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Posts Tagged ‘family’

[with 3 poems by Rebecca Baggett]

How many grooves are there in a 12-inch 33 ⅓ rpm long-play record? The seven-year old doesn’t think us a bit odd when we fish out the big black discs and set them spinning: Burl Ives, Disney Princess theme songs, John Denver and the Muppets. She sings along with Miss Piggy, “Five Go-old Rings!” Would she have hopped off the couch last night and boogied with us to The James Gang cranked to the max on Funk 48?

We still have a landline at our house and until recently a rotary dial phone in the basement. I just read that only this year is Chuckie Cheese phasing out software updates shipped on 3.5 inch disks – which the article called “floppies” (remember? 5 ¼ inch, 360 kb, don’t toss them into a drawer with any magnets). Physical artifacts may be relegated to the landfill, but words remain our tools even if we’ve never knapped a flint. Dial it for me. The car won’t crank. Meet me at half-past (fractional arc of an analog circle?).

Last week I checked in at radiology for an x-ray. The young woman entered all my identifiers and when she got to my email address, she remarked, “Gee, AOL, I haven’t heard that one in a while.” Darlin’, that just means I’ve been jacked into the internet since before you were born. Juggling floppies. Writing DOS batch files before breakfast. And I’ll bet you don’t even know how many grooves.

Just one. That’s all it takes to be real groovy.

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Before the Stories Begin

Before the stories begin, the mothers die,
setting their daughters adrift, little coracles
bobbing rudderless, at the mercy of river currents
and ocean tides. Abandoned in forests so thick
no light touches their ferny floors, imprisoned
in crumbling towers guarded by rampant brambles,
banished to the dank depths of castle kitchens.

But here is the alternate reading:
Before the stories can begin, the mothers must die,
setting their daughters free – released from cautioning
fingers and pursed lips, from disapproving quirks
of a brow, from warnings weighted with echoes of warnings,
the line of foremothers frowning down the generations.

The daughters find themselves oddly light,
abruptly free to renounce titles and abandon kingdoms
for life on the high seas, to fall in love with a man-beast
deep in the forest, a stable boy, a fairy godmother.
To seclude themselves in towers full of groaning
bookshelves, to spend their days squinting
at the twisting calligraphy of ancient manuscripts,
to aim telescopes toward the night skies,
to rename all the stars.

Rebecca Baggett
from The Woman Who Lives Without Money, Regal House Publishing, Raleigh, NC, © 2022

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Words are artifacts by which we might glimpse the world. Words are not the world; words do not contain the world nor create the world; words are simply pebbles someone has painted, incised, knapped and dropped along the path. But Oh, how words may guide us along that path!

Rebecca Baggett is an inherent and inveterate sesquipedalian, as she confesses in the poem by that title in her book, The Woman Who Lives Without Money: a lover of complicated ‘foot-and-a-half long’ words. And yet the words she uses to craft these mysterious, marvelous, poignant, sad, hilarious poems are seemingly simple words. Everyone knows these words, these comfortable and familiar words. How Rebecca has painted, incised, and knapped these words, though! How she has lined them up and breathed into them meaning they had only dreamed of. How wonderful is the world she reveals in this ethereal and at once solid collection of words, such telling artifacts, these powerful words.

The Woman Who Lives Without Money (Regal House Publishing, 2022) is the winner of the 2020 Terry J. Cox Poetry Award. Rebecca has also published four chapbooks, including God Puts on the Body of a Deer, winner of the 2010 Main Street Rag Chapbook Contest. She was born in coastal North Carolina and his lived her adult life in Athens, Georgia.

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Weeping Willow

The willow missed
the children, their chatter –
like squirrels, but more various
and musical – missed
the sparrow-light bodies pressed
against her, the secrets
they whispered, how thy clung
to her branches with their small
hands, the way their legs twined
around her.

++++++++++ Nothing inhabited her
like that, nothing loved
so fiercely or so foolishly.
They believed they would be
hers forever,
++++++++++ did not understand,
at all, necessity, compulsion,

letting go

Rebecca Baggett
from The Woman Who Lives Without Money, Regal House Publishing, Raleigh, NC, © 2022

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Chestnut

I touched a chestnut sapling
in the Georgia mountains.

My friend writes of the great trees
and their vanishing,

but I have seen a young chestnut,
tender and green, rising from its ashes.

I, too, write of loss and grief,
the hollow they carve

in the chest,
but that hollow may shelter

some new thing,
a life I could not

have imagined or wished,
a life I would never

have chosen. I have seen
the chestnut rising,

luminous,
from its own bones,

from the ash of its first life.

Rebecca Baggett
from The Woman Who Lives Without Money, Regal House Publishing, Raleigh, NC, © 2022

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Doughton Park Tree 4/30/2022

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[with 3 poems by Maria Rouphail]

A stroll down the beach at dusk – I was sixteen and she was almost. Would you call it our first date? I think we held hands. I know we didn’t kiss. Fifty-four years later the beach is still there, although not the pier we walked beneath, things the earth makes, less so human desires. This afternoon she is upstairs writing a letter and I have just cleaned up after lunch. Where have we been and where are we going? Well, in an hour we’ll take a walk beside the river.

Oh Wise One, long-married, specialist in domestic bliss and expert in the cultivation of love, impart your secrets! Are you kidding me? I’ve spent all morning making a list and it is exactly two items long: (ONE) Never Imagine You Know; and, (TWO) Never Quit Working to Find Out. Number One becomes apparent every time I assume or jump to a conclusion or utter as comfort some empty platitude (or, cardinal sin, just wasn’t paying attention). Number Two is the quick corollary as Number One’s immediate aftermath and the sooner engaged the better – not Working to Find Out usually invites conflagration.

