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[with 3, no, 4 poems by Paul Jones]

Oh well . . . life goes on . . .

No it doesn’t! Who ever said that? At least not on and on and on. And the problem is not growing old, the problem is everyone around me is growing older.

I’m biased and I know it – too many all-nighters in the ICU knowing my patients will never wake up, will never breathe again without that machine. Why choose to prolong those hours? Too many weekly visits to the nursing home, my patients who will never again chew, swallow, recognize, understand, smile. Why choose to prolong those days?

Still, when you are breathing and smiling there’s a huge hurdle to leap before you’re willing to talk about how you want your body treated when you can’t breathe or smile. Easy to put off making that living will when you’re in the midst of living; too late when you’re in the midst of dying.

Last year I spent a few weeks helping Dad update his and Mom’s will and estate. Gather up mounds of papers, talk things over, scratch heads, and then the final step: spending a morning with their attorney to nail it all down tight. Just because most politicians are attorneys does not imply the converse, that most attorneys are self-infatuated power-lusting villains. Not at all. Dad’s attorney, Ms. S., treated us like family. Like she was the cousin who knows a whole lot more than we do but who can explain it in a way anyone can understand.

To describe two hours with an attorney as a pleasure? Well, yes indeed.

As a family doctor I never found it easy to talk to my patients and their families about death. Necessary, yes; essential, yes; never easy. Perhaps it’s the taboo that if you name something you give it power over you. But a last will and testament is all about death. If you’re not going to die, don’t bother making a will.

Ms. S. talked with us for two hours about death, straight up, matter of fact. I learned a lot about what Dad and Mom want for their own final days and for a legacy to their children. I learned that Dad, in the right place and time, is willing and even anxious to talk about his death. We left the office smiling, arm in arm (figuratively as well as occasionally literally, 95-year old knees and all).

Of course, Dad still vows he’s going to live to a hundred. At least he’s got one helluva estate plan.

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Seventy Three

When in time frost found me, leaves were gone yellow
or fallen or few on branches or fallow
fields. Limbs were empty choir lofts. Youth’s bright birds sang
then left before the cold November must bring.
I found myself in twilight, the glow on snow
or rime on those brown stems or white wisps of breath
– how many more before death plants me below? –
But here I can see further, here my life’s breadth
forms a vista. Here where flames once leapt, grey ash
is heaped, warm still from what past fires I’ve known.
Still all this going is not completely gone.
Something of those late bird songs will stay, will last.
What we see in age makes all we love more strong,
knowing what we love we leave before too long.

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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I’ve always been a bit in awe of Paul Jones’s poetic gifts. Envious even. Not only because he can make rhyme so damn modern but even more for his capacious breadth and depth. What an imaginative reach! I’m not reprinting To a Tuber here but read it and you will become convinced that the potato is within all the vegetable kingdom most elegant, elevated, and worthy of praise.

So I knew before I ordered my copy of Paul’s new book Something Wonderful that it would be, and it is. The sly wit is there, waiting to pounce, but also heartfelt longing and wry uncompromising looks into personal finitude. You don’t really discover why the cover is covered with 19th century illustrations of bats until page 80 and the title poem. Take the time, make the trip. It’s worth it.

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Ireland Seen from a Porch Swing in Hickory, NC
+++ — for Adrian Rice

Ireland is a country without porches.
What they call a porch is just an entry.
No one sits there watching for neighbors
walking by with their electric torches.
Their voices, soft as blossoms, gently
fill humid summer nights with rumors.

Over there, secrets are shared in the pubs.
From unsteady high stools, the stories, tinged
with irony, rise easily as smoke.
New worlds are created by old words spoken.
even the weightiest tales take on wings,
if only whispered above the hubbub.

But here, the slow news is told by moonlight
in the lazy tease of an August night.
Too often tea, iced and sweet, is the drink
that greets the blink of stars through the dark
as our voices wander, each twang distinct,
in the dog-starred nights and the torpid days.

It’s ghosts that bind us across our weathers,
that tie the lilt and slur of daily sagas
told inside and out, in bars and open air,
to some episodic common drama.
They appear here and there, vivid and stark,
in talk that reweaves their spells in the dark.

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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Still Waters

I am still, waiting
for the one moment
that old Eastern sages
say gives absurdity
an absolute clarity,
the moment multiple
bald monks chant to induce.
They say the Way is
like water. It will work
its wonders at due time,
the way water always
breaks up rocks, turns them
into sand, but will not
be transformed itself.
Being water, it’s
already what it needs to be.
Winter and ice
merely redefine water.
Wind, when it works, only works
on the surface of water.
When fire meets water,
water is sent to heaven
but fire just becomes ash.
Water like saints returns
to perform its steady work.
Sleet, snow, rain or hail –
even fog – are water’s
temporary bodies.
In time, water will be
all part of one huge sea.
Water will save us all
in time. In time, they say.
In the meantime, be water
as best you can be. Me?
I am still waiting
for all waters to become
still, to run deep, and
clear a few things up.

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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Saint of the Trees

What is the proper sacrifice
To please our Lord, the Saint of Trees?
I asked the ferns for their advice:
What is the proper sacrifice?

“Lie here and dream of paradise,
Sink into the soil like the leaves.
That is the proper sacrifice
To please our Lord, the Saint of Trees.”

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

 

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2014-07-13 Doughton Park Tree

Cycles ~ Essential

 

[with 3 poems by Robinson Jeffers]

Linda is preparing to read Thy Friend, Obadiah to Amelia, age 6. A young Quaker lad in colonial Nantucket is befriended by a seagull, which is not entirely to his liking. Linda shows Amelia the cover and explains that the story happened a long, long time ago.

“Even before cell phones?” Amelia asks.

“Oh yes, and look at the picture. See the horse and cart? This was even before cars.”

Amelia grows grave and pensive. “Did they have candy?”

–    –    –

A six-year old lives within essentials. Even though candy is not a daily treat it must exist. Get into the car after kindergarten and immediately pull Tammy from the bottom of the bookbag, indispensable diminutive fox companion from infancy. And laughing. A joke, a gift, a tickle, a sudden surprise are all occasions for the essential vitamin of laughter.

