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Archive for the ‘Imagery’ Category

Earth Day artwork by Linda French Griffin

[with poems by Dorianne Laux and Tony Hoagland]

The sensual man conforms thoughts to things; the poet conforms things to his thoughts. The one esteems nature as rooted and fast; the other, as fluid, and impresses his being theron.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, 1836

April 22, 1970 – the entire student body of Aurora High School is milling around outdoors in the Ohio springtime. In the front parking log five or six big black coffins are set up like grim milestones. The coffins bear epitaphs like “Clean Water” and “Beautiful Land” – the administration has granted the Student Council’s request to have an assembly to celebrate the first Earth Day.

I am taking photos for Borealis, the yearbook; my girl friend Linda French is assistant editor. She is vastly more the environmental activist than I. Our little farm town / bedroom community is forty miles from Cleveland and the where the Cuyahoga River crosses our local golf course it’s an insubstantial creek. The year before, though, the Cuyahoga River where it enters Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland caught fire and burned, and not for the first time. No big deal – oil slicks and pollution mean progress, full employment. Forget about it.

Maybe we all would have forgotten, except Time Magazine published articles about the burning river and then in December National Geographic featured it on the cover – “Our Ecological Crisis.” Congress had established the Environmental Protection Agency in January 1970; by spring even we kids in sleepy Aurora must be worrying how much longer we’ll have clean water and beautiful land.

Earth Day 1970

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A couple of years ago Linda and I took a road trip to northeastern Ohio to visit all the old haunts. The high school has additions and facilities we can’t even figure out. The golf course is now a reclaimed and replanted nature preserve with walking trails. There’s lots of new development in Aurora but there are still cow pastures and horses.

We also paid our first visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Designated a National Recreation Area in 1974, the same year we got married and moved to North Carolina, it became a National Park in 2000. Between Akron and Cleveland it comprises more than 33,000 acres following the river and the old Ohio & Erie Canal and reaching all the way into metropolitan Garfield Heights – the nation’s largest urban park. Even outside the Park the Cuyahoga is cleaned up, restored, back in the business of fish and wildlife and recreation instead of oil slicks. In 1970 if you fell into the river it meant an immediate trip the ER; now you just climb back up on your paddle board.

Without catching on fire.

Earth Day 1970

Earth Day 1970

 

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

Dorianne Laux has taught creative writing at NC State University and elsewhere. Her most recent book among many is Only as the Day Is Long: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 2019).

Tony Hoagland (1953-2018) was born in Fort Bragg, NC, and taught at the University of Houston and Warren Wilson College. His many books of poetry include Unincorporated Personas in the Late Honda Dynasty (Graywolf Press, 2005)

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Life is Beautiful

+++++++++ and remote, and useful,
if only to itself. Take the fly, angel
of the ordinary house, laying its bright
eggs on the trash, pressing each jewel out
delicately along a crust of buttered toast.
Bagged, the whole mess travels to the nearest
dump where other flies have gathered, singing
over stained newsprint and reeking
fruit. Rapt on air they execute an intricate
ballet above the clashing pirouettes
of heavy machinery. They hum with life.
While inside rumpled sacks pure white
maggots writhe and spiral from a rip,
a tear-shaped hole that drools and drips
a living froth onto the buried earth.
The warm days pass, gulls scree and pitch,
rats manage the crevices, feral cats abandon
their litters for a morsel of torn fur, stranded
dogs roam open fields, sniff the fragrant edges,
a tossed lacework of bones and shredded flesh.
And the maggots tumble at the center, ripening,
husks membrane-thin, embryos darkening
and shifting within, wings curled and wet,
the open air pungent and ready to receive them
in their fecund iridescence. And so, of our homely hosts,
a bag of jewels is born again into the world. Come, lost
children of the sun-drenched kitchen, your parents
soundly sleep along the windowsill, content,
wings at rest, nestled in against the warm glass.
Everywhere the good life oozes from the useless
waste we make when we create – our streets teem
with human young, rafts of pigeons streaming
over squirrel-burdened trees. If there is
a purpose, maybe there are too many of us
to see it, though we can, from a distance,
hear the dull thrum of generation’s industry,
feel its fleshly wheel churn the fire inside us, pushing
the world forward toward its ragged edge, rushing
like a swollen river into multitude and rank disorder.
Such abundance. We are gorged, engorging, and gorgeous.

Dorianne Laux
from Smoke, BOA Editions Ltd., © 2000 Dorianne Laux

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Wild

In late August when the streams dry up
and the high meadows turn parched and blond,

bears are squeezed out of the mountains
down into the valley of condos and housing developments.

All residents are therefore prohibited
from putting their garbage out early.

The penalty for disobedience will be
bears: large black furry fellows

drinking from you sprinkler system,
rolling your trashcans down your lawn,

bashing through the screen door of the back porch to get their
first real taste of a spaghetti dinner,

while the family hides in the garage
and the wife dials 1-800-BEARS on her cell phone,

a number she just made up
in a burst of creative hysteria.

Isn’t that the way it goes?
Wildness enters your life and asks

that you invent a way to meet it,
and you run in the opposite direction

as the bears saunter down Main Street
sending station wagons crashing into fire hydrants,

getting the police department to phone
for tranquilizer guns,

the dart going by accident into the
neck of the unpopular police chief,

who is carried into early retirement
in an ambulance crowned with flashing red lights,

as the bears inherit the earth
full of water and humans and garbage,

which looks to them like paradise.

Tony Hoagland
from Unincorporated Personas in the Late Honda Dynasty, Graywolf Press, © 2005 Tony Hoagland.

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Liverwort, Marchantia species; Liverworts are primitive nonvascular plants, perhaps the most primitive true plants still in existence.

Isn’t life beautiful? Not always pretty but always beautiful. Often messy, invariably smelly, predictably unpredictable, unexpectedly weird, but always beautiful. Scrunch down low enough to notice; don’t let it bite you (much); take off your anthropocentric glasses; what did I tell you – beautiful!

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[including a poem by Rebecca Lindenberg]

I am still not sure what Will was thinking but he was distant that evening. It was the last night of our backpacking trip through the Smokies. I knew he lived for wilderness – maybe he was simply ruing how long it would be until he’d have a chance to return to these mountains. Maybe he was doubting his chosen vocation, family doctor, the hectic office where we’d be working together again day after tomorrow. Maybe . . . maybe each of us longs to hang onto those few moments when we really feel we belong in the universe. And then they slip away.

We’d planned this trip together, just the two of us, for months. Now we were cooking our last supper. We had distanced ourselves from Mt. Collins shelter and the other hikers with their butane stoves that roared like jet liners. Will had fashioned a little alcohol stove out of a 7-Up can. Our noodles and dried vegetables simmered in silence.

When we’d finished eating and Will picked up the “stove” his funk hit bottom. Our heat had fried a pygmy salamander (Desmognathus wrighti). Will lifted its weightless form and we grieved. We didn’t have much more to say to each other that night.