Which is probably why love is such a necessary obsession of poetry. Infatuation is the hot minute of attraction; love is the cool hour of reflection. Poetry may germinate unseen underground as the temperature rises, but its sprout becomes visible when the creature is leaned back in chair, pen hovering listless over paper, the image of affection growing into clarity within the cool, reflective mind. And as I reflect further, I perceive that the seeds of most of my own love poems involve messing up with Number One and Two, above, only to be rescued and reconciled by the big sighs and small gods of forbearance and forgiveness.

Even now I imagine her at her desk, pen and paper, that elegant typographer’s script, those meticulous phrases – oh yes, I want to love her and I do.

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Annunciation
++++ (after Lynn Emmanuel)
+++++++ for Robert

He wants to be born.
So first he enters the dream of the woman
a doctor has told will never conceive.

He lets himself in through the gate
of her sleeping brain
during a hard snow
in late November.

He give himself eyes and hair like hers,
wraps himself in thick fleece, his fingers curving
over the hem, like a paws of a burrowing mammal.

She wakes with the dream of him still clinging,
I’ve birthed a back-eyed baby boy, I’ve carried him
up the aisle of the church to the baptismal font.

She goes to the window where slantwise
snow erases the houses across the street.
Only a curbside lamp on its iron stalk breaks through,
++++ a yellow clot in the boreal blur.

After she has laid aside the dream or forgotten it,
he enters her body sometime in January.
His arrival ignites engines and fires up turbines

with power unknown to her, making her whole
being a construction zone for the laying of foundations,
the framing of the many rooms of his evolving body.

In April, cornerstone and beam well set and level,
he shows her his brain and spine, a string of perfect lights
blinking the in the midnight sky of the sonogram.

The doctor is speechless. But the woman
rehearses the names of her beloved living and dead.
She will pick one of them.

She watches the tiny heart strobe in its cage.
Beacon of what is coming in October.
A swaddling blanket. A christening.

Maria Rouphail
from All the Way to China, Finishing Line Press, © 2022

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One line echoes in each poem I read in Maria Rouphail’s collection: Even then, / I could not say you did not love me. All the Way to China is a conversation between daughter and mother that spans decades, even generations. Many different speakers inhabit the poems, in many places and circumstances, but the voice of daughter/mother is audible in each, even if only as a whisper. Through harsh treatments, neglect, destructive choices, and pain that whisper of love still works to keep itself alive.

Love is work. In one of Fred Chappell’s novels, a youngster asks his old grandfather how is it possible that he and grandmother have managed to stay married for so many years. The old guy’s answer? “You don’t leave, and you don’t die.” In Maria’s poems, leaving is a frequent threat and dying too soon is a reality, but the magical work of poetry allows the dialogue to continue in spite of, maybe even because of, mortality. Telling a story allows it to discover its meaning. Telling a hard and painful story allows it to discover new meaning that just may open a door to healing.

The final two poems in the book bring meaning and healing forward and invited me to turn back to the first page and read the cycle again: Laudate Omnes (in praise of everything), and Mother and Daughter, Two Voices – III, Daughter. Yes, this collection is the work of love.

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Laudates Omnes
++++++(for Asher, young grandson)

Let’s talk
to the bees.

++++++Let’s say

Ladies, thank you
each and all

for coming this day
to the hyssop and bergamot.

Thank you
for diving

into the boggy throats
of pale blue sage.

Thank you
for letting sticky

pollen crawl
up your hairy legs.

Thank you
for the sweet spit of the hive.

Now to the trees turn and say,
Brothers,

I don’t know all your name
or what families you belong to,

but you over there,
tall and handsome with your spiky green:

if you and I were lone survivors
of a meteorological catastrophe,

I’d live with you.
I’d hole up under your branches.

Leaves and rain
would be our food and drink each day.

Now let’s say thanks and thanks and thanks
for the hive’s honeyed paradise,

for meadows of thick-maned mares
drowsing with their foals,

for bees, horses, and trees,
ocean, plains, and the sky.

Let’s say thanks
for the darkness between stars

which is not an emptiness,
but a rookery

where God dreams us.
And if we found ourselves

on a comet flying
beyond Pluto’s orbit,

even there we would
be not separate and alone,

but we would be
as now we are

in the heart of things,
the very heart.

Maria Rouphail
from All the Way to China, Finishing Line Press, © 2022

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Margie’s Daughter Talks Back

Wood. Shell. Bone. Buttons
in every size and color your mother saved for mending.

You, too, saved them,
in the round cookie tin on a high shelf.
Rainy days, and you’d take it down
and we’d remember
buttons from faded summer dresses,
buttons from coats returned from war,
buttons with bits of garments still clinging,
flesh and tendon of them. Red grosgrain,
shock of silver wedding silk,
fingers of fragrance still clinging.
Attar of rose and vetiver still clinging.
Heft and pour, the cascading clack and clatter
of buttons, like coins or pretend jewels.

You, too, loved them.
You and I together breathed the old secrets hanging
like the kitchen smells in that Bronx apartment.
Buttons from a man’s flannel before zippers were.
Your father’s, you said. And the blue bruise
your mother tried to hide with a lock of hair when
you, looking, and in your small voice, asked,
What happened to your eye, Mama?
as she reattached the right arm of your school sweater.
In the next room the bleats of a baby boy,
and a darkness you hoisted onto your twelve-year-old hip
and hauled through the rest of your life.
Hauled it into my life, too.

Would you believe me if I told you?
I have survived the winter.
Here is the faith I’ve entered with myself,
rule, rite, and rigor of it:
I will not belong to whatever happens to me.
It’s OK to say these things.

Maria Rouphail
from All the Way to China, Finishing Line Press, © 2022

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2019-02-09 Doughton Park Tree

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[with 4 poems by Doug Stuber]

“Look at that one, Mom, a Rainbow Unicorn Skeleton.”

