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Old is New is Old

[poems by Kathleen Wakefield]

A slew of 35 degree days and 20 degree nights make the rare and lovely snow hard as a skillet and slick as spilt grease (olive oil in my case). Our favorite trails want to maim us. I tried walking down the ridge back of our house and made it about twenty yards before I realized just one slip and I’d be sliding on my butt all the way into Dutchman Creek. When I turned back uphill I couldn’t take a step. My trekking poles wouldn’t pierce the crust.

Yesterday I ventured back to Grassy Creek and the MST for the first time in two weeks. Shaded areas were crunchy and slippy but sunkissed slopes had cleared. As I hiked I was specifically looking for leaves poking through the snow to photograph: cranefly orchid, wild ginger, pipsissewa. And then I came upon eight little alien life forms such as I’d never seen.

Imagine a thumb-sized lemon cupcake with a beak of orange icing in the center. The cupcake papers peel back to make a grungy collar. Each little cakelet is elevated on a 3 inch tangled stalk like chewed up rutabaga or moldy hemp. One of the cupcakes is broken and oozing white custard. And they are all peering through the snowy crust as if they intend to take over this dormant and unsuspecting planet.

I figured weird looking = fungus. After much searching I learned their identities – Calostoma lutrescens. Yellow-stalked puffball (not actually in the same clade as true puffballs), “pretty mouth,” or “hot lips.” Listed as common in the Southern Appalachians. Shoot, thought I’d found something new and rare. On the other hand there was only this one little cluster of eight fruits in four miles of trail; their little cupcakes will no doubt dry, shrivel, and disappear within a few days; I’d certainly never seen anything like them before.

Common does not preclude rare. Old they are, but new to me.

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Why We Do Not Cut the Meadow Down

It establishes itself like the sea.
We ride its swells.
Two kinds of dragonfly, cobalt and crimson,
a pair of catbirds, orioles skim the tops of the grasses,
insect glints, multitudes unnamed.

Once it was an orchard, a woods,
before that a real sea that left us a lake.
Today the dry meadow is all fire and pulse –
hot sputter of crickets, bees cruising the nightshade,
the wings of a small white butterfly dipping at this and that,
yes and yes above the brasses where light assembles.

The meadow admits stray saplings, cottonwood and ash.
Opens to rain like a body full of desire.
The fringed flags of the grasses take note of
the least wind: when you think it’s still
a cloud of pollen swells and lifts.

The meadow does not mistake the seed –
scutcheoned, tasseled or winged – for anything else
Whatever comes into the meadow, earthworm, black beetle, ant,
feels the long fall of sunlight on its back
before it descends.

Kathleen Wakefield
+++ from Grip, Give and Sway, Silver Birch Press, © 2016

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Reverent. Grateful. Seeking. The poems in Kathleen Wakefield’s Grip, Give and Sway require attention from the reader but they hold nothing back. Their beauty bewitches but also unsettles, like dawn when the dark forest holds its breath and anticipates light. Gradually the shapes of trees arise. I found myself reading each poem twice, then again, to take in everything it wanted to impart.

Each of the book’s four sections has its own subtle voice: imagistic and deeply rooted, lyrical and lingering on the tongue, lightly touching the moment to make it universal. In the final section the invisible stenographer observes and records the millennia and their follies but sometimes forsakes her reserve and becomes a participant. This is a book that inspires both deep feeling and deep thought, that invites contemplation about what is within us and what is without us.

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The Invisible Stenographer Tries Not to Look in the Mirror

What would she see –
++++ ++++ ++++ transparency
of oxygen, or eyes smudged with kohl?

Head-binding wimple.
++++ ++++ ++++ Sky blue burkha.
Iron brank tearing into the tongue
which said too much.

A cat mask, candle-lit, trimmed
with gold sequins and feathers
++++ ++++ the color of a bishop’s robe.

Hematite lips, lips drawn in rose madder;
cheeks ash streaked; tattooed;
++++ white powdered, porcelain smooth

++++ A single pearl drop earring
dangling above a creamy ruff
++++ ++ of belgian lace
stained from centuries of use.

Is everything she sees
who she is?
++++ Why not a coiled forest of dreadlocks,
or the shapeliness of a head
shaved to the cool shine of the moon?

Or worry crossing a woman’s brow
++++ like cloud shadow troubling a wheatfield,
as if she were remembering a stove
on at thome, the child left
too long alone.

Kathleen Wakefield
+++ from Grip, Give and Sway, Silver Birch Press, © 2016

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Rumors

All night the bee that’s clung
++++ to the sunflower, dark as
++++ ++++ coffee, waits for the sun

to warm its stilled apparatus,
++++ one leg ticking like the hand of a tiny clock
++++ ++++ that can’t get started.

See how the morning glories,
++++ like closed umbrellas glazed
++++ ++++ with rain, open in the cool air

to cobalt cups of heaven
++++ or the idea of heaven, gone
++++ ++++ by noon. The wood thrush

I’ve never seen repeats
++++ last night’s song, trill and lick
++++ ++++ spilling from the flute of its throat

as if it knows a rigorous joy,
++++ as if the world’s consolable.
++++ ++++ Blue sky, clear and widened

like a mind that’s looked into itself and beyond,
++++ is this what we fear, or long for?
++++ ++++ Caught

in the undertow of the linden’s shade,
++++ rumors of something sweet and light
++++ ++++ and never forgotten.

Kathleen Wakefield
+++ from Grip, Give and Sway, Silver Birch Press, © 2016

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I learned about Kathleen Wakefield and her poetry through her friend Patricia Hooper, also featured in these pages. She has worked as a poet-in-the-schools and taught creative writing at the Eastman School of Music and University of Rochester.

Give, Grip and Sway and Silver Birch Press.

More about the Calostoma genus, which includes the irresistibly named and undeniably repugnant “tomato-in-aspic” fungus.