In the morning we headed south on the AT to where our car waited at Clingman’s Dome. bleached dead Frazer Fir flanked the trail with their accusations but the sun was cool and jeweled the dew on ridgeline grasses. About a mile from trail’s end Will stopped and pointed. Perched on a stem sunning itself – Jordan’s Red-cheeked salamander, Plethodon jordani. Endemic to the Smokies, endangered, icon of biodiversity, preservation, and evolutionary variety. Was it waiting here to condemn us or offer absolution?

Or to invite us to keep traveling on to discover where we belong?

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It feels terrible to feel terrible // and so we let ourselves / start to forget.

There are plenty of pygmy salamanders but let me not forget that one. I haven’t heard a whip-poor-will in five years; let me not forget. I can choose to love this or that or the other . . . or you – let me not forget to hold tight to the choices that will hold you and me together.

We celebrate Earth Day with the other inhabitants of our single habitable planet on April 22, but how we venerate earth day depends on the choices we make every day.

They’re not wonders, but signs // and therefore can be read.

 

[#Beginning of Shooting Data Section]<br /> Nikon CoolPix2500<br /> 0000/00/00 00:00:00<br /> JPEG (8-bit) Normal<br /> Image Size: 1600 x 1200<br /> Color<br /> ConverterLens: None<br /> Focal Length: 16.8mm<br /> Exposure Mode: Programmed Auto<br /> Metering Mode: Multi-Pattern<br /> 1/59.9 sec - f/8<br /> Exposure Comp.: 0 EV<br /> Sensitivity: Auto<br /> White Balance: Auto<br /> AF Mode: AF-S<br /> Tone Comp: Auto<br /> Flash Sync Mode: Front Curtain<br /> Electric Zoom Ratio: 1.00<br /> Saturation comp: 0<br /> Sharpening: Auto<br /> Noise Reduction: OFF<br /> [#End of Shooting Data Section]

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A Brief History of the Future Apocalypse

Worlds just keep on ending and
ending, ask anybody who survived

an earthquake in an ancient city
its people can’t afford to bolt

to the bedrock, or lived to testify
about the tyrant who used his city’s roofs

like planks to walk people off,
his country’s rivers like alligator pits

he could lever open and drop a whole
angry nation into. Ask anyone

who was watched their own ribs emerge
as hunger pulls them like a tide,

who watched bloody-sheet-wrapped
bodies from the epidemic burn,

or fled any of the wars to come.
The year I was eleven, I felt

the ground go airplane turbulent
beneath me. Its curt shuddering

brought down a bridge and a highway
I’d been under just the day before.

And I was not afraid, but should have been
the first time love fell in me like snow.

How could I know it would inter us
both, so much volcanic ash –

how could I not? The world must
end and I think it will keep ending

so long as we keep failing to heed
the simple prophecies of fact –

hot-mouthed coal-breathing machines
fog our crystal ball, war is a trapdoor

sprung open in the earth that a whole
generation falls through, love ends,

if no one errs, in death. When
my love died, I remember thinking

this happens to people every day,
just – today, it’s our world

crashing like an unmanned plane
into the jungle of all I’ve ever

had to feel, or imagine knowing.
It feels terrible to feel terrible

and so we let ourselves
start to forget. That must be it.

Why else would we let the drawbridge
down for a new army, water

the Horseman of Famine’s red steed
with the last bucket from the well

or worse – give up then. A heart
sorrow-whipped and cowering

will still nose its ribcage to be petted.
Will still have an urge for heroics.

And anyway, when has fear of grief
actually kept anyone from harm.

Some hope rustles in my leaves
again. It blows through, they eddy

the floor of me, unsettling
all I tried to learn to settle for.

Would I be wiser to keep
a past sacrament folded in my lap

or would I be more wise to shake
the gathered poppies from my apron,

brush off soft crimson petals
of memory and be un-haunted –

I don’t know. So I choose you and we
will have to live this to learn what happens.

And though it’s tempting to mistake
for wonders the surge of dappled

white-tailed does vaulting through
suburban sliding glass doors,

they are not. Not vanishing bees
blown out like so many thousands

of tiny candle-flames, neither
the glinting throngs of small black birds

suddenly spiraling out of the sky,
the earth almost not even dimpling

with the soft thuds of feathered weight.
Nor the great wet sacks of whale

allowing the tide to deposit them alive
on a strand, nor even the sudden

translucent bloom of jellyfishes.
They’re not wonders, but signs

and therefore can be read. I didn’t
always know that apocalypse

meant not the end of the world but
the universe disclosing its knowledge

as the sea is meant to give up its dead,
the big reveal, when the veil blows back

like so many cobwebs amid the ruins
and all the meaning of all the evidence

will shine in us to finally see –
And there you’ll be and I’ll know you

not by the moon in your voice but the song
rung in my animal self. For I feel you,

my sure-handed one, with something
sacreder than instinct but just as fanged.

Then unfold me the way you know
I want so I can watch the stars

blink back on over the garden as we grapple
in the dimming black like little, little gods.

Rebecca Lindenberg

from Best American Poetry 2019; Major Jackson, editor, David Lehman, series editor; Scribner Poetry 2019
first appeared in Southern Indiana Review; reprinted by permission from Rebecca Lindenberg

More by Rebecca . . . https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/rebecca-lindenberg

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Rebecca Lindenberg teaches in the MFA program at Queens University, Charlotte, and is an Assistant Professor at the University of Cincinnati where she is also Poetry Editor of the Cincinnati Review. She holds a Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Utah. She is the author of Love, an Index (McSweeney’s 2012) and The Logan Notebooks (The Center for Literary Publishing at Colorado State 2014), winner of the 2015 Utah Book Award.

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[#Beginning of Shooting Data Section]<br /> Nikon CoolPix2500<br /> 0000/00/00 00:00:00<br /> JPEG (8-bit) Normal<br /> Image Size: 1600 x 1200<br /> Color<br /> ConverterLens: None<br /> Focal Length: 11.8mm<br /> Exposure Mode: Programmed Auto<br /> Metering Mode: Multi-Pattern<br /> 1/30 sec - f/4<br /> Exposure Comp.: 0 EV<br /> Sensitivity: Auto<br /> White Balance: Auto<br /> AF Mode: AF-S<br /> Tone Comp: Auto<br /> Flash Sync Mode: Front Curtain<br /> Electric Zoom Ratio: 1.00<br /> Saturation comp: 0<br /> Sharpening: Auto<br /> Noise Reduction: OFF<br /> [#End of Shooting Data Section]

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[Behind the scenes karma: I received Best American Poetry 2019 as a gift last Christmas (Oh Santa, you are so good at taking hints!) but I hadn’t read it until this week. I was hoping to discover something that would evoke April as Earth Month anticipating Earth Day, resigned to forgoing my usual focus on Carolina writers. Rebecca Lindenberg’s poem leapt from the page; it is the best of the Best, the Best American Poem of 2019. It wasn’t until after I had asked her permission to use it that I discovered Rebecca’s connection to Queens University and probably to many of the other writers who have appeared in this space. Karmic connection comes through. –B ]

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[poems: Charles Causley, A. R. Ammons, Psalm 118
Su Tung-P’o, Jack Gilbert, R. S. Thomas]

In Celebration:

Day and night meet as equals, vow their green promise, the brown and blasted fields blossom.