“Oh my, and all the spiders!”

We’re driving through residential Ardmore in Winston-Salem, just the two of us. An outing! On our way to the pharmacy and yes, we’ll pick up a prescription for Dad, but this is one time we made him stay home. Dad’s 96th birthday is Thursday and this is Mom’s chance to pick out a card, maybe a few goodies. And see all the Halloween decorations.

It’s rare that I have Mom all to myself. At her doctor’s appointments Dad tags along, and well he should since Mom’s memory is failing and he needs to tattle on her. The grocery store, the dry cleaners, Trader Joe’s, those are all on Dad’s agenda; usually Mom stays home with the CNA. As Mom ages she’s become more withdrawn, much more passive, but get her one on one and she’ll tell you what she thinks. So here she is riding shotgun, laughing at the yard art, game to grab her cane when we arrive at the store.

While I head to the pharmacist window I leave Mom in the Birthday Card aisle – we have five family birthdays in the next four weeks. When I return, maybe 15 minutes later, she hasn’t picked anything out. I point to a couple that seem likely. She can’t quite decide. That’s OK. I find one with dogs on it that seems right for Dad, get her approval, find some for Allison, Margaret, the Josh’s, subtly nudge her to pick one each. When we finally have our five it’s on to snack selection. I tell her if she’s not sure what Dad would like just get stuff she likes (see how that works?). When we’ve finally paid and returned to the car, I have her put Dad’s chocolates & nuts etc. into the gift bag we bought. Once she’s looked each item over she finally says, “I can’t believe you could pick all that out.” Shoot, Mom, I was wanting you to think YOU picked everything out.

Sadness is just one story we can tell ourselves. I could hold onto Mom’s bewilderment and indecision, nothing like the Mom that raised me. Or I could buckle her in as we laugh, thinking about Dad’s face when he sees his pile of loot. And I could prepare a big build up for the drive home, remind her to look out her window at the Rainbow Unicorn Skeleton, both of us enjoying it again for the first time.

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Hikaru

One cherry blossom detaches, falls, a single unit
allowing fruit its space, starting its new journey: island
to reflecting pond, orchard to cottage yard, daughter to
love, enhanced by the wind, if even for only six seconds.
Transformed to long-boned genius, long-yearning adult,
considerate friend, purple-green plaid from soft pink,
tan suede boots from five-petalled bloom. Hikaru, as they
say in Japan, hits the town running, arms crossed, cradling
herself like the war-torn victims of Vietnam, but not
worn or torn, she flings enthusiastic youth toward
outstretched limbs. She captures her beginning and future
simultaneously, shedding one form, embracing another,
sweating humid Spring, still awkward in this skin.
Descending unannounced, she moves among mere mortals
spreading joy, quietly demanding obedience, offering all
in exchange for all. Most cannot accept, choose an
easier, less complicated path; but those brave strong souls
born from deep roots, blessed metamorphosed
being who join Miss Cherry soon realize, if for one day,
week, or lifetime, their lives will never be the same

Doug Stuber
from Chronic Observer, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown KY, © 2019

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Doug Stuber is a crabby pessimistic lyrical idealist. Doug is a sharp-eyed sharp-tongued teary-eyed lover. Humankind, Doug Stuber as chronic observer constantly notices, has royally fucked up and Doug is more than ready to rub our noses in it. Human individuals, Doug reveals over and over in his poetry, are beautiful in their brokenness and he must open his heart. Poetry is silk on the breeze: at first we flinch and claw but with each turn we draw closer together, are drawn, maybe to cocoon or maybe to struggle forth with spread wings and open eyes.

I side with Clark Holtzman in his comment about Doug Stuber’s book: All the poems of Chronic Observer engage the world we are given, natural or political, fair or foul, as the given it is. Buy this book, read it. You’ll see what it means.

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The Mangrove Blues

The sun sinks.
A pumping heron
Chases dreams into the night,
Resting momentarily
In a life of constant motion.

The wind shakes.
Trees stretch out,
Anticipating winter.
Orange floods
Mangrove and the pines.

The cold turns.
Clouds gather
Over murky surroundings,
Drifting slowly inland
To dump a fresh-new load.

The tears run.
A skipping child
Delivers momentary reprieve.
Gloom infests
The evening of a lonely-hearted man.

Doug Stuber
from Chronic Observer, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown KY, © 2019

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Rules

It took this long to hide my penchant: Rhymes.
Another reading forces inner looks.
Where is Ed and his heroic Elegy for us?
What happened when we traded love of lines
For time cards, bosses, corporate crooks?

Here’s what happened: life became a chore,
There is not time left to rage creating.
Competitive suburban gardening ins a bust.
What there is left is not elating
Except the love of soul-mates through this door.

The Eagle’s Nest is now a restaurant:
You get a 15-dollar turkey plate up there.
But is a fourth Reich rising from the rust,
Or are we evil, just nonchalant?
Oklahoma City fades like sunset air:

The only lasting image is your own.
One veto and the fascists will shut us down.
One thousand points of veto from the upper crust
Without a batted eyelash from this clown.
What further outrage can we condone?

As long as TV says it is OK
Our lives submit to the worst human rages.
Just when we’ve farmed this place to dust
Some half-assed savior might come our way
Passing manna to those left: food of the ages.

Doug Stuber
from Chronic Observer, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown KY, © 2019

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[Given the approaching season, I just have to include this final poem of Doug’s.]

KC and the Thanksgiving Prayer

I gave a thanksgiving prayer to a new family I met near Asheville. I got twigs and built a triangle (the three goddesses: corn, squash, and beans) and a square (the four directions: North – Winter and cleansing, East: Spring and beginnings, South: Summer and warmth, West: Fall and remembrances). the triangle sits above the square, because it is the goddesses who feed us: corn, squash, and beans.

