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Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

Warpaint Shiner – Luxilus coccogenis

[with poems by Robert Wrigley and Kenneth Rexroth]

Rheophilic. Current loving. The shiners and darters face upstream while the swift clear river fetches them good things to eat. Nymphs of dragonfly, stonefly, alderfly have hooks on their feet to creep after prey across the slick stones. Salamander larvae protected in the cobbles breathe oxygen washed over their gills by the flow.

And the most unexpected, the strangest, the most fully adapted to current: the water penny – one with the rock, clinger and creeper, beetle larva, flexible carapace completely shielding it from the torrent. One among multitudes in the punch and spray, swirl and eddy, immersed in the flash and grasp of water from which all make their living.

All things flow. The first ancestors of all mayflies clung or crept or climbed or burrowed and now there are 600 species of mayfly. Symbols and images spin an unbroken thread which if I think about it I call thinking. Words whirl into new meanings. Today we dunk our faces in the Middle Prong to share its life. Tonight the current will fetch us good things to dream. Tomorrow will be a whole new river.

[* 600 species of Mayfly in the United States, 3,000 species worldwide.]

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Anything the River Gives
++++Robert Wrigley

Basalt, granite, tourmaline, the male wash
of off-white seed from an elderberry,
the fly’s-eye, pincushion nubbins yellow
balsamroot extrudes from hot spring soil,
confetti of eggshell on a shelf of stone.
Here’s a flotilla of beaver-peeled branches,
a cottonwood mile the shade of your skin.
Every day I bring some small offering
from my morning walk along the river:
something steel, blackened amber with rust,
an odd pin or bushing shed by the train
or torqued loose from the track, a mashed penny,
the muddy bulge of snowmelt current.
I lie headlong on a bed of rocks,
dip my cheek in the shallows,
and see the water mid-channel three feet
above my eyes. Overhead the swallows
loop for hornets, stinkbugs, black flies and bees,
gone grass shows a snakeskin shed last summer.
The year’s first flowers are always yellow,
dogtooth violet dangling downcast and small.
Here is fennel, witches’ broom, and bunchgrass,
an ancient horseshoe nailed to a cottonwood
and halfway swallowed in its punky flesh.
Here is an agate polished over years,
a few bones picked clean and gnawed by mice.
Here is every beautiful rock I’ve seen
in my life, here is my breath still singing
from a reedy flute, here the river
telling my blood your name without end.
Take the sky and wear it, take the moon’s skid
over waves, that monthly jewel.
If there are wounds in this world no love heals,
then the tings I haul up – feather and bone,
tonnage of stone and pale green trumpets
of stump lichens – are ounce by ounce
a weight to counterbalance your doubts.
In another month there won’t be room left
on the windowsills and cluttered shelves,
and still you’ll see me, standing before you,
presenting some husk or rusty souvenir,
anything the river gives, and I believe
you will love.

from Earthly Meditations: New and Selected Poems by Robert Wrigley, © 2006, Penguin. Reprinted in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

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Common Snapping Turtle – Chelydra serpentina

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Lyell’s Hypothesis Again
++++ Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982)

An Attempt to Explain the Former
Changes of the Earth’s Surface by
Causes Now in Operation — subtitle of Lyell: Principles of Geology

The mountain road ends here,
Broken away in the chasm where
The bridge washed out years ago.
The first scarlet larkspur glitters
In the first patch of April
Morning sunlight. The engorged creek
Roars and rustles like a military
Ball. Here by the waterfall,
Insuperable life, flushed
With the equinox, sentient
And sentimental, falls away
To the sea and death. The tissue
Of sympathy and agony
That binds the flesh in its Nessus’ shirt;
The clotted cobweb of unself
And self; sheds itself and flecks
The sun’s bed with darts of blossom
Like flagellant blood above
The water bursting in the vibrant
Air. This ego, bound by personal
Tragedy and the vast
Impersonal vindictiveness
Of the ruined and ruining world,
Pauses in this immortality,
As passionate, as apathetic,
As the lava flow that burned here once;
And stopped here; and said, ‘This far
And no further.’ And spoke thereafter
In the simple diction of stone.

Naked in the warm April air,
We lie under the redwoods,
In the sunny lee of a cliff.
As you kneel above me I see
Tiny red marks on your flanks
Like bites, where the redwood cones
Have pressed into your flesh.
You can find just the same marks
In the lignite in the cliff
Over our heads. Sequoia
Langsdorfii before the ice,
And sempervirens afterwards,
There is little difference,
Except for all those years.

Here in the sweet, moribund
Fetor of spring flowers, washed,
Flotsam and jetsam together,
Cool and naked together,
Under this tree for a moment,
We have escaped the bitterness
Of love, and love lost, and love
Betrayed. And what might have been,
And what might be, fall equally
Away with what is, and leave
Only these ideograms
Printed on the immortal
Hydrocarbons of flesh and stone.

from The Collected Shorter Poems. Copyright © 1966 by Kenneth Rexroth. New Directions Publishing Corporation, http://www.wwnorton.com/nd/welcome.htm. Reprinted in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

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Stargazing Minnows grazing — Phenacobius uranops

Greenside Darter – Etheostoma blennioides

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The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program is an adult education opportunity created and administered by Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Their mission – connecting people with nature. SANCP certification requires completing eight weekend-long courses; I took my first course, Birds of the Smokies, in May, 2017, and finished my final course, Aquatic Ecology, on July 25, 2021.

Many thanks to the ecology superpowers of Erin Canter, Manager of Science Literacy and Research and master of making connections; to John DiDiego, GSMIT Education Director; to Jeremy Lloyd, Manager of Field and College Programs; and to all the educators and staff at Tremont.

Psephenidae field sketch by Bill Griffin. All photographs by Bill Griffin.

