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Archive for the ‘family’ Category

[with 3 poems by Diana Pinkney]

Oh, I couldn’t possibly eat all that. Thank Heavens I haven’t heard Mom utter those words for quite a while now. For the fifty years prior I believe we heard that phrase with each plate set before her. Some impulse ingrained in the 30’s in the genteel South? A mantra for all the new college girls in the 40’s? How, we would ask ourselves behind her back, could someone forever twig slender so fear gaining a pound?

This week at the doctor’s office I watch the nurse enter Mom’s vitals in the computer to make sure she hasn’t lost a pound. Dad admits he hates to nag her to eat her breakfast – too engaged with the paper or too forgetful to take a bite? Yesterday I cooked them both lunch – calm down, it was just 10 minutes in the skillet from Trader Joe’s – and served the plates. It’s no trick, really, just sit across the table from Mom for long enough and she will finally finish what you’ve given her. Don’t forget the milk! The doctor says you need more fluids.

Grandmother, Dad’s Mom, had her own mantra for us grandkids in the 50’s and 60’s: Children are starving in Europe. Yes, swear to God, she actually said that more than once. Chubby me was more than happy to clean his plate, but one breakfast I recall her disapproval. I had scooped up the last Cheerio but there was still milk in the bowl overlying its substratum of teaspoons of sugar. That evening I washed down my cornbread with a big gulp of sudden sickening sweetness Grandmother had rescued from that bowl.

Now I’m clearing the table while Mom stares at the last of her milk, a layer of ice melt above the 2%. In a few minutes, though, as I stand at the sink rinsing, she walks in carrying the empty. I have to say it. Good job, Mom!

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Super Cuts, Six Months after My Daughter’s Death

The stylist snips, snips my hair, shorter
and shorter. As she works, we talk.

You have children, she asks. Yes,
I answer. Do you? Oh, I have two girls.

How about you? Three, I say, my voice
tight, clipped as the gray strands covering

the floor. My daughter’s hair was long
and red, until it was blonde. She loved

the sun. A little less on the sides, please.
Why didn’t I say I have two children, sons,

and that would have been that. Except that
will never be that. I will always have three

children. Do they live here, she asks?
The sons do. My daughter lives nowhere

and everywhere. It’s good, she says, you
have a girl, too. Yes, I answer, it is good.

Diana Pinckney
from Hummingbirds & Wine, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte, NC, © 2022

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How impossible to bear, losing a child to death. How much more impossible to write about it. Diana Pinckney in Hummingbirds and Wine overcomes the paralysis of grief, but not as chronicle or biography or personal therapy. Although she confesses I live / behind a veil, these poems are the bridge that leads her and us beyond the Valei of Teeris. These lines are twisting tracks that connect past and present, parent and child, and that connect poet and reader.

On the tree of suffering there is a twig of joy that grows up from dark earth. The root of happiness is the same / as perhaps, both descendants / / of hap – hazard or chance. Diana’s poetry is not rationalization, not sentimentality, not desperate. These are poems that share one moment, then another and another, along the path she has had to walk and which we can now walk together.

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Sea Turtles

Loggerhead, Leatherback, Ridley or Green, they all drag
themselves onto a beach. Alone under the same moon
on different shores, in their struggle to lay eggs.
Volunteers like Elizabeth spent hours at dawn

searching for the side, clawed tracks, uncovering
and moving the eggs to sand dunes, staking orange
mesh over the nest. Protection, maybe, she said,
from dogs, crabs, lots of things. Oh, my girl, I couldn’t

protect you, holed up in your house in the company
of bottles. Still, in your best years, you waited weeks
for dozens of thin-shelled eggs to split as the tiny feet
tore an opening, and under nodding sea oats, started

their spill up and out. Each one, no bigger than a silver dollar,
struggling to climb into moonlight, and down to the sea’s white foam.

Diana Pinckney
from Hummingbirds & Wine, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte, NC, © 2022

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Beach Walker

I can still see her stretching in the hazy sun
each morning, strolling the surf, breathing salt

and the musky scent of creatures curled inside
shells – whelks, clams, conchs – once alive.

She so many miles from y city home.
So many Hey Mom’s when I’d lift the phone.

How is it that a heart so loved could weaken
through the days and weeks, and I never knew.

A heart that beat with the rhythm of the sea
and one bright morning would fail her and me.

Diana Pinckney
from Hummingbirds & Wine, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte, NC, © 2022

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[with 4 poems by Doug Stuber]

“Look at that one, Mom, a Rainbow Unicorn Skeleton.”

“Oh my, and all the spiders!”

