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Archive for the ‘Ecopoetry’ Category

[with 3 poems by Terry Blackhawk]

Monty and I are trying some new knots, big husky knots, and we’re pretty sure we have it right this time. The stalwart little paratrooper I got for Christmas, his broad red and white plastic parachute and the web of thin strings that fix to his shoulders – they just won’t hold together. Each time we fold the chute just so, roll the trooper carefully so nothing tangles, throw it as hard and as high as we can, but the lines come loose as soon as the plastic banner deploys. Our man has plummeted to his death over and over.

It’s 1965. I’ve only been living in Wilmington, Delaware for a few months; the heritage of where I moved from to get here is firmly affixed in the nickname all the other sixth graders have given me – “Memphis.” My new school might as well be Mars Colony A, so distant it seems from Colonial Elementary. I have four different teachers, most of them are men, and they seem determined to require a boy to think. On this final afternoon of winter break, Monty and I are determined to have our last hour of fun.

The breeze has picked up. Most of the snow has melted but our hands are red and chapped – you can’t tie knots with gloves on. We pull the last string tight, tighter, fold and roll, and we’re ready. I hold the soldier like a grenade, lean back, and lob him straight up with a grunt. At the peak of its arc the little package unrolls; red and white unfurls and fills with evening’s breath. The knots hold.

And the wind takes our paratrooper higher and higher into the east.

Monty and I give chase through backyards and down long sidewalks in our housing development. The parachute dims and shrinks in the distance. We run until our sides ache and the brave soldier is out of sight. Gone. We stop, gasping, and stare into the lowering dusk as lights blink on in windows around us.

I imagine my little man has crossed the Delaware River, surprising people who happen to look up from the railroad yards, the factories and warehouses. He holds his lines tight; he swings and sways. Catching the last light from that high vantage, now he can see the Atlantic. I imagine him never coming down.

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The Woodcock

Weary of the daily terror I turn
to the mystic body of the bird. A woodcock
I found crackling the twigs and ivy,
barely escaped from a cat’s clumsy claws.
I feared for the odd angle of its wing,
the surprised flopping it made there,
but I did not fear the extreme length
of its beak or the eyes popping diametrically
on either side of its head. I loved the feathers’
deckled edges and the light weight it made
as I scooped it up and put it, limpsy and weak,
into an old canvas book bag, and when I
released it from that soft safe space
some time later, out on Belle Isle, I missed it
at once, as one would miss a friend.
It whirred straight up, explosively,
toward freedom on the other side of the river,
its pulse now gone from my hands.

Terry Blackhawk
from One Less River, Mayapple Press, Woodstock NY, © 2019 Terry Blackhawk

note: “samples Song of Myself, 10, in which the speaker imagines succoring a runaway slave”

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Sometimes a knot is so twisted and curlicued you can’t make out whether it’s one string or a handful, much less how it all connects. Let’s see, Catherine Carter told me about Katherine Wakefield’s book, which led me to Patricia Hooper, who inspired me to read Terry Blackhawk. Or maybe the lines snake in and out along different paths; maybe I’m leaving out a thread here and there, most likely it goes back way farther even than that. I know, however, that I can count on this – the connections stretch and extend and I’ve not yet reached the end.

Such a warp and weft Terry threads through her book, One Less River. The Detroit River, subtropical shorelines, paths through dunes and forest, paths through myth and memory – the poems take us someplace new with each turning page. But despite shadows and storms these poems don’t cast us alone into dark landscapes. There is light. Light rises from the companionship of solid friends like Whitman and Dickinson, from companionable invitations to partake and be filled of rich intent and novel images. It is possible to wander through this book and be surprised and also reassured. The path will definitely challenge, because living is a challenge and preserving our world is a challenge. At the end we may discover that we are all tied together a little more closely. Our knots are not fetters but the shared bonds of humanness.

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The Extinct Fresh Water Mussels of the Detroit River
+++++++++++++++ for Kathryne Lindberg (1951-2010)

These are gone: the deer-toe maple leaf, the fat
mucket, the snuffbox, the rainbow shell. Here, still,

the rusted manhole cover and the chipping paint,
the lights and arches of the elegant bridge,

all coated no doubt then in ice. Here the breeze,
here the freighters but not the car. Quiet as it’s kept,

it’s no secret the keys were left in the ignition.

Absence makes the fond heart wander, the mind
meander, the river to swallow its flow –

the self-same river, the self-same self, even the one
that knew better, the self that knew better

than to pick up a phony ten-dollar bill folded
to disguise some evangelical come-hither.

Com hither, said the bridge.

Little earwig mussel, pimpleback, northern riffle shell,
something lacy yet along the rim.

In the print gallery a dry-point fox in outline
(“Running Fox,” R. Sintemi, Germany, 1944) floats
as if on the surface of a river, water swelling upward
on the verge of breaking up its lines –

Did you float, dear bat-out-of-hell, dear gnashing teeth –
the pointed ears, the flowing tail outlined on water not water,

on paper not paper, on the not-water before there only was
water, where we are floating now, as over a great uncertainty,
a mirroring surface that hides as much as it reveals.

No more rayed bean, purple warty back, O fragile paper shell
Where was the artist in 1944? What did he do in 1939?

You would have wanted to know.

Terry Blackhawk
from One Less River, Mayapple Press, Woodstock NY, © 2019 Terry Blackhawk

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Again, the Moon

And now the moon, its vitreous pour
so quickly come again
moonstruck moon melon moon

I drive the unfamiliar
town, going where Siri tells me
through unlit streets

I cannot dial back to another
moon, although there have been many –
moons of loss, lists, listing oh the self-
consciousness of the moon

Look at the moon in the sky,
not the one in the lake, says Rumi
The pleasures of heaven are with me
and the pains of hell are with me, says Whitman

So which is the lake and which
the sky? With a moon this bright
I cannot find the stars.

Terry Blackhawk
from One Less River, Mayapple Press, Woodstock NY, © 2019 Terry Blackhawk

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[with poems from Visions International]

From the ridge above the creek the tallest tulip trees poke their heads up to catch the evening sun. Hammered gold, bright lemon and lime, for a moment they torch the forest and we who look up catch their display. Without this certain angle of sun, autumn lends these trees only ochre dashed with butterbrown; without us looking up at just this certain moment we might not appreciate them at all.

Most everyone mid-October is planning their looking up. Hey Honey, wanna drive up on the Parkway on Saturday (the crowds, the crowds!)? Which weekend will be peak color? Was late summer wet enough and September nights cool enough for the maples to manufacture their anthocyanins? (Yes, most everyone is debating phytochromes and anthocyanins whether they know it or not.) Slowing the car. Craning necks. Meanwhile Linda and I are back in deep shade where beech and hickory still hold onto their leaves. We’re looking down, not up. The color we seek is reclusive, modest, avoiding the limelight.

