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Archive for December, 2020

 

 

[with poems by Dannye Romine Powell]

When we lower her pack from the tree where it has swung all night like a bell mocking the bear, the skunk, she opens it and screams: a fairy crown atop her sweatshirt and socks, a perfect round nest and four perfect hairless mouse pups like squirming blind grubs. We peer in awe, shepherds at the manger.

Mother mouse has hidden herself, not in the pack with her babies. We lift the nest intact, hide it in a bush beside the tree, nestle leaves around. Mother will sniff out her precious ones, reclaim her treasure. But we have other lambs to tend.

We eat, stow gear, shoulder our packs, face the trail, and consider: the pack was in the tree just one night; the nest is woven from meadow grass where we slept; the mother who climbed – how many trips up and back? – was heavy with her brood.

Miles before us, a new year before us – how heavy will each day’s burdens become before night brings rest?

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A new book by Dannye Romine Powell arrived in the mail this week: In the Sunroom with Raymond Carver from Press 53 in Winston-Salem. I meant to read one or two poems this morning but I have read them all. A central persona that weaves through the collection is Longing: she visits rooms in old houses, unfolds memories into the light, shares the pain that others might lock in closets. Grief shared conceives within us hope to rekindle joy. Sharing grief, sharing joy, we become more human.

 

 

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The Secret

Light glazes the near-empty streets
as I drive. Beside me, my grown son asks
if a secret I thought I’d kept buried
is true. A secret
that can still catch fire.
We stop on red. A bird flies
by the windshield. My father’s words:
Easier to stand on the ground
and tell the truth than climb a tree
and tell a lie. Now, I think. Tell him.
I stare at my son’s profile,
straight nose, thick lashes.
I remember, at about his age,
how a family secret fell
into my lap, unbidden.
That secret still ransacks a past
I thought I knew, rearranging its bricks,
exposing rot and cracks,
changing the locks on trust.

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In the Night, the Wind in the Leaves

swirled and rustled
out our open window as if
for the first time,
as if we never were,
the earth newborn, sweet.

And what of us – asleep
on the too-soft bed
in the old mountain house?

Gone.

Also our children.
the ones who lived, the ones who died
before they grew whole. All night

the breeze swirled and rustled
through the leaves as if it played
a secret game, swirling
and rustling all night

as if we never were.

from In the Sunroom with Raymond Carver, Dannye Romine Powell, © 2020 Press 53

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Dannye Romine Powell has won fellowships in poetry from the NEA, the North Carolina Arts Council, and Yaddo. Her poems have appeared over the years in The Paris Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, Harvard Review Online, Beloit, 32 Poems, and many others. She is also the author of Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers. For many years, she was the book editor of the Charlotte Observer. In 2020 she won the Randall Jarrell Poetry Competition for her poem “Argument.”

 

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White-throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis, ELKIN NC

 

The Birds’ Carol
Lyrics: Bill Griffin . . . . . . . . . . Music: Mark Daniel Merritt

Elkin Community Chorus
51st Annual Christ Concert / December 4, 2011
Director: David L. McCollum / Piano and Organ: Amy Tayloe and Amy Johnson

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By 2010 Linda and I had been singing for several years with VOCE, Surry County’s invitational chorale, directed by Sandy Beam and assisted later by Mark Merritt. Mark is a talented composer and had asked me before for lyrics. That spring VOCE had been invited to perform at Bilmore House in Asheville, NC, during the Christmas season and Mark wanted to create a suite we could debut there. The Birds’ Carol is the first of three movements in The Wanderer’s Carols. The following year David McCollum selected The Bird’s Carol for Elkin Community Chorus’s 51st Annual Christmas Concert.

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The Birds’ Carol

“Morning! Morning!” trills the lark, “The Babe brings gold to the sky!
A song of light now showers the earth, And we shall know God this day.

Now is the dawn of our new life,
And we shall know God this day.”

“This coat I wear,” caws the rook, “So black, so heavy, so grim.
Only One knows the way to make it bright – The Child who reclaims us from sin.

He lifts our burden upon himself,
The Child who reclaims us from sin.”

