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[with 3 poems by Joanne Durham]

As my years advance does the bowl of my life become deeper, wider, more capacious? Joanne Durham’s new book of poetry from Evening Street Press has me reflecting, and not least because of its title. Events, experiences, memories fill the bowl; when I return to the bowl and drink I discover that the more I refresh myself the more the bowl fills itself. And me. Never emptied, always replenished. As Joanne reminds us with this opening quotation by Naomi Shihab Nye: Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us we find poems . . . .

Certainly. If you are a poet the bowl of memory will give you a poem. If you’re an artist, a painting. If a novelist, a houseful of spicy characters, no doubt. Writers intentionally revisit the milestones and landmarks of the past like a traveler trying to find their way back home after a long absence. Or like a possum in the compost heap convinced there are tasty bits concealed there.

But if I am simply jotting down recollections for the purpose of crafting a few lines, I am missing the deeper power of this image: to drink from a wider bowl. Not a cup, narrow and designed for only one person; a bowl, a communal vessel, something we all may dip into. Something that perhaps actually requires more than one for it to be lifted and poured. Not necessarily to say that advancing years invariably bring wider perspective and wisdom. If only that were true.

The converse, though, certainly is true – one does not need six or seven decades to open oneself to the wider world of human feeling. The wider bowl is the horizon that embraces not only my own recalled experiences but invites me to drink understanding and compassion for the experiences of others as well. When I drink from a wider bowl, I value and treasure the lives of those I don’t even know. Poetry knows how to do that. Poetry invites, includes, embraces – three gestures the world will always need.

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Learning

What happens to the sun at night?
I ask the four-year-olds,
cross-legged on the carpet,
Marcos confidently explains,
It goes to New Jersey.
April, whose Mom has read her books
about everything
helpfully chirps,
The earth tilts and you
can’t see it anymore.
Darnell with raised arm churning the air
counters, The sun breaks up
Into little pieces and fills the sky
with stars. It the morning
they come back together
and make another sun.

Science and poetry
poised on the edge of cosmic battle,
until my smiling voice
intervenes, celebrates
how children’s minds tilt
on their own axes.
You are creators of stories,
to explain the world.
You carry on
an ancient tradition.

On my way home, I ponder
if we could learn
to live this way:
Each in the darkness
illuminating
one small stretch of sky,
and then together making
a brilliant, focused energy,
from all we’ve seen,
from all we’ve learned.

Joanne Durham

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To Drink from a Wider Bowl, Joanne Durham, Evening Street Press © 2022, Sacramento CA; winner of the 2021 Sinclair Poetry Prize.

Joanne has divided her book into seven sections to create a chronology, from recollections and tales of her grandparents, to the heritage of her parents, to today’s experiences with her own grandchildren. The themes that recur are love for family and also wider love for community and for the earth.

Perhaps Joanne’s seven sections are deliberate: if I hold a memory of my great-grandmother and my great-grandchildren have memories of me, we create a span that connects seven generations. And if our families, communities, and nations consider in all our deliberations the impact we will have down to the seventh generation, perhaps we could truly discover solutions to the world’s poverty, ignorance, disease, and injustice. Perhaps we would learn this through drinking from the widest bowl.

[Seventh Generation Ethics is recognized as an essential part of the ethos of the Iroquois Nations and that of other indigenous peoples.]

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Repair

The dishwasher repairman
politely speaks
with a deep Nigerian accent

reading us fine print
on the receipt: accept treatment
or pay anyway for the visit

his body rigid to absorb
the anticipated blow
of our irritation

before we leave him, disgusted,
to do the job
he’ll get a fraction

of the charge for.
Then my husband
offers him a beet

lush purple half-moons
of some alien
landscape

freshly boiled, peeled, sliced.
Ever had one?
I never cooked them before.

the gesture doesn’t
sweep the counter clean,
but it leaves

an even surface
for three people
to laugh, talk, and eat.