Right now is when Beech Drops bloom. No one is noticing. If you see them at all, you probably assume they’re the leafless twigs of some summer forb that’s already succumbed. It’s hard to even realize that their bare centimeter-long appendages are flowers. Bud, bloom, and pod all look pretty much the same. In fact I didn’t even realize they were blooming until I got down on my belly with a macro lens and then blew up the images. A streak or two of deep purple up their sides; pursed lips of fused petals; one protruding yellow stigma, anthers too delicate to see – but little friends, you’re gorgeous!

Epifagus virginiana is the only member of its genus. It is parasitic, like many other members of the Broomrape family (Orobanchaceae). It attaches to roots of Beech trees for all of its nourishment; it makes no chlorophyll and the only remnants of leaves are tiny scales along its stem. There’s no sign that Beech Drops weaken or harm their host, but in late summer and fall their pale stems emerge from the leaf litter like bony fingers of the undead – just in time for Halloween! Walk through a beech grove: when you notice your first Beech Drop you’ll suddenly realize there are hundreds all around you, and when the low angle of late sun catches them, translucent purple like pale flesh, you might just get creeped out.

For years I had mistaken Beech Drops for the dry leavings of Puttyroot or Cranefly Orchid. Now that I’ve learned their identity, I make a point of seeking them out. On display, this is the one qualification of the Naturalist: Curiosity. The four steps along the path of the Naturalist: Pay attention; Ask questions; Make connections; Share. And the motto of the Naturalist, a motto I just made up and have taken for myself, at least: Semper plus discere. “Always more to learn.”

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Snow on the Back of Cattle

They seem, at first, dark formations of stone,
half drifted in, bunched and volcanic, rectangular
with oddly shaped outcroppings, sun glinting
on crystal, fringes of gray-green and palest
yellow: lichen, sage, bleached dry grasses
Then small puffs of steam, their breath, shift
and snuffle, soft voices lowing, hooves cracking
the frost. In two places near the herd’s edge,
bright splashes of red where calves dropped
in the darkness, where rough tongues licked
them clean and muzzles nudged small bodies
until they stood, shaking with wonder, to
search out the straining udders and drink.

B. J. Buckley (Power, Montana)
from Visions International, #106, Autumn, 2022

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Forty years ago Bradley Strahan collected work from poets from around the world and created the first slender volume of Visions International. Twenty years ago I first picked up a copy from a table at a poetry conference, not fully grasping what I was holding. I wondered about the title. Not the International part – holy cow, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Ireland, Italy – but the Visions. For the past several years I’ve been a subscriber and I think I’m finally getting it. To see . . . with another’s eyes, from within another’s place and persona. With every issue that arrives, the poems nudge, jostle, encourage with their quiet insistence that I open my eyes. And learn.

Semper plus discere – always more to learn. The two Latin roots disco and doceo are closely related (from the same Proto-Indo-European origin) – to learn, to understand / to teach, to instruct or show. I perceive that Bradley’s mission is to rattle us loose from the cage of our unquestioned routine, to crack a first fracture into our ossified assumptions. Always more to teach, always more to learn. And how about the homologue discern – from dis – cernere, to take apart – to be able to distinguish or perceive the differences between two things that might at first have seemed to be identical. The poems in Visions International never fail to open my eyes, my mind, my heart to a larger world, more varied, more diverse. More exciting!

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Tell Me Where All Past Years Are

She had a broad lap, a feed sack apron.
We sat warming on the stoop, and everything around falling
fell into her sack, golden
catkins, chinquapin burs, pods
of locust sticky with their honey,
dust of stars, dust out of the furrows.
She hummed; I translate:
+++++ When will the time come back to me
when hours were in my pocket
as man and heavy as loose pennies,
when days oozed thicker than
end-of-summer honey, when happiness
formed in my hands like butter from the churh
to squeeze and pat into a cake
and print with a petal crown of daisies?
+++++ No we both are humming, sixty or more
years between renditions, and while
we sing the sun clocks out and the moon
on the ridgetop stands and shakes out its lap,
a glowing radium dial.

J. S. Absher (Raleigh, North Carolina)
from Visions International, #106, Autumn, 2022

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Magpie Potential

The cloak requires to be worn lightly.
You cope with its invisibility
and, trying it on for size, dip your hands
in its deep pockets until they

smuggle up four eggs of lustrous blue,
brown-spotted, the same eggs
you climbed to find in Ballyduggan wood
in your barefoot childhood.

One by one you put the eggs
to your ear, amazed to hear from each
the whir of magpie potential.
Gently you bed them back down,

hoping for wingtips to sprout, bodies
and legs and darkly the eyes
and cowled heads
to come about. Hoping for feathered

iridescence, even for flight,
and your life of hoard-need, or reining in,
of fear that you might fail,
seems only a grounding for this

exuberant scatter and go. You withdraw
your hands, but all is empty now,
and clay, make of it what you
will, clings cold under every fingernail.

Patrick Deeley (Dublin, Ireland)
from Visions International, #106, Autumn, 2022

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Note: Issue Number 106 of Visions International also includes a poem by Deborah Doolittle (Jacksonville, North Carolina) that I admire, Bird Poem, plus work by poets from Italy, China, Germany, France, Bulgaria, Hungary, Ireland, Ukraine, and eleven states in the USA.

Visions International is published by Visions International Arts Synergy, a 501(c)3 non-proift group for the promotion of poetry and the arts. Subscriptions are $25 for 4 issues; Contact BLACK BUZZARD PRESS / 309 Lakeside Drive / Garner, NC 27529.

To which little magazines do you subscribe? Support poetry by reading it. I’ve got 20 years of Mainstreet Rag piled on the bookcase; the mailman brings me every issue of Tar River Poetry and Cave Wall. Semper plus discere. Semper plus legere.

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Doughton Park Tree 4/30/2022

 

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[with 4 poems from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing]

Eyes closed I listen as if casting a great spiral net into the forest. Behind, around me, above, although my two ears fixed in the horizontal plane are not excellent at discerning degrees of vertical, the vibrations arrive. Rarefaction and compression, faint means far, high amplitude is close beside me. A great disk of song and squeak and rustle, a half globe. What is the definition of a sphere? A surface whose every point is equidistant from the center.

How difficult, then, not to imagine the center is me. Plant my feet in sand and watch the sun descend below the western horizon; lie on my back at night for an hour and notice how Taurus and the Sisters wheel around me, I the fixed tether of all movement, I the pivot of their dance. My mind will argue against such silliness but my senses know its truth. As kids we never question the solar system we learn in school, later we even snicker at Ptolemy, his deferents, epicycles, and yet centrality is burned into us, ten thousand years of human psyche.

But imagine. What if? Hardwood creaks upstairs, Linda out of bed, but instead of imaging her descending soon to join me I am with her now, stretching, brushing teeth, gathering her hair and braiding. The first step is to step away from the imaginary center. The second is to not look back at self. Look out, look into the space between the hickory leaves and ferns, fly up with feathers and lace-veined wings. Claw the earth, creep between the rootlets. Not just imagine – be the other lives that pass in cars, that tend a child, that worry. Be the angry ones, the broken, the sad & silent. Behind, around, above. First step is to give up the center.

