Posts Tagged ‘Bill Blackley’

Forest Bathing Trail, Grassy Creek off Mountains-to-Sea Trail

[with poems by Lucinda Trew and Jane Craven]

Last week I took a walk in the woods with my oldest friend Bill (distanced by 2-meter dog leash). We were forest bathing (shinrin yoku): phones off, listening to Grassy Creek accompany our rustic trail, smelling leafmold, fungus, pines, going nowhere and getting there; reflecting on the moment, simmering in our conjoined past which stretches all the way back to our grandfathers who worked together on the same railroad 60 years ago.

Every trail, though, has a way of turning. Almost back to our cars, Bill happened to ask, “What are you going to do with your stuff before you die?” Us old guys, especially old poets, think about dying. Good story fodder. Let me tell you the one about . . . . Just not usually as concrete as what will become of our earthly matter when no one wants it any more.

Stoff: German, translates as substance. Two synonyms for Oxygen are Sauerstoff and Atemluft, the first meaning acid substance (early chemists’ misconception that all acids must contain oxygen) and the second meaning air for breathing. We humans can live about 3 minutes without oxygen before our brains lose neurons and our substance begins to degrade, but oxygen is pure poison to many microorganisms and tricky to deal with even for our own mammal cells (or why else would anti-oxidants be such a big deal?).

Stuff is pretty frangible. Are the moment’s mental occupations or the day’s consuming concerns any more tangible? Bill shared with me a photo of his granddad Enoch Blackley in his engineer’s gear from the 30’s, outline of pocket watch visible through the denim of his overalls. I have one very similar of my granddaddy Peewee Griffin. The bit of stuff comprising those old prints, grains of silver on paper, is mere milligrams of matter; the cubic volume of memory those images reveal is larger than many lives.

My Stoff – carbon, nitrogen, phosporus – will feed the trees. May I leave behind the tempo of my walk, the sound of laughter, honest tears of compassion, a couple of good poems. Maybe that’ll do.

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These two poems are from Kakalak 2020, the annual anthology of Carolina poets, by writers whom I don’t know and hadn’t read before. Lucinda Trew’s Of Stars fills me with wonder, all the universe in a crow-eye seed, somewhere within the secrets of universe wanting to be spilled out. Jane Craven’s Speaking of the World does just that, the image of a small flower expanding to hold the pain and contradictions of the most intimate relationships.

Metaphor is the tool that communicates the mysteries which swirl around us and within us, the inexplicable spark of our synapses, the spin of our electrons. Some things can’t be spoken, only sung.

Forest Bathing Trail, Grassy Creek off Mountains-to-Sea Trail

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Of Stars
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe. – Carl Sagan

The conjuring orchard man
holds hemispheres in sturdy hands
cupping chaos and creation
presenting apple halves
for inspection
and the revelation

of stars
a crop circle enigma etched
within sweet flesh
five symmetrical rays cradling
crow-eye seeds
small enough to spit
vast enough to hold eternity –
the very dust and stuff

of stars
carbon, nitrogen, oxygen
phosphorus – the breath and wingbeat
of birds who rise from reeds and nest

the rush and thrum
of boys who scrabble up bark, swagger
wave applewood swords

the sway and silhouette
of branches, girls dancing
longing for the moon

of pulse and surge
of cities, song, engines

the earthen realm
of roots and worm, turnips
and bones

the axial turn
of tides and shells
molecular chains

and of apples
twisted exquisitely, evenly
in half
spilling stars
and seeds and secrets
of the universe

Lucinda Trew, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Forest Bathing Trail, Grassy Creek off Mountains-to-Sea Trail

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Speaking of the World

Pinprick faces open in a violet fever behind my house – swathes
of mazus flowering downhill. A cultivar

from the Himalayas, it’s bred to survive scarcity and climate extremes.

In your world, the doctors have gone, left your body

a prescribed burn, lightly
elevated in a rented hospital bed, handfuls of pills labeled for days.

The trees, to a one, freeze beneath a milky lichen – and you who sleep

year round with open windows are speaking of the world –
of the last deer you saw weaving through balsam, of the bear

who bent double the birdfeeder, wild turkeys and their long-
neck chicks, a lone slavering coyote crossing the yard.

