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Archive for April, 2021

[poems by Galway Kinnell, Yusef Komunyakaa, Robert Frost]

April 22, 2031 – Rover Shēn zhī (Deep Knowing) prepares to analyze its 50 meter drill core sample from the Martian south polar ice cap. Strata of grit, water ice, mineral dust – wise Rover’s AI chooses to begin by studying a faintly pigmented layer at 17.5 meters. Very promising.

Yes, there is life on Mars.

And this is what the Rover does not discover – a single species of microorganism spending its long cold days and nights in solitary, independent, utterly lonely metabolic isolation.

Instead Shēn zhī’s electron microscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance, and biochemical probes reveal several varieties of cell structures not unlike Archaea from deep ocean sites on Earth, a dozen species that mirror bacteria isolated from Antarctic cores, crystalline nucleotides indistinguishable from viruses, even twisted proteins – prions. All of these merrily feed and feed upon each other in homeostatic bliss, coevolved for a billion years: an ecological community.

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an offering from Sharon Sharp . . .

Daybreak

On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it as slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity they sank down
into the mud; they faded down
into it and lay still; and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.

“Daybreak” by Galway Kinnell (1927-2014), from The Forgotten Language: Contemporary Poets and Nature, ed. Christopher Merrill, Peregrine Smith Books, Salt Lake City, UT, 1991

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Life is community. Even you, homeostatically blissful Human, are a community of bacteria, protists, tiny ectoparasites in every pore, even Archaea in your gut. I feed my Archaea a cup of Greek yoghurt every morning and they are so serenely blissful. If you could count all the cells that comprise the unitary psychosocially distinct and identifiable YOU, less than half of them would be human cells. You and I couldn’t begin to live and remain healthy without those wonderful gut bacteria. How much more so mycorrhizal fungi and diatoms. Life is beautiful.

Earth Day is about the web of all life on planet Earth; no single organism remains completely solitary, independent, or isolated. If, through our actions or inactions, we create an Earth that makes it impossible for a certain species to survive, then our own species is that much impoverished and our own survival that much diminished. If, by our attention, understanding, and reverence, we permit the web to grow, extend, deepen, thrive, then our own species thrives. And thriving is defined only partially by strength, health, and numbers; for a human being to truly thrive also involves participating in the epiphany of connection to all living things. Community is life.

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Crossing a City Highway

The city at 3 a.m. is an ungodly mask
the approaching day hides behind
& from, the coyote nosing forth,
the muscles of something ahead,

& a fiery blaze of eighteen-wheelers
zoom out of the curved night trees,
along the rim of absolute chance.
A question hangs in the oily air.

She knows he will follow her scent
left in the poisoned grass & buzz
of chainsaws, if he can unweave
a circle of traps around the subdivision.

For a breathy moment, she stops
on the world’s edge, & then quick as that
masters the stars & again slips the noose
& darts straight between sedans & SUVs.

Don’t try to hide from her kind of blues
or the dead nomads who walked trails
now paved by wanderlust, an epoch
somewhere between tamed & wild.

If it were Monday instead of Sunday
the outcome may be different,
but she’s now in Central Park
searching for a Seneca village

among painted stones & shrubs,
where she’s never been, & lucky
she hasn’t forgotten how to jig
& kill her way home.

“Crossing a City Highway” by Yusef Komunyakaa, Poetry, January, 2016

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The Oven Bird

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

“The Oven Bird” by Robert Frost (1874-1963)

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[Bad news for Shēn zhī: an unanticipated feature of Martian metabolism is that the cells require elements from Groups 8, 9, 10 of the Periodic Table for electron transport during energy transfer – they “eat” iron, cobalt, nickel, and rhodium. Within a few weeks many of the Rover’s critical microconnectors begin to fail. EarthLink in Ningbo goes dark. Bits of Shēn zhī drop to the Martian substrate. The Rover ultimately pinpoints the cause and transmits a warning: “Do Not Come Here.”

Unfortunately its message is garbled and received by other Martian Rovers as, “Come Here!” Within fifteen years they have all arrived at the southern plateau and become fodder for the Martian ecological community.

Which thrives.]

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[original artwork by Linda French Griffin (c) 2021]

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[poems by George Oppen, Jenny Bates, Matthew Olzmann, Dianna Pinckney]

an offering from Pat Riviere-Seel . . .

  PSALM
-Veritas sequitur …
– George Oppen –

In the small beauty of the forest
The wild deer bedding down—
That they are there!

Their eyes
Effortless, the soft lips
Nuzzle and the alien small teeth
Tear at the grass

The roots of it
Dangle from their mouths
Scattering earth in the strange woods.
They who are there.

Their paths
Nibbled thru the fields, the leaves that shade them
Hang in the distances
Of sun

The small nouns
Crying faith
In this in which the wild deer
Startle, and stare out.

