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Archive for October, 2021

[with poems by Jonathan Revere, Maggie Dietz, William Butler Yeats ]

Actually, that’s a Herring Gull.

Day 7 of our Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness adventure and Josh and I are feeling pretty fit in the lead canoe this morning. We’re almost across Ima Lake to our next portage, the other two canoes lagging. A quarter mile to starboard on a high bluff we spy a campsite of Girl Scouts watching and waving. We paddle our manly J-strokes and pay no attention to the big rocky crag jutting up out of the lake to port.

Until Fury rains from the skies.

Actually, more like flaps and squawks. Atop the crag one big frizzed-out Herring Gull chick gangles from its nest and Mom & Dad are divebombing our canoe. Josh and I whoop and splash and all but capsize as we invent a whole new series of paddle strokes.

We finally manage 50 yards of headway; the attackers call truce and return to the nest. Josh and I take a break while we check our heads for gull guano. The Girl Scouts seem to be convulsing – dreadful concern or laughter? And here come Matt and Greg and Little Brad around the point. They’re fixated on the Girl Scouts. They haven’t even noticed us.

Josh and I scull the canoe around and take a sighting. Hmmm. Direct line from us to the crag to oblivious canoe number two.

“Hey guys! Here we are! This way!”

Matt, Greg, and Brad are twenty feet from the crag when the gulls open fire. The guys cower so far below the gunwales they can’t even get a paddle into the water. It’s a couple of minutes before Josh and I can even breathe for laughing, then we start hollering that they’re going to have to put some distance between themselves and that rock.

The guys end up paddling with their hands, scrunched down in the canoe like drowned haversacks. Finally they catch up to us and they ain’t laughing. Or showing their faces to the Girl Scouts. At least we can’t see any fresh blood.

The five of us cool off for a minute. We look back. Around the point come Everett and Big Brad in canoe number three. Hmmm.

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Gull Skeleton

In the first verse I find his skeleton
nested in shore grass, late one autumn day.
The loss of life and the life which is decay
have been so gentle, so clasped one-to-one

that what they left is perfect; and here in
the second verse I kneel to pick it up:
bones like the fine white china of a cup,
chambered for lightness, dangerously thin,

their one clear purpose forcing them toward flight
even now, from the warm solace of my hand.
In the third verse I bend to that demand
and – quickly, against the deepening of the night,

because I can in poems – remake his wild eye,
his claws, and the tense heat his muscles keep,
his wings’ knit feathers, then free him to his steep
climb, in the last verse, up the streaming sky.

Jonathan Revere

POETRY magazine, April 1971, The Poetry Foundation.

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Seasonal

Summer-long the gulls’ old umbra cry
unraveled ease
but certain waves went by, then by.
The sky shook out the days.

The seabirds’ hunger rose in rings,
flung rock-clams to their shatterings,
raked gullets full, the bone-bills scraped.

High noon: oceans of time escaped.

++++++++++ *

All winter we slept benched together,
breakers, sleepdrunk children in a car
not conscious where they go.

We kneaded bread, kept out the weather,
while old suspicions huddled by the door,
mice in the snow.

++++++++++ *

In spring, the leaving bloomed—
oak leaf unfurled, a foot, resplendent
vigorous, aching to shake loose
but still dependent.

One morning moongreen loaves
rose into bones that rose to lift
our skin like sleeves,
our time together’s revenant.

++++++++++ *

Perennial fall, come cool the cliffs,
bring quiet, sulfur, early dark.
Represent as you must: dusk, dying, ends
and row us into winter’s water:

The body, wind-whipped, forms stiff peaks,
ice settles in the marrow bone.
At the chest, the live stone breaks against the beak,
beak breaks against stone.

Maggie Dietz

from Perennial Fall. Copyright © 2006 by Maggie Dietz. Reprinted in POETRY magazine online, The Poetry Foundation.

 

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On a Political Prisoner

She that but little patience knew,
From childhood on, had now so much
A grey gull lost its fear and flew
Down to her cell and there alit,
And there endured her fingers’ touch
And from her fingers ate its bit.