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Common Ground

What’s incomplete in me seeks refuge
in blackberry bramble and beech trees,
where creatures live without dogma
and water moves in patterns
more ancient than philosophy.
I stand still, child eavesdropping on her elders.
I don’t speak the language
but my body translates best it can,
wakening skin and gut, summoning
the long kinship we share with everything.

Laura Grace Weldon
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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Cardinal

I know my mother’s weeping is real by the way
she exhales, fragmented and flailing,

like someone newly mourning. My head only hip-high,
I stare up to her saddened face, too young to understand

any of this, but old enough to know something
is broken, and that with breaking, anguish follows,

old enough to know she would want to watch
the male cardinal she feeds every morning

newly perched in the bare Maple outside
the kitchen window. I nearly tell her to look,

to witness its bright red flame up against all
that white winter. But I wait, keep quiet

and listen, trying to hear in place of her grief,
the cardinal’s song just beyond the glass.

William Scott Hanna
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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As I read deeper into I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing, I feel my center shifting. In good poetry I discover how the poet feels; in excellent poetry I discover how I feel. These pages enfold an entire world – gardens and farms, back roads and highways, mining towns and river towns; people who struggle, joyful people, yearning, grieving, loving. Line by line, image by image these voices create a powerful place. I am drawn in, I am invited and indeed welcomed in. Hearing with their ears, seeing with their eyes, feeling their hearts I discover what has made meaning in my own life.

Thank you, Ohio’s Appalachian Voices. I am humbled to become part of the family.

Oh, and don’t forget the cardinals. I’ve lost count of the poems with the singing of cardinals. Spirits of the dead and still desired; messengers of color in a countryside too often locked in grey and white; outstanding singers of endless variation – and shared by OH and NC as state bird (along with WV, VA, IL, IN, KY)! Visitors from the West Coast see their first Cardinalis cardinalis and say, “I didn’t believe they were real!” Yes indeed, as real as these poets and as real as their poems.

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Chink

Backyard,
this is as small
as the cardinal’s good cheer gets,
sharp shard of sound
chipped from as-if-frozen air.
Still, if it were to have color
it would be pointed scarlet,
like a splint of fire,
or blue-white
like the flame of acetylene.
If it were music
it would be one high C,
some maestro’s hot-headed urge
of his horns.

In the woods,
chink is enough.
Under pine signs,
near the stony mumble
of the creek,
it speaks everything needed
to cardinal:
Here.
I know you’re there.
Listen.

Richard Hague
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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This Place Does Not Care If I Am Happy

This ruby-throated world is not for me.
Not mine, this jack pine tar, this chunky sunlight.
Not mine, the eggs or weeds or garter snakes.
This limping yellow willow is not for me,
Nor is the wrinkled willow that the lake makes.

These thrushes will still be here when I go.
Maybe not this robin and maybe not these reeds
But some robin in some reeds will be here when I go.
Some or another maple, some lightning-bent bough,
Some summer-sick magnolia will be here when I go.

This place has never cared if I am happy.
The fungus does not care, the fox does not care,
The deer looks as though – for just a moment –
But no. This place does not care if I am happy.

And I am thank you, thank you, I am.

Erica Reid
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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IMG_0880, tree

 

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[poems from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing]

Last week our sister Jill sent us photos from her recent camping trip in the Allegheny National Forest, a favorite spot called Kelly Pines. Big trees, moss & ferns, campfire, nylon tent – nothing lacking. There were also a few shots taken by our niece April – Jill hiking a trail between massive trunks, Hobbit Jill looking up into the giants. Jill’s comment – “Truly a magical seeming place . . .”

Gentle sun-dappled trail; open understory beneath a high canopy; mature second- (or third- or fourth- ) growth pines – a beautiful woodland setting . . . but magic? If I were to visit this spot for the first time would I discover more magic here than any other moderately impacted wood lot in the Appalachians, from Pennsylvania to northern Georgia? Ignore magic incantations and transmutations, ignore any lapses in the laws of physics, even so magic must create something around and within us that we don’t experience without magic.

But Kelly Pines (which, as a member of Linda’s family for over 50 years, I too refer to as Kelly’s Pines) does create magic. This little patch of forest, stream, rocky incline has been accruing magic since before these seven siblings were born. It’s the magic of shared stories – big Mama Bear crossing the trail just minutes after Linda had been walking there alone. It’s the magic of special visits – Linda and I camped at Kelly’s Pines for our honeymoon. Definitely the magic of roots – a bit of Linda’s Mom’s and Dad’s ashes are sprinkled there. And greatest of all is the magic of memories – those family camping expeditions have provided every sibling with their own recollections, carefully preserved treasures they dust off and pass around whenever any of the seven get together.

We make our magic. Our memories create magic. Sister Becky sums it up perfectly when she sees the photos: “It creates a great longing to be there with my loved ones.” Such magic!

Linda and I regularly hike a number of local trails where, when we listen, we hear the fey whispers of magic. Some are old trails with deep roots – we’ve visited Doughton Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway since the kids could walk. Some are newer, their magic bright and sprite and still emerging – the Grassy Creek “forest bathing” spur of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, where our grandson worked beside me to scrape a first pathway into the riparian gloom.

Every week, in every season and weather, we discover the healing magic these footpaths through forest desire to share with anyone who’ll visit. Some magic is tangible: today the tiny Adam and Eve orchids are just opening, and to appreciate them I have to kneel with my nose in the leaf mould. Some magic is inchoate: the breeze on our necks, how it stirs ferns in the glade, the color of light ferns hold and release when we pause from all motion and let the woods overtake us.

When we return from these walks it isn’t the sweat and tired old muscles we remember. The magic of memory creates connection, shared presence, becoming one. Yes, Jill, that is a magical place. Oh yes, the trees, the mountains, but what really brings each place’s magic into being is what we share there together.

Fern Glade above Grassy Creek, MST

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Girl in the Woods

Before the earth became her bed, she raked away
+++++ the rubble and rocks, scraped the soil smooth.

There are no candy men here, no dope peddlers,
+++++ no pill pushers, no one to hand out 40s and 80s –

those perfect stones with their false promise to cut her
+++++ pain with their fuzz and blur – the way they do

at her apartment in the projects, a home more makeshift
+++++ than her nylon tent with its walls stretched taut,

its strings staked between oak roots. In this quiet,
+++++ she sketches her children’s faces with charcoal,

applying skills she’s learning in community college
+++++ art classes. She outlines their curved cheeks,

their almond-shaped eyes, uses long, sweeping strokes
+++++ for her daughter’s hair, a softer mark for the scar

on her son’s chin. Dark comes early beneath the trees.
+++++ Without the luxury of electric light, she’s learning

how to smudge charcoal, how to block in the mid-tones,
+++++ by battery-powered lantern – a small sacrifice

for this shelter of trees when she most misses her kids,
+++++ when her brain won’t stop buzzing.

