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Archive for the ‘Imagery’ Category

[with 3 poems by Joanne Durham]

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

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

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

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

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Learning

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

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

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

Joanne Durham

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

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

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

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

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Repair

The dishwasher repairman
politely speaks
with a deep Nigerian accent

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

his body rigid to absorb
the anticipated blow
of our irritation

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

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

lush purple half-moons
of some alien
landscape

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

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

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

Joanne Durham

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Maps

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

Joanne Durham
[ a recitation of this poem ]

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IMG_1822, mountain

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IMG_0768, tree

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[poems by David Radavich, Peter Makuck,
Paul Jones, Sam Barbee]

Earth Song

It is something between
lament and celebration,

perhaps both at once,
perpetually mourning yet

dancing in survival

like the seed that
disappears one whole season
then erupts in a plume
of green or garish purple.

Animals hear it, even plants,
but rarely humans

who are too busy raking
off what they can never get
enough of, this free air

that awards us love
in every verse.

Listen to the chorus
tonight and always,
so long as we’re alive

among the sentience
even now chanting
all around us
like bells or birds.

David Radavich

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I am trying to listen, Earth. I hear the celebration, I breathe it in, I feel it in my chest and beneath my feet. But I hear the lament as well. Loud, always louder. Is it even possible for me to give more than I take, or is despair all that is left for me? Left for us?

What can this one single person do to preserve you, Earth?

Earlier this year I took a hike in the Smokies with a lichenologist. Oh Smokies, your blue mist horizons, your saturated earth and clear chattering streams. Oh you temperate rainforest, your endless variety of creatures that creep and buzz and flit. Oh you breathless diversity of trees and flowers, heath and ferns, every patch of everything alive.

But this was a winter hike. The hardwoods were bare, the understory brown. After a brief chill shower, though, and how often it showers, nondescript grey patches on every branch, bark, and stone turned green – lichens photosynthesizing.

This is where the lichenologist explained the term poikilohydric – lichens passively soak up moisture from the air and passively release it when the air is less humid. They can’t actively retain water. They’re just little sponges. One little sponge isn’t likely to create those blue mist horizons or temperate fecundity, but in the Smokies everything is covered in lichen. Kneel and examine any rock – you’re not likely to discover much actual “rock” showing.

One lichen might not do much but billions of little sponges actually do moderate the microclimate about them. They contribute their small yet huge part to Great Smokies National Park possessing greater biodiversity than the Amazon rainforest.

One person’s contribution may not seem like much but there are billions of us. Small changes are the stream running a little clearer and colder so the brookie can spawn. Small changes are one more monarch laying her hundred eggs. Small changes are the wood thrush discovering insects for her chicks when they hatch.

Read below for some ideas about small changes. Celebrate each one. And thank you, Earth, for the opportunities.

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Red Foxes at Pahaska Tepee

In an isolated no-frills cabin
on the banks of the Shoshone,
we spent two nights on the site
of Wild Bill Cody’s hunting camp,
but unlike Bill, I had no gun
+++++ to discourage the bears.

Make noise when you walk the trails,
they told us at the office,
and don’t go into the woods after dark.

As a kid growing up in the country,
I read about Cody,
+++++ Crockett, and Boone,
had a pistol and two rifles,
hunted rabbit and squirrels for the table,
trapped muskrat, fox, and mink for the money,
often missing the bus into school.

Behind our cabin one morning,
I spotted five deer
and a fawn feeding among the aspens.
At first I thought they were shadows.
+++++ A few minutes later,
my binoculars brought a fox up close,
black forelegs and white-tipped tail.

I couldn’t stop watching her
down on a path by the riverbank.
I’d never seen one playfully roll in the dust,
or stretch out while her two kits
+++++ nipped at each other,
and tumbled over their mother.

Years ago
+++++ when I saw a fox
it was held in the jaws of my trap –
five bucks bounty from the farmer’s grange,
another buck and a half for the pelt.
+++++ Who was I?
What was I doing?
I must have imagined I was Crockett.
What stays
from one of those mornings
is a red fox, bloody foreleg tight in my trap.
She was just standing there panting
with her tongue out
like my good dog Jonesy on a hot day.

But now as I watched, she jumped up,
this red fox mom,
+++++ looked right at me, frozen,
flanked by her two kits.
I was dangerous,
I didn’t deserve this gift of seeing.