Joanne Durham

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Maps

Every home
needs a map of the world.
Hang it by the entrance.
Bless it as you might
a cross or a mezuzah
when you come and go.
Trace your finger across continents
not your own.
Say names of countries whose sounds
tickle your throat and move your lips
differently from your own language.
Be curious about who lives there,
sharing seas and stars.
Hope to meet them,
fellow earth-dwellers,
all calling this planet
home.

Joanne Durham
[ a recitation of this poem ]

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IMG_1822, mountain

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IMG_0768, tree

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[poetry by Liz Garton Scanlon, Alice Walker,
John Hoppenthaler, Catherine Carter, David Poston]

All the World

Rock, stone, pebble, sand
Body, shoulder, arm, hand
A moat to dig, a shell to keep
All the world is wide and deep

Hive, bee, wings, hum
Husk, cob, corn, yum!
Tomato blossom, fruit so red
All the world’s a garden bed

Tree, trunk, branch, crown
Climbing up and sitting down
Morning sun becomes noon-blue
All the world is old and new

Road, street, track, path
Ship, boat, wooden raft
Nest, bird, feather, fly
All the world has got its sky

Slip, trip, stumble, fall
Tip the bucket, spill it all
Better luck another day
All the world goes round this way

Table, bowl, cup, spoon
Hungry tummy, supper’s soon
Butter, flour, big black pot
All the world is cold and hot

Spreading shadows, setting sun
Crickets, curtains, day is done
A fire takes away the chill
All the world can hold quite still

Nanas, papas, cousins, kin
Piano, harp, and violin
Babies passed from neck to knee
All the world is you and me

Everything you hear, smell, see
All the world is everything
Everything is you and me
Hope and peace and love and trust
All the world is all of us

written by Liz Garton Scanlon
illustrated by Marla Frazee
All the World, Little Simon, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, New York NY, © 2009

❦ ❦ ❦

I love this children’s book by Elizabeth Scanlon – the whirl and dance of the poetry, the absolutely beguiling illustrations by Marla Frazee. It is elemental and compelling, it is joyous and inclusive. It is all of us.

But I had to think long about whether to lead us to Earth Day with this poem. Is it Ecopoetry? Is it a little too much centered on one particular species? How do we celebrate the earth? How do we revere the one blue dot in the universe upon which we can live and thrive?

All the world is all of us. Dogwoods still blooming, warblers arriving, golden ragwort masquerading as weeds, rockfish spawning in Roanoke River, hellbender ugly as sin. Dandelions in the lawn, princess tree crowding out the basswood, wisteria strangling another neglected back lot. Celebrate us all – even while hacking the invaders – but don’t leave out the most aggressive, invasive, threatening species of all. You guessed it – you and me.

One might argue that there are far more pressing needs in our one world than environmentalism. Reminds me of a t-shirt my friend Evan brought me back from a trip to Yellowstone: along with illustrations of various animal scat and the label “Endangered Feces” is the tagline, No Species, No Feces. Which makes the other side of this argument: “No Environment, No World Problems.”

Poverty, politics of hate, racism, homophobia, nationalism, war – how can we make a place in our hearts to worry about our environment when these and so many other worries take priority? Perhaps these things are as intrinsic to our nature as the jillion seeds of princess tree and the invincible roots of wisteria. Are they?

Here’s my thesis – begin reading All the World to every kid at age 2 and by the time they can read it for themselves they may have planted a seed of love within their hearts. They might love themselves no matter what they look like. They might accept a whirling dance of neighbors as their kin. They might have room in their hearts to care about weeds and warblers and ugly giant salamanders.

Think so? Do you think that if we are going to preserve all the world as a place for all to thrive we are going to have to address the aggression, invasiveness, and threat within each one of us? For all the world is all of us . . .

❦ ❦ ❦

We Have a Beautiful Mother

We have a beautiful
mother
Her hills
are buffaloes
Her buffaloes
hills.

We have a beautiful
mother
Her oceans
are wombs
Her wombs
oceans.

We have a beautiful
mother
Her teeth
the white stones
at the edge
of the water
the summer
grasses
her plentiful
hair.