You start in the square facing West and, while turning right for each new direction, say:

We salute you for your wind and fresh new sky
We salute your wonderful people and cleansing snow
We greet the day with dreams to labor by
We salute your sun and love and fun and go

To green mountains, cold river by the leaves
Of Rhododendron bushes, tall black trees.
A new friend of mine now believes,
Captured by spirits she feels and doesn’t have to see.

Doug Stuber
from Chronic Observer, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown KY, © 2019

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2016-01-30 Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by J. S. Absher]

Building bridges. Maybe as a metaphor the phrase is not quite as worn down, rusty, and liable to drop chunks of concrete as the old Elkin bridge that carried US 21 high above the Yadkin River and railroad tracks. Built in 1931, stretching 1509 feet, named for Hugh G. Chatham, even after it was condemned by DOT in 2008 we still couldn’t bring ourselves to call in the demolition crews for that old bridge until 2010. Spanning a treacherous gulf. Lowering barriers between two rival communities. Safe passage, a more elevated view of life, making connections. Grand old metaphor.

The bridge we built today, though, is not a metaphor. It’s a 50-foot aluminum frame that will span a creek near the Mitchell River to extend the Mountains-to-Sea trail a few more miles. Mike, the engineer, showed us how to lay out the dozens of struts and braces and then we were on them like chicks on a Junebug. We put it together in three sections inside the big Surry County maintenance building at Fisher River Park; later we’ll move it into place, bolt the last connectors, and add planking. Amazing to see pallets of unrecognizable metal pieces becoming a structure.

Some of these volunteers today were born with a torque wrench in their fist but some are like me, tinkering all day with my Erector Set when I was 10. Sweating even with the giant fan blowing, pinching our fingers, joking. I still can’t get the smell of Anti-Seize out from under my fingernails. Someday soon will I hike across that bridge with my grandkids and say, “Hey, that’s one of my bolts!?” Moving out into a new world. Grand old metaphor.

September, 2022, all that’s left of the old Chatham Bridge on the Surry County side is a pleasant pedestrian garden with a long stairway from Gwyn Avenue down to Main Street. And, near the former base of one of those mighty pylons, the Angry Troll Brewery.

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The Day

The little room’s only window looked out
towards the ridgetop, the Dunkard church in the curve
of the two-lane, and, just beyond, the graveyard.

The morning sun sidled in past the partly
closed slats and resolved into rays and flecks
burning in the light – dust motes, I know,

and likely knew then, too, but still I watched
entranced one morning after our breakfast.
On this day I’d have otherwise forgotten,

probably my grannies were in the kitchen –
Emma with arms stretched out to read who’d died
(she’d be in the Dunkard cemetery soon),

half-crippled Sallie stringing the green beans
(years of suffering and strokes lay just ahead) —
while I stood quietly in the little room

watching the random sparkles in the sunbeam,
worlds I could move with a single breath
of poem or prayer, but could not control.

J. S. Absher
from Skating Rough Ground, © 2022 J. S. Absher, Kelsay Books, American Fork, UT

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worlds I could move with a single breath / of poem or prayer, but could not control

I have often been moved by Stan Absher’s poetry. Not moved as by a shiver of emotion or a momentary ah ha at his thesis or his craft. Rather I’ve felt myeself shifted into a different awareness, a new plane of being. Translocated. Enlightened. Despite the deep bedrock of conviction in all his work, despite the scholarship and the epiphany, he writes as if he is still searching, searching for truth. A spiritual seeker. So he may claim, but I consider Stan Absher a spiritual finder. I can’t help believing as I read these poems that he has encountered and grasped the numinous, wrestled with God as did Jacob.

Worlds he can move but not control? Perhaps that is the secret Stan conveys and which I would do well to take into my own heart. The seeking itself is intrinsic to the desideratum. The bridge. The poems in Skating Rough Ground cover such a lot of ground. Family history, Christian history, art history, and every topic and observation is put to diligent good work unfolding the petals of the human flower. Stan is in perfect control of his art, which makes even more believable his message that our condition enfolds a great mystery.

One other remark: even though Stan mentions Wittgenstein and his book includes sixteen erudite endnotes, his poems are never high-flown or inaccessible. He is not looking down on us mortals from the heights; he is right here among us. And he is not above a little poke in the ribs or the murmur of a wry joke. These poems are companionable companions – pick up the book and come along on the journey.

[additional information on works by J. S. Absher . . . ]

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The Conversation of Matter

I could hear things talk. When something was lost,
I stood in the room, asked it to show itself.
Sometimes it spoke an image in the mind – a drawer
++++ to search, a cherry
++++ bureau to look under.

Those who have spent their lives mastering tools
and techniques can hear their material speak,
David crying naked out of Carrara marble
++++ to be rescued from
++++ Agostino’s botched start.

But things usually speak by resisting –
weight too heavy to lift, edge too sharp to hold,
a moving part that grinds and heats and breaks, a poem’s
++++ application of
++++ friction to language –

slow it! stoke it hotter than Gehenna!
salt its path with grit!
keep it from slip-sliding
away on its own melt! flick sawdust into the eye
++++ to make it dilate!
++++ Without friction – so said

Wittgenstein, older and word-worn – language
does not work. If it wears skates on rough ground, it
takes a tumble. Even prayer needs resistance – a stick
++++ crosswise in the throat
++++ garbling words like a sob.

How hard to admit we love the world – how
hard it ought to be – yet its unrequiting
beauty resists abandonment: Show yourself, come out
++++ of hiding, come out
++++ of quarantine, and live.

