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Theodore Roosevelt Nature Trail, Bogue Banks, NC -- and Great Blue, Ardea herodias

[with 3 poems by Larry Sorkin]

I know Larry Sorkin from his poetry. Oh, I’ve met Larry in person a few times, spoken with him more than once, but within his poems he allows me to know him. Wryly humorous, himself often the butt. Fallible & vulnerable. Honest about all that, and open. Intentional; seeking. But most of all Larry Sorkin’s poems, and I must assume he himself, are inviting. Each one, in its own way, offers itself up as an invitation.

Larry Sorkin’s book, Uncomfortable Minds, is all invitation. Share with him this confusing chaotic journey. Share defeat, share contemplation or discovery or joy. Share any of the countless back roads and detours and destinations we human beings travel. This is the invitation – to join him in the garden.

Perhaps the garden is metaphor for our toil, for our occasional scarlet tomato of success, for our physical pleasures. But our toil, triumph, pleasure are not what bless us with words that would unlock the puzzle. What does it take, then, to right this finely wrought chaos? It seems to take being present, as these poems are, to each other. And being present to our own gifted, fractured, seeking self. We’re best when we do this together. And you, yes you, are invited. Join me in the garden.

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Theodore Roosevelt Nature Trail, Bogue Banks, NC

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Neither This, Nor That – Upanishads

Today I’m nagged by knowing
I don’t. I’ve lost those few

words that
would unlock

the puzzle, set
right this finely

wrought chaos – aren’t you
looking for this too, the lost

quote gone from
book or memory of

our conversations. Friend,
I know we won’t

find it plowing
and pressing seeds

into dirt, not in scarlet
tomatoes that come

later, not even in
the fine meal

we’ll make of them. Does it
matter? Join me

in the garden.

Larry Sorkin

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Theodore Roosevelt Nature Trail, Bogue Banks, NC

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Pursuit

of a solitary
morning’s ringside

seat to inhale
the ceaseless

erosion of this
folded Appalachian

ridge into a flat
plain interrupted by an Astaire

and Rogers pair of bluebirds that
tap dance on the porch

rail, each waving a single
wing to the other. I call my mate, a string

can line strung across seventy miles to share
a play by play of the ritual

as the male turns
away and she

waves and he
sings and waves and turns

back and so an hour
vanishes, while she and I

murmur our own
shorthand semaphore.

Larry Sorkin

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I Have Nothing

this morning, bits
of nothing found among the clean

stones that pepper the drive where two
tiny sky-blue eggs crack open. One

empty, not quite dry. I lift
with thumb and forefinger as it

crumbles to my clumsy
touch. I leave the other, half

full of liquid sun. How
fragile the chance of what

gets to breathe
and sing. I carry the broken

bits back on my right
palm held open, outstretched, an

offering. I carry them
to you, Reader, before this

world as we know it sinks
like a skipping

stone below a cosmic
wave.

Larry Sorkin

all selections from Uncomfortable Minds, © 2021 by Larry Sorkin; Bonhomie Press, an imprint of Mango Publishing Group, Coral Gables, FL.

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Nothing can be hard to tell apart from everything. A bit of cracked shell reveals deep truth – how fragile, how transitory. That includes you and me, Bub. I think I’ll celebrate. What a privilege to ride this mossy stone as it skips around its star. I’ll celebrate this, too: for twenty years I’ve been trying to write a poem about that little semaphore thing that bluebirds do with their wings to bond with their mates, and now Larry Sorkin has given me one that is perfect. From nothing . . . everything. Thank you, Friend!

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Theodore Roosevelt Nature Trail, Bogue Banks, NC

 

2020-06-11a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Melinda Thomsen]

How about you cream the butter and sugar while I chop the pecans? At 93 Mom does not need to be wielding the big chef’s knife. Last week I bought vanilla, nuts, butter, and a couple of new cookie sheets at Harris Teeter while shopping with Dad. This morning I pre-measured the sugar and flour into ziplocks before I left the house. This afternoon Mom woke up early from her nap, so excited to be baking cookies for Thanksgiving.

Whenever we visited Nana while I was growing up, we kids (and Dad, too) couldn’t wait to visit the little village of tins that would have sprung up like magic on her kitchen counter. Homemade fudge, humdingers, Moravian Christmas cookies. And there were always, there had to be, nutty fingers. When I got married she bequeathed me the recipe and that’s how I labeled the index card – Nana’s Nutty Fingers.

Nana’s only daughter – my Mom – hasn’t made nutty fingers since any of us can remember. Last night I printed a copy of the recipe and scribbled out my fraction calculations to double it. When I walk into Mom’s kitchen today, though, she already has the recipe laid out on the counter.

The original – centered on page 53 of What’s Cooking?, compiled by the Winston-Salem Woman’s Club in 1948, “Pecan Fingers” contributed by Ellen Cooke, alias Nana. It’s identical to the recipe we’ve used all these years as long as you realize that 4X sugar means granulated.

O Baby, in about an hour their home is smelling good, and all the laughs and stories we share during the making are even more delicious. Good job, Mom, high five. Dad pronounces these the best nutty fingers he’s ever tasted and the powdered sugar down his sweater affirms. When granddaughter Claire arrives from Maine for Thanksgiving, there just might be a couple left for her.

Maybe.

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Sweet Potato Casserole

One poet says she waits to hear what
the words are trying to say. Meanwhile,

a documentary shows fifty pounds of yams,
gathered in one plastic basket, heaved up

to a migrant from Chihuahua, standing
in a school bus. The bus trudges through

the turned fields of North Carolina, a taxi
with an open top and wooden slats for sides

reaping filled baskets. Another poet hopes
the best wind finds me ready to wrestle it

to the page. As farm workers examine
and measure, sweet potatoes lift skyward.

Thousands of roots piled up in moving crates,
all hand gathered, are waiting for words.

Gently but quickly, these men harvest,
and I keep searching for nouns so small

but will swell in the mind to voice the labor
and sweat of my Thanksgiving dinner.