Did she in touching that lone wing
Recall the years before her mind
Became a bitter, an abstract thing,
Her thought some popular enmity:
Blind and leader of the blind
Drinking the foul ditch where they lie?

When long ago I saw her ride
Under Ben Bulben to the meet,
The beauty of her country-side
With all youth’s lonely wildness stirred,
She seemed to have grown clean and sweet
Like any rock-bred, sea-borne bird:

Sea-borne, or balanced in the air
When first it sprang out of the nest
Upon some lofty rock to stare
Upon the cloudy canopy,
While under its storm-beaten breast
Cried out the hollows of the sea.

William Butler Yeats

reprinted in POETRY magazine online, The Poetry Foundation.

 

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Yeats wrote On a Political Prisoner at the beginning of 1919 as the Anglo-Irish war for independence was about to explode. It refers to a woman he admired and loved (scholars differ on her exact identity) who had been imprisoned for her strong nationalistic beliefs. Yeats supported Irish home rule but had become disenchanted with radical politics, and the poem reflects that ambivalence in describing the woman’s mind as bitter, abstract thing while still admiring her patience and gentleness in befriending the gull.

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The Terror of Gull Rock occurred in June, 1996 when I and my son Josh as co-leader shepherded a little crew of Boy Scouts through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. Nine days on the water, 28 lakes traversed, 33 portages (carrying packs and canoes) = 70 miles afloat and afoot. We lived to tell the tales and there were plenty of tales. Thank you for all that paddling and for eating my cooking to Everett, Greg, Matt, and Brad, and to Big Brad our summer intern. There ain’t no place more glorious than the middle of nowhere.

 

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[with poems by Donald Hall and Charles Martin]

Have you ever imagined, while walking a well-worn woodland trail, simply stepping off into the forest? What if you moved just ten feet, twenty, into the trees? Would you be standing on a spot untouched by human feet for years? Decades? Forever?

I considered this years ago when I led, with my son Josh as co-leader, a little crew of Boy Scouts on a 10-day canoe trek in the Boundary Waters Wilderness of northern Minnesota. We camped each night on the shore of different lake. Some mornings (sunrise 0400) while they still slept I walked away from the water into the trackless forest. Did the last human rest on this lichen crusted boulder more than a hundred years ago, a French voyageur taking a break from trapping? A thousand years ago, a young Anishinaabe scout hunting meat for his village? Ten thousand years ago?

Now Josh spends every day it’s not raining trekking the Blue Ridge & foothills as a surveyor. When did a human foot last jump this creek or climb this unforgiving steepness? This corner marked by a chestnut ten feet in girth – today Josh must discover the remnant of its stump. How long must the earth rest from the tread of human feet before all sign of our passage is erased? How far is it from here to the middle of nowhere?

Last Saturday I joined a trail crew to maintain a little section of the Mountains-to-Sea trail near Elkin. The MST is a work in progress – departing Elkin hiking east, you follow Rte 268 most of the way to Pilot Mountain. Our day’s assignment was an orphan – 1 ½ miles of footpath leading away from the road and on through the woods with no trailhead or connectors. Probably no one had walked this way since it was last maintained in 2020.

Everywhere a little sun penetrates the undergrowth thrives: Goldenrod, Burnweed, Wingstem, Boneset, all manner of grasses native and exotic – summer asters up to eight feet tall, especially through the Duke Energy right-of-way beneath power lines. Add obstructions from grapevine, Smilax, fallen trees and in one single year the trail had become impenetrable, almost disappearing except for the white circular MST blazes on the trees.

In a few more years it might have lead to the middle of nowhere. Which is how you get to the middle of everywhere. Which is the trail I want to walk.

