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[poems by Jaki Shelton Green, Joseph Bathanti, Shelby Stephenson]

Perhaps you saw the photograph in last week’s news: Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee at Kabul Airport cradling an infant evacuee in her arms. A few days after the shot was taken, Sgt. Gee was killed by an ISIS-K suicide bomber while she worked at the airport gates. Twelve other American soldiers were killed; one hundred fifty Afghan civilians were killed. The world is full of hate which can only be answered with vengeance and punishment.

One the last day of her life, Sgt. Gee continued her mission to give Afghan women and children hope. She saved their lives. The world is full of hate which can only be answered with love.

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You are part of the human heart. With her beautiful voice and beautiful heart Chanda Branch opened the book launch for Crossing the Rift last Sunday (September 12) in Winston-Salem. Editors Joseph Bathanti and David Potorti shared the vision that led them to create this anthology of North Carolina poets writing on 9/11 and its aftermath. About a hundred of us gathered in the breezeway at Bookmarks on 4th St. to listen, to remember, to witness, to continue to heal.

Among the poems we heard that afternoon are these three by current NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green and former Laureates Joseph Bathanti and Shelby Stephenson. Twenty years: it’s hard to imagine it’s been that long; it’s hard to believe that it has been only twenty. The world changed on 9/11/2001. It’s hard, but if we seek them hard and also work hard to create them we may find some signs of change for the better. What is the answer for hate? Where will we be at the thirtieth anniversary?

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lifting veils

++++ 11 september 2001

++++ ++++ I

it is a bloodstained horizon
whispering laa illaha il-allah
prelude to a balmy evening
that envelops our embrace
we stand reaching across
sands, waters, airs full of blood
in the flash of a distant storm
i see you standing on another shore
torn hijab
billowing towards an unnamed wind
we both wear veils
blood stained
tear stained
enshrouding separate truths

++++ ++++ II

misty morning
teardrops of dust
choke and stain lips
that do not move
will not utter
it is a morning of shores
sea shadows that caress memory
of another time
another veil
another woman needing
reaching
lifting

++++ ++++ III

into your eyes i swam
searching for veils
to lift
to wrap
to pierce
dance with
veils that elude such mornings
veils that stain such lips
veils tearing like music

++++ ++++ IV
it is the covering of spirit
not the body
my hijab your hijab
connecting interweaving crawling snaking binding
into a sky that will not bend

Jaki Shelton Green (ninth and current NC Poet Laureate, since 2018)

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Katy

After the first plane,
Katy phoned her brother.
She was safe, in another building.

They were evacuating. DJ thought
she had said the other building—
the South Tower—crashed into

by United Flight 175 at 9:03,
moments after the line went dead.
That’s all Katy’s mother, my sister,

Marie, could tell me when I called.
All we had to cling to:
a single syllable, separating another

from other, negligible, mere nuance;
but, in this case, the difference
between escape and incineration—

a seam notched for her in the secret ether,
should she stumble into it,
to pass through unharmed.

To cast wider our search,
Marie and I tuned to different networks,
watching for Katy among the fleeing hordes.

They had talked the night before
about what she’d wear to her client meeting:
a brown suit, a black bag; her black hair

was shorter since last I’d seen her.
All day I peered into the TV—punching
the cordless: Katy’s office, home, cell,

office, home, cell, over and over—scanning
faces unraveling diabolically
like smoldering newsreels, smeared

with hallucinatory smoke and ash.
They came in ranks, wave upon wave,
leagued across the avenues:

the diaspora into John’s Apocalypse.
Those still on their feet staggered.
Others lay in the street snarled

in writhing weirs of fire-hose.
The firmament had been napalmed:
orange-plumed, spooling black. Volcanic stench.

Somewhere beyond the screen,
inside that television from which we all, that day,
received, like communion, the new covenant,

for all time, was my niece in her brown suit
and new haircut, her purse—outfitted
for her seventh day in Manhattan,

her fourth day at the World Financial Center,
six days past her twenty-second birthday.
I would spy her, coax her back to us

through the TV’s lurid circuitry
into my living room. Our perfect girl,
my princess—she had lost her shoes—

wandering the skewered heart of the future—
finally arrived, black-hooded, afire,
eerily mute—toward the Upper East side:

a bus, a shared cab with an old man
who befriended her, then barefoot blocks
and blocks to her apartment on 89th Street

where she dialed her parents and announced
with the sacrificial modesty of saints
that she had made it home.