Denton Loving
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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Southern Ohio, pronounced “Ohia” if you’re from there, is Appalachia. Forget Cleveland and Toledo and their Lake Erie, forget Columbus and its gateway to the great plains. Think Athens, Portsmouth, Logan, Hocking Hills. Nearly one fourth of the area of Ohio is hills, glacial carvings, forest, and streams flowing down to the Big River that borders West Virginia and Kentucky. These poems are from the new anthology, I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, poetry called forth and collected by current Ohio state poet laureate, Kari Gunter-Seymour.

These voices are remarkable. Inspiring. Dire. Funny as hell. Every day I pick up the book and just leaf to a new page at random, and every poem speaks to me. It’s not just because I have family in those hills and know the smells and sounds of those back roads and farms, the funkiness of those river towns, the long lightless days of winter, the disappointment of “Ohio false spring.” It’s because these poems are honest and human and speak to anyone who has ever looked to discover another person standing beside them. Join me, open the book, let’s see where it takes us! Let’s us be part of the community, bigger and bigger.

You’n’s, us’n’s, all of us together.

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Some Kind of Prayer

What can I tell you that you do not already know?
Listen to the grass, its long legs whistling as it swishes.
Touch the brush of cattails, the brittle wings of pine cones,
the dry skin of chokeberries – feel
their burst. Taste rain. Say you’re sorry

not for what you did but for how you doubted
yourself for so long. This life is filled
with a million cocoons and you can choose
how long, which one, or none.

Sleep is so close. Run now, run.

Shuly Xóchitl Cawood
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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To No One in Particular

I am never happy to see summer go,
earth stripped of its finest voice.
I am sitting outside in my heavy coat,
porch light off. There is no moon,
no ambient distractions, the sky a Zion.

I take solace in considering the age
of this valley, the way water
left its mark on Appalachia,
long before Peabody sunk a shaft,
Chevron augured the shale or ODOT
dynamited roadways through steep rock.

I grew up in a house where canned
fruit cocktail was considered a treat.
My sister and I fought over who got
to eat the fake cherries, standouts in the can,
though tasting exactly like very other
tired piece of fruit floating in the heavy syrup.

But it was store-bought, like city folks
and we were too gullible to understand
the corruption in the concept, our mother’s
home-canned harvest superior in every way.
I cringe when I think of how we shamed her.

So much here depends upon
a green corn stalk, a patched barn roof,
weather, the Lord, community.
We’ve rarely been offered a hand
that didn’t destroy.

Inside the house the lightbulb comes on
when the refrigerator door is opened.
My husband rummages a snack,
plops beside me on the porch to wolf it down,

turns, plants a kiss, leans back in his chair,
says to no one in particular,
A person could spend a lifetime
under a sky such as this.

Kari Gunter-Seymour
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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Linda and Bill at Kelly’s Pines, 1974

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#8: 200 yds uphill from True Word Baptist Church on L past brick house R

It’s a little before 6:30 a.m. on May 28, 2022, when I pull into the dew soaked grass and walk up to the pasture fence: Stop #8. Stop #1 was 5:33, Venus rising above the tree line, the chorus just rustling awake led by Chuck-will’s-widow. Now the eastern sky is peach and the birds are full throat.

For 25+ years I’ve been counting a route for the annual Breeding Bird Survey of the US Geologic Survey (Patuxent Wildlife Research Center). These courses were established in 1966 to monitor North American bird populations; there are more than 4,000 of the 25 mile courses in the US and Canada. It’s no coincidence that the impetus arose to study declining bird numbers around the same time Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published (1962).

Since 1995 I’ve counted the Copeland route in southern Surry County into Wilkes. This year I added a second route, Mt. Airy, mainly northern Stokes County. Start ½ hour before dawn, fifty defined roadside stops a half mile apart, count every bird you hear and see in three minutes.

Stop #8. The knob of Pilot Mountain emerges from shadow. Mist rising in the hollows. Click my timer. Listen!

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On March 31, 2011 I posted the first offering on my new blog, including the poem Hymn by A.R. Ammons, which is still my favorite. I named the blog Griffin~Poetry, Verse and Image – I imagined combining powerful metaphor and poetic imagery with my own photography. For the past two years I’ve posted at least once a week, usually Friday mornings: today (a Wednesday) is post # 208.

Today I’m changing the site’s name. I’m dropping “Griffin~Poetry.” I’m stepping back from the spotlight. For one thing, only about 5% of the poems I’ve ever included are written by me. I’ve so far featured about 185 poets, everyone from Abbott, Tony to York, Carolyn. This blog is not about Griffin’s Poetry as author, it’s about poetry I treasure as reader.

Secondly I’m changing the header photo to Pilot Mountain at dawn from Stop #8. The Pilot has always been a landmark for our family, an ensign of home. When we lived in Ohio and drove to North Carolina once a year to visit my Grandparents, spotting the knob from Rte. 52 meant we were almost there. Every April I’ll restore the header to artwork by my wife Linda French Griffin in honor of Earth Day, but for now let Pilot Mountain guide us.

Finally, there’s this:
It belongs to the nature of every ‘being’ that it is a potential for every ‘becoming.’
++++++++++++++++++++ Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality
Whitehead is saying that the fundamental building blocks of reality are not atoms or quarks or anything that ‘is’ but rather the constant flux of moments coming into being, ‘becoming.’ Everything changes but everything is connected. Whitehead’s book is all but impenetrable (although there are some excellent guidebooks, not unlike the ones about birds, ferns, and flowers I carry in my pack on every outing), but a world that is obtuse, confusing, seemingly malevolent can open to enlightenment via metaphor. Through poetic imagery.

Thank you, Poetry, for offering to give us a glimpse of reality.

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Birds – perfect metaphor for the struggle to find meaning. Familiar but elusive, civilized but wild, possible to recognize but impossible to fully know. The Dawn Chorus begins and we are inspired to go on pilgrimages to discover our place among them.

Cuckoo Song ++++++++++++++++++ Anonymous c. 1250

SUMER is icumen in,
++ Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweth sed, and bloweth med,
++ And springth the wude nu—
+++++ Sing cuccu!

Canterbury Tales   (lines 9-12) +++++++ Geoffrey Chaucer (1340(?)–1400)

And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,

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And of course here are three minutes of birds from Stop #8:
American Crow (2)
Carolina Wren (2)
Gray Catbird
Yellow-breasted Chat
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting

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2020-06-11a Doughton Park Tree

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[with poems by Joseph Bathanti]

In my post of May 20, I wrote this: Green is God’s best idea.

I wasn’t kidding. None of us would be here without green. Slugs, snow leopards, billionaires, and all the rest of us, we only have being by the beneficence of creatures that can turn sunlight into sugar.

I expected a rebuttal, however, to the best idea position. Wait, isn’t Homo sapiens God’s best idea? Humans, are we not the pinnacle? To have dominion over all (some would say dominance)? Do grey wolves and groundhogs even have souls? Not to mention old growth hemlocks?

Perhaps we humans, with our large and complex brains of which we are so proud, are the only creatures that have evolved an awareness of God’s presence. Perhaps, though, all other creatures live their every precognitive moment within that enfolding perfect presence. Perhaps we have yet to attain the harmony of oneness which must be every creature’s reason for being – perhaps grey wolves and ground hogs are born into it.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Genesis 2:15 (New International Version)

Here’s a good idea: Perhaps each one us, almost nine billion now, might consider one way we can contribute to the loving care we take of this single known planet in the cosmos which harbors God-aware organisms.