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Surface

The surveyor climbs a stonewall into woods
scribbled with ferns, saplings, and dead oaktrees

where weltering lines trope themselves into stacks
of vegetation. He sees an ash forced around a rock

with roots that clutch on granite like a fist
grasping a paperweight. He stares at hemlocks

rising among three-hundred-year-old sugarmaples
that hoist a green archive of crowns: kingdom

of fecund death and pitiless survival. He observes
how birch knocked down by wind and popple chewed

by beaver twist over and under each other, branches
abrasive when new-fallen, turning mossy and damp

as they erase themselves into humus, becoming
polyseeded earth that loosens with lively pokeholes

of creatures that watch him back: possum, otter,
fox. Here the surveyor tries making his mark:

He slashes a young oak; he constructs a stone
cairn at a conceptual right-angle; he stamps

his name and the day’s date onto metal tacked
to a stake. His text established, he departs

the life-and-death woods, where cellular life keeps
pressing upward from underground offices to read

sun and study slogans of dirt: “Never consider
a surface except as the extension of a volume.”

Donald Hall

from Poems for a Small Planet: Contemporary American Nature Poetry. Edited by Robert Pack & Jay Parini, A Bread Loaf Anthology, © 1993, Middlebury College Press.

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Both of today’s poems are from Poems for a Small Planet, edited by Robert Pack & Jay Parini. This next one by Charles Martin stuck to my soul like beggar lice – I’ve imagined myself stuck in a dry spell for the past several weeks. I can’t resist the epigraph by Randall Jarrell, one of North Carolina’s most luminous poets. While waiting for lightning to strike I’ll learn to endure the rain running off my chin.

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Reflections after a Dry Spell

++++ A good poet is someone who manages, in a
++++ lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be
++++ struck by lightning five or six times.
++++ — Randall Jarrell

And the one that took this literally
Is the one that you still sometimes see
In the park, running from tree to tree

On likely days, out to stand under
The right one this time – until the thunder
Rebukes him for yet another blunder. . . .

But the one who knew it was nothing more
(That flash of lightning) than a metaphor,
And said as much, as he went out the door –

Of that one, if you’re lucky, you just may find
The unzapped verse or two he left behind
On the confusion between World and Mind.

Charles Martin

from Poems for a Small Planet: Contemporary American Nature Poetry. Edited by Robert Pack & Jay Parini, A Bread Loaf Anthology, © 1993, Middlebury College Press.

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[My immense gratitude to the Elkin Valley Trails Association for imaging, creating, maintaining, and improving the Mountains-to-Sea Trail from Stone Mountain State Park to Elkin and onward east through Surry County, North Carolina. And for inviting this lunkhead with a shovel to join in.]

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

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[poems by Jeanne Julian]

The cosmos blossoms by the rotting stump.

“That’s not scary.” We’re hiking through the Haunted Forest with Amelia, age 5. Tree limbs drip with giant cobwebs and red-eyed spiders, bats dangle, skeleton hands reach up from pine needle cemeteries beside the path. The crew has outdone themselves decorating this stretch of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail that, except for the month of October, is nicknamed the Enchanted Forest. Now Amelia stops and calls, “What’s that?!” at the skull-faced ghost bound up in chains, but it’s more curiosity than apprehension.

Past the Halloweeny stretch, though, I see something well off the trail that causes me to stop and exclaim, “Look!!” An immense fairy ring coaxed forth by last week’s rain: chain of mushroom caps that loops and twists and branches through the pines before doubling back on itself. On and on, a new arc & angle appears every place we look. At the word fairy Amelia is instantly engaged. What sprite danced here before us? What might be hiding beneath the ghost-white caps?

I’m thinking, Dang, that is one big organism, mycelia threaded through at least a half acre.

Amelia is thinking, Wonder . . . wonder . . . wonder.

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The Reservoir

I’m looking for Wildcat Road.
There’s a “Free Manure” sign,
two blossoming magnolias, and a boy
who, up here, gives this passing car
an over-the-shoulder glance
as he walks. I’m going the wrong way.
But, here’s a turn for a road
sharing the reservoir’s name.
Clouds cover the sun and move on.
Light sweeps the hills, harried by gloom.
Birches whiten and fade again.