Joseph Bathanti (seventh NC Poet Laureate, 2012-2014)

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September Mourning

O limbo of life—
the wings dapple
mourning,
a twitter in the field,
color in the wind,
a spider on feet of purest gossamer.

Trust goes up in flames.

Girders

change

loved ones,

doors strange to touch,

all the lovely times

sinking

in the face of the steely plumes

breaking apart

brilliances
under the jet, so silver and
beautiful—
gone—

the going on
lifting

dreams

competing for truth

for dear life’s sake

holding the screams

held together by need.

Give me breath.

Cockleburs on an old man’s knees—
roses November leaves—

the memory of this place

catches us
off center

loses hold
and holds to nothing,

the world seeming
seamless
days of glory,

a tapestry
of women and men
dawdling
and scuffling their
shoes, eyeing their toes,

knowing there is nothing to say

that might lighten the load
turning around, coming back, onward,
never to finish telling the story

numb in the name
of the fluttering flag
o say can the tattered one
defend the fences fenced around
and in and through this century of all times
the way a baby’s wrapped in a shawl or shirt for the
tucking into the arms
clutching dear life so thin
the stubborn holding on
a giving in

Shelby Stephenson (eighth NC Poet Laureate, 2015-2017)

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Crossing the Rift – North Carolina Poets on 9/11 & Its Aftermath
edited by Joseph Bathanti and David Potorti, © 2021
Press 53, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA

Available from Press 53 and from Bookmarks

Links to the NC Arts Council regarding current and past NC Poets Laureate

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[with two poems by Lenard D. Moore]

Mockingbird knows both of Blue Jay’s songs: the astringent lament that flings the blue name of the blue Corvid into pathos; the softer plaintive wheedle of him who begs to be thought better of. What does all that conversation signify when it erupts from the beak of the Jay? What meaning has the Mocker usurped, if any meaning at all? Who can listen and understand, and who can answer?

We of different class order family genus species can only speculate why the Mockingbird repeats four times each song he knows, and each song he himself composes, as he hops from the tip of power to the mailbox to the thorn bush and back again and his notes spiral the neighborhood. We are probably safe to bet that Mocker doesn’t care two bits about impressing the Jays. Song as proclamation, song as beacon, song as telegraphy, song as bulwark – let’s just imagine that Mockingbird proclaims music is glory and improvisation is king.

Listen and understand.

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I have known Lenard Moore mainly from his haiku. He points the way to that parallel universe which is only a hairsbreadth from ours and then with observation and pointed brush he opens the door.

I also know Lenard as a teacher and mentor to Carolina writers in many, many different organizations and settings, and particularly I remember a meeting about 10 years ago at Weymouth Center in Southern Pines, NC. While Bill Blackley played blues harmonica, Lenard riffed and bopped with his jazz poetry. Now I’m holding a book that brings it back: The Geography of Jazz, issued in 2020 by Blair as a reprint of a publication by Mountains and Rivers Press in 2018.

Sultry, syncopated, steamy – if you can read this book without bobbing your head and tapping your foot you need a little more sax in your life.

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At the Train Stop

I imagine the quick hand:
Thelonious Monk waves
at red, orange, yellow leaves
from Raleigh to Rocky Mount.
Alone in this seat,
I peer out the half-window
at the rainbow of faces
bent toward this train
that runs to the irresistible Apple,
determine to imagine Monk
glows like Carolina sun
in cloudless blue sky.
I try so hard to picture him
until his specter hunkers
at the ghost piano, foxfire
on concrete platform.
Now I can hear the tune ‘Misterioso’
float on sunlit air.
If notes were visible,
perhaps they would drift crimson,
shimmer like autumn leaves.
A hunch shudders
into evening, a wordless flight.

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Ascension: John Coltrane

I didn’t pick up the tenor
and soprano saxophones
for legendhood.
I wanted only to explore chords
into progression, step into another world
I had to escape anything too strict,
take ‘Giant Steps’ all the way
from Hamlet, North Carolina.
The music shimmered like a lake
inside me and turned blue.
It was kind of spiritual.
I thought of extending the scales.
I wanted to play on and on,
sail as long as the horn could
and eventually come back again
as if I had never left.
It was maybe the only time
I left my body.

both selections from The Geography of Jazz, Lenard D. Moore, Blair Publishing 2020 reprint, © 2018 Lenard D. Moore

More about Lenard D. Moore, his poetry, and haiku.