“Come rest with me,” coos the dove, “In this humble stable take ease.
Kings and shepherds together embrace The Prince who unites us in peace.

You make us one in all the earth,
O Prince who unites us in peace!”

“I . . . Thou, I . . . Thou,” vow the geese From dark earth to heaven above –
“May we join with Thee in a world made new; May we fly forever in love.

Give us wings of Your perfect light,
And we’ll fly forever in love.”

 

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VOCE of Mount Airy performing The Birds’ Carol, November 14, 2010, Winston-Salem First Presbyterian Church:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDPm6MYvacA&feature=related

Discussion of the symbolism of Lark, Rook, Dove, Goose:
https://griffinpoetry.com/2011/12/17/joy-hope-peace-love/

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2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

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Wilderness Advent
(Pisgah Stranger)
Lyrics: Bill Griffin . . . . . . . . . . Music: David L. McCollum

 

Elkin Community Chorus 58th Annual Concert
December 2nd, 2018 – First Baptist Church, Elkin, North Carolina

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This year (2020) would have been the 60th annual concert of the Elkin Community Chorus. The ensemble draws singers from towns and counties across northwest NC, rehearses for seven weeks, and gives two free concerts to the public on the 2nd Sunday in Advent. Linda and I have sung with the group for more than 30 years. We miss it. We’re listening to our stack of recordings from previous years and holding onto the hope that we’ll all be vaccinated and singing together again next fall.

David McCollum has been one of the group’s directors for more than 20 years. Several years back he asked me to write a Christmas poem for which he would compose the music. ECC debuted Wilderness Advent in 2018. Thank you, David, thank you Amy Johnson and Amy Tayloe for your accompaniment, thank you Tonya Smith, co-director, and thanks to the 90 or more of our neighbors whose voices make the waiting, the yearning, the anticipation of Christmas a sacrament.

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Wilderness Advent
(Pisgah Stranger)

A stranger here, I sleep beneath the slash of stars,
The Pisgah forest deep and friendless.
I close myself to love, my heart requires the dark;
Can night within this cove be endless?

Come, you’ve slept too long
And love grows dim.
Awaken to a song – Can it be Him?

Is it madness or a dream that seems to whisper here?
The murmur of a stream or singing?
It chants, a still small voice, I’ve nothing now to fear
For tidings of great joy it’s bringing.

Come, you’ve slept too long
And love grows dim.
Awaken to a song and welcome Him!

And now the music swells as every fir and spruce
Unloose their boughs to tell the story:
May all God’s creatures wake, hearts quickened by the truth,
Invited to partake of mercy.

Come, we’ve slept so long
That love grows dim.
Awaken that our song may worship Him.

Come sing it with the wind and all the Pisgah throng:
The Child reclines within the manger!
With owl and bear and deer my soul’s reborn in song
For none of us is here a stranger.

Come, you’ve slept too long;
If love grows dim
Awaken to a song for it is Him!

Waken . . . welcome . . . worship . . . it is Him!

IMG_7974

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MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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IMG_1948

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Forest Bathing Trail, Grassy Creek off Mountains-to-Sea Trail

[with poems by Lucinda Trew and Jane Craven]

Last week I took a walk in the woods with my oldest friend Bill (distanced by 2-meter dog leash). We were forest bathing (shinrin yoku): phones off, listening to Grassy Creek accompany our rustic trail, smelling leafmold, fungus, pines, going nowhere and getting there; reflecting on the moment, simmering in our conjoined past which stretches all the way back to our grandfathers who worked together on the same railroad 60 years ago.

Every trail, though, has a way of turning. Almost back to our cars, Bill happened to ask, “What are you going to do with your stuff before you die?” Us old guys, especially old poets, think about dying. Good story fodder. Let me tell you the one about . . . . Just not usually as concrete as what will become of our earthly matter when no one wants it any more.