Something stirred in the bushes beside me.
When I looked up again and tried to refocus,
they were gone,
+++++ +++++ and the riverbank empty.

Peter Makuck
from Mandatory Evacuation, BOA Editions Ltd, Rochester NY, © 2016

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Earth, you’re looking stressed. Getting a little balder – someone cutting down your forests to raise cattle? Dryer – rivers become trickles, aquifers squeezed, not enough water to go around? Dirtier – nitrates in your ponds, forever chemicals (PFAS) in your streams, microplastics in everydamnthing? And of course hotter, always hotter?

O Earth, we’re all feeling stressed, too. We don’t need to be the pika at the top of Bear Tooth Pass with no higher to go to cool off – we know we’re all running out of everything and especially time. Habitat loss, phenological mismatch, aridification, salinization, sea level rise – all accelerating.

What do we do?

Perhaps one response parallels the Naturalist method: notice; ask questions; make connections; tell about it. With one added step – take action. A big action, a little action, a lot of actions but make sure to choose something that makes you happy. Earth Day Every Day is celebration, not burden.

One idea: plant native. Non-native trees and shrubs are plant deserts for birds and butterflies but my Serviceberry feeds the neighborhood all three seasons: kinglets and chickadees eat the buds, wrens and bluebirds feed babies caterpillars and other insects, robins and waxwings arrive in the fall for berries. And my soul is fed every spring by the starry petals falling like late snow.

Another idea: eat closer to the ground. If not every meal then at least a few meals. Eat things that sprout instead of eating things that eat things that sprout. Growing one pound of protein from beans requires 2,270 gallons of water. One pound of beef protein uses 13,438 gallons. One acre can produce 250 pounds of beef or 20,000 pounds of potatoes. (And we’re not even considering the powerful greenhouse gas methane = cow farts).

Here are a few interesting readable resources. SHARE YOUR OWN FAVORITES WITH US IN YOUR COMMENTS!

Earth Day 2022 – Invest in Our Planet

World Water Day

Water footprint of your favorite food & bev

Tips from 2019 World Water Day

How much water do you save the planet if you eat less meat?

101 tips to save water at home

GreenMATCH – becoming ecofriendly

30 tips to be ecofriendly today

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At The Big Sweep

No one likes to wade
knee deep in the creek
to pull out plastic
snags from the places
turtles seek the sun.
I pretend I do
to do the hard work
that needs to be done.
I take what I have
of magic, of what
I found of pleasure,
in cleaning the creek.
I remember why
I hate what mud can
do to weigh plastic,
to make the load twist
and shudder and shift.
My feet find new paths
in the sucking mud,
some purchases on stone,
that lead to the bank.
My slow slogs resets
stream’s rushing free flow.
I remember nights
I couldn’t fall asleep
on a mountain train
how it like the creek
would twist, turn, and shift
along the river.
I got off the train
and it moved again.
More smoothly or so,
it seemed as distance
grew and the river
ran in parallel.
I knew then, as here,
that joy comes when work
and journeys are done.

Paul Jones


This poem in honor of the Big Sweep was first published by Silver Birch Press in their Saving the Earth series.
Paul writes: The Big Sweep is a continuing volunteer effort to free the waterways and other natural areas of litter – especially plastic. Some may find these efforts a pleasure, but for me these necessary tasks are more rewarding in retrospect when you can see the results from a distance in time and space. Writing is, of course, similar as are taxing trips on rattling trains.

 

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Flowers Mean May

April’s rimless wet
++++++++++++ wagers grief’s roulette.
Blooms rattle,
++++++++ frenetic mesh.
Prod imperfection;
++++++++++++ spatter flimsy rosette:
desperate for a kindly set
++++++++++++++++ to count-off
and confirm us.
++++++++++ Hold dear.
Tactic of desire –
++++++++++ odd-numbered
to denote She Loves Me. . . .

I stroll the peristyle
++++++++++++ encircled
with springtime bouquet.
++++++++++++++++ Piecemeal fragrance
to wilt all winter weed.
++++++++++++++ Appetite of delicate petals
on cue:
++++ summon like addiction
Snatch a daisy
++++++++ off the edge,
eager to dissect our fate.
++++++++++++++++ Each casualty
may heal, while any sum
++++++++++++++++ must be forgiven –
abide pledge
++++++++ as she may love me not.