Sometimes I’m not sure I remember what are essentials (except cheese, yes, must have cheese). It doesn’t help when Siri informs me my screentime increased 59% last week, nor is it helpful to argue with Siri that the preceding week was artificially low because his battery had funked out on me. Step away from the electronics, Sir. When Linda and I have taken a break from worldly worries and return from a long walk in the woods, we usually hear ourselves saying, “Hoo boy, we needed that.” Something essential about such an interlude.

Essential things. Clues abound. For Christmas I gave my sister and her partner a book of poetry I often return to myself. I had mentioned my recurring anxiety dreams and last week Mary Ellen asked how I was coping (nice to have a sister who’s a psychologist). I blurted, “When I read my copy of that book I gave you it helps.”

Essential? Poetry? When I can’t be walking in the woods I can be in the wild with Robinson Jeffers.

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Return

A little too abstract, a little too wise,
It is time for us to kiss the earth again,
It is time to let the leaves rain from the skies,
Let the rich life run to the roots again.
I will go to the lovely Sur Rivers
And dip my arms in them up to the shoulders.
I will find my accounting where the alder leaf quivers
In the ocean wind over the river boulders.
I will touch things and things and no more thoughts,
That breed like mouthless May-flies darkening the sky,
The insect clouds that blind our passionate hawks
So that they cannot strike, hardly can fly.
Things are the hawk’s food and noble is the mountain, Oh noble
Pico Blanco, steep sea-wave of marble.

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1961)

things and things and no more thoughts . . .

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Rock and Hawk

Here is a symbol in which
Many high tragic thoughts
Watch their own eyes.

This gray rock, standing tall
On the headland, where the seawind
Lets no tree grow,

Earthquake-proved, and signatured
By ages of storms: on its peak
A falcon has perched.

I think, here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky;
Not the cross, not the hive,

But this; bright power, dark peace;
Fierce consciousness joined with final
Disinterestedness;

Life with calm death; the falcon’s
Realist eyes and act
Married to the massive

Mysticism of stone,
Which failure cannot cast down
Nor success make proud.

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1961)

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Credo

My friend from Asia has powers and magic, he plucks a blue leaf from
+++ the young blue-gum
And gazing upon it, gathering and quieting
The God in his mind, creates an ocean more real than the ocean, the salt,
+++ the actual
Appalling presence, the power of the waters.
He believes that nothing is real except as we make it. I humbler have found
+++ in my blood
Bred west of Caucasus a harder mysticism.
Multitude stands in my mind but I think that the ocean in the bone vault is
+++ only
The bone vault’s ocean: out there is the ocean’s;
The water is the water, the cliff is the rock, come shocks and flashes of
+++ reality. The mind
Passes, the eye closes, the spirit is a passage;
The beauty of things was born before eyes and sufficient to itself; the
+++ heartbreaking beauty
Will remain when there is no heart to break for it.

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1961)

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These three poems are collected in The Wild God of the World, An Anthology of Robinson Jeffers, Selected, with an introduction, by Albert Gelpi, Stanford University Press, 2003

Thy Friend, Obadiah,written and illustrated by Brinton Turkle, Puffin Books; a Caldecott Honor Book in 1970

And the Christmas present I gave Mary Ellen and Wendy is The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy, edited by John Brehm, Wisdom Publications, 2017

Additional references: Return; Rock and Hawk; Robinson Jeffers at The Poetry Foundation.

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

I believe this globed earth not all by chance and fortune brings forth her broods, but feels and chooses

[with a longer poem by Robinson Jeffers]

The winter-gray trunks reveal their true nature. Stick-straight tuliptree, angled encroaching oak, perfected symmetry of beech, funky slipped-disc hickory – now in the rarified morning after frost, all mysticism stripped from the breath rising up Dutchman Creek, the trees allow us to know their inmost inclinations, their gestures and attitudes freeze-tag obvious: Fill this space. Drink the light. Every drop.

Summer is the mystery, all bluster and concealment. Signature leafshapes swallowed in jostling overflow of green – in winter we discover how they do it. Branches ramified ever finer, each species has invented its own geometry, each distinct inscrutable math of its evolving. Here they crouch and rise and stand and lean behind our house, here they create this little patch of forest just like all other patches and utterly unlike any but itself.

These trees aren’t old. Maybe seventy years since last the loggers passed. Perhaps that white oak is a hundred. One big silverbell beside the water has had time to cast her progeny up the ridge, seven generations. The early prodigies succumb to shade – dogwood, hornbeam. Not many pines remain, mostly a few holy snags favored by woodpeckers.

This winter we first realized a respectable Liriodendron had fallen last summer, twenty-inch diameter and a hundred feet from the house but we never heard the crash, parallel to power lines so we never lost light. She rests beside a sister that lay down before we bought this place forty years ago. The old tree is almost returned to earth; the newly fallen still clings to a few black leaves. Up the hill, in full sun, another sister is at least double their size, heaving our driveway, flaunting her strange orange-yellow flowers a hundred feet high, prodigal with her seedlings.

I am old. Seventy soon. God speaks that tuliptree’s name in the space it fills, in jadegreen leaves and roots that smell of musk and camphor. How difficult is it for me to imagine my name also on God’s lips, imagine some webline of my self will extend its existence onward when the frame that supports it collapses, when the blood, the electricity cease to flow? Dutchman Creek will still complain after heavy rain. The twigs will twist to find their places. Light will fill a new day and expect to be drunk. Every drop.

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now all’s empty, a bone bubble, a blown-out eggshell

 

De Rerum Virtute
[The Virtue of Things]
++++ Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)

++++ I
Here is the skull of a man: a man’s thoughts and emotions
Have moved under the thin bone vault like clouds
Under the blue one: love and desire and pain,
Thunderclouds of wrath and white gales of fear
Have hung inside here: and sometimes the curious desire of knowing
Values and purpose and the causes of things
Has coasted like a little observer air-plane over the images
That filled this mind: it never discovered much,
And now all’s empty, a bone bubble, a blown-out eggshell.