We have a beautiful
mother
Her green lap
immense
Her brown embrace
eternal
Her blue body
everything we know.

Alice Walker

Selected by Becky French (my sister), who writes: I especially like this poem by Alice Walker from her book of meditations titled We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For. The prose that follows the poem in the book is quite poetic as well: The earth mother, who stands behind the Human Mother, can be known by lying on her breast. She can be known by swimming in her oceans, or even by looking at them. She can be known by eating her collard greens and carrots. Savoring her fruits, walking through her wheat fields. She is everywhere, our Mother Earth; … (p. 129).

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The Whale Gospel

Whales have run aground off Cape Cod again.
What if God created them for us as metaphor?

How like us they are, beached and prostrate,
sand shifting under them with every wave

from heaven. Bloated and murder to move,
they slowly rot in the blurry sunshine, victims

of distress we can’t fathom. All we can think
to say is beware the giant squid, the seaquake,

beware sickness in your leaders. Beware the dark-
eyed shark, sonar’s ping and Japan’s traditional hunger.

The rusty bows of ghost ships
++++++++++++++++++ are singing through the water.

John Hoppenthaler
online in “Two Meditations on Ecology

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Lactobacilli

Invisible and everywhere,
on your hands,
on your shoes,
in your nose, lining
your ells of bowel,
we lay down scraps
of chromosomes
and pick them up
like screwdrivers
or cards, if half the cards
are wild as sauerkraut-
e. coli, listeria,
seaweed, straight flush.

Nor are you you,
some single entity
cruising the lonely black
star-seas like a whale:
you are a ship, a host,
the poker table.
We are crew
and players and spirit,
your spirit, the one many-
bodied soul you can know
for sure. Genius loci.
Spirits of place.
Full house.

Catherine Carter
Southern Humanities Review, Spring 2020

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The Garden Takes over Itself

the world is sacred++++ it cannot be improved
snow is shadow++++ ice is light
we breathe++++ and wildness comes in
bit by bit++++ the garden takes over itself

snow is shadow++++ ice is light
the moon not only full++++ but beautiful
bit by bit++++ the garden takes over itself
after we leave it++++ we dream of falling

the moon not only full++++ but beautiful
descending and ascending++++ all our lives
after we leave it++++ we dream of falling
the space within us++++ is not our own

ascending and descending++++ all our lives
the world is sacred++++ it cannot be improved
the space within us++++ is not our own
we breathe++++ and wildness comes in

David E. Poston
from Iodine Poetry Journal XVII (2016): 105.
Reprinted as POETRY IN PLAIN SIGHT poster. NC Poetry Society, 2021.

“the world is sacred…” from Lao Tzu, quoted by Jack Turner interviewed by Leath Tonino (The Sun Aug. 2014)
“we breathe…” also from Jack Turner
“snow is shadow…” is Barbara Sjoholm in The Palace of the Snow Queen
“the moon not only full…” is from Aldous Huxley’s Meditation on the Moon
“…the garden takes over itself” is from Sandra Cisneros, in The House on Mango Street

❦ ❦ ❦

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 those who responded, and thanks to all of you who read this page and share in the celebration.
❦ Bill Griffin ❦

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[with poems by Helen Losse]

Until we find the communal meaning and significance of the suffering of all life, we will continue to retreat into our individual, small worlds in our misguided quest for personal safety and sanity. – fr. Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation

Follow a six-year old around the yard when flowers are blooming. Most enticing, of course, is the dandelion puffball. Got to pick that one! It takes several tries for her to blow those little dancing featherettes into the breeze – a few seedlets stick to her unicorn t-shirt, a few in her hair. Will they grow there?

Next comes anything purple or pink. She must add a few grape hyacinths on their too-short stems to the bouquet of daffodils we’re cutting for Grandmommy. And some pink azalea, cut that one, Pappy. Oh my, and look what has opened since the sun came out yesterday! She pulls a single bleeding heart and holds it in her palm. We’ll float it in a paper cup of water so she can take it to Mom this evening.