Psalm” by George Oppen, from New Collected Poems, copyright © 1975 by George Oppen, New Directions Publishing Corporation

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In the introduction to The Ecopoetry Anthology, Laura-Gray Street speaks of George Oppen’s “Psalm” and her epiphany in reading it: language – the Word – is not something that separates us from and elevates us above the rest of this planet. Rather, language is an integral part of our biological selves. The roots of it / Dangle from [our] mouths. We are language-making creatures in the same way that spiders are web-making creatures.

What does the language make of us as we make it? I watch my wife Linda French Griffin at her drawing table. She moves her pencil point across white paper and images take form and grow out of nothing to expand and link and resolve into something entirely new – as I look at her drawings I’m filled with feelings and ideas that grow out of nothing but are linked to all I have felt and known up until that point, and yet are entirely new. Reading a poem, writing a poem, may give substance to inchoate urges we had tried imperfectly to permit to lead us into a new place. Language conjures spirits that clothe themselves with the flesh of newly perceived reality. Language makes us a new person.

Several friends have offered poems that speak to them about our Earth and which offer to gather us all in together to celebrate Earth Day! I’m posting their offerings April 21, 22, and 23. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you notice? What do you feel? How are you changed? What will you do?

 

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an offering from Jenny Bates, her poem . . .

Doubts in Other Latitudes

You will not find them on any

geologist’s map; artifacts discarded
glimpses inset
in moments
stagger out of time.

Tippling trinities disrupt
the rhythmic landscape;
beer bottles

####pop cans
########chip bags
foul party of litter.

Earth ambitious
not without
want of amusement
yet with great
vision

####energy

########patience
its commitment of being mindful
confidence to complete its life,

a solitary endeavour.

Terra firma watches human struggle
from a caged window,
doubting its endorsement of evolution.
Dreams of smooth skinned ammonites

from the Jurassic,

Dinosaurs enjoying retirement
in geologic armchairs.

I do not make rubbish, says the ground
as I stir the forest leaves.

“Doubts in Other Latitudes” by Jenny Bates from Visitations (Hermit Feathers Press, 2019)

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an offering from Lisa Zerkle . . .

Commencement Speech, Delivered to a Herd of Walrus Calves
– Matthew Olzmann –

Young walruses, we all must adapt! For example,
some of your ancestors gouged the world
with four tusks, but you can grow only two.
It’s hard to say what evolution plans for your kind,
but if given a choice,
you should put in a request for thumbs.
Anyway, congratulations! You’re entering
a world that’s increasingly hostile and cruel
and full of people who’ll never take you seriously
though that will be a mistake on their end.
You are more tenacious than they know.
You’ll be a fierce and loyal defender
of those you love. You will fight polar bears
when they attack your friends and sometimes you’ll win.
Of course, odds always favor the polar bear,
but that’s not the point. The point is courage.
The point is bravery. The point is you are all fighters
even when the fight in which you find yourself
ensures unpleasant things will happen to you.
For example, the bear will gnaw apart your skull
or neck until you stop that persistent twitching;
it will eat your skin, all of it, then blubber, then muscle,
then the tears of your loved ones, in that order;
it will savor every bite, and you will just
suffer and suffer until the emptiness can wash over you.
The good news is: things change!
For example: the environment.
Climate change, indeed, is bad for you,
but it’s worse for polar bears whose conservation status
is now listed as “vulnerable” which is one step removed
from “endangered” which is one step removed
from “extinct” which is a synonym
for Hooray! None of you get eaten!
I suppose this will make some people sad.
Even now, they’re posting pictures
of disconsolate polar bears on melting ice floes
drifting toward a well-deserved oblivion.
They say, We need to stop this!
They say, We need to do something, now!
These people are not your friends.
One cannot be on both Team Walrus and Team Polar Bear
at the same time. I’m not saying these people are evil;
I’m saying, it’s time to choose a side.
I’m saying sharpen your tusks, young calves;
your enemies are devious. You need to train
yourself to do what they won’t expect.
For example: use computers, invest
in renewable energies, read Zbigniew Herbert.
Unrelatedly: your whiskers make you appear
to have mustaches, which, seeing as you’re
not even toddlers, is remarkably unsettling.
Babies that look like grown men freak me out.
Like those medieval paintings by so-called masters
where they’d make the face of little baby Jesus
look like an ancient constipated banker.
If that’s what God really looks like,
it’s no wonder we’ve done what we’ve done to the Earth.
Maybe you can repair what we spent lifetimes taking apart.
Replace some screws. Oil some hinges.
This might sound impossible, but have you ever
looked at yourselves? Seriously—take a quick look
and tell me how a walrus face is possible;
everything about it defies the laws of physics.

