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[poems by George Oppen, Jenny Bates, Matthew Olzmann, Dianna Pinckney]

an offering from Pat Riviere-Seel . . .

  PSALM
-Veritas sequitur …
– George Oppen –

In the small beauty of the forest
The wild deer bedding down—
That they are there!

Their eyes
Effortless, the soft lips
Nuzzle and the alien small teeth
Tear at the grass

The roots of it
Dangle from their mouths
Scattering earth in the strange woods.
They who are there.

Their paths
Nibbled thru the fields, the leaves that shade them
Hang in the distances
Of sun

The small nouns
Crying faith
In this in which the wild deer
Startle, and stare out.

Psalm” by George Oppen, from New Collected Poems, copyright © 1975 by George Oppen, New Directions Publishing Corporation

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In the introduction to The Ecopoetry Anthology, Laura-Gray Street speaks of George Oppen’s “Psalm” and her epiphany in reading it: language – the Word – is not something that separates us from and elevates us above the rest of this planet. Rather, language is an integral part of our biological selves. The roots of it / Dangle from [our] mouths. We are language-making creatures in the same way that spiders are web-making creatures.

What does the language make of us as we make it? I watch my wife Linda French Griffin at her drawing table. She moves her pencil point across white paper and images take form and grow out of nothing to expand and link and resolve into something entirely new – as I look at her drawings I’m filled with feelings and ideas that grow out of nothing but are linked to all I have felt and known up until that point, and yet are entirely new. Reading a poem, writing a poem, may give substance to inchoate urges we had tried imperfectly to permit to lead us into a new place. Language conjures spirits that clothe themselves with the flesh of newly perceived reality. Language makes us a new person.

Several friends have offered poems that speak to them about our Earth and which offer to gather us all in together to celebrate Earth Day! I’m posting their offerings April 21, 22, and 23. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you notice? What do you feel? How are you changed? What will you do?

 

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an offering from Jenny Bates, her poem . . .

Doubts in Other Latitudes

You will not find them on any

geologist’s map; artifacts discarded
glimpses inset
in moments
stagger out of time.

Tippling trinities disrupt
the rhythmic landscape;
beer bottles

####pop cans
########chip bags
foul party of litter.

Earth ambitious
not without
want of amusement
yet with great
vision

####energy

########patience
its commitment of being mindful
confidence to complete its life,

a solitary endeavour.

Terra firma watches human struggle
from a caged window,
doubting its endorsement of evolution.
Dreams of smooth skinned ammonites

from the Jurassic,

Dinosaurs enjoying retirement
in geologic armchairs.

I do not make rubbish, says the ground
as I stir the forest leaves.

“Doubts in Other Latitudes” by Jenny Bates from Visitations (Hermit Feathers Press, 2019)

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an offering from Lisa Zerkle . . .

Commencement Speech, Delivered to a Herd of Walrus Calves
– Matthew Olzmann –

Young walruses, we all must adapt! For example,
some of your ancestors gouged the world
with four tusks, but you can grow only two.
It’s hard to say what evolution plans for your kind,
but if given a choice,
you should put in a request for thumbs.
Anyway, congratulations! You’re entering
a world that’s increasingly hostile and cruel
and full of people who’ll never take you seriously
though that will be a mistake on their end.
You are more tenacious than they know.
You’ll be a fierce and loyal defender
of those you love. You will fight polar bears
when they attack your friends and sometimes you’ll win.
Of course, odds always favor the polar bear,
but that’s not the point. The point is courage.
The point is bravery. The point is you are all fighters
even when the fight in which you find yourself
ensures unpleasant things will happen to you.
For example, the bear will gnaw apart your skull
or neck until you stop that persistent twitching;
it will eat your skin, all of it, then blubber, then muscle,
then the tears of your loved ones, in that order;
it will savor every bite, and you will just
suffer and suffer until the emptiness can wash over you.
The good news is: things change!
For example: the environment.
Climate change, indeed, is bad for you,
but it’s worse for polar bears whose conservation status
is now listed as “vulnerable” which is one step removed
from “endangered” which is one step removed
from “extinct” which is a synonym
for Hooray! None of you get eaten!
I suppose this will make some people sad.
Even now, they’re posting pictures
of disconsolate polar bears on melting ice floes
drifting toward a well-deserved oblivion.
They say, We need to stop this!
They say, We need to do something, now!
These people are not your friends.
One cannot be on both Team Walrus and Team Polar Bear
at the same time. I’m not saying these people are evil;
I’m saying, it’s time to choose a side.
I’m saying sharpen your tusks, young calves;
your enemies are devious. You need to train
yourself to do what they won’t expect.
For example: use computers, invest
in renewable energies, read Zbigniew Herbert.
Unrelatedly: your whiskers make you appear
to have mustaches, which, seeing as you’re
not even toddlers, is remarkably unsettling.
Babies that look like grown men freak me out.
Like those medieval paintings by so-called masters
where they’d make the face of little baby Jesus
look like an ancient constipated banker.
If that’s what God really looks like,
it’s no wonder we’ve done what we’ve done to the Earth.
Maybe you can repair what we spent lifetimes taking apart.
Replace some screws. Oil some hinges.
This might sound impossible, but have you ever
looked at yourselves? Seriously—take a quick look
and tell me how a walrus face is possible;
everything about it defies the laws of physics.