Grief, you say
three times,
each a dry leaf
from your lips.

I left you in the boreal world, rushed back to my own life.
And I admit this with unnatural ease, like there’s no shame

in turning toward the sun, in enduring.

Jane Craven, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Lucinda Trew: http://trewwords.com/about/
Jane Craven: https://www.janecraven.com/bio

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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Crab follows the Twins, then Lion uncurls himself into the midnight sky.  Bill and I uncurl our mummy bags on Bill’s deserted hillside at the edge of Surry County.  The bulky biceps and pectorals of the Blue Ridge have our back.  We are miles from town, close to a mile from the nearest mercury vapor thief of dark adapted vision.  We’ve put on our longjohns and wool hats to recline in November darkness and be amazed by showers of meteors.

The year before I’d spent a moonless night on a grassy knoll in Doughton Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  While cold seeped into my backbone and breath frosted my beard, I had watched hundreds of flares and streamers, an utterly silent celestial bombardment without any crash and boom of artillery.  This year, though, Bill and I had an unwelcome guest.  Luna hovered at our shoulders, the sun full gold across her face.  Her glow overpowered all but the brightest meteorite flashes.  We had to trust that the stars were falling, but only at long intervals could we see their spark.


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My friend Bill Blackley is a moon-bright sky.  His poems are the flash of meteorites.  When you meet Bill you will be warmed at once by his bright charm and quirky wit.  You’ll immediately sense that he never met a stranger.  Within the first minute he’ll have you laughing at one of his stories, or he’ll be listening to your own life story with deep compassion.

That’s the illuminated Bill.  In the darkness, artillery crashes.  I first met Bill in July, 1978.  He was Senior Resident, I was a green intern.  In all the years since then, though, I don’t think I would have ever really known him if not for his poems.  Oh, the charm and wit are there; so many of his poems reach out their hands and just welcome you in.  But read on — the crash and conflagration show through on nights when the moon has failed to rise.


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These two poems by Bill sneak up on you and bite.  An Auger Bit may fool you into thinking it’s a simple reminiscence of the good old days, but its key word ends the first line — son.  The speaker is teaching his own son, and the time they share among the tool bins also redeems the speaker, son of an alcoholic who has broken the chains and freed his son.  Freed himself.  The title itself grabs me — what cutting edge and piercing point can we read between the lines?

I love to play with the title of the second poem, too.  Time Piece, it’s a piece about time, not only how we measure time but how we live it, and live through it.  And once again there are hidden teeth here.  The poem counts milestones of regret across the years, the loss of an heirloom, anger over being a victim of theft, feelings we can all identify with, but then there is the soul scorching image of peeling the watch from the arm of the dead soldier. Our measly hours:  this poem struggles, as we all do, to create some meaning from our years and at the end to discover some peace.

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An Auger Bit

Let’s rummage together son
this pawn shop aisle, bins
stacked with monkey
wrenches, pulleys, winches
C-clamps, pliers, bastard files
blue snap-lines and ball-peen
hammers antiquated by electric
drivers and laser levels.  Your granddad

once worked wooden handles, oiled
calipers, turned them on shipyard steel
in Charleston harbor and launched
battle cruisers.  Let’s gather

chisel, plane, hacksaw and slot head
Yankee driver in memory of when
he holstered a yellow folding rule
a blunt pencil in his shirt pocket
before hocking his tools to quench
a thirst for a Four Roses.  Let’s mine
bins until we find a gauge calibrated
to plumb whiskey’s undoing.

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A Time Piece

Two-finger blow a kiss
goodbye to dad’s graduation
watch left for easy
pickings on a beach blanket.   So long
to the self-winding Seiko rolled
in gray sweat pants outside
the handball court where
a thief slipped my treasured piece
into his pocket and beat it
while his lookout grinned.  Bon voyage
to the green-rimmed Swatch
a kid sticky fingered
from my pool locker .  C’est la guerre
to the radium-dotted Bulova I peeled
off a National Guard soldier in Vietnam
and airmailed, along with his scorched
effects, to Altoona.  Adios
to a fourteen-dollar Timex I tossed
to a co-worker when presented a fake Rolex
at my retirement gala.  Gods chuckle
at us mortals caching batteries, winding stems
and punching in our measly hours.