Sam Barbee
from The Writer’s Morning Out on-line site in Pittsboro, April 2020

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Early in April I asked readers to share a favorite poem that celebrates the interdependence and interconnection of all life on earth. I am including their offerings in three posts before, on, and after Earth Day, April 22. Thank you to all those who responded, and thanks to all of you who read this page and share in the celebration of life on earth.

❦ Bill Griffin ❦

2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

 

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[poetry by Catherine Pierce, Noel Crook, Jenny Bates,
Nikolai Kantchev, Sam Love]

Planet

This morning this planet is covered by winds and blue.
This morning this planet glows with dustless perfect light,
enough that I can see one million sharp leaves
from where I stand. I walk on this planet, its hard-packed

dirt and prickling grass, and I don’t fall off. I come down
soft if I choose, hard if I choose. I never float away.
Sometimes I want to be weightless on this planet, and so

I wade into a brown river or dive through a wave
and for a while feel nothing under my feet. Sometimes
I want to hear what it was like before the air, and so I duck
under the water and listen to the muted hums. I’m ashamed

to say that most days I forget this planet. That most days
I think about dentist appointments and plagiarists
and the various ways I can try to protect my body from itself.

Last weekend I saw Jupiter through a giant telescope,
its storm stripes, four of its sixty-seven moons, and was filled
with fierce longing, bitter that instead of Ganymede or Europa,
I had only one moon floating in my sky, the moon

called Moon, its face familiar and stale. But this morning
I stepped outside and the wind nearly knocked me down.
This morning I stepped outside and the blue nearly

crushed me. This morning this planet is so loud with itself—
its winds, its insects, its grackles and mourning doves—
that I can hardly hear my own lamentations. This planet.
All its grooved bark, all its sand of quartz and bones

and volcanic glass, all its creeping thistle lacing the yards
with spiny purple. I’m trying to come down soft today.
I’m trying to see this place even as I’m walking through it.

Catherine Pierce
© 2017 Catherine Pierce. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017. https://poets.org/poem/planet

Selected by Jeanne Julian

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I’ve just returned from a morning’s hike and it’s time to write. My desk looks out a window past the holly bush to profligate red azaleas of glory. The window to the right is dark with dense crowding boxwood; window to left glows with every shade of new leaf green, unfurling dogwood, maple, tuliptree. I can even see a little sky. Thank you, Planet, for all colors and for colorless crisp bright breath.

Earlier this morning at Isaac’s trail head before I’d even shrugged into my pack I heard a Parula. Not sixty feet up in some obscurantist oak but right above my head in the lowest breezy branches of a black cherry. Glean – sing – glean. Fattening up after his flight from Belize. Blue and yellow! You never get to see these little buggers without 8X field glass, if then. Thank you, Planet, for all creatures that move of themselves or that allow the air to move them.

Swept the back porch when I got home from hiking. Our “yard” slopes steeply away from the house, slowly maturing third-growth beech-oak. These past two weeks Linda and I have measured each day by the rise of green up from the creek, first brassy gold, then lime chiffon, now encroaching emerald. And of course the fecund kelly milt from each of a trillion anthers that has powdered the world in extravagant hope of seeds. Sweep – sneeze – sweep. Thank you, Planet of wombs, womb of a Planet, for all life.

Thank you, Planet, and may my reverence, my gratitude, and whatever other small parts of my life I can give you be worthy of what you give to all, life without ceasing.

nature tadpole Amphibian

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Big Sky

Little sky in these Carolina woods,
more greens than you can number,
above us crooked rafters of washed-out

blue. Here are ten kinds of birds all hollering
at once, ten songs of secret nest and sifted
light. Here we are hemmed in by tendrils,

socked in, loblolly so high and thick
even the pasture’s a cracked sarcophagus

where you have to look quick to locate the moon.

I want the western sky
of my girlhood, purple as lupines
and longing. Unligatured wind

that will hollow your bones
like the kiss of a boy at sixteen
who flattened me over the hot hood

of his Ram truck. Give me sun-stunted
scrub oaks rooted in rock and shaped like
bad hearts; the summer a mountain lion

ambushed an appaloosa colt by the barn
and two bottle-fed backyard deer, their bones
dragged to the dump to be picked clean

and sun-whitened. Give me found flint
arrowheads the color of lost rivers,
the barbed-wire fact that Comanche girls

liked burning the captured fawn slowly
to death before breakfast; scorched
earth, nights rampant with stars,

the Pleiades fleeing, an orange skiff of moon going
down fast into black swells of hills. Sunrise
the colors of cataclysm, the singular

solace of the canyon wrens, their strafed
ululations, and, in a cartwheel of azure,
the lone buzzard wheeling and waiting.