A friend tells me, if you think one person
can’t make a change, you’ve never been in bed

with a mosquito. Advice swirls like gnats
while I peel yams, whose discarded skins,

the width of fingers, almost rise as hands
to choke my verbs. Still, I dot mashed sweet

potatoes with mini marshmallows before
placing the heavy pan in a 375 degree oven.

Melinda Thomsen

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Melinda Thomsen’s book Armature lives in the personal moments that create each day of our lives. The title refers to the skeletal framework a sculptor uses to support her clay model. She adds form and matter to shape the work into three dimensions. The book’s framework includes descriptions of four castings of Degas’ Dancer Looking at the Sole of Her Right Foot; the poems throughout add shape and form through their close observation and grounded presence within the many places they dwell.

Armature, © 2021 Melinda Thomsen, Hermit Feathers Press, Clemmons, North Carolina

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Old Tractor Equipment

Their armature emerges from
a forging of farm equipment:
rasps, chains, gears, and pipes.

Metal tractor parts fashioned
a horse whose neck
and ligaments are strong

enough to face the wind
with a mane of almost twenty
flat files billowing in the breeze.

We all move this way, right?
After years of pulling it
together in cut and paste jobs

of bad or non choices,
even if our hearts resemble
rusted tractor ball bearings,

we construct and forge ourselves
from a hodgepodge of muzzles
and flanks in to running mares,

stalky goats, or bold stallions.
Walk over to us, and see our
sprocket nut nostrils flare.

Look at these haunches
made of 20th century shovels
and lawnmower parts.

A trip of goats and a pigpen
of swine have propane
tank bellies, pulley hooks

for horns, and porcine
snouts are marked
by stainless steel forks.

Nearby, bric-a-brac horses
cast galloping shadows
as we roam and graze.

Melinda Thomsen

[Melinda notes: Jonathan Bowling is a sculptor based in Greenville, NC. His field of sculptures is on the corner of Dickinson and Atlantic Avenues.]

 

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Whirligig Park in Wilson, NC

I come from a nearby
town whose herons
sport feathers of golf club

handles and clipper beaks
flash shadows on the walls.
But here, looking up at all

these odd parts forged
into metal marionettes
with no strings or motor,

I see thy leave it to wind.
A cloud-laden morning
moves in and fifty feet

above, a front propeller
turns and two farmers
quickly cut a metal log.

Their saw’s teeth drag across
the tree as if their first stroke,
and behind them, a dog sits

whose tail wags at each cut.
It seems the earth begs us
to twirl, even if our spirits

have been sapped to rust,
even if our most dead
selves dwell in squeaking.

Melinda Thomsen

[Besides Wilson’s Whirligig Park, Vollis Simpson’s kinetic art is also on permanent display at the North Carolina Museum of Art.]

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Postscript: My children and their kids have always called my Mom Grandmommy. My brother’s three girls, however, know their grandmother as Nana. Of course. The nutty finger legacy lives on.

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2016-10-17b Doughton Park Tree

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Hepatica

[poems from Kakalak 2021 by Beth Copeland, Danielle Ann Verwers, Don Ball]

How cool would it be if your friends got together and wrote a book for you? Friends you hadn’t seen in a while, like maybe two years. Friends you’ve swapped a few stories with and suddenly here they are sharing new stories. Friends who at this very moment are just now becoming your friends.

How cool? Very cool.

Kakalak 2021 arrived last week and here are my friends! I’ve read the book through and gone back to re-read my favorites over and over again; the Carolinas have suddenly become cozy and personable and at once broad and expansive. Heart-expanding! Among the poets and visual artists in the book I see so many people I’ve met before at a literary gathering, read with at an open mic, served with on a board or committee. And then there are all the people whose books I’ve read or whose names I’ve seen and now the many more names I’ve not heard before but am learning. Names becoming friends. Somehow they’ve all come together to write a book for me. And for you.

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Fog

Morning fog erases the mountain and trees.
No, not an erasure but unseen.

+++ Not an erasure but unseen.
+++ The mountain, the laurel still green.

Unlike the mountain and laurel still green,
the dearly departed lie beneath white sheets.

+++ The deer depart beneath white sheets
+++ of fog, stepping into a forgotten dream

of fog slipping into a forgotten dream
the ghost mountain dreams.

+++ The ghost mountain dreams.
+++ Crows fly to pines on mascara wings.

Crows fly to pines on mascara wings,
mourning. Fog erases the mountain, the trees.

Beth Copeland

 

Ptera

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In between reflecting on the poems and enjoying the art, I flip to the back of the book for the bios. The array of people’s publishing kudos is, of course, impressive, but personal glimpses also shine through (which, true confession, is what I’m really looking for in a bio):
Dean of Arts & Sciences at Isothermal Community College . . . Kathy Ackerman
interior designer . . . Melanie T. Aves
proud member of The Poet Fools . . . Don Ball
retired librarian . . . Richard Band
academic therapist . . . Joan Barasovska
feels a good day mellows blissfully with . . . creating art . . . Christina Baumis
poems featured on a transit bus . . . Michael Beadle
beginning poet . . . Gay Boswell (an awesome beginning here, a devastating poem)
eats dark chocolate daily . . . Cheryl Boyer
loves roots music . . . Joyce Compton Brown
marriage and family therapist . . . Bill Caldwell
sings in several church choirs . . . Joy Colter
masterfully overbooks non-existent free time . . . Julie Ann Cook
creates “convoluted notions” . . . Caren Stuart
passionate about reading aloud to children . . . Jennifer Weiss
collects library cards . . . Danielle Ann Verwers
and more, and more . . . . . . . .

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Two Sparrows for a Penny

+++ I.
If an airport is anything, it must be purgatory. And positioned
here in this terminal is benevolent holding space to store heavy
baggage as I watch my status, wait for take-off. A hollow metal
locker contains all my small treasures as I perch near walls of
windows. Iron flocks drift into the cumulous blue.

+++ II.
Milton, the bishop not the poet, believed humans would soar
in time. Brethren mocked his vision, convinced all schematics
to be sketched were drafted, nothing new under the sun to be
invented. Still, Milton knew his offspring inherited aviation
faith in their DNA, their eyes fixed on the heavens, their irises
bright with flight. Before fruition, typhoid took him. He missed
it when his sons fulfilled the prophecy, when his boys flew
with sparrows.

