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Archive for July 13th, 2012

 . . . We’ve seen
how our breath on a bitter night
fades like a ghost from the window glass.
Kathryn Stripling Byer

 The polar bears aren’t here.  On sabbatical, or “off exhibit” in Park lingo.  We’re assured they will return in time.  In time . . . .

Aquila, born in 1992 at the Louisville, KY Zoo, arrived in NC in 2009 and currently resides at the Detroit Zoo.  Wilhelm, rescued from a Mexican circus, had been here since 2002 and since this winter has really been cooling his heels in Milwaukee.  The Zoo is deep (literally!) into a huge construction project that will expand polar bear habitat and renovate all of Rocky Coast.  When the bears return in 2014 their living space will conform to Canadian standards which will allow for obtaining additional bears from Alberta – as many as six bears on site in all, with facilities for breeding.  The NC Zoo will become a world-class site for preserving the species.

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Conservation and preservation – along with education, these are the Zoo’s mission.  I’m struck as I visit each exhibit how often I see the red-lettered admonition “Endangered” beneath the species name.  The science fiction future is rapidly becoming reality when zoos are the only place on earth to see certain animals.  For me, one of the most wrenching exhibits is a seemingly unobtrusive outdoor sculpture by Roger Halligan titled, “The Stone That Stands in an Empty Sky.”  Just off the trail near the red wolves (how appropriate), a monolith rises twenty feet into the forest.  At its apex is a sculpted opening.  Stand at the proper angle and you see leaves and branches through the empty space, and then you recognize it: the full profile of the Carolina Parakeet.

Negative space.  To see, really see, when you first realize what you’re not seeing.  Almost eight million dollars for six bears.  Worth it?  It has my vote.

. . . whatever
won’t stop taking shape even though the whole
crazy quilt’s falling to pieces.

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Mountain Time

News travels slowly up here
in the mountains, our narrow
roads twisting for days, maybe years,
till we get where we’re going,
if we ever do. Even if some lonesome message
should make it through Deep Gap
or the fastness of Thunderhead, we’re not obliged
to believe it’s true, are we? Consider
the famous poet, minding her post
at the Library of Congress, who
shrugged off the question of what we’d be
reading at century’s end: By the year 2000
nobody will be reading poems. Thus she
prophesied. End of that
interview! End of the world
as we know it. Yet, how can I fault
her despair, doing time as she was
in a crumbling Capitol, sirens
and gunfire the nights long, the Pentagon’s
stockpile of weapons stacked higher
and higher? No wonder the books
stacked around her began to seem relics.
No wonder she dreamed her own bones
dug up years later, tagged in a museum somewhere
in the Midwest: American Poet — Extinct Species.

Up here in the mountains
we know what extinct means. We’ve seen
how our breath on a bitter night
fades like a ghost from the window glass.
We know the wolf’s gone.
The panther. We’ve heard the old stories
run down, stutter out
into silence. Who knows where we’re heading?
All roads seem to lead
to Millennium, dark roads with drop-offs
we can’t plumb. It’s time to be brought up short
now with the tale-tellers’ Listen: There once lived
a woman named Delphia
who walked through these hills teaching children
to read. She was known as a quilter
whose hand never wearied, a mother
who raised up two daughters to pass on
her words like a strong chain of stitches.
Imagine her sitting among us,
her quick thimble moving along these lines
as if to hear every word striking true
as the stab of her needle through calico.
While prophets discourse about endings,
don’t you think she’d tell us the world as we know it
keeps calling us back to beginnings?
This labor to make our words matter
is what any good quilter teaches.
A stitch in time, let’s say.
A blind stitch
that clings to the edges
of what’s left, the ripped
scraps and remnants, whatever
won’t stop taking shape even though the whole
crazy quilt’s falling to pieces.

Kathryn Stripling Byer
North Carolina Poet Laureate 2005-2009

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