We’re driving through residential Ardmore in Winston-Salem, just the two of us. An outing! On our way to the pharmacy and yes, we’ll pick up a prescription for Dad, but this is one time we made him stay home. Dad’s 96th birthday is Thursday and this is Mom’s chance to pick out a card, maybe a few goodies. And see all the Halloween decorations.

It’s rare that I have Mom all to myself. At her doctor’s appointments Dad tags along, and well he should since Mom’s memory is failing and he needs to tattle on her. The grocery store, the dry cleaners, Trader Joe’s, those are all on Dad’s agenda; usually Mom stays home with the CNA. As Mom ages she’s become more withdrawn, much more passive, but get her one on one and she’ll tell you what she thinks. So here she is riding shotgun, laughing at the yard art, game to grab her cane when we arrive at the store.

While I head to the pharmacist window I leave Mom in the Birthday Card aisle – we have five family birthdays in the next four weeks. When I return, maybe 15 minutes later, she hasn’t picked anything out. I point to a couple that seem likely. She can’t quite decide. That’s OK. I find one with dogs on it that seems right for Dad, get her approval, find some for Allison, Margaret, the Josh’s, subtly nudge her to pick one each. When we finally have our five it’s on to snack selection. I tell her if she’s not sure what Dad would like just get stuff she likes (see how that works?). When we’ve finally paid and returned to the car, I have her put Dad’s chocolates & nuts etc. into the gift bag we bought. Once she’s looked each item over she finally says, “I can’t believe you could pick all that out.” Shoot, Mom, I was wanting you to think YOU picked everything out.

Sadness is just one story we can tell ourselves. I could hold onto Mom’s bewilderment and indecision, nothing like the Mom that raised me. Or I could buckle her in as we laugh, thinking about Dad’s face when he sees his pile of loot. And I could prepare a big build up for the drive home, remind her to look out her window at the Rainbow Unicorn Skeleton, both of us enjoying it again for the first time.

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Hikaru

One cherry blossom detaches, falls, a single unit
allowing fruit its space, starting its new journey: island
to reflecting pond, orchard to cottage yard, daughter to
love, enhanced by the wind, if even for only six seconds.
Transformed to long-boned genius, long-yearning adult,
considerate friend, purple-green plaid from soft pink,
tan suede boots from five-petalled bloom. Hikaru, as they
say in Japan, hits the town running, arms crossed, cradling
herself like the war-torn victims of Vietnam, but not
worn or torn, she flings enthusiastic youth toward
outstretched limbs. She captures her beginning and future
simultaneously, shedding one form, embracing another,
sweating humid Spring, still awkward in this skin.
Descending unannounced, she moves among mere mortals
spreading joy, quietly demanding obedience, offering all
in exchange for all. Most cannot accept, choose an
easier, less complicated path; but those brave strong souls
born from deep roots, blessed metamorphosed
being who join Miss Cherry soon realize, if for one day,
week, or lifetime, their lives will never be the same

Doug Stuber
from Chronic Observer, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown KY, © 2019

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Doug Stuber is a crabby pessimistic lyrical idealist. Doug is a sharp-eyed sharp-tongued teary-eyed lover. Humankind, Doug Stuber as chronic observer constantly notices, has royally fucked up and Doug is more than ready to rub our noses in it. Human individuals, Doug reveals over and over in his poetry, are beautiful in their brokenness and he must open his heart. Poetry is silk on the breeze: at first we flinch and claw but with each turn we draw closer together, are drawn, maybe to cocoon or maybe to struggle forth with spread wings and open eyes.

I side with Clark Holtzman in his comment about Doug Stuber’s book: All the poems of Chronic Observer engage the world we are given, natural or political, fair or foul, as the given it is. Buy this book, read it. You’ll see what it means.

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The Mangrove Blues

The sun sinks.
A pumping heron
Chases dreams into the night,
Resting momentarily
In a life of constant motion.

The wind shakes.
Trees stretch out,
Anticipating winter.
Orange floods
Mangrove and the pines.

The cold turns.
Clouds gather
Over murky surroundings,
Drifting slowly inland
To dump a fresh-new load.

The tears run.
A skipping child
Delivers momentary reprieve.
Gloom infests
The evening of a lonely-hearted man.

Doug Stuber
from Chronic Observer, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown KY, © 2019

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Rules

It took this long to hide my penchant: Rhymes.
Another reading forces inner looks.
Where is Ed and his heroic Elegy for us?
What happened when we traded love of lines
For time cards, bosses, corporate crooks?

Here’s what happened: life became a chore,
There is not time left to rage creating.
Competitive suburban gardening ins a bust.
What there is left is not elating
Except the love of soul-mates through this door.