+++ III.
No one sings about two sparrows for a penny. Instead, we praise
our own ascent after a shell of flesh is molted. I’ll fly away, Oh Glory!
When I die let them sing the blues. Play a minor key for the birds
who crashed, feathers intact. Sing about birds who caught
tender gaze of God. Yes, let them sing of paradise lost.

+++ IV.
Close your eyes. Imagine you are a cloud drifting in the sky.
Light and free. No—imagine you possess hollow bones, you
are all sparrow. And now you flap your feathered wings but
your sternum is lead heavy. And you are falling towards the
ground at the speed of—no imagine you are light, warm and
bright. Imagine beams emit from your eyes, your chest, your
feathers, your beak. You radiate. No—I take it back. Imagine
you are a vapor, here today and gone tomorrow. Yes, imagine
you are a cloud.

Danielle Ann Verwers

 

Two

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Somehow they’ve all come together to write me a book . . .

Well, not somehow come together – they’ve arrived here by intention. This book for me (and for you) was born of diligent labor and evolved quite intentionally. Enabled by the founders, sustained by editors and publishers through the years, the Kakalak vision perseveres and flourishes – a regional anthology created of and for people connected to North & South Carolina. This year’s Editors have sprinkled their selections with an especially effervescent cloud of pixie dust: they have created magical groupings of poems, 2 or 3 or more with complementary theme, style, subject. And the Art Editor has added a swish more magic by partnering the groupings with art that amplifies the verse.

And then . . . and then the real magic. The shiver. The heart to heart. I read these lines and something shifts inside me. I see with another’s eyes. I feel the depth of another’s struggle. God almighty, this is the place and this is the thing I need and this is certainly the time. When have we ever before needed it so much, this connection? Here we find it: connection with each other; connection with our small place on this planet; connection with our self.

Thank you, friends, for writing this book for me.

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Wish
Park View Hospital, Rocky Mount, NC

I am supposed to kiss my grandfather,
stroke-frozen in his high-racked hospital bed,
but he is angry at us and crying,
half-realizing the difference.
I stand by my brother and close my eyes.

About the same,
my mother says to someone in the hall,
and he’s about the same,
she whispers later on the bedside phone,
nodding to the wall.

But I am changed
by the hospital light, cold-yellow and dry,
by the white carts gliding through plastered corridors,
rattling over steel plates, swallowed by the swinging doors,
and voices that start up and quit—voices
suffocated by the secret-keeping walls.

This is it — I am thinking —
God almighty, this is the place.

Outside we are walking, our breath released.
The summer evening is blade-green and black.
The parking lot is full but quiet.
Crickets call behind looming elms,
and the moon booms out into the open sky.

Look, points my mother, The first star.
Make a wish.

The rows of hospital rooms are burning and hanging;
my brother is bending over the hint of a penny;
Grandfather, I am kissing you goodbye.

Don Ball

Currituck

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Kakalak 2021
Copyright © Moonshine Review Press, Harrisburg, North Carolina, 2021

Editors & Contest Judges:
+++ Kimberlyn Blum-Hyclak
+++ David E. Poston
+++ Richard Allen Taylor

Executive Editor and Publisher (and Art Editor)
+++ Anne M. Kaylor

[You might imagine how difficult it was to select just a few poems from many, many new favorites in this book!

Today’s art were among the entries I submitted but which were not published in Kakalak 2013, 2018, 2020, 2021. You’ll have to buy a copy of your book to see Incisors, selected for this year’s issue! — Bill Griffin.]

Order your copy of Kakalak 2021.

Explore past issues of Kakalak published by Main Street Rag.

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Delivery

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2020-03-07 Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Susan M. Lefler]

Forty-four years ago this month, Linda delivered our son Josh after an epic display of Lamaze prowess. We had celebrated Thanksgiving with friends; we suspect the sweet potato pie induced labor. We lived in Durham, NC, and her parents and mine plus all our family lived in Ohio, five hundred miles away. Ooh, how they wanted to get their hands on that baby boy. First grandchild on both sides, Linda and I both the oldest sibs.

I was just weeks away from my last day of med school at Duke. Benevolent powers granted me Christmas off and my Dad, as I recall, bought the tickets with a plane change in Pittsburgh. If you notice that current day lavatories have baby stations it’s probably because so many callers contacted the authorities after being grossed out by us changing poopy diapers on the main concourse.

We finally cinched ourselves in for the last leg. The flight attendant noticed us – curly brown locks, rosy cheeks, has anyone ever been so young? – and remarked, “You must be brother and sister!”

Then she saw the tiny well-blanketed bundle nuzzling Linda’s breast. “Ahhh,” she said, “I guess not.”
. . . . .

Yesterday Linda and I got our COVID boosters at Walgreens. There was a moderate queue (Yay, Surry County, y’all go get them shots, OK?!). Waiting, masked, yawn, plenty long enough for Linda to forge friendship with the white-haired woman ahead of us and share a few chuckles. We were last in line when the pharmacist stuck her head out the door of the procedure room and called, “Griffins!”

I asked if we should come in together. She looked us over – hiking boots, matching gray pony tails, has anyone ever been together so long? – and said, “Yeah, if you really are together and it’s not just a coincidence that you both have the same last name.” The pharmacist never cracked a smile but I think she looked pleased when, after our needle jabs, Linda said she wished she could hug her.

Define long. In 1985 Linda and I figured we’d been “going together” longer than we hadn’t. In 1995 we calculated we’d lived in North Carolina half our lives. Are there any family stories we haven’t already told each other twice? Is it still likely a stranger would think we’re brother and sister?

When I look at Linda I see her father. When she speaks I hear her mother. What does a stranger see when they look at you? Your history is a cipher. Your thoughts inscrutable. Your desires a swirling mist. The most that stranger can know about you is how you respond to the next person in line. How you react to the person that hurts you.

 

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Midwinter Garden

While I stir the soup, my husband digs.
He’s building me a garden in the center
of the barren yard. He marks out paths
with careful edges, makes them long
and straight. Already he plans walls, a gate.

Mind you, nothing grows yet.