I believe the first living cell had echoes of the future in it

++++ II
That’s what it’s like: for the egg too has a mind,
Doing what our able chemists will never do,
Building the body of a hatchling, choosing among the proteins:
These for the young wing-muscles, these for the great
Crystalline eyes, these for the flighty nerves and brain:
Choosing and forming: a limited but superhuman intelligence,
Prophetic of the future and aware of the past:
The hawk’s egg will make a hawk, and the serpent’s
A gliding serpent: but each with a little difference
From its ancestors—and slowly, if it works, the race
Forms a new race: that also is a part of the plan
Within the egg. I believe the first living cell
Had echoes of the future in it, and felt
Direction and the great animals, the deep green forest
And whale’s-track sea; I believe this globed earth
Not all by chance and fortune brings forth her broods,
But feels and chooses. And the Galaxy, the firewheel
On which we are pinned, the whirlwind of stars in which our sun is one dust-grain, one electron, this giant atom of the universe
Is not blind force, but fulfils its life and intends its courses. “All things are full of God.
Winter and summer, day and night, war and peace are God.”

the sun will be strangled among his dead satellites, remembering magnificence

++++ III
Thus the thing stands; the labor and the games go on—
What for? What for? —Am I a God that I should know?
Men live in peace and happiness; men live in horror
And die howling. Do you think the blithe sun
Is ignorant that black waste and beggarly blindness trail him like hounds,
And will have him at last? He will be strangled
Among his dead satellites, remembering magnificence.

I believe that man too is beautiful

++++ IV
I stand on the cliff at Sovranes creek-mouth.
Westward beyond the raging water and the bent shoulder of the world
The bitter futile war in Korea proceeds, like an idiot
Prophesying. It is too hot in mind
For anyone, except God perhaps, to see beauty in it. Indeed it is hard to see beauty
In any of the acts of man: but that means the acts of a sick microbe
On a satellite of a dust-grain twirled in a whirlwind
In the world of stars ….
Something perhaps may come of him; in any event
He can’t last long. —Well: I am short of patience
Since my wife died … and this era of spite and hate-filled half-worlds
Gets to the bone. I believe that man too is beautiful,
But it is hard to see, and wrapped up in falsehoods. Michael Angelo and the Greek sculptors—
How they flattered the race! Homer and Shakespeare—
How they flattered the race!

the beauty of things means virtue and value in them

++++ V
One light is left us: the beauty of things, not men;
The immense beauty of the world, not the human world.
Look—and without imagination, desire nor dream—directly
At the mountains and sea. Are they not beautiful?
These plunging promontories and flame-shaped peaks
Stopping the sombre stupendous glory, the storm-fed ocean? Look at the Lobos Rocks off the shore,
With foam flying at their flanks, and the long sea-lions
Couching on them. Look at the gulls on the cliff wind,
And the soaring hawk under the cloud-stream—
But in the sage-brush desert, all one sun-stricken
Color of dust, or in the reeking tropical rain-forest,
Or in the intolerant north and high thrones of ice—is the earth not beautiful?
Nor the great skies over the earth?
The beauty of things means virtue and value in them.
It is in the beholder’s eye, not the world? Certainly.
It is the human mind’s translation of the transhuman
Intrinsic glory. It means that the world is sound,
Whatever the sick microbe does. But he too is part of it.

De Rerum Virtute
by Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)

collected in The Wild God of the World, An Anthology of Robinson Jeffers, Selected, with an introduction, by Albert Gelpi, Stanford University Press, 2003

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it means that the world is sound

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I
now all’s empty, a bone bubble, a blown-out eggshell

II
I believe this globed earth not all by chance and fortune brings forth her broods, but feels and chooses

I believe the first living cell had echoes of the future in it

III
the sun will be strangled among his dead satellites, remembering magnificence

IV
I believe that man too is beautiful

V
the beauty of things means virtue and value in them

Robinson Jeffers, the Poetry Foundation

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IMG_6432

Cycles ~ Endings 

[New Year’s Eve, poems by Mary Oliver and Jane Mead]

“Are spirits’ lives so short?” asked Scrooge.
“My life upon this globe is very brief,” replied the Ghost. “It ends to-night.”

The worm Ouroboros eats its tail, every day renewed, ever renewing. Cycles unending. The Neuse River snakes to New Bern, clouds lift inland, each little feeder stream is filled. Rain, ice, lichen eat the stone, phosphate creeps its migration through generations: rock to soil, leaf to masticator, herbivore to predator and all decomposing back to soil. I breathe out what the tree breathes in and breathes out for me to breathe. And the cycle we mark today: the dying Year gives birth to the New.

So many cycles. One enormous round. Every thing connected, interconnected, and we sense ourselves as spokes of the wheel or sometimes the never-ceasing motion of its rim that grinds along the path that is our life. As daylight diminishes it grows harder to hold onto our imagining of that wheel, its endless turning, that path it pursues still stretching on beyond the horizon. Harder to hold onto hope that the path’s end is indeterminate and out of sight.

Yes, it grows harder in these years of death’s overwhelming harvest to push aside imagining our own death. Too many deaths, COVID and otherwise, to pay attention; too many deaths to ignore a single one. In a few minutes I’ll set this page aside when my son arrives. He’ll leave Amelia here while the rest of the family attends their next-door neighbor’s funeral. A sudden death – our friend M was not old or ill. A shock to the fragile wall we build around our own mortality. Linda and I find ourselves tallying all the deaths that have touched us this month. The man who fixes our cars. A friend’s best friend. Names and faces more than we ever expect, doesn’t it seem? Death hunches at our shoulder, sometimes intrusive, sometimes silently lingering, sometimes perched like a moth that’s invisible until it flies into our face.

Tonight at midnight we will celebrate the Newborn Year but perhaps with even more enthusiasm we’ll celebrate a moment’s permission to ignore its haggard, dissipated forebear. The Old Year dies in winter darkness; death, the ultimate consuming dark. But notice – twelve days enfold the span of solstice to new year’s morning. The Ghost of Christmas Present senescent and dying yet retains some presence within us. Twelve days already lengthening, light seeping in even before the old year succumbs. Perhaps endings and beginnings are false markings along the ever-flowing course. Perhaps encircled by death it is possible, vital even, to engage with life. Perhaps death itself is not darkness but enfolding light.

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White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings — five feet apart —
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow —
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows —
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us —

as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

Mary Oliver  — 1935-2019
this poem first appeared in The New Yorker, January 2, 1989

 


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I Wonder if I Will Miss the Moss

I wonder if I will miss the moss
after I fly off as much as I miss it now
just thinking about leaving.

There were stones of many colors.
There were sticks holding both
lichen and moss.
There were red gates with old
hand-forged hardware.
There were fields of dry grass
smelling of first rain
then of new mud. There was mud,
and there was the walking,
all the beautiful walking,
and it alone filled me –
the smells, the scratchy grass heads.
All the sleeping under bushes,
once waking to vultures above, peering down
with their bent heads they way they do,
caricatures of interest and curiosity.
Once too a lizard.
Once too a kangaroo rat.
Once too a rat.
They did not say I belonged to them,
but I did.