Stoff: German, translates as substance. Two synonyms for Oxygen are Sauerstoff and Atemluft, the first meaning acid substance (early chemists’ misconception that all acids must contain oxygen) and the second meaning air for breathing. We humans can live about 3 minutes without oxygen before our brains lose neurons and our substance begins to degrade, but oxygen is pure poison to many microorganisms and tricky to deal with even for our own mammal cells (or why else would anti-oxidants be such a big deal?).

Stuff is pretty frangible. Are the moment’s mental occupations or the day’s consuming concerns any more tangible? Bill shared with me a photo of his granddad Enoch Blackley in his engineer’s gear from the 30’s, outline of pocket watch visible through the denim of his overalls. I have one very similar of my granddaddy Peewee Griffin. The bit of stuff comprising those old prints, grains of silver on paper, is mere milligrams of matter; the cubic volume of memory those images reveal is larger than many lives.

My Stoff – carbon, nitrogen, phosporus – will feed the trees. May I leave behind the tempo of my walk, the sound of laughter, honest tears of compassion, a couple of good poems. Maybe that’ll do.

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These two poems are from Kakalak 2020, the annual anthology of Carolina poets, by writers whom I don’t know and hadn’t read before. Lucinda Trew’s Of Stars fills me with wonder, all the universe in a crow-eye seed, somewhere within the secrets of universe wanting to be spilled out. Jane Craven’s Speaking of the World does just that, the image of a small flower expanding to hold the pain and contradictions of the most intimate relationships.

Metaphor is the tool that communicates the mysteries which swirl around us and within us, the inexplicable spark of our synapses, the spin of our electrons. Some things can’t be spoken, only sung.

Forest Bathing Trail, Grassy Creek off Mountains-to-Sea Trail

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Of Stars
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe. – Carl Sagan

The conjuring orchard man
holds hemispheres in sturdy hands
cupping chaos and creation
presenting apple halves
for inspection
and the revelation

of stars
a crop circle enigma etched
within sweet flesh
five symmetrical rays cradling
crow-eye seeds
small enough to spit
vast enough to hold eternity –
the very dust and stuff

of stars
carbon, nitrogen, oxygen
phosphorus – the breath and wingbeat
of birds who rise from reeds and nest

the rush and thrum
of boys who scrabble up bark, swagger
wave applewood swords

the sway and silhouette
of branches, girls dancing
longing for the moon

of pulse and surge
of cities, song, engines
prayer

the earthen realm
of roots and worm, turnips
and bones

the axial turn
of tides and shells
molecular chains

and of apples
twisted exquisitely, evenly
in half
spilling stars
and seeds and secrets
of the universe

Lucinda Trew, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Forest Bathing Trail, Grassy Creek off Mountains-to-Sea Trail

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Speaking of the World

Pinprick faces open in a violet fever behind my house – swathes
of mazus flowering downhill. A cultivar

from the Himalayas, it’s bred to survive scarcity and climate extremes.

In your world, the doctors have gone, left your body

a prescribed burn, lightly
elevated in a rented hospital bed, handfuls of pills labeled for days.

The trees, to a one, freeze beneath a milky lichen – and you who sleep

year round with open windows are speaking of the world –
of the last deer you saw weaving through balsam, of the bear

who bent double the birdfeeder, wild turkeys and their long-
neck chicks, a lone slavering coyote crossing the yard.

Grief, you say
three times,
each a dry leaf
papering
from your lips.

I left you in the boreal world, rushed back to my own life.
And I admit this with unnatural ease, like there’s no shame

in turning toward the sun, in enduring.

Jane Craven, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Lucinda Trew: http://trewwords.com/about/
Jane Craven: https://www.janecraven.com/bio

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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[with poems by Joan Barasovska and Kathy Ackerman]

Everything or nothing. The radio is off. The screen is frozen. The refrigerator snores. The clock won’t tick any faster, any slower. In an hour we leave for Raleigh to see our grandson (backyard, distanced, masked) but right now nothing is happening

I’m no good at nothing. If I wake in the dark my brain whirls venom trying to bite its tail. Where is dawn’s blessed peace? If I take deep breaths, watch the feeder, daily agendas begin to scroll down the back of my cornea. How many seconds after emptying myself before I fill back up with everything?