 

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IMG_0768

 

Poetry Submissions Calendar – UPDATE 02/01/2022

Placing yourself at the mercy of the editors, are you?! In 2015 I originally posted a table I use to keep track of when and where to submit poems for publication. Not to say I thrive on rejection, but the occassional favorable comment from an editor, not to mention an acceptance, do feed one’s motivation.

Here is the most recent update:

……….. Poetry Submissions Table – PDF file ……….

Since my last posted update in August, 2021, I’ve added more than 25 entries and corrected several dozen, including sites no longer accepting submissions. There are currently more than 200 journals and contests listed.

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Here’s how I use the calendar:

It’s arrayed by month – look down the column to see what journals and sources are open for submissions right now!

Subscription Calendar Screen Shot: February, 2022 —-CLICK TO ENLARGE

Each row includes the web address – be sure to check before you submit, because requirements may have changed since I last updated!

The row also includes other information such as:

Is this an online publication only?
Do they accept simultaneous submissions?
Should your submission be a single document?
What format files do they accept?

There are more instructions on the table itself. Feel free to print it out. And I would really appreciate it if you notify me of any errors or suggested changes!

In particular, if you have journals to which you’ve enjoyed submitting I can add them to the table! Please send me the details, especially the web address!

I will try to post an updated table several times a year and whenever I have made significant additions and corrections to the table.

Here’s the original post from 2015 with a little musing about rejection:

https://griffinpoetry.com/2015/08/31/editors-mercy-part-2/

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Enjoy!

And if you find this useful or discover errors please reach me at comments@griffinpoetry.com

BILL GRIFFIN

New is Old is New

[with poems by Augusta Wray]

1932, Charlotte, North Carolina – the Great Depression has all but silenced the constant rumble of railcars from Atlanta to D.C. through this hub of the South. Most of the cotton mills are shuttered but Ben Gossett, president of Chadwick-Hoskins, has an idea. He asks President Herbert Hoover for help. Mill workers will weave cloth from 50,000 bales of cotton sitting in idled factories and sew it into clothing for the needy. Slowly the Queen City will again stir to life.

That same year, 1932, The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra was founded. More songs were recorded in Charlotte than in Nashville (and just 4 years later Bill Monroe would make his first recording in a closed Charlotte warehouse). Seeking a different kind of music, six poets gathered that spring in the home of Edna Wilcox Talley to begin a venture dedicated to expanding the appreciation of poetry in their state. The North Carolina Poetry Society would begin to admit members whose skills “measured up.” Over the next few years they would hold monthly workshops and an annual banquet, with a prominent writer as speaker, begin publication of a regional literary journal, and slowly expand their reach from Charlotte to the entirety of the state and beyond.

One of these Charter Members was August Wray. She had lived in Charlotte since her marriage in 1902. She attended every meeting of the NCPS through the 1950’s. Her poems would appear in The North Carolina Poetry Review, Journal of American Poetry, and many other publications, especially the poetry column of The Charlotte Observer, edited by Andrew Hewitt. She won many poetry honors and prizes in the 1930’s and 1940’s. And in 1959 she would publish a full length collection, Engravings on Sand, edited by Dorothy Edwards Summerrow.

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Trees at Night

Ink spots upon a midnight sky – fantastic,
+++ sinister and dark –
At night, trees take on fearsome shapes
+++ with no detail of leaf or bark
To add to grace of swaying limb where
+++ branches curve and intertwine,
No carven foliage of jade – all monotone
+++ in black design,

Carbon pictures, weird and ghostly, of night
+++ Dragons crouched to spring,
Warily silent and foreboding, menacing,
+++ like a wounded thing –
Smoky masses, deeply shadowed, with outlines blurred
+++ that mystify –
Trees clutch the heart in night’s dark silence
+++ silhouetted against the sky.

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand, Poets Press, Charlotte NC, © 1959

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Last week I received Engravings on Sand in the mail. Bibliophile Carmela Dodd discovered it at a flea market and upon reading its inscription by Augusta Wray to “Mrs. Charles Evans,” Carmela felt that the book deserved a home with the North Carolina Poetry Society. Thank you, Carmela! What an amazing artifact and memorial during the Society’s 90th anniversary year.

Dorothy Edwards Summerrow, who edited the collection, writes this to begin her foreward: When, at Augusta Wray’s request, I was given the pleasure of compiling and editing “Engravings on Sand,” there was turned over to me a large suitcase literally bulging with poetry manuscript. Dorothy describes excitement but also dismay at selecting the best work of one of North Carolina’s finest poets . . . because I must of necessity select for public inspection, only a small fraction of the prodigious output of her private heart.

In 1959 Augusta Wray was 83 years old. She had been widowed four years earlier. She and her husband had no children nor other close family; she told Dorothy, “My poems are my children.” Dorothy describes the treasure before her: When I opened the suitcase entrusted to me, the sparkle of the poems made the dark, rainy afternoon brilliant with the fire of many gems.

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Release

In the dark and tranquil stillness of the night
When quietude has simulated peace,
When joy is born without the aid of light
And sorrows softly fade away and cease,
When weary eyes are drifting into sleep
That carries them afar from day’s dull care,
When dreams appear invitingly to seep
Through all perplexities and leave them bare –
Then does the spirit take command and things
Become unreal and float away like foam;
The soul is loosed and on unweary wings
takes leave of what was once its mortal home.
++ The soul and body separate, go free,
++ When sleep, or death, gives them their liberty.

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand

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Nocturne in Silver

Silver shadows in somber silence
Wrap folds around the tranquil night,
Silver rain from a silver moon
Pours its radiance through silver light.

Sleeping leaves from moon-drenched branches
Drip silver pendants edged with pearl,
Flowers with their petals closing
Gleam with silver as the furl.

Cobwebs, silver-strewn with dewdrops,
Chiming tone when brushed by moth wings,
Are silken harps, tht quivering, make
Plaintive music from silver strings.

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand

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The seasons . . . love . . . death . . . these are the themes of most of Augusta Wray’s collected poems. She is steeped in Carolina culture and climes. In this final poem I’ve chosen, though, I hear an understated voice of longing and regret. Perhaps she refers here to her childlessness, but perhaps she is opening herself, and her readers, to discovering beauty in the reality that is her life – who cares what it may have seemed to some to lack?