Evil thoughts, evil words, evil actions, from all these we refrain and the earth is blessed.

Colors of my hand, your face, are only the colors of our friendships renewed and restored.

Release from bondage, a night like no others, let me tell you what it means to be set free.

The single step that begins the journey of awareness is behind you and before you.

The upper room, the garden, the cross, down this path the stone has been rolled away.

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In 2021:

Vernal Equinox and the beginning of Spring is March 20 at 09:37 GMT.

Ramadan is April 12 through May 11, Eid al-Fitr May 12.

Holi (Festival of Colors) is March 28 through 29.

Passover is the evening of March 27 to evening of April 4, first Seder March 27.

Vestak (Buddha Day) is May 26.

Lent is February 17 through April 1, Easter April 4.

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In Joy:

Charles Causley – At Kfar Kana
A. R. Ammons – The City Limits
Psalm 118 – selected verses
Su Tung-P’o – With Mao and Fang, Visiting Bright Insight Monastery
Jack Gilbert – Horses at Midnight without a Moon
R. S. Thomas – In a Country Church

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At Kfar Kana

The bus halts its long brawl
with rock and tar and sun.
The pilgrims trudge to where
the miracle was done:
each altar the exact
authenticated site
of a far, famous act
which if performed at all
may well have been not here.

I turn away and walk
and watch the pale sun slide,
the furry shadows bloom
along the hills rough hide.
Beneath a leafy span
in fast and falling light
Arabs take coffee, scan
the traveller, smoke, talk
as in a dim, blue room.

The distant lake is flame.
Beside the fig’s green bell
I lean on a parched bay
where steps lead to a well.
Two children smile, come up
with water, sharp and bright,
drawn in a paper cup.
‘This place, what is its name?’
‘Kfar Kana,’ they say,

Gravely resuming free
pure rituals of play
as pilgrims from each shrine
come down the dusty way
with ocean-coloured glass,
embroidered cloths, nun-white,
and sunless bits of brass –
where children changed for me
well-water into wine.

Charles Causley (1917-2003)

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The City Limits

When you consider the radiance, that it does not
+++ withhold itself
but pours its abundance without selection into
+++ every nook
and cranny not overhung or hidden;
+++ when you consider

that birds’ bones make no awful noise
+++ against the light
but lie low in the light as in a high testimony;
+++ when you consider
the radiance, that it will look into the guiltiest

swervings of the weaving heart and bear
+++ itself upon them,
not flinching into disguise or darkening;
+++ when you consider
the abundance of such resource as illuminates
+++ the glow-blue

bodies and gold-skeined wings of flies
+++ swarming the dumped
guts of a natural slaughter or the coil of shit
+++ and in no way
winces from its storms of generosity;
+++ when you consider

that air or vacuum, snow or shale, squid or wolf,
+++ rose or lichen,
each is accepted into as much light as it will take,
+++ then the heart
moves roomier, the man stand and looks
+++ about, the

leaf does not increase itself above the grass,
+++ and the dark
work of the deepest cells is of a tune
+++ with May bushes
and fear lit by the breadth of such calmly
+++ turns to praise.

A. R. Ammons (1926-2001)

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Psalm 118

You pressed me hard,
++ I nearly fell;
++ but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and song;
++ He has become my deliverance.
The tents of the righteous resound with joyous shouts
++ of deliverance,
++ “The right hand of the Lord is triumphant!
The right hand of the Lord is exalted!
The right hand of the Lord is triumphant!”

I shall not die but live
++ and proclaim the works of the Lord.
The Lord punished me severely,
++ but did not hand me over to death.

Open the gates of righteousness for me
++ that I may enter them and praise the Lord.
This is the gateway to the Lord –
++ the righteous shall enter through it.

I praise You, for You have answered me,
++ and have become my deliverance.
The stone that the builders rejected
++ has become the chief cornerstone.

This is the Lord’s doing;
++ it is marvelous in our sight.
This is the day that the Lord has made –
++ let us exult and rejoice in it.

from the Egyptian Hallel —  Psalm 118:13-24

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With Mao and Fang, Visiting Bright Insight Monastery

It’s enough on this twisting mountain road
++ to simply stop.
Clear water cascades thin down rock, startling
++ admiration,

white cloud swells of itself across ridgelines
++ east and west,
and who knows if the lake’s bright moon is above
++ or below?

It’s the season black and yellow millet both begin
++ to ripen,
oranges red and green, halfway into such lovely
++ sweetness.

All this joy in our lives – what is it but heaven’s
++ great gift?
Why confuse the children with all our fine
++ explanations?

Su Tung-P’o (1037-1101), translated from the Chinese by David Hinton

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Horses at Midnight without a Moon

Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
The summer mornings begin inch by inch
while we sleep, and walk with us later
as long-legged beauty through
the dirty streets. It is no surprise
that danger and suffering surround us.
What astonishes is the singing.
We know the horses are there in the dark
meadow because we can smell them,
can hear them breathing.
Our spirit persists like a man struggling
through the frozen valley
who suddenly smells flowers
and realizes the snow is melting
out of sight on top of the mountain,
knows that spring has begun.

Jack Gilbert (1925-2012)

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In a Country Church

To one kneeling down no word came,
Only the wind’s song, saddening to the lips
Of the grave saints, rigid in glass;
Or the dry whisper of unseen wings,
Bats not angels, in the high roof.

Was he balked by the silence? He kneeled long,
And saw love in a dark crown
Of thorns blazing, and a winter tree
Golden with fruit of a man’s body.

R. S. Thomas (1913-2000)

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At Kfar Kana; In a Country Church: collected in Tongues of Fire, An Anthology of Religious and Poetic Experience, Introduced and edited by Karen Armstrong, Viking Penguin Books, © 1985

The City Limits; With Mao and Fang, Visiting Bright Insight Monastery; Horses at Midnight without a Moon: collected in The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy edited by John Brehm, Wisdom Publications, © 2017

Psalm 118: The Jewish Study Bible, Jewish Publication Society, Oxford University Press, Second Edition © 2014; TANAKH translation © 1985,1999

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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Poetry Formatting in WordPress

Are you frustrated when you try to re-create complex line formatting in a WordPress post?

Sure, you can right / left / center justify a paragraph, and you can “add indent” to a paragraph, but unless you open the hood and get grease on your hands writing HTML, you can’t add tabs or spaces to a line to get it to look like this:

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The damselfly hovers,
+++ lays her eggs
++++++ in the sky
+++++++++ of pond,

her abdomen
+++ a slender J
++++++ pierces
+++++++++ the mirror.

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Instead after you save your draft and preview the screen here’s how it looks:

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The damselfly hovers,
lays her eggs
in the sky
of pond,

her abdomen
a slender J
pierces
the mirror.

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How pedestrian. How constipated.

Here’s my fix: clunky but effective. Tell me your fix if it’s better!

1 – ADD CHARACTERS TO THE SPACES OR TABS YOU WANT TO INSERT INTO THE LINE:

The damselfly hovers,
+++ lays her eggs
++++++ in the sky
+++++++++ of pond,

her abdomen
+++ a slender J
++++++ pierces
+++++++++ the mirror.