The Eagle’s Nest is now a restaurant:
You get a 15-dollar turkey plate up there.
But is a fourth Reich rising from the rust,
Or are we evil, just nonchalant?
Oklahoma City fades like sunset air:

The only lasting image is your own.
One veto and the fascists will shut us down.
One thousand points of veto from the upper crust
Without a batted eyelash from this clown.
What further outrage can we condone?

As long as TV says it is OK
Our lives submit to the worst human rages.
Just when we’ve farmed this place to dust
Some half-assed savior might come our way
Passing manna to those left: food of the ages.

Doug Stuber
from Chronic Observer, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown KY, © 2019

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[Given the approaching season, I just have to include this final poem of Doug’s.]

KC and the Thanksgiving Prayer

I gave a thanksgiving prayer to a new family I met near Asheville. I got twigs and built a triangle (the three goddesses: corn, squash, and beans) and a square (the four directions: North – Winter and cleansing, East: Spring and beginnings, South: Summer and warmth, West: Fall and remembrances). the triangle sits above the square, because it is the goddesses who feed us: corn, squash, and beans.

You start in the square facing West and, while turning right for each new direction, say:

We salute you for your wind and fresh new sky
We salute your wonderful people and cleansing snow
We greet the day with dreams to labor by
We salute your sun and love and fun and go

To green mountains, cold river by the leaves
Of Rhododendron bushes, tall black trees.
A new friend of mine now believes,
Captured by spirits she feels and doesn’t have to see.

Doug Stuber
from Chronic Observer, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown KY, © 2019

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2016-01-30 Doughton Park Tree

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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 3 poems by Cal Nordt]

Happy Birthday! Not that it’s yours today but that you’ve had one (plus a few anniversaries) and can still remember when it is. Last Thursday at the hospital I tried to keep track of how many times someone asked Dad his birth date: the clerk at registration, the orderly leading us to pre-op, every nurse at every encounter, every blood draw, every consent, every med. The Urology resident, the Anesthesiology attending. Yes, Mr. Griffin, and tell me your birthday? Even after I’d put his hearing aides in my pocket, he managed to answer them all correctly right up to and including that one last time before they parted the curtains, wheeled him to OR, and pointed me in the direction of the waiting room.

Every ask is a reminder that in four weeks Dad will be 96. More than one scrubs-clad woman remarked, “I can’t believe that’s really your age!” Does he appear so young? I can’t see it – how different does 80 look from 100? No, my theory is that it’s because he is so present. He’s watching them, telling them his story even if for the dozenth time, questioning, commenting. Some might describe him as engaged – we, his kids, tend to call it sociable. There is some ineffable quality about my father that makes people want to talk to him.

I guess that’s how a person makes it to 95. When I ask Dad, “How was your day?” his answer is to tell me who stopped by for a visit or which family member he Zoomed (after he’s told me what he had for supper). And by the time I’ve finished writing this it will be only three weeks until Dad is 96. Which makes me . . . mmm . . . don’t ask.

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Turning Pages

Time the destroyer is time the preserver . . . T. S. Eliot, The Dry Salvages

We rode miles of rolling country roads,
past tobacco fields, crumbling farm shacks,
vast woods of longleaf pine.

Bike Rides with My Dad was her first book,
illustrated – words and crayon drawings,
her fascicles on soft cream-colored paper
bound in bright red yarn.

When that book was made, my bike tire
had gone flat – we walked two miles home
and talked the whole way. She was eight.
Spring was off in the distance,
after a month’s turning days.

Eighteen years later, it’s almost summer;
she’s half a world away, an artist teaching
English to children near Taipei. Our first
video call, miles of talk
on aesthetics and poetics.

“Does it really exist, this destroyer, time?”
Rilke asked years ago. But isn’t time
just a tablet of blank pages we draw on
that turn one way, while memory
turns the other?

Cal Nordt
from Mystical Fictions, © 2022 Cal Nordt

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I don’t think Cal Nordt is nearly as old as my Dad, although if you put them in a lineup I wouldn’t bet on you being able to pick the younger 5 times out of 10. (Did I just say that once you’re 80 you don’t look any different from 100? Ask me that again in ten years). One thing the two of them share, though, is that innate push to engage. Show up at a poetry event and there’s Cal in the front row. Even if it requires block and tackle, Cal is going to stand and read a poem.

I’m sure Cal’s desire to connect and to share are a big part of what drove him to create and compile his book, Mystical Fictions, a labor of many years. As I read and reread these poems, it’s just like we’re back in a late night kitchen somewhere swapping yarns. Maybe some of the events in these poems occurred when Cal and I both still had hair, maybe entropy is having its way with us and with those we love, but the voice that sounds through these pages is fresh and wry. His delight in the quirky nature of physical reality and the quirky reality of human nature are still delightful. Are we getting old? Hell, it’s all relative.

