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Archive for September, 2012

Linda and I take walks.

Take?  The walking gives itself to us.  We talk, catch up on the hours, days sometimes.  We list things that need to get done, places that must be gone, eroding detritus of stuff that clamors to be fixed.  We laugh at the last cute thing Saul did, the cute thing he said that we’ve smiled at twenty times already.  We discover small things along the path – what is the name of that little blue flower? – and rediscover things that have brought us small delights in the past.  And we hope we burn up some calories and coax some blood to run its circuit a little faster.

Throughout the breeding season American Avocet pairs greet each other by rubbing along the length of their long recurved bills while the male drapes a wing over the female’s back.  Cozy.  Most birds that form lasting pairs, for a season or for life, have some sort of bonding display – preening, mock-feeding, a dance, aerobatics.  Evolutionary biologists conjecture that these instinctive behaviors strengthen the pair-bond and increase the chance of reproductive success.  More eggs, more chicks, more offspring successfully fledged.  Survival.

Linda and I take walks.

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Yesterday afternoon Linda and I walked Old Man’s Gorge in the Hocking Hills of southern Ohio.  Over thirty years ago Linda’s Mom and Dad bought a little farm in the woods near there.   It’s been close to twenty years since we last visited Old Man’s Cave.  During that time the new trail markers, new bridges, steps, railings, everything has a moist green fuzz of moss, as if the three-hundred million year old blackhand sandstone has invited all things in the Gorge to appear as old is it does.  Linda and I keep remarking to each other, “Was this here last time we came?  I don’t recognize this stone wall, but it looks ancient.”

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Overcast, damp, ten degrees cooler than its summit, the basin of Old Man Gorge just feels like Ohio.  Maples have begun to turn color along the rim, but in the shade of the grand overhangs all hues become muted.  The eroded walls are a hundred variations of gray and rock-green, a lichen wash of winter sky. The shades of our Ohio roots:

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 Twenty‑Three Grays

The first is crossing the Ohio into Marietta,
not the green river yearning west
but each of its scalloped reflections
like scales on a crappy, and at each ripple’s
lip a premonition of ice.

Next: passing the first car southbound
salt‑encrusted with two hundred miles
of I‑77 — what color is it really?  A casual visitor
to this state still our home may claim
there is no color here, but doesn’t gray
enfold the possibility of every color?
Sky layered in bands dark and darker
preserving as in a comforter some memory,
warm purple; fingery hawthorn
and buckeye almost yellow; cattails
coyly pink; dark earth chocolate
between cream snowcrests —
all of them holding everything within.

In Canton the window eyes of Mercy
Hospital passing no judgement.
In Akron, the stone walls of Rockne’s,
frost like stale beer foam; peeling letters
at the exit sign: Peninsula/Hudson.
Geese in the ditch beside a Cape Cod;
rust‑gray girders where we drive beneath
tank cars, coal cars, and then the Turnpike
overpass.  And as we reach your driveway,
rime, old tears the wipers can’t beat back.

Those who’ve never left here, do they notice?
And we who return, can we name
what comforts us?  Only in his eighties
did your Dad’s hair surrender to the shades
of sky and winter fields, and now when I hold
you this close full of days recalled, stories
we=re sharing as if for the first time,
the good full color of Dad’s life now passed
fully into our hearts, I see in your hair thin streams
coalescing, bands of evening sky and highway,
winters we will hold together, and the springs.

© Bill Griffin.  First appeared online in John Hoppenthaler’s Congeries at Connotation Press, June, 2011.

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American Avocet — Recurvirostra americana

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There are two kinds of barbecue in the known universe: Wilbur’s Style, and all the rest.  Head east on 70 past Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base and the aroma captures you about the time Goldsboro is fading in the rearview.  Pork shoulders and hams cooked all night over a hardwood fire (at Wilbur’s they favor oak, not hickory); basted with the secret Wilbur’s sauce (I’ve tried to recreate it – boil cider vinegar with salt, black pepper, white pepper, red pepper, nothing else, and you’ll come pretty close); most of the fat trimmed off (but not all), chopped, and heaped on a plate with field peas, turnip greens, and hush puppies.  OK, OK,  I’ve given up eating meat, but I can still savor the memories, can’t I?

When I asked folks a few weeks ago to come up with a name for a new poetry form that embodies the essence of the South, sweet tea and barbecue were mentioned more than once.  I kind of like Arthur Powers’s suggestion –  Sou-Ku – and the one Ruth Moose has come up with sounds more than Japanese – Sentea.  Do they still sell Nestea?  But in the same way that our Southern Sentence Poem is a poetic form all our own, I think its name needs to be wholly ours as well, and not beholdin’ to some 3-line cryptogram.  Especially when you see the examples folks have sent: we are clearly opening ourselves to the Southern Loooong Sentence Poem.

So I’m still hoping to hear from you with a great name.  And keep sending those poems . . . !

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Once again, here are the elements of a Southern Sentence Poem:

1     It is a single SENTENCE.
2     A word or phrase has to PLACE the poem in the American South.
3     It requires a reference to the PAST.
4     It captures something of Southern CULTURE.
5     It ain’t got none of them damn Yankee semicolons.

Here are several that people have sent me:

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Arthur Powers

I stand on Polk Street
looking East over Oakwood cemetery
and watch late afternoon sunlight
sepia the Confederate headstones.

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Diana Pinckney  – The Garden Party

Aunt Blanche’s yard dripped pink
punch and azaleas, offering shrimp

sandwiches, ham biscuits, cucumber
rounds and cheese wafers so yummy,

yet not a crust in sight on the scalloped
linen, daffodils and petit fours abundant

for family and friends so chummy,
invited to honor and bless the newly

engaged couple, the bride
and groom dreamy as budding

dogwoods with no one batting
an eye that the hostess batted hers

from her second story bedroom
window, having sampled more

than her share of the punch,
forcing Uncle Edward to take charge,

his large hand now patting the key
in his seersucker jacket while

Aunt Blanche, bejeweled in her silks,
nodded and waved, greeting and calling

down to all, Have a good time, ya’ll,
then dipped as she sipped

more of her own pink sweetener.

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Jane Theis

On our evening walk, the Crepe Myrtles,
bowing and dripping from that day-long shower,
nodded us down the mossy path
where the ramps came up last spring.

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Ruth Moose   –  Shadow Tag

Run, run

Feet                      freeze

Harwood Street, Woodland

stop

Dew cold grass

In the barefoot nights        hold

Bee stings, wasp stings, hornets,

sweat flies                   stay

Tobacco juice, sweet snuff stuff

Childhood pain of

loss.

[Editor’s note – Ruth’s poem had wonderfully complex formatting which I can only partially reproduce on this verpfluchte WordPress blog.]

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Beth A. Cagle   –   Story Tellin’ at ‘Possum Trot Diner

Laughter of square-shouldered
uncles erupts
deep in my throat as a
bucking mule jumps
out of me, hoofing his
hopscotch in corn,
braying by grandfather’s
elderly oak,
leaving my youthful dad
caught on the clothesline,
dangling with overalls
rolled to his knees.

[First version published in The Blind Man’s Rainbow, Fall 2003]

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