While he digs and scatters time
like seeds, he dreams the blooms
full as we were at the start
when gardens grew from us, opening
like Fuji mums released from the confines
of their nets. He leaves the center blank
for a fountain, for the pond, a waterfall . . .
he dreams big and works to prove
that we can look at frozen ground and see
the cold tight seed begin to break,
greening toward spring.

In case spring should come late
leaving the garden t its frozen fate,
I stir the soup.

Susan M. Lefler
all selections from Rendering the Bones, Wind Publications, © 2011 by Susan M. Lefler

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Susan Lefler is a native North Carolinian who lives in Brevard and has authored a photographic history of that area published by Arcadia Press. The three sections of her poetry collection Rendering the Bones delicately weave family heritage into a journey of moods, observations, trials – the longing we all have to find our way home. In the final section she cares for her parents as they decline through their last days. If we are to live in this world, we must all join her struggle through grief to discover meaning. To see, even in frozen ground, the cold tight seed begin to break.

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Moon Stick

I want a counting stick to count the moon,
one notch at a time to mark, one thousand
and eight moons since my father’s birth,
five wards, depending how you count,
each month rolled into years, each year
into the next until we couldn’t tell
that time had passed, but we could see
his energy sigh out of him, and I leaned in
to ask old Cowboy Death, astride his big-assed
horse with the sag in the middle like a nag
too worn for use: how wide is dying?
Or is it dry and thin? Is it round
like the blood moon that lifts
above the mountain, or narrow as a bone
and hard to penetrate?

I want to ask if he keeps company with those
he’s taken out, or do new prospects
occupy his time? I want to ask
how many moons he plans to let go by
until he takes my father up, slings
him over the back of that old horse,
and heads away, letting the last moon
slide behind the mountain as he goes.

Susan Lefler

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About Ashes

Ash Wednesday in the church, I listen
to the ancient words of dust and grief
punctuated with the hiss
of oxygen. Words crunch in my mouth
like little bones.

Slow bodies move forward
to the rail, kneel, submit
to ashes marked on skin, remembering
the palm green fronds, the bloom, the fire
that brought them here.

At home, I shovel ashes from the hearth
until I fill a scuttle full, the very one
my grandfather used to load coal
from the towering pile
next to the chickenyard, piece
by piece to keep the grate alive.

I load the remnants of dead trees
into a heap and haul them to the yard.
I’ll feed the lilacs with them.
They like ashes.

When the shovel lifts
for the last time, one spark
smolders still, telling the tale
once more of who we were,
of who we long to be, of what it means
to come awake, and waking
see.

Susan M. Lefler

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2014-06-30a Doughton Park Tree

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[with poems by Jonathan Revere, Maggie Dietz, William Butler Yeats ]

Actually, that’s a Herring Gull.

Day 7 of our Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness adventure and Josh and I are feeling pretty fit in the lead canoe this morning. We’re almost across Ima Lake to our next portage, the other two canoes lagging. A quarter mile to starboard on a high bluff we spy a campsite of Girl Scouts watching and waving. We paddle our manly J-strokes and pay no attention to the big rocky crag jutting up out of the lake to port.

Until Fury rains from the skies.

Actually, more like flaps and squawks. Atop the crag one big frizzed-out Herring Gull chick gangles from its nest and Mom & Dad are divebombing our canoe. Josh and I whoop and splash and all but capsize as we invent a whole new series of paddle strokes.

We finally manage 50 yards of headway; the attackers call truce and return to the nest. Josh and I take a break while we check our heads for gull guano. The Girl Scouts seem to be convulsing – dreadful concern or laughter? And here come Matt and Greg and Little Brad around the point. They’re fixated on the Girl Scouts. They haven’t even noticed us.

Josh and I scull the canoe around and take a sighting. Hmmm. Direct line from us to the crag to oblivious canoe number two.

“Hey guys! Here we are! This way!”

Matt, Greg, and Brad are twenty feet from the crag when the gulls open fire. The guys cower so far below the gunwales they can’t even get a paddle into the water. It’s a couple of minutes before Josh and I can even breathe for laughing, then we start hollering that they’re going to have to put some distance between themselves and that rock.

The guys end up paddling with their hands, scrunched down in the canoe like drowned haversacks. Finally they catch up to us and they ain’t laughing. Or showing their faces to the Girl Scouts. At least we can’t see any fresh blood.

The five of us cool off for a minute. We look back. Around the point come Everett and Big Brad in canoe number three. Hmmm.

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Gull Skeleton

In the first verse I find his skeleton
nested in shore grass, late one autumn day.
The loss of life and the life which is decay
have been so gentle, so clasped one-to-one

that what they left is perfect; and here in
the second verse I kneel to pick it up:
bones like the fine white china of a cup,
chambered for lightness, dangerously thin,

their one clear purpose forcing them toward flight
even now, from the warm solace of my hand.
In the third verse I bend to that demand
and – quickly, against the deepening of the night,

because I can in poems – remake his wild eye,
his claws, and the tense heat his muscles keep,
his wings’ knit feathers, then free him to his steep
climb, in the last verse, up the streaming sky.

Jonathan Revere

POETRY magazine, April 1971, The Poetry Foundation.

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Seasonal

Summer-long the gulls’ old umbra cry
unraveled ease
but certain waves went by, then by.
The sky shook out the days.

The seabirds’ hunger rose in rings,
flung rock-clams to their shatterings,
raked gullets full, the bone-bills scraped.

High noon: oceans of time escaped.

++++++++++ *

All winter we slept benched together,
breakers, sleepdrunk children in a car
not conscious where they go.

We kneaded bread, kept out the weather,
while old suspicions huddled by the door,
mice in the snow.

++++++++++ *

In spring, the leaving bloomed—
oak leaf unfurled, a foot, resplendent
vigorous, aching to shake loose
but still dependent.

One morning moongreen loaves
rose into bones that rose to lift
our skin like sleeves,
our time together’s revenant.

++++++++++ *

Perennial fall, come cool the cliffs,
bring quiet, sulfur, early dark.
Represent as you must: dusk, dying, ends
and row us into winter’s water:

The body, wind-whipped, forms stiff peaks,
ice settles in the marrow bone.
At the chest, the live stone breaks against the beak,
beak breaks against stone.