Here I’m using THREE +’s for each tab grouping; use more, fewer, any character you like.
I am also adding a [SPACE] after each grouping of +’s to make it easier to highlight them later.

2 – ONE AT A TIME, HIGHLIGHT EACH GROUPING OF +’S YOU WANT TO TRANSFORM

3 – CHANGE THE FONT COLOR TO “WHITE”

Click the small down arrow next to the A for Font and select the White square

Note – if your blog uses a background color OTHER than white, then instead of white you need to change the font color to your background color!

4 – CONTINUE FOR EACH GROUPING . . .
++++++++ SAVE DRAFT . . .
++++++++++++++++ PREVIEW . . .
++++++++++++++++++++++++ VOILA!

You can speckle random text all over the screen using this technique.

There must be a better way (short of learning to write code), but I haven’t found it!

Here’s the entire poem, which appeared in a slightly different version in my chapbook RIVERSTORY : TREESTORY published by the Orchard Street Press, © 2018

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Light

The damselfly hovers,
+++ lays her eggs
++++++ in the sky
+++++++++ of pond,

her abdomen
+++ a slender J
++++++ pierces
+++++++++ the mirror.

+++ Once.
+++ Again.
+++ One egg.
+++ Another.

Light as a morning
+++ kiss, light
++++++ as the voice

that ripples
+++ between
++++++ these lines,

+++ airy, watchful,

let no hungry trout
+++ swirl, lunge,
++++++ swallow
+++++++++ their maker.

+++ One.
+++ Another.
+++ Again.
+++ And tomorrow

these words become
+++ creatures
++++++ with silver wings

+++++++++ that rise
++++++++++++ into light.

 

from RIVERSTORY : TREESTORY, The Orchard Street Press, © 2018 Bill Griffin

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[with 3 poems by Diana Pinckney]

No hesitation. Out the back door she takes my hand and we hike down through the woods, steep switching trail, slick moss rocks, sliding on last fall’s leaves. Big brother is not with us today; she is the explorer. I wonder if she’ll hold back at the wash but she hops rocks across the rivulet and even runs ahead of me along Dutchman Creek. Threading the briers, skirting mud, twigs in her hair – she is all go today.

When we reach our destination, the shallow pools that linger from winter floods and may be dry by August, I hesitate. Not so many months ago she would make me check the playroom floor for millipedes, back away from pillbugs on the porch steps, want to be carried to the car.

I squat in a squishy place beside the water and show her clumps of clear jelly. Most of the eggs have hatched, some larvae still in their shivery globes, many tadpoles swimming free. With one finger I push algae aside so she can see them wriggle. Instantly her fingers are in the water, too. Tickling the tiny black wigglers. Oblivious to muck and slime. Pappy, can we come back here tomorrow?

This is what I would wish for her at five and all her life – to be innocent and yet be bold. To face the new and the scary and not look away. To discover, to wonder. And to remember the immense power of NO! bursting from her body, now when her brother thwarts her playful imaginings and always when the world conspires to steal that innocence from her.

And, for as long as I’m able, I wish for her to still want me to carry her.

 

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Who is completely innocent and who is entirely beast? Diana Pinckney’s poems are subtle like a rustle in the night but lucid, windows breathing light and fragrance into the world. Her language and lines are effortlessly elegant. Her poems seem to arrive from all the points of the compass to create community: persona poems in which the reader comes to inhabit a new being; poems of family, loss, commemoration, revelation; ekphrastic poems that uncover hidden truth in painting, sculpture, representation.

And woven throughout her book, The Beast and the Innocent, lurks the wolf: tyrant predator, misunderstood victim; purity and profane. Who is the threat and who the threatened? Aren’t we all only doing what it takes to survive?

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Ghost Wolves, for My Grandchildren

You may see one in a zoo
***** and ask, does he howl
********** and I may say, what would

he howl about? What, you ask, does a wild
***** wolf sound like? What could I answer? Wind
********** when it rises from the deepest

canyon to the tops of spruce
***** or the fog’s blue surge, the drift
********** above dying embers. Smoke alone

moves toward the stars in a world
***** where nothing is heard and only the moon
********** knows then the last tree falls.

Emptiness that whispers
***** after the wilderness
********** has forgotten what it longs for.

from The Beast and the Innocent, Diana Pinckney, FutureCycle Press, © 2015

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My Brother Sings
after Raymond Carver’s “What the Doctor Said”

He sings when the dogwoods are blooming as I drive
him and his wife along the highway from Asheville,
away from a hospital where we waited in the doctor’s office,
sitting in gray chairs, joking about my allergy

to their six cats, ow I can’t sleep in their house
and still breathe. I watched my brother move
his fingers over swollen knuckles that he used to
crack when I was little just to tease. There to hear

the results of the lung biopsy, now we know.
Traveling through Blue Ridge mountains, we see
dogwoods, redbuds, cherry trees heavy
with April’s abundance. When my brother

begins the song, his wife in the back seat on her cell
interrupts, Dabney, will you please stop singing
while I’m telling Sis you have cancer. Oh, sorry, he says.
He glances at me while petals drift with us

down the mountain. Our laughter’s almost soundless.

from The Beast and the Innocent, Diana Pinckney, FutureCycle Press, © 2015

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The Beast and The Innocent

Of course, dogs and cats go to heaven,
my mother announce from her deathbed.
Welcomed into heaven, my childhood cat
will groom Grandmother’s canary, feathers the same
yellow as the black cat’s eyes, the bird

he ate when I was seven. In paradise
pointers lap at duck ponds while cockatiels
screech and perch on each dog’s white- or black-
spotted back. Heaven’s way is,

as we have heard, the lion lying down
with the lamb. A place where Christians kindle
the eight candles of Hanukkah, Muslims unfurl
prayer rugs for Hindi, and the roped Tibetan prayer

flags flutter good fortune for the Chinese.
The wine and wafer bless a round wooden table, a feast
celebrated with unleavened and leavened,
mango and oyster, babel unlimited. And the spaniel
that killed my brother’s rabbits will lie

on the wide-bladed grass of my youth, all manner
of four- and two-legged creatures leaping
over him, some stroking the red-and-white silk
of his fur for pure pleasure, for the grace.

from The Beast and the Innocent, Diana Pinckney, FutureCycle Press, © 2015

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Doughton Park Tree 2021-03-23

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[with 3 poems by Tony Abbott]

. . . each morning as a wrapped gift.

We parried, a friendly joust, this poet I knew who anchored his lance upon all poetry is about love. Later I would think how odd, a paradox in fact: this person seems to thrive on hate and even infected me for a time. Even later I read more of his poetry and reconsidered: perhaps hate is simply the anger and loss that bleed from us, caustic, when love is too distant, too longed for, too impossible.

But during our little tournament I countered with this novel thrust: all poetry is about death. You don’t, I asked him, believe the immortals on Olympus write poetry, do you? With no death to undergird, to prod, to threaten, without death they have no muse. They must rely on us mere humans to wrench and wrest verse from the earth of our dark condition.