The contemporary ecological crisis, in fact, lays bare precisely our incapacity to perceive the physical world as impregnated with divine presence. We have swapped the lofty vision of the physical world as God’s own abode, sanctified by the incarnation of the Son of God, with the one-dimensional mechanistic outlook of modernity. Father Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity, and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. William Blake

To me, to worship God means to recognize that mind and intelligence are woven into the fabric of our universe in a way that altogether surpasses our comprehension. Freeman Dyson

Look at the animals roaming the forest: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the birds flying across the sky: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the tiny insects crawling in the grass: God’s spirit dwells within them. Pelagius

Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment. R. Buckminster Fuller

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April Snow

The grass whelps in biblical mien –
mowers spend themselves –

a writ of greenest green,
spangled in sunbursts,

as if Van Gogh decided on
the remnant petrified thistle,

the first violets at his feet,
and painted Billings’ meadow.

Robins pompously swagger.
Swifts (little crosses)

jet above them. Birdsong.
Frog-song. Early spring

by habit exaggerates itself,
the green a blinding recognition.

To the ridge mount pines and firs.
Ancient hardwoods swell

by the day with bringing forth.
Blackberry whip the swales,

its cane shrove-purple
from the long winter.

In Sugar Grove, daffodils worship
on the abandoned Ruritan diamond.

Bases bleach in the dirt.
Home plate is a pentagon.

It forgets nothing.
Life is more than fable,

but never stops stunning earth.
And so: hushed clouds, sheepish,

sheep-shaped, yet foretold,
slip over Snake Den Mountain.

Their shadows blanket the valley floor.
The snow they release is inevitable.

This is how we must think of it –
inevitable – how we must welcome it,

the white behest of silence,
the green beneath it jade, milky.

Joseph Bathanti

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April Snow and Floyd County, Kentucky are from Joseph Bathanti’s new book, Light at the Seam (LSU Press © 2022). The poems are about Appalachian coal country, its people, its deep spirit, its devastation by the mining practice of mountaintop removal. Many are inspired by photographer Carl Galie’s exhibition Lost on the Road to Oblivion: The Vanishing Beauty of Coal County and these lines are deeply visual and sensual. Joseph’s language is earthy and exalted; it synergizes with his intimate observations to make us reverent participants. Care for the earth as your beloved; enter as an acolyte into this tender presence; discover, deep within, light at the seam.

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Floyd County, Kentucky

No lintel to speak of,
but a chicken wire screen
door hinged on twelve-inch

block and lattice, jittering,
wind chimes knelling,
each time a charge grunts –

off-thunder rumbling the hollows.
The masonry had been sound;
shock split the seams: gashes

of mortar where it’s been repointed,
caulked sashes.
Number 2 pine gone ashy, fixing

to rot; the dooryard
held in a brazen of peonies,
rickety picket once-white

to corset them, pink-red
like the font in Luke
where Jesus says to John:

. . . the Son of Man hath not where to lay His Head.
Just inside hangs a woman’s shawl,
slick, see-through as onion skin;

maybe it’s parchment,
scrivened in bodement,
the letters gone to blood.

It can drive you to your knees:
how folks set out flowers
and look upon the earth.

Joseph Bathanti

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Doughton Park Tree, 2022-05-17B

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[with poems by Carl Phillips, Janice Harrington, Ross Gay]

Green is God’s best idea.

Yesterday afternoon Linda and I drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway for a hike at Doughton Park. Crossing Air Bellows Gap (elevation 1,135 m / 3,724 ft) we noticed the new leaves still flashed mint, gold, orange, pink, some foreshadowing their autumn hues. Once we’d climbed up to the overlook at Bluff Mountain, though, we saw the hardwoods down in Basin Cove fully decked in rich deep emerald and kelly, gradations of green from full summer in the bottoms to pale spring at ridgecrest. Which is all just to say: Go, little Chloroplasts, Go!

The first chloroplast was born about 2 billion years ago when an ancient cell engulfed an ancient cyanobacterium. And then didn’t digest it! The cyanobacterium became a tiny green internal organelle and its chlorophyll turned sunlight into sugar for the big cell; the big cell provided a safe home for the cb. They became first plant cell – a match made in heaven! In another mere billion years or so of reproducing like mad (and cranking out oxygen as a waste product), the earth’s atmosphere changed from having zero oxygen to having oxygen enough to support the development of the first animals. Of which you and I, of course, are two. Thank you, Green!

Postscript re: good ideas and all – Linda and I had parked beneath an oak tree. When we’d finished our five miles (including detour around a herd of steers that grazes on NPS land to keep the balds bald) I opened the car door and raised a visible cloud. Swelling eyes, paroxysms of coughing, nose gusher: oak tree in flower = pollen.

To make a seed you need an ovum and pollen. Every green thing that doesn’t make seeds makes spores instead and is a fern (well, OK, or moss, or liverwort, or lichen, or . . . ). Spores work pretty well but about 400 million years ago the gymnosperms appeared (conifers, ginkgo) and brought with them the first pollen, and when plants became smart enough to make flowers about 135 million years ago (angiosperms) the variety of living things on earth really skyrocketed. Go, Flowers, Go! So if you’ll hand me a tissue, God, I’ll grudge you this: pollen might be your second best idea.

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The Cure

The tree stood dying – dying slowly, in the ususal manner
of trees, slowly, but now without its clusters of spring leaves
taking shape again, already. The limbs that held them tossed,

shifted, the light fell as it does, through them, though it
sometimes looked as if the light were being shaken, as if
by the branches – the light, like leaves, had it been autumn,

scattering down: singly, in fistfuls. Nothing about it to do
with happiness, or glamour. Not sadness either. That much
I could see, finally. I could see, and want to see. The tree

was itself, its branches were branches, shaking, they shook
in the wind like possibility, like impatient escorts bored with
their own restlessness, like hooves in the wake of desire, in

the wake of the dream of it, and like the branches they were.
A sound in the branches like that of luck when it turns, or is
luck itself a fixed thing, around which I myself turn or don’t,

I remember asking – meaning to ask. Where had I been, for
what felt like forever? Where was I? The tree was itself, and
dying; it resembled, with each scattering of light, all the more

persuasively the kind of argument that can at last let go of them,
all the lovely-enough particulars that, for a time, adorned it:
force is force. The tree was itself. The light fell here and there,

through it. Like history. No – history doesn’t fall, we fall
through history, the tree is history, I remember thinking, trying
not to think it, as I lay exhausted down in its crippled shadow.

Carl Phillips

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Today’s selected poems are from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA.

Carl Phillips is the author of nine books of poetry, most recently Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems 1986-2006 and Riding Westward. A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, he teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.

Janice Harrington (b. 1956) grew up in Alabama and Nebraska. After working as a public librarian and as a professional storyteller, Harrington now teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has also written award-winning children’s books.