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Physics

I’m still frustrated by
gravity –
things falling
down.
But I’m OK with entropy
now.
And I’m OK with the arrow
of time.
If the arrow suddenly
switched –
and it all headed crunch-ward
(galaxies, the universe, etcetera)
and the shattered glass really did
jump
back from the floor
up on the counter,
while,
I’d be perplexed – liking
the one change, but maybe not
the other.
You can’t have
everything
your
way.

Cal Nordt
from Mystical Fictions, © 2022 Cal Nordt

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Stop Time

In jazz, when a chord is played only on the first beat.

To freeze time:
a sculpture
in a courtyard,
a flower pressed
in a book, a butterfly
flattened behind glass.
Why can’t we see things
without stopping them?

Like particles we can’t
throw light on without changing
by a photon’s reflection,
do we make them physical
when we stop addressing them
as points in a flow
missing certain coordinates,
the folded-in dimensions?
We press things flat to understand –
the smallest bits allowed in
our philosophy or science.
We call them probabilities,
not even a thing we can hold.

Words of ink on a page,
old photos . . .
Eternal is a dead end.
Life moves, sparkles in
another’s eyes, an instant’s
shared sense of what is:
wind on a leaf, rain
on hot tar, touch
of a hand then let go.

Cal Nordt
from Mystical Fictions, © 2022 Cal Nordt

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I couldn’t resist sharing the book’s cover with artwork by the Nordt Grandchildren, Elding, Jane, Owen, Tommy, Maggie, Joey, and Kit. Cover and book design by Cal’s daughter, Katie LaRosa.

 

Mystical Fictions is available through BOOKSHOP and (omg) WAL-MART.

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IMG_1783

 

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[with 3 poems by Joan Barasovska]

What is the perfect ripeness of Touch-Me-Not to pop its pods into my hand? How will the little brown kernels taste? How far would they fly if I didn’t catch them?

These questions I ask of myself, but I also ask them for the thirteen curious women who have enlisted me as their nature guide. Together we chew the little seeds – like untoasted sunflower. Together we are curious about everything. This tiny pale bloom with the three-lobed lip, how is it related to bright scarlet three-lobed Cardinal flower, gigantic by comparison? The white-striped red-lined caterpillar, what will its moth look like? Every one of these ferns, vines, sedges, mints, asters along the trail we’re walking, what is their family, who are their cousins, how did they get these odd names?

Maybe I’m too curious. Most of the other hikers have left me behind as we near trail’s end. It’s hard to pass even one speck of lilac among the Meadow Beauties and Dog Fennel. Hello, what’s this? A year ago near here I discovered a first (for me), a single plant, blue flowers with improbable arching stamens and pistil like dainty tusks. I thought it was extirpated when the farmer sprayed herbicide along his electric fence line last Spring. I have to kneel to examine this one small survivor. A single flower. Lamiaceae, Mint family – well, mints do make lots of seeds.

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Carrying Clare

Mystery conceived in passion
spreads a tent inside my body,
scoops out space
I’d blithely claimed as mine.

I grow heavy with her campsite
and the gear we’ve taken on.
After work each day I buy
a secret chocolate éclair
and eat it at Nelson’s Bakery,
where I’ll soon show off my baby.

Her father grants me
naming rights if it’s a girl.
On a cold day at the beach,
jacket straining to span my belly,
with one booted foot I trace
her name in giant letters
in wet sand: CLARE.

I pray this hidden daughter,
now assembling all she’ll require,
will live to be my better self,
take chances I could never take.
I pray for a safe birth.
I pray to be the mother she will need.

Her father and I wait for March.
He says she could easily be a boy,
but our daughter’s eyes, not yet open,
greedily seek mine.

Joan Barasovska
from Carrying Clare, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte NC, © 2022

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Joan Barasovska’s Carrying Clare is a memoir in verse about the life of a family with a child who is critically and chronically ill. Will the baby live? Will the little girl’s illness rob her of childhood’s joy? How will a new baby brother shoulder his way into this picture? And most of all where does it arise, this deep well of strength in the mother who must watch her child fade and perhaps fail? Strength for the hours waiting outside surgical operating rooms, for the administering of medications and IV’s at home, for the nights bereft of hope? Where does it come from, the strength of such unrelenting love?

I ask myself one more question. What strength must it have taken to gather these poems across the decades of struggle they convey, to look them squarely in the eye and relive each moment once more, and then to share them?