Whenever the experiment on and of
my life begins to draw to a close
I’ll go back to the place that held me
and be held. It’s O.K. I think
I did what I could. I think
I sang some, I think I held my hand out.

Jane Mead — 1958-2019
this poem first appeared in The New Yorker, September 20, 2021

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Mary Oliver was a guide to the intersection between human life and the natural world; her voice affirms the expression of person in nature in person and affirms that no voice can fully express that oneness. Jane Mead, who for years was Poet-in-Residence at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, expected poetry to move people to preserve the earth; at the end of her life she was a guide to the landscape and ecology of dying.

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Doughton Park Tree 2021-10-23

Season of Waiting

 

North Carolina Poets for Christmas

Sam Ragan ++++++++.+.+. (1915-1996)
Carol Bessent Hayman ++.+ (1927-2017)
Reynolds Price ++           ++.(1933-2011)
Anthony S. Abbott ++++……. (1935-2020)

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Winter Watch

In those winter fields
Where only the dead grass
Hides the movement of mice
And the loping fox long away
From hunters, horn and dog,
Walking and watching wind bend
Bare branches at the wood’s edge.
This then is the beginning,
The walk and the waiting,
Winter is a time of waiting,
The pause, the slowed feet,
The watching, the waiting.

Sam Ragan
from Collected Poems of Sam Ragan, St. Andrews Press, Laurinburg NC, © Sam Ragan 1990

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Nativity

If, when a tree falls in a forest green
There is no one to hear, is it not true
The tree still sounds its ancient shattering
Of silence as its heart is rent in two?

If no one notices the calendar,
Or decorates, or shouts a glad refrain
is Christmas lost? Will that make Christmas less
Or nullify the birthday of a King?

Deep in the secret places of each heart,
Like groves of forests, quietly aware,
we reach the coming of the Gift within
And each alone must find that He is here.

Carol Bessent Hayman
from Images and Echoes of Beaufort-By-The-Sea, © 1993 Carol Bessent Hayman

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A Christmas Night

It was a cold night
And there was ice on the road,
Our car started to slide
As it moved up the small hill,
And the headlights caught the old man
In a thin jacket
Pushing a cart filled with sticks.
There were some bundles and a package
Piled on top, and the old man
Grinned and waved at us
As he pushed the cart
Into the yard of the ligglt house
Where a single light shone.
The tires gripped the road
And we drove on into the darkness,
But suddenly it was warm.

Sam Ragan
from Collected Poems of Sam Ragan, St. Andrews Press, Laurinburg NC, © Sam Ragan 1990

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A Heron, A Deer – A Single Day

A dull tin noon and, struck down on us
From the crest of pines, a heron – the one
That’s brought me each winter solstice
For twenty-six years now whatever code

I’ve earned for the past year, need for the next:
Vast as a stork in a child’s old reader
And fierce in the head as a demon deputed
To pluck out human eyes in vengeance,
Bolt them down hot.
++++++++++++++++ Yet our two faces
Broaden – eased, assured once more
Of witness at least: our names a precise
Address still known to Guidance Central.

Midnight mist and roaring cold,
We roll toward home from Christmas-eve dinner;
And there in the glen, frozen at the verge,
A six-point buck, young in eye
And grace of joint but flat-eternal
In steady witness. We slow to spare him –
Or think to spare a soulless thing.

He spares us. Sustaining our glare
A long instant of still composure,
His eyes consume whatever we show.
Then in a solemn choice to leave,
He melts a huge body, graceful as girls,
Through two strands ov vicious barbed-wire

We pass unscathed, drive in silence
A last slow mile, then both laugh sudden
At the sight of home. Seen, well-seen
But spared to pass.

Reynolds Price
collect in Word and Witness: 100 Years of North Carolina Poetry, Carolina Academic Press, © North Carolina Poetry Society 1999

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The New Magi

It is dusk. The sun has tipped backward
behind the old town hall. Inside the patterned
windows of the church, candles not to candles
until it seems the world is only light
and festive voices singing, “Silent Night.”

Out of the dark the siren wails, once,
twice, a third time, and grinding ears
disturb the “all is bright,” while somewhere
in another town a black man in a stocking cap
folds quilts around himself to stop the night.

Out of the dark the siren wails ans somewhere
in another town a woman flushes yesterday’s news
from under the rest room door and a red-haired girl
with shrouded eyes holds out her hand
to strangers walking through the station’s

swinging doors. Where is the star that calls you,
black man? Where is the star that seeks you,
woman? Where is the star that lifts you, shrouded
girl? Walk to us, now, over the battered highways.
Walk to us slowly over the rutted roads.

Walk to the siren’s wail, and the grunting sound
of fire in the night. Throw open the church’s door.
Walk with your papers and your quilts and the sorrow
in your eyes, bringing your gifts past the carpet
of our candles to the manger’s straw. Kneel and turn

And bid us follow with our light up the long aisle
out, out into the grace of the beckoning night.

Anthony S. Abbott
from New & Selected Poems, 1989-2009, Lorimer Press, Davidson NC, © Anthony S. Abbott 2009

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In a Bus Station on Christmas Eve

There are still travelers
Even at this late hour.
A radio is playing “Joy To the World.”
They sit and stare,
Clutching packages
Wraped as they are wrapped,
With some of the corners torn

Sam Ragan
from Collected Poems of Sam Ragan, St. Andrews Press, Laurinburg NC, © Sam Ragan 1990

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Sam Ragan served as NC Poet Laureate from 1982 until his death in 1996. He had a long career in journalism at various publications and from 1969 to 1996 was owner, publisher, and editor of The Pilot in Southern Pines, NC. Sam received about every possible NC literary award, including the North Carolina Award in Fine Arts, the Roanoke-Chowan, Parker and Morrison Awards; the North Caroliniana Society Award; and has been inducted into the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame and North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.

Carol Bessent Hayman was the first Poet Laureate of Carteret County and the city of Beaufort, NC. She was a 50-year member of the National League of American Pen Women, served as Southeast editor for their national publication, The Pen Woman, and was a member of the National Board. She was a member of the founding board of N.C. Writers Network, taught many workshops, and published hundreds of poems and five books of poetry.