Ross Gay was born in 1974 in Youngstown, Ohio. He is a Cave Canem Fellow and a recipient of a grant from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts. He teaches poetry at Indiana University in Bloomington and gives readings and workshops in various venues across the country.

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What There Was

Pine, catalpa, pin oak, persimmon,
but not tree.

Hummingbird, hoot owl, martin, crow,
but not bird

Cannas, honeysuckle, cockscomb, rose,
but not flower.

Wood smoke, corn, dust, outhouse,
but not stench.

A spider spinning in a rain barrel,
the silver dipper by the back porch,
tadpoles shimmying against a concrete bank,
but not silence.

A cotton row, a bucket lowered into a well,
a red dirt road, a winging crow,
but not distance.

A rooster crowing in the evening,
wasps humming beneath the eaves, hounds
baying, hot grease, but not music.

My mother running away at fifteen,
my grandmother lifting a truck to save a life,
an uncle at Pearly Harbor, Webster sitting
at the back of the bus when he looked as white
as they did, but not stories.

The entrails of a slaughtered sow, the child born
with a goat’s face, the cousin laid on a railroad
track, the fire that burned it all, but not death.

This poem, a snuff tin sated with the hair
of all our dead, my mother’s nighttime talks
with her dead father, my great-grandmother’s
clothes passed down, passed down, but not memory.

Janice N. Harrington

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Thank You

If you find yourself half naked
and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
again, the earth’s great, sonorous moan that says
you are the air of the now and gone, that says
all you love will turn to dust,
and will meet you there, do not
raise your fist. Do not raise
your small voice against it. And do not
take cover. Instead, curl your toes
into the grass, watch the cloud
ascending from your lips. Walk
through the garden’s dormant splendor.
Say only, thank you.
Thank you.

Ross Gay

 

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Doughton Park Tree, 2022-05-17A

 

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[with poems by Anthony Walton, Camille Dungy, Marilyn Nelson]

The first time down the path leads // to enlightenment, the second, to wonder; / the third finds us silent, listening

What path have you and I walked that led us here? Anthony Walton’s path is through the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge: between firm ground & marsh, between tidal creek and sound. What paths do we recall through life that carried us between extremes, that brought us to new places?

Literal paths: Bogue Sound when I was ten, over the dunes to the ocean at Emerald Isle when there wasn’t a single house in sight. The old orchard cum housing development in Michigan when I was 13, Larry and I walking to the old pond with the rope swing. Fifty miles of New Mexico I hiked at Philmont at 16, thinking every day of returning home to ask Linda on our first date.

And figurative paths: symbolic journeys, decisions made, setbacks, mistakes, turning points. In hindsight do they seem to have become inevitable, foreordained? Could my life have been different if . . . and would I have even wanted it to be?

To walk a path for the first time – well, of course you can only do that once. It’s been a couple of years since I first hiked the trail I now follow at least once a week: pick up the MST at Isaac’s trail head, westbound to Carter Falls, loop trail and back, about seven miles. I walked it today. This morning for the first time along Grassy Creek I saw a Redstart. Every walk, another first time. And those metaphorical paths – each time I recall, revisit, isn’t it another first time of a sort?

The first path, the first encounter, leads to enlightenment, the next to wonder, then finally silence. Keep walking our paths, whether they be sandy tracks, a mountain climb, an untangling of recollection and past reflection. The first time opens the mind, door to contemplation. The second opens the eyes, to see and be amazed. The third time opens the heart, and in silence may meaning enfold us.

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In the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge, Thinking of Rachel Carson

The elements raveling and unraveling:
groundwater misting into rain, falling

back into groundwater; salt water wash
through brackish freshwater bordering

sea; we two wandering in late March
along the upland, among evergreens

and bare deciduous and bushes held fast
by the last of the snow, the rush and bubble

of the tidal river winding through low tide,
salt hay, cord and spike grass, walking

the path between firm ground and marsh.
The first time down the path leads

to enlightenment, the second, to wonder;
the third finds us silent, listening

to the few gulls lift and caw as we watch
the wind, which makes itself known

in the sea grass and as it dimples the water,
skimming like sunlight until a Coast Guard

chopper drowns for a moment the drone
of cars and trucks in the distance.

Anthony Walton

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Language

Silence is one part of speech, the war cry
of wind down a mountain pass another.
A stranger’s voice echoing through lonely
valleys, a lover’s voice rising so close
it’s your own tongue: these are keys to cipher,
the way the high hawk’s key unlocks the throat
of the sky and the coyote’s yip knocks
it shut, the way the aspens’ bells conform
to the breeze while the rapid’s drum defines
resistance. Sage speaks with one voice, pinyon
with another. Rock, wind her hand, water
her brush, spells and then scatters her demands.
Some notes tear and pebble our paths. Some notes
gather: the bank we map our lives around.

Camille T. Dungy

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Ruellia Noctiflora

A colored man come running at me out of the woods
last Sunday morning.
The junior choir was going to be singing
at Primitive Baptist over in Notasulga,
and we were meeting early to practice.
I remember wishing I was barefoot
in the heavy, cool-looking dew.
And suddenly this tall, rawbone wild man
come puffing out of the woods, shouting
Come see! Come See!
Seemed like my mary janes just stuck
to the gravel. Girl, my heart
Like to abandon ship!

Then I saw by the long tin cylinder
slung over his shoulder on a leather strap
and his hoboish tweed jacket
and the flower in his lapel
that it was the Professor.
He said, gesturing, his tan eyes a blazing,
that last night, walking in the full moon light,
he’d stumbled on
a very rare specimen:
Ruellia noctifloria,
the night-blooming wild petunia.
Said he suddenly sensed a fragrance
and a small white glistening.

It was clearly a petunia:
The yellow future beckoned
from the lip of each tubular flower,
a blaring star of frilly, tongue-like petals.
He’d never seen this species before.
As he tried to place it,
its flowers gaped wider,
catching the moonlight,
suffusing the night with its sent.
All night he watched it
promise silent ecstasy to moths.

If we hurried, I could see it
before it closed to contemplate
becoming seed.
Hand in hand, we entered
the light-spattered morning-dark woods.
Where he pointed was only a white flower
until I saw him seeing it.

Marilyn Nelson

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Today’s selected poems are from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA.

Anthony Walton was born in 1960 in Aurora, Illinois. He is the author of Mississippi: American Journey, and editor with Michael S. Harper of The Vintage Book of African American Poetry. He is a professor and the writer-in-residence at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

Camille Dungy edited Black Nature, which won a Northern California Book Award and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. A past professor in the creative writing program at San Francisco State University, she is currently a professor in the English department at Colorado State University.

Marilyn Nelson (b. 1946) is author or translator of many award-winning books and chapbooks, including A Wreath for Emmet Till. She is Professor Emerita of English and University of Connecticut and former Poet Laureate (2001-6) of the state.

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2020-06-11a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Gerald Barrax Sr.]

Next month I’ll be leading a couple of nature walks for our local trails association. My fellow naturalists-for-a-morning – as we enter the world of trees and ferns, birds and bugs, what special guidance shall I give you? I’ll mention the primary tasks of the naturalist – notice; ask questions; make connections – but what might make our small journey together even more personal and meaningful?