Flowering Plum

In loveliness she stands,
Blonde beauty rare,
With white and fragile hands
Folded in prayer.

Of bridal purity,
A perfumed veil
Hides with security
A body frail.

The season waits for her,
She blooms each year
When winds softly murmur:
“Spring is now here.”

Feathered choristers sing
Blithely and loud,
Sheltered beneath the wing
Of petaled cloud..

Lonely she stand apart,
No fruit she bears.
Such beauty serves the heart.
Barren? . . . Who cares?

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand

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Dorothy Edwards Summerrow was a renowned Carolina poet herself, winner in 1957 of the Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry. She also noted in the foreward: In Silver Echoes, the poetry anthology published in the spring of 1959 by the North Carolina Federation and edited and compiled by this editor, more of [Augusta Wray’s] poetry is included that that of any other writer in the state.

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History of the North Carolina Poetry Society

Charlotte / Mecklenburg historical timeline

Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry

2015-06-15Doughton Park Tree

[with 3, no, 4 poems by Paul Jones]

Oh well . . . life goes on . . .

No it doesn’t! Who ever said that? At least not on and on and on. And the problem is not growing old, the problem is everyone around me is growing older.

I’m biased and I know it – too many all-nighters in the ICU knowing my patients will never wake up, will never breathe again without that machine. Why choose to prolong those hours? Too many weekly visits to the nursing home, my patients who will never again chew, swallow, recognize, understand, smile. Why choose to prolong those days?

Still, when you are breathing and smiling there’s a huge hurdle to leap before you’re willing to talk about how you want your body treated when you can’t breathe or smile. Easy to put off making that living will when you’re in the midst of living; too late when you’re in the midst of dying.

Last year I spent a few weeks helping Dad update his and Mom’s will and estate. Gather up mounds of papers, talk things over, scratch heads, and then the final step: spending a morning with their attorney to nail it all down tight. Just because most politicians are attorneys does not imply the converse, that most attorneys are self-infatuated power-lusting villains. Not at all. Dad’s attorney, Ms. S., treated us like family. Like she was the cousin who knows a whole lot more than we do but who can explain it in a way anyone can understand.

To describe two hours with an attorney as a pleasure? Well, yes indeed.

As a family doctor I never found it easy to talk to my patients and their families about death. Necessary, yes; essential, yes; never easy. Perhaps it’s the taboo that if you name something you give it power over you. But a last will and testament is all about death. If you’re not going to die, don’t bother making a will.

Ms. S. talked with us for two hours about death, straight up, matter of fact. I learned a lot about what Dad and Mom want for their own final days and for a legacy to their children. I learned that Dad, in the right place and time, is willing and even anxious to talk about his death. We left the office smiling, arm in arm (figuratively as well as occasionally literally, 95-year old knees and all).

Of course, Dad still vows he’s going to live to a hundred. At least he’s got one helluva estate plan.

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Seventy Three

When in time frost found me, leaves were gone yellow
or fallen or few on branches or fallow
fields. Limbs were empty choir lofts. Youth’s bright birds sang
then left before the cold November must bring.
I found myself in twilight, the glow on snow
or rime on those brown stems or white wisps of breath
– how many more before death plants me below? –
But here I can see further, here my life’s breadth
forms a vista. Here where flames once leapt, grey ash
is heaped, warm still from what past fires I’ve known.
Still all this going is not completely gone.
Something of those late bird songs will stay, will last.
What we see in age makes all we love more strong,
knowing what we love we leave before too long.

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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I’ve always been a bit in awe of Paul Jones’s poetic gifts. Envious even. Not only because he can make rhyme so damn modern but even more for his capacious breadth and depth. What an imaginative reach! I’m not reprinting To a Tuber here but read it and you will become convinced that the potato is within all the vegetable kingdom most elegant, elevated, and worthy of praise.

So I knew before I ordered my copy of Paul’s new book Something Wonderful that it would be, and it is. The sly wit is there, waiting to pounce, but also heartfelt longing and wry uncompromising looks into personal finitude. You don’t really discover why the cover is covered with 19th century illustrations of bats until page 80 and the title poem. Take the time, make the trip. It’s worth it.

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Ireland Seen from a Porch Swing in Hickory, NC
+++ — for Adrian Rice

Ireland is a country without porches.
What they call a porch is just an entry.
No one sits there watching for neighbors
walking by with their electric torches.
Their voices, soft as blossoms, gently
fill humid summer nights with rumors.

Over there, secrets are shared in the pubs.
From unsteady high stools, the stories, tinged
with irony, rise easily as smoke.
New worlds are created by old words spoken.
even the weightiest tales take on wings,
if only whispered above the hubbub.

But here, the slow news is told by moonlight
in the lazy tease of an August night.
Too often tea, iced and sweet, is the drink
that greets the blink of stars through the dark
as our voices wander, each twang distinct,
in the dog-starred nights and the torpid days.

It’s ghosts that bind us across our weathers,
that tie the lilt and slur of daily sagas
told inside and out, in bars and open air,
to some episodic common drama.
They appear here and there, vivid and stark,
in talk that reweaves their spells in the dark.

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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Still Waters

I am still, waiting
for the one moment
that old Eastern sages
say gives absurdity
an absolute clarity,
the moment multiple
bald monks chant to induce.
They say the Way is
like water. It will work
its wonders at due time,
the way water always
breaks up rocks, turns them
into sand, but will not
be transformed itself.
Being water, it’s
already what it needs to be.
Winter and ice
merely redefine water.
Wind, when it works, only works
on the surface of water.
When fire meets water,
water is sent to heaven
but fire just becomes ash.
Water like saints returns
to perform its steady work.
Sleet, snow, rain or hail –
even fog – are water’s
temporary bodies.
In time, water will be
all part of one huge sea.
Water will save us all
in time. In time, they say.
In the meantime, be water
as best you can be. Me?
I am still waiting
for all waters to become
still, to run deep, and
clear a few things up.