Reynolds Price, a native of Macon, NC, taught literature at Duke University for 53 years and was James B. Duke Professor of English. In 1962, his novel A Long and Happy Life received the William Faulkner Award. He went on to publish fiction, poetry, essays, and plays and is equally known as the venerated educator of generations of Duke students. For the last third of his life he was confined to a wheelchair due to paralysis resulting from complications of a spinal tumor; his memoir A Whole New Life: An Illness and a Healing has been an inspiration to thousands.

Tony Abbott was a beloved professor of modern drama and American literature at Davidson University (NC). He touched many lives with his deep compassion and spiritual seeking, not only the lives of his students but of everyone who knew him, worked with him, read with him, read his work. His first book of poems, The Girl in the Yellow Raincoat, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He went on to write three novels, four books of literary criticism, and eight volumes of poetry, his last, Dark Side of North, published posthumously in 2021 by Press 53. His tenure on the Board of Directors of the NC Poetry Society has left an influence of creativity, collegiality, and craft that continues today.

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[with 3 poems from When There Were Horses]

Once upon a time there was a little boy . . . . a frisson of anticipation: the four-year old’s attention is now riveted on Pappy. What mischief will the boy in the story create, what adventure awaits, what danger?

When my grandson used to ask me to tell him a story it was a gift to both of us. Often the stories sprouted spontaneously from our pretending and play, their main characters usually some of his favorite companions like Mousey and Blue Rat. What joy and entertainment when you engage with the characters in a narrative! Even more so if you identify with the characters – their plight, their seeking, their discoveries strike a resonant chord in your own heart. You live a little richer and fuller through them.

But what if you are them?! What if you are the little boy in the story unfolding? What if a door opens and you enter the story and it becomes an extension of your own? The gift the teller gives you in that moment can’t be measured.

So many of the poems in Pat Riviere-Seel’s new book, When There Were Horses, open that door for me. I enter the lines. Not only do I engage, not only identify, but I become a part of the narrative. The resonance moves me to reflect on my own arc, my own plight and seeking. How does that happen?

How does poetry do that stuff? Mmmm, mystery and magic. Art and invitation. I admit I don’t actually know the details or specifics of many of Pat’s narratives but even so I have come to feel a part of them. When I get past asking, “What does she mean by that?” and just enter the flow of how she is creating meaning, then her poems crack open new earth. There, beneath the mud of daily routine, behind the obfuscation of some constant ringing little voice in my head, something waits. Waiting to sprout and bloom. Waiting to sing a new song. Waiting and wanting to peel back all that separates us from each other, and from our inner self. Something is beneath the surface, waiting to break our heart, and to heal it.

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From the Almanac of Broken Things

I choose this earth that breaks
my heart again and again,

the woods for the way trees
bend, fall, and return to dirt.

I choose the sand dollar, the nautilus
that in brokenness finds new creation.

I choose the favorite doll that no longer cries,
loved into silence, into rags.

I choose the memory of a stranger’s touch
that lifted my face above water. Because

I did not drown, I choose morning,
the gauzy-gray dawn that returns.

I choose the once-wild Palomino
whose beauty can never be tamed.

I choose light from long dead stars
that illuminates without heat.

I choose March with its promise of spring,
the warm days that tease, the blizzard

that insulates and warms the bulbs, the seeds,
all that lies beneath the surface, waiting.

Pat Riviere-Seel
inspired by Linda Pastan’s poem The Almanac of Last Things

 

 

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What the Moon Knows

She knows shadow, how to
slip behind clouds. She’s perfected
the art of disappearing. She knows
how to empty herself into the sky,
whisper light into darkness.
She knows the power of silence,
how to keep secrets, even as men
leave footprints in the dust, try to claim her.
Waxing and waning, she summons
the tides. Whole and holy symbol,
she remains perfect truth, tranquility.
Friend and muse, she knows the hearts
of lovers and lunatics. She knows
she is not the only one that fills the sky,
but the sky is her only home.

Pat Riviere-Seel

 

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Enough

Ahead, I see her watching me, pity
or compassion, hard to tell
from this distance. I want to ask her,
my future self, what she knows
and when she knew it. I want to know
whose laughter fills her hours? Does she
still dance? Still run? What does she know
of grace? These days I know so little.

But she’s still faithful, the self I look back
to see at dawn, a quarter century ago,
running out Colbert Creek road between
woods and murmur of the South Toe River, two-lane
Highway 80 South, past Mount Mitchell Golf Course,
down macadam that turns into gravel, clatter across
the low water bridge, out Rock Creek Road,
before she turns toward her dusty driveway,
past grape vines, the garden where the black cat
waits to walk her home. She’s the one who
declared, I am enough. She’s kept her promise.
But now, knowledge brings scraps
falling from bone that offers proof
something happened here in this lost country –
three deaths, one new love.

Pat Riviere-Seel
all selections from When There Were Horses, © 2021 Pat Riviere-Seel, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte NC

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FULL DISCLOSURE: Pat Riviere-Seel is my cousin. Third cousin one generation removed is how I think we figured it. Pat and I first met twenty years ago at a North Carolina Poetry Society meeting at Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines. During a break we were sharing casually about what we’d been doing lately and she mentioned her recent family reunion in Lewisville, NC.

“We met at an old Methodist Church in Lewisville where my Great-Great-Grandfather is buried.”

“No way, we had a family reunion in Lewisville a few years ago and we met at a church, might be the same one, where my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather is buried. His name was J.N.S. Daub.’

“Uh, hmm, mine is named Daub, too. Reverend Daub.”

“I’ve got a photo of the headstone at home. I’ll send you a copy.”

Sure enough, one and the same Daub. That was my maternal Great-Grandmother’s maiden name. Three Daub sisters married three McBride brothers. So Pat and my Mom are third cousins (although separated in age by more than a generation).

All those years, something beneath the surface, waiting.

– – – B

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2020-11-03a Doughton Park Tree

 

 

Merlin & Kestrel

I thought I saw a Merlin. Facing into the stiff onshore breeze, harrying above the dunes: fierce raptor profile, fleet spitfire, wings cocked at the wrist – falcon.

I wanted to think it was a Merlin I saw, last week at Bogue Banks for Thanksgiving, as it veered away from me, slipped sideways and rolled, master of current and draft. I still wanted it to be a Merlin when it arced back overhead, whirled into a perfect stall, snatched a perch at the tip of the spar where the surf warning flag flies.