Maggie Dietz

from Perennial Fall. Copyright © 2006 by Maggie Dietz. Reprinted in POETRY magazine online, The Poetry Foundation.

 

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On a Political Prisoner

She that but little patience knew,
From childhood on, had now so much
A grey gull lost its fear and flew
Down to her cell and there alit,
And there endured her fingers’ touch
And from her fingers ate its bit.

Did she in touching that lone wing
Recall the years before her mind
Became a bitter, an abstract thing,
Her thought some popular enmity:
Blind and leader of the blind
Drinking the foul ditch where they lie?

When long ago I saw her ride
Under Ben Bulben to the meet,
The beauty of her country-side
With all youth’s lonely wildness stirred,
She seemed to have grown clean and sweet
Like any rock-bred, sea-borne bird:

Sea-borne, or balanced in the air
When first it sprang out of the nest
Upon some lofty rock to stare
Upon the cloudy canopy,
While under its storm-beaten breast
Cried out the hollows of the sea.

William Butler Yeats

reprinted in POETRY magazine online, The Poetry Foundation.

 

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Yeats wrote On a Political Prisoner at the beginning of 1919 as the Anglo-Irish war for independence was about to explode. It refers to a woman he admired and loved (scholars differ on her exact identity) who had been imprisoned for her strong nationalistic beliefs. Yeats supported Irish home rule but had become disenchanted with radical politics, and the poem reflects that ambivalence in describing the woman’s mind as bitter, abstract thing while still admiring her patience and gentleness in befriending the gull.

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The Terror of Gull Rock occurred in June, 1996 when I and my son Josh as co-leader shepherded a little crew of Boy Scouts through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. Nine days on the water, 28 lakes traversed, 33 portages (carrying packs and canoes) = 70 miles afloat and afoot. We lived to tell the tales and there were plenty of tales. Thank you for all that paddling and for eating my cooking to Everett, Greg, Matt, and Brad, and to Big Brad our summer intern. There ain’t no place more glorious than the middle of nowhere.

 

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IMG_1609

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[with poems by Donald Hall and Charles Martin]

Have you ever imagined, while walking a well-worn woodland trail, simply stepping off into the forest? What if you moved just ten feet, twenty, into the trees? Would you be standing on a spot untouched by human feet for years? Decades? Forever?

I considered this years ago when I led, with my son Josh as co-leader, a little crew of Boy Scouts on a 10-day canoe trek in the Boundary Waters Wilderness of northern Minnesota. We camped each night on the shore of different lake. Some mornings (sunrise 0400) while they still slept I walked away from the water into the trackless forest. Did the last human rest on this lichen crusted boulder more than a hundred years ago, a French voyageur taking a break from trapping? A thousand years ago, a young Anishinaabe scout hunting meat for his village? Ten thousand years ago?

Now Josh spends every day it’s not raining trekking the Blue Ridge & foothills as a surveyor. When did a human foot last jump this creek or climb this unforgiving steepness? This corner marked by a chestnut ten feet in girth – today Josh must discover the remnant of its stump. How long must the earth rest from the tread of human feet before all sign of our passage is erased? How far is it from here to the middle of nowhere?

Last Saturday I joined a trail crew to maintain a little section of the Mountains-to-Sea trail near Elkin. The MST is a work in progress – departing Elkin hiking east, you follow Rte 268 most of the way to Pilot Mountain. Our day’s assignment was an orphan – 1 ½ miles of footpath leading away from the road and on through the woods with no trailhead or connectors. Probably no one had walked this way since it was last maintained in 2020.

Everywhere a little sun penetrates the undergrowth thrives: Goldenrod, Burnweed, Wingstem, Boneset, all manner of grasses native and exotic – summer asters up to eight feet tall, especially through the Duke Energy right-of-way beneath power lines. Add obstructions from grapevine, Smilax, fallen trees and in one single year the trail had become impenetrable, almost disappearing except for the white circular MST blazes on the trees.

In a few more years it might have lead to the middle of nowhere. Which is how you get to the middle of everywhere. Which is the trail I want to walk.

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Surface

The surveyor climbs a stonewall into woods
scribbled with ferns, saplings, and dead oaktrees

where weltering lines trope themselves into stacks
of vegetation. He sees an ash forced around a rock

with roots that clutch on granite like a fist
grasping a paperweight. He stares at hemlocks

rising among three-hundred-year-old sugarmaples
that hoist a green archive of crowns: kingdom

of fecund death and pitiless survival. He observes
how birch knocked down by wind and popple chewed

by beaver twist over and under each other, branches
abrasive when new-fallen, turning mossy and damp

as they erase themselves into humus, becoming
polyseeded earth that loosens with lively pokeholes

of creatures that watch him back: possum, otter,
fox. Here the surveyor tries making his mark:

He slashes a young oak; he constructs a stone
cairn at a conceptual right-angle; he stamps

his name and the day’s date onto metal tacked
to a stake. His text established, he departs

the life-and-death woods, where cellular life keeps
pressing upward from underground offices to read

sun and study slogans of dirt: “Never consider
a surface except as the extension of a volume.”

Donald Hall

from Poems for a Small Planet: Contemporary American Nature Poetry. Edited by Robert Pack & Jay Parini, A Bread Loaf Anthology, © 1993, Middlebury College Press.

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Both of today’s poems are from Poems for a Small Planet, edited by Robert Pack & Jay Parini. This next one by Charles Martin stuck to my soul like beggar lice – I’ve imagined myself stuck in a dry spell for the past several weeks. I can’t resist the epigraph by Randall Jarrell, one of North Carolina’s most luminous poets. While waiting for lightning to strike I’ll learn to endure the rain running off my chin.

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Reflections after a Dry Spell

++++ A good poet is someone who manages, in a
++++ lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be
++++ struck by lightning five or six times.
++++ — Randall Jarrell

And the one that took this literally
Is the one that you still sometimes see
In the park, running from tree to tree

On likely days, out to stand under
The right one this time – until the thunder
Rebukes him for yet another blunder. . . .