Noel Crook
from Salt Moon (2015), Southern Illinois University Press. This poem first appeared in One.

Selected by Richard Allen Taylor, who writes: I had the privilege of reviewing Noel Crook’s book Salt Moon for The Main Street Rag several years ago and fell in love with this poem, which reminds us that ecology is not just a just a polite society of sweet little animals getting along with Mother Nature and each other. Ecology runs on violence and the brutality of food chains, varies from place to place, and interacts with humans—us!

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Clouded Leopard

How does it feel returning from extinction?

Climbing head first down
my Anthropocene spine

I break, with each twist of
wrist, incision of claw.

Divergent several million years
reduced to eleven in captivity.

Under your limber bones
I squall, choke and pitch
tipping into your patient wound.

Wind your tail round my neck
hero of revenge, and ossified
purr.

Your long tooth guilt-piercing.
We won’t say anything to anyone
perilous beauty kills,

Shroud me in your cloud.

Jenny Bates

Published (online) by Self Educating Poets Network in 2021. The Self-Educating Poets Network is an education group providing resources and meeting space to poets, writers and artists. It was founded on principles of grassroots activism as well as the free spirit of poets who met from the Cantab Poetry Lounge and Boston Poetry Slam.

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Autumn Resurrections

The autumnal equinox is uneasy,

restless with the pain of the lonely stork.
Time has paused along the way for a visit
and won’t raise its voice in defense.
Unworldly, I accept the world
surviving its deadly silence by the skin of my teeth.

After the summer swarms have stopped their buzzing,
see how time droops amidst the bickering clocks.
Nothing will remain of their springs.
Instead the journal of eternity will endure
and a calm tear will glaze its eye.

Look, the sky has its blue-jeans on
and the chimney smokes its millionth cigarette.
The city lifts up its multitude of windows,
while it puts out fires in the dreams of the burnt.
Somnambulists look out in a riot of joy, wondering,
will the blaze of their lust seduce the moon.

There’s such a fine female smell about the meadow.
The fog has dropped its handkerchief there
and we long to pick it up as a token
but our trembling betrays our cowardice.
The breath of resurrection wakes the silence.
Let all the crowns of thorns burst into blossom!

The farmer stands calling for his cart
loaded with dried out lightnings and sets off.
Don’t weep poor one, for while you wring your hands
the wheat spins its golden fleece
and the wind-rose will bloom at dawn.
Paradise is just this world with an other-worldly climate.

Nikolai Kantchev
Translated from the Bulgarian by Pamela Perry, with B. R. Strahan

Selected by Bradley Strahan

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The Ecology Symbol

Once upon an Earth Day millions
marched to Ron Cobb’s creation
melding the E for environment
and the O for organism
to create the ecology symbol

Such a simple graphic,
just a circle and slash to symbolize
care for the planet,
respect for nature,
and the nurturing of a legacy
for generations unborn

Today I didn’t see the ecology symbol
at the Climate March
But it’s co-conspirator the peace symbol
seems to be everywhere
At Wal-mart you can buy it
on underwear and day glow T shirts

The vanishing ecology symbol
with its pesky admonitions
to reduce consumption,
reuse materials, and respect nature
must be too threatening
to the dollar sign worshippers

It must be too threatening
to the comfort of North Americans
who consume 60 percent
of the Earth’s resources
just to support our obese life style

It must be too threatening
to the 80 million new mouths
birthed on the planet each year
babies who will aspire to America’s life style
Babies who will be in for a surprise

If everyone lived like Americans
we would need a planet three times
the size of Mother Earth
and the last time I looked
she’s not gaining weight

Sam Love
from Earth Resonance: Poetry for a Viable Future, The Poetry Box, Portland, Oregon, © 2022

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Early April I asked readers to share a favorite poem that celebrates
the interdependence and interconnection of all life on earth.
I am including their offerings in three posts before, on, and after Earth Day, April 22. Thank you to all those who responded, and thanks to all of you
who read this page and share in the celebration of life on earth.