We are entering the season of nothing. The azalea may feint a few off-season blossoms but will we ever bloom again? We are in the season of waiting. Where is the so fragrant earth we lost so long ago? Where is the muscle and spunk of summer that convinced us we might carry through? The season of turning. What justice like waters, what righteousness like an ever-flowing stream? When? How do these shortened days stretch so long?

In the woods, something is happening. Orchids are making sugar. How have I missed that? One species will bloom in May, the second in August, but their leaves are now. Their delicate little tenacious tough-ass corms swell all winter waiting to rocket up a spike of summer flowers into a leafed-out overshaded world.

Something is always happening. Something is deeper than those scrolling agendas. Something in the world and something behind my optic chiasm in deep matter. Something that maybe wants me to be still and notice. Something to hope for, to wait for, to go forth and meet.

There is no nothing. It’s all everything.

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These two poems are from Kakalak 2020, the annual anthology of Carolina poets. It is an eclectic volume – conversational, confessional, contemplative. Not as many COVID poems as I expected but wait until 2021.

The poems by Joan Barasovska and Kathy Ackerman speak to me of the winding thread that connects our past to our present. Knots and tangles, yes, but also a lashing to secure us in the lashing storm. The something that is happening every day is us becoming human.

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Cranefly Orchid, Tipularia discolor

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Her Breath

Mike and I exchange a glance
over her cooling body.
Our eyes are dry.
Elsie wears a faded housedress
with a pattern of flowers.
Thirty minutes ago
an aide crossed
her swollen hands.

All morning we sat waiting
while Death rattled her.
She died in the afternoon
while we were out walking.
Our mother took a slow
rollercoaster ride to this day,
dragging us with her on
every shivery dip and climb.

Back from the dead,
Mike said when she woke
from a coma, angry to find herself
in a clean hospice room.
She raged until he put her back home.
Frail, sick, ninety-three, hanging on
ten hears after Dad’s death.
She scolded me yesterday.
I was late for lunch.
I had forgotten to pick up her mail.

Their old bed had been replaced
by a narrow hospital bed
rolled in the hospice workers
while she fumed in the living room
and I boiled water for tea.
Now her jaw is slack,
her last silent treatment.
Above her head hangs
a sad-eyed portrait of me at nine,
painted in blues and grays.

Mike and I are limp with relief.
the secret of Elsie’s anger died with her,
but it was probably sadness.
We are second-generation Americans,
inheritors of the sadness seed.

This mother
lying flat between us
birthed me sixty years ago.
With her last breath,
She’s in a better place
and so am I.

Joan Barasovsaka, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Adam-and-Eve Orchid, “Puttyroot,” Aplectrum hyemale

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Misnomer
for Goliath, my father

i.
This story begins when I believed every word my daddy said.
Honeysuckle, he called them, tending the cuttings
that go all the way back to Rock Creek 50 years,
Aunt Gracie’s yard in the hills where I never lived.

Honeysuckle was all I had to root me to that ancient soil,
so every home I bought I planted some
from Daddy’s supply, rooted in plain clear water.
I wondered why it had no scent, was not a vine,
was pink, for crying out loud.

Now shopping for plants for house #5,
I see the truth in 5-gallon pots before me:
Weigela.

I imagine old Aunt Gracie shooing my father away
from her quilting or canning or sitting alone.
Go cut back that honeysuckle
before it swallows up the outhouse.

Later, seeing his mistake, she didn’t correct him –
a name is just a name –
Grace just glared at tiny Goliath
so proud of his mound of pink and green
already wilting

while the roof of the outhouse
still plushed with yellow sweetness
he’d confuse for 80 years
with a plant that belongs
to the same family, after all,
but so much harder to say.

ii.
Start me some honeysuckle, Daddy, I blurt out
in one of awkward lulls.
I want to imagine his hands on the branch,
the snip of sprigs of coal country
where Gracie’s old feist
barked me all the way to the outhouse and back
when I was too small to know
how hard it is
to keep what lives alive.

Kathy Ackerman, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.
Amos 5:24

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2019-02-09 Doughton Park Tree

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