Finally return to the everywhere-flowers, yellow in everyone’s lawn. Walking around the block it’s Truth or Dare – will they paint your fingers if you pick them? Tooth of the Lion, look at the notched incisored leaves. She chooses the brightest flower. Nothing is a weed if someone loves it.

Which is the theme of Easter and of Helen Losse’s book, A Flower More Enduring: Love redeems. God is God of life.

Yellow Blossoms

populate the uncut yard.
Weeds with purple blooms

create asphalt cracks.
Hardy wildflower,

tall blades of Bermuda grass
widen others. I fall to my knees

on the lawn near a budding
thistle. Saints and angels

present but silent, I pray
for a dandelion heart.

Helen Losse

IMG_2931

 

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The poems in Helen Losse’s A Flower More Enduring are intensely personal but enticingly universal. Her conversion to the Roman Catholic Church has brought her assurance but also challenge. She finds herself in the company of Mary and the Saints yet still she seeks and seeks . . . what? Perhaps to discover what she had never expected to find.

And Helen’s readers who come from different faith traditions, I being one, or from no tradition at all, may still discover with her an experience which we never expected: the universe reaching toward us in unconditional love. The outstretched hand of human commonality that might unite us in our suffering. The hand we ourselves lift to return that touch, the reaching which is called hope.

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I cry out to God

on the night of the knife-wind.
Thoughts rise, incense
under waning moon blows with fog.
Phlox darkens the soggy prairie:
downy phlox, moss pink,
phlox the color of lavender.

O, how I cherish God’s creation:
flora, small rocks, tall hills, mountains,
feral beasts, domesticated pets,
each human soul, the Savior
on the Cross: Eucharistic Morsel:
Source of Grace I can’t store
in a lidded basket.

I am a rabbit returning
each night to a summer garden.
I must eat again & again.

Helen Losse
A Flower More Enduring, Main Street Rag Publishing, © 2021 Helen Losse

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I stand in the shaded bathroom

with it high useless mirrors
into which I cannot see,
asking, “Are we rich?”

Daddy holds me on his knee
but would never tell me (or
any innocent child)

he doesn’t know how he’ll pat the thirty-seven fifty
house payment due on Friday.

Instead, he explains,
“We are rich in love.”

Helen Losse

 

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In the Christian liturgical calendar today, 15 April 2022, is known as Good Friday, three days before Easter. On Sunday morning our little congregation will adorn a rough wooden cross with flowers – death conquered by life. Perhaps there’s a subconscious bit of pagan homage to the vernal equinox, but to my mind the message of new life is our foundation. Consider: no person and no thing exists outside the sphere of God’s universal love of life. In the cosmological sense there is no outside; in the spiritual sense no outsider.

A Crucified God is the dramatic symbol of the one suffering that God fully enters into with us — not just for us, as we were mostly taught to think, but in solidarity with us. The Good News is we do not have to hold that suffering alone. In fact, we cannot hold it alone. As we approach Easter, let us remember that we too can follow this path, actively joining God’s loving solidarity with all. What starts in God ends in God. All of reality is moving toward resurrection.

fr. Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation: Transformed people working together for a more just and connected world.

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Dandelion on green lawn

A girl bends low, picks a flower
to give to her mother.

The child loves the flower,
a weed adults tend to favor less.

The child blows seeds from the puffball,
whit feathery globe of potential.

The seed is the heart of the flower:
tiny perhaps but profoundly fecund.

Each seed floats with the wind, grows
where it lands, blossoms in sunshine and rain.

Helen Losse

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2020-03-07 Doughton Park Tree

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My Niece Ka’liyah Studies Ecology

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EARTH DAY 2022 is April 22. Send me a poem you love!

THEME: COMMUNITY & CONNECTIONS

German biologist Ernst Haekel coined the term ecology in 1866, derived from Greek oikos for household. Haekel had studied Darwin’s The Origin of Species since it was published in 1859; from his study of sea creatures, Haekel was convinced that the way to understand their development was to examine them in the context of their surroundings: their connections and interactions with every creature around them, with every feature of their environment.