It drank some water trapped in a crease of the wood. Tawny waistcoat, single-barred tail, face tattoos – this hunter was not a Merlin. Just its much more common little cousin.

Why did my heart skip when I first spotted it? Why did I want so much for it to be a Merlin? I haven’t seen one in years; I’ve only ever seen a very few. The last time I saw a Merlin, Linda and I were alone together on a rare vacation, January in Nags Head, doing what we love: hiking the dunes and maritime forest and half-freezing ourselves in the salt rime. Driving to Hatteras next day we spotted a Merlin perched above the salt marsh, watchful in regal disdain. Merlin – rare visitor from the mysterious north. Merlin, power and magic. Merlin mythic. Merlin romantic.

Is it just its name that makes it so? Falco columbarius per Linnaeus, Esmerejón in Spain and Mexico, Dværgfalk in Denmark and Norway, 55 names listed in Cornell Ornithology. Learning its name accompanies learning its field marks, habitat, range. But what do I really know about Merlin? How to read shifting wind while stalking the wood rat a hundred yards below? Folded wings, little rocket, full velocity strike , blood and hair? What name, Dream Hunter, do you give yourself?

We see the Merlin’s little cousins all the time here in the NC foothills, especially in winter perched on wires above the mouse-gleaned fields. I saw one driving home from the beach. Actually, four. And last week my brain knew what I was seeing above the strand even before my eye would admit it, even before it swooped in for me to take closer look . . .

. . . and turned upon the current of air. Watchful for movement in the sand, ultraviolet signature of mouse urine, it raised its wings, their sharp fast flutter, fixed, motionless on high. Only one little falcon can do that. And I know its name.

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The Windhover
Gerard Manley Hopkins – 1844-1889

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
++ dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
++ Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
++ As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
++ Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
++ Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

++ No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
++ Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

[This poem is in the public domain.]

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Windhover is a British name for the European Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus, a dead ringer for its close relative the American Kestrel, Falco sparverius. They are the smallest of the falcons and one of the very few birds that can hover motionless in still air, in this case watching for its usual prey, the field mouse.

The Windhover has long been one of my favorite poems. Oh my, where does this magical and mysterious language come from?! What hidden realm is revealed in these lines? Read it aloud to hear Hopkins’s incantatory music. How does he do it?

One of my most striking memories is the Saturday morning Tony Abbott recited The Windhover at Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities to call to order a meeting of the North Carolina Poetry Society. As he approached its last line Tony slowed , each word deliberate, and upon gash gold-vermilion there was one unified sharp intake of breath among the entire congregation before we erupted in applause.

Gerard Manley Hopkins was a Jesuit priest; he dedicated The Windhover To Christ our Lord. The poem, like the fierce undaunted Kestrel, breaks open the blue-bleak embers of our dull, unreflective spirits to reveal the fire, the power, and the glorious mystery of creation which surrounds us.

[more Gerard Manley Hopkins at The Poetry Foundation]

 

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2019-02-09 Doughton Park Tree

Theodore Roosevelt Nature Trail, Bogue Banks, NC -- and Great Blue, Ardea herodias

[with 3 poems by Larry Sorkin]

I know Larry Sorkin from his poetry. Oh, I’ve met Larry in person a few times, spoken with him more than once, but within his poems he allows me to know him. Wryly humorous, himself often the butt. Fallible & vulnerable. Honest about all that, and open. Intentional; seeking. But most of all Larry Sorkin’s poems, and I must assume he himself, are inviting. Each one, in its own way, offers itself up as an invitation.

Larry Sorkin’s book, Uncomfortable Minds, is all invitation. Share with him this confusing chaotic journey. Share defeat, share contemplation or discovery or joy. Share any of the countless back roads and detours and destinations we human beings travel. This is the invitation – to join him in the garden.

Perhaps the garden is metaphor for our toil, for our occasional scarlet tomato of success, for our physical pleasures. But our toil, triumph, pleasure are not what bless us with words that would unlock the puzzle. What does it take, then, to right this finely wrought chaos? It seems to take being present, as these poems are, to each other. And being present to our own gifted, fractured, seeking self. We’re best when we do this together. And you, yes you, are invited. Join me in the garden.

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Theodore Roosevelt Nature Trail, Bogue Banks, NC

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Neither This, Nor That – Upanishads

Today I’m nagged by knowing
I don’t. I’ve lost those few

words that
would unlock

the puzzle, set
right this finely

wrought chaos – aren’t you
looking for this too, the lost

quote gone from
book or memory of

our conversations. Friend,
I know we won’t

find it plowing
and pressing seeds

into dirt, not in scarlet
tomatoes that come

later, not even in
the fine meal

we’ll make of them. Does it
matter? Join me

in the garden.

Larry Sorkin

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Theodore Roosevelt Nature Trail, Bogue Banks, NC

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Pursuit

of a solitary
morning’s ringside

seat to inhale
the ceaseless

erosion of this
folded Appalachian

ridge into a flat
plain interrupted by an Astaire

and Rogers pair of bluebirds that
tap dance on the porch

rail, each waving a single
wing to the other. I call my mate, a string

can line strung across seventy miles to share
a play by play of the ritual

as the male turns
away and she

waves and he
sings and waves and turns

back and so an hour
vanishes, while she and I

murmur our own
shorthand semaphore.

Larry Sorkin

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I Have Nothing

this morning, bits
of nothing found among the clean

stones that pepper the drive where two
tiny sky-blue eggs crack open. One

empty, not quite dry. I lift
with thumb and forefinger as it

crumbles to my clumsy
touch. I leave the other, half

full of liquid sun. How
fragile the chance of what

gets to breathe
and sing. I carry the broken

bits back on my right
palm held open, outstretched, an

offering. I carry them
to you, Reader, before this

world as we know it sinks
like a skipping

stone below a cosmic
wave.

Larry Sorkin

all selections from Uncomfortable Minds, © 2021 by Larry Sorkin; Bonhomie Press, an imprint of Mango Publishing Group, Coral Gables, FL.

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Nothing can be hard to tell apart from everything. A bit of cracked shell reveals deep truth – how fragile, how transitory. That includes you and me, Bub. I think I’ll celebrate. What a privilege to ride this mossy stone as it skips around its star. I’ll celebrate this, too: for twenty years I’ve been trying to write a poem about that little semaphore thing that bluebirds do with their wings to bond with their mates, and now Larry Sorkin has given me one that is perfect. From nothing . . . everything. Thank you, Friend!

