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[with poems by Anthony Walton, Camille Dungy, Marilyn Nelson]

The first time down the path leads // to enlightenment, the second, to wonder; / the third finds us silent, listening

What path have you and I walked that led us here? Anthony Walton’s path is through the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge: between firm ground & marsh, between tidal creek and sound. What paths do we recall through life that carried us between extremes, that brought us to new places?

Literal paths: Bogue Sound when I was ten, over the dunes to the ocean at Emerald Isle when there wasn’t a single house in sight. The old orchard cum housing development in Michigan when I was 13, Larry and I walking to the old pond with the rope swing. Fifty miles of New Mexico I hiked at Philmont at 16, thinking every day of returning home to ask Linda on our first date.

And figurative paths: symbolic journeys, decisions made, setbacks, mistakes, turning points. In hindsight do they seem to have become inevitable, foreordained? Could my life have been different if . . . and would I have even wanted it to be?

To walk a path for the first time – well, of course you can only do that once. It’s been a couple of years since I first hiked the trail I now follow at least once a week: pick up the MST at Isaac’s trail head, westbound to Carter Falls, loop trail and back, about seven miles. I walked it today. This morning for the first time along Grassy Creek I saw a Redstart. Every walk, another first time. And those metaphorical paths – each time I recall, revisit, isn’t it another first time of a sort?

The first path, the first encounter, leads to enlightenment, the next to wonder, then finally silence. Keep walking our paths, whether they be sandy tracks, a mountain climb, an untangling of recollection and past reflection. The first time opens the mind, door to contemplation. The second opens the eyes, to see and be amazed. The third time opens the heart, and in silence may meaning enfold us.

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In the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge, Thinking of Rachel Carson

The elements raveling and unraveling:
groundwater misting into rain, falling

back into groundwater; salt water wash
through brackish freshwater bordering

sea; we two wandering in late March
along the upland, among evergreens

and bare deciduous and bushes held fast
by the last of the snow, the rush and bubble

of the tidal river winding through low tide,
salt hay, cord and spike grass, walking

the path between firm ground and marsh.
The first time down the path leads

to enlightenment, the second, to wonder;
the third finds us silent, listening

to the few gulls lift and caw as we watch
the wind, which makes itself known

in the sea grass and as it dimples the water,
skimming like sunlight until a Coast Guard

chopper drowns for a moment the drone
of cars and trucks in the distance.

Anthony Walton

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Language

Silence is one part of speech, the war cry
of wind down a mountain pass another.
A stranger’s voice echoing through lonely
valleys, a lover’s voice rising so close
it’s your own tongue: these are keys to cipher,
the way the high hawk’s key unlocks the throat
of the sky and the coyote’s yip knocks
it shut, the way the aspens’ bells conform
to the breeze while the rapid’s drum defines
resistance. Sage speaks with one voice, pinyon
with another. Rock, wind her hand, water
her brush, spells and then scatters her demands.
Some notes tear and pebble our paths. Some notes
gather: the bank we map our lives around.

Camille T. Dungy

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Ruellia Noctiflora

A colored man come running at me out of the woods
last Sunday morning.
The junior choir was going to be singing
at Primitive Baptist over in Notasulga,
and we were meeting early to practice.
I remember wishing I was barefoot
in the heavy, cool-looking dew.
And suddenly this tall, rawbone wild man
come puffing out of the woods, shouting
Come see! Come See!
Seemed like my mary janes just stuck
to the gravel. Girl, my heart
Like to abandon ship!

Then I saw by the long tin cylinder
slung over his shoulder on a leather strap
and his hoboish tweed jacket
and the flower in his lapel
that it was the Professor.
He said, gesturing, his tan eyes a blazing,
that last night, walking in the full moon light,
he’d stumbled on
a very rare specimen:
Ruellia noctifloria,
the night-blooming wild petunia.
Said he suddenly sensed a fragrance
and a small white glistening.

It was clearly a petunia:
The yellow future beckoned
from the lip of each tubular flower,
a blaring star of frilly, tongue-like petals.
He’d never seen this species before.
As he tried to place it,
its flowers gaped wider,
catching the moonlight,
suffusing the night with its sent.
All night he watched it
promise silent ecstasy to moths.

If we hurried, I could see it
before it closed to contemplate
becoming seed.
Hand in hand, we entered
the light-spattered morning-dark woods.
Where he pointed was only a white flower
until I saw him seeing it.

Marilyn Nelson

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Today’s selected poems are from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA.

Anthony Walton was born in 1960 in Aurora, Illinois. He is the author of Mississippi: American Journey, and editor with Michael S. Harper of The Vintage Book of African American Poetry. He is a professor and the writer-in-residence at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

Camille Dungy edited Black Nature, which won a Northern California Book Award and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. A past professor in the creative writing program at San Francisco State University, she is currently a professor in the English department at Colorado State University.

Marilyn Nelson (b. 1946) is author or translator of many award-winning books and chapbooks, including A Wreath for Emmet Till. She is Professor Emerita of English and University of Connecticut and former Poet Laureate (2001-6) of the state.

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2020-06-11a Doughton Park Tree

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