You will exist beyond the reach of nature.
You will learn to slow your own heartbeat to preserve oxygen
while diving to depths of over 900 feet.
You will stay awake for up to three consecutive days
while swimming on the open sea.
And when the ocean is too rough—
so terrible with longing, so ruptured with heartache—
you’ll find a small island of stone or ice offering refuge.
It will be difficult to climb from the water,
but because there’s hope for us all,
you will hoist yourself up,
using only your front teeth to drag your body
onto the shore.

Commencement Speech, Delivered to a Herd of Walrus Calves” by Matthew Olzmann from POETRY, Published in Issue 19, 2020

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Bloodroot; Sanguinaria canadensis; Mountains-to-Sea Trail above Brinegar Cabin

 

An offering from Diana Pinckney, her poem . . .

Clapper Rails

Thin, dark flitting invisible
through reedy creeks, these

calls and cackles gleeful
the sun has seeped into trees.

A raucous crowd, near, but not of
the ocean. Who cares if your eyes

ever glimpse a flurry, one or two
fluttering their wings, less graceful

than chickens careening
old barnyards. Marsh hens

natives called them, tracked
and trapped, such poultry

made a foul meal. So tough
no one dared fry or bake.

They ride tides, float eggs in pluff-mud
and shrill black waters. You know

they are close, answering each
other over oyster beds, blue crabs,

every scuttling appetite, the night
grasses alive with hoots rising,

a party you love to be near, not of.

“Clapper Rails” by Diana Pinckney, first published in Wild Goose Poetry Review and collected in Green Daughters, Lorimer Press, © 2011 Diana Pinckney

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[original artwork by Linda French Griffin (c) 2021]

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[poems by Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry, Rose Fyleman, David Radavich]

an offering from Craig Kittner . . .

Piute Creek
– Gary Snyder –

One granite ridge
A tree, would be enough
Or even a rock, a small creek,
A bark shred in a pool.
Hill beyond hill, folded and twisted
Tough trees crammed
In thin stone fractures
A huge moon on it all, is too much.
The mind wanders. A million
Summers, night air still and the rocks
Warm. Sky over endless mountains.
All the junk that goes with being human
Drops away, hard rock wavers
Even the heavy present seems to fail
This bubble of a heart.
Words and books
Like a small creek off a high ledge
Gone in the dry air.

A clear, attentive mind
Has no meaning but that
Which sees is truly seen.
No one loves rock, yet we are here.
Night chills. A flick
In the moonlight
Slips into Juniper shadow:
Back there unseen
Cold proud eyes
Of Cougar or Coyote
Watch me rise and go.

Piute Creek” by Gary Snyder from Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems. Copyright © 2009 by Gary Snyder

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an offering from Alana Dagenhart . . .

The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, 1836

Poet, will you put the parts back together? The seed, the roots, the petals that have been thrashed and trampled? The bits that once meshed and fit now distracted and ignored? The air we can’t taste, the sunlight we can’t breathe, the stone beneath our feet, the water in our hair? Who will put us back together and put us into the places where we belong, all together?

Several friends have offered poems that speak to them about our Earth and which offer to gather us all in together to celebrate Earth Day! I’m posting their offerings April 21, 22, and 23. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you notice? What do you feel?

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an offering from both Lynda Rush-Myers and Kitsey Burns Harrison . . .

The Peace of Wild Things
– Wendell Berry –

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems (North Point Press), © 1985

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an offering from Kitsey Burns Harrison . . .

Mice
– Rose Fyleman –

I think mice
are rather nice;
Their tails are long,
their faces small;
They haven’t any
chins at all.
Their ears are pink,
their teeth are white,
They run about
the house at night;
They nibble things
they shouldn’t touch,
and, no one seems
to like them much,
but, I think mice
are rather nice.

Mice” by Rose Fyleman (1887-1957)

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Roundleaf Yellow Violet; Viola rotundifolia; Mountains-to-Sea Trail above Brinegar Cabin

an offering from David Radavich, his poem . . .

Enough

Rare is better:
The price soars
when you lack
what you need.

A poem carries
everything
in your pocket
like a mind.

Love can be
stored in a cell
whose DNA
heartens life.

Music is soul
saving, the simplest
math and finding
one solution.

O earth that is
rare and good,
sing to the unclean
with your seas.

“Enough” by David Radavich, originally appeared in Iodine Poetry Journal

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[original artwork by Linda French Griffin (c) 2021]

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[poems by Joy Harjo, Wendell Berry, Mary Hennessy]

an offering from Debra Kaufman . . .

Remember
– Joy Harjo –

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

Remember”; Copyright ©1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo

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There is something we want to hear that poetry speaks to us. We don’t know what it is until we feel its vibrations. How could we know? Do you only see what you know you want to see and never turn around and the redbud has burst into bloom? Do you only smell what you know you want to smell and baking shortbread never wafts you into Nana’s kitchen?

