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Posts Tagged ‘A. R. Ammons’

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

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

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

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

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

Amphibious, at home
on the surface

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

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

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

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

then sing

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

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

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Cope’s Gray Treefrog, Hyla chrysoscelis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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American Toad, Anaxyrus americanus

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

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

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

Dekay’s Brownsnake, Storeria dekayi

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

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

In Celebration:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In 2021:

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

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

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

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

Vestak (Buddha Day) is May 26.

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

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In Joy:

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

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At Kfar Kana

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

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

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

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

Charles Causley (1917-2003)

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The City Limits

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

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

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

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

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

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

A. R. Ammons (1926-2001)

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Psalm 118

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

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

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

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

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

from the Egyptian Hallel —  Psalm 118:13-24

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With Mao and Fang, Visiting Bright Insight Monastery

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

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

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

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

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

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Horses at Midnight without a Moon

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

Jack Gilbert (1925-2012)

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In a Country Church

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

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

R. S. Thomas (1913-2000)

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

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

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

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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[with poems by Ryan Wilson and A. R. Ammons]

I didn’t intend to count birds when I set out Tuesday morning. Just a nice weekly hike to Carter Falls and back, a weekday’s solitude – I’m not sure I intended anything more than cooling my brain and heating my muscles. Tamping down the trail maintenance we completed last Saturday. Following the season’s advance into winter.

But then a heron flew out from under the footbridge as I crossed Grassy Creek. Whoever coined the phrase a force of nature was probably in the presence of a Great Blue Heron. Up close they are mute and fearsome. Flying they arouse precognitive awe. When Linda and I encounter one feeding we address it by its nickname: “Hello, Spike.” When one passes overhead we think, “Pterodactyl.” Great Blue demands that one notice.

After gasping at the heron’s sudden flight, I began noticing birds. If they had been calling and singing during the preceding mile my striding deliberation had shut them out. Now they were continuous and various. Counting, I recede and the birds advance.

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Below are two favorite poems which I return to regularly. They strike me as creating a continuum – the advance of a life toward discovering its meaning, the advance of a life toward its end. I read these and I recede into the lines, but as I read them I expand into my self.

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At Carter Falls trailhead a Black Vulture perched overlooking; I scanned up past the parking area and saw the roadkill possum the vulture was waiting to ripen. At the Powerhouse (the riverstone foundation, all that’s left of the old generating plant) a Kingfisher daggered up the river and disappeared above the spray. I pulled an index card and a pen out of my pack. Here’s what I came home with:

Great Blue Heron / Belted Kingfisher / Northern Flicker / Red-Bellied Woodpecker / Black Vulture / Turkey Vulture / Carolina Wren / Carolina Chickadee / Tufted Titmouse / Golden-Crowned Kinglet / Eastern Phoebe / White-Breasted Nuthatch / Blue Jay / Eastern Bluebird / Cedar Waxwing / Pileated Woodpecker / Red-Shouldered Hawk / Chipping Sparrow / Northern Mockingbird / American Crow / Common Raven

And since I wasn’t carrying binoculars I’ll just include the numerous chippers and chirpers in the thickets as LGB’s (little gray birds, also sometimes known as LBJ’s, little brown jobs).

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Face It

A silence, bodied like wing-beaten air,
Perturbs your face sometimes when parties end
And, half-drunk, you stand looking at some star
That flickers like a coin wished doen a weill,
Or when you hear a voice behind you whisper
Your name, and turn around, and no one’s there.
You’re in it the, once more, the stranger’s house
Perched in the mountain woods, the rot-sweet smell
Of fall, the maples’ millions, tongues of fire,
And there, whirl harrowing the gap, squint-far,
Than unidentified fleck, approaching and
Receding at once, rapt in the wind’s spell –
Pulse, throb, winged dark thar haunts the clean light’s glare –
That thin that you’re becoming, that your are.

Ryan Wilson
from The Best American Poetry 2018, first published in The New Criterion

Ryan Wilson was born in Griffin, Georgia and resides in Maryland. Of this poem he writes, “Face It was written in West Virginia at a mountaintop cabin belonging to my great friend, Ernest Suarez. During a break near dusk, I stepped out onto the porch, from which one can see more than fifty miles on a clear day. I was tantalized by a hawk hovering in the western gap, how it seemed to approach and to recede at once on the wind, never near enough for me to identify its species, or even its genus.”

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Finishing Up

I wonder if I know enough to know what it’s really like
to have been here: have I seen sights enough to give
seeing over: the clouds, I’ve waited with white
October clouds like these this afternoon often before and

taken them in, but white clouds shade other white
ones gray, had I noticed that: and though I’ve
followed the leaves of many falls, have I spent time with
the wire vines left when frost’s red dyes strip the leaves

away: is more missing that was never enough: I’m sure
many of love’s kinds absolve and heal, but were they passing
rapids or welling stirs: I suppose I haven’t done and seen
enough yet to go, and anyway, it may be way on on the way

before one picks up the track of the sufficient, the
world-round reach, spirit deep, easing and all, not just mind
answering itself but mind and things apprehended at once
as one, all giving all way, not a scrap or question holding back.

A. R. Ammons
from The Best American Poetry 2018, first published in Poetry

Archie Ammons was born outside Whiteville, NC in 1926, attended college in Wake Forest, NC, and taught at Cornell for over 34 years. He was guest editor of The Best American Poetry 1994. He died February 25, 2001. A two-volume set of his collected poems was published by W. W. Norton in 2017.

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2014-07-13 Doughton Park Tree

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