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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Saint of the Trees

What is the proper sacrifice
To please our Lord, the Saint of Trees?
I asked the ferns for their advice:
What is the proper sacrifice?

“Lie here and dream of paradise,
Sink into the soil like the leaves.
That is the proper sacrifice
To please our Lord, the Saint of Trees.”

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

 

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2014-07-13 Doughton Park Tree

Cycles ~ Essential

 

[with 3 poems by Robinson Jeffers]

Linda is preparing to read Thy Friend, Obadiah to Amelia, age 6. A young Quaker lad in colonial Nantucket is befriended by a seagull, which is not entirely to his liking. Linda shows Amelia the cover and explains that the story happened a long, long time ago.

“Even before cell phones?” Amelia asks.

“Oh yes, and look at the picture. See the horse and cart? This was even before cars.”

Amelia grows grave and pensive. “Did they have candy?”

–    –    –

A six-year old lives within essentials. Even though candy is not a daily treat it must exist. Get into the car after kindergarten and immediately pull Tammy from the bottom of the bookbag, indispensable diminutive fox companion from infancy. And laughing. A joke, a gift, a tickle, a sudden surprise are all occasions for the essential vitamin of laughter.

Sometimes I’m not sure I remember what are essentials (except cheese, yes, must have cheese). It doesn’t help when Siri informs me my screentime increased 59% last week, nor is it helpful to argue with Siri that the preceding week was artificially low because his battery had funked out on me. Step away from the electronics, Sir. When Linda and I have taken a break from worldly worries and return from a long walk in the woods, we usually hear ourselves saying, “Hoo boy, we needed that.” Something essential about such an interlude.

Essential things. Clues abound. For Christmas I gave my sister and her partner a book of poetry I often return to myself. I had mentioned my recurring anxiety dreams and last week Mary Ellen asked how I was coping (nice to have a sister who’s a psychologist). I blurted, “When I read my copy of that book I gave you it helps.”

Essential? Poetry? When I can’t be walking in the woods I can be in the wild with Robinson Jeffers.

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Return

A little too abstract, a little too wise,
It is time for us to kiss the earth again,
It is time to let the leaves rain from the skies,
Let the rich life run to the roots again.
I will go to the lovely Sur Rivers
And dip my arms in them up to the shoulders.
I will find my accounting where the alder leaf quivers
In the ocean wind over the river boulders.
I will touch things and things and no more thoughts,
That breed like mouthless May-flies darkening the sky,
The insect clouds that blind our passionate hawks
So that they cannot strike, hardly can fly.
Things are the hawk’s food and noble is the mountain, Oh noble
Pico Blanco, steep sea-wave of marble.

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1961)

things and things and no more thoughts . . .

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Rock and Hawk

Here is a symbol in which
Many high tragic thoughts
Watch their own eyes.

This gray rock, standing tall
On the headland, where the seawind
Lets no tree grow,

Earthquake-proved, and signatured
By ages of storms: on its peak
A falcon has perched.

I think, here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky;
Not the cross, not the hive,

But this; bright power, dark peace;
Fierce consciousness joined with final
Disinterestedness;

Life with calm death; the falcon’s
Realist eyes and act
Married to the massive

Mysticism of stone,
Which failure cannot cast down
Nor success make proud.

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1961)

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Credo

My friend from Asia has powers and magic, he plucks a blue leaf from
+++ the young blue-gum
And gazing upon it, gathering and quieting
The God in his mind, creates an ocean more real than the ocean, the salt,
+++ the actual
Appalling presence, the power of the waters.
He believes that nothing is real except as we make it. I humbler have found
+++ in my blood
Bred west of Caucasus a harder mysticism.
Multitude stands in my mind but I think that the ocean in the bone vault is
+++ only
The bone vault’s ocean: out there is the ocean’s;
The water is the water, the cliff is the rock, come shocks and flashes of
+++ reality. The mind
Passes, the eye closes, the spirit is a passage;
The beauty of things was born before eyes and sufficient to itself; the
+++ heartbreaking beauty
Will remain when there is no heart to break for it.

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1961)

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These three poems are collected in The Wild God of the World, An Anthology of Robinson Jeffers, Selected, with an introduction, by Albert Gelpi, Stanford University Press, 2003

Thy Friend, Obadiah,written and illustrated by Brinton Turkle, Puffin Books; a Caldecott Honor Book in 1970

And the Christmas present I gave Mary Ellen and Wendy is The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy, edited by John Brehm, Wisdom Publications, 2017

Additional references: Return; Rock and Hawk; Robinson Jeffers at The Poetry Foundation.

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

I believe this globed earth not all by chance and fortune brings forth her broods, but feels and chooses

[with a longer poem by Robinson Jeffers]

The winter-gray trunks reveal their true nature. Stick-straight tuliptree, angled encroaching oak, perfected symmetry of beech, funky slipped-disc hickory – now in the rarified morning after frost, all mysticism stripped from the breath rising up Dutchman Creek, the trees allow us to know their inmost inclinations, their gestures and attitudes freeze-tag obvious: Fill this space. Drink the light. Every drop.

Summer is the mystery, all bluster and concealment. Signature leafshapes swallowed in jostling overflow of green – in winter we discover how they do it. Branches ramified ever finer, each species has invented its own geometry, each distinct inscrutable math of its evolving. Here they crouch and rise and stand and lean behind our house, here they create this little patch of forest just like all other patches and utterly unlike any but itself.

These trees aren’t old. Maybe seventy years since last the loggers passed. Perhaps that white oak is a hundred. One big silverbell beside the water has had time to cast her progeny up the ridge, seven generations. The early prodigies succumb to shade – dogwood, hornbeam. Not many pines remain, mostly a few holy snags favored by woodpeckers.