Ecology is the branch of biology which studies the relationships between living organisms and their environment. Their community, their connections. From the level of individual all the way up to the entire biosphere, our connections entwine and enfold every one of us with each other.

Send me a favorite ecology poem by your favorite poet about
COMMUNITY AND CONNECTIONS!

Choose a poem that has spoken to you deeply. If you wish, state briefly why you’ve chosen the particular poem and what it means to you.

For the weeks before and after EARTH DAY, April 22, I will try to post several ecopoems daily. If I receive a large number of offerings I may not be able to post them all, so I am really looking for poetry that expands our awareness of how all living things are interdependent. Where is the beauty and wonder in those connections? What happens if we live in denial of our interrelatedness?

To summarize:

One poem per person, please.
Previously published poems only!
Any author, living or dead, including but not limited to you!

Email to: Comments@GriffinPoetry.com

Thanks! I can’t wait to see what you love!

Bill

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[NOTE: I only post previously published poems on GriffinPoetry.com. If you choose to send a poem you yourself have written, please include its publication info. For poems written by other authors also include where you read it, and it would be wonderful if you could send me a link if it appears online.]

HTTPS://WWW.EARTHDAY.ORG/

 

IMG_0877

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[with poetry by Alana Dagenhart]

Here, take some with you. You’re not likely to leave my Dad’s presence without hearing these words. It could be a little plastic tub of leftovers from the meal I just brought him and Mom; maybe cookies or a chocolate; a couple of apples – he says he and Mom can’t eat them all. You’ll definitely be carrying the stack of New Yorkers and Sunday funnies he’s been saving. Just try leaving empty handed after visiting my Dad, just try.

Here, take some. How many years before I realized he always has and always will say this? How long have I been trying to analyze why he does? Does anyone ever really understand their father (or their son, for that matter)?

Here, take. It can be too easy to overlook Dad’s deep, even urgent, desire to give. He may seem stubborn and commandeering (just like me, although I prefer “assertive”). He takes charge of every conversation (probably because he literally can’t hear anyone talking but himself; maybe he thinks he’s just filling an awkward lull). Admit it, he acts like a Dad – so let me cut him some slack and open my eyes to the source of his generous essence.

Dad grew up during the Depression in the rural South – just imagine. World War II paid for him to go to Duke. He worked for the same huge company from the time I was four until he retired; he always seemed to be traveling and working at home nights & weekends. Because of Dad’s promotions we moved three times in two years while I was in Junior High (origin of my many quirks, no doubt), but then he declined promotions so my little sister didn’t have to move midway through High School.

Dad saw to it that I graduated from university and med school with no more debt than I could manage. When Linda and I got married and our old boat of a car couldn’t bear the load, Dad towed a trailer from Ohio to North Carolina to meet us after our honeymoon. All these years I can’t recall him spending money on himself, except maybe golf clubs every few decades, but Dad will keep shelling out whatever it takes to maintain the old beach house so all his grandkids can go on enjoying it after he and Mom are gone.

Don’t you want some more? Oh yeah, that’s the other thing Dad says. I hope he can hear me when I reply, “Thanks, Dad, it’s been plenty.”

 

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All the Silver Space

Fire pops and burns blue, Sunday morning
October in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Hiss and hum, the constant roaring –
wood is changing,
solid to light,
before my eyes
like you, Dad
muscle to sacks of dry ice.
We both know.

I walk the mountain top trail
yearning for afternoon heat,
your sun in my bones

Sunset: the inside of a buttercup
empty at the horizon.
The sky fades like a tie-dyed tee-shirt,
from canary to lizard
gravel to irises to ocean.
The underbellies of clouds
are streaked in cotton candy.

Moon again, full and daring
around pine and rock.
Your blue eyes
not saying what we know
to be true. Back

cover first.
I knew to look,
bottom corner,
last page of the book,
your handwriting
small and faint.
You didn’t even want to leave a mark.