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Mayfly nymph – Order Ephemeroptera

Water Penny – family Psephenidae

 

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2020-11-03a Doughton Park Tree

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[with poems by Wendy Battin and A.R.Ammons]

We can hear them from the trailhead. By the time we reach the little pond they are so loud our ears are pounding. A slough, a seep, scarcely more water than you could spit across, but it holds maybe a hundred Cope’s Gray Treefrogs in full raw raucousness, along with the occasional plunk of a Green Frog or wheep of a peeper.

We can spot them in the beams of our headlamps – all males. They cling to reed and vine and branch, air sacs bulging and throbbing, true masters of circular breathing (that incredible noise erupts as the sac inflates, not deflates). Calling all lady gray treefrogs – this is a great pond, great guys here, come on in and we’ll make a great number of tadpoles. Did I mention LOUD!?

And then they stop. All at once every one of them just quits singing. All of our headlighting and capturing and inspecting over the past hour didn’t phase them. Why stop now? We turn back up the trail but within a few minutes one frog starts, then two more, and within seconds they’re all revved up and back in chorus.

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Frog. Little Eden.
Wendy Battin (1953-2015)

Amphibious, at home
on the surface

tension, in
over my head, not
out of my depth, not deep
deep deep,

not in far. Not
high and dry, not
even in treetops,
where I sing water
into the root-hairs.

It seeks me, will not
forsake me.
Hand over hand it climbs.
It breaks
the first law of water,

all for my song.
Into the trunk and up, it greens
the leaves that the leaves may be
-emerald me.
The leaves breathe it out and I drink,

then sing

lest the water forget to rise
and the world be kindling.

Wendy Battin, “Frog. Little Eden.” from Wendy Battin: On the Life & Work of an American Master. © 2020 by Wendy Battin.

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Cope’s Gray Treefrog, Hyla chrysoscelis

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Midnight in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park – what could be more mysterious & magical? Just sixteen humans in all those pitch dark square miles in the company of charismatic megafauna (bears, y’all) and the millions of smaller creatures we’ve come here to notice. Get right down in the face of that American Toad: what a pout of grumpy sagacity. Grab that little Brownsnake, but gently: in its mind it’s three feet long. And while you’re noticing, don’t forget all the eyes in the shadows noticing you.

The lesson of Cades Cove is set it aside and let it be. Other than backcountry hikers, most of the Park’s 12 million annual visitors never venture more than a few yards from their cars. And none of them except us are in Cades Cove tonight. The little frog pond near the old church, or Gum Swamp, or the many other unique and remote habitats, they are all full of creatures free to be themselves, to slither by day or sing by night. We might glimpse a little of what gives their lives meaning. We might learn a little of our own.

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Gravelly Run
A. R. Ammons (1926-2001)

I don’t know somehow it seems sufficient
to see and hear whatever coming and going is,
losing the self to the victory
+++of stones and trees,
of bending sandpit lakes, crescent
round groves of dwarf pine:

for it is not so much to know the self
as to know it as it is known
+++by galaxy and cedar cone,
as if birth had never found it
and death could never end it:

the swamp’s slow water comes
down Gravelly Run fanning the long
+++stone-held algal
hair and narrowing roils between
the shoulders of the highway bridge:

holly grows on the banks in the woods there,
and the cedars’ gothic-clustered
+++spires could make
green religion in winter bones:

so I look and reflect, but the air’s glass
jail seals each thing in its entity:

no use to make any philosophies here:
+++I see no
god in the holly, hear no song from
the snowbroken weeds: Hegel is not the winter
yellow in the pines: the sunlight has never
heard of trees: surrendered self among
+++unwelcoming forms: stranger,
hoist your burdens, get on down the road.

A. R. Ammons, “Gravelly Run” from The Selected Poems, Expanded Edition. Copyright © 1988 by A. R. Ammons. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Reprinted in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

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American Toad, Anaxyrus americanus

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The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program is an adult education endeavor of Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Their mission of connecting people with nature continues even during pandemics! The science-based instructional programs have evolved with science-based precautions and modifications to allow small communities to form for a weekend at a time.

Many thanks to John DiDiego, GSMIT Education Director, and to the awe-inspiring instructors for the July, 2021 SANCP Reptiles and Amphibians course, Dr. John Charles Maerz from University of Georgia, and his intrepid research assistant, Jade Samples. We crammed a semester’s worth of herpetology into 36 hours out of doors in the Smokies. (Did I sleep? Maybe a little.)

All photographs by Bill Griffin. Header art by Linda Griffin.

Dekay’s Brownsnake, Storeria dekayi

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

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[including poems by Mary Oliver and Bill Griffin]

Because they are themselves and we have begun to see that they are,
++++because we are not humble but have been humbled,
++++because we can’t begin to love ourselves until we love them,
++++because we can’t love them unless we know them,
++++because in a world that scoffs at the word “sacred” we have
++++++++ accepted a sacred calling,
for all these reasons and more we protect them from us.

We are going to count the salamanders in Dorsey Creek. Before we leave Tremont and hike to their watershed we spray our boots with weak bleach (to kill the Ranavirus). We wear gloves so that we don’t smear them with our own flora (they have a rich commensal surface bacterial that keeps them healthy). We touch them only briefly and hold them in water in bags, not in our hands (a scant few grams of flesh, thin and magical skin, even the heat of our palms would stress them). Just a few minutes to check for gills if they’re still larvae, to count their spots and markings, look for cheek chevrons, flip and inspect the tint of their bellies, then we take them back to the leaf litter or flashing stream where we found them. Perhaps each one may be counted again, perhaps dozens of times over a ripe salamander lifespan of 20 years.

And perhaps, rising from our knees with new names in our mouths (Desmognathus monticola, quadramaculatus, conanti) and something sacred in our hearts, perhaps we will see the world as if for the second time, the way it really is.