Poetry wants to say to us the thing we didn’t know we wanted to hear but deep within us we do know and do desire. Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you. / Remember language comes from this. (Joy Harjo).

Several friends have offered poems that speak to them about our Earth and which offer to gather us all in together to celebrate Earth Day! I’m posting their offerings April 21, 22, and 23. What do you see? What do you hear?

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Linda French Griffin

an offering from Catherine Carter . . .

A Purification
– Wendell Berry –

At start of spring I open a trench
in the ground. I put into it
the winter’s accumulation of paper,
pages I do not want to read
again, useless words, fragments,
errors. And I put into it
the contents of the outhouse:
light of the sun, growth of the ground,
finished with one of their journeys.
To the sky, to the wind, then,
and to the faithful trees, I confess
my sins: that I have not been happy
enough, considering my good luck;
have listened to too much noise;
have been inattentive to wonders;
have lusted after praise.
And then upon the gathered refuse
of mind and body, I close the trench,
folding shut again the dark,
the deathless earth. Beneath that seal
the old escapes into the new.

A Purification” by Wendell Berry from New Collected Poems. Counterpoint © 2012

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Plantainleaf Pussytoes; Antennaria plantaginifolia; Mountains-to-Sea Trail above Brinegar Cabin

an offering by Mary Hennessy, her poem . . .

Repeat After Me:

jettison the idea of shelter.
Say it’s like a camera,
one more thing to hold between

ourselves and the world.
In hand, an invitation by library card
to leave the room of a little life.

Move out unwashed and unredeemed.
Wear a raggedy-assed back pack
like a harness.

The smell of pressed meat
from the back of the bus,
The curve at the top of the world

visible. Something you could Braille-
the almost arc of it.
You tell me that the composer Ravel repeats

every line, I say, “so do the birds.”
Sometimes they go on repeating
until I lose count.

Without looking up you say, “the world
will be gone a long time before anyone notices.”
The world will be gone a long time.

“Repeat After Me” © Mary Hennessy, first appeared in Pinesong 2018, annual anthology of the North Carolina Poetry Society

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[original artwork by Linda French Griffin (c) 2021]

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Earth Day artwork by Linda French Griffin

[with poems by Dorianne Laux and Tony Hoagland]

The sensual man conforms thoughts to things; the poet conforms things to his thoughts. The one esteems nature as rooted and fast; the other, as fluid, and impresses his being theron.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, 1836

April 22, 1970 – the entire student body of Aurora High School is milling around outdoors in the Ohio springtime. In the front parking log five or six big black coffins are set up like grim milestones. The coffins bear epitaphs like “Clean Water” and “Beautiful Land” – the administration has granted the Student Council’s request to have an assembly to celebrate the first Earth Day.

I am taking photos for Borealis, the yearbook; my girl friend Linda French is assistant editor. She is vastly more the environmental activist than I. Our little farm town / bedroom community is forty miles from Cleveland and the where the Cuyahoga River crosses our local golf course it’s an insubstantial creek. The year before, though, the Cuyahoga River where it enters Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland caught fire and burned, and not for the first time. No big deal – oil slicks and pollution mean progress, full employment. Forget about it.

Maybe we all would have forgotten, except Time Magazine published articles about the burning river and then in December National Geographic featured it on the cover – “Our Ecological Crisis.” Congress had established the Environmental Protection Agency in January 1970; by spring even we kids in sleepy Aurora must be worrying how much longer we’ll have clean water and beautiful land.

Earth Day 1970

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A couple of years ago Linda and I took a road trip to northeastern Ohio to visit all the old haunts. The high school has additions and facilities we can’t even figure out. The golf course is now a reclaimed and replanted nature preserve with walking trails. There’s lots of new development in Aurora but there are still cow pastures and horses.

We also paid our first visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Designated a National Recreation Area in 1974, the same year we got married and moved to North Carolina, it became a National Park in 2000. Between Akron and Cleveland it comprises more than 33,000 acres following the river and the old Ohio & Erie Canal and reaching all the way into metropolitan Garfield Heights – the nation’s largest urban park. Even outside the Park the Cuyahoga is cleaned up, restored, back in the business of fish and wildlife and recreation instead of oil slicks. In 1970 if you fell into the river it meant an immediate trip the ER; now you just climb back up on your paddle board.

Without catching on fire.

Earth Day 1970

Earth Day 1970

 

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These two poems are collected in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas, © 2013.

Dorianne Laux has taught creative writing at NC State University and elsewhere. Her most recent book among many is Only as the Day Is Long: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 2019).