But the one who knew it was nothing more
(That flash of lightning) than a metaphor,
And said as much, as he went out the door –

Of that one, if you’re lucky, you just may find
The unzapped verse or two he left behind
On the confusion between World and Mind.

Charles Martin

from Poems for a Small Planet: Contemporary American Nature Poetry. Edited by Robert Pack & Jay Parini, A Bread Loaf Anthology, © 1993, Middlebury College Press.

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[My immense gratitude to the Elkin Valley Trails Association for imaging, creating, maintaining, and improving the Mountains-to-Sea Trail from Stone Mountain State Park to Elkin and onward east through Surry County, North Carolina. And for inviting this lunkhead with a shovel to join in.]

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

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[poems by Jeanne Julian]

The cosmos blossoms by the rotting stump.

“That’s not scary.” We’re hiking through the Haunted Forest with Amelia, age 5. Tree limbs drip with giant cobwebs and red-eyed spiders, bats dangle, skeleton hands reach up from pine needle cemeteries beside the path. The crew has outdone themselves decorating this stretch of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail that, except for the month of October, is nicknamed the Enchanted Forest. Now Amelia stops and calls, “What’s that?!” at the skull-faced ghost bound up in chains, but it’s more curiosity than apprehension.

Past the Halloweeny stretch, though, I see something well off the trail that causes me to stop and exclaim, “Look!!” An immense fairy ring coaxed forth by last week’s rain: chain of mushroom caps that loops and twists and branches through the pines before doubling back on itself. On and on, a new arc & angle appears every place we look. At the word fairy Amelia is instantly engaged. What sprite danced here before us? What might be hiding beneath the ghost-white caps?

I’m thinking, Dang, that is one big organism, mycelia threaded through at least a half acre.

Amelia is thinking, Wonder . . . wonder . . . wonder.

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The Reservoir

I’m looking for Wildcat Road.
There’s a “Free Manure” sign,
two blossoming magnolias, and a boy
who, up here, gives this passing car
an over-the-shoulder glance
as he walks. I’m going the wrong way.
But, here’s a turn for a road
sharing the reservoir’s name.
Clouds cover the sun and move on.
Light sweeps the hills, harried by gloom.
Birches whiten and fade again.

There’s the expanse of lusterless
water through leafless trees:
I’ve found it, rounding a bend.
Angle and clouds shift, and
the landscape remembers its colors
as if a lady’s fan had opened
revealing a scene in lapis, henna, and rhinestone.

We sat her, on this rock,
years ago – April then, too – learning
to touch, and in late summer embraced
there, on the dam where youngsters
scrawl their names indelibly.
In the silence, eddies of air sound “hush”
at my ear. Those antique fans were meant
to conceal, weren’t they, and
we in shadow to forget.

Jeanne Julian

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These three poems are from Blossom and Loss by Jeanne Julian (Longleaf Press, Methodist University, Fayetteville NC, © 2015). The delicate volume follows the seasons with all the imagery and metaphor that organic cycle can reveal. Sometimes the captured moments, the vignettes, the narratives are so personal they become cryptic, but as I read on I discover my own stories flowing forth to fill unspoken phrases. Thus does poetry enlighten and inspire. Thus does it become, in the words of Andrea Hollander, entertaining and useful.

The cosmos blossoms / by the rotting stump. from Jeanne’s poem Loss and Blossom

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Haunted

Each Halloween we hang
ghostlets in the tree,
by morning off they’ve blown.

My friends’ lost boy: how
had he been retrieved? By whom?
Alone? What varnish glossed his veins?

In the hospital they hung
on every beat and breath,
clung to any chance

until their changeling offspring
splintered, vanished, leaving a hollow
husk for them to burn

like autumn leaves or questions or endless
mourning muddled with routine,
travail of the telling and retelling,

dread burden of cereal in bowls
recalling a pajamaed imp held
in the lap, reading The Giving Tree aloud.

How unstoppably he must’ve lapped it up,
a lacquer lulling the limbic brain
until the one dose shoved him over

that last callow October. Still each Halloween
children clamber up the steps for sweets.
“See, I am a butterfly,” the smallest says.

Jeanne Julian

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Melting

The snow that attacked so frantically while we slept
has blistered into water on the branches.
We also melt ut not as completely as Baum’s witch,
who cannot suffer water. Remember the crooner
in the small-town lounge, that ersatz L.A. club,
who kissed you on the left eyelid
when you were twelve? Remember that first
swig of Colt 45 Malt Liquor? Remember the cocoon
of oblivion that sucked you under before
the scalpel splayed your belly flesh? Remember
how the pressure of one finger spirals
your inner hold into ripples of languid indifference
to all but feeling?
One day too soon you’ll let go for good.
Dripping from the eaves, the fresh liquidity
will patter on unheard while you dissolve –
easily, let us hope, easily, and neither up nor down, while
on the roof the newly fallen expanse, unsullied,,
luxuriates under the sun.

Jeanne Julian

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[with 3 poems by Michael Beadle]

4 AM. Reason says you need to sleep; everything but reason says forget about it. Sweating, restless – how long? – I finally force into the background those pricks of regret past & future and focus on the faces of my friends. In silence I speak each name and visualize each person. Then their son. Their granddaughter. I wish for them enfolding arms of peace.

And as I see their smiles I also see their pain. Can I imagine a single one who has not been visited by grief? Who isn’t struggling, right now, 4 AM, with worries for the ones they love, with heartsickness, with loneliness? All of them suffer behind the smiles.

And all of them go on living. Remarkable, isn’t it? Unbelievable. All of us suffer and all of us go on living for those few moments of hope, of joyfulness, of connection with another, moments that waft through our days like some longed-for fragrance – we can’t tell where it’s come from, we can’t catch it and keep it, we simply trust it will return.

Moments that waft through our nights. 4 AM. I breathe out a word of love for each friend. Call it prayer. May we be one.