J. S. Absher
from Skating Rough Ground, © 2022 J. S. Absher, Kelsay Books, American Fork, UT

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The Creator Praises Birds

Vent and crissum,
lores and crest and comb: I
made them all – the

nares, nape, those
horny bill plates – I in
feathered trochees

made them: peacock,
sparrow, tufted titmouse,
flitting jenny

filled with joy of
beaking worm, of strut and
glide, of piping

double on their
syrinx. Praise how flock and
murmuration

call out warning,
call to fly or roost or
call for pleasure:

See me! Hear me!
Pur-ty! Pur-ty! Pur-ty!
Cheer up! Pibbity!

Praise the brave-heart
tender fledgling, wobbly
winging over

houses, over
pavement, risking all to
climb the air by

beating wind I
too created, rising
heavenward in joy.

J. S. Absher
from Skating Rough Ground, © 2022 J. S. Absher, Kelsay Books, American Fork, UT

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[with 4 poems from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing]

Eyes closed I listen as if casting a great spiral net into the forest. Behind, around me, above, although my two ears fixed in the horizontal plane are not excellent at discerning degrees of vertical, the vibrations arrive. Rarefaction and compression, faint means far, high amplitude is close beside me. A great disk of song and squeak and rustle, a half globe. What is the definition of a sphere? A surface whose every point is equidistant from the center.

How difficult, then, not to imagine the center is me. Plant my feet in sand and watch the sun descend below the western horizon; lie on my back at night for an hour and notice how Taurus and the Sisters wheel around me, I the fixed tether of all movement, I the pivot of their dance. My mind will argue against such silliness but my senses know its truth. As kids we never question the solar system we learn in school, later we even snicker at Ptolemy, his deferents, epicycles, and yet centrality is burned into us, ten thousand years of human psyche.

But imagine. What if? Hardwood creaks upstairs, Linda out of bed, but instead of imaging her descending soon to join me I am with her now, stretching, brushing teeth, gathering her hair and braiding. The first step is to step away from the imaginary center. The second is to not look back at self. Look out, look into the space between the hickory leaves and ferns, fly up with feathers and lace-veined wings. Claw the earth, creep between the rootlets. Not just imagine – be the other lives that pass in cars, that tend a child, that worry. Be the angry ones, the broken, the sad & silent. Behind, around, above. First step is to give up the center.

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Common Ground

What’s incomplete in me seeks refuge
in blackberry bramble and beech trees,
where creatures live without dogma
and water moves in patterns
more ancient than philosophy.
I stand still, child eavesdropping on her elders.
I don’t speak the language
but my body translates best it can,
wakening skin and gut, summoning
the long kinship we share with everything.

Laura Grace Weldon
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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Cardinal

I know my mother’s weeping is real by the way
she exhales, fragmented and flailing,

like someone newly mourning. My head only hip-high,
I stare up to her saddened face, too young to understand

any of this, but old enough to know something
is broken, and that with breaking, anguish follows,

old enough to know she would want to watch
the male cardinal she feeds every morning

newly perched in the bare Maple outside
the kitchen window. I nearly tell her to look,

to witness its bright red flame up against all
that white winter. But I wait, keep quiet

and listen, trying to hear in place of her grief,
the cardinal’s song just beyond the glass.

William Scott Hanna
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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As I read deeper into I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing, I feel my center shifting. In good poetry I discover how the poet feels; in excellent poetry I discover how I feel. These pages enfold an entire world – gardens and farms, back roads and highways, mining towns and river towns; people who struggle, joyful people, yearning, grieving, loving. Line by line, image by image these voices create a powerful place. I am drawn in, I am invited and indeed welcomed in. Hearing with their ears, seeing with their eyes, feeling their hearts I discover what has made meaning in my own life.

Thank you, Ohio’s Appalachian Voices. I am humbled to become part of the family.

Oh, and don’t forget the cardinals. I’ve lost count of the poems with the singing of cardinals. Spirits of the dead and still desired; messengers of color in a countryside too often locked in grey and white; outstanding singers of endless variation – and shared by OH and NC as state bird (along with WV, VA, IL, IN, KY)! Visitors from the West Coast see their first Cardinalis cardinalis and say, “I didn’t believe they were real!” Yes indeed, as real as these poets and as real as their poems.

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Chink

Backyard,
this is as small
as the cardinal’s good cheer gets,
sharp shard of sound
chipped from as-if-frozen air.
Still, if it were to have color
it would be pointed scarlet,
like a splint of fire,
or blue-white
like the flame of acetylene.
If it were music
it would be one high C,
some maestro’s hot-headed urge
of his horns.

In the woods,
chink is enough.
Under pine signs,
near the stony mumble
of the creek,
it speaks everything needed
to cardinal:
Here.
I know you’re there.
Listen.

Richard Hague
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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This Place Does Not Care If I Am Happy

This ruby-throated world is not for me.
Not mine, this jack pine tar, this chunky sunlight.
Not mine, the eggs or weeds or garter snakes.
This limping yellow willow is not for me,
Nor is the wrinkled willow that the lake makes.

These thrushes will still be here when I go.
Maybe not this robin and maybe not these reeds
But some robin in some reeds will be here when I go.
Some or another maple, some lightning-bent bough,
Some summer-sick magnolia will be here when I go.

This place has never cared if I am happy.
The fungus does not care, the fox does not care,
The deer looks as though – for just a moment –
But no. This place does not care if I am happy.

And I am thank you, thank you, I am.

Erica Reid
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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IMG_0880, tree

 

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[poems from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing]

Last week our sister Jill sent us photos from her recent camping trip in the Allegheny National Forest, a favorite spot called Kelly Pines. Big trees, moss & ferns, campfire, nylon tent – nothing lacking. There were also a few shots taken by our niece April – Jill hiking a trail between massive trunks, Hobbit Jill looking up into the giants. Jill’s comment – “Truly a magical seeming place . . .”