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Theodore Roosevelt Nature Trail, Bogue Banks, NC

 

2020-06-11a Doughton Park Tree

Nana’s Nutty Fingers

[with 3 poems by Melinda Thomsen]

How about you cream the butter and sugar while I chop the pecans? At 93 Mom does not need to be wielding the big chef’s knife. Last week I bought vanilla, nuts, butter, and a couple of new cookie sheets at Harris Teeter while shopping with Dad. This morning I pre-measured the sugar and flour into ziplocks before I left the house. This afternoon Mom woke up early from her nap, so excited to be baking cookies for Thanksgiving.

Whenever we visited Nana while I was growing up, we kids (and Dad, too) couldn’t wait to visit the little village of tins that would have sprung up like magic on her kitchen counter. Homemade fudge, humdingers, Moravian Christmas cookies. And there were always, there had to be, nutty fingers. When I got married she bequeathed me the recipe and that’s how I labeled the index card – Nana’s Nutty Fingers.

Nana’s only daughter – my Mom – hasn’t made nutty fingers since any of us can remember. Last night I printed a copy of the recipe and scribbled out my fraction calculations to double it. When I walk into Mom’s kitchen today, though, she already has the recipe laid out on the counter.

The original – centered on page 53 of What’s Cooking?, compiled by the Winston-Salem Woman’s Club in 1948, “Pecan Fingers” contributed by Ellen Cooke, alias Nana. It’s identical to the recipe we’ve used all these years as long as you realize that 4X sugar means granulated.

O Baby, in about an hour their home is smelling good, and all the laughs and stories we share during the making are even more delicious. Good job, Mom, high five. Dad pronounces these the best nutty fingers he’s ever tasted and the powdered sugar down his sweater affirms. When granddaughter Claire arrives from Maine for Thanksgiving, there just might be a couple left for her.

Maybe.

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Sweet Potato Casserole

One poet says she waits to hear what
the words are trying to say. Meanwhile,

a documentary shows fifty pounds of yams,
gathered in one plastic basket, heaved up

to a migrant from Chihuahua, standing
in a school bus. The bus trudges through

the turned fields of North Carolina, a taxi
with an open top and wooden slats for sides

reaping filled baskets. Another poet hopes
the best wind finds me ready to wrestle it

to the page. As farm workers examine
and measure, sweet potatoes lift skyward.

Thousands of roots piled up in moving crates,
all hand gathered, are waiting for words.

Gently but quickly, these men harvest,
and I keep searching for nouns so small

but will swell in the mind to voice the labor
and sweat of my Thanksgiving dinner.

A friend tells me, if you think one person
can’t make a change, you’ve never been in bed

with a mosquito. Advice swirls like gnats
while I peel yams, whose discarded skins,

the width of fingers, almost rise as hands
to choke my verbs. Still, I dot mashed sweet

potatoes with mini marshmallows before
placing the heavy pan in a 375 degree oven.

Melinda Thomsen

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Melinda Thomsen’s book Armature lives in the personal moments that create each day of our lives. The title refers to the skeletal framework a sculptor uses to support her clay model. She adds form and matter to shape the work into three dimensions. The book’s framework includes descriptions of four castings of Degas’ Dancer Looking at the Sole of Her Right Foot; the poems throughout add shape and form through their close observation and grounded presence within the many places they dwell.

Armature, © 2021 Melinda Thomsen, Hermit Feathers Press, Clemmons, North Carolina

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Old Tractor Equipment

Their armature emerges from
a forging of farm equipment:
rasps, chains, gears, and pipes.

Metal tractor parts fashioned
a horse whose neck
and ligaments are strong

enough to face the wind
with a mane of almost twenty
flat files billowing in the breeze.

We all move this way, right?
After years of pulling it
together in cut and paste jobs

of bad or non choices,
even if our hearts resemble
rusted tractor ball bearings,

we construct and forge ourselves
from a hodgepodge of muzzles
and flanks in to running mares,

stalky goats, or bold stallions.
Walk over to us, and see our
sprocket nut nostrils flare.

Look at these haunches
made of 20th century shovels
and lawnmower parts.

A trip of goats and a pigpen
of swine have propane
tank bellies, pulley hooks

for horns, and porcine
snouts are marked
by stainless steel forks.

Nearby, bric-a-brac horses
cast galloping shadows
as we roam and graze.

Melinda Thomsen

[Melinda notes: Jonathan Bowling is a sculptor based in Greenville, NC. His field of sculptures is on the corner of Dickinson and Atlantic Avenues.]

 

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Whirligig Park in Wilson, NC

I come from a nearby
town whose herons
sport feathers of golf club

handles and clipper beaks
flash shadows on the walls.
But here, looking up at all

these odd parts forged
into metal marionettes
with no strings or motor,

I see thy leave it to wind.
A cloud-laden morning
moves in and fifty feet

above, a front propeller
turns and two farmers
quickly cut a metal log.

Their saw’s teeth drag across
the tree as if their first stroke,
and behind them, a dog sits

whose tail wags at each cut.
It seems the earth begs us
to twirl, even if our spirits

have been sapped to rust,
even if our most dead
selves dwell in squeaking.

Melinda Thomsen

[Besides Wilson’s Whirligig Park, Vollis Simpson’s kinetic art is also on permanent display at the North Carolina Museum of Art.]

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Postscript: My children and their kids have always called my Mom Grandmommy. My brother’s three girls, however, know their grandmother as Nana. Of course. The nutty finger legacy lives on.

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2016-10-17b Doughton Park Tree

A Book for You

Hepatica

[poems from Kakalak 2021 by Beth Copeland, Danielle Ann Verwers, Don Ball]

How cool would it be if your friends got together and wrote a book for you? Friends you hadn’t seen in a while, like maybe two years. Friends you’ve swapped a few stories with and suddenly here they are sharing new stories. Friends who at this very moment are just now becoming your friends.

How cool? Very cool.

Kakalak 2021 arrived last week and here are my friends! I’ve read the book through and gone back to re-read my favorites over and over again; the Carolinas have suddenly become cozy and personable and at once broad and expansive. Heart-expanding! Among the poets and visual artists in the book I see so many people I’ve met before at a literary gathering, read with at an open mic, served with on a board or committee. And then there are all the people whose books I’ve read or whose names I’ve seen and now the many more names I’ve not heard before but am learning. Names becoming friends. Somehow they’ve all come together to write a book for me. And for you.