This winter we first realized a respectable Liriodendron had fallen last summer, twenty-inch diameter and a hundred feet from the house but we never heard the crash, parallel to power lines so we never lost light. She rests beside a sister that lay down before we bought this place forty years ago. The old tree is almost returned to earth; the newly fallen still clings to a few black leaves. Up the hill, in full sun, another sister is at least double their size, heaving our driveway, flaunting her strange orange-yellow flowers a hundred feet high, prodigal with her seedlings.

I am old. Seventy soon. God speaks that tuliptree’s name in the space it fills, in jadegreen leaves and roots that smell of musk and camphor. How difficult is it for me to imagine my name also on God’s lips, imagine some webline of my self will extend its existence onward when the frame that supports it collapses, when the blood, the electricity cease to flow? Dutchman Creek will still complain after heavy rain. The twigs will twist to find their places. Light will fill a new day and expect to be drunk. Every drop.

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now all’s empty, a bone bubble, a blown-out eggshell

 

De Rerum Virtute
[The Virtue of Things]
++++ Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)

++++ I
Here is the skull of a man: a man’s thoughts and emotions
Have moved under the thin bone vault like clouds
Under the blue one: love and desire and pain,
Thunderclouds of wrath and white gales of fear
Have hung inside here: and sometimes the curious desire of knowing
Values and purpose and the causes of things
Has coasted like a little observer air-plane over the images
That filled this mind: it never discovered much,
And now all’s empty, a bone bubble, a blown-out eggshell.

I believe the first living cell had echoes of the future in it

++++ II
That’s what it’s like: for the egg too has a mind,
Doing what our able chemists will never do,
Building the body of a hatchling, choosing among the proteins:
These for the young wing-muscles, these for the great
Crystalline eyes, these for the flighty nerves and brain:
Choosing and forming: a limited but superhuman intelligence,
Prophetic of the future and aware of the past:
The hawk’s egg will make a hawk, and the serpent’s
A gliding serpent: but each with a little difference
From its ancestors—and slowly, if it works, the race
Forms a new race: that also is a part of the plan
Within the egg. I believe the first living cell
Had echoes of the future in it, and felt
Direction and the great animals, the deep green forest
And whale’s-track sea; I believe this globed earth
Not all by chance and fortune brings forth her broods,
But feels and chooses. And the Galaxy, the firewheel
On which we are pinned, the whirlwind of stars in which our sun is one dust-grain, one electron, this giant atom of the universe
Is not blind force, but fulfils its life and intends its courses. “All things are full of God.
Winter and summer, day and night, war and peace are God.”

the sun will be strangled among his dead satellites, remembering magnificence

++++ III
Thus the thing stands; the labor and the games go on—
What for? What for? —Am I a God that I should know?
Men live in peace and happiness; men live in horror
And die howling. Do you think the blithe sun
Is ignorant that black waste and beggarly blindness trail him like hounds,
And will have him at last? He will be strangled
Among his dead satellites, remembering magnificence.

I believe that man too is beautiful

++++ IV
I stand on the cliff at Sovranes creek-mouth.
Westward beyond the raging water and the bent shoulder of the world
The bitter futile war in Korea proceeds, like an idiot
Prophesying. It is too hot in mind
For anyone, except God perhaps, to see beauty in it. Indeed it is hard to see beauty
In any of the acts of man: but that means the acts of a sick microbe
On a satellite of a dust-grain twirled in a whirlwind
In the world of stars ….
Something perhaps may come of him; in any event
He can’t last long. —Well: I am short of patience
Since my wife died … and this era of spite and hate-filled half-worlds
Gets to the bone. I believe that man too is beautiful,
But it is hard to see, and wrapped up in falsehoods. Michael Angelo and the Greek sculptors—
How they flattered the race! Homer and Shakespeare—
How they flattered the race!

the beauty of things means virtue and value in them

++++ V
One light is left us: the beauty of things, not men;
The immense beauty of the world, not the human world.
Look—and without imagination, desire nor dream—directly
At the mountains and sea. Are they not beautiful?
These plunging promontories and flame-shaped peaks
Stopping the sombre stupendous glory, the storm-fed ocean? Look at the Lobos Rocks off the shore,
With foam flying at their flanks, and the long sea-lions
Couching on them. Look at the gulls on the cliff wind,
And the soaring hawk under the cloud-stream—
But in the sage-brush desert, all one sun-stricken
Color of dust, or in the reeking tropical rain-forest,
Or in the intolerant north and high thrones of ice—is the earth not beautiful?
Nor the great skies over the earth?
The beauty of things means virtue and value in them.
It is in the beholder’s eye, not the world? Certainly.
It is the human mind’s translation of the transhuman
Intrinsic glory. It means that the world is sound,
Whatever the sick microbe does. But he too is part of it.

De Rerum Virtute
by Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)

collected in The Wild God of the World, An Anthology of Robinson Jeffers, Selected, with an introduction, by Albert Gelpi, Stanford University Press, 2003

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it means that the world is sound

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I
now all’s empty, a bone bubble, a blown-out eggshell

II
I believe this globed earth not all by chance and fortune brings forth her broods, but feels and chooses

I believe the first living cell had echoes of the future in it

III
the sun will be strangled among his dead satellites, remembering magnificence

IV
I believe that man too is beautiful

V
the beauty of things means virtue and value in them

Robinson Jeffers, the Poetry Foundation

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Cycles ~ Endings 

[New Year’s Eve, poems by Mary Oliver and Jane Mead]

“Are spirits’ lives so short?” asked Scrooge.
“My life upon this globe is very brief,” replied the Ghost. “It ends to-night.”

The worm Ouroboros eats its tail, every day renewed, ever renewing. Cycles unending. The Neuse River snakes to New Bern, clouds lift inland, each little feeder stream is filled. Rain, ice, lichen eat the stone, phosphate creeps its migration through generations: rock to soil, leaf to masticator, herbivore to predator and all decomposing back to soil. I breathe out what the tree breathes in and breathes out for me to breathe. And the cycle we mark today: the dying Year gives birth to the New.