Gentle sun-dappled trail; open understory beneath a high canopy; mature second- (or third- or fourth- ) growth pines – a beautiful woodland setting . . . but magic? If I were to visit this spot for the first time would I discover more magic here than any other moderately impacted wood lot in the Appalachians, from Pennsylvania to northern Georgia? Ignore magic incantations and transmutations, ignore any lapses in the laws of physics, even so magic must create something around and within us that we don’t experience without magic.

But Kelly Pines (which, as a member of Linda’s family for over 50 years, I too refer to as Kelly’s Pines) does create magic. This little patch of forest, stream, rocky incline has been accruing magic since before these seven siblings were born. It’s the magic of shared stories – big Mama Bear crossing the trail just minutes after Linda had been walking there alone. It’s the magic of special visits – Linda and I camped at Kelly’s Pines for our honeymoon. Definitely the magic of roots – a bit of Linda’s Mom’s and Dad’s ashes are sprinkled there. And greatest of all is the magic of memories – those family camping expeditions have provided every sibling with their own recollections, carefully preserved treasures they dust off and pass around whenever any of the seven get together.

We make our magic. Our memories create magic. Sister Becky sums it up perfectly when she sees the photos: “It creates a great longing to be there with my loved ones.” Such magic!

Linda and I regularly hike a number of local trails where, when we listen, we hear the fey whispers of magic. Some are old trails with deep roots – we’ve visited Doughton Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway since the kids could walk. Some are newer, their magic bright and sprite and still emerging – the Grassy Creek “forest bathing” spur of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, where our grandson worked beside me to scrape a first pathway into the riparian gloom.

Every week, in every season and weather, we discover the healing magic these footpaths through forest desire to share with anyone who’ll visit. Some magic is tangible: today the tiny Adam and Eve orchids are just opening, and to appreciate them I have to kneel with my nose in the leaf mould. Some magic is inchoate: the breeze on our necks, how it stirs ferns in the glade, the color of light ferns hold and release when we pause from all motion and let the woods overtake us.

When we return from these walks it isn’t the sweat and tired old muscles we remember. The magic of memory creates connection, shared presence, becoming one. Yes, Jill, that is a magical place. Oh yes, the trees, the mountains, but what really brings each place’s magic into being is what we share there together.

Fern Glade above Grassy Creek, MST

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Girl in the Woods

Before the earth became her bed, she raked away
+++++ the rubble and rocks, scraped the soil smooth.

There are no candy men here, no dope peddlers,
+++++ no pill pushers, no one to hand out 40s and 80s –

those perfect stones with their false promise to cut her
+++++ pain with their fuzz and blur – the way they do

at her apartment in the projects, a home more makeshift
+++++ than her nylon tent with its walls stretched taut,

its strings staked between oak roots. In this quiet,
+++++ she sketches her children’s faces with charcoal,

applying skills she’s learning in community college
+++++ art classes. She outlines their curved cheeks,

their almond-shaped eyes, uses long, sweeping strokes
+++++ for her daughter’s hair, a softer mark for the scar

on her son’s chin. Dark comes early beneath the trees.
+++++ Without the luxury of electric light, she’s learning

how to smudge charcoal, how to block in the mid-tones,
+++++ by battery-powered lantern – a small sacrifice

for this shelter of trees when she most misses her kids,
+++++ when her brain won’t stop buzzing.

Denton Loving
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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Southern Ohio, pronounced “Ohia” if you’re from there, is Appalachia. Forget Cleveland and Toledo and their Lake Erie, forget Columbus and its gateway to the great plains. Think Athens, Portsmouth, Logan, Hocking Hills. Nearly one fourth of the area of Ohio is hills, glacial carvings, forest, and streams flowing down to the Big River that borders West Virginia and Kentucky. These poems are from the new anthology, I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, poetry called forth and collected by current Ohio state poet laureate, Kari Gunter-Seymour.

These voices are remarkable. Inspiring. Dire. Funny as hell. Every day I pick up the book and just leaf to a new page at random, and every poem speaks to me. It’s not just because I have family in those hills and know the smells and sounds of those back roads and farms, the funkiness of those river towns, the long lightless days of winter, the disappointment of “Ohio false spring.” It’s because these poems are honest and human and speak to anyone who has ever looked to discover another person standing beside them. Join me, open the book, let’s see where it takes us! Let’s us be part of the community, bigger and bigger.

You’n’s, us’n’s, all of us together.

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Some Kind of Prayer

What can I tell you that you do not already know?
Listen to the grass, its long legs whistling as it swishes.
Touch the brush of cattails, the brittle wings of pine cones,
the dry skin of chokeberries – feel
their burst. Taste rain. Say you’re sorry

not for what you did but for how you doubted
yourself for so long. This life is filled
with a million cocoons and you can choose
how long, which one, or none.

Sleep is so close. Run now, run.

Shuly Xóchitl Cawood
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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To No One in Particular

I am never happy to see summer go,
earth stripped of its finest voice.
I am sitting outside in my heavy coat,
porch light off. There is no moon,
no ambient distractions, the sky a Zion.

I take solace in considering the age
of this valley, the way water
left its mark on Appalachia,
long before Peabody sunk a shaft,
Chevron augured the shale or ODOT
dynamited roadways through steep rock.

I grew up in a house where canned
fruit cocktail was considered a treat.
My sister and I fought over who got
to eat the fake cherries, standouts in the can,
though tasting exactly like very other
tired piece of fruit floating in the heavy syrup.

But it was store-bought, like city folks
and we were too gullible to understand
the corruption in the concept, our mother’s
home-canned harvest superior in every way.
I cringe when I think of how we shamed her.

