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Archive for the ‘family’ Category

[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

❦ ❦ ❦

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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Read Full Post »

 

[poems from CAVE WALL]

. . . a person is a museum of rooms they’ve visited . . .
++++++ ++++++ ++++++ Han VanderHart

Hold the door for her, even a low threshold is an invitation to fall. Scuff of sole syncopates with tap of cane, I listen and watch sidelong along past the neighbors’ for any evidence of stumble. Hold hands over rough spots. Now here’s the road – is it safe to even think about crossing?

At the corner garden Mom asks me to remind her of the name of each flower. Zinnia, phlox, coneflower. At the picket fence she points to the bottommost backer rail, This is where we leave a biscuit for Penny but I forgot to bring one. At the next house, Boz lives here, he always barks.

Staying these weeks with Dad and Mom I sometimes enter a room to find Mom perfectly still, halfway between chair & table. Not staring at anything, not expecting particularly, not even struggling to discover something lost because even the idea of something lost is lost. Rooms of her life that she no longer visits.

But when I touch her arm she will tell me again where the flowers on the table have come from, See how long they’ve lasted? Every house we pass on our walks she knows the life of the dog it holds. Dogs and flowers. A walk with Mom. What could be more beautiful?

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When My Grandmother Barbara Jean was Dying, My
++++++ Mother Sat on Her Bed and Played “House of the
++++++ Rising Sun” on Her Guitar, Because It Was the Only
++++++ Song She Knew

And this is also ekphrasis: the song plucked
out of the guitar, held on a child’s lap, sat on a sickbed

My mother shaping the air around herself
and her mother: a small rain of notes.

There is a house in New Orleans, she strummed
not knowing her mother was dying.

Bobbie with her hair that waves like mine,
resists the clip that holds it back.

Don’t wish your life away, my mother still says,
words her mother, shadow-sick, said.

If a person is a museum of rooms they’ve
visited, inside my mother is a room

with a bed, a guitar, and her mother
who is not dying, only resting.

It is called the rising sun.

Han VanderHart
from Cave Wall, Spring/Summer 2022, Number 17, © Cave Wall Press LLC

❦ ❦ ❦

Rhett, tell me if this memory is true. When we first met at a poetry meeting at Weymouth you were wearing a t-shirt with a comic book character (in a room of dresses and neckties). What you didn’t know was that my basement was full of boxes, mostly Marvel, and I was way more into John Byrne, Frank Miller, and Barry Windsor-Smith than T.S. Elliot and Ezra Pound. When you stood up at open mic, though, I was rocked. Here it is – this is it. Absolutely real.

And Cave Wall continues to be it. Every issue’s poems open layers in my heart I had forgotten I possessed, or else had halfway bandaided back together. Well, yes, sometimes it hurts in inward person to fall into a well of emotion, but sometimes the deep sigh is healing. And sometimes I want to toss the little book into the air for a high five as it descends. This issue, though, Number 17, I just can’t get over. Thanks for opening door into all these rooms and inviting us to step through.

Cave Wall editors Rhett Iseman Trull & Jeff Trull; Assistant Editor Michael Boccardo; Contributing Art Editor Dan Rhett; Official Poem Accepters Audrey & Cordelia Trull; Editorial Assistant Tracey Nafekh; Contributing Editors Sally Rosen Kindred, Renee Soto; Editorial Advisory Board Dan Albergotti, Sandra Beasley, Natasha Tretheway. www.cavewallpress.com

❦ ❦ ❦

August

and swollen as I was
with our first son, we stopped at Bennett Place,
the nineteenth century farmhouse
outside Durham, where
one general surrendered
to another, ending the Civil War.
Hot as blazes, but a stray breeze
lifted our spirits and we kept at it,
touring the wooden farmhouse,
the outbuildings, the grounds.
While you inspected the rows
of tents, I lingered
in the log kitchen. Something
about the narrow window panes
and the orchard view
made me think an earlier century
might have transformed me
into the wife I longed to be –
a patient woman, filling and refilling
the porcelain pitcher
as you bathed at the white bowl.
A woman blameless, steady
at her weaving, aflame only for you.

Dannye Romine Powell
from Cave Wall, Spring/Summer 2022, Number 17, © Cave Wall Press LLC

 

❦ ❦ ❦

The three poets selected from this issue of Cave Wall all have connections to North Carolina:

Han VanderHart lives in Durham. They host Of Poetry podcast, edit Moist Poetry Review, and review at EcoTheo Review; their collection What Pecan Light is from Bull City Press (2021).

Dannye Romine Powell lives in Charlotte. Her fifth collection, In the Sunroom with Raymond Carver, won North Carolina’s 2020 Roanoke Chowan Award.

Anne McCrary Sullivan received an MFA from Warren Wilson College. Her publications include Ecology II: Throat Song from the Everglades.

 

 

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Driving Loop Road

after cocoplums with their dark fruit,
wax myrtle, firebush, wild coffee

small openings, like keyholes
through which I could see

how a swamp darkens beyond fern
how a prairie extends into light

a young alligator sprawled in the road
three hawks held to their branches

shapes ahead of me scurried into scrub
an otter crossed in the rearview mirror

time was longer than it was,
so much in it –

the limestone gravel road
always narrowing

then the rain and milk-white puddles
wet green +++++ and solitude

hawk time, alligator time
storm coming, rainy season

but since you ask, three and a half hours
dragonflies whirling over the road

Anne McCrary Sullivan
from Cave Wall, Spring/Summer 2022, Number 17, © Cave Wall Press LLC

❦ ❦ ❦

 

2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

 

Read Full Post »

[with 3 poems by Joseph Mills]

Nothing makes sense. Even so we tell stories hoping to make sense, to create a little sense.