I think I’ll say, Let’s be slow to name things. Yes, we are each going to encounter some things we recognize. We will also each see or hear or smell something unknown, maybe an odd shaped leaf, a bird call, a pungent mushroom. Either way, may we allow everyone to fill their senses with the thing, share the encounter, before we speak its name.

Am I correct in this: once I give something a name do I stop noticing it as fully? I end my close attention, my exploration of its flower, its leaf. I quit asking myself, What does this remind me of? What is this like and what is it not? I’m done. I’ve finished wondering.

Let’s be slower to name things. Let’s extend wonder as long as we can. Wonder is why we’ve come here.

On the other hand, working together to figure out something’s name is bonkers. As in, we share a crazy laugh when we’ve done it. Yesterday Linda and I visited the NC Zoo with our daughter and her family. All day and many miles of walking through Uwharrie forest to visit Africa and North America with a four-year old, what a blast.

Late afternoon SIL Josh and I lagged behind Linda, Margaret, and Bert – we’d heard a very unfamiliar bird call in the canopy and were craning our necks. Sort of a half-hearted cluck framed by a sharp tik or two fore and aft. I’d been listening to birdsong CDs and it kind of reminded me of the hiccup of Henslow’s Sparrow. Nah, super rare, plus completely wrong habitat. Then we caught a glimpse – way bigger than a sparrow or warbler, long bill, yellow all over.

A female summer tanager! High fives. Yeah, we were a little slow but we worked it out together. Totally bonkers. Or maybe not.

 

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To Waste at Trees

Black men building a Nation,
My Brother said, have no leisure like them
No right to waste at trees
Inventing names for wrens and weeds.
But it’s when you don’t care about the world
That you begin owning and destroying it
Like them.

And how can you build
Especially a Nation
Without a soul?
He forgot that we’ve built one already –
In the cane, in the rice and cotton fields
And unlike them, came out humanly whole
Because our fathers, being African,
Saw the sun and moon as God’s right and left eye,
Named Him Rain Maker and welcomed the blessing osf his spit,
Found in the rocks his stoney footprints,
Heard him traveling the sky on the wind
And speaking in the thunder
That would trumpet in the soul of the slave.

Forget this and let them make us deceive ourselves
That seasons have not meanings for us
And like them
we are slaves again.

Gerald Barrax Sr.
from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA

❦ ❦ ❦

As I recently began reading Black Nature I stumbled through the sections at random until I happened upon a name I recognized – a name may be an anchor or it may become a sail to catch the wind. I followed the guyline of Gerald Barrax through all the pages it touched. Lines so rich, so provoking and impeaching, I can’t be the same after reading.

Gerald William Barrax, Sr. (June 21, 1933 ~ December 7, 2019) was the first African American professor at North Carolina State University, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, and winner of the North Carolina Award for Literature. Other awards include the Sam Ragan Award and the Raleigh Medal of Arts. In 2006 he was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. His teaching career at NC State spanned 27 years and he served as the editor of the Black literary journal Obsidian.

I’ll be sharing more poetry discoveries from this amazing anthology as I continue my explorations.

❦ ❦ ❦

What More?

My lawnmower has awakened the resident god of my yard
who rugs its leafy hand in anticipation
of troubling me again with one of its cruel koans,

this one a small bird dropped
from the sky, or thrown out,
out of the sweetgum tree

where I was cutting
that long triangle of grass outside
the back fence: put there

when I wasn’t looking, it lies
on its back twitching half in and out of the swath
I cut a minute before.

I’m being tampered with again,
like an electron whose orbit and momentum
are displaced by the scientist’s measurement

and observation. If I’d found something already stiff
and cold on the ground
I’d have kicked or nudged it out of my path:

but the just-dead, the thing still warm,
just taken its last breath, made its last
movement, has its own kind of horror.

I leave the small patch of uncut grass around it.
Back inside my enclosed yard
I see a brown thrasher come and stand over the body,

with some kind of food in its bill.
(I was careful to say “bill” and not “mouth.”)
By the next time I cut myself around the yard,

I see the thrasher sitting on the fence above the still dead,
still holding whatever it has in its bill. I’ve described
it all accurately. What more could anyone expect of me?

Gerald Barrax Sr.
from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA

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I Called Them Trees

The last time
+++ +++ +++ I went to the library
I looked at the flowers
surrounding the statue of Steven Collins
Foster and the old darkie ringing
+++ the banjo at his feet
+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ :flowers planted
in four triangular beds
alternating red and white.
I saw they were all the same kind.

There were others
+++ +++ +++ +++ in front of the building
in long wide rectangular rows
bordered by round clusters of pastel green
and white that were too deep, too dark
+++ red, maroon, for easy images
+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ :I called

them all flowers.
And the stunted trees I
wished I had known, bending over the green

terrace above the flowers
+++ like women whose faces
I couldn’t see washing
their hair in deep green pools, I called
trees. If I had told you would you
+++ had known them?

+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ There were
flowers for me. There
were trees. There were kinds
of birds and something blue
that crouched
+++ +++ +++ in the green day waiting
for evening.
If I had told you would
you have known?

I sat
+++ on a bench among flowers
and trees facing
the traffic +++ surveying all

I knew of impalas, cougars, falcons
barracudas, mustangs wild
+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ cats,
marlins, watching cars
go by. +++ I named them
+++ all.

Gerald Barrax Sr.
from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA

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Doughton Park Tree 4/30/2022

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[poems by David Radavich, Peter Makuck,
Paul Jones, Sam Barbee]

Earth Song

It is something between
lament and celebration,

perhaps both at once,
perpetually mourning yet

dancing in survival

like the seed that
disappears one whole season
then erupts in a plume
of green or garish purple.

Animals hear it, even plants,
but rarely humans

who are too busy raking
off what they can never get
enough of, this free air

that awards us love
in every verse.

Listen to the chorus
tonight and always,
so long as we’re alive

among the sentience
even now chanting
all around us
like bells or birds.

David Radavich

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I am trying to listen, Earth. I hear the celebration, I breathe it in, I feel it in my chest and beneath my feet. But I hear the lament as well. Loud, always louder. Is it even possible for me to give more than I take, or is despair all that is left for me? Left for us?

What can this one single person do to preserve you, Earth?

Earlier this year I took a hike in the Smokies with a lichenologist. Oh Smokies, your blue mist horizons, your saturated earth and clear chattering streams. Oh you temperate rainforest, your endless variety of creatures that creep and buzz and flit. Oh you breathless diversity of trees and flowers, heath and ferns, every patch of everything alive.

But this was a winter hike. The hardwoods were bare, the understory brown. After a brief chill shower, though, and how often it showers, nondescript grey patches on every branch, bark, and stone turned green – lichens photosynthesizing.