You will exist beyond the reach of nature.
You will learn to slow your own heartbeat to preserve oxygen
while diving to depths of over 900 feet.
You will stay awake for up to three consecutive days
while swimming on the open sea.
And when the ocean is too rough—
so terrible with longing, so ruptured with heartache—
you’ll find a small island of stone or ice offering refuge.
It will be difficult to climb from the water,
but because there’s hope for us all,
you will hoist yourself up,
using only your front teeth to drag your body
onto the shore.

Commencement Speech, Delivered to a Herd of Walrus Calves” by Matthew Olzmann from POETRY, Published in Issue 19, 2020

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Bloodroot; Sanguinaria canadensis; Mountains-to-Sea Trail above Brinegar Cabin

 

An offering from Diana Pinckney, her poem . . .

Clapper Rails

Thin, dark flitting invisible
through reedy creeks, these

calls and cackles gleeful
the sun has seeped into trees.

A raucous crowd, near, but not of
the ocean. Who cares if your eyes

ever glimpse a flurry, one or two
fluttering their wings, less graceful

than chickens careening
old barnyards. Marsh hens

natives called them, tracked
and trapped, such poultry

made a foul meal. So tough
no one dared fry or bake.

They ride tides, float eggs in pluff-mud
and shrill black waters. You know

they are close, answering each
other over oyster beds, blue crabs,

every scuttling appetite, the night
grasses alive with hoots rising,

a party you love to be near, not of.

“Clapper Rails” by Diana Pinckney, first published in Wild Goose Poetry Review and collected in Green Daughters, Lorimer Press, © 2011 Diana Pinckney

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[original artwork by Linda French Griffin (c) 2021]

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[with 3 poems by Diana Pinckney]

No hesitation. Out the back door she takes my hand and we hike down through the woods, steep switching trail, slick moss rocks, sliding on last fall’s leaves. Big brother is not with us today; she is the explorer. I wonder if she’ll hold back at the wash but she hops rocks across the rivulet and even runs ahead of me along Dutchman Creek. Threading the briers, skirting mud, twigs in her hair – she is all go today.

When we reach our destination, the shallow pools that linger from winter floods and may be dry by August, I hesitate. Not so many months ago she would make me check the playroom floor for millipedes, back away from pillbugs on the porch steps, want to be carried to the car.

I squat in a squishy place beside the water and show her clumps of clear jelly. Most of the eggs have hatched, some larvae still in their shivery globes, many tadpoles swimming free. With one finger I push algae aside so she can see them wriggle. Instantly her fingers are in the water, too. Tickling the tiny black wigglers. Oblivious to muck and slime. Pappy, can we come back here tomorrow?

This is what I would wish for her at five and all her life – to be innocent and yet be bold. To face the new and the scary and not look away. To discover, to wonder. And to remember the immense power of NO! bursting from her body, now when her brother thwarts her playful imaginings and always when the world conspires to steal that innocence from her.

And, for as long as I’m able, I wish for her to still want me to carry her.

 

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Who is completely innocent and who is entirely beast? Diana Pinckney’s poems are subtle like a rustle in the night but lucid, windows breathing light and fragrance into the world. Her language and lines are effortlessly elegant. Her poems seem to arrive from all the points of the compass to create community: persona poems in which the reader comes to inhabit a new being; poems of family, loss, commemoration, revelation; ekphrastic poems that uncover hidden truth in painting, sculpture, representation.

And woven throughout her book, The Beast and the Innocent, lurks the wolf: tyrant predator, misunderstood victim; purity and profane. Who is the threat and who the threatened? Aren’t we all only doing what it takes to survive?