Alana Dagenhart

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Alana Dagenhart’s Yellow Leaves is not a narrative time line, it is a lyrical collage of visions and visitations interwoven with the relentless thread of her father’s death. We enter her dreams, intrusive but illuminating; we get to know ancestors imagined and remembered; we are invited to share Alana’s days most mundane and most profound. The thread of family tangles and unspools, knots and releases, and what could be dark, somber, a burden too heavy, becomes another bright morning, all the colors of revelation, a yellow leaf whirled and unsettled finally discovering its place of rest.

All today’s poems are from Yellow Leaves, Alana Dagenhart, Redhawk Publications, Hickory, NC. © 2022

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Yellow Then, Will Fly to Every Eave

The blackest bruise
of our human trauma may
not heal completely through.
Some lingering yellow stays.

But Nature’s first green is gold,
her hardest hue to hold,
and what was yellow once and bold
fades in time in form and folds.

Blue will tend the sky of day,
and black will stay the night,
but yellow always leaves again
when sun is out of sight.

Death’s second self, made up of all
the dark the Earth contains,
snuffs bright yellow out, till
none but veiled despair remains.

Then violence bangs
& cuts us to our knees,
blooded-violet searing pain,
rooted between burning trees,

Coral dies, and chestnuts’ blight,
and green is gone –
all gone to dust and yellow leaves.

Unless a poet writing through the night,
will pen an echo fluttering of light
and yellow the, will fly to every eave
and someone late will read from time-tinged leaves

a verse or tow that speaks to them alone
a shelter of thatched pages, like a home.

Alana Dagenhart

Nature’s first green . . . from Robert Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay; Death’s second self from Shakespeare Sonnet 73.

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What Yellow Light

illuminates the fields of the dead?
What fevered hue burns hot
on the faces of our beloved?

What lime? What straw?

What platinum beam cast triangles
on the oak board floors
of the room they wait
beyond this spectrum?

The Yellow Submarine blaring loud
COMCRUDESLANT command
where sailor scrub-shine metal
and Navy top brass smile big teeth
behind sunglasses?

The neon yellow of the pick-up truck
where my brother and I rode
our backs against the cab
in October, Boone, the Blue Ridge
with our legs under a patchwork quilt?

Th old gold of historic hallways
restored in the color of statesmen?

The palest lemonade sides
of papa’s house, squash in the filed
a buckwheat horse?

The sure blonde of my towheaded little brother?

What frequency has that light?

Is it far from here?

Alana Dagenhart

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POSTSCRIPT: Dad at age 95 says some scary stuff, too. The most anxiety provoking = I have complete confidence in my ability to drive. The ability part is scary enough but the confidence is terrifying.

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

 

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[poems by James Dickey, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost]

Last Friday I got to play a new game with my grandson Bert, one he made up with his Dad – This Animal. We had walked a mile or so on the Crabtree Creek Greenway in Raleigh and it was time to head home. Along the waterway there were plenty of enticements: red-headed woodpecker at the tip of a snag; big splashes chunking clinkers into the stream; Spring Beauties (why does Pappy kneel down and look at every flower?); tiny slug rescued from squishing.

Now we’ve turned into the neighborhoods to walk on home. Sidewalks. Lawns. Much less exciting. Soon I hear a little voice pipe up, “Let’s play This Animal!”

I get first crack. “I’m an animal that sleeps during the day . . .” “No, Pappy! You have to say This Animal!” Oh yeah, got it. Four-year olds are sticklers for protocol. “This animal sleeps during the day hanging upside down then flies around at night catching insects.”

“A bat!”

Bert knows his animals. In his presence you’d better not mistake a Blue Whale for a Sperm Whale. Or even a Crocodile for an Alligator. Now it’s his turn: “This Animal has ten legs, a stinger, AND claws!” (Hint: In his pocket Bert is clasping the plastic scorpion he’s been playing with all afternoon.)