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Strength

Ten-day-old Clare wails on an X-ray table,
her tiny ovaries protected, but she’s naked
on metal, flailing under strange light.
I sit rigid against the wall.

No one ever called me strong.
Fragile, even frail, a waif
without endurance. Not strong.
People have had to rescue me.

My baby’s body is red from screaming,
her back arched, skull uncradled.
I croon to her, my breasts leak for her,
but in her agony I can’t yet save her.

The technician finishes at last.
I dress and swaddle Clare,
give her my breast,
sate her with my power.

Joan Barasovska
from Carrying Clare, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte NC, © 2022

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January Walk

Winter claims the day.
It hikes the road,
roams the fallow fields.
It lifts and stirs the air.

The horses I pass eat hay
and miss sweet grass.
Under a heavy coat
my heart beats hot.

I think of the baby tossing
in my daughter’s womb.
He floats in a weatherless world
while I lean into cold wind.

The horses stand side-by-side,
breath streaming hot in one fog.
The baby stirs in tight orbit,
waiting for March.

Joan Barasovska
from Carrying Clare, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte NC, © 2022

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Thank You to Dee Neil and the Ladies Elkin Valley Trail Association for inviting me to be your naturalist for a morning. Walking out from Isaacs’ Trail Head on the Mountains-to-Sea trail for a couple of hours, we lost count of the number of wild flowers, ferns, vines, sedges, mosses, and other plants we discovered. And one boldly decorated caterpillar capped the day.

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2016-05-08a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Miles A. Coon]

to become the very brink you live on . . . Miles Coon

The other day I was trying to fix my Dad’s Life Alert system while the rest of the family ate lunch fifteen feet away. I couldn’t figure out why the damn lights kept flashing. While I was cussing the instruction booklet – there’s such a thing as being written too simply – I overheard Dad tell my daughter, “Bill sure does a lot for us.”

Haven’t I always been the good boy? May I confess that all my life I’ve chosen to do things that would confirm my good boy status? Around 20 years ago I wrote a sonnet titled, Good Boy Turns 50; the closing couplet reads, So let’s give him what he needs in the next fifty / if he ever discovers what that might be. Was I trying to slip in a bit of tension there, as if maybe I don’t always like myself for striving always to be the person everyone likes?

Someday I’ll write a poem about being twenty and driving the interstate back to college from Pittsburgh with my friend John in the big bashed up Mercury I’d inherited from Granddaddy. One of the near-bald tires blew, and as we rolled to a stop on the shoulder we looked at each other and started to sweat. In the trunk, on top of the spare, was a big trash bag of illegal vegetation John had plucked up, roots and all, from where he’d been growing it out back of his parents’ estate while they were in Paris or Tokyo or some such. We tried to look purposeful, puttering around the trunk until the traffic thinned, then threw the bag up into the weeds (no pun, please), jacked up the car, wrenched on the spare, and retrieved John’s harvest. No lights & sirens. Back at school in central Ohio after dark, I unloaded John behind his dorm. End of story. Good boy escapes to be good another day.

Someday I’ll write a poem about that.

Not today.

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The Beginning

Before I had a self, I grew
in the half-dark, half-light world
I knew belonged to me.

Two disappointing gods
shaped me. Before I had
a self, I was a topiary.

Birds were everywhere
in me, singing, while I
stood mute.

One day, the gods split
this world in two.
Before I had a self,

I was taken by each of them
to the great sea of disillusionment,
thrown in from separate shores.

My first-self emerged from the sea,
my body soaked in brine.
I could taste my own salts.

To be washed clean,
to be naked and alone,
to become the very brink you live on

is to bury your gods,
as your heirs will bury you.
This is genesis, where we begin.

Miles A. Coon
from The Quotient of My Self Divided by Myself, © 2022, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC.

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As I reached the close of each poem in The Quotient of My Self Divided by Myself, I paused, loosed held breath, then returned to the beginning to read it again. Not because the poems are difficult to understand. The poems are so full of understanding I couldn’t hold it all in a single reading. The language is as beautiful and fresh as the stories are piercing and full of hurt, yet the speaker heals in the telling and heals us. Observer, actor, perpetrator – innocent, confused, divine – Miles Coon enters himself through doors he opens as if for the first time and enters us as if we are knowing another person for the first time.

I am still learning about myself from this book. Perhaps that is its theme, that we may explore our selves all our lives and never reach the end of our journey. How heartbreaking and how full of joy the final line of the final poem: How little of this world I know.

[Note: Miles died on May 21, 2022, just days before the publication by Press 53 of his first book-length collection of poems.]