How odd, a paradox in fact: I don’t think anyone would consider me the moody type. I don’t ruminate on death – or do I? The loved one whose problem seems to have no solution; the 4 a.m. wakefulness when all mistakes made and all hurts caused crowd around the bed with their sharpened sticks; the bitterness of an imagined future when I will not be there for my granddaughter, my grandsons – why do I invite such overshadowing darkness into my heart?

What might cleave the darkness, fill it with light? How is it possible, which indeed it is, that every one of us may discover some joy in a fragrant afternoon, a laughing child, a lingering kiss without inevitably asking what if this is the last?

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the moment which gives to all life / the aura of the mysterious, the sacred . . .

How does the man facing darkness bestow such light on all around him? I believe these poems by Tony Abbott. I believe the voices that have spoken to him and his voice that still speaks to us. That speaks of darkness becoming light.

During the last year of his life Tony treasured moments. He captured luminous moments and has held them up for us, to turn this way and that, to peer and to ponder, to treasure along with him and let in the light. A wrapped gift is one that must be opened to be loved. Light is something to be entered with regrets laid to rest.

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The Man Who Loved Trees

kept his distance this year as if he knew,
as if the dark possibility which haunted
his inner mind could only be kept at bay
by stark denial, a looking the other way.

And then one day, he forgot, and found
himself there at the very spot, and when
he finally brought his eyes up from the brick
walk to the tree itself, he knew he was right.

She was ordinary now, leaves still intact
but mustard brown and dry, dry as the dust
which had choked the air that fall, dry as his
own heart, which had slowed to a walk.

If you don’t wake her, he thought, the muse
goes back to sleep, malnourished, the roots die.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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That Without Which

The moment itself not being but coming into
or having been the moment itself that which
we wait for live for then like the five o’clock
winter sun fading into a rustle, a blowing
of the window curtains door to the balcony
open to the wind the walking on the beach
the stars the ringing of the communion bell
and the knowledge priceless that this might
have never been could never be but was
and is the moment which gives to all life
the aura of the mysterious, the sacred,
blessed and consecrated by the heart under
another name not known but felt how could
we live otherwise

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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The Last

The last walk, he thinks, the last stroll
down the wooded path with the dog
sniffing in the cool morning air.

The last knock on the red door.

The last subway ride – New York,
London, Paris. The ungovernable
steps. The violins at the Louvre.

The last sigh under the stone stairs.

Better not to know. Tomorrow
or ten years. Better to receive
each morning as a wrapped gift.

The last glimpse of the crescent moon at midnight.

The last swim in the smooth lake,
the last flash of the sun
as it sinks into the sea.

The last wave reaching high and sliding back.

The last poem, the last linking
of lines, nothing more to be said
anyway – the last silence between words.

The last of the lasts that have already been.

The last kiss, the last touch, the last
image of arms at midnight
the last breath before

the last.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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Thank you, Tony, always. We do continue trying, and we will not stop trying, to make something beautiful from the brokenness that we are. Together. May it be and become so.

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The North Carolina Poetry Society has honored Anthony S. Abbott’s memory and shared Tony’s poetry at its January, 2021 literary meeting and with a commemoration in the Winter, 2021 edition of its quarterly publication, Pine Whispers.

Better to receive / each morning as a wrapped gift.
The Last

the moment which gives to all life / the aura of the mysterious, the sacred . . .
That Without Which

Links to biographies and more information about Tony Abbott and his work.

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2014-06-30a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Tony Abbott]

Mike and I met at a remote trailhead below Mt. Pisgah to hike up into Shining Rock Wilderness. We planned to spend one night at our favorite site after reaching it by this unfamiliar approach. End of September, gorgeous reds and golds, brittle blue sky, and we were prepared for cold above 5,000 feet.

No camp fires permitted in a Wilderness Area. We made tea over a little alcohol stove, sat on the ground, and talked until it grew too dark to see. The ultralight 2-person tent Mike had packed was cozy, which is to say it was more like a 1 ½-person tent. We’d be keeping each other warm.

I woke up after midnight in dense darkness and couldn’t breathe. Got out of the tent, pulled on my balaclava, walked away to pee, sat on a log – deep silence, no owl hoot, no chitter of flying squirrels, not one breath of wind. When my butt started to freeze I tried squeezing back into my mummy bag. No good. My chest tightened, the thick black pushed down on my face, I had to claw its hand away. Worst claustrophobia ever.

I finally dragged my sleeping pad and bag out to a level space in the pine needles, wrapped a jacket around my feet, and hunkered in just as the moon rose through the red spruce. Cold light expanded my lungs. At some point, hours creeping, moon in my eyes, I fell asleep. Mike woke me at first sun.

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What can bring light into darkness? What hand comforts the clench of fear? What consoling faith casts away doubt? What companion banishes loneliness?

The forward to Anthony S. Abbott’s book Dark Side of North, published posthumously by Press 53 this year, consists of a remembrance presented by Dr. Jacqueline Bussie at Tony’s memorial service on October 17, 2020. Here is an excerpt:

Suffering didn’t make Tony unique. What he did with it did. Tony was the first adult, and the first teacher, I’d ever met in life who was willing to talk about the hard stuff. He taught us that suffering sucks. That suffering denied is suffering unhealed. He taught us to never sugarcoat suffering, smack a pink bow on it, or shove it to the back of the drawer. In one of my favorite lines in Tony’s poetry, he urges us to get down to “the Humpty-Dumpty business of trying to make a jewel out of the cracked pieces of the heart.”

Dr. Jacqueline Bussie, page xiv, Dark Side of North

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The Boy from Somewhere Else

lived in the open mouth of the world.
He chewed on the dry branches of time.
He was handsome enough, to be sure,

but there was in his voice
the deep well of absence.
He was with them, but not of them.

His speech was familiar, but not theirs,
and when he told tales
of his drunken uncles and stage-struck

sisters, they nodded politely
and they spoke in their apple-round voices
of kith and kin, and told how their

grandfathers had founded the first
bank in Hitchcock County.
He would wait, this boy.

He would find one day the person
who could hear his music
as blood red leaves matched autumn.

He could not be mistaken about this.
When she came, he would recognize her
at once – as one knows the coming storm

by the first, distant clap of thunder.
Perhaps he could not keep her.
Perhaps one can never keep such a gift.

But, still, she would grace his years – the buds
of his growing up, the rattling trains of the
middle passage, the brittle bones of the slow

descent, the icy nights of the final coming down.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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The Light in the Window
In memory of Nancy Abbott Hieronymus (1926-2017)

How early I must have known that she was
my true mother, that when she packed her bag
I must go with her. She would keep me safe.

How early I must have known that she was
my true teacher, making the sounds of the words
with her mouth so I could learn them, too.

How early I must have known that she was
my true protector, throwing herself across me
slashing her knee on the broken windshield glass.

Later, when I was nearly grown, cocky sophomore
in prep school, riding the subway home at 2 a.m.,
she left a light in the window on that I

would turn out when I came in. I didn’t know
she stayed awake until she heard the door open
and close, heard the click of the light going off.