Tony Hoagland (1953-2018) was born in Fort Bragg, NC, and taught at the University of Houston and Warren Wilson College. His many books of poetry include Unincorporated Personas in the Late Honda Dynasty (Graywolf Press, 2005)

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Life is Beautiful

+++++++++ and remote, and useful,
if only to itself. Take the fly, angel
of the ordinary house, laying its bright
eggs on the trash, pressing each jewel out
delicately along a crust of buttered toast.
Bagged, the whole mess travels to the nearest
dump where other flies have gathered, singing
over stained newsprint and reeking
fruit. Rapt on air they execute an intricate
ballet above the clashing pirouettes
of heavy machinery. They hum with life.
While inside rumpled sacks pure white
maggots writhe and spiral from a rip,
a tear-shaped hole that drools and drips
a living froth onto the buried earth.
The warm days pass, gulls scree and pitch,
rats manage the crevices, feral cats abandon
their litters for a morsel of torn fur, stranded
dogs roam open fields, sniff the fragrant edges,
a tossed lacework of bones and shredded flesh.
And the maggots tumble at the center, ripening,
husks membrane-thin, embryos darkening
and shifting within, wings curled and wet,
the open air pungent and ready to receive them
in their fecund iridescence. And so, of our homely hosts,
a bag of jewels is born again into the world. Come, lost
children of the sun-drenched kitchen, your parents
soundly sleep along the windowsill, content,
wings at rest, nestled in against the warm glass.
Everywhere the good life oozes from the useless
waste we make when we create – our streets teem
with human young, rafts of pigeons streaming
over squirrel-burdened trees. If there is
a purpose, maybe there are too many of us
to see it, though we can, from a distance,
hear the dull thrum of generation’s industry,
feel its fleshly wheel churn the fire inside us, pushing
the world forward toward its ragged edge, rushing
like a swollen river into multitude and rank disorder.
Such abundance. We are gorged, engorging, and gorgeous.

Dorianne Laux
from Smoke, BOA Editions Ltd., © 2000 Dorianne Laux

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Wild

In late August when the streams dry up
and the high meadows turn parched and blond,

bears are squeezed out of the mountains
down into the valley of condos and housing developments.

All residents are therefore prohibited
from putting their garbage out early.

The penalty for disobedience will be
bears: large black furry fellows

drinking from you sprinkler system,
rolling your trashcans down your lawn,

bashing through the screen door of the back porch to get their
first real taste of a spaghetti dinner,

while the family hides in the garage
and the wife dials 1-800-BEARS on her cell phone,

a number she just made up
in a burst of creative hysteria.

Isn’t that the way it goes?
Wildness enters your life and asks

that you invent a way to meet it,
and you run in the opposite direction

as the bears saunter down Main Street
sending station wagons crashing into fire hydrants,

getting the police department to phone
for tranquilizer guns,

the dart going by accident into the
neck of the unpopular police chief,

who is carried into early retirement
in an ambulance crowned with flashing red lights,

as the bears inherit the earth
full of water and humans and garbage,

which looks to them like paradise.

Tony Hoagland
from Unincorporated Personas in the Late Honda Dynasty, Graywolf Press, © 2005 Tony Hoagland.

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Liverwort, Marchantia species; Liverworts are primitive nonvascular plants, perhaps the most primitive true plants still in existence.

Isn’t life beautiful? Not always pretty but always beautiful. Often messy, invariably smelly, predictably unpredictable, unexpectedly weird, but always beautiful. Scrunch down low enough to notice; don’t let it bite you (much); take off your anthropocentric glasses; what did I tell you – beautiful!

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[original artwork by Linda French Griffin (c) 2021]

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[including a poem by Rebecca Lindenberg]

I am still not sure what Will was thinking but he was very distant that evening. It was the last night of our backpacking trip through the Smokies. I knew he lived for wilderness – maybe he was simply ruing how long it would be until he’d have another chance to return to these mountains. Maybe he was doubting his chosen vocation, family doctor, the hectic office where we’d be working together again day after tomorrow. Maybe . . . maybe each of us longs to hang onto those few moments when we really feel we belong in the universe. And then they slip away.

We’d planned this trip together, just the two of us, for months. Now we were cooking our last supper. We had distanced ourselves from Mt. Collins shelter and the other hikers with their butane stoves that roared like jet liners. Will had fashioned a little alcohol stove out of a 7-Up can. Our noodles and dried vegetables simmered in silence.

When we’d finished eating and Will picked up the “stove,” his funk hit bottom. Our heat had fried a pygmy salamander (Desmognathus wrighti). Will lifted its weightless form and we grieved. We didn’t have much of anything more to say to each other that night.

In the morning we headed south on the AT to where our car waited at Clingman’s Dome. Bleached dead Frazer Fir flanked the trail with their mute accusations but the sun was cool and jeweled the dew on ridgeline grasses. About a mile from trail’s end, Will stopped and pointed. Perched on a stem sunning itself – Jordan’s Red-cheeked salamander, Plethodon jordani. Endemic to the Smokies, endangered, icon of biodiversity, preservation, and evolutionary variety. Was it waiting here to condemn us or to offer absolution?

Or to invite us to keep traveling until we discover where we belong?