There’s the expanse of lusterless
water through leafless trees:
I’ve found it, rounding a bend.
Angle and clouds shift, and
the landscape remembers its colors
as if a lady’s fan had opened
revealing a scene in lapis, henna, and rhinestone.

We sat her, on this rock,
years ago – April then, too – learning
to touch, and in late summer embraced
there, on the dam where youngsters
scrawl their names indelibly.
In the silence, eddies of air sound “hush”
at my ear. Those antique fans were meant
to conceal, weren’t they, and
we in shadow to forget.

Jeanne Julian

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These three poems are from Blossom and Loss by Jeanne Julian (Longleaf Press, Methodist University, Fayetteville NC, © 2015). The delicate volume follows the seasons with all the imagery and metaphor that organic cycle can reveal. Sometimes the captured moments, the vignettes, the narratives are so personal they become cryptic, but as I read on I discover my own stories flowing forth to fill unspoken phrases. Thus does poetry enlighten and inspire. Thus does it become, in the words of Andrea Hollander, entertaining and useful.

The cosmos blossoms / by the rotting stump. from Jeanne’s poem Loss and Blossom

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Haunted

Each Halloween we hang
ghostlets in the tree,
by morning off they’ve blown.

My friends’ lost boy: how
had he been retrieved? By whom?
Alone? What varnish glossed his veins?

In the hospital they hung
on every beat and breath,
clung to any chance

until their changeling offspring
splintered, vanished, leaving a hollow
husk for them to burn

like autumn leaves or questions or endless
mourning muddled with routine,
travail of the telling and retelling,

dread burden of cereal in bowls
recalling a pajamaed imp held
in the lap, reading The Giving Tree aloud.

How unstoppably he must’ve lapped it up,
a lacquer lulling the limbic brain
until the one dose shoved him over

that last callow October. Still each Halloween
children clamber up the steps for sweets.
“See, I am a butterfly,” the smallest says.

Jeanne Julian

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Melting

The snow that attacked so frantically while we slept
has blistered into water on the branches.
We also melt ut not as completely as Baum’s witch,
who cannot suffer water. Remember the crooner
in the small-town lounge, that ersatz L.A. club,
who kissed you on the left eyelid
when you were twelve? Remember that first
swig of Colt 45 Malt Liquor? Remember the cocoon
of oblivion that sucked you under before
the scalpel splayed your belly flesh? Remember
how the pressure of one finger spirals
your inner hold into ripples of languid indifference
to all but feeling?
One day too soon you’ll let go for good.
Dripping from the eaves, the fresh liquidity
will patter on unheard while you dissolve –
easily, let us hope, easily, and neither up nor down, while
on the roof the newly fallen expanse, unsullied,,
luxuriates under the sun.

Jeanne Julian

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[with 3 poems by Michael Beadle]

4 AM. Reason says you need to sleep; everything but reason says forget about it. Sweating, restless – how long? – I finally force into the background those pricks of regret past & future and focus on the faces of my friends. In silence I speak each name and visualize each person. Then their son. Their granddaughter. I wish for them enfolding arms of peace.

And as I see their smiles I also see their pain. Can I imagine a single one who has not been visited by grief? Who isn’t struggling, right now, 4 AM, with worries for the ones they love, with heartsickness, with loneliness? All of them suffer behind the smiles.

And all of them go on living. Remarkable, isn’t it? Unbelievable. All of us suffer and all of us go on living for those few moments of hope, of joyfulness, of connection with another, moments that waft through our days like some longed-for fragrance – we can’t tell where it’s come from, we can’t catch it and keep it, we simply trust it will return.

Moments that waft through our nights. 4 AM. I breathe out a word of love for each friend. Call it prayer. May we be one.

