty geese suddenly spook and lift and wheel over us. The urgency of their wings is the sound night makes when it is falling too fast. As we leave the creek and climb up from the shadowy vale, we do regain a bit of skyglow from the western horizon, that thin chill winter platinum that can’t penetrate between the gray trunks closing around us but which persists in the pale leaves covering the path. Light still leads us on.

Serenely quiet here. No breath of breeze, no quarreling crows, no road noise. The squirrels have hushed their startled rattling up the hickory trees. We can’t see into the cloaked woods; we imagine we’re entirely alone until our last companion calls. A Towhee sings his plaintive two-note motet, his mate answers, and they ferry us along the trail.

Here’s the road crossing, isolated rural lane. Only another mile to our car – a mile through Mr. Byrd’s close-planted white pine woodlot. Shall I describe the pathway leading down into the embrace of those lowering dense-woven needled boughs?

It’s dark!

❦ ❦ ❦

Sore Throat

The best light in our rowhouse on St. James Street
is from the tall front windows in the living room.
I wait by the window in my pajamas for Dr. Barol
to ring the doorbell and for his jolly voice.
I’m to sit on the piano bench where he can see best,
his black leather bag beside me, its jaw wide open.
He stands above me in horn-rimmed glasses and bow tie,
shakes down the mercury in his glass thermometer.
He tells me to say AH and says, Open wide.
My tonsils are infected again, he tells my mother.

I want him to convince her to pity me.
Tell her I must stay in bed for a week.
Tell her to be nicer when she talks to me.
Don’t tell my mother that sickness
is what I crave most of all.
I’m sure he can tell. He’s shined a light
in my throat and ears so many times
he must know my trick.
I’m a little girl who believes she can
make herself sick just by being sad.

The nurse at school, Mrs. Marx, knows me well.
She rolls crinkly paper down the padded leather
table so I can rest with her if no one else is there.
She plays the opera music she loves on her radio.
I know she knows my secret, but maybe
she forgives me. From the bottom of my being
I want the gentleness that only sickness gets you.

But it doesn’t really work that way.
My throat is so sore. My mother’s angry
that I’m sick again. She has too much to do.
She makes me Cream of Wheat
with brown sugar. She pours medicine
from a brown bottle into a spoon.
She takes my temperature, gives me baby aspirin,
puts cool washcloths on my forehead, changes
the sheets. She does all that she should do.
I need what I can’t name.

Joan Barasovska
from Orange Tulips, Redhawk Publications, The Catawba Valley Community College Press, Hickory NC, © 2022

❦ ❦ ❦

Darkness. It creeps to overtake you whether you mark its arrival or not. Once surrounded, engulfed, overwhelmed, you may imagine that the darkness is all. That there is no way out, that there is nothing other than darkness.

Joan Barasovska’s Orange Tulips, a memoir in narrative verse, is a path into darkness. The world of this girl child opens with joy but already hints of inexplicable sadness; the adult journeys through suffering, doubt, pain, the wrenching temptation of hopelessness. Despair is palpable.

But no life is a single arc. There are many stories and their outcomes are not foreordained. An unexpected door may open into light. The arc of another person entwines with our own and we are touched, changed. As memoir, Joan’s story begs to be read cover to cover, front to back in a single sitting. I am lifted into the promise of light by the possibility of healing and redemption in its final pages. I am finished with the book, but it is not finished with me.

❦ ❦ ❦

1963

I’m a merry Girl Scout in green uniform
and felt beret. My troop is walking east across
the Schuylkill River Bridge. It’s an old bridge,
prickly sandstone under our palms.

You can sit on the ledge if you’re brave.
You can stand on the ledge if you’re foolish.
We look between the columns way down ito the water.
How deep is it? Miss Kelly doesn’t know.

What I care about, in one breath, is the impact of a fall.
The magnet of the gray river. The sick.
I don’t ask Miss Kelly why people jump.
She knows about hikes, knots, campfires.
Starting today, I’m the authority on jumping.

Merit badges, saddle shoes, jokes I am famous for.
I am nine, maybe ten.
Now I have a secret so strong it makes me dizzy.
On my honor, for God and my country,
it’s 1963 and I have fallen down.

Joan Barasovska
from Orange Tulips, Redhawk Publications, The Catawba Valley Community College Press, Hickory NC, © 2022

❦ ❦ ❦

All Wrong

Done so many things wrong
I don’t know if I can do right.
+++++++++++++ – Tracy Chapman

The built world defeats me.
My apartment, the building
where I answer phones,
the sidewalks I walk on,
have all done great things
to my nothing at all.

If I were in charge
this city would be empty,
wind blowing soot.
Just look at me!
A shandah, disgrace,
such a smart girl,
dropout, breakdown,
breakup, crackup.

I am twenty.
I read long novels.
I walk and walk.
I only feel well
on trains and buses.
I draw odd diagrams
in small books.

I don’t wonder
why I’m done for.

I only want to be
as useful as a sidewalk,
to hammer one nail straight.