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Where I Was Going

I.
Where was I going under the weight
of my bookbag, case law, and statutes? Not to the
Harvard Café for Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes.
Not to the cinderblock dorms, their dimly lit corridors
of thought. Not home. Where was I going so full of
argument and words?

II.
I joined the cynical and jaded. My father hired me.

Not to work next to illegal aliens in the plastics factory.
Not to load forty-two-foot trailer trucks with
one hundred forty thousand garment hangers, stacked
in cases, side-by-side, front-to-back, floor-to-
ceiling, every cubic inch packed tight.

Not to the boss’s office where the Harvard Law degree
vanished into uh-oh, here comes the boss’s son.
Not to the trade shows at the Hotel New Yorker
where I licked the soles of jobbers, plied them
with booze.

III.
Where was I going? To the fertility expert with my semen
in a jar? Never to Little League with my son. Never
to go ice-skating with my daughter. Where was I going?

Not three times a week to Dr. Bernie, self-indulgent,
taking a magnifying glass to my problems. He said
I had it wrong. We were removing the magnifying glass.

IV.
Where was I going, going to
my father’s funeral, my mother’s grave. I was going
to the closing when I sold the business. I was going
to my daughter’s wedding, to the firehouse where my son
showed me his gear and the enormous truck
he drove to Ground Zero.

Where was I going? Not to grow fables of my own
making: I was just going to my wife’s studio
to help support her art, I was going to write a poem for her,
always my best reader.

Miles A. Coon
from The Quotient of My Self Divided by Myself, © 2022, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC.

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Against a Wall

Sometimes, when the moon
is courted by wolves,
and the bats shake themselves out,

I’ll move through the mouth
of the cave like a breath,
press against the windowpane,

and there inside the house
a frail young boy stands stiff
against a wall. His father measures him.

His mother, tanned, hair bleach-blonde,
shines the sterling silver tray,
then serves a fifth of Haig & Haig

in the cut crystal drinking glass.
The boy’s dismissed
the minute his father takes a sip.

I’ve pressed my ear
to the landscaped ground
and heard the panic in his retreat

on tiptoe, in stocking feet.
His only trace, his father’s mark,
indelible on the measuring wall.

Though I cannot leave
the dark until it’s dark,
I do survive.

Here, inside the cave,
bats hang
harmless as handkerchiefs.

I can hear my tardy rebel stir
from years of sleep,
rising up, stretching his limbs,

hungering for light.
Soon, I will follow him out,
marking the walls as I go.

Miles A. Coon
from The Quotient of My Self Divided by Myself, © 2022, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC.

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It takes the lake to make a line of moonlight . . . Miles A. Coon, from Shadow Life

 

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[with 3 poems by M. Scott Douglass]

I don’t eat meat. Just a decision ten years ago, my choice. It has nothing to do with you; I don’t think you’re “bad” if you eat meat. I has nothing to do with Bambi; I don’t think oysters are especially cute but I refrain from eating them as well. It has nothing to do with personal health; my cholesterol readings were already to (not) die for. And it certainly has nothing to do with ought or should; hominids evolved eating meat (and lots of insects) – perhaps all that protein made possible these brains we think are so big.

All it has to do with is my personal effort to make somewhat less of an impact on this planet. Leave it in a little better shape for my grandkids. Per pound of protein, how much acreage . . . water . . . diesel fuel . . . nitrates & phosphates . . . methane & CO2? Beans and beets will always beat out beef and poultry. How many billions of people can this planet sustain? Not nearly all the billions we have right now if we all want meat every day.

But what baffles me is how “vegetarian” has become a fighting word to some people. If I order plant-based sausage at Cracker Barrel will it make the guy at the next table choke on his chicken-fried steak? Simmer down, Dude. If nine billion people eating meat is going to hurry up and toast Mother Earth to a crispy golden caramelized finish, isn’t it kind of cool that a few people opt for rabbit food? Think of the choice this way – consider it my gift to you.

 

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A Tinderbox of Unsubtle Discourse
++++ It is the law: as a civilization dies and goes down
++++ to eat ashes along with all other dead civilizations
++++ – it is the law all dirty wild dreamers die first –
++++ gag ‘em, lock ‘em up, get ‘em bumped off.
++++ And since at the gates of tombs silence is a gift,
++++ be silent about it, yes, be silent – forget it.
+++++++++++ ~ Carl Sandburg, from At the Gates of the Tombs

There are those who prefer silence
to the sound of the wind in the trees.
For them, my voice rustles their peace
like a harsh unwelcome breeze.

I am the ghost of a storm they
would rather forget, as if they
believe a wave of their hand could
disperse an approaching hurricane.

There’s a red sky this morning,
red as the hot California hills,
and they think they can wish it
away with happy thoughts.