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Wild Horses

They know they’ll never stand again –
the bay colt missing a hind leg,
the palomino whose front hoof

came unglued, the cream-coated filly
with ebony ears and a clipped tail.
Porcelain stallions paraded for decades

on living room doilies, unbridled mares
guarding crystal jars of peppermints.
Silent companions of cocktail parties,

Christmas dinners, afternoon tea.
If Oma gave them names, I never knew.
After she died, they spent months

wrapped in newspaper,
boxed on basement shelves.
Perhaps they grew restless,

kicked each other in a barn-fire panic,
hoping to free themselves for the rainy day
when strangers came to haggle over

the china I’d never use. Let them
take the pewter goblets, the steins that smelled
like old pencils, tubs of tools

that bore the scars of hard seasons.
The tray of horses was all I hoped to keep.
I came to love them –

not for what they once were,
but, being broken,
how they went on living.

+++++ Michael Beadle

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Poets play with words. They select them as carefully as the chocolate from the sampler that must be raspberry truffle. They wiggle words around until uncomfortable becomes comfortable and we exclaim, Oh! I see! They tickle them until the words gasp out a new meaning they’d never revealed before.

Michael Beadle plays and frolics and romps with words. He flips over rocks and pulls out wrigglers that haven’t been seen on a page in a coon’s age, if ever. If he can’t find the words he wants he makes up some new ones right then and there. He cavorts, he rolls around on the floor with words until they all collapse laughing. He snuffs them up, he savors, he rolls words around in his mouth until he’s sure he’s found just the right flavor.

And Michael sits down on the sofa with words, arms around each other’s shoulder, while they speak to each other oh so softly. I understand. We’ll get through this together. What are friends for?

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The Naming

“What about this one?” I asked.
“Mylax,” he replied.
“And this one?”
“Plumdrum.”

We were at the lakeshore again
among the cool bed of rocks,
our words echoing
across the water.

Ghozlak +++++ Aya +++++ Zephanos

Lifting each rock,
we felt its weight in our palms,
closed our eyes
until a name arose.

Millanthium +++++ Whillet +++++ Lippery

We hurled the rocks
as far as we could
into the lake,
giving them
a new depth to find.

There we sat for hours,
the only ones left in this world
who could conjure
its litany of names.

Perio +++++ Shezai +++++ Calex

As darkness crept into the cove,
we chose new rocks,
hardened by time, tempered by water,
and steadied our minds
for the Naming.

+++++ Michael Beadle

 

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These three poems are from Michael Beadle’s The Beasts of Eden (©2018, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC). Its three sections include deep memories and deeply poignant moments; raucous celebrations of Western North Carolina roots and language; pointed retelling of myths, local legends, and Bible stories. Michael, you’ve made me laugh and you’ve made me cry. You’ve brought a sweet fragrance into this moment. I am restored and refreshed by joining you as friend.

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Yay-long

It is most certainly not a member of the metric system,
perhaps a distant relation to the foot or yard.

Snubbed by the methodical and meticulous
who pride themselves with empirical accuracy,

it endures as a standard among Southerners
when a tape measure won’t do.

How big was that possum? the man at the gas station asks.
‘Bout yay-long, his friend replies, hands spread wide, like so.

Yay-long or yay-high declares without stretching
the truth to eleventy feet. Used sparingly,

yay-long approximates for those who didn’t see
the neighbor’s copperhead startled in the wood pile.

A breath of anticipation between those hands,
experience borne from the invisible.

Yay-long serves memory as memory serves the teller,
and so we nod, eager for the rest of the story.

+++++ Michael Beadle

 

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

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[poems by Marty Silverthorne]

I have a good friend with a titanium leg named Mike.
Oh yes? And what’s the name of his other leg?
Ugh. You should be ashamed of yourself. Although Mike would certainly declare there is nothing like a good joke.
And that was nothing like a good joke.
Who’s in charge of this story anyway? I was trying to tell you about Mike, the king of story tellers.

The story about losing his leg is pretty harrowing, the lightning storm, the catastrophic collapse of the radio mast. Also the one about how long it took the doctors (years) to finally decide to amputate and order the titanium. But Mike has more stories than a rose garden has June bugs. And if he’s known you for one day, you’re part of the story, too. Like his neighbor Marcel who saw Mike fall into the bushes and came running out of the house half dressed to help. Or the other neighbor who saw Mike and Marcel shoveling dirt off Mike’s driveway and came out exclaiming, “Y’all need a young man to do that!”