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It feels terrible to feel terrible // and so we let ourselves / start to forget.

There are plenty of pygmy salamanders but let me not forget that one. I haven’t heard a whip-poor-will in five years; let me not forget. I can choose to love this or that or the other . . . or you – let me not forget to hold tight to the choices that will hold you and me together.

We celebrate Earth Day with the other inhabitants of our single habitable planet on April 22, but how we venerate earth day depends on the choices we make every day.

They’re not wonders, but signs // and therefore can be read.

 

[#Beginning of Shooting Data Section]<br /> Nikon CoolPix2500<br /> 0000/00/00 00:00:00<br /> JPEG (8-bit) Normal<br /> Image Size: 1600 x 1200<br /> Color<br /> ConverterLens: None<br /> Focal Length: 16.8mm<br /> Exposure Mode: Programmed Auto<br /> Metering Mode: Multi-Pattern<br /> 1/59.9 sec - f/8<br /> Exposure Comp.: 0 EV<br /> Sensitivity: Auto<br /> White Balance: Auto<br /> AF Mode: AF-S<br /> Tone Comp: Auto<br /> Flash Sync Mode: Front Curtain<br /> Electric Zoom Ratio: 1.00<br /> Saturation comp: 0<br /> Sharpening: Auto<br /> Noise Reduction: OFF<br /> [#End of Shooting Data Section]

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A Brief History of the Future Apocalypse

Worlds just keep on ending and
ending, ask anybody who survived

an earthquake in an ancient city
its people can’t afford to bolt

to the bedrock, or lived to testify
about the tyrant who used his city’s roofs

like planks to walk people off,
his country’s rivers like alligator pits

he could lever open and drop a whole
angry nation into. Ask anyone

who was watched their own ribs emerge
as hunger pulls them like a tide,

who watched bloody-sheet-wrapped
bodies from the epidemic burn,

or fled any of the wars to come.
The year I was eleven, I felt

the ground go airplane turbulent
beneath me. Its curt shuddering

brought down a bridge and a highway
I’d been under just the day before.

And I was not afraid, but should have been
the first time love fell in me like snow.

How could I know it would inter us
both, so much volcanic ash –

how could I not? The world must
end and I think it will keep ending

so long as we keep failing to heed
the simple prophecies of fact –

hot-mouthed coal-breathing machines
fog our crystal ball, war is a trapdoor

sprung open in the earth that a whole
generation falls through, love ends,

if no one errs, in death. When
my love died, I remember thinking

this happens to people every day,
just – today, it’s our world

crashing like an unmanned plane
into the jungle of all I’ve ever

had to feel, or imagine knowing.
It feels terrible to feel terrible

and so we let ourselves
start to forget. That must be it.

Why else would we let the drawbridge
down for a new army, water

the Horseman of Famine’s red steed
with the last bucket from the well

or worse – give up then. A heart
sorrow-whipped and cowering

will still nose its ribcage to be petted.
Will still have an urge for heroics.

And anyway, when has fear of grief
actually kept anyone from harm.

Some hope rustles in my leaves
again. It blows through, they eddy

the floor of me, unsettling
all I tried to learn to settle for.

Would I be wiser to keep
a past sacrament folded in my lap

or would I be more wise to shake
the gathered poppies from my apron,

brush off soft crimson petals
of memory and be un-haunted –

I don’t know. So I choose you and we
will have to live this to learn what happens.

And though it’s tempting to mistake
for wonders the surge of dappled

white-tailed does vaulting through
suburban sliding glass doors,

they are not. Not vanishing bees
blown out like so many thousands

of tiny candle-flames, neither
the glinting throngs of small black birds

suddenly spiraling out of the sky,
the earth almost not even dimpling

with the soft thuds of feathered weight.
Nor the great wet sacks of whale

allowing the tide to deposit them alive
on a strand, nor even the sudden

translucent bloom of jellyfishes.
They’re not wonders, but signs

and therefore can be read. I didn’t
always know that apocalypse

meant not the end of the world but
the universe disclosing its knowledge

as the sea is meant to give up its dead,
the big reveal, when the veil blows back

like so many cobwebs amid the ruins
and all the meaning of all the evidence

will shine in us to finally see –
And there you’ll be and I’ll know you

not by the moon in your voice but the song
rung in my animal self. For I feel you,

my sure-handed one, with something
sacreder than instinct but just as fanged.

Then unfold me the way you know
I want so I can watch the stars

blink back on over the garden as we grapple
in the dimming black like little, little gods.