This is where the lichenologist explained the term poikilohydric – lichens passively soak up moisture from the air and passively release it when the air is less humid. They can’t actively retain water. They’re just little sponges. One little sponge isn’t likely to create those blue mist horizons or temperate fecundity, but in the Smokies everything is covered in lichen. Kneel and examine any rock – you’re not likely to discover much actual “rock” showing.

One lichen might not do much but billions of little sponges actually do moderate the microclimate about them. They contribute their small yet huge part to Great Smokies National Park possessing greater biodiversity than the Amazon rainforest.

One person’s contribution may not seem like much but there are billions of us. Small changes are the stream running a little clearer and colder so the brookie can spawn. Small changes are one more monarch laying her hundred eggs. Small changes are the wood thrush discovering insects for her chicks when they hatch.

Read below for some ideas about small changes. Celebrate each one. And thank you, Earth, for the opportunities.

❦ ❦ ❦

Red Foxes at Pahaska Tepee

In an isolated no-frills cabin
on the banks of the Shoshone,
we spent two nights on the site
of Wild Bill Cody’s hunting camp,
but unlike Bill, I had no gun
+++++ to discourage the bears.

Make noise when you walk the trails,
they told us at the office,
and don’t go into the woods after dark.

As a kid growing up in the country,
I read about Cody,
+++++ Crockett, and Boone,
had a pistol and two rifles,
hunted rabbit and squirrels for the table,
trapped muskrat, fox, and mink for the money,
often missing the bus into school.

Behind our cabin one morning,
I spotted five deer
and a fawn feeding among the aspens.
At first I thought they were shadows.
+++++ A few minutes later,
my binoculars brought a fox up close,
black forelegs and white-tipped tail.

I couldn’t stop watching her
down on a path by the riverbank.
I’d never seen one playfully roll in the dust,
or stretch out while her two kits
+++++ nipped at each other,
and tumbled over their mother.

Years ago
+++++ when I saw a fox
it was held in the jaws of my trap –
five bucks bounty from the farmer’s grange,
another buck and a half for the pelt.
+++++ Who was I?
What was I doing?
I must have imagined I was Crockett.
What stays
from one of those mornings
is a red fox, bloody foreleg tight in my trap.
She was just standing there panting
with her tongue out
like my good dog Jonesy on a hot day.

But now as I watched, she jumped up,
this red fox mom,
+++++ looked right at me, frozen,
flanked by her two kits.
I was dangerous,
I didn’t deserve this gift of seeing.

Something stirred in the bushes beside me.
When I looked up again and tried to refocus,
they were gone,
+++++ +++++ and the riverbank empty.

Peter Makuck
from Mandatory Evacuation, BOA Editions Ltd, Rochester NY, © 2016

❦ ❦ ❦

Earth, you’re looking stressed. Getting a little balder – someone cutting down your forests to raise cattle? Dryer – rivers become trickles, aquifers squeezed, not enough water to go around? Dirtier – nitrates in your ponds, forever chemicals (PFAS) in your streams, microplastics in everydamnthing? And of course hotter, always hotter?

O Earth, we’re all feeling stressed, too. We don’t need to be the pika at the top of Bear Tooth Pass with no higher to go to cool off – we know we’re all running out of everything and especially time. Habitat loss, phenological mismatch, aridification, salinization, sea level rise – all accelerating.

What do we do?

Perhaps one response parallels the Naturalist method: notice; ask questions; make connections; tell about it. With one added step – take action. A big action, a little action, a lot of actions but make sure to choose something that makes you happy. Earth Day Every Day is celebration, not burden.

One idea: plant native. Non-native trees and shrubs are plant deserts for birds and butterflies but my Serviceberry feeds the neighborhood all three seasons: kinglets and chickadees eat the buds, wrens and bluebirds feed babies caterpillars and other insects, robins and waxwings arrive in the fall for berries. And my soul is fed every spring by the starry petals falling like late snow.

Another idea: eat closer to the ground. If not every meal then at least a few meals. Eat things that sprout instead of eating things that eat things that sprout. Growing one pound of protein from beans requires 2,270 gallons of water. One pound of beef protein uses 13,438 gallons. One acre can produce 250 pounds of beef or 20,000 pounds of potatoes. (And we’re not even considering the powerful greenhouse gas methane = cow farts).

Here are a few interesting readable resources. SHARE YOUR OWN FAVORITES WITH US IN YOUR COMMENTS!

Earth Day 2022 – Invest in Our Planet

World Water Day

Water footprint of your favorite food & bev

Tips from 2019 World Water Day

How much water do you save the planet if you eat less meat?

101 tips to save water at home

GreenMATCH – becoming ecofriendly

30 tips to be ecofriendly today

❦ ❦ ❦

At The Big Sweep

No one likes to wade
knee deep in the creek
to pull out plastic
snags from the places
turtles seek the sun.
I pretend I do
to do the hard work
that needs to be done.
I take what I have
of magic, of what
I found of pleasure,
in cleaning the creek.
I remember why
I hate what mud can
do to weigh plastic,
to make the load twist
and shudder and shift.
My feet find new paths
in the sucking mud,
some purchases on stone,
that lead to the bank.
My slow slogs resets
stream’s rushing free flow.
I remember nights
I couldn’t fall asleep
on a mountain train
how it like the creek
would twist, turn, and shift
along the river.
I got off the train
and it moved again.
More smoothly or so,
it seemed as distance
grew and the river
ran in parallel.
I knew then, as here,
that joy comes when work
and journeys are done.

Paul Jones


This poem in honor of the Big Sweep was first published by Silver Birch Press in their Saving the Earth series.
Paul writes: The Big Sweep is a continuing volunteer effort to free the waterways and other natural areas of litter – especially plastic. Some may find these efforts a pleasure, but for me these necessary tasks are more rewarding in retrospect when you can see the results from a distance in time and space. Writing is, of course, similar as are taxing trips on rattling trains.

 

❦ ❦ ❦

Flowers Mean May

April’s rimless wet
++++++++++++ wagers grief’s roulette.
Blooms rattle,
++++++++ frenetic mesh.
Prod imperfection;
++++++++++++ spatter flimsy rosette:
desperate for a kindly set
++++++++++++++++ to count-off
and confirm us.
++++++++++ Hold dear.
Tactic of desire –
++++++++++ odd-numbered
to denote She Loves Me. . . .

I stroll the peristyle
++++++++++++ encircled
with springtime bouquet.
++++++++++++++++ Piecemeal fragrance
to wilt all winter weed.
++++++++++++++ Appetite of delicate petals
on cue:
++++ summon like addiction
Snatch a daisy
++++++++ off the edge,
eager to dissect our fate.
++++++++++++++++ Each casualty
may heal, while any sum
++++++++++++++++ must be forgiven –
abide pledge
++++++++ as she may love me not.

Sam Barbee
from The Writer’s Morning Out on-line site in Pittsboro, April 2020

❦ ❦ ❦

Early in April I asked readers to share a favorite poem that celebrates the interdependence and interconnection of all life on earth. I am including their offerings in three posts before, on, and after Earth Day, April 22. Thank you to all those who responded, and thanks to all of you who read this page and share in the celebration of life on earth.

❦ Bill Griffin ❦

2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

 

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