[first appeared in Cave Wall Issue #3, Winter/Spring 2008]

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Bill Blackley is a retired family physician and a full time advocate for the public’s health.  He has saved you and me and a good percentage of our state’s population from cancer and lung disease through his relentless research about and opposition to biomass incinerators.  He has also promoted the literary health of our state’s youth as director since its inception of the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series.  AND . . . ten years ago he made me take over as treasurer of the NC Poetry Society, which has promoted my literary health (although it didn’t quite save me from cancer). Bill, I owe you, old pal!

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Sometimes when the latest Audubon arrives in the post I dread reading it.  Unsustainable logging in old growth forests in Oregon threatens the marbled murrelet.  Ground water depletion by development in the San Pedro watershed (the major undammed river corridor in the entire intermountain West) may destroy twenty years of conservation gains.  American eel populations have declined ninety percent in the past four decades because of obstructing dams in Eastern rivers.

Does it ever seem to you that we humans just can’t get along with the other species on this planet?  The neighbors cats have eaten most of “my” house finches.  Just one careless chicken farmer upstream on the Big Elkin Creek is enough to silt up what could have been a decent trout stream.  Last week we had to replace about forty yards of sewer line on the steep ridge behind our house, plowing under at least a tenth of an acre of prime wild red raspberries.

I walked along the scraped red clay and exposed roots under the power lines down to the manhole where our sewer ties into the city.  Given the previously impenetrable briars, it was a new perspective on our little four-acre plot in the woods.  I hadn’t realized how massive that sentinel white oak had become in the thirty years we’ve lived here.  It has a Virginia Creeper hanging from it as thick as my arm.  And since the backhoe has knocked down a dozen or so gangly box elders, there’s enough sunlight seeping into our backyard that I’ve sown a pound of wildflower seed . . . after my daughter Margaret and I had picked about a pint of raspberries from canes we’d never been able to reach before.

In New England, a naturalist named Chris Bowser has set up a citizen stewardship program using net-filled PVC pipe to lift eels above the dams and enable them to complete their migration.  My friend Bill Blackley and a local crew are building hiking trails and restoring Big Elkin Creek to make it trout-worthy.  Virginia letter-carrier Rita Shultz has installed a hundred and ten bluebird houses along her route (in her time off) to prevent the birds from nesting in newspaper boxes, and prevent people from tossing out the nests, eggs, chicks and all.  And since February loggerhead turtles, piping plovers, least terns – and dozens of other nesting species – have a safer home on Hatteras Island: the National Park Service issued a new rule that allows off-road vehicles on 28 miles of shoreline, preserving the other 39 miles for wildness.

We might just get to go on living next door to critters.  We might just be able to pump from our hearts enough compassion for critters to make a place for them to go on living next door to us.

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The heat hunkers trenchant, loud.
Lilies are budding on the lake.
Calf-high grass quivers.

He has wanted this moment to exist:
the insect flares blue on a sticky branch,
opening and closing, the size of his hands.

He heart pumps a bubble over the world:
it holds.

Mark Smith-Soto
© 1990 by Trans Verse Press.

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Mark Smith-Soto is professor of Spanish at UNC Greensboro and has been chairman of the Department of Romance Languages.  His poems appear frequently in the monthly magazine Sun.  He has served as editor or associate-editor of International Poetry Review since 1992.  His first full-length book of poetry, Our Lives Are Rivers , was published by Florida University Press in the summer of 2003.  Born in Washington, D.C., Mark grew up in his mother’s native Costa Rica.

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The photo of Jordan’s red-cheeked salamander (Plethodon jordani) was taken near Clingman’s Dome along the Appalachian Trail in 2003.  The cute little Appalachian cottontail (Sylvilagus obscurus) eating jewelweed beneath the stand of bee balm was at Cosby Knob Shelter on the AT (also GSMNP)  in 2007.


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