Now I sit by her bed and watch her sleep and wake,
sleep and wake, and tell me how she loves
her precious Dick, how she will hold his hand

all the way to heaven. Beyond the light in her window
the evening comes over the island, the deer prick up
their ears, the foxes peek from their dens. In the pines

the gold crowned kinglet waits. She is coming, they say,
our friend is coming, the one who loved us all these years.
Tonight I will go home, and the friends who loved her so

will arrive, one by one, to take her in their arms,
and the next night the angel will stand at the foot
of her bed. You are loved, he will say, and enfold her

with his bright wings. And she will go where that brightness
is and, like a light in the window, shine upon us all.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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The Long Afternoon

All through the long afternoon
the wind moved in the branches.
I had lived in the city and had seen
only the dust from the tires,
the diesel gas from the gray brown
buses with their leaden burdens.

Here it was different. Here on the grass
we had found by chance, walking
away, just away from everything
and then, a clearing and green
grass and the wind moving
like silver over the water
and in the branches, too. Yes,

all through the long afternoon
the wind moved and we were silent
in awe of the day and leaves
yellow and red and orange,
which floated slowly down
into our waiting hands.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Later
I found these leaves in a book
where you had put them for
safe keeping, a book you knew
I would take down and read
some distant starry night.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

 

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Thank you, Tony. We will continue trying, and we will not stop trying, to make something beautiful from the brokenness that we are. Together. May it be and become so.

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The North Carolina Poetry Society has honored Anthony S. Abbott’s memory and shared Tony’s poetry at its January, 2021 literary meeting and with a commemoration in the Winter, 2021 edition of its quarterly publication, Pine Whispers.

The line “the Humpty-Dumpty business of trying to make a jewel out of the cracked pieces of the heart.” is from Tony’s poem Before Forty in his book The Girl in the Yellow Raincoat (St. Andrews Press, 1989) and collected in New & Selected Poems (Lorimer Press, 2009).

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2015-06-15Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Denton Loving]

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy

Tomorrow we are driving to Raleigh to see our 3-year old grandson Bert. In person! In the two months since our last in person we’ve visited at least once a week on FaceTime or extended-family Zoom sessions. Often he’s in the bath (easier to keep him in one place); he always wants to show us a toy or especially some of his many books; at least once he’s seen a toy in our background and asked to play with it.

Bert is excited to see us on the little screen but our daughter Margaret tells us that almost every day he asks, “Where’s Granny and Pappy?”

Life is busy happening to us while we’re not able to make hardly any plans at all. Where are we indeed!? All of us are no doubt in the same place: spending a lot of time thinking of things we can’t wait to start doing again when the pandemic has subsided (although it’s time for all of us who’ve learned the definition of pandemic to open the dictionary to endemic). Things to do after – you know you have a list. I’ll bet you’ve even been writing them down.

Herewith I’m starting a list of things I hope to be when the seasons of fear and loss and paranoia are past. If there has been any nano-benefit of living through a pandemic, it might be that I’ve started becoming some of these things already:

Open – to what other people need, to what they’re feeling, less fixated on self
Grateful – for the little things and what now seem like really big things, especially time spent with people I love
Aware of daily changes – in nature, in me and my family, present to the passage of time
Hopeful – life will never be the same, but then again what person actually has stepped into the same river twice? I’m glad I get to keep stepping in every day anew.

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Denton Loving’s book Crimes Against Birds has been sitting beside my desk for a good while – face down because Linda is creeped out by the cover. I am so glad I’ve kept returning to it. These poems have become my pandemic companions. It’s not only because of their intimate relationship with nature, outdoors, farm life. The poems are like rocking on the porch while the sun sets across the mountains and your companions are uncertainty, death, regret, loss, but also beauty and hope – you welcome them all, invite them to sit down and tell their stories while you get to know them. There is comfort and consolation in facing what has to be faced, and as you do the moon rises through the trees.

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What Was Told
(after Rumi)

What was said to the canna lily to make it
open was said here in my heart. What was
told the sycamore that made its wood hard
and bone white; what was whispered
to the storm’s wind to make it what it is;
what made the honeysuckle smell so sweet
in summer; whatever seed was planted
in the core of the mountain
people to make them love
so deeply, fiercely, beautifully;
whatever gives the catawba the pink inside
the white blooms – that is being said to me
now. I blush like the catawba’s flower.
Whatever gave life to letters and words
is happening here. The great sanctuary
within me has opened its doors; I fill
with thanksgiving as I savor the sweet
taste of honeysuckle on my lips, in love
with the voice that speaks also to me.

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My Father Leaves Harlan on 119

He remembered
when they started the first
eight miles of this new road
from Pineville to Harlan:
it was 1958.
They had closed
the mines. You couldn’t buy
a job anywhere.

Wilse and Stan and I
were on our way to Corbin
to put in applications – I
can’t remember where now.
Was so long ago.
They didn’t take Stan’s
or mine, and they never did call
Wilse back.

We were hungry
and stopped at Grandma’s
in Barbourville.
We came in the noon
of the day. I don’t think
she was too happy to see us
right in the middle of her work
but she fed us good.
Always did.

She’s been deal all these years
and here I am
Still driving
up this new road.

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Your Very Flesh

I knew a woman who made fudge as thick
and smooth as summer and five times better
than any you ever ate. It’s an art

to make anything that melts on your tongue,
can be savored down deep in your soul. Makes
me want to know how to do it too. Do you

know how to do something that brings simple
joy in its beauty, will be remembered
after you die? Every July, my Nana

made fourteen-day pickles. For days, she soaked
cucumbers in salt water, removed to
cut in perfect slices, submerged again,

drained them and covered them, added alum,
added sweetness, drained and boiled the syrup,
covered again, dedicated fourteen days

to create something in the end that looked too
pretty to eat. But we did anyway. Now, she
is gone, and none of the rest of us will give

fourteen days to the drudgery of pickles.
I’m not only talking food. I know a man
who can quote lines from the classics to suit

any occasion. His gift is not just memory
but also timing and recitation. He’s a walking
anthology of lost verses, forgotten lines.

This same man cuts and sells timber, and I’ve
heard said there’s no one better to use every
inch of wood a tree can yield. There’s no waste

in his bones. Another art. And I bet
when this man stands in the woods with his saw
in hand, he pauses and gives a little

eulogy for the tree he’s ready
to bring down. May, a word from Plato
or john Donne, or this from Whitman:

your very flesh shall be a great poem.

 

all selections from Crimes Against Birds, by Denton Loving, Main Street Rag Publishing Company, © 2014

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The quotation from John Lennon’s song, “Beautiful Boy,” has also been attributed to cartoonist Allen Saunders in 1957: Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.

When we meet with Margaret, Josh, and Bert in person we sit around in the backyard in Raleigh, masked if we’re less than 6 feet apart, but we’re allowed to get knee hugs from Bert. The chickens peck around us and garble and coo; Bert runs everywhere and shows us everything; maybe Josh has heated the wood-fired bread oven and makes pizza. If it’s too cold we have to get up and keep moving, maybe walk the Crabtree Creek Greenway. More than once it’s been too too cold and wet and we’ve just had to cancel the visit. But it will never be too cold After.