Add in all the stories that are taking root right now from this afternoon when our whole church gathered COVID-safe in Mike’s driveway to share the ribs and chicken he’d been smoking for 3 days (and smoked portobellos for the solitary vegetarian, me). How for days all the neighbors’ mouths were watering. How Marcel, Jeremiah, and Jonathan accepted the invitation to lunch and joined right in with us. How we sang Happy Birthday to Hal’s mom Charlotte who would be 103 today (and died less than a year ago) and loosed balloons to soar in her memory. And shouted Happy Anniversary to Marcel who got married a year ago. How we drove away from Mike and Linda’s home having been fed in body and spirit.

That’s what our stories are for: to draw us together, feed us, and send us out. Friend, next time we meet I want to hear your story. And I’ve got a few to share with you as well . . .

[Today’s jokes were unabashedly stolen from Disney’s Mary Poppins, 1964]

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I knew Marty Silverthorne from a dozen or so poetry event in as many years. Sometime after his motorcycle accident in 1976, he began to write. When he died in 2019, Marty had spent over forty years in a motorized chair but his poems and stories not only had wheels but wings. He published a number of books and had a long career counseling persons suffering with addiction. He inspired innumerable struggling people to find their own strength and their own voice.

These two poems are from one of Marty Silverthorne’s last books, Naming the Scars. Truth has hard edges, rough and sharp; Marty doesn’t grind those edges down or polish them up, but neither did the truth grind Marty down or polish him off. In the midst of the grueling hardship of quadriplegia, Marty Silverthorne celebrates families, legacy, caregivers, fellow sojourners; Naming the Scars is dedicated For my family and for the hands of angels.

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Inside of Me

Inside of me you expected to find
a motorcycle wrapped around a tree,
whiskey bottles beside the road.
You did not expect to find daffodils
blooming in a pine thicket,
crepe myrtles close enough
to threaten their beauty.

Inside of me you expected to find
the soiled pages of Penthouse.
You did not expect Yeats and Keats
on a linen table cloth,
one large candle with a wavering flame,
a bottle of chardonnay.

Inside of me there are bracelets of old lovers,
stuffed animals martyred by time,
tangled dreams of childhood.
You did not expect to find forgiveness here,
the flag of my soul waving in surrender,
a truce between our hardened scars.
Here in this temple I have created
among azaleas and gardenias, I live with a woman I love,
whom grandmother called beautiful.

Marty Silverthorne (1957-2019)

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Naming the Scars

My right eye is underlined
by a thick-fisted scar
I won in a fight
brawling over a girl
who belonged to no one.

Under my beard line, a scar
shines like a crescent moon,
burned by a girl with a razor
engraving her pain in unfaithful flesh.

Half moon between thumb
and finger on my contracted left hand
I carved with a Barlow,
deceitful blood dripping
moon-drops on the countertop.

Suicide slashes cross my wrist
form a constellation of scars;
the jagged edge of a pop bottle
sliced flesh in rhythms,
painted my portrait in blood.

Crossing my body like a sickle
is a handlebar scar.
One August night, drunk on wind,
I tried to quiet the voices
when the one I loved
said she could go on without me.
I straddled the metal-flake frame,
carved out curves,
filled emptiness with speed.

Black necrotic spot marks the toe
I lost to a surgical show.
In Winston-Salem one snowy Christmas
Missed love so bad I checked into
a private room in a public hospital.
Too long ago to remember, so scar-proud
I can’t forget, I branded this body
with wounds no thread can bind.

Marty Silverthorne (1957-2019

Both selections from Naming the Scars, Longleaf Press, Methodist University, Fayetteville, NC; © 2017

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Books by Marty Silverthorne

Naming the Scars – Longleaf Press, 2017

Holy Ghosts of Whiskey – Sable Books, 2016

Marty Silverthorne – Ten Poems – St. Andrews University Press, 2016

Rewinding at 40 – Pudding House, 2009

No Welfare, No Pension Plan – Rank Stranger Press, 2006

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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