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Ghost Wolves, for My Grandchildren

You may see one in a zoo
***** and ask, does he howl
********** and I may say, what would

he howl about? What, you ask, does a wild
***** wolf sound like? What could I answer? Wind
********** when it rises from the deepest

canyon to the tops of spruce
***** or the fog’s blue surge, the drift
********** above dying embers. Smoke alone

moves toward the stars in a world
***** where nothing is heard and only the moon
********** knows then the last tree falls.

Emptiness that whispers
***** after the wilderness
********** has forgotten what it longs for.

from The Beast and the Innocent, Diana Pinckney, FutureCycle Press, © 2015

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My Brother Sings
after Raymond Carver’s “What the Doctor Said”

He sings when the dogwoods are blooming as I drive
him and his wife along the highway from Asheville,
away from a hospital where we waited in the doctor’s office,
sitting in gray chairs, joking about my allergy

to their six cats, ow I can’t sleep in their house
and still breathe. I watched my brother move
his fingers over swollen knuckles that he used to
crack when I was little just to tease. There to hear

the results of the lung biopsy, now we know.
Traveling through Blue Ridge mountains, we see
dogwoods, redbuds, cherry trees heavy
with April’s abundance. When my brother

begins the song, his wife in the back seat on her cell
interrupts, Dabney, will you please stop singing
while I’m telling Sis you have cancer. Oh, sorry, he says.
He glances at me while petals drift with us

down the mountain. Our laughter’s almost soundless.

from The Beast and the Innocent, Diana Pinckney, FutureCycle Press, © 2015

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The Beast and The Innocent

Of course, dogs and cats go to heaven,
my mother announce from her deathbed.
Welcomed into heaven, my childhood cat
will groom Grandmother’s canary, feathers the same
yellow as the black cat’s eyes, the bird

he ate when I was seven. In paradise
pointers lap at duck ponds while cockatiels
screech and perch on each dog’s white- or black-
spotted back. Heaven’s way is,

as we have heard, the lion lying down
with the lamb. A place where Christians kindle
the eight candles of Hanukkah, Muslims unfurl
prayer rugs for Hindi, and the roped Tibetan prayer

flags flutter good fortune for the Chinese.
The wine and wafer bless a round wooden table, a feast
celebrated with unleavened and leavened,
mango and oyster, babel unlimited. And the spaniel
that killed my brother’s rabbits will lie

on the wide-bladed grass of my youth, all manner
of four- and two-legged creatures leaping
over him, some stroking the red-and-white silk
of his fur for pure pleasure, for the grace.

from The Beast and the Innocent, Diana Pinckney, FutureCycle Press, © 2015

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Doughton Park Tree 2021-03-23

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There are two kinds of barbecue in the known universe: Wilbur’s Style, and all the rest.  Head east on 70 past Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base and the aroma captures you about the time Goldsboro is fading in the rearview.  Pork shoulders and hams cooked all night over a hardwood fire (at Wilbur’s they favor oak, not hickory); basted with the secret Wilbur’s sauce (I’ve tried to recreate it – boil cider vinegar with salt, black pepper, white pepper, red pepper, nothing else, and you’ll come pretty close); most of the fat trimmed off (but not all), chopped, and heaped on a plate with field peas, turnip greens, and hush puppies.  OK, OK,  I’ve given up eating meat, but I can still savor the memories, can’t I?

When I asked folks a few weeks ago to come up with a name for a new poetry form that embodies the essence of the South, sweet tea and barbecue were mentioned more than once.  I kind of like Arthur Powers’s suggestion –  Sou-Ku – and the one Ruth Moose has come up with sounds more than Japanese – Sentea.  Do they still sell Nestea?  But in the same way that our Southern Sentence Poem is a poetic form all our own, I think its name needs to be wholly ours as well, and not beholdin’ to some 3-line cryptogram.  Especially when you see the examples folks have sent: we are clearly opening ourselves to the Southern Loooong Sentence Poem.

So I’m still hoping to hear from you with a great name.  And keep sending those poems . . . !

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Once again, here are the elements of a Southern Sentence Poem:

1     It is a single SENTENCE.
2     A word or phrase has to PLACE the poem in the American South.
3     It requires a reference to the PAST.
4     It captures something of Southern CULTURE.
5     It ain’t got none of them damn Yankee semicolons.

Here are several that people have sent me:

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Arthur Powers

I stand on Polk Street
looking East over Oakwood cemetery
and watch late afternoon sunlight
sepia the Confederate headstones.

