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[with 3 poems by Tony Abbott]

. . . each morning as a wrapped gift.

We parried, a friendly joust, this poet I knew who anchored his lance upon all poetry is about love. Later I would think how odd, a paradox in fact: this person seems to thrive on hate and even infected me for a time. Even later I read more of his poetry and reconsidered: perhaps hate is simply the anger and loss that bleed from us, caustic, when love is too distant, too longed for, too impossible.

But during our little tournament I countered with this novel thrust: all poetry is about death. You don’t, I asked him, believe the immortals on Olympus write poetry, do you? With no death to undergird, to prod, to threaten, without death they have no muse. They must rely on us mere humans to wrench and wrest verse from the earth of our dark condition.

How odd, a paradox in fact: I don’t think anyone would consider me the moody type. I don’t ruminate on death – or do I? The loved one whose problem seems to have no solution; the 4 a.m. wakefulness when all mistakes made and all hurts caused crowd around the bed with their sharpened sticks; the bitterness of an imagined future when I will not be there for my granddaughter, my grandsons – why do I invite such overshadowing darkness into my heart?

What might cleave the darkness, fill it with light? How is it possible, which indeed it is, that every one of us may discover some joy in a fragrant afternoon, a laughing child, a lingering kiss without inevitably asking what if this is the last?

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the moment which gives to all life / the aura of the mysterious, the sacred . . .

How does the man facing darkness bestow such light on all around him? I believe these poems by Tony Abbott. I believe the voices that have spoken to him and his voice that still speaks to us. That speaks of darkness becoming light.

During the last year of his life Tony treasured moments. He captured luminous moments and has held them up for us, to turn this way and that, to peer and to ponder, to treasure along with him and let in the light. A wrapped gift is one that must be opened to be loved. Light is something to be entered with regrets laid to rest.

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The Man Who Loved Trees

kept his distance this year as if he knew,
as if the dark possibility which haunted
his inner mind could only be kept at bay
by stark denial, a looking the other way.

And then one day, he forgot, and found
himself there at the very spot, and when
he finally brought his eyes up from the brick
walk to the tree itself, he knew he was right.

She was ordinary now, leaves still intact
but mustard brown and dry, dry as the dust
which had choked the air that fall, dry as his
own heart, which had slowed to a walk.

If you don’t wake her, he thought, the muse
goes back to sleep, malnourished, the roots die.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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That Without Which

The moment itself not being but coming into
or having been the moment itself that which
we wait for live for then like the five o’clock
winter sun fading into a rustle, a blowing
of the window curtains door to the balcony
open to the wind the walking on the beach
the stars the ringing of the communion bell
and the knowledge priceless that this might
have never been could never be but was
and is the moment which gives to all life
the aura of the mysterious, the sacred,
blessed and consecrated by the heart under
another name not known but felt how could
we live otherwise

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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The Last

The last walk, he thinks, the last stroll
down the wooded path with the dog
sniffing in the cool morning air.

The last knock on the red door.

The last subway ride – New York,
London, Paris. The ungovernable
steps. The violins at the Louvre.

The last sigh under the stone stairs.

Better not to know. Tomorrow
or ten years. Better to receive
each morning as a wrapped gift.

The last glimpse of the crescent moon at midnight.

The last swim in the smooth lake,
the last flash of the sun
as it sinks into the sea.

The last wave reaching high and sliding back.

The last poem, the last linking
of lines, nothing more to be said
anyway – the last silence between words.

The last of the lasts that have already been.

The last kiss, the last touch, the last
image of arms at midnight
the last breath before

the last.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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Thank you, Tony, always. We do continue trying, and we will not stop trying, to make something beautiful from the brokenness that we are. Together. May it be and become so.

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The North Carolina Poetry Society has honored Anthony S. Abbott’s memory and shared Tony’s poetry at its January, 2021 literary meeting and with a commemoration in the Winter, 2021 edition of its quarterly publication, Pine Whispers.

Better to receive / each morning as a wrapped gift.
The Last

the moment which gives to all life / the aura of the mysterious, the sacred . . .
That Without Which

Links to biographies and more information about Tony Abbott and his work.