What a kid! One of these days we’ll kick the game up a notch to This Bird. He can already name most of them that come to the feeder. And I can foresee the day when Bert has me totally stumped as we play This Lichen.

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The Heaven of Animals

Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing, desperately
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.

For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.

James Dickey (1923-1997)
from The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1945-1992. Copyright © 1992 by James Dickey.

 

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All three of today’s poems are collected in The Ecopoetry Anthology; Edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

Today’s photographs are from the exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Exquisite Creatures by Christopher Marley. These amazing works are created by Marley from preserved specimens from around the world (and no vertebrates were killed in creating his art). The Museum describes this as a dialogue with art, nature and science, and Marley states his intention to allow each of us to tap into our innate biophilia, our love of life and living things.

Oh yes, and the little plastic insects came from the Museum gift shop. We all had to stop and play with them as soon as we left the building.

[The last day of the exhibit in North Carolina is March 20, 2022. It is appearing simultaneously in Idaho; check for future exhibits at Christopher Marley’s site.]

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Spring and All

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)
from Spring and All, first published in 1923 by Robert McAlmon’s Contact Publishing Co.

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The Need of Being Versed in Country Things

The house had gone to bring again
To the midnight sky a sunset glow.
Now the chimney was all of the house that stood,
Like a pistil after the petals go.

The barn opposed across the way,
That would have joined the house in flame
Had it been the will of the wind, was left
To bear forsaken the place’s name.

No more it opened with all one end
For teams that came by the stony road
To drum on the floor with scurrying hoofs
And brush the mow with the summer load.

The birds that came to it through the air
At broken windows flew out and in,
Their murmur more like the sigh we sigh
From too much dwelling on what has been.

Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf,
And the aged elm, though touched with fire;
And the dry pump flung up an awkward arm;
And the fence post carried a strand of wire.

For them there was really nothing sad.
But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,
One had to be versed in country things
Not to believe the phoebes wept.

Robert Frost (1874-1963)
first published in 1923 in Frost’s New Hampshire poetry collection; public domain.

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[poems by Joyce Compton Brown and Billy]

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yep, February 11, this is my day. Sixty-nine years ago my Mom was probably feeling the Niagara rumble from her birthing bed on the umpteenth floor of St. Mary’s. On the American side of the Falls, if you were wondering. Name already picked out – Eugene Wilson the Third – but already in use by Dad and Granddaddy so nickname picked out as well – Billy.

In a few years Mom and Dad moved back down south – Memphis, this time – then over the next ten years to Delaware, Michigan, finally Ohio, but never back to their home state of North Carolina. “Here’s to the land of the Long-Leaf Pine, a summer land where the sun doth shine.” Linda and I moved to NC a week after our wedding – to Durham, Duke Med – and held a place for them here. Just in case.

It’s a good thing. Ten years ago Mom and Dad at last resettled near us, Winston-Salem, where Mom grew up and went to Reynold’s High. They’re right across the street from historic Old Salem. I visited yesterday (secretly hoping there might be cake and candles – Birthday Party #1-of-many). Today I’m expecting Margaret and Bert (4) from Raleigh. Maybe tomorrow Saul (13) and Amelia (6) from across just around the corner. Maybe more cake?

So what do I actually want for my birthday? In Russia I’d have a pie with my name in the crust; in China a longevity noodle that fills the entire bowl (with scallions & bok choy); Hungarians would pull my earlobes (69 times); Jamaicans would dust me with flour.

All those sound awesome, but no, don’t bring presents. I have a walk in the woods with Linda planned. I have Grandkids to wear me out and make me laugh. We have the Blue Ridge with its arms spread to hold us here, not saying much, not needing to. Trees and mountains, family, homeplace – happy birthday to me!