The wind has had its day, they say.
They want to muffle it, muzzle
the barking dog that wakes them,
shakes them from their comfort zone.

I am an inconvenient dog,
a crusty leaf skittering down the road,
a spark dropped in a dry forest:
Pretending won’t make me go away.

M. Scott Douglass
from Living in a Red State Blues, © 2022, Paycock Press, Arlington VA

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In the forward to his poetry collection Living in a Red State Blues, Scott Douglass wonders about attracting readers. The people on the reading end may have been burned out by it. Perhaps they were eager to move on from this period in our history or tired of hearing angry voices – . . . I prefer to think of it as exhaustion. Yep, I’d say that about sums it up. Exhaustion. Probably explains why the book’s cover stared at me from my desk for months before I finally cracked it open. I just get bone tired sometimes. Many’s the day I haven’t even opened my news feeds because I figure I already know all the headlines.

Also probably because I know Scott Douglass does not suffer fools gladly. Or quietly. But which of us has never been the fool? OK, I know this book will include at least one (high decibel) rant about all the bullshit of our current epoch, but it has been born from the pen and heart of a human being. One whose voice I respect. And hey, I’m a human being, too. Scott and I have something in common. Oh yes, we do.

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Reunion in an Airport Restroom

What do you do when
the man at the adjacent urinal
starts a conversation as if
resuming a thought left hanging
with a long-lost relative at
a wedding or picnic. You,
having held silent the business
at hand, the business for which
you have waited for hours stuffed
into a flying steel barrel, your
plumbing aching to be drained
for so long now that, amid this
scintillating discussion, it
sputters to a slow rebellious
drip, but wait, did he ask
a question; try to divert you
from your primary purpose
in this porcelain concourse,
where all the gates are full
and line runs from the door
to the tarmac; try to draw you
out of your self-conscious state,
shake off antisocial incivility,
embrace your fellow man?

M. Scott Douglass
from Living in a Red State Blues, © 2022, Paycock Press, Arlington VA

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March 13

Today is the anniversary of my
father’s death, or was it the day before
when his eyes last opened ore the week before
when he froze in mid-sentence, rigid fingers
reaching up to still air for stray words
that never returned to him again.

His words find me at odd times.

It’s only the last two minutes
of the game that matter.

But it’s unspoken moments
that haunt me most, moments
that echo throughout my day: the way

he turned a cereal spoon upside down
on the table when he was finished eating,
peanut butter spread to the edge
of a Ritz, a dab of Smucker’s
black raspberry jelly in the middle.

knowledge is the only thing that’s truly ours,
the only thing they can never take away.

On a shelf above my head he sits,
an eight-year-old on a black and white pony,
tall and proud, fists full of reigns. Sometimes
I look up to that pony boy and chuckle knowing
his parents paid a nickel to have it taken at
a carnival, how it was the closest he ever got
to riding a real horse, city boy that he was.

if you’re going to do something,
don’t do it half-assed

I though of my father every day
of the week leading up to this date,
but morning found me immersed in work,
the work he taught me, a job he envied.
When my nephew texted a photo of
his grandfather in a 1940’s Navy uniform,
shame swept a chill through me, realizing
I’d almost let the day slip by neglected.

do unto others as you would have them
do unto you

I look up at the pony boy on the shelf
and remember why, of all the photos
I have of him, I choose to display this one.
It’s because it frames him as someone
I know he never was, but reminds me
of his most cherished gift to me:
a sense of wonder, imagination,
the foresight to perceive the possible.

face the music, even when
you don’t like the tune

I am my father’s dreamer son,
the one who sometimes loses track
of time, the one who’s been tossed
from numerous horses, landed hard,
but always found a nickel to climb back on
because that’s what he expects of me.
While I may forget days and dates,
I will never forget that. Not that.

M. Scott Douglass
from Living in a Red State Blues, © 2022, Paycock Press, Arlington VA

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2020-03-07 Doughton Park Tree

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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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[with 3 poems from PINESONG]

Do you see me . . . writing you back into the world?
+++++++++++++++++++ Maria Rouphail

What is reality? Perhaps it does require ten dimensions to explain quantum phenomena but we sentient creatures are stuck with four, all we are able to feel. That’s as real as we can get. And with entropy dictating the direction of time’s arrow, it’s a one-way street.

But what about dreams? What about memory? The one is all hallucinatory confabulation, jetsam from the brain’s real work of making sense. The other – random imprint of synapses in hippocampus, little tangles and sparks of wishfulness, wholly unreliable. Then why do dreams open doors into worlds we are absolutely compelled to explore? Why are memories so deeply, viscerally, demandingly real?