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Wild Horses

They know they’ll never stand again –
the bay colt missing a hind leg,
the palomino whose front hoof

came unglued, the cream-coated filly
with ebony ears and a clipped tail.
Porcelain stallions paraded for decades

on living room doilies, unbridled mares
guarding crystal jars of peppermints.
Silent companions of cocktail parties,

Christmas dinners, afternoon tea.
If Oma gave them names, I never knew.
After she died, they spent months

wrapped in newspaper,
boxed on basement shelves.
Perhaps they grew restless,

kicked each other in a barn-fire panic,
hoping to free themselves for the rainy day
when strangers came to haggle over

the china I’d never use. Let them
take the pewter goblets, the steins that smelled
like old pencils, tubs of tools

that bore the scars of hard seasons.
The tray of horses was all I hoped to keep.
I came to love them –

not for what they once were,
but, being broken,
how they went on living.

+++++ Michael Beadle

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Poets play with words. They select them as carefully as the chocolate from the sampler that must be raspberry truffle. They wiggle words around until uncomfortable becomes comfortable and we exclaim, Oh! I see! They tickle them until the words gasp out a new meaning they’d never revealed before.

Michael Beadle plays and frolics and romps with words. He flips over rocks and pulls out wrigglers that haven’t been seen on a page in a coon’s age, if ever. If he can’t find the words he wants he makes up some new ones right then and there. He cavorts, he rolls around on the floor with words until they all collapse laughing. He snuffs them up, he savors, he rolls words around in his mouth until he’s sure he’s found just the right flavor.

And Michael sits down on the sofa with words, arms around each other’s shoulder, while they speak to each other oh so softly. I understand. We’ll get through this together. What are friends for?

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The Naming

“What about this one?” I asked.
“Mylax,” he replied.
“And this one?”
“Plumdrum.”

We were at the lakeshore again
among the cool bed of rocks,
our words echoing
across the water.

Ghozlak +++++ Aya +++++ Zephanos

Lifting each rock,
we felt its weight in our palms,
closed our eyes
until a name arose.

Millanthium +++++ Whillet +++++ Lippery

We hurled the rocks
as far as we could
into the lake,
giving them
a new depth to find.

There we sat for hours,
the only ones left in this world
who could conjure
its litany of names.

Perio +++++ Shezai +++++ Calex

As darkness crept into the cove,
we chose new rocks,
hardened by time, tempered by water,
and steadied our minds
for the Naming.

+++++ Michael Beadle

 

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These three poems are from Michael Beadle’s The Beasts of Eden (©2018, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC). Its three sections include deep memories and deeply poignant moments; raucous celebrations of Western North Carolina roots and language; pointed retelling of myths, local legends, and Bible stories. Michael, you’ve made me laugh and you’ve made me cry. You’ve brought a sweet fragrance into this moment. I am restored and refreshed by joining you as friend.

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Yay-long

It is most certainly not a member of the metric system,
perhaps a distant relation to the foot or yard.

Snubbed by the methodical and meticulous
who pride themselves with empirical accuracy,

it endures as a standard among Southerners
when a tape measure won’t do.

How big was that possum? the man at the gas station asks.
‘Bout yay-long, his friend replies, hands spread wide, like so.

Yay-long or yay-high declares without stretching
the truth to eleventy feet. Used sparingly,

yay-long approximates for those who didn’t see
the neighbor’s copperhead startled in the wood pile.

A breath of anticipation between those hands,
experience borne from the invisible.

Yay-long serves memory as memory serves the teller,
and so we nod, eager for the rest of the story.

+++++ Michael Beadle

 

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

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[poems by Marty Silverthorne]

I have a good friend with a titanium leg named Mike.
Oh yes? And what’s the name of his other leg?
Ugh. You should be ashamed of yourself. Although Mike would certainly declare there is nothing like a good joke.
And that was nothing like a good joke.
Who’s in charge of this story anyway? I was trying to tell you about Mike, the king of story tellers.

The story about losing his leg is pretty harrowing, the lightning storm, the catastrophic collapse of the radio mast. Also the one about how long it took the doctors (years) to finally decide to amputate and order the titanium. But Mike has more stories than a rose garden has June bugs. And if he’s known you for one day, you’re part of the story, too. Like his neighbor Marcel who saw Mike fall into the bushes and came running out of the house half dressed to help. Or the other neighbor who saw Mike and Marcel shoveling dirt off Mike’s driveway and came out exclaiming, “Y’all need a young man to do that!”

Add in all the stories that are taking root right now from this afternoon when our whole church gathered COVID-safe in Mike’s driveway to share the ribs and chicken he’d been smoking for 3 days (and smoked portobellos for the solitary vegetarian, me). How for days all the neighbors’ mouths were watering. How Marcel, Jeremiah, and Jonathan accepted the invitation to lunch and joined right in with us. How we sang Happy Birthday to Hal’s mom Charlotte who would be 103 today (and died less than a year ago) and loosed balloons to soar in her memory. And shouted Happy Anniversary to Marcel who got married a year ago. How we drove away from Mike and Linda’s home having been fed in body and spirit.

That’s what our stories are for: to draw us together, feed us, and send us out. Friend, next time we meet I want to hear your story. And I’ve got a few to share with you as well . . .

[Today’s jokes were unabashedly stolen from Disney’s Mary Poppins, 1964]

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I knew Marty Silverthorne from a dozen or so poetry event in as many years. Sometime after his motorcycle accident in 1976, he began to write. When he died in 2019, Marty had spent over forty years in a motorized chair but his poems and stories not only had wheels but wings. He published a number of books and had a long career counseling persons suffering with addiction. He inspired innumerable struggling people to find their own strength and their own voice.

These two poems are from one of Marty Silverthorne’s last books, Naming the Scars. Truth has hard edges, rough and sharp; Marty doesn’t grind those edges down or polish them up, but neither did the truth grind Marty down or polish him off. In the midst of the grueling hardship of quadriplegia, Marty Silverthorne celebrates families, legacy, caregivers, fellow sojourners; Naming the Scars is dedicated For my family and for the hands of angels.

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Inside of Me

Inside of me you expected to find
a motorcycle wrapped around a tree,
whiskey bottles beside the road.
You did not expect to find daffodils
blooming in a pine thicket,
crepe myrtles close enough
to threaten their beauty.