Joan Barasovska
from Orange Tulips, Redhawk Publications, The Catawba Valley Community College Press, Hickory NC, © 2022

❦ ❦ ❦

The Day I Walked on Fire

it wasn’t fire
it was gingko leaves
the sun lit them yellow
they were juicy with heat

the day I walked on ginkgo leaves
I imagined they were fire
that my shoes were melting
that my feet were burning

and I felt no pain
on that autumn day
when I burned to be
a holy woman

Joan Barasovska
from Orange Tulips, Redhawk Publications, The Catawba Valley Community College Press, Hickory NC, © 2022

❦ ❦ ❦

2017-02-11 Doughton Park Tree

Singing

 

[with 3 poems by Aruna Gurumurthy]

One directs from the piano while he plays, his left eyebrow for entrances, the right to cut us off. Another tells us stories about her middle school students, then gets us to open our mouths like grownups. The beautiful one coaches our vowels with a baritone so luscious even we ourselves begin to believe. The one with a degree in percussion can direct 6/8 with his right hand and 4/4 with his left – simultaneously. The one no longer quite young requires all her sopranos to sing as if they are. The forever younger one jokes with us constantly until someone sings a terminal s at the end of the upbeat instead of the up of the downbeat (some in the tenor section refer to this gaff as “showing your ess”).

And all of us gathered around our director? We sing.

We sing not merely phonating, mouths formed, palates elevated, cords vibrating. We sing not merely vocalizing, words in rhythm on pitch. Not merely making a joyful noise. Singing together is less about what issues forth from between our lips and more about what flows into our ears, listening to our brothers and sisters on either side. And the together in singing together is most of all about what we see, eyes lifted from the score, alert, watching our leader, his hands, her face, their power to slow and soften us into tenderness, to swell us to climax, to make us one.

Singing together: leader, voices, music, lyric, all coalesce into one wholeness, one flow, one message – the song.

❦ ❦ ❦

Madras

Tied in seventeen years of matrimony,
we lick the glazed onions and potatoes
of a masala dosa
from banana leaves at Karpagambal Café.

The scent and steamy ascent
of filtered coffee wraps around tunes
of the Tamil melody Ennavale.

He touches my swinging earrings
as I nod through tales of yesterday,
picking just the good ones,
the greener exits off the highway.

Breathless by the ocean, we watch
Earth’s blazing empress undress on miles of blue.

To heartbeats of the Ferris wheel,
we crack hot, roasted groundnuts,
glance at fluttering pigeons
and faraway people.

He pulls out three rupees for the jasmine braider,
tucks those flowers in my black curls,
smells the white, drooping malas
bounce in my hair
as we kick the wet sand on the pier.

Morning mantras resound
under the temple arches of Anna Nagar.
Garlands of marigolds sway to the singing breeze.
Devotees, we circle around the Ganesh deity,
break a coconut, drink the holy water
and make offerings for a good day.

We take a rickshaw to my mother’s brick cottage.
Crows caw on the neighbor’s wall
as we amble down the pebbled aisle.
A drop of dew slides on a hibiscus,
its yellow mellows even a passerby’s gloom.

I step on kolams, starry rice powder tattoos
on the foyer floor, dusting our rising dreams

of the shores of a white sand beach
dimmed by the dwindling sun,
where we curl our fingers
as the waves unfurl at our feet
and touch our breathing bodies.

Aruna Gurumurthy
from storySouth Issue 54: Fall 2022

❦ ❦ ❦

Cumin and mustard seeds pop in the oil, fragrant steam from onions, garlic, coriander, cardomom wafts us away from a cold, overcast day in the North Carolina piedmont to a warmer clime that gently challenges all our sense. Aruna Gurumurthy’s poems taste exotic. Sometimes the masala is hot and makes us sweat, sometimes it’s sweet and floral, but always fresh: an unexpected description, imagined encounter, cultural reference. Whether her setting is her home in Chapel Hill or her themes are as commonplace as home, motherhood, a morning in the garden or an afternoon in the kitchen, Aruna seasons each poem with a hint of something new.

Madras was runner-up for the 2022 Randall Jarrell Award of the North Carolina Writer’s Network. The Embrace and I Went to the Bottom of the Well are from Aruna’s 2020 book of prose poems, Down the Grassy Aisles.

❦ ❦ ❦

The Embrace

The growing vine, she helixes around the naked branches of the Oak. She travels through a gazebo, she dances about, the bounce loosening up a passerby’s grimace, with a musical glow, an oomph to the soul. Resplendent raw sienna, her body touches the tree. A cherub of twenty-four months, she has grown and crawls to embrace me. A subtle Shangri-La, a mystic Bethlehem, the dancing duos in he arms of Mother Earth.

Aruna Gurumurthy
from Down the Grassy Aisles, Kelsay Books, American Fork UT, © 2020

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I Went to the Bottom of the Well

They hated me, a timid teenager. They bit me with mean dragon faings, making me weak, shredded from within, stripped of my faith. The dragon’s fumes roared at me, turning its neck from side to side. I felt like a trembling half-dead cockroach. Left me feeling like they had shot me in the head, but I bled from down there. After it all, the dragon dove into the wter, escaping, extinguishing. I went diving too, to the bottom of the well. There lay a small, shining silver coin. I swam my way through layers of despair, arms as though mustering a breaststroke, and my fingertip reaching out for that coin – my faith. I had found my faith.

Aruna Gurumurthy
from Down the Grassy Aisles, Kelsay Books, American Fork UT, © 2020

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2018-02-09 Doughton Park Tree

 

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