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Alligator Poem
++++ Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

I knelt down
at the edge of the water,
and if the white birds standing
in the tops of the trees whistled any warning
I didn’t understand,
I drank up to the very moment it came
crashing toward me,
its tail flailing
like a bundle of swords,
slashing the grass,
and the inside of its cradle-shaped mouth
gaping,
and rimmed with teeth –
and that’s how I almost died
of foolishness
in beautiful Florida.
But I didn’t.
I leaped aside, and fell,
and it streamed past me, crushing everything in its path
as it swept down to the water
and threw itself in,
and, in the end,
this isn’t a poem about foolishness
but about how I rose from the ground
and saw the world as if for the second time,
the way it really is.
The water, that circle of shattered glass,
healed itself with a slow whisper
and lay back
with the back-lit light of polished steel,
and the birds, in the endless waterfalls of the trees,
shook open the snowy pleats of their wings, and drifted away,
while, for a keepsake, and to steady myself,
I reached out,
I picked the wild flowers from the grass around me –
blue stars
and blood-red trumpets
on long green stems –
for hours in my trembling hands they glittered
like fire.

from New and Selected Poems, © 1992 by Mary Oliver, Beacon Press, Boston. Reprinted in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

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Sorceress’ lizard, bellows breath, fire worm, winged dog – O, little salamander, how you inspire us with your magic! Pliny the Elder recognized that you are not a lizard but ancient Greeks still rumored that you quench fire with the chill of your body. The Talmud explains you are a product of fire and immune to its harm. Perhaps during the long winters of the Middle Ages you emerged miraculously from the log thrown onto the hearth to substantiate your reputation. Marco Polo believed your true nature to be an “incombustible substance found in the earth.” And let’s not forget the fearful excretions of your skin, poisonous enough to kill the entire village if you fall into the well, fundamental ingredient of witches’ brews, irresistible aphrodisiac.

Little wriggling Caudata, the reality of your nature is more wondrous than myth. You eat small things that would starve larger creatures and yet you thrive; your biomass exceeds that of all the mammals in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Your skin breathes – most of you don’t even have lungs! – and brews up a constellation of compounds that confound the biochemist. Some of you live 4 years with gills in the swift chill stream before becoming adults, others metamorphose within your eggs beneath forest duff and emerge fully formed, but all of you with your efficient ectothermic life plan grow and grow, make eggs, survive perhaps for decades. And Great Smokies holds more of your diversity than any other place in the world.

We are amazed! We students of SANCP Reptiles and Amphibians Course of 2021 are just astonished and awestruck. You are the coolest of the cool (ectotherms, that is)! We thank your Chief Sorcerer of Knowledge, Professor John Maerz, and Acolyte of Hands-On, Graduate Research Assistant Jade Samples, for sharing their lore, showing us how to find you, leading us to love you.

Salamanders – you rule!

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Salamander
++++ Bill Griffin

This is my gift –
++++++++ to change.
From Inadu Creek I leave behind
my frilly gills and climb
the spire of blue-eyed grass.
Having become a creature of air bathing
myself in dew, am I not still
a creature of water?

I invite you to discover
in each of my family our variations,
discern that every runnel, every spring,
every palm-sized cup of moisture
holds its lithe expectation, for this
is my gift to you –
++++++++ to notice changes.

I will let you lightly touch
the welcome of my smoothness
while I drink a little warmth
from your hand. Now count
the dapples down my length,
measure the blush of my cheek,

then find when you descend
the eastern face of Snake Den Ridge
those subtle alterations my cousins
are accumulating until finally
they acquire a new name.

And when you have returned me
to my bed of blue-bead lily, then touch
a smooth place within yourself
and carry with you into the world
++++++++ your own changes.

 

from Snake Den Ridge: a bestiary, © 2008 by Bill Griffin, March Street Press, Greensboro, NC. Illustrations and historical preface by Linda French Griffin.

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The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program is an adult education endeavor of Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Their mission of connecting people with nature continues even during pandemics! The science-based educational programs have evolved with science-based precautions and modifications to allow small communities to form for a weekend at a time.

Many thanks to John DiDiego, GSMIT Education Director, and to the awe-inspiring instructors for the July, 2021 SANCP Reptiles and Amphibians course, Dr. John Charles Maerz from University of Georgia, and his intrepid research assistant, Jade Samples. We crammed a semester’s worth of herpetology into 36 hours out of doors in the Smokies. (Did I sleep? Maybe a little.)

All photographs by Bill Griffin. Plethodon jordani on blue-eyed grass by Linda French Griffin. Header art also by Linda Griffin.

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2014-06-30a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Sam Barbee]

Life is not a waltz but sometimes it’s a samba. There are no numbered footprints painted on the floor; you can’t count the meter and the next step is never prescribed. The syncopation will throw you off, take you by surprise. And there are always more percussionists than anyone counted on.

As I kid I’d flip through the albums beneath my Dad’s phonograph. Found it – between George Szell and Peter and the Wolf I always came back to Getz and Gilberto. I knew who Stan was but it was decades before I learned the other names: Jobim, João and Astrud. To weave and shimmer through life, offbeat and upbeat, who could desire more?

At 18 my life rolled and rocked so allegro I doubt I even noticed it was passing. At 38 maybe I convinced myself life really was a waltz, laid out just so, I-lead-you-follow, all outcomes preordained. So here we go now, 68, and how many times have we knocked over the music stand or the band arrived drunk? And just who upped the damn tempo? How many morning coffee melodies will be interrupted by a crisis of (not quite 98) parents? Wolf, spit out that duck! Who made me director of this cacophany?

Settle. Close eyes, sway with me. Night is falling in Corcovado.

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Soft Spots in the Stream

My son wants stories
at bedtime of when I was his age –
how I loved blue jays and feared shadows.
Back then,
+++++ my sense of adventure
required the black mud bottom
of Burnt Mill Creek: stones, bream schools,
turtle beds. As frogs plunged in reeds,

my dad motioned open-handed
as I pleaded to stay close:
++++++++++ Trust the day.
He marched, under the gauze of Spanish moss,
fearless of water snakes. Water over my knees,
he taught me creek walking, how to balance
up slick banks with willow spindles and cypress knees.
I emerged, baptized with solutions.