Inside of me you expected to find
the soiled pages of Penthouse.
You did not expect Yeats and Keats
on a linen table cloth,
one large candle with a wavering flame,
a bottle of chardonnay.

Inside of me there are bracelets of old lovers,
stuffed animals martyred by time,
tangled dreams of childhood.
You did not expect to find forgiveness here,
the flag of my soul waving in surrender,
a truce between our hardened scars.
Here in this temple I have created
among azaleas and gardenias, I live with a woman I love,
whom grandmother called beautiful.

Marty Silverthorne (1957-2019)

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Naming the Scars

My right eye is underlined
by a thick-fisted scar
I won in a fight
brawling over a girl
who belonged to no one.

Under my beard line, a scar
shines like a crescent moon,
burned by a girl with a razor
engraving her pain in unfaithful flesh.

Half moon between thumb
and finger on my contracted left hand
I carved with a Barlow,
deceitful blood dripping
moon-drops on the countertop.

Suicide slashes cross my wrist
form a constellation of scars;
the jagged edge of a pop bottle
sliced flesh in rhythms,
painted my portrait in blood.

Crossing my body like a sickle
is a handlebar scar.
One August night, drunk on wind,
I tried to quiet the voices
when the one I loved
said she could go on without me.
I straddled the metal-flake frame,
carved out curves,
filled emptiness with speed.

Black necrotic spot marks the toe
I lost to a surgical show.
In Winston-Salem one snowy Christmas
Missed love so bad I checked into
a private room in a public hospital.
Too long ago to remember, so scar-proud
I can’t forget, I branded this body
with wounds no thread can bind.

Marty Silverthorne (1957-2019

Both selections from Naming the Scars, Longleaf Press, Methodist University, Fayetteville, NC; © 2017

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Books by Marty Silverthorne

Naming the Scars – Longleaf Press, 2017

Holy Ghosts of Whiskey – Sable Books, 2016

Marty Silverthorne – Ten Poems – St. Andrews University Press, 2016

Rewinding at 40 – Pudding House, 2009

No Welfare, No Pension Plan – Rank Stranger Press, 2006

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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[poems from VISIONS INTERNATIONAL by Jack Coulehan and Stan Absher]

Mysterious hominid group left a big legacy in the Philippines . . .
+++++++++++++++++ SCIENCE NEWS, Vol. 200 No. 5, September 11, 2021

The black bear in last night’s dream was only mildly interested in the sunflower seeds I offered. It ate one mouthful to be polite. Dang that bear smelled funky, exactly like Pip, my ancient Cairn Terrier, times ten. And the bear was obviously itchy – I reached gingerly to scratch near the bare patch on its back. Telling myself, “This is a bear. Wild. Be gentle.”

The bear wandered away to sun itself in the hay. I’ll bet my cousins were happy whenever the sun came out. That cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia looks pretty dank and funky. The locals named it Denisova after the old hermit who lived there, Dyonisiy, and when they found a girl’s finger bone fossil way back in the shadows in 2008 they named her Denisova, too. My cousin.

Well, not a close cousin. Completely different side of the family, actually, those funky Denisovans, though we have some grins at reunions. Lately it turns out some closer relatives used to hang out in that cave at times. Real close – Neanderthals. Kissing cousins. I’ll bet we all dream of scratching bears.

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Neanderthal

My three percent that came from you
is chopped and sprinkled like confetti
among my twenty thousand genes.
Just junk, os so the experts tell me.
A legacy as mute as the hundred

millennia that passed before we met,
though I sense echoes of your voice,
your lyric bird-like tongue, and glimpse
the clan, the tools, the hunt. I feel
your hunger, fear, and satisfaction.

Ancient cousin, what can you teach me
about becoming human? Brutality?
My species doesn’t need your help for that.
Reverence for the earth? We understand
but choose ambition and destruction.

When I visualize beyond the fog of time
your presence, receding ice appears,
a camp of ten or twelve around the fire.
You are sitting beside a peculiar
stranger, so different from the others.
You reach for her hand. She offers it.

Jack Coulehan, from Visions International #104, © 2021 Visions International Arts Synergy

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These poems by Jack Coulehan and Stan Absher are from the most recent edition of Visions International, a small but tenacious journal published continuously for over 40 years by Visions International Arts Synergy, reprinted by permission. I asked the founding editor, Bradley R. Strahan, for a little history:

“As to me and the journal, we’re inseparable. I started it in 1979 in D.C. at the Writers Center. I have done just about everything on it except printing and art work. For the first couple of dozen issues I had someone do the layout but after that I’ve done it myself on an old fashioned light table. It’s a 501(c)3 non-profit and it definitely is.

“As for just me, after retiring early, 1990, from the Feds I taught for 12 years at Georgetown University, then 2+ years in the Balkans as a Fulbrighter. After that I moved to Austin where I taught part time at U.T. for several years. During my travels I’ve kept the magazine going with 2 issues published in Macedonia and then 2 in Ireland and then one by the University of Liege in Belgium. [We have] a subscriber base that includes several major libraries like Yale, U. Cal., U. NY, U. Penn, etc.” ####### — Bradley Strahan

The journal is illustrated by Malaika Favorite. The poetry takes you around the world and deep into your own psyche. Contact and subscribe at:

http://www.visionsi.com/
Black Buzzard Press / 7742 Fairway Rd / Woodway, TX 76712 USA

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Every time I read a poem by Stan Absher I feel a pinch of my soul rolled between the fingers of God. Softened and warmed, ready to be restored and molded that much closer to the shape it was meant for.

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We Lay Our Burdens on Time

Head bent to earth it carries them off.
We hear it shuffle its leaden feet
and wheeze and cough.

Poor thing, we think, the swelling
ankles, the rheumy eyes
that look at us without seeing,

at each trembling step
it drops something we gave it –
a grief, a pang of regret,

a vow we thought would outlive it.
It even forgets its own cruelty,
what it filched from us, a bit

of stature or memory or cheer,
what it plentifully gave
of sickness and despair,

it forgets, and doesn’t care,
stands mumbling in the street,
staggers to the corner bar.

Stan Absher, from Visions International #104, © 2021 Visions International Arts Synergy

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