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Archive for August 13th, 2021

[with two poems by Robert Pack]

We almost didn’t walk that extra trail. It was noon when my grandson and I finished the 3.3 mile Elliot Coues loop at Fort Macon State Park. Across the salt marsh we’d watched egrets glide and settle; crouched for fiddler crabs and ducked for banana spiders in the maritime forest; climbed the highest dunes on Bogue Banks for a view of Beaufort Inlet. Now we were sweaty, parched, almost back to the car when we came to the little afterthought of a side trail.

We almost didn’t walk down to the sound and around the tannic pond. Almost passed without noticing the sleek ratsnake where it eyed us motionless from the bank before it glided back into the sedges. Almost didn’t turn up the short spur to discover the ibis ignoring us, nonchalant, preening.

Almost didn’t but we did. Maybe my grandson will remember saying, “Come on, Pappy, that’s enough pictures,” or maybe he will remember the glistening head, jewel eye, periscope neck while we waited a full minute for the snake to flick its tongue a second time.

Rat Snake, Elaphe [Pantherophis] obsoleta

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For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth the beasts; as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they all have one breath. +++++++++Ecclesiastes, Three

My introduction to Robert Pack was as co-editor with Jay Parini of Poems for a Small Planet: Contemporary American Nature Poetry (1993). This year I bought his most recent book, All One Breath (Green Writers Press, 2019). Bob Pack has been called one of America’s best “nature poets” but the “nature” of his poems opens its arms wide to embrace every human experience. Perhaps that’s the final task of poetry: to acknowledge and explore every thing we have in common with each other and with every creature, particle, planet.

These two poems speak to me as old guy who wants to show my grandkids all I see. And as young guy still with everything to learn.

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Crossing the Bridge

++++++++++++For Stanley Bates

++++When old age shall this generation waste,
++++Thou shalt remain in midst of other woe
++++Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou sayest:
++++Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty,
++++That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need
++++to know.
++++ ++++from “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” John Keats

And now it is my generation
that has gone to waste.
I have outlasted my best friends;
no one is left but me
and this elusive, talking urn.
So I will play along with this
engaging fantasy as if
the late philosopher Stan Bates
and his exploratory mind were here
to tease me with the concept of
statically engraved eternity
and help me to distract myself
from the engulfing sense of emptiness
by thinking about thinking while
assuming thought is able to
protect us from the thoughts we think:
discoursing with a meditative urn,
conversing with you when you are not here.
I will interrogate the urn
by asking what it means by its
notorious and enigmatic claim
that Truth and Beauty are identical,
and I’ll conjecture that the far side
of the urn, the side I cannot see,
shows a tableau of a familiar scene
in early spring of a carousing stream
still edged with a fine filigree of ice
and highlighted with puffs of mist
like miniature ghosts. Across the stream
a tree has fallen like a walkway
for a spirit, should he need a passage
to the undepicted shrubbery
beyond the sleek stones on the other bank.
The spirit is, of course, invisible,
as you are now, but I can hear
his wafted flute notes as he passes by
in lilting harmony with the swirled stream’s
incantatory whispering –
as Keats could hear soft sweetness in
the silence of those “unheard melodies”
and I can hear you praising the audacity
of Keats’s baffling paradox.
I’m guessing that you would agree that this
impressionistic woodland scene
is beautiful and I’d be pleased to have
the urn give it artistic permanence,
but since all permanence is an
illusion, the urn’s vain assertion
in undoubting certainty
cannot be true, yet knowing that
it is not true – nothing is true
that does not change and disappear –
surely is true, despite our wish that we
might be less permanently sorrowful,
and sorrow no more than a shadow
on fresh snow, the murmuring of wind
amid the drying meadow grass.
But I cannot delude myself or long
be unaware of the surrounding emptiness,
pretending that you’re here and we
are entertained by speculating what
the urn might understand about
our need for solace in its offering
of friendship to its onlookers.
Stan Bates, philosopher, is gone – he is
not here on earth to quip he is not here.
Consummate connoisseur of classical
conundrums, maestro of mimetic mirth,
steadfast, devoted, generous – it’s true,
as well, he was a realist of woe
for whom grief was the bond for all of us.
And I think that it is beautiful.
There is a slender, sloping bridge
of wooden planks and wooden rails that I
have crossed a thousand times on my way home
and paused to watch the white-tailed deer
come out to drink, arpeggios
of water sliding silver from their lips,
and I can recollect those seasons when
determined beavers made a dam
and built a hutch, a perfect dome
Euclid himself might have designed,
and once at dusk, but only once,
I saw a pygmy owl swoop down
on soundless, outstretched wings
to snatch a vole beneath the snow,
his golden eyes like harvest moons
whose radiance delineates the dark.
I’d need a million, eulogizing urns
to keep such earthly memories alive,
even for just a fleeting interval –
as if, dear Stan, they could be kept for you.

Robert Pack, from All One Breath, Green Writers Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, © 2019.

 

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Giving Thanks

Two ponderosa pines define
the entryway that leads –
this clear and midday afternoon –
down to the shore of Holland Lake.
My son helps lift my outworn body
over the smooth gunnel of our fishing boat,
and off we go in the direction of
the gliding loons who dip and disappear,
leaving behind the lilting echoes
of their melancholy calls.
Framed by a could, and eagle
streaks toward its enormous nest
above the forest maze
and misty labyrinth.
++++ The mountain on the lake’s far side
offers meadow of gold Balsamroot;
a pregnant doe lifts up her head,
pausing at the water’s boundary.
About four boat lengths past
the swirl where the resounding waterfall
foams out and merges with the lake,
a cove reveals a beaver’s hutch
remarkably symmetrical –
each branch and twig packing into place –
suggesting some unchangeable design
has been revealed to me.
Simply to look, to hold in memory,
was all that my senses needed to achieve,
and all wished-for contentment could embrace.
But not quite so – such satisfaction
left still more to be desired:
++++ I needed to express
imagined gratitude
for pulsing light reflected from
round purple stones that murmured
with the undulating tide.
I needed to bestow high praise,
as if such praise could be received
and sheltered safely in the forest haze;
I needed to give thanks for symmetry,
and all its variants
in the unfolding Aspen leaves,
in the emerging needles
nearly shining row by row
on the awakened Tamaracks.
I needed to commend
the shaded slopes and crevices
for their fine tints and multimarked hues;
I was uplifted and impelled
to offer unrequited praise
for the melodic interlude
of disappearing loons –
as if such mournful singing was
and unanticipated gift beyond.

 

Robert Pack, from All One Breath, Green Writers Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, © 2019.

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Needham’s Skimmer, Libellula needhami

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Photos by Bill Griffin. Header art by Linda French Griffin.

 

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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