Rebecca Lindenberg

from Best American Poetry 2019; Major Jackson, editor, David Lehman, series editor; Scribner Poetry 2019
first appeared in Southern Indiana Review; reprinted by permission from Rebecca Lindenberg

More by Rebecca . . . https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/rebecca-lindenberg

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Rebecca Lindenberg teaches in the MFA program at Queens University, Charlotte, and is an Assistant Professor at the University of Cincinnati where she is also Poetry Editor of the Cincinnati Review. She holds a Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Utah. She is the author of Love, an Index (McSweeney’s 2012) and The Logan Notebooks (The Center for Literary Publishing at Colorado State 2014), winner of the 2015 Utah Book Award.

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[#Beginning of Shooting Data Section]<br /> Nikon CoolPix2500<br /> 0000/00/00 00:00:00<br /> JPEG (8-bit) Normal<br /> Image Size: 1600 x 1200<br /> Color<br /> ConverterLens: None<br /> Focal Length: 11.8mm<br /> Exposure Mode: Programmed Auto<br /> Metering Mode: Multi-Pattern<br /> 1/30 sec - f/4<br /> Exposure Comp.: 0 EV<br /> Sensitivity: Auto<br /> White Balance: Auto<br /> AF Mode: AF-S<br /> Tone Comp: Auto<br /> Flash Sync Mode: Front Curtain<br /> Electric Zoom Ratio: 1.00<br /> Saturation comp: 0<br /> Sharpening: Auto<br /> Noise Reduction: OFF<br /> [#End of Shooting Data Section]

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[Behind the scenes karma: I received Best American Poetry 2019 as a gift last Christmas (Oh Santa, you are so good at taking hints!) but I hadn’t read it until this week. I was hoping to discover something that would evoke April as Earth Month anticipating Earth Day, resigned to forgoing my usual focus on Carolina writers. Rebecca Lindenberg’s poem leapt from the page; it is the best of the Best, the Best American Poem of 2019 in my opinion. It wasn’t until after I had asked her permission to use it that I discovered Rebecca’s connection to Queens University and probably to many of the other writers who have appeared in this space. Karmic connection comes through.  – B ]

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For Easter, remembering Easters past and those we shared them with . . .

Homeless Jesus

He lies there, on a metal bench, feet bare,
the nail holes boring into the very marrow
of our souls. This is not the angry prophet
who threw the money changers from the icy
temple. Oh no, this is Jesus, after what we
did to him. Yes, not they, but we. He is not
sleeping there because some sculptor thought
it smart for his art. God no! He is sleeping there
because we put him there, every day, every
hour, every second.

Look at the size of the holes. A child
was frightened by those holes, someone tells me.
Good. Let the child go home. Let the parents
tell the child what we did to him, what
we still do to him.
++++++++++++++++ And you, who read
these words, stop your cars, get out, go sit
with him and talk. Bend down and look
into that sleeping face beneath the hood.
Pour water through his parched lips, bandage
his naked feet. Cover the holes we have made.
Do it now, do it now, do it now, and perhaps
on Easter morning early you’ll drive by and see
the bench is bare, the empty cloak crumpled
on the ground.

Meanwhile, in a different town on a back street
in a cardboard box, another homeless Jesus waits.

 

Anthony S. Abbott
from Dark Side of North, Press 53, Winston-Salem, NC © 2021 the Estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

John 13:34 (NIV)

 

 

 

 

Remembering . . .

Rick Flanery    (1945-2019)
Edwin “Skip” Ball    (1944-2020
Cora Burley    (1923-2020)
Charles McKenzie    (1931-2020)
Charlotte Case    (1923-2020)
Charles Hair    (1934-2021)

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[poems: Charles Causley, A. R. Ammons, Psalm 118
Su Tung-P’o, Jack Gilbert, R. S. Thomas]

In Celebration:

Day and night meet as equals, vow their green promise, the brown and blasted fields blossom.

Evil thoughts, evil words, evil actions, from all these we refrain and the earth is blessed.

Colors of my hand, your face, are only the colors of our friendships renewed and restored.

Release from bondage, a night like no others, let me tell you what it means to be set free.

The single step that begins the journey of awareness is behind you and before you.

The upper room, the garden, the cross, down this path the stone has been rolled away.

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In 2021:

Vernal Equinox and the beginning of Spring is March 20 at 09:37 GMT.

Ramadan is April 12 through May 11, Eid al-Fitr May 12.

Holi (Festival of Colors) is March 28 through 29.

Passover is the evening of March 27 to evening of April 4, first Seder March 27.

Vestak (Buddha Day) is May 26.

Lent is February 17 through April 1, Easter April 4.

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In Joy:

Charles Causley – At Kfar Kana
A. R. Ammons – The City Limits
Psalm 118 – selected verses
Su Tung-P’o – With Mao and Fang, Visiting Bright Insight Monastery
Jack Gilbert – Horses at Midnight without a Moon
R. S. Thomas – In a Country Church

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At Kfar Kana

The bus halts its long brawl
with rock and tar and sun.
The pilgrims trudge to where
the miracle was done:
each altar the exact
authenticated site
of a far, famous act
which if performed at all
may well have been not here.

