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Archive for June 10th, 2022

Two

[with 3 poems by Les Brown]

Nana has shown the toddler the bright blooms in the bed along the driveway of the house above Bogue Sound. Because the world back then was black and white we can’t know if they were red or yellow, all we have is this story she told for years and the photo Grandpop snapped of the little boy with two stems he’d just snapped. And the punch line of Nana’s laughing and proud rendition: “I want two tulips,” a little proud perhaps because he knew their names, or could already count, or maybe just the declaration’s poetry.

Did Nana place the flowers in a jar of water for the family to enjoy a few more days? Was she already laughing in the moment or only later at re-telling? And the most mysterious, the cipher, is Grandpop and the camera, how did he happen to have it with him, what made him decide to click the shutter?

How did he really feel about this first grandchild he would know for only two more years, just long enough to begin to teach him the bones of the hand – metacarpals, phalanges – never reaching arm or leg or spine? Never to share with the boy any of the other of his strange and wonderful crafts, his doctoring, his designing and creating, his imagination, only remembered by the books on his shelves, the tools in his workshop, all the stories told by others.

If only now the boy could remember how Grandpop told this story!

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Abandoned Spring

Smooth salamanders still slip
+++++ over sand and angled stones
into dark crevices. Green moss
+++++ and fern festoon the cool dampness.
Once it gave relief to sweaty
+++++ tired men with calloused hands
who lifted gourd dippers
+++++ to parched lips and sat in shade.

Abandoned now, it remains
+++++ beneath aged walnut trees.
Deer and bobcat drink where dark men
+++++ sought cool refuge from cutting rock
and laying creosote ties, where farmers
+++++ removed their hats and splashed
comfort on dust-stained brows,
+++++ where young boys camped telling lies.

Les Brown
from A Place Where Trees Had Names, © 2020, Redhawk Publications, Hickory, NC.

❦ ❦ ❦

Memories, stories, and resurrection of what has been abandoned – that’s how Les Brown connects us with the places and the times of Southern Appalachia. These are his personal stories; the characters may be an overgrown glade or on old railway line, but just as often they are cousins, aunts, and assorted kinfolk, sometimes audacious, sometimes forlorn, sometimes only ghosts. Alive, though, alive – it is Les Brown’s gift to grant new life to what should not be abandoned.

Seems like a long time ago, seems like far away – but it’s really not, is it? The stories are still doing their jobs creating us, creating our future.

A Place Where Trees Had Names, © 2020 Les Brown; Redhawk Publications, Hickory, NC.

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Let Loose to Run

The Model T sat axle-blocked,
belted to a singing blade,
beside the woodpile, the power
of twenty horses in four churning
cylinders still coaxed to life
by kicking crank up front
on the skeletal frame. I once
held soft seats and enclosure
for church-bound folks,
bouncing them along the rutted,
muddy road, while Henry and Maude
watched and grazed in the pasture.

It had been left beside a barn,
rusting, rotting until the glorious
machine was reduced to sawing
firewood. After winter had passed,
curious boys cut loose the belt
and dropped the tires to earth.
Climbing upon rusty seat frame,
they set spark and throttle
to let the steel horses loose
to run a few circles of the pasture
one more time.

Les Brown
from A Place Where Trees Had Names, © 2020, Redhawk Publications, Hickory, NC.

❦ ❦ ❦

At Sixty-Six

Long gone, they are in this valley,
lean in clay-stained overalls and floured apron,
cooking, canning, crocheting,
loafing on Homer’s store porch,
committing to Jesus.

Coursing back and forth across broad fields
within gold-splintered cornstalk shade,
through hazy fog of wheat, reaping for bread,
they follow their teams, year by year, turning
dark still earth within which they now lie.

They put away hay in a barn of
gray planks bearing Barlow-carved names.
In overgrown fields of flaxen stubble
they lean on rusted pitchfork and cradle,
chewing yellow straws.

They sit in my memory of golden lantern-light
before a mountain of pale shucks, glowing
yellow ear by yellow year, story by story. They
tease blushing boys about finding the red ear,
omen of getting to kiss a pretty brown-haired girl.

They stand warming forever cold bodies
before glowing cast iron stoves,
sit at wavy glass windows, knitting,
rocking sour milk in green Mason jars
until flecks of yellow butter appear.

Grapevines still cling to a log smokehouse
where hams once cured, thick with salt and mold
hung from adz-marked chestnut rafters.
My wraith cousins climb the vines,
sit in the pigeon roost eating yellow-green grapes.

Dead hog specters hang
from tendons, on walnut trees,
split chin to groin. Steaming pale pink guts
spill into galvanized tubs,
quivering to still rawness.

An apparition brown walking horse
circles the long-gone cane mill.
A ghost stirs, skims, sweats, yields
to small eyes that watch. He dips and gives
sweet sticks for faded children to sop.

A smell of yellow sulfur rides the wind.
I hear the clinking of hammer and anvil
by the red forge in an empty log shop, where
glowing horseshoes steam cool,
then hang for use in the summer’s plow.

Fathers wander through creek-runs, searching
for the perfect cedar tree for popcorn, for
silvered balls, for string os bubbling lights.
Family number grow at Christmas, crowding,
eating, laughing, hiding toys for children.

They sit around the long dining room table
surrounded by grace, reaching, passing,
talking of beans and corn, of butter
molded like wheat, adorned with holly, amid
bounty of summer after summer forever gone.

They huddle in dim parlor warmed by
whiskey and bouncing firelight,
laughing through lost nights at
toys made of wood, of flour sacks,
vanished to time and avaricious kin.

Through mist, scalded cream coats a spoon.
Wrinkled hands pour phantom custard
to chill in spring house until
poured again, sprinkled with nutmeg,
ending the season, beginning another year.

Silent fireworks rise shimmering silver over
dark turned earth of New Year,
and the smell of bourbon and homemade wine
still drifts on scented wind,
a toast to make or break the dead.

A chill wraps around memory
of feather tick and warmed flat-iron
against my floor-chilled feet,
Dutch Doll, Butterfly and Nine Patch quilts
weighing heavy against another January.

Les Brown
from A Place Where Trees Had Names, © 2020, Redhawk Publications, Hickory, NC.

❦ ❦ ❦

2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

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