So many cycles. One enormous round. Every thing connected, interconnected, and we sense ourselves as spokes of the wheel or sometimes the never-ceasing motion of its rim that grinds along the path that is our life. As daylight diminishes it grows harder to hold onto our imagining of that wheel, its endless turning, that path it pursues still stretching on beyond the horizon. Harder to hold onto hope that the path’s end is indeterminate and out of sight.

Yes, it grows harder in these years of death’s overwhelming harvest to push aside imagining our own death. Too many deaths, COVID and otherwise, to pay attention; too many deaths to ignore a single one. In a few minutes I’ll set this page aside when my son arrives. He’ll leave Amelia here while the rest of the family attends their next-door neighbor’s funeral. A sudden death – our friend M was not old or ill. A shock to the fragile wall we build around our own mortality. Linda and I find ourselves tallying all the deaths that have touched us this month. The man who fixes our cars. A friend’s best friend. Names and faces more than we ever expect, doesn’t it seem? Death hunches at our shoulder, sometimes intrusive, sometimes silently lingering, sometimes perched like a moth that’s invisible until it flies into our face.

Tonight at midnight we will celebrate the Newborn Year but perhaps with even more enthusiasm we’ll celebrate a moment’s permission to ignore its haggard, dissipated forebear. The Old Year dies in winter darkness; death, the ultimate consuming dark. But notice – twelve days enfold the span of solstice to new year’s morning. The Ghost of Christmas Present senescent and dying yet retains some presence within us. Twelve days already lengthening, light seeping in even before the old year succumbs. Perhaps endings and beginnings are false markings along the ever-flowing course. Perhaps encircled by death it is possible, vital even, to engage with life. Perhaps death itself is not darkness but enfolding light.

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White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings — five feet apart —
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow —
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows —
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us —

as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

Mary Oliver  — 1935-2019
this poem first appeared in The New Yorker, January 2, 1989

 


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I Wonder if I Will Miss the Moss

I wonder if I will miss the moss
after I fly off as much as I miss it now
just thinking about leaving.

There were stones of many colors.
There were sticks holding both
lichen and moss.
There were red gates with old
hand-forged hardware.
There were fields of dry grass
smelling of first rain
then of new mud. There was mud,
and there was the walking,
all the beautiful walking,
and it alone filled me –
the smells, the scratchy grass heads.
All the sleeping under bushes,
once waking to vultures above, peering down
with their bent heads they way they do,
caricatures of interest and curiosity.
Once too a lizard.
Once too a kangaroo rat.
Once too a rat.
They did not say I belonged to them,
but I did.

Whenever the experiment on and of
my life begins to draw to a close
I’ll go back to the place that held me
and be held. It’s O.K. I think
I did what I could. I think
I sang some, I think I held my hand out.

Jane Mead — 1958-2019
this poem first appeared in The New Yorker, September 20, 2021

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Mary Oliver was a guide to the intersection between human life and the natural world; her voice affirms the expression of person in nature in person and affirms that no voice can fully express that oneness. Jane Mead, who for years was Poet-in-Residence at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, expected poetry to move people to preserve the earth; at the end of her life she was a guide to the landscape and ecology of dying.

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Doughton Park Tree 2021-10-23

Season of Waiting

 

North Carolina Poets for Christmas

Sam Ragan ++++++++.+.+. (1915-1996)
Carol Bessent Hayman ++.+ (1927-2017)
Reynolds Price ++           ++.(1933-2011)
Anthony S. Abbott ++++……. (1935-2020)

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Winter Watch

In those winter fields
Where only the dead grass
Hides the movement of mice
And the loping fox long away
From hunters, horn and dog,
Walking and watching wind bend
Bare branches at the wood’s edge.
This then is the beginning,
The walk and the waiting,
Winter is a time of waiting,
The pause, the slowed feet,
The watching, the waiting.

Sam Ragan
from Collected Poems of Sam Ragan, St. Andrews Press, Laurinburg NC, © Sam Ragan 1990

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Nativity

If, when a tree falls in a forest green
There is no one to hear, is it not true
The tree still sounds its ancient shattering
Of silence as its heart is rent in two?

If no one notices the calendar,
Or decorates, or shouts a glad refrain
is Christmas lost? Will that make Christmas less
Or nullify the birthday of a King?

Deep in the secret places of each heart,
Like groves of forests, quietly aware,
we reach the coming of the Gift within
And each alone must find that He is here.

Carol Bessent Hayman
from Images and Echoes of Beaufort-By-The-Sea, © 1993 Carol Bessent Hayman

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A Christmas Night

It was a cold night
And there was ice on the road,
Our car started to slide
As it moved up the small hill,
And the headlights caught the old man
In a thin jacket
Pushing a cart filled with sticks.
There were some bundles and a package
Piled on top, and the old man
Grinned and waved at us
As he pushed the cart
Into the yard of the ligglt house
Where a single light shone.
The tires gripped the road
And we drove on into the darkness,
But suddenly it was warm.

Sam Ragan
from Collected Poems of Sam Ragan, St. Andrews Press, Laurinburg NC, © Sam Ragan 1990

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A Heron, A Deer – A Single Day

A dull tin noon and, struck down on us
From the crest of pines, a heron – the one
That’s brought me each winter solstice
For twenty-six years now whatever code

I’ve earned for the past year, need for the next:
Vast as a stork in a child’s old reader
And fierce in the head as a demon deputed
To pluck out human eyes in vengeance,
Bolt them down hot.
++++++++++++++++ Yet our two faces
Broaden – eased, assured once more
Of witness at least: our names a precise
Address still known to Guidance Central.

Midnight mist and roaring cold,
We roll toward home from Christmas-eve dinner;
And there in the glen, frozen at the verge,
A six-point buck, young in eye
And grace of joint but flat-eternal
In steady witness. We slow to spare him –
Or think to spare a soulless thing.

He spares us. Sustaining our glare
A long instant of still composure,
His eyes consume whatever we show.
Then in a solemn choice to leave,
He melts a huge body, graceful as girls,
Through two strands ov vicious barbed-wire

We pass unscathed, drive in silence
A last slow mile, then both laugh sudden
At the sight of home. Seen, well-seen
But spared to pass.