 

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Afterword: Old Jay still has a few tricks of his own. He can mimic perfectly the three Buteos in his breeding range: Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, and Broad-winged Hawks. Nobody messes with Mr. Blue Jay.


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2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

 

 

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White-throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis, ELKIN NC

 

The Birds’ Carol
Lyrics: Bill Griffin . . . . . . . . . . Music: Mark Daniel Merritt

Elkin Community Chorus
51st Annual Christ Concert / December 4, 2011
Director: David L. McCollum / Piano and Organ: Amy Tayloe and Amy Johnson

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By 2010 Linda and I had been singing for several years with VOCE, Surry County’s invitational chorale, directed by Sandy Beam and assisted later by Mark Merritt. Mark is a talented composer and had asked me before for lyrics. That spring VOCE had been invited to perform at Bilmore House in Asheville, NC, during the Christmas season and Mark wanted to create a suite we could debut there. The Birds’ Carol is the first of three movements in The Wanderer’s Carols. The following year David McCollum selected The Bird’s Carol for Elkin Community Chorus’s 51st Annual Christmas Concert.

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The Birds’ Carol

“Morning! Morning!” trills the lark, “The Babe brings gold to the sky!
A song of light now showers the earth, And we shall know God this day.

Now is the dawn of our new life,
And we shall know God this day.”

“This coat I wear,” caws the rook, “So black, so heavy, so grim.
Only One knows the way to make it bright – The Child who reclaims us from sin.

He lifts our burden upon himself,
The Child who reclaims us from sin.”

“Come rest with me,” coos the dove, “In this humble stable take ease.
Kings and shepherds together embrace The Prince who unites us in peace.

You make us one in all the earth,
O Prince who unites us in peace!”

“I . . . Thou, I . . . Thou,” vow the geese From dark earth to heaven above –
“May we join with Thee in a world made new; May we fly forever in love.

Give us wings of Your perfect light,
And we’ll fly forever in love.”

 

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VOCE of Mount Airy performing The Birds’ Carol, November 14, 2010, Winston-Salem First Presbyterian Church:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDPm6MYvacA&feature=related

Discussion of the symbolism of Lark, Rook, Dove, Goose:
https://griffinpoetry.com/2011/12/17/joy-hope-peace-love/

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2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

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Wilderness Advent
(Pisgah Stranger)
Lyrics: Bill Griffin . . . . . . . . . . Music: David L. McCollum

 

Elkin Community Chorus 58th Annual Concert
December 2nd, 2018 – First Baptist Church, Elkin, North Carolina

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This year (2020) would have been the 60th annual concert of the Elkin Community Chorus. The ensemble draws singers from towns and counties across northwest NC, rehearses for seven weeks, and gives two free concerts to the public on the 2nd Sunday in Advent. Linda and I have sung with the group for more than 30 years. We miss it. We’re listening to our stack of recordings from previous years and holding onto the hope that we’ll all be vaccinated and singing together again next fall.

David McCollum has been one of the group’s directors for more than 20 years. Several years back he asked me to write a Christmas poem for which he would compose the music. ECC debuted Wilderness Advent in 2018. Thank you, David, thank you Amy Johnson and Amy Tayloe for your accompaniment, thank you Tonya Smith, co-director, and thanks to the 90 or more of our neighbors whose voices make the waiting, the yearning, the anticipation of Christmas a sacrament.

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Wilderness Advent
(Pisgah Stranger)

A stranger here, I sleep beneath the slash of stars,
The Pisgah forest deep and friendless.
I close myself to love, my heart requires the dark;
Can night within this cove be endless?

Come, you’ve slept too long
And love grows dim.
Awaken to a song – Can it be Him?

Is it madness or a dream that seems to whisper here?
The murmur of a stream or singing?
It chants, a still small voice, I’ve nothing now to fear
For tidings of great joy it’s bringing.

Come, you’ve slept too long
And love grows dim.
Awaken to a song and welcome Him!

And now the music swells as every fir and spruce
Unloose their boughs to tell the story:
May all God’s creatures wake, hearts quickened by the truth,
Invited to partake of mercy.

Come, we’ve slept so long
That love grows dim.
Awaken that our song may worship Him.

Come sing it with the wind and all the Pisgah throng:
The Child reclines within the manger!
With owl and bear and deer my soul’s reborn in song
For none of us is here a stranger.

Come, you’ve slept too long;
If love grows dim
Awaken to a song for it is Him!

Waken . . . welcome . . . worship . . . it is Him!

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MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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