❦ Bill Griffin ❦

2014-06-30a Doughton Park Tree

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

All the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We Have a Beautiful Mother

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

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

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

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

Alice Walker

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

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The Whale Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Hoppenthaler
online in “Two Meditations on Ecology

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Lactobacilli

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

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

Catherine Carter
Southern Humanities Review, Spring 2020

❦ ❦ ❦

The Garden Takes over Itself

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

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

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

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

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

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

❦ ❦ ❦

Early in April I asked readers to share a favorite poem that celebrates the interdependence and interconnection of all life on earth. I am including their offerings in three posts before, on, and after Earth Day, April 22. Thank you to those who responded, and thanks to all of you who read this page and share in the celebration.
❦ Bill Griffin ❦

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[with poems by Helen Losse]

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

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

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

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

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

Yellow Blossoms

populate the uncut yard.
Weeds with purple blooms

create asphalt cracks.
Hardy wildflower,

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

on the lawn near a budding
thistle. Saints and angels

present but silent, I pray
for a dandelion heart.

Helen Losse

IMG_2931

 

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

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

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I cry out to God

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

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

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

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

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I stand in the shaded bathroom

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

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

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

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

Helen Losse

 

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

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

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

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Dandelion on green lawn

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

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

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

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

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

Helen Losse

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2020-03-07 Doughton Park Tree

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Hepatica americana (Buttercup family), last year’s foliage and new barely opened blossoms

[with 3 poems by Sam Love]

On March 15 I walked an Elkin trail I hadn’t visited in months. The Elkin & Allegheny Nature Trail includes a couple of miles of restored railway grade and many more miles of side trails, loops, and spurs, plus 5-6 miles of intermediate level bike trail. I hiked most of those miles on the 15th but only partially for the exercise – I was walking mostly for ephemera.

Note the date. Looking back at my photos and notes I uncover Hepatica blooming as early as January 27, a single plant in a protected hollow, but usually here in Elkin, elevation around 1000 feet, the earliest Hepatica and Trout Lily emerge toward the middle or end of February. So who’ll be showing themselves mid-March? I ask myself, and how long will they last?

The study of cyclical biological phenomena is phenology. When do migrating warblers arrive from Central America? We saw our first Ovenbird March 19; I heard a Northern Parula out back on April 3. When do Wood Frogs lay eggs? When do Midges and Mayflies hatch out and Eastern Bluebirds build their nests? Sometimes local weather affects a given year’s record but longer term trends are linked to climate change. Can’t help worrying about those Parulas if the hatching of their chicks is out of sync with the juicy bugs. Phenology is a leading indicator of climate change impact, especially on vulnerable species.

For today, my phenology project is discovering tiny blooms just making their appearance.

And if that weren’t enough, as I walk a section of bike trail beside Elkin Creek a pair of wood ducks skitter up from the water and the male flashes his phenomenal colors before they veer around a bend.

Solitary Pussytoes, Antennaria solitaria (Aster Family), flowers less than 10 mm in diameter

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A Monument to Another Time

A winding rutted road
rambles through scattered rocks
to an abandoned homestead
that traces time backwards.

In the overgrown clearing
a hand laid stone chimney
pokes above winding vines
and gnarled tree limbs.

The fireplace stands as
tribute to an unknown mason
whose calloused hands
meticulously stacked the stones.

With the charred house gone
front porch music
no longer blesses the mountain
with notes and harmonies
that surf the Appalachian wind.

In spring wild flowers
scatter sun dappled beauty
among the crannies of this dream
of a simpler life, an abundant garden
and a small homestead taming nature.

Through winter the chimney
stands alone among
a palette of brown hues
that wait for spring shoots
to burst forth and repaint
the landscape.

Sam Love
Earth Resonance – Poems for a Viable Future, The Poetry Box, Portland, Oregon, © 2022

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Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis (Poppy family, Order Ranunculales), flower barely unfurling

 

Yellow Trout Lily (Adder’s Tongue, Dogtooth Violet, Erythronium americanum (Lily family)

 

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Thanks to Sam Love for alerting me to his new book of poetry about ecology and the environment: Earth Resonance – Poems for a Viable Future. Such an edgy relationship we humans have with all the other creatures in our biosphere. Mostly we ignore them except when they’re on our dinner plates. Any surprise that we have so much trouble getting along with things that creep and crawl and skitter and pounce (much less the ones that just stand there being green) when we can hardly get along with they guy whose yard sign doesn’t match ours?