I turn away and walk
and watch the pale sun slide,
the furry shadows bloom
along the hills rough hide.
Beneath a leafy span
in fast and falling light
Arabs take coffee, scan
the traveller, smoke, talk
as in a dim, blue room.

The distant lake is flame.
Beside the fig’s green bell
I lean on a parched bay
where steps lead to a well.
Two children smile, come up
with water, sharp and bright,
drawn in a paper cup.
‘This place, what is its name?’
‘Kfar Kana,’ they say,

Gravely resuming free
pure rituals of play
as pilgrims from each shrine
come down the dusty way
with ocean-coloured glass,
embroidered cloths, nun-white,
and sunless bits of brass –
where children changed for me
well-water into wine.

Charles Causley (1917-2003)

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The City Limits

When you consider the radiance, that it does not
+++ withhold itself
but pours its abundance without selection into
+++ every nook
and cranny not overhung or hidden;
+++ when you consider

that birds’ bones make no awful noise
+++ against the light
but lie low in the light as in a high testimony;
+++ when you consider
the radiance, that it will look into the guiltiest

swervings of the weaving heart and bear
+++ itself upon them,
not flinching into disguise or darkening;
+++ when you consider
the abundance of such resource as illuminates
+++ the glow-blue

bodies and gold-skeined wings of flies
+++ swarming the dumped
guts of a natural slaughter or the coil of shit
+++ and in no way
winces from its storms of generosity;
+++ when you consider

that air or vacuum, snow or shale, squid or wolf,
+++ rose or lichen,
each is accepted into as much light as it will take,
+++ then the heart
moves roomier, the man stand and looks
+++ about, the

leaf does not increase itself above the grass,
+++ and the dark
work of the deepest cells is of a tune
+++ with May bushes
and fear lit by the breadth of such calmly
+++ turns to praise.

A. R. Ammons (1926-2001)

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Psalm 118

You pressed me hard,
++ I nearly fell;
++ but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and song;
++ He has become my deliverance.
The tents of the righteous resound with joyous shouts
++ of deliverance,
++ “The right hand of the Lord is triumphant!
The right hand of the Lord is exalted!
The right hand of the Lord is triumphant!”

I shall not die but live
++ and proclaim the works of the Lord.
The Lord punished me severely,
++ but did not hand me over to death.

Open the gates of righteousness for me
++ that I may enter them and praise the Lord.
This is the gateway to the Lord –
++ the righteous shall enter through it.

I praise You, for You have answered me,
++ and have become my deliverance.
The stone that the builders rejected
++ has become the chief cornerstone.

This is the Lord’s doing;
++ it is marvelous in our sight.
This is the day that the Lord has made –
++ let us exult and rejoice in it.

from the Egyptian Hallel —  Psalm 118:13-24

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With Mao and Fang, Visiting Bright Insight Monastery

It’s enough on this twisting mountain road
++ to simply stop.
Clear water cascades thin down rock, startling
++ admiration,

white cloud swells of itself across ridgelines
++ east and west,
and who knows if the lake’s bright moon is above
++ or below?

It’s the season black and yellow millet both begin
++ to ripen,
oranges red and green, halfway into such lovely
++ sweetness.

All this joy in our lives – what is it but heaven’s
++ great gift?
Why confuse the children with all our fine
++ explanations?

Su Tung-P’o (1037-1101), translated from the Chinese by David Hinton

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Horses at Midnight without a Moon

Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
The summer mornings begin inch by inch
while we sleep, and walk with us later
as long-legged beauty through
the dirty streets. It is no surprise
that danger and suffering surround us.
What astonishes is the singing.
We know the horses are there in the dark
meadow because we can smell them,
can hear them breathing.
Our spirit persists like a man struggling
through the frozen valley
who suddenly smells flowers
and realizes the snow is melting
out of sight on top of the mountain,
knows that spring has begun.

Jack Gilbert (1925-2012)

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In a Country Church

To one kneeling down no word came,
Only the wind’s song, saddening to the lips
Of the grave saints, rigid in glass;
Or the dry whisper of unseen wings,
Bats not angels, in the high roof.

Was he balked by the silence? He kneeled long,
And saw love in a dark crown
Of thorns blazing, and a winter tree
Golden with fruit of a man’s body.

R. S. Thomas (1913-2000)

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At Kfar Kana; In a Country Church: collected in Tongues of Fire, An Anthology of Religious and Poetic Experience, Introduced and edited by Karen Armstrong, Viking Penguin Books, © 1985

The City Limits; With Mao and Fang, Visiting Bright Insight Monastery; Horses at Midnight without a Moon: collected in The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy edited by John Brehm, Wisdom Publications, © 2017

Psalm 118: The Jewish Study Bible, Jewish Publication Society, Oxford University Press, Second Edition © 2014; TANAKH translation © 1985,1999

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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