Reynolds Price
collect in Word and Witness: 100 Years of North Carolina Poetry, Carolina Academic Press, © North Carolina Poetry Society 1999

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The New Magi

It is dusk. The sun has tipped backward
behind the old town hall. Inside the patterned
windows of the church, candles not to candles
until it seems the world is only light
and festive voices singing, “Silent Night.”

Out of the dark the siren wails, once,
twice, a third time, and grinding ears
disturb the “all is bright,” while somewhere
in another town a black man in a stocking cap
folds quilts around himself to stop the night.

Out of the dark the siren wails ans somewhere
in another town a woman flushes yesterday’s news
from under the rest room door and a red-haired girl
with shrouded eyes holds out her hand
to strangers walking through the station’s

swinging doors. Where is the star that calls you,
black man? Where is the star that seeks you,
woman? Where is the star that lifts you, shrouded
girl? Walk to us, now, over the battered highways.
Walk to us slowly over the rutted roads.

Walk to the siren’s wail, and the grunting sound
of fire in the night. Throw open the church’s door.
Walk with your papers and your quilts and the sorrow
in your eyes, bringing your gifts past the carpet
of our candles to the manger’s straw. Kneel and turn

And bid us follow with our light up the long aisle
out, out into the grace of the beckoning night.

Anthony S. Abbott
from New & Selected Poems, 1989-2009, Lorimer Press, Davidson NC, © Anthony S. Abbott 2009

IMG_9285

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In a Bus Station on Christmas Eve

There are still travelers
Even at this late hour.
A radio is playing “Joy To the World.”
They sit and stare,
Clutching packages
Wraped as they are wrapped,
With some of the corners torn

Sam Ragan
from Collected Poems of Sam Ragan, St. Andrews Press, Laurinburg NC, © Sam Ragan 1990

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Sam Ragan served as NC Poet Laureate from 1982 until his death in 1996. He had a long career in journalism at various publications and from 1969 to 1996 was owner, publisher, and editor of The Pilot in Southern Pines, NC. Sam received about every possible NC literary award, including the North Carolina Award in Fine Arts, the Roanoke-Chowan, Parker and Morrison Awards; the North Caroliniana Society Award; and has been inducted into the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame and North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.

Carol Bessent Hayman was the first Poet Laureate of Carteret County and the city of Beaufort, NC. She was a 50-year member of the National League of American Pen Women, served as Southeast editor for their national publication, The Pen Woman, and was a member of the National Board. She was a member of the founding board of N.C. Writers Network, taught many workshops, and published hundreds of poems and five books of poetry.

Reynolds Price, a native of Macon, NC, taught literature at Duke University for 53 years and was James B. Duke Professor of English. In 1962, his novel A Long and Happy Life received the William Faulkner Award. He went on to publish fiction, poetry, essays, and plays and is equally known as the venerated educator of generations of Duke students. For the last third of his life he was confined to a wheelchair due to paralysis resulting from complications of a spinal tumor; his memoir A Whole New Life: An Illness and a Healing has been an inspiration to thousands.

Tony Abbott was a beloved professor of modern drama and American literature at Davidson University (NC). He touched many lives with his deep compassion and spiritual seeking, not only the lives of his students but of everyone who knew him, worked with him, read with him, read his work. His first book of poems, The Girl in the Yellow Raincoat, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He went on to write three novels, four books of literary criticism, and eight volumes of poetry, his last, Dark Side of North, published posthumously in 2021 by Press 53. His tenure on the Board of Directors of the NC Poetry Society has left an influence of creativity, collegiality, and craft that continues today.

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IMG_1827

 

 

[with 3 poems from When There Were Horses]

Once upon a time there was a little boy . . . . a frisson of anticipation: the four-year old’s attention is now riveted on Pappy. What mischief will the boy in the story create, what adventure awaits, what danger?

When my grandson used to ask me to tell him a story it was a gift to both of us. Often the stories sprouted spontaneously from our pretending and play, their main characters usually some of his favorite companions like Mousey and Blue Rat. What joy and entertainment when you engage with the characters in a narrative! Even more so if you identify with the characters – their plight, their seeking, their discoveries strike a resonant chord in your own heart. You live a little richer and fuller through them.

But what if you are them?! What if you are the little boy in the story unfolding? What if a door opens and you enter the story and it becomes an extension of your own? The gift the teller gives you in that moment can’t be measured.

So many of the poems in Pat Riviere-Seel’s new book, When There Were Horses, open that door for me. I enter the lines. Not only do I engage, not only identify, but I become a part of the narrative. The resonance moves me to reflect on my own arc, my own plight and seeking. How does that happen?

How does poetry do that stuff? Mmmm, mystery and magic. Art and invitation. I admit I don’t actually know the details or specifics of many of Pat’s narratives but even so I have come to feel a part of them. When I get past asking, “What does she mean by that?” and just enter the flow of how she is creating meaning, then her poems crack open new earth. There, beneath the mud of daily routine, behind the obfuscation of some constant ringing little voice in my head, something waits. Waiting to sprout and bloom. Waiting to sing a new song. Waiting and wanting to peel back all that separates us from each other, and from our inner self. Something is beneath the surface, waiting to break our heart, and to heal it.

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From the Almanac of Broken Things

I choose this earth that breaks
my heart again and again,

the woods for the way trees
bend, fall, and return to dirt.

I choose the sand dollar, the nautilus
that in brokenness finds new creation.

I choose the favorite doll that no longer cries,
loved into silence, into rags.

I choose the memory of a stranger’s touch
that lifted my face above water. Because

I did not drown, I choose morning,
the gauzy-gray dawn that returns.

I choose the once-wild Palomino
whose beauty can never be tamed.

I choose light from long dead stars
that illuminates without heat.

I choose March with its promise of spring,
the warm days that tease, the blizzard

that insulates and warms the bulbs, the seeds,
all that lies beneath the surface, waiting.