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Diana Pinckney  – The Garden Party

Aunt Blanche’s yard dripped pink
punch and azaleas, offering shrimp

sandwiches, ham biscuits, cucumber
rounds and cheese wafers so yummy,

yet not a crust in sight on the scalloped
linen, daffodils and petit fours abundant

for family and friends so chummy,
invited to honor and bless the newly

engaged couple, the bride
and groom dreamy as budding

dogwoods with no one batting
an eye that the hostess batted hers

from her second story bedroom
window, having sampled more

than her share of the punch,
forcing Uncle Edward to take charge,

his large hand now patting the key
in his seersucker jacket while

Aunt Blanche, bejeweled in her silks,
nodded and waved, greeting and calling

down to all, Have a good time, ya’ll,
then dipped as she sipped

more of her own pink sweetener.

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Jane Theis

On our evening walk, the Crepe Myrtles,
bowing and dripping from that day-long shower,
nodded us down the mossy path
where the ramps came up last spring.

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Ruth Moose   –  Shadow Tag

Run, run

Feet                      freeze

Harwood Street, Woodland

stop

Dew cold grass

In the barefoot nights        hold

Bee stings, wasp stings, hornets,

sweat flies                   stay

Tobacco juice, sweet snuff stuff

Childhood pain of

loss.

[Editor’s note – Ruth’s poem had wonderfully complex formatting which I can only partially reproduce on this verpfluchte WordPress blog.]

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Beth A. Cagle   –   Story Tellin’ at ‘Possum Trot Diner

Laughter of square-shouldered
uncles erupts
deep in my throat as a
bucking mule jumps
out of me, hoofing his
hopscotch in corn,
braying by grandfather’s
elderly oak,
leaving my youthful dad
caught on the clothesline,
dangling with overalls
rolled to his knees.

[First version published in The Blind Man’s Rainbow, Fall 2003]

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Fort Macon Beach.  I’m twelve.  Is this dream or memory?  Either way it’s true.  My little sister snatches from the foam’s edge a clump of stringy green seaweed.  Shakes off coquinas and mole crabs.  Drapes it on top of her head and down around her shoulders.  “I’m a mermaid!”

Of course I believe her.  Because what is a mermaid?  A creature that rises from a strange and exotic world to challenge all our comfortable assumptions.  One who challenges and enthralls only to slip from our grasp.  Who breathes a cold hot enfolding incandescent oxygen like no air we’ve been able to imagine.

Any six-year old who will pull ickiness from the surf and adorn herself with it must surely be a mermaid.  It explains a lot.  My sister who cycled the Eastern Seaboard when she was barely a teenager.  My sister more at home in a kayak than a staff meeting (but who can dominate a staff meeting).  Who for her forty-first birthday backpacked a hundred miles of the AT with me. Who works her healing power over mind and spirit with Jung and the Buddha at her shoulder.  I”ve always suspected it — she does breathe from some atmosphere I’m still trying to discover.

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Meet the mermaids of Diana Pinckney’s Green Daughers.  Dream or memory, the poems are true.  The voice of the watery mother whose daughter is struggling, torn — isn’t it the voice of all mothers?  The voice of her daughter tempted by a world out of reach, agonizing for her unknown future — isn’t it the voice of all children?  And poems for each one of us — for which of us does not long for deep roots, for a fundament to which we may always return, for sustaining love?  Yet don’t we gaze at night into the “sky full / of all her gods and animals” and believe that there is mystery beckoning just beyond our perception?

In the way the next receding wavelet parts the shards to reveal a lettered olive, whole, smooth, its cryptic glyphs revealing a message for my eyes alone, in this way I am still discovering the layers of meaning in Diana’s poems.

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What the Mermaid Wishes for her Daughter

I turn to the land and imagine
your long, strong legs kiking a road
I can’t follow, climbing from lavender valleys
to the highest peaks, the whole blue earth
at your feet.  And those strange
creatures — men who slipped
like minnows from my grasp —

may you unlock the mysteryof at least one
who listens when you laugh
in your sleep, who cares to chart
a woman’s pleasures and pains.  Sailors
have told me love is what
brings the boats home.  From where
I sit, nature decides our days
and turns the wheels at night.

I knew you were borrowed, but
you nourished me the way the shore
feeds the sea each day, a glossy
bond unbroken.  What you
carry from this place is not
lent, but given.

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Diana Pinckney lives in Charlotte, only a few hours drive to the coast when the wind and the traffic are at your back.  She teaches poetry at the Cornwall Center.  Green Daughters is her fourth collection and is available from Lorimer Press.  Get to know Diana and read more of her work at dianapinckney.com.

Diana will be the featured poet at the Sam Ragan Poetry Festival of the NC Poetry Society, March 24, 2012, Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities, Southern Pines NC.

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