More about DENTON LOVING, his writing, himself: https://dentonlovingblog.wordpress.com/

 

 

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2017-03-06a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 2 poems by Beth Copeland]

February 23, 2021

It’s all downhill from here. That’s what someone told me when I retired last September and it didn’t sound much like a benediction. Today though, sitting down to eat lunch half way through my long day’s hike and knowing that this is, indeed, the highest point on the Blue Ridge I’ll reach, all downhill sounds pretty inviting.

Today is my “birthday hike.” Every February I spend one day hiking the 17-mile perimeter trail at Doughton Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway. A few times I’ve had to break trail through fresh snow, once freezing sleet slicked my balaclava into a glass helmet, but today it’s supposed to reach the 40’s up here near 3,000 feet. I might get sunburned. I’m eating lunch at the 8.5 mile mark, a stone NPS shelter at the top of Alligator Back that looks down into Basin Cove, and across the holler I can trace this morning’s elevation profile.

Park at Basin Creek, climb the trail a quick 800 feet or so, then another more gradual 800, then continue following the ridgeline to encircle the cove – up / down \ up / down \ up / up / up, the final ice-encased switchbacks climbing Alligator Back especially gruesome. But here I am half way done and now it’s all downhill! Hmmm, after more than 20 years of hiking this trail I know better. For every moderate descent there’s another knob rising up ahead, down \ up /down until the final mile of narrow white-knuckle hairpins back to the creek.

It’s not how long the trail, it’s the elevation change. Mom turns 93 tomorrow and Dad at 94 is right there with her. She can hear better than he; he can remember better than she. They practice exercises the Therapist is teaching them so they can walk the mild uphills and downhills around their block every afternoon. So far this year they haven’t really had any net elevation change in independence, well, not enough to sweat; we’re all living day to day on pretty level ground. For her birthday Linda and I have given Mom a book of animal photography by Joel Sartore – her face shines as she turns each page. My sister Mary Ellen and her partner Wendy gave her a patio fire pit table and Mom and Dad look happy as Hobbits hunched around it.

From this vantage that we call today we can look across the blue mountains of time and retrace in memory what brought us here. The trail ahead is less clear, or maybe our vision is perfectly clear even if not clearly perfect. Rough paths, slick spots – inevitable. It can get steep. For today let’s share the view together.

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I’m reading Beth Copeland’s Blue Honey for the second time and I know I will be reading it yet again. Most of the poems are set during the years her parents were entering their 90’s and declining as Alzheimer’s Disease progressed. She meets each waypoint of loss, theirs and hers, with tenderness and clarity. From vignettes of memories and intense moments she paints a portrait of their lives and reveals her own.

When we lose a parent to death the moment is etched on our hearts but also the calendar. We recall where we were, what was said; we commemorate the date. With Alzheimer’s we lose our parent in random bits like sparks that fly up from a campfire and extinguish in the night. Eventually the body sitting before us contains nothing of the person except an occasional glimpse as ephemeral as ash. Beth Copeland shows us that this sort of loss will make you cry, will make you pissing angry, and will also sometimes thank God make you laugh! Her poems are intensely personal but I also discover myself in so many of them. These lines are, from their first step along the trail and through all the sweaty climbs and bittersweet descents, perfectly human.

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Sandhills Gold

. . . in the Sandhills of North Carolina,
a few lucky beekeepers strike blue gold.
– Chick Jacobs

The year Daddy died, beekeepers found blue
honey in their hives. How it turns

blue or why it only happens
here no one knows. Some

think bees feed on bruised huckleberries, scuppernongs
or kudzu blossoms. Too far inland, Daddy

never found it in the forty-five years
he kept hives. In the nursing home, I talked

blue honey into blue eyes that
stared back in a blur

of lost memory and sleep. What
was he thinking? I spoke

of his veiled hat and long gloves,
bellowing hives

with smoke so he could pull combs and
honey from inside, and pour sourwood

into old Mason jars in slow motion
like the lengthening summer day

when the sky was so delphinium
it could be music, or the blue

shadow that followed me through the doorway
into the buzzing of bees when I

was thirteen, crying behind the pear tree because
I wasn’t popular enough to be

May Queen. This is what I choose
to keep against forgetting:

You’ll always
be my queen,

he said, bending
to kiss my forehead. I carry

that moment like a bee
in amber on a gold chain

above my heart to ward off wintering
broods and dark swarms, a queen without

a country or hive, standing in slanted light
as bees droned

around my head, weaving a crown of wings
and buzzing with sweetness.

* * * * *

Grief like honey left too long in the jar,
like the pint we bought last year

from a beekeeper who used to sell pot,
in the pantry all winter flanked by bottles

of blackstrap and Hungry Jack
crystallizing in the dark,

too solid to spoon onto bread unless you melt it
in water on the stove. Impatient,

I spread the gold grains on my toast, remembering
when he was alive and it

poured in slow
measures onto my mother’s home-baked bread. One

summer he visited me in Chicago after robbing
his hive of a quart jar of sourwood, his

ankles so swollen
from stings he slept with his feet propped

on pillows. I want this
grief to dissolve like a lemon

lozenge on my tongue, I want
to taste the sweetness

of mornings
before sorrow, anger, remorse

soured my vision of being
young and oblivious to his

pain, I want my words to flow
like a vein

onto the blue-lined page as holy
honey flowed from his white

hives onto our bread, our tongues, our lives.

from Blue Honey, Beth Copeland, The Broadkill River Press, © 2017

 

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Nothing Blue

When I leave she asks, Are you
going to that cabin with Phil? She can’t

recall our wedding. She wore
a periwinkle dress she bought at Belk’s

so she wouldn’t
embarrass me garbed in something

old as she sipped champagne and nibbled
cake. I live there. We’re

married, remember? She blinks. Oh,
that’s right. Not her fault, but I’m so

tired of wanting
her to hold onto that

one day. When I arrive to chauffeur
her to the doctor, she’s not

dressed but tells the nurse, I could live
on my own if I had a family. What

am I, chopped
liver? She tells her friends I never

visit because she forgets. On the drive
home, I pass a blur of chicory

growing wild around
a crinoline of Queen Anne’s

Lace – something
old, nothing

new, one thing borrowed,
almost blue

from Blue Honey, Beth Copeland, The Broadkill River Press, © 2017

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Blue Honey won the 2017 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize from The Broadkill River Press. Not long after the book’s release Beth, Teresa Price, and I read together at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville. A brilliant day! I still have the Poetrio Author! April 8, 2018 bookmark in my copy of Beth’s book. Zoom is a congenial gathering of sorts but reading beside another author you admire before a phalanx of expectant mostly strangers, well, that’s adrenaline.

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View across Basin Cove from Flat Rock Ridge — see the speck of a tree all by itself in the bald patch on the horizon? Watch for it . . . !

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[with 3 poems by Patricia Hooper]

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, February 05-07, 2021

the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen . . .

Faint tracks – but when has life ever laid it out plain, an open book, page upon page with footnotes? Aren’t I still searching between the lines, faint traces, no clear prints? Lately I dream every night of making diagnoses, explaining treatments, buffing up my charts. Is Jung telling me that this was my only purpose in life and now it’s over?

Deer walk a diagonal gait – each hoof print is really two impressions, the forefoot overlaid with the rear. If the rear hoof strikes a little lateral within each fore print it means the pelvis is wider = you are following a female.

Don’t plan on seeing a bear in the Smokies in February. Mom is asleep in a hollow tree with her cubs and Dad is dozing under a bush somewhere (he snores), though he might rouse up to forage on a warm afternoon. So why are we studying mammals at Tremont in February? In the sere meadows, the leaf-littered groves, under the pale unforgiving sky the book of all their signs is open for us to read. Let’s hike up to that oak tree and see who’s been scratching for acorns, see who has left us some scat. Let’s follow that faint trail through dry brown stalks to check out predator and prey. Who clawed up this white pine? Who stepped in the mud?

Canids: dog paw prints show deep claw marks with claws of outer toes angled outward; coyote claw marks are less distinct but all aligned strait ahead; gray fox claw marks are the least distinct since they save the claws for climbing trees, and the rear pad looks scalloped like a chevron.

But clear prints are maybe 1% of tracking. We’re learning a new vocabulary of chewed nut and compressed grass. Tracking is patterns and connections, habitats and behaviors. Measure the size of the incisors that gnawed this antler. Measure the bits of skull and femur in this dropping.

And can I learn a new language? Maybe all these dreams are about knitting up the years, tying the last knot, laying it away to pull out when I need to reminisce. Or maybe I need to discover something missed. Life is not disjunctive – the end of every moment flows into the beginning of the next. The assurance of past creates future. Tracking in Cades Cove – a metaphor for opening oneself to an unseen message within, to the evidence of human purpose. Connections, convictions. We track a personal ecology that leaves signs for us to discover, to question, to wonder.

To follow.

Tracks have lead us to this place, maybe with a lesson or two that sunk in along the way. Some wisdom. And the tracks that still lead forward?

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Patricia Hooper’s bright clear poetry touches earth with a feather – to bring color and flight. Garden, feeder, wild crag, starry night, in all seasons she observes the particular and discovers its connection to the universal. Nature is her palette but human nature is the canvas she illuminates. The poems of her latest book, Wild Persistence, taken singly seem to open our eyes to brief moments or localities, but as a whole these poems weave a complex narrative of family, longing, grief, redemption. I find joy in her art.

Patricia moved to North Carolina in 2006 and lives in Gastonia. In 2020 she was awarded the Brockman-Campbell Award of the North Carolina Poetry Society for Wild Persistence, awarded for the year’s best book of poetry by a North Carolina author.

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Elegy for a Son-in-Law

1.

A distant figure on the mountainside
seems to be coming closer, then it turns,
a blue, retreating cap, a scarlet jacket.
Without another sign, I know you’re there,
climbing again the way you used to climb
before you were a ghost. I want to call
Don’t go! Come back! I have your two small sons
sleeping behind me in the car, their mother
watching the sky for falcons. But you move
farther away. Or we do. Now you’re gone,
back toward Mount Sterling where she took your ashes.
I hope it’s peaceful there. I hope you know
they’re doing well. I hope you didn’t see us.

2.
These are the mountains where you were a boy,
broad waves of mountains rolling like an ocean
into the distance, no horizon, only
these smoky contours where you knew each rise
and hemlock forest, plunging stream. Your friends
tell how you often left them for a while
after you’d reached the top, to be alone,
then met them at the camp, all tales and laughter.
Today, a red-tailed hawk riding the breeze,
gold leaves, cascading creeks, – your kind of joy:
cold rushing currents, then the ecstatic slide.

3.
This is the world you wanted: brisk fall air,
the valleys hung with haze, that long blue range
half-hidden by the clouds. It’s coming clear.
How far you must have seen from there! And here?
It’s hard to see around so many hills,
so many peaks and gorges, and the curves
are slippery on the parkway, miles of turns.
We’re heading home. The boys are waking now,
their mother’s passing crackers, pointing out
the overlook ahead: blue waterfall,
deep river valley, autumn leaves, the pines
along the ridge, the rising trail – and there,
the summit you’d have shown them. Mist and shine.

from Wild Persistence, Patricia Hooper, University of Tampa Press, 2019

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In Tennessee

The Blue Ridge at sunset – hardly a missed note
in the hemlocks where a mockingbird is singing
while to the west a falcon dips, then glides
over the valley, indistinct from here
except that the bird falls lower than the chair
I’m sitting in, and disappears. The sky
is the color of pomegranate, and the balcony
slips into shadow like the distant hills.
No wonder that the mockingbird is singing
a medley of every song he knows,
no matter whose. No wonder that he sits
in the glow of a single flood lamp high above
the roof, a pool he must mistake for sunlight,
enough to urge him on and on and through
his repertoire that bird by bird is ringing
over the day’s end, over the night’s coming.
Maybe he has to sing to know himself
as part of things – finch, cardinal, wren, and now
that long coarse call that sounded like the crow
or Steller’s jay – whatever voice he’s pulling
out of himself, some sound against the silence,
against the signs of brightness vanishing.
The railing of the porch dissolves in mist,
the sun has set, and now we’re weightless, drifting
as if suspended in the blackening air.
His sphere of light no longer seems as clear.
Maybe he knows the lamplight isn’t sunlight.
Maybe he feels he too is disappearing
into the darkness like this porch and chair.
he has to sing, he has to keep on singing,
to know he’s really there.

from Wild Persistence, Patricia Hooper, University of Tampa Press, 2019

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At the Rifle River

When the eagle unfurled, clearing
the green dome of the forest,
I almost missed it

till somebody cried, “Look up!”

and there it was
in the sky over the river

which I saw it must have owned
the way it spanned the rapids
with a single stroke,

and the sky parted.

I can’t say I believe
in messengers from the clouds,

but I didn’t believe
this was an accident either,

the way its light
tore through the drab morning
I barely lived in, and then

it rose over the steaming
forest, it disappeared.

*
At the time I was only watching
my own path by the river,

but afterward
I knew it must still be there
over the rim of maples

its white helmet, its fire,
and its gold eye turned toward me,

or something enough like it,
something powerful and amazing
which someone else sees.

Imagine my certainty
the moment before it rose
through the world, crossing the water,
that there was nothing anymore to surprise me.

Imagine my emptiness.

Imagine my surprise.

from Separate Flights, Patricia Hooper, University of Tampa Press, 2016

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GSMIT // SANCP

Special thanks to Jeremy Lloyd and John DiDiego directors and instructors at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, for the weekend Mammals course, which is part of the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program, and to Wanda DeWaard, guest instructor for the day and master tracker and naturalist.

The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program at GSMIT comprises eight weekend courses designed to provide fundamental and specialty skills in Southern Appalachian ecology and interpretive techniques. Each weekend includes 15 hours and more of lecture and hands-on field study. Upon completion the student receives the non-credit Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certificate from the University of Tennessee.

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