My Grandpop Cooke died when I was five. We lived states apart; I spent only a few weeks with him each year. Most of my memories are stories told about him later – his eclectic brilliance, his inventions and patents, his ferocious calling as physician and surgeon. In most of the photos from our few shared years he is behind the camera composing, the rest of us the subject, the scene. Mostly I sense him in the recalled scent of his workshop, oil & sawdust, or in the heft of the books he left. I never hear his voice.

But in these two memories Grandpop is real to me. We’re standing on the bluff above Bogue Sound while he tosses corn to his mallards, wordless memory, me the child allowed to reach his hand into the pan of grain. He is kneeling, my 4-year old hand in his while he outlines the little bones in those fingers and teaches me, “Phalanges, Metacarpals.”

I tell you these stories. I write them down. Time holds its breath, reverses its flow. I bring Grandpop back into the world.

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After “After Years” by Ted Kooser

At once when you walked by,
I noticed something on your face that I
hadn’t seen in a long time.
You, smiling into your phone,
stepping over a dead rat on the street vent,
were a revelation.
Around us, the collapsed a skyscraper into the ground
and, as you rushed past without realizing,
a breeze blew a lamppost into a hurricane.
For this instant of infinity,
God must have a heart to
let me see you among the mills of people
coming and going, back and forth
between the drone of city life and the thrill of living at all.

As I lose you to the background,
the weightlessness of your memory bombards me.
How quietly did you leave to ensure
I wouldn’t notice your absence?
Where did you possibly go if not
further into the pile of things I swore to forget?

We are all bound by finality.
To stop living in circles, you take flight
and I watch the world wear away my stubborn grief
until I forget why I ever had to grieve at all.

Claire Wang
PINESONG, Sherry Pruitt Award, Third Place
11th Grade, Marvin Ridge High School, Waxhaw, NC
Teacher: Bobbi Jo Wisocki

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Today’s three poems are from PINESONG, the annual anthology of the North Carolina Poetry Society. Ten adult contests, four for students; winners and honorable mentions. Judges from all over the country, diversity of poets as well – no two year’s collections are similar. Some of these names will go on to glean literary honors; many already have.

You can buy a copy (or if you are a NCPS member request a copy gratis) by contacting me and I will forward your request to the appropriate address: comments@griffinpoetry.com

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The Waters

A naiad swims to the bottom of the ocean
feels the great press of all that water,
the suffocating embrace of the dark.
At these depths, she wonders, does the giant squid
feel a need, like childbirth, to release her ink?
She lays her hand on the throat of beginnings;
and Earth takes a tremendous breath,
blows out bubbles, bubbles, bubbles –
multitudes that almost shine like light.

A woman sinks to the nadir of life,
where every single thing is hard.
Not just difficult – that’s brushing hair,
teeth; saying the right thing;
avoiding saying the wrong;
awakening before the sun sits atop a vast blue.
Truly hard:
the corners of counters, cement floor,
the slam of a door. Glass breaks
behind her eyes every single day,
glittering, blinding, refracting,
reflecting failure, filling her mind’s eye
with shard of adamantine static.

A girl swims the abyss of her nightmare.
Hears a voice – maybe her mother’s – but garbled,
muted the way a fetus hears in the womb.
It is hard to breathe.
Treading the water of sleep, fear and desire
swirl in the dark below her. Shy bumps the land,
the bed, the sheets twine her legs like kelp.
Consciousness slips around her, a gleaming eel
she finally lays hands on. Here is morning,
bright and smooth as a clam’s mantle.

Alison Toney
PINESONG, Thomas H. McDill Award, Honorable Mention

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Abuela

In the dream,
my dead father speaks the same words
as when he was in the flesh.
Leaning into my ear, he says
Imaginate, hija –
the nuns at the convent school
taught your grandmother to write –
My lips part again,
as when he told me the first time
about the black-eyed girl
with a birth and death date no one remembered,
who saw visions and wrote them down.
That was before she became the too-young mother
abandoned by her impatient man
who refused the burden of a tubercular wife
and their two baby boys – Poemas,
my orphaned father said.
I turn to face him,
as though he were
the door to a vast room.
But then I wake,
and breath streams out of my body like a tide – ¡Abuela, abuelita!
Do you know that I see you, the poet at her desk?
Do you see me at mine, writing you back into the world?

Maria Rouphail
PINESONG, Thomas H. McDill Award, Second Place

Maria also won the 2022 Poet Laureate Award from the NC Poetry Society for her poem, Two Variations on a Theme of a Tenement (as Viewed from the Window of a Moving Train) With a Song Interposed.

 

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