My brother just called from the beach to tell me my mother has had some sort of spell this morning. Maybe a seizure. Wee, pellucid, bone china and silver lace, she is smiling now and saying, “I feel just fine.” The doctor in me asks questions. The son I am worries but then pauses to touch myself on the shoulder and remind: “Her family surrounds her. She is 94 and smiling. She is fine.”

How can we make sense of all this? What should we do?

The evening before they left I sat beside Mom while everyone else made supper and packed. She’d been standing in the middle of the living room for several minutes – feeling that she should be contributing to the activity in the kitchen? – when I convinced her to join me on the couch. For a week she hadn’t been feeling well but a fruitless ER stay, a visit with her beloved family doctor, lab tests, an ECG, none had put a finger on the malady.

I asked Mom if she really felt well enough to ride five hours in the car. I didn’t have to guess how much she wanted to spend two weeks with my brother’s family, their once a year trip east from Montana. She smiled, said she was fine, then started to list all the spots they’d go out to eat during their visit. At least one restaurant there is older than me and the host recalls my name from when I was four. She couldn’t remember the names of several of the places but she could tell me just how to find them and what she’d most likely order.

Mom watched my niece bring glasses to the table and pour the wine. She leaned against me, my arm around her shoulder, and said, “I’m fine. I can’t wait!”

Nothing makes sense and for a moment it doesn’t at all need to.

the answers may be
in the trees, but the questions
are not what you think
+++++++++++from Wind Dancing by Joseph Mills

Joseph Mills tells stories. Wonderful wide-ranging stories, in each of which one of the characters is dance. The poems of Bodies in Motion (Press 53, 2022) take me to cities I’ve never visited; to foreign countries; to high school gyms, wild parties, intimate moments. Even more so they take me into relationships and conflicts and epiphanies I’ve never experienced but which I recognize, instantly familiar. The poems, the stories – do they hold the answers, do they make sense of life? Perhaps, probably not, but they do invite me into communion with the family of all humans – in joy and celebration we shall share our questions.

❦ ❦ ❦

At the Arts Conservatory

Music comes from practice rooms
a piano sonata, a cello being bowed,
scales on a clarinet.

Dancers slide out of studios
bend at the drinking fountain,
go to the bathrooms, check phones.

The hall smells of sweat,
detergent, the latex paint
institutions use on cinder block.

I’m here to talk about poetry,
but for now, I fold against a wall
in a way that eases my back,
and thumb through messages.

In a hospice room in Brittany,
my father-in-law is dying of cancer.
The doctor says when the pain comes
that will be a signal. The signal.

Through a doorway
I can see bandaged ankles,
knee braces, thigh wraps.
Dancers balance and jump
on calloused, scarred feet.

They are young and beautiful
and already know a great deal
about pain. The musicians do too,
talking with familiarity
about repetitive stress injuries.

And they too may know
someone who is dying
at this very moment,
perhaps nearby,
perhaps far away.

I turn off my phone,
and step into a studio,
crossing the threshold
that clears away concerns
at least temporarily.
This is what art making is,

a momentary amnesia,
a pausing, and perhaps
that’s all it is because
the signal will come
for those we love,
and nothing we do,
will stop it or change it.

The students regard me,
curious as to why I am there
and what I will ask of them.
A moment ago, I thought I knew.
but suddenly I consider telling them
how I used to bring my daughter
to the school to watch dances
and afterwards she would play
choreographer, each time ending
stretched out on the floor
with her eyes closed, and I consider
telling them how my father-in-law
lives in Finisterre, which means
the end of the earth, a name
and phrase I’ve always loved.
From his window, he can see

the sea, the edge of everything.
And I consider telling them
in the hallway I remembered
when my grandfather built a seawall.
A man, more comfortable with tools
than children, he kept grumbling
for us to get out of the way, then,
once he had shaped the cement
he lined us up to write our names in it.

The students watch and wait,
and I find myself saying something
neither in my notes or my memory.
I’m going to start by reading some poems,
and I want you to see if you can tell
which ones are by people still alive
and which by those long since dead.

Some students look worried,
some lean forward.

Joseph Mills
+++ from Bodies in Motion, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2022; first appeared in Sky Island Journal

❦ ❦ ❦

Physics

We may not have understood the laws of motion,
but we exemplified them. Inertia kept us from moving
onto the dance floor, but once we started we wanted
to keep going and grumbled when the band stopped.
We spent each night colliding with and recoiling from
one another. Forget the falling apple. Isaac Newton
would have looked at our rumpled sweat-stained shirts,
wayward hair, our staggering orbits, and said, Eureka!
Or perhaps he simply would have shook his head
as he drank and jotted formulas and vectors on napkins,
notes he would crumple after closing time as we all stood
on the sidewalk in the dark, a cluster of wandering bodies.

Joseph Mills
+++ from Bodies in Motion, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2022; first appeared in Change Seven Magazine

 

❦ ❦ ❦

Gratitude

After a dance,
thank your partner

no matter how good
either of you are.

Thank them to acknowledge
how unnecessary it is
such dancing

and so how much more
a gift

Thank them
for giving you
a part of their life.

Thank them
for allowing you
to give a part of yours.

Joseph Mills
+++ from Bodies in Motion, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2022; first appeared in The Power of Goodness

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Doughton Park Tree 4/30/2022

Read Full Post »

[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

❦ ❦ ❦

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.]

❦ ❦ ❦

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 . . .

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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

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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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