And thanks to the Town of Elkin Recreation Department and the Elkin Valley Trails Association for all the great places to walk!

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Visiting Khatyn
+++Peace Memorial in Minsk Region, Belarus

At sunset each step up the earthen berm
slowly reveals stone chimneys standing
as monuments to an unimagined darkness
that reduced hundreds of villages
to stone rubble and ashen timbers.

Across the field masonry memorializes
thousands of villagers burned alive
as Fascists sought revenge
for partisan guerilla attacks
launched from surrounding forests.

On hearths reaching to the horizon
urns rest filled with ashes and soil
scooped from the 628 flamed hamlets.
Each now lovingly stands as
a spiritual reminder of war’s insanity.

Three solitary birch trees and an eternal flame
symbolize the one quarter of Belarusians killed
in the world war that targeted their villages.
On this site twenty-six bells toll every hour
to remember the homes that once stood here.

The wind that whipped the flames
and charred the flesh, now cleanses the earth
leaving only spirits to haunt the memorial
and remind us of the horrors of war.

Sam Love

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Virginia Pennywort, Obolaria virginica (Gentian family), flowers just about to open

 

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Turtle Earth

In the Lenape creation story—Nanapush asks,
“Who will let me put cedar branches on top of you
so that all the animals can live on you?”
And the turtle says, “You can put them on me
and I’ll float on the water.”

In a vision the Native American holy man
sees the animals bringing earth
from under the water to make land
on the back of the turtle
to create a verdant Eden
where plants and animals flourish.

In another dream the Indian shaman
sleeps a long sleep and
sees a barren turtle
with writhing serpents
thrashing rattlers through portals
in its armor-plated shell.

This hollow eerie sound
resonates with a dry rattle
of primordial notes memorializing
the emerging death of nature.

Sam Love

Virginia Heartleaf, Hexastylis virginica, tiny brown jugs are the flowers just emerging

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IMG_1948

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NCPS Chappell Stephenson

 

C ++++ THE EPIGRAMMATIST

Mankind perishes. The world goes dark.
He racks his brain for a tart remark.

Fred Chappell

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Poets are a sober and studious lot. Profoundly introspective, respectably staid. Their rhymes are the quintessence of conservatism and decorum, their meter most martial. Their lines are ever crafted and solid as Cold War architecture, their images invariably  illuminate and never titillate. Their thoughts are only a little lower than the angels’.

No poet and no poet’s poetry better represent these fundamental verities than Fred Chappell and Fred Chappell’s. For today’s APRIL FIRST missive we have selected the utmost in staid, respectable, and illuminating offerings from a book by Old Fred (as he has called himself) titled simply C (Roman numeral “100,” designating the exact number of poems in the book as well as Dr. Chappell’s initial, which this writer had not actually remarked upon for the first 29 years that he owned this book until today over lunch while he was reading aloud and his wife commented on the typeface, then pointed out the connection to the author’s last name). Illuminatio Lector.

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V ++++ HOW TO DO IT

“Chappell – you who love to jest –
Hear the things that make life blest:
Family money not got by earning;
A fertile farm, a hearthfire burning;
No lawsuits and no formal dress;
A healthy body and a mind at peace;
Friends whom tactful frankness pleases;
Good meals without exotic sauces;
Sober nights that still spark life;
A faithful yet a sexy wife;
Sleep that makes the darkness brief;
Contentment with what you plainly need;
A death not longed for, but without dread.”
++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ – Martial

VI ++++ REJOINDER

Now let’s even up the score
And tell what things make life a bore:
Sappy girls who kiss and tell;
Televangelists’ threats of hell;
Whining chain saws, mating cats;
Republicans; and Democrats;
Expertly tearful on their knees,
Plushlined senators copping pleas,
Swearing by the Rock of Ages
That they did not molest their pages;
Insurance forms and tax reports;
Flabby jokes and lame retorts;
Do-gooders, jocks, and feminists;
Poems that are merely lists.

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All of today’s poems, epigrams, epitaphs, enlightenment, and erudition are from C, by Fred Chappell, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge & London, © 1993.