Pat Riviere-Seel
inspired by Linda Pastan’s poem The Almanac of Last Things

 

 

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What the Moon Knows

She knows shadow, how to
slip behind clouds. She’s perfected
the art of disappearing. She knows
how to empty herself into the sky,
whisper light into darkness.
She knows the power of silence,
how to keep secrets, even as men
leave footprints in the dust, try to claim her.
Waxing and waning, she summons
the tides. Whole and holy symbol,
she remains perfect truth, tranquility.
Friend and muse, she knows the hearts
of lovers and lunatics. She knows
she is not the only one that fills the sky,
but the sky is her only home.

Pat Riviere-Seel

 

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Enough

Ahead, I see her watching me, pity
or compassion, hard to tell
from this distance. I want to ask her,
my future self, what she knows
and when she knew it. I want to know
whose laughter fills her hours? Does she
still dance? Still run? What does she know
of grace? These days I know so little.

But she’s still faithful, the self I look back
to see at dawn, a quarter century ago,
running out Colbert Creek road between
woods and murmur of the South Toe River, two-lane
Highway 80 South, past Mount Mitchell Golf Course,
down macadam that turns into gravel, clatter across
the low water bridge, out Rock Creek Road,
before she turns toward her dusty driveway,
past grape vines, the garden where the black cat
waits to walk her home. She’s the one who
declared, I am enough. She’s kept her promise.
But now, knowledge brings scraps
falling from bone that offers proof
something happened here in this lost country –
three deaths, one new love.

Pat Riviere-Seel
all selections from When There Were Horses, © 2021 Pat Riviere-Seel, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte NC

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FULL DISCLOSURE: Pat Riviere-Seel is my cousin. Third cousin one generation removed is how I think we figured it. Pat and I first met twenty years ago at a North Carolina Poetry Society meeting at Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines. During a break we were sharing casually about what we’d been doing lately and she mentioned her recent family reunion in Lewisville, NC.

“We met at an old Methodist Church in Lewisville where my Great-Great-Grandfather is buried.”

“No way, we had a family reunion in Lewisville a few years ago and we met at a church, might be the same one, where my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather is buried. His name was J.N.S. Daub.’

“Uh, hmm, mine is named Daub, too. Reverend Daub.”

“I’ve got a photo of the headstone at home. I’ll send you a copy.”

Sure enough, one and the same Daub. That was my maternal Great-Grandmother’s maiden name. Three Daub sisters married three McBride brothers. So Pat and my Mom are third cousins (although separated in age by more than a generation).

All those years, something beneath the surface, waiting.

– – – B

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2020-11-03a Doughton Park Tree

 

 

Merlin & Kestrel

I thought I saw a Merlin. Facing into the stiff onshore breeze, harrying above the dunes: fierce raptor profile, fleet spitfire, wings cocked at the wrist – falcon.

I wanted to think it was a Merlin I saw, last week at Bogue Banks for Thanksgiving, as it veered away from me, slipped sideways and rolled, master of current and draft. I still wanted it to be a Merlin when it arced back overhead, whirled into a perfect stall, snatched a perch at the tip of the spar where the surf warning flag flies.

It drank some water trapped in a crease of the wood. Tawny waistcoat, single-barred tail, face tattoos – this hunter was not a Merlin. Just its much more common little cousin.

Why did my heart skip when I first spotted it? Why did I want so much for it to be a Merlin? I haven’t seen one in years; I’ve only ever seen a very few. The last time I saw a Merlin, Linda and I were alone together on a rare vacation, January in Nags Head, doing what we love: hiking the dunes and maritime forest and half-freezing ourselves in the salt rime. Driving to Hatteras next day we spotted a Merlin perched above the salt marsh, watchful in regal disdain. Merlin – rare visitor from the mysterious north. Merlin, power and magic. Merlin mythic. Merlin romantic.

Is it just its name that makes it so? Falco columbarius per Linnaeus, Esmerejón in Spain and Mexico, Dværgfalk in Denmark and Norway, 55 names listed in Cornell Ornithology. Learning its name accompanies learning its field marks, habitat, range. But what do I really know about Merlin? How to read shifting wind while stalking the wood rat a hundred yards below? Folded wings, little rocket, full velocity strike , blood and hair? What name, Dream Hunter, do you give yourself?

We see the Merlin’s little cousins all the time here in the NC foothills, especially in winter perched on wires above the mouse-gleaned fields. I saw one driving home from the beach. Actually, four. And last week my brain knew what I was seeing above the strand even before my eye would admit it, even before it swooped in for me to take closer look . . .

. . . and turned upon the current of air. Watchful for movement in the sand, ultraviolet signature of mouse urine, it raised its wings, their sharp fast flutter, fixed, motionless on high. Only one little falcon can do that. And I know its name.

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The Windhover
Gerard Manley Hopkins – 1844-1889

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
++ dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
++ Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
++ As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
++ Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
++ Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

++ No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
++ Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

[This poem is in the public domain.]

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Windhover is a British name for the European Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus, a dead ringer for its close relative the American Kestrel, Falco sparverius. They are the smallest of the falcons and one of the very few birds that can hover motionless in still air, in this case watching for its usual prey, the field mouse.

The Windhover has long been one of my favorite poems. Oh my, where does this magical and mysterious language come from?! What hidden realm is revealed in these lines? Read it aloud to hear Hopkins’s incantatory music. How does he do it?

One of my most striking memories is the Saturday morning Tony Abbott recited The Windhover at Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities to call to order a meeting of the North Carolina Poetry Society. As he approached its last line Tony slowed , each word deliberate, and upon gash gold-vermilion there was one unified sharp intake of breath among the entire congregation before we erupted in applause.

Gerard Manley Hopkins was a Jesuit priest; he dedicated The Windhover To Christ our Lord. The poem, like the fierce undaunted Kestrel, breaks open the blue-bleak embers of our dull, unreflective spirits to reveal the fire, the power, and the glorious mystery of creation which surrounds us.

[more Gerard Manley Hopkins at The Poetry Foundation]

 

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2019-02-09 Doughton Park Tree