So much here depends upon
a green corn stalk, a patched barn roof,
weather, the Lord, community.
We’ve rarely been offered a hand
that didn’t destroy.

Inside the house the lightbulb comes on
when the refrigerator door is opened.
My husband rummages a snack,
plops beside me on the porch to wolf it down,

turns, plants a kiss, leans back in his chair,
says to no one in particular,
A person could spend a lifetime
under a sky such as this.

Kari Gunter-Seymour
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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Linda and Bill at Kelly’s Pines, 1974

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[with 3 poems from PINESONG]

Do you see me . . . writing you back into the world?
+++++++++++++++++++ Maria Rouphail

What is reality? Perhaps it does require ten dimensions to explain quantum phenomena but we sentient creatures are stuck with four, all we are able to feel. That’s as real as we can get. And with entropy dictating the direction of time’s arrow, it’s a one-way street.

But what about dreams? What about memory? The one is all hallucinatory confabulation, jetsam from the brain’s real work of making sense. The other – random imprint of synapses in hippocampus, little tangles and sparks of wishfulness, wholly unreliable. Then why do dreams open doors into worlds we are absolutely compelled to explore? Why are memories so deeply, viscerally, demandingly real?

My Grandpop Cooke died when I was five. We lived states apart; I spent only a few weeks with him each year. Most of my memories are stories told about him later – his eclectic brilliance, his inventions and patents, his ferocious calling as physician and surgeon. In most of the photos from our few shared years he is behind the camera composing, the rest of us the subject, the scene. Mostly I sense him in the recalled scent of his workshop, oil & sawdust, or in the heft of the books he left. I never hear his voice.

But in these two memories Grandpop is real to me. We’re standing on the bluff above Bogue Sound while he tosses corn to his mallards, wordless memory, me the child allowed to reach his hand into the pan of grain. He is kneeling, my 4-year old hand in his while he outlines the little bones in those fingers and teaches me, “Phalanges, Metacarpals.”

I tell you these stories. I write them down. Time holds its breath, reverses its flow. I bring Grandpop back into the world.

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After “After Years” by Ted Kooser

At once when you walked by,
I noticed something on your face that I
hadn’t seen in a long time.
You, smiling into your phone,
stepping over a dead rat on the street vent,
were a revelation.
Around us, the collapsed a skyscraper into the ground
and, as you rushed past without realizing,
a breeze blew a lamppost into a hurricane.
For this instant of infinity,
God must have a heart to
let me see you among the mills of people
coming and going, back and forth
between the drone of city life and the thrill of living at all.

As I lose you to the background,
the weightlessness of your memory bombards me.
How quietly did you leave to ensure
I wouldn’t notice your absence?
Where did you possibly go if not
further into the pile of things I swore to forget?

We are all bound by finality.
To stop living in circles, you take flight
and I watch the world wear away my stubborn grief
until I forget why I ever had to grieve at all.

Claire Wang
PINESONG, Sherry Pruitt Award, Third Place
11th Grade, Marvin Ridge High School, Waxhaw, NC
Teacher: Bobbi Jo Wisocki

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Today’s three poems are from PINESONG, the annual anthology of the North Carolina Poetry Society. Ten adult contests, four for students; winners and honorable mentions. Judges from all over the country, diversity of poets as well – no two year’s collections are similar. Some of these names will go on to glean literary honors; many already have.

You can buy a copy (or if you are a NCPS member request a copy gratis) by contacting me and I will forward your request to the appropriate address: comments@griffinpoetry.com

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The Waters

A naiad swims to the bottom of the ocean
feels the great press of all that water,
the suffocating embrace of the dark.
At these depths, she wonders, does the giant squid
feel a need, like childbirth, to release her ink?
She lays her hand on the throat of beginnings;
and Earth takes a tremendous breath,
blows out bubbles, bubbles, bubbles –
multitudes that almost shine like light.

A woman sinks to the nadir of life,
where every single thing is hard.
Not just difficult – that’s brushing hair,
teeth; saying the right thing;
avoiding saying the wrong;
awakening before the sun sits atop a vast blue.
Truly hard:
the corners of counters, cement floor,
the slam of a door. Glass breaks
behind her eyes every single day,
glittering, blinding, refracting,
reflecting failure, filling her mind’s eye
with shard of adamantine static.

A girl swims the abyss of her nightmare.
Hears a voice – maybe her mother’s – but garbled,
muted the way a fetus hears in the womb.
It is hard to breathe.
Treading the water of sleep, fear and desire
swirl in the dark below her. Shy bumps the land,
the bed, the sheets twine her legs like kelp.
Consciousness slips around her, a gleaming eel
she finally lays hands on. Here is morning,
bright and smooth as a clam’s mantle.

Alison Toney
PINESONG, Thomas H. McDill Award, Honorable Mention

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Abuela

In the dream,
my dead father speaks the same words
as when he was in the flesh.
Leaning into my ear, he says
Imaginate, hija –
the nuns at the convent school
taught your grandmother to write –
My lips part again,
as when he told me the first time
about the black-eyed girl
with a birth and death date no one remembered,
who saw visions and wrote them down.
That was before she became the too-young mother
abandoned by her impatient man
who refused the burden of a tubercular wife
and their two baby boys – Poemas,
my orphaned father said.
I turn to face him,
as though he were
the door to a vast room.
But then I wake,
and breath streams out of my body like a tide – ¡Abuela, abuelita!
Do you know that I see you, the poet at her desk?
Do you see me at mine, writing you back into the world?

Maria Rouphail
PINESONG, Thomas H. McDill Award, Second Place

Maria also won the 2022 Poet Laureate Award from the NC Poetry Society for her poem, Two Variations on a Theme of a Tenement (as Viewed from the Window of a Moving Train) With a Song Interposed.