Fred Chappell is the author of more than thirty volumes of poetry and prose. He has received the Bollingen Prize, the T. S. Eliot Award, and the Thomas Wolfe Prize. His fiction has been translated into more than a dozen languages and received the Best Foreign Book Award from the Académie Française. He was the poet laureate of North Carolina from 1997 to 2002. [bio from LSU PRESS]

NCPS

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XV ++++ UPON A CONFESSIONAL POET

You’ve shown us all in stark undress
The sins you needed to confess.
If my peccadilloes were so small
I never would undress at all.

 

XXIII ++++ LITERARY CRITIC

Blandword died, and now his ghost
Drifts gray through lobby, office, hall.
Some mourn diminished presence; most
Can see no difference at all.

XXVI ++++ ANOTHER

Blossom’s footnotes never shirk
The task of touting his own work.

 

NCPSNCPS

 

LIII ++++ EL PERFECTO

Senator No sets up as referee
Of everything we read and think and see.
His justification for such stiff decreeing
Is being born a perfect human being
Without a jot of blemish, taint, or flaw,
The Dixie embodiment of Moral Law,
Quite fit and eager to pursue the quarrel
With God Whose handiwork he finds immoral.

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NCPS

 

LXXIX ++++ UPON AN AMOROUS OLD COUPLE

This coltish April weather
Has caused them to aspire
to rub dry sticks together
In hopes that they’ll catch fire.

 

XLI ++++ RX

Dr. Rigsbee
Drank all my whiskey.
He said, when I objected, “Hell,
Fred, you’re paying me to make you well.”
++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ – Martial

 

LXVIII ++++ EPITAPH: PREVARICATION

A lonely sorrow
This monument tells:
Here lies one
Who did nothing else.

NCPS Laughter

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And the penultimate:

XCIX ++++ APOLOGY

If any line I’ve scribbled here
Has caused a politician shame
Or brought a quack a troubled night
Or given a critic a twinge of fear
Or made a poet’s fame appear
Transitory as candleflame,
Why then, I gladly sign my name:
Maybe I did something right.

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And one last item, and about this there is no fooling:
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY MARGARET AND JOSH!

 

Margaret & Josh , April 1, 2016

 

LXII ++++ WEDDING ANNIVERSARY

Gale winds tore this tree
And drought and frost came near
To killing it. But see:
In its thirtieth year
It blooms like a candleflame,
And puts its youth to shame.

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NCPS

 

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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[with poetry by Alana Dagenhart]

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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All the Silver Space

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

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

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

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

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

Alana Dagenhart

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

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

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Yellow Then, Will Fly to Every Eave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alana Dagenhart

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

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What Yellow Light

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

What lime? What straw?

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

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

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

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

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

The sure blonde of my towheaded little brother?

What frequency has that light?

Is it far from here?

Alana Dagenhart

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

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

 

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

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

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

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

“A bat!”

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

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

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The Heaven of Animals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Spring and All

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

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

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

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

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

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

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

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

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The Need of Being Versed in Country Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[with 3 poems by Scott Owens]

Which came first? Separate a few of the living creatures in the photo above and see what you can identify: the distinctive mottled leaf of Saxifrage; beneath it a glimpse of moss, its diminutive creeping green; a big hairy leaf, I should know that one but I don’t. Down in the damp there’s bound to be a little township of bacteria, waterbears, wormy things, arthropods.

And what’s that right in the center? A little stemmed goblet corroded like verdigris growing out of that patch of gray-green flakes (squamules)? Center stage – lichen, probably Cladonia pyxidata. Its tiny cup is pebbled within by extra lichen bits growing there (more squamules!) and some of the rough and powdery appearance may be an obligate lichen-loving fungus taken up residence. So which came first in this little community of many kingdoms and phyla?

Most likely the lichen comes first. It can hold onto bare rock where nothing else lives. It gathers moisture into itself out of the very air and how could a wandering moss spore resist? Anything drifting by may land and latch. Plus that little lichen chemical factory can break down rock so that others may use the minerals. Pretty soon a Saxifrage seed finds just enough earth to sprout and enough wet to grow and wedge its roots further into rock (saxifrage = rock-breaker). Everything discovers what they need; everyone adds to the life of the community.

What gifts may I add to my little community? A bit of cautious optimism and encouragement. An appreciation for all living things (OK, yes, that does extend to human beings, at least I’m trying my best). Appreciation of a good joke and appreciation as well of the folks who tell bad jokes. Curiosity and a sense of wonder. The world’s best recipe for Nutty Fingers.

