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Posts Tagged ‘Black Nature’

[with poems by Carl Phillips, Janice Harrington, Ross Gay]

Green is God’s best idea.

Yesterday afternoon Linda and I drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway for a hike at Doughton Park. Crossing Air Bellows Gap (elevation 1,135 m / 3,724 ft) we noticed the new leaves still flashed mint, gold, orange, pink, some foreshadowing their autumn hues. Once we’d climbed up to the overlook at Bluff Mountain, though, we saw the hardwoods down in Basin Cove fully decked in rich deep emerald and kelly, gradations of green from full summer in the bottoms to pale spring at ridgecrest. Which is all just to say: Go, little Chloroplasts, Go!

The first chloroplast was born about 2 billion years ago when an ancient cell engulfed an ancient cyanobacterium. And then didn’t digest it! The cyanobacterium became a tiny green internal organelle and its chlorophyll turned sunlight into sugar for the big cell; the big cell provided a safe home for the cb. They became first plant cell – a match made in heaven! In another mere billion years or so of reproducing like mad (and cranking out oxygen as a waste product), the earth’s atmosphere changed from having zero oxygen to having oxygen enough to support the development of the first animals. Of which you and I, of course, are two. Thank you, Green!

Postscript re: good ideas and all – Linda and I had parked beneath an oak tree. When we’d finished our five miles (including detour around a herd of steers that grazes on NPS land to keep the balds bald) I opened the car door and raised a visible cloud. Swelling eyes, paroxysms of coughing, nose gusher: oak tree in flower = pollen.

To make a seed you need an ovum and pollen. Every green thing that doesn’t make seeds makes spores instead and is a fern (well, OK, or moss, or liverwort, or lichen, or . . . ). Spores work pretty well but about 400 million years ago the gymnosperms appeared (conifers, ginkgo) and brought with them the first pollen, and when plants became smart enough to make flowers about 135 million years ago (angiosperms) the variety of living things on earth really skyrocketed. Go, Flowers, Go! So if you’ll hand me a tissue, God, I’ll grudge you this: pollen might be your second best idea.

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The Cure

The tree stood dying – dying slowly, in the ususal manner
of trees, slowly, but now without its clusters of spring leaves
taking shape again, already. The limbs that held them tossed,

shifted, the light fell as it does, through them, though it
sometimes looked as if the light were being shaken, as if
by the branches – the light, like leaves, had it been autumn,

scattering down: singly, in fistfuls. Nothing about it to do
with happiness, or glamour. Not sadness either. That much
I could see, finally. I could see, and want to see. The tree

was itself, its branches were branches, shaking, they shook
in the wind like possibility, like impatient escorts bored with
their own restlessness, like hooves in the wake of desire, in

the wake of the dream of it, and like the branches they were.
A sound in the branches like that of luck when it turns, or is
luck itself a fixed thing, around which I myself turn or don’t,

I remember asking – meaning to ask. Where had I been, for
what felt like forever? Where was I? The tree was itself, and
dying; it resembled, with each scattering of light, all the more

persuasively the kind of argument that can at last let go of them,
all the lovely-enough particulars that, for a time, adorned it:
force is force. The tree was itself. The light fell here and there,

through it. Like history. No – history doesn’t fall, we fall
through history, the tree is history, I remember thinking, trying
not to think it, as I lay exhausted down in its crippled shadow.

Carl Phillips

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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.

Carl Phillips is the author of nine books of poetry, most recently Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems 1986-2006 and Riding Westward. A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, he teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.

Janice Harrington (b. 1956) grew up in Alabama and Nebraska. After working as a public librarian and as a professional storyteller, Harrington now teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has also written award-winning children’s books.

Ross Gay was born in 1974 in Youngstown, Ohio. He is a Cave Canem Fellow and a recipient of a grant from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts. He teaches poetry at Indiana University in Bloomington and gives readings and workshops in various venues across the country.

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What There Was

Pine, catalpa, pin oak, persimmon,
but not tree.

Hummingbird, hoot owl, martin, crow,
but not bird

Cannas, honeysuckle, cockscomb, rose,
but not flower.

Wood smoke, corn, dust, outhouse,
but not stench.

A spider spinning in a rain barrel,
the silver dipper by the back porch,
tadpoles shimmying against a concrete bank,
but not silence.

A cotton row, a bucket lowered into a well,
a red dirt road, a winging crow,
but not distance.

A rooster crowing in the evening,
wasps humming beneath the eaves, hounds
baying, hot grease, but not music.

My mother running away at fifteen,
my grandmother lifting a truck to save a life,
an uncle at Pearly Harbor, Webster sitting
at the back of the bus when he looked as white
as they did, but not stories.

The entrails of a slaughtered sow, the child born
with a goat’s face, the cousin laid on a railroad
track, the fire that burned it all, but not death.

This poem, a snuff tin sated with the hair
of all our dead, my mother’s nighttime talks
with her dead father, my great-grandmother’s
clothes passed down, passed down, but not memory.

Janice N. Harrington

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Thank You

If you find yourself half naked
and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
again, the earth’s great, sonorous moan that says
you are the air of the now and gone, that says
all you love will turn to dust,
and will meet you there, do not
raise your fist. Do not raise
your small voice against it. And do not
take cover. Instead, curl your toes
into the grass, watch the cloud
ascending from your lips. Walk
through the garden’s dormant splendor.
Say only, thank you.
Thank you.

Ross Gay

 

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Doughton Park Tree, 2022-05-17A

 

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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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[with 3 poems by Gerald Barrax Sr.]