 

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[with poetry by Alana Dagenhart]

Here, take some with you. You’re not likely to leave my Dad’s presence without hearing these words. It could be a little plastic tub of leftovers from the meal I just brought him and Mom; maybe cookies or a chocolate; a couple of apples – he says he and Mom can’t eat them all. You’ll definitely be carrying the stack of New Yorkers and Sunday funnies he’s been saving. Just try leaving empty handed after visiting my Dad, just try.

Here, take some. How many years before I realized he always has and always will say this? How long have I been trying to analyze why he does? Does anyone ever really understand their father (or their son, for that matter)?

Here, take. It can be too easy to overlook Dad’s deep, even urgent, desire to give. He may seem stubborn and commandeering (just like me, although I prefer “assertive”). He takes charge of every conversation (probably because he literally can’t hear anyone talking but himself; maybe he thinks he’s just filling an awkward lull). Admit it, he acts like a Dad – so let me cut him some slack and open my eyes to the source of his generous essence.

Dad grew up during the Depression in the rural South – just imagine. World War II paid for him to go to Duke. He worked for the same huge company from the time I was four until he retired; he always seemed to be traveling and working at home nights & weekends. Because of Dad’s promotions we moved three times in two years while I was in Junior High (origin of my many quirks, no doubt), but then he declined promotions so my little sister didn’t have to move midway through High School.

Dad saw to it that I graduated from university and med school with no more debt than I could manage. When Linda and I got married and our old boat of a car couldn’t bear the load, Dad towed a trailer from Ohio to North Carolina to meet us after our honeymoon. All these years I can’t recall him spending money on himself, except maybe golf clubs every few decades, but Dad will keep shelling out whatever it takes to maintain the old beach house so all his grandkids can go on enjoying it after he and Mom are gone.

Don’t you want some more? Oh yeah, that’s the other thing Dad says. I hope he can hear me when I reply, “Thanks, Dad, it’s been plenty.”

 

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All the Silver Space

Fire pops and burns blue, Sunday morning
October in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Hiss and hum, the constant roaring –
wood is changing,
solid to light,
before my eyes
like you, Dad
muscle to sacks of dry ice.
We both know.

I walk the mountain top trail
yearning for afternoon heat,
your sun in my bones

Sunset: the inside of a buttercup
empty at the horizon.
The sky fades like a tie-dyed tee-shirt,
from canary to lizard
gravel to irises to ocean.
The underbellies of clouds
are streaked in cotton candy.

Moon again, full and daring
around pine and rock.
Your blue eyes
not saying what we know
to be true. Back

cover first.
I knew to look,
bottom corner,
last page of the book,
your handwriting
small and faint.
You didn’t even want to leave a mark.

Alana Dagenhart

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Alana Dagenhart’s Yellow Leaves is not a narrative time line, it is a lyrical collage of visions and visitations interwoven with the relentless thread of her father’s death. We enter her dreams, intrusive but illuminating; we get to know ancestors imagined and remembered; we are invited to share Alana’s days most mundane and most profound. The thread of family tangles and unspools, knots and releases, and what could be dark, somber, a burden too heavy, becomes another bright morning, all the colors of revelation, a yellow leaf whirled and unsettled finally discovering its place of rest.

All today’s poems are from Yellow Leaves, Alana Dagenhart, Redhawk Publications, Hickory, NC. © 2022

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Yellow Then, Will Fly to Every Eave

The blackest bruise
of our human trauma may
not heal completely through.
Some lingering yellow stays.

But Nature’s first green is gold,
her hardest hue to hold,
and what was yellow once and bold
fades in time in form and folds.

Blue will tend the sky of day,
and black will stay the night,
but yellow always leaves again
when sun is out of sight.

Death’s second self, made up of all
the dark the Earth contains,
snuffs bright yellow out, till
none but veiled despair remains.

Then violence bangs
& cuts us to our knees,
blooded-violet searing pain,
rooted between burning trees,

Coral dies, and chestnuts’ blight,
and green is gone –
all gone to dust and yellow leaves.

Unless a poet writing through the night,
will pen an echo fluttering of light
and yellow the, will fly to every eave
and someone late will read from time-tinged leaves

a verse or tow that speaks to them alone
a shelter of thatched pages, like a home.

Alana Dagenhart

Nature’s first green . . . from Robert Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay; Death’s second self from Shakespeare Sonnet 73.

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What Yellow Light

illuminates the fields of the dead?
What fevered hue burns hot
on the faces of our beloved?

What lime? What straw?

What platinum beam cast triangles
on the oak board floors
of the room they wait
beyond this spectrum?

The Yellow Submarine blaring loud
COMCRUDESLANT command
where sailor scrub-shine metal
and Navy top brass smile big teeth
behind sunglasses?

The neon yellow of the pick-up truck
where my brother and I rode
our backs against the cab
in October, Boone, the Blue Ridge
with our legs under a patchwork quilt?

Th old gold of historic hallways
restored in the color of statesmen?

The palest lemonade sides
of papa’s house, squash in the filed
a buckwheat horse?

The sure blonde of my towheaded little brother?

What frequency has that light?

Is it far from here?

Alana Dagenhart

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POSTSCRIPT: Dad at age 95 says some scary stuff, too. The most anxiety provoking = I have complete confidence in my ability to drive. The ability part is scary enough but the confidence is terrifying.

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

 

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[poems by James Dickey, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost]

Last Friday I got to play a new game with my grandson Bert, one he made up with his Dad – This Animal. We had walked a mile or so on the Crabtree Creek Greenway in Raleigh and it was time to head home. Along the waterway there were plenty of enticements: red-headed woodpecker at the tip of a snag; big splashes chunking clinkers into the stream; Spring Beauties (why does Pappy kneel down and look at every flower?); tiny slug rescued from squishing.

Now we’ve