We all need something but we all bring something. Who knows, maybe what I’ve got is just what you need. When one really gets down to it, all the stuff growing in that photo looks pretty haphazard and messy. Just like a real community. Just like life.

And if you know what that hairy leaf is, please tell me!

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In the Cathedral of Fallen Trees

Each time he thinks something special
will happen, he’ll see the sky resting
on bent backs of trees, he’ll find
the wind hiding in hands of leaves,

he’ll read some secret love scratched
in the skin of a tree just fallen.
Because he found that trees were not
forever, that even trees he knew

grew recklessly towards falling,
he gave in to the wisteria’s plan
to glorify the dead. He sat down
beneath the arches of limbs reaching

over him, felt the light spread
through stained glass windows of leaves,
saw every stump as a silent altar,
each branch a pulpit’s tongue.

He did not expect the hawk to be here.
He had no design to find the meaning
of wild ginger, to see leaves soaked
with slime trails of things just past.

He thought only to listen
to the persistent breathing of tres,
to quiet whispers of leaves in wind,
secrets written in storied rings.

Each time he thinks something special
will happen. He returns with a handful
of dirt, a stone shaped like a bowl,
a small tree once rootbound against a larger.

Scott Owens
from Sky Full of Stars and Dreaming, Red Hawk Publications, © 2021

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I’ve admired Scott Owens for many years, not only as a poet but even more so as a builder of community. Scott’s writing wields its openness, its wonder, its unflinching honesty to invite us to realize we are all part of one human family. As in his poem, Words and What They Say: the hope we have / grows stronger / when we can put it into words. Not only words – in everything else he does Scott is building as well. He teaches, he mentors, he makes opportunities happen for the people around him. Perhaps his poems are a window into why he values people as he does, and why he works so hard to make hope a reality.

Sky Full of Stars and Dreaming is Scott Owens’s sixteenth poetry collection. He is Professor of Poetry at Lenoir Rhyne University, former editor of Wild Goose Poetry Review and Southern Poetry Review, and he owns and operates Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse and Gallery where he coordinates innumerable readings and open mics, including POETRY HICKORY, and enlarges the community of creativity.

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The Possibility of Substance Beyond Reflection

I didn’t see the V of geese fly overhead in the slate gray sky as I sat waiting for a reading in my Prius in front of the Royal Bean Coffee House & Gift Shop in Raleigh, NC.

What I saw was the V of geese presumably flying overhead in the slate gray sky reflected in the slate gray hood of the Honda CRV parked before me in front of the Royal Bean Coffee House & Gift Shop in Raleigh, NC.

And they took a long time to travel such a short distance, up one quarter panel, across one contoured crease, then the broad canvas of the hood’s main body, down the other crease and onto the edge of the opposite quarter panel before

disappearing into the unreflective nothingness beyond, where even they had to question just how real they were or just how real they might have been.

Scott Owens
from Sky Full of Stars and Dreaming, Red Hawk Publications, © 2021

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Sharing a Drink on My 55th Birthday

Sharing a drink on my 55th birthday,
my son, his tongue firmly planted
in his cheek, asks what advice I have
for those not yet as old as I,
and I, having had too much to drink,
miss his humor and tell him
always get up at 5
as if you don’t want to miss
any part of any day you can manage.
Clean up your own mess
and don’t clean up after those who won’t.
Take the long way home,
hoping to see something new,
or something you don’t
want to not see again.
Stay up late, drink in as much
of every day as you can.
Be drunk on life, on love, on trees,
on mountains, on spring,
on rivers that go the way
they know to go,
on words, on art, on dancing,
on poetry, on the newborn
fighting against nonexistence,
on night skies, on dreams, on mere minutes,
on the ocean that stretches beyond
what you ever imagined forever could be.
And when someone asks you
what advice you have, give them,
as you’ve given everyone and everything,
the best of what you have.

Scott Owens
from Sky Full of Stars and Dreaming, Red Hawk Publications, © 2021

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*** Extra Geek Credit — the lichen Cladonia pyxidata is host to the lichenicolous (lives on lichens) fungus Lichenoconium pyxidatae. Such fungi are parasites of their lichen host and mostly specific to a single genus or even to single species of lichen, but although some may be pathogens for the lichen in many cases the relationship is commensal. No harm done. Join the party!

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