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2014-06-30a Doughton Park Tree

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White-throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis, ELKIN NC

 

The Birds’ Carol
Lyrics: Bill Griffin . . . . . . . . . . Music: Mark Daniel Merritt

Elkin Community Chorus
51st Annual Christ Concert / December 4, 2011
Director: David L. McCollum / Piano and Organ: Amy Tayloe and Amy Johnson

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By 2010 Linda and I had been singing for several years with VOCE, Surry County’s invitational chorale, directed by Sandy Beam and assisted later by Mark Merritt. Mark is a talented composer and had asked me before for lyrics. That spring VOCE had been invited to perform at Bilmore House in Asheville, NC, during the Christmas season and Mark wanted to create a suite we could debut there. The Birds’ Carol is the first of three movements in The Wanderer’s Carols. The following year David McCollum selected The Bird’s Carol for Elkin Community Chorus’s 51st Annual Christmas Concert.

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The Birds’ Carol

“Morning! Morning!” trills the lark, “The Babe brings gold to the sky!
A song of light now showers the earth, And we shall know God this day.

Now is the dawn of our new life,
And we shall know God this day.”

“This coat I wear,” caws the rook, “So black, so heavy, so grim.
Only One knows the way to make it bright – The Child who reclaims us from sin.

He lifts our burden upon himself,
The Child who reclaims us from sin.”

“Come rest with me,” coos the dove, “In this humble stable take ease.
Kings and shepherds together embrace The Prince who unites us in peace.

You make us one in all the earth,
O Prince who unites us in peace!”

“I . . . Thou, I . . . Thou,” vow the geese From dark earth to heaven above –
“May we join with Thee in a world made new; May we fly forever in love.

Give us wings of Your perfect light,
And we’ll fly forever in love.”

 

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VOCE of Mount Airy performing The Birds’ Carol, November 14, 2010, Winston-Salem First Presbyterian Church:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDPm6MYvacA&feature=related

Discussion of the symbolism of Lark, Rook, Dove, Goose:
https://griffinpoetry.com/2011/12/17/joy-hope-peace-love/

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2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

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Waiting for you is full of everything except you.

It didn’t start out to be Valentine’s Day. You and I prefer Hatteras and Pea Island in the off season. I wanted to see the winter migrant visitors again and you don’t mind long walks in freezing spray. How amazing you are. You began telling our friends, “He wants to see the snow geese,” in a tone that sounded like you looked forward to them, too. Amazing.

When we pulled into the First Colony Inn there were big pink and red plywood hearts under the pine trees. Who knew! Godiva on the pillows and champagne in the mini-fridge. Each afternoon we explored another iced-over marsh, the entirely vacant Elizabethan Gardens, narrow lines of threatened dunes; each night we made a small supper in our room, wore caps & jackets while the wind discovered new cracks around the windows. Not really roughing it, not so self-sufficient – but sufficient as two selves. Us. Being each other’s present. Chocolate optional.

Snow Geese 2015-02_72

Chen caerulescens, Pea Island Wildlife Refuge

 

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I’ve read most of Mark Smith-Soto’s previous books and I always pause and savor when I discover him again in The Sun. I carefully packed his newest, Time Pieces, for the February trip to the Outer banks. Waited for the stillness of sunset across Roanoke Sound, drew another blanket around my shoulders. How does he do it? How capture the small moment that stretches wide the reader’s heart? Not because the poem has cast searchlights into the grand gnostic meaningfulness of the universe, but because the poem is just itself, the poet is himself, the moment is this moment. And we always have been and are still becoming ourselves.

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Present

Waiting for you at our favorite table by
the window decorated with a rough decal
of a giant coffee cup, I stare at the long,
gray, rain-washed, car-clotted street, the tip

of my tongue fretting against a cracked
tooth. You’re half an your late. You wouldn’t wait.
The coffee is so dark and smooth it lingers like
a song. There are clouds and telephone poles

and two tattooed youngsters smoking outside
the window; inside, all is chatter and clatter,
French pastries in the toaster oven, giggly laughter.
Waiting for you is full of everything except you.

And for this gift, at least, I must thank you:
this moment so completely mine.

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Linda_2015-02_Pea Island_resize-1

Present first appeared in Sounds of Poets Cooking, Jacar Press

Time Pieces is available from Main Street Rag Publishing

Read more selections of Mark’s poetry from The Sun.  In fact, subscribe.  Now!

Mark Smith-Soto’s bio is available at the Poetry Foundation.

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IMG_6432

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