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Fog

Morning fog erases the mountain and trees.
No, not an erasure but unseen.

+++ Not an erasure but unseen.
+++ The mountain, the laurel still green.

Unlike the mountain and laurel still green,
the dearly departed lie beneath white sheets.

+++ The deer depart beneath white sheets
+++ of fog, stepping into a forgotten dream

of fog slipping into a forgotten dream
the ghost mountain dreams.

+++ The ghost mountain dreams.
+++ Crows fly to pines on mascara wings.

Crows fly to pines on mascara wings,
mourning. Fog erases the mountain, the trees.

Beth Copeland

 

Ptera

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In between reflecting on the poems and enjoying the art, I flip to the back of the book for the bios. The array of people’s publishing kudos is, of course, impressive, but personal glimpses also shine through (which, true confession, is what I’m really looking for in a bio):
Dean of Arts & Sciences at Isothermal Community College . . . Kathy Ackerman
interior designer . . . Melanie T. Aves
proud member of The Poet Fools . . . Don Ball
retired librarian . . . Richard Band
academic therapist . . . Joan Barasovska
feels a good day mellows blissfully with . . . creating art . . . Christina Baumis
poems featured on a transit bus . . . Michael Beadle
beginning poet . . . Gay Boswell (an awesome beginning here, a devastating poem)
eats dark chocolate daily . . . Cheryl Boyer
loves roots music . . . Joyce Compton Brown
marriage and family therapist . . . Bill Caldwell
sings in several church choirs . . . Joy Colter
masterfully overbooks non-existent free time . . . Julie Ann Cook
creates “convoluted notions” . . . Caren Stuart
passionate about reading aloud to children . . . Jennifer Weiss
collects library cards . . . Danielle Ann Verwers
and more, and more . . . . . . . .

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Two Sparrows for a Penny

+++ I.
If an airport is anything, it must be purgatory. And positioned
here in this terminal is benevolent holding space to store heavy
baggage as I watch my status, wait for take-off. A hollow metal
locker contains all my small treasures as I perch near walls of
windows. Iron flocks drift into the cumulous blue.

+++ II.
Milton, the bishop not the poet, believed humans would soar
in time. Brethren mocked his vision, convinced all schematics
to be sketched were drafted, nothing new under the sun to be
invented. Still, Milton knew his offspring inherited aviation
faith in their DNA, their eyes fixed on the heavens, their irises
bright with flight. Before fruition, typhoid took him. He missed
it when his sons fulfilled the prophecy, when his boys flew
with sparrows.

+++ III.
No one sings about two sparrows for a penny. Instead, we praise
our own ascent after a shell of flesh is molted. I’ll fly away, Oh Glory!
When I die let them sing the blues. Play a minor key for the birds
who crashed, feathers intact. Sing about birds who caught
tender gaze of God. Yes, let them sing of paradise lost.

+++ IV.
Close your eyes. Imagine you are a cloud drifting in the sky.
Light and free. No—imagine you possess hollow bones, you
are all sparrow. And now you flap your feathered wings but
your sternum is lead heavy. And you are falling towards the
ground at the speed of—no imagine you are light, warm and
bright. Imagine beams emit from your eyes, your chest, your
feathers, your beak. You radiate. No—I take it back. Imagine
you are a vapor, here today and gone tomorrow. Yes, imagine
you are a cloud.

Danielle Ann Verwers

 

Two

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Somehow they’ve all come together to write me a book . . .

Well, not somehow come together – they’ve arrived here by intention. This book for me (and for you) was born of diligent labor and evolved quite intentionally. Enabled by the founders, sustained by editors and publishers through the years, the Kakalak vision perseveres and flourishes – a regional anthology created of and for people connected to North & South Carolina. This year’s Editors have sprinkled their selections with an especially effervescent cloud of pixie dust: they have created magical groupings of poems, 2 or 3 or more with complementary theme, style, subject. And the Art Editor has added a swish more magic by partnering the groupings with art that amplifies the verse.

And then . . . and then the real magic. The shiver. The heart to heart. I read these lines and something shifts inside me. I see with another’s eyes. I feel the depth of another’s struggle. God almighty, this is the place and this is the thing I need and this is certainly the time. When have we ever before needed it so much, this connection? Here we find it: connection with each other; connection with our small place on this planet; connection with our self.

Thank you, friends, for writing this book for me.

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Wish
Park View Hospital, Rocky Mount, NC

I am supposed to kiss my grandfather,
stroke-frozen in his high-racked hospital bed,
but he is angry at us and crying,
half-realizing the difference.
I stand by my brother and close my eyes.

About the same,
my mother says to someone in the hall,
and he’s about the same,
she whispers later on the bedside phone,
nodding to the wall.

But I am changed
by the hospital light, cold-yellow and dry,
by the white carts gliding through plastered corridors,
rattling over steel plates, swallowed by the swinging doors,
and voices that start up and quit—voices
suffocated by the secret-keeping walls.

This is it — I am thinking —
God almighty, this is the place.

Outside we are walking, our breath released.
The summer evening is blade-green and black.
The parking lot is full but quiet.
Crickets call behind looming elms,
and the moon booms out into the open sky.

Look, points my mother, The first star.
Make a wish.

The rows of hospital rooms are burning and hanging;
my brother is bending over the hint of a penny;
Grandfather, I am kissing you goodbye.

Don Ball

Currituck

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Kakalak 2021
Copyright © Moonshine Review Press, Harrisburg, North Carolina, 2021

Editors & Contest Judges:
+++ Kimberlyn Blum-Hyclak
+++ David E. Poston
+++ Richard Allen Taylor

Executive Editor and Publisher (and Art Editor)
+++ Anne M. Kaylor

[You might imagine how difficult it was to select just a few poems from many, many new favorites in this book!

Today’s art were among the entries I submitted but which were not published in Kakalak 2013, 2018, 2020, 2021. You’ll have to buy a copy of your book to see Incisors, selected for this year’s issue! — Bill Griffin.]

Order your copy of Kakalak 2021.

Explore past issues of Kakalak published by Main Street Rag.

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Delivery

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2020-03-07 Doughton Park Tree