Next month I’ll be leading a couple of nature walks for our local trails association. My fellow naturalists-for-a-morning – as we enter the world of trees and ferns, birds and bugs, what special guidance shall I give you? I’ll mention the primary tasks of the naturalist – notice; ask questions; make connections – but what might make our small journey together even more personal and meaningful?

I think I’ll say, Let’s be slow to name things. Yes, we are each going to encounter some things we recognize. We will also each see or hear or smell something unknown, maybe an odd shaped leaf, a bird call, a pungent mushroom. Either way, may we allow everyone to fill their senses with the thing, share the encounter, before we speak its name.

Am I correct in this: once I give something a name do I stop noticing it as fully? I end my close attention, my exploration of its flower, its leaf. I quit asking myself, What does this remind me of? What is this like and what is it not? I’m done. I’ve finished wondering.

Let’s be slower to name things. Let’s extend wonder as long as we can. Wonder is why we’ve come here.

On the other hand, working together to figure out something’s name is bonkers. As in, we share a crazy laugh when we’ve done it. Yesterday Linda and I visited the NC Zoo with our daughter and her family. All day and many miles of walking through Uwharrie forest to visit Africa and North America with a four-year old, what a blast.

Late afternoon SIL Josh and I lagged behind Linda, Margaret, and Bert – we’d heard a very unfamiliar bird call in the canopy and were craning our necks. Sort of a half-hearted cluck framed by a sharp tik or two fore and aft. I’d been listening to birdsong CDs and it kind of reminded me of the hiccup of Henslow’s Sparrow. Nah, super rare, plus completely wrong habitat. Then we caught a glimpse – way bigger than a sparrow or warbler, long bill, yellow all over.

A female summer tanager! High fives. Yeah, we were a little slow but we worked it out together. Totally bonkers. Or maybe not.

 

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To Waste at Trees

Black men building a Nation,
My Brother said, have no leisure like them
No right to waste at trees
Inventing names for wrens and weeds.
But it’s when you don’t care about the world
That you begin owning and destroying it
Like them.

And how can you build
Especially a Nation
Without a soul?
He forgot that we’ve built one already –
In the cane, in the rice and cotton fields
And unlike them, came out humanly whole
Because our fathers, being African,
Saw the sun and moon as God’s right and left eye,
Named Him Rain Maker and welcomed the blessing osf his spit,
Found in the rocks his stoney footprints,
Heard him traveling the sky on the wind
And speaking in the thunder
That would trumpet in the soul of the slave.

Forget this and let them make us deceive ourselves
That seasons have not meanings for us
And like them
we are slaves again.

Gerald Barrax Sr.
from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA

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As I recently began reading Black Nature I stumbled through the sections at random until I happened upon a name I recognized – a name may be an anchor or it may become a sail to catch the wind. I followed the guyline of Gerald Barrax through all the pages it touched. Lines so rich, so provoking and impeaching, I can’t be the same after reading.

Gerald William Barrax, Sr. (June 21, 1933 ~ December 7, 2019) was the first African American professor at North Carolina State University, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, and winner of the North Carolina Award for Literature. Other awards include the Sam Ragan Award and the Raleigh Medal of Arts. In 2006 he was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. His teaching career at NC State spanned 27 years and he served as the editor of the Black literary journal Obsidian.

I’ll be sharing more poetry discoveries from this amazing anthology as I continue my explorations.

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What More?

My lawnmower has awakened the resident god of my yard
who rugs its leafy hand in anticipation
of troubling me again with one of its cruel koans,

this one a small bird dropped
from the sky, or thrown out,
out of the sweetgum tree

where I was cutting
that long triangle of grass outside
the back fence: put there

when I wasn’t looking, it lies
on its back twitching half in and out of the swath
I cut a minute before.

I’m being tampered with again,
like an electron whose orbit and momentum
are displaced by the scientist’s measurement

and observation. If I’d found something already stiff
and cold on the ground
I’d have kicked or nudged it out of my path:

but the just-dead, the thing still warm,
just taken its last breath, made its last
movement, has its own kind of horror.

I leave the small patch of uncut grass around it.
Back inside my enclosed yard
I see a brown thrasher come and stand over the body,

with some kind of food in its bill.
(I was careful to say “bill” and not “mouth.”)
By the next time I cut myself around the yard,

I see the thrasher sitting on the fence above the still dead,
still holding whatever it has in its bill. I’ve described
it all accurately. What more could anyone expect of me?

Gerald Barrax Sr.
from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA

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I Called Them Trees

The last time
+++ +++ +++ I went to the library
I looked at the flowers
surrounding the statue of Steven Collins
Foster and the old darkie ringing
+++ the banjo at his feet
+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ :flowers planted
in four triangular beds
alternating red and white.
I saw they were all the same kind.

There were others
+++ +++ +++ +++ in front of the building
in long wide rectangular rows
bordered by round clusters of pastel green
and white that were too deep, too dark
+++ red, maroon, for easy images
+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ :I called

them all flowers.
And the stunted trees I
wished I had known, bending over the green

terrace above the flowers
+++ like women whose faces
I couldn’t see washing
their hair in deep green pools, I called
trees. If I had told you would you
+++ had known them?

+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ There were
flowers for me. There
were trees. There were kinds
of birds and something blue
that crouched
+++ +++ +++ in the green day waiting
for evening.
If I had told you would
you have known?

I sat
+++ on a bench among flowers
and trees facing
the traffic +++ surveying all

I knew of impalas, cougars, falcons
barracudas, mustangs wild
+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ cats,
marlins, watching cars
go by. +++ I named them
+++ all.

Gerald Barrax Sr.
from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA

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Doughton Park Tree 4/30/2022

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