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Looking Across

the fog shuffles
++++ within
++++ ++ the folded mountain

whispers
++++ old stories
++++ ++ of before we were

Joyce Compton Brown
++++ from Standing on the Outcrop, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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I’ve heard Joyce Compton Brown read her poetry at many a gathering and my admiration still grows and grows. There is a treasure of different voices in this collection from Redhawk, Standing on the Outcrop, but they all have in common their deeply felt truth, authentic as hunger and earth. These are rural voices, Southern voices, mountain voices, mostly from the first half of the twentieth century; they are telling urgent stories in danger of being lost if Joyce does not hear them and reveal them to us. Places, history, personal struggle, hard-won triumph — these are Joyce Brown’s specialties and she here treats them well.

 

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Mattie, 1955

Before our families came
++++ there wasn’t much.
They say there were some old forts,
++++ and arrowheads
the men turned up
++++ in the plowing.
We mad collections,
++++ sent them to school
++++ ++++ for the kids to show.

They say these pastures
++++ were good hunting grounds,
And I don’t wonder,
++++ look at this land, these two mountains –
Linville, with its craggy top, Honeycutt
++++ folding on up toward the highlands,
this river, the clearest water.
++++ Any living thing would be drawn
++++ ++++ to this valley.

they say the Catawba and Cherokee fought
++++ over it till we came.
Then they fought us.
++++ It was perfect for these farms.
You can still see,
++++ those big old white houses
from before the land got too divided
++++ and people had to find work.

They say it had a name,
++++ Conasaga, an Indian word
for beautiful valley.
++++ That may just be talk.
But we use the name
++++ for our cookbook, and the kids use it
for their school yearbooks.
++++ They like the way it sounds.

Joyce Compton Brown
++++ from Standing on the Outcrop, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

 

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Stroke

Afterwards he was free
to speak a new language,
come back to tell them all.

They strained to understand
to interpret his assertions
to feel his newfound power.

He told them how
he’d hated factory saws
the whine of lathe and blade

Told them how
the smoldering glow
held by tight-closed lips

kept him from
trying to tell
what they didn’t

want to hear.
How he’d loved
his fingers shuffling

guitar strings
that flatpick style
speaking its own sad voice

milking the cow
in his own sweet barn
before everybody else was up

They couldn’t see
the fiery tongue
above his head.

They couldn’t feel
the pyretic fury
in his mind.

But now he was
at center, felt the
glow from lips of fire,

felt the heat
in seething brain,
felt the gift

of flaming tongue,
watched them all
leaning inward.

Joyce Compton Brown
++++ from Standing on the Outcrop, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

 

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I’ll close my Birth Day post with a poem I wrote almost 20 years ago. Oldest son, first grandson, I was always the good boy. Never got into trouble (or at least never got caught). High school class pres. Early admissions, graduations with honors. Married my high school honey and we’re still best buds.

(Although when we were college Juniors and told my parents we wanted to get married, my Mom said, “Oh thank goodness, I’m so glad you didn’t decide to run off and live in a commune!” I guess maybe my hair was a little on the long side that year.)

Being the eternal good boy might become a burden – especially when one knows full well that one is not nearly as good as everyone makes out. (But anyway I prefer, Linda too, the silence of a forest to the company of people – no dang commune for this good boy.)

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Good Boy Turns 50
++++ “I ain’t no physicist, but I knows what matters.” – Popeye

How did he earn this golden sobriquet
first christened by Nana for the merest trait
of being born the first grandchild, the grinning gay
toddler who could do no wrong? And wait,
how did he keep it all through the sixties when
pick up your toys and set the table gave way
to a ponytail and poems by Ho Chi Minh
(though there was no doubt he’d still bring home the A)?
Forever the glass-half-full sort of guy,
in marriage, too, he hefts vows more abundant
than Old Fred’s prescription, “Don’t leave and don’t die” –
the grace of wanting to want what she may want.
++++ So let’s give him what he needs in the next fifty
++++ if he ever discovers what that might be.

Bill Griffin
++++ first appeared in Pinesong, annual anthology of the NC Poetry Society;
++++ ++++ first place in the “formal poetry” category, 2004
++++ collected in Crossing the River, Main Street Rag Publishing, © 2017

 

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