+++++++++++++++ Once home,
he lacked answers,
those waning days when things unraveled,
when he often clenched his fist.
He bogged down with questions,
brooding in his recliner:
++++++++++ Keep with it,
the best he could offer.

Now, I escort my son
off to sleep, with his unresolved
problems and prayers, and at times I shrug,
unable to help him add things up.
But in his murky waters,
I part the surface, and
search with him for
soft spots in the stream.

Sam Barbee

Jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum

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That Rain We Needed: good title for July. Good collection for any season of life, this book by Sam Barbee from Press 53. These poems are a complete lifetime’s memoir: adopted childhood, young parent’s uncertainties, long married life with its waltzes & sambas. There is often a hint in the background of dissonance, but Sam Barbee has had a full and joyful life and he blesses us with it through his recollections and close observations.

Into every life a little rain must fall – let’s certainly hope so, before the herb garden is plumb dried up!

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The Color of Things

A trace of your image escapes
from darkness. Between
sundown and REM, you visit me:

nightgown drooped on the bedpost,
that marvelous thud of lace
on the hardwood floor, toes burrowing

beside me beneath the blanket’s down.
You, so often sequestered in the study
with cigarettes and Russian Tea,

travel the immaculate distance
mapped in memory, plotted only with love’s
intuition. I inventory lines in your face,

validations of the pattern that makes you up.
You remind me, It’s not the shape of things,
but their color.

Sam Barbee

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Red Planet

We speed to the shore’s horizon
and I am certain
there must be more to us
as we leave the aura of tiny wars.
Our calling lies closer to the sun,
on a world where love and longing fuse,

not into white-hot anguish but
into a peaceful absolute.
When I love you, black sky’s discord
brightens washed with stars, disorder calmed.
Sun, close enough to evaporate doubt,
warms our beach where we fight no theory.,

do not cling to construed arguments.
Content, we absorb sparkles in sandwash,
white foam abandoned on the beach
by ancient crests. Here we will wait,
shoulder to shoulder, wrapped
in laughter, poised for radiance.

Sam Barbee

all selections from That Rain We Needed, Sam Barbee, Press 53, Winston-Salem, NC, © 2016

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Green Heron, Butorides virescens

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2014-06-30a Doughton Park Tree

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Think of the wren / and how little flesh is needed to make a song.

[poem by Galway Kinnell]

The storm of the commonplace, does it grumble louder these days? The daily downstream of task and grind and conciliation, when did it become all fierce foam, rapids, never a moment to look up from paddling and glimpse a tree swallow’s emerald benediction? When did everything get so damn hard?

This morning there is too much inner clangor for me to pick up a pen, much less face a blank page. No, nothing “worthy” of recording: Who would care to read the quotidian health bulletins of my nonagenarian parents; to join me in ticking off one hundred and one conditions that need to be met before we can gather in person at church this Sunday; to listen to my inner dialogue with vaccine refusers and wonder if Linda and I will ever again feel safe singing with our regional chorus? Why worry about a little heat exhaustion working on the Elkin Creek trail tomorrow when the whole west coast is desiccating and blowing away?

Meanwhile outside dank vapors of rumination, mud of gray matter, rigid constricting cranium; meanwhile outside in the press of North Carolina foothills summer afternoon, starting to sweat just thinking about it; meanwhile outside no matter how hot, how thorny, how dispiriting . . . in the neighbor’s yard a wren is singing.

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Why Regret?
Galway Kinnell – 1927-2014

Didn’t you like the way the ants help
the peony globes open by eating the glue off?
Weren’t you cheered to see the ironworkers
sitting on an I-beam dangling from a cable,
in a row, like starlings, eating lunch, maybe
baloney on white with fluorescent mustard?
Wasn’t it a revelation to waggle
from the estuary all the way up the river,
the kill, the pirle, the run, the rent, the beck,
the sike barely trickling, to the shock of a spring?
Didn’t you almost shiver, hearing book lice
clicking their sexual dissonance inside an old
Webster’s New International, perhaps having just
eaten out of it izle, xyster, and thalassacon?
What did you imagine lies in wait anyway
at the end of a world whose sub-substance
is glaim, gleet, birdlime, slime, mucus, muck?
Forget about becoming emaciated. Think of the wren
and how little flesh is needed to make a song.
Didn’t it seem somehow familiar when the nymph
split open and the mayfly struggled free
and flew and perched and then its own back
broke open and the imago, the true adult,
somersaulted out and took flight, seeking
the swarm, mouth-parts vestigial,
alimentary canal come to a stop,
a day or hour left to find the desired one?
Or when Casanova took up the platter
of linguine in squid’s ink and slid the stuff
out the window, telling his startled companion,
“The perfected lover does not eat.”
As a child, didn’t you find it calming to imagine
pinworms as some kind of tiny batons
giving cadence to the squeezes and releases
around the downward march of debris?
Didn’t you glimpse in the monarchs
what seemed your own inner blazonry
flapping and gliding, in desire, in the middle air?
Weren’t you reassured to think these flimsy
hinged beings, and then their offspring,
and then their offspring’s offspring, could
navigate, working in shifts, all the way to Mexico,
to the exact plot, perhaps the very tree,
by tracing the flair of the bodies of ancestors
who fell in this same migration a year ago?
Doesn’t it outdo the pleasures of the brilliant concert
to wake in the night and find ourselves
holding hands in our sleep?

Why Regret? is from Strong Is Your Hold. Copyright © 2006 by Tom Galway Kinnell. Houghton Mifflin Company.

Galway Kinnell — Poetry Foundation

Galway Kinnell — Poets.org

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2014-07-13 Doughton Park Tree

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[with 4 poems by Richard Allen Taylor]

I need one of those little fountains that floats in your birdbath. I need more gravel for the driveway. I need a sharper macro lens. I need to check my investment strategy.

I need to clean the hummingbird feeders. I need to sit down with my life insurance agent. I need to pull the crabgrass between the lilies. I need to empty the dehumidifier. I need an empty inbox.

I need to listen to my sister. I need to reassure Linda. I need to tell Amelia a story. I need to thank Jill and Sue and Josh and Allison . . . I need to thank a whole lot of people. I need a cool morning on the porch with birdsong and poems by my friend Richard. I need the forgiveness I didn’t know I needed.

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The Train to Redemption

I almost miss it, but catch the last car,
find a window seat next to a woman
who opens her bag of sewing –
needles, pins, fabric spilling over
her knees – and what she’s sewing,
I don’t know. She says nothing
as I lean my head against the sad
window, and watch the land scroll,
trees waving like sword-grass
in a rush of green infantry, charging
the horizon until the sun sinks
and pulls the sky down with it.

After an hour of darkness, the lights
of Redemption appear and the woman
hems while she hums, a tune I won’t name
because it’s one of those that sticks
in your head and drives you crazy for hours
once you hear it. As the train approaches
the station, the air in the car smells
like apples and rain, and this woman
who has not spoken to me, but has
the gift of threading her eyes
with whatever the moment requires,
stitches me with a look of forgiveness
I didn’t know I needed.

Richard Allen Taylor

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Maybe 2014? A good while back Richard Allen Taylor set himself the challenge of writing poems about angels; they make a marvelous collection. A marvelous concatenation. Conceptualization. Conciliation. Oh sure, Gabriel has a cameo, but these are Richard’s angels, your and my angels: the Angel of Bureaucracy; Angel of Minor Disputes; Angel of Pain. And the Angels of Hope.

What do I really need? How about you? Redemption, can that actually mean anything more than cashing in the winning lottery ticket? Richard in Armed and Luminous offers poems with humor, imagination, and gentle compassion that have redeemed my morning. Yes, there are angels here, more than you may have expected, but I wasn’t hoping for any glowing personage with wings. What I have discovered instead is a spirit that wells up in two persons’ hearts and allows them to truly touch.

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Angel of Hope

As she grows invisible, her confidence blooms,
a moonflower in darkness, buoyed by terrestrial air
that gives lightness to her presence.

To the man drowning in despair, the garden feels heavy.
Nothing grows as planned. Renegade vines pull down
the rusted trellis, fruit fallen and rotted.

She watches his waning moon fade somber
in the box-like night of a four-walled sky.
In one corner, a shadow thickens, crosses

from stone to path and pulses against
light promised but not yet come.
The man, still unaware of the angel

who waits at the edge of his surrender,
senses a ripple in the darkness and draws closer
to speak, but seeing nothing, keeps his peace

and bows his head – in prayer or resignation
who can say? The angel’s cloak, opaque,
wide-winged and flutter-flapped – hides her completely.

He has shuttered himself, but she sees what he needs
is hers to give. She unwraps, offers her spirit light
like a lover’s body, but only for a heartbeat.

She closes her cloak, knowing hope is a drug
best administered in small doses. She gives him enough
to swim, rise to the surface, breathe again.

Richard Allen Taylor

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Blue Ridge Mountains

The possibilities were infinite.
When God made this place

He could have made it flat
or barren or covered with ice

or submerged in a hot soup
of gases, but he chose this

contemporary design, mountains
sprigged with tallest pine,

oak, maple, and poplar,
cloud-catching peaks and spines

that radiate into folds. He
let there be light, and the bright

afternoon reflected green
from the nearest slopes,

now blue-gray from a distant arc,
Mt. Mitchell under siege

from a flotilla of clouds,
gray-hulled, white-sailed.

It was quiet here when God created
the vacuum, before He created air

and water to carry sound.
He threw stones and ice,

enough to squeeze the earth
into a ball. Before this windy

breath in the trees, before
the voices in the meadow

or the click of heels
against flagstone walks,

before dry leaves scratched
across the porch, God

did his best work in silence.
He assigned Mother Nature

to manage construction.
She pushed to get the work done,

pitting one continent against another,
subcontracting certain details

to volcanism and erosion, giving the piece
a mixed-media look. I stand on rock

born deep in the earth, spewed
to the surface, sparkled with mica.

the dinosaurs have left, and our turn
at the controls has just begun, our time

a thin sheet in the layers of time,
but already, we have begun the undoing.

Richard Allen Taylor

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Cello in Moonlight

The strings pull me
to a darkened house,
through a door left open
to a room, empty
except for a wicker chair,
where a woman
in a shawl of moonlight
sits weeping, a private ritual,
her voice the cello,
the cello her voice.

An intruder, I turn to leave.
She asks me to stay.

Richard Allen Taylor

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all poems from Armed and Luminous, Richard Allen Taylor, Main Street Rag Publishing, © 2016

Header art by Linda French Griffin

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[with 3 poems by Joan Barasovska]

Try this little experiment. Next time you’re having a conversation, see if you can listen, just listen, all the way to the completion of the other person’s statement without thinking about what you’re going to say next. Without devising your response. Without doing anything but listening.

But, you tell me, I always listen like that. Ahem. Bullshit. Or maybe you do listen like that, sorry I besmirched your veracity, it must be something about my Type A-ness that makes not leaping ahead of the conversation so difficult. (Yes, Linda interjects here, Anus is right.)

I was trained in a Family Medicine program at Duke that was radical for its day. We had a full-time psychologist (Belinda, I have never stopped loving you!) who was constantly available to us Residents and who led many training sessions in communication skills. We videotaped and critiqued interviews and used the technique of Interpersonal Process Recall (IPR) to learn active listening, reframing, and other habits.

Linda and I had been married five years by then (we actually survived med school), had a son, soon a daughter, and when I would come home after a 36-hour shift and she was up to her eyeballs in dirty diapers you might imagine that communication was a premium commodity. Let’s see – active listening, give feedback, restate the premise – more than once Linda smacked the table and said, Hey, don’t you try that IPR stuff on me!

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World
++++ Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
++++ On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. +++++ – Arundhati Roy

There’s an echo, the in and out of breath
which fills each human, each animal ear,
stirs every blade of grass and every single leaf.
The planet, as it turns, is breathing.
She fills her lungs with empty air and lets it go.
Earth changes with each spin, each in and out.
Every anima, every human knows,
each blade of grass and leaf, down to its veins,
has an inkling of the echo of the dawn of change.
Listen to her.

Joan Barasovska


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When I read Joan Barasovska’s poems I want to listen. I hear the turbulence of years channeled into a bright stream. I hear generations speak to generations speak to Joan speak to her next generations. I hear birth and re-birth and possibility condensing and commingling into certainty. It is the quiet thunder of assurance – that we, unsettled humans prone to doubt, struggle, failure – that we may be redeemed.

These three selections are from Joan’s book, Birthing Age (Finishing Line Press, © 2018). The thirty poems weave a life from moments, images, narrative; the theme is change and growth. What seems impossible to decide, to survive, to achieve yet is decided and survived, achieved and grown into something even larger than the self could have imagined. Don’t each of us also have within us the capacity to give birth to a renewed and joyful self? May it be so.

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Let Winter Come
++++ after “Let Evening Come” by Jane Kenyon

The sun at noon is weak,
the day draws in short,
night creeps in the woods.

Let winter chase small creatures into hiding,
starve those too weak to forage,
draw us indoors seeking the light we crave.

Ice stiffens creeks and ditches,
frozen rain silvers every twig,
glasses pebbles, topples patient trees.

The tilt of Earth leaves us bereft
when winter starts its work
of pitiless conclusion.

Let the great cold come and pass.
What lasts lives on to spring,
‘til spring lets summer in.

Joan Barasovska

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Birthing Age

is not painless
there are scars
bloody losses

it’s slow labor
easy to ignore
years long

unlike the brutal
hours
of birthing life

slick slippery
raging
with need

I grow pregnant
in ripe years
ready for release

give me strength
to lie down
bear down

birth this woman
bear forth
her good news

Joan Barasovska

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2020-03-07 Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Pam Baggett]

The last time I saw my best friend Rick was in his hospital room. His counts were so low he couldn’t go home. They would never budge. Oh yes, last time, the idea must have hovered above us like a moth in pale daylight but we didn’t speak it. Isn’t it always easier to count on one more time before the last?

What we did talk about was lighthouses. Linda and I had taken our grandson to the Outer Banks that summer. We’d found the Mexican food truck on Ocracoke just like Rick had described it. We’d climbed Hatteras, Bodie, Currituck. Rick loved to hear our tales, loved those beaches, loved telling us his own stories. That’s how we shared our last couple of hours, transporting ourselves out of that hospital room into places we loved together.

Rick loved stories but in a deeper sense Rick just simply loved. He loved us into his family when our own family was just getting started. Through forty-some years of mountaintops along with several dry rocky valleys in between, he never checked us off his love list. A few days after that visit, Jan called to let us know that the last of Rick’s last times had run out. But last is not the same thing as over.

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After

Huddled on the porch steps,
sheltered from wind, you crave something deeper
than warmth. Sparrows scratch in the garden,
though the frozen soil yields only stones.
A hound howls from a half-mile away
and caffeine stirs in your blood. Startled
to heel hope nudge, you inch forward into a shard
of sunlight. You’re a few days past Christmas,
overdosed on food and family regret.
Your best friend and your dog
have just died. You know telling people
makes you sound like a Conway Twitty song,
yet you’ve spend hours on the phone,
letting them know who the world has lost.

Sitting out here, throat-sore, silent,
you knit blue fingers around your knees,
rocking, rocking, your thoughts black birds
circling an empty sky.

Pamela Baggett

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Let me recommend something. Sit down for an hour with Pam Baggett’s book, Wild Horses; start with the first poem; read straight through to the very end. It is a novella about friendship. It’s about not over. The 29 poems span maybe forty years: Pam & Cindy at 13 crazy about boys but crazier about rock and roll; best friends separated; best friends reunited and still crazy; best friends together through all the last times while one is dying of cancer. Oh my, the music. And of course the stories. The stories we share transport us into places we love together.

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Dog Dreams

In Cindy’s back yard, far from her mother
snoring in the recliner, we slap mosquitoes
despite a smelly citronella candle,
dodge slobber from the neighbor’s black Lab
who loves Cindy like a favorite chew toy.
Fifty years old, we giggle about our moms
as if we’re still thirteen. Mine answers every doorbell
gripping a suitcase. Cindy’s rubs her eye
until it’s teary, convinced there’s glass.

Almost midnight, Cindy sighs.
Keith Richards is nearly seventy, you know.
I yawn. Who’d have thought he’d make it so long?
Silence. Then Cindy lets me off easy –
Remember when we used to take drugs?
For fun? I bend to tie my shoe, hiding my face.
Why the hell did I promise not to cry?

Her skin goes gray when she tires.
I hug her, and her hair, thinned
from chemo, still smells like the pillow
I slept on all those high school weekends
decades ago. I offer reassurances,
a game of pretend. Pat the Lab
one last time before I leave.

Than night I dream my two dead beagles
race across the neighbor’s lawn
to hurl muscled bodies against me, my dogs
who in this vision belong to someone else.
I think, I have to return them, but then I realize
they’ve claimed me, the way her love
claims me, even as she surrenders
to the cold steady fire burning away inside her.

Pamela Baggett

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At 3:00 A.M.

Driven from bed’s warm covers,
I stumble to my desk.
Beyond the open window,
a fox barks, some small animal screams.
Gnats spin in drunken spirals
around the lamp. Grief
performs its slow
dazed circuit of my thoughts.

Now, in the hell of your last
days, I clutch at each moment,
trying not to picture
the cold clay blanket
that will soon cover you.

I shiver, a rabbit
that has seen the fox
but waits until the last second,
frozen, before it runs.

Pamela Baggett
all selections from Wild Horses, Pam Baggett, Main Street Rag Publishing, © 2018

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2016-05-08b Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Maureen Ryan Griffin]

At the National Zoo in DC the Maned Wolves are sniffing them out – crunch; the Red River Hogs have dug up their entire enclosure to welcome them; the Big Cats just couldn’t care less about them; the River Otters bat them like shuttlecocks a few times, then crunch; the Keepers are busy calculating how much less protein to allot each daily feed because of all the crunching of them.

Here in Elkin an army of little workmen fill the trees, each holding in his middle arms and forward arms a tiny leaf blower set on max. Their women can’t resist that sound. Cedar waxwings can’t resist coming down from the heights where they usually hang out to nab nymphs climbing up the oak trees. Yellow-billed cuckoos are planning three broods this summer after checking out the buffet.

In 10th grade Mrs. Schilling made sure we learned the major orders – Lepidoptera, Diptera, Hymenoptera, etc., not least Hemiptera, the True Bugs (you’d better not call a Coleoptera a “bug”). Stink Bugs, you guys are old news after this year’s Hemiptera (suborder Homoptera) emergence — Magicicada septendecim Brood X, The Great Eastern Brood, magical indeed, to you we doff our hats. Second thought I’ll keep mine on.

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Ten Thousand Cicadas Can’t Be Wrong

Summer sings sweet songs for her supper,
but her golden slippers aren’t for sale – no unless
you happen upon some celestial bargain basement
of goodly delights. There, nearly hidden under
last year’s turquoise silk sky, raspberries ripen, rampant,
as the mourning dove’s plum notes whirr, winged
into basil-drenched dreams. All this, and watermelon, too,
and fireflies, and the daylilies from your mother’s
last garden, double-headed. Just don’t forget
there are chiggers, and mosquitoes, of course, and that heat
everyone speaks of, muggy, tasting of
mildewed shower shoes, sounding for all the world like
kudzu unfurling in Jackson, Mississippi, where Janis Joplin
might have sung supper songs of her own. I don’t know.
I’ve never been there. I do know freedom’s not
just another word for nothin’ left to lose, and that you’ll never
find that bargain basement, no matter how long you look.
Listen, ten thousand cicadas can’t be wrong.
Anybody knows larvae never lie, not as long as
persimmons pucker and peaches procrastinate.
Lollygag in your hammock if you must, whenever
the tomatoes lean, but remember
that the persnickety bookie of guilt and doubt
is keeping score. You can’t hide but you can
run. You can steal the chiggers right out from under
the blackberries. You can rob from the raspberries
in bruised homage to the summer afternoon
the two most beautiful words in the English language,
according to Henry James, whose afternoons
are elsewhere now. Tu connais Uncle Death?
No worries. Aunt Morning will waltz willfully
wanton beyond noon, yea, and onward, well past dusk,
in Sister Summer’s silver slippers, the ones
deep in her closet that she seldom thinks to wear.

Maureen Ryan Griffin

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Could there be a more perfect moment to re-read Maureen Ryan Griffin’s book Ten Thousand Cicadas Can’t Be Wrong? Her poetry is often about the changing seasons, the changes in our lives, the mile markers and wrong turns and new pathways discovered in the process. Nature and human nature interwoven, the book is rich and broad-ranging; I’d add even more selections from the Ten Thousand but when the sun comes out the little leaf-blowers rev up and soon I can’t hear myself think.

[Rather than 10 to the 4th we’re dealing with 10 to the 13th = tens of trillions. But they are nice and crunchy.]

Maureen (no kin to this writer) is best known as “midwife to dreams” for the many writers she has instructed, encouraged, and inspired through the years. Visit her website WORDPLAY and learn more about “spinning words into gold” through her contributions to the award-winning CHARLOTTE READERS PODCAST.

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I’d like to think it isn’t greed

impelling us
to gather
far beyond need, whatever
our predilection –
++++++ blackberries
++++++ buckeyes
++++++ daylilies
++++++ fireflies
++++++ olive shells
++++++ sand dollars
++++++ stones –
++++++++++++ rather,
the feel of familiar
texture, convexity,
the comfort
of a particular weight
cradled in a palm.
Who knows
what it is that sings
as we fill
+++ baskets to overflowing
with our own peculiar harvests.
We feel the lure
+++ cull just one more
as if it were important to
keep this bit of fruit
from what we think of
as waste, to save
another shell from being
shattered by the sea,
to make ourselves a home among
the things of this world.

Maureen Ryan Griffin

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When the Leaves Are in the Water

When my brother and I walked
through these woods, he pointed out
subtleties of bark and branches,
read growth rings, spoke of drought
and rainy years. Said I look

like Mother. What I love
about trees: they endure
the seasons. I yearn
to be sweet gum, sugar maple.
My brother named me

ironwood, divined my rusting
heart, too hard to yield
forgiveness. Would we agree on oak,
my gallnuts early griefs
painstakingly transformed?

Arriving at the creek bank,
I let silt run through my fingers,
minute bits of pebble
with unseen roughness.
I wasn’t looking when my hands

turned into hers. I plunge them
into cold creek water.
I once thought
forgiving her was clean,
balsam on a wound

to make it heal. It’s more
like washing hands
before a meal. I have to do it
over and over: forgiveness
to the third power. I feel

it’s time, but loss spirals
deeper each succeeding
season. What will I be without
my holy anger – stripped bare
like the skeleton of a tree,

my stipule scars, my leaf
scars showing. Trees are born
to nakedness – I’m not ready.
My brother told me
the Cherokee believe

it’s a time of great power
when the leaves are in the water.
I fling in handfuls of
hard memories, watch the current
carry them away.

Maureen Ryan Griffin
all selections from Ten Thousand Cicadas Can’t Be Wrong, New and Selected Poems, Main Street Rag Publishing, © 2014 Maureen Ryan Griffin

Magicicada

Brood X

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IMG_6432

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photo by Saul Griffin

[with 3 poems by Becky Gould Gibson]

Amelia’s Papa Jimmy brought the bunnies to playschool yesterday. Four of them had fallen from a nest destroyed as he cleared a field two weeks ago. No mother in sight.

When we heard he’d bought bunny milk at Tractor Supply and was feeding them four drops every two hours we first thought, Is he raising them for the dogs? Not to eat, to teach. He trains young beagles to hunt; maybe they need to learn the smell of rabbits?

But no, not at all, it’s just that Jimmy can’t leave helpless young to die. Tractor Supply will mix up formula for any small critter you may have need of. He used a dropper until they learned to suck from a nipple. Two weeks later they’re hopping, eating tasty greens.

Yesterday each four- and five-year old got to hear the bunnies’ story, touch their soft ears and heads. Today Jimmy will release them at the edge of the woods, restored to bunny-ness, preserved for no other purpose than themselves.

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Stand of Birches

The woods are wet this morning – rain yesterday
or the day before, maybe – such a sense of quiet,
all the damp peace of it, mostly trees to be with,
birches especially, minimalists in chic black and white,
raw silk with horizontal markings like wounds
slashed across white paper, dashes, staples, lines
of ghostly scansion, every beat, every syllable
of wood and glade accented, no scales or hierarchies
scored in their bark, rather universal emphasis,
as if everything mattered – this tiny white-headed
flower, this ant on some errand, even the mosquito
buzzing my ankles, these low-growing grasses,
branch with its bark pulled back, underbelly softening,
chartreuse mosses – though brief, briefly important.

Becky Gould Gibson

photo by Saul Griffin

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These poems by Becky Gould Gibson are from her book Heading Home, the winner of the inaugural Lena Shull Book Contest in 2013. The poetry is strongly rooted in family and place but also richly steeped in literary tradition and history. I keep coming back to Stand of Birches for its eloquent, even spiritual expression of the deepest premise of Ecology: not utilitarian, not exploitative, not derivative or charismatic or anthropocentric – each living thing in all its interconnectedness is of value in and for itself.

Yes, yes, OK, OK, even mosquitoes.

In 2012 the Poetry Council of North Carolina elected to dissolve its organization and merge its residual funds with the North Carolina Poetry Society. Since 1949 PCNC had promoted the craft of poetry in the state with its annual contests; now in collaboration with NCPS it established an endowment to sponsor the annual Lena Shull Book Contest for an unpublished full length manuscript by a North Carolina writer, named for founder and first president of PCNC. Becky Gould Gibson was the first Lena Shull winner.

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Scuppernongs
+++ Immortal life will be given . . .
+++ The Lord of harvest gathers us, / Sheaves of the dead –
++++++++++++++++++++++ for Bill

When death lifts its edge a little,
as in the first movement of Mahler’s C minor symphony,
you wonder will you be ready.
We finish a bowl of scuppernongs from the market,
wild bronze from childhood,
delighting in the bite, thick skin between our teeth,
touch tongue-tip to tongue-tip.
You taught my tongue to talk back.
I recall all those summers,
you in another county, nearly a decade before we would meet.

Now, come with me.
We’re together, then. It’s a languid afternoon in late August.
I’m eight. You’re ten.
As for death, I still think I can talk my way out of it.
Follow me across the un-mowed yard,
weeds tickling our legs,
to the scuppernong bush at the edge of Mr. Marcus’s field.
For you, death is no fiction.
At six, made to duck under your desk at school,
wear a dog tag, so someone could identify your body.
No bucket. We stuff ourselves madly.
Know what happens if you swallow a seed? We laugh.

No, love. It is not my own death I worry about, but yours –
will I ever be ready for it?
To be alone as I was that distant August,
memory plucking the fruit of you, scuppernong ripe in my mouth.

Becky Gould Gibson

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Lines to Yeats on the Anniversary of His Death
++++ January 28, 1939
++++ for Alice

To a soul just fledged, still damp, in a nest
Of paper, flimsy bits of Plato, Paul,
Shelley, Wordsworth, Tennyson, all the rest
Who believed (or even half-believed) soul
Could soar above the earth (earth a mere cast
Of heaven), spirit somehow separable
From flesh, you came, William (my dear Willie)
With your poems of pure song, heart’s own music.

No wonder it entered my veins, my pulse
Learned to tick your rhythms. No matter you
Warned not to pleasure soul at the expense
Of body, who could even listen to
Such warning with such a beat, sound and sense
So perfectly married, as if to show
A manmade thing could become immortal,
Gold bird on a gold limb sing out its soul.

You made me more impatient than ever
To conceive such a poem of my own.
Your artless art merely fed the fever,
Yet every line fell stillborn from my pen.
Blood had become a colorless liquor
Nourished on symbols. Life had to happen,
And it did. Not a woman but a child,
Rather a child’s birth. It was a girl-child

Split me apart. No way to staunch the flood
(Nothing’s sole or whole that has not been rent)
Of blunt necessity. You had your Maud.
I had my Alice. She caught me up, lent
Me her knowledge. She, no man or bird-god,
Made loins shudder, roused me from those years spent
In abstraction, taught me bone, bowel, breath,
Body’s mortal work. She taught me my death.

Becky Gould Gibson

three poems from Heading Home, Winner of the 2013 Lena Shull Book Contest, Main Street Rag Publishing Company, © 2014 Becky Gould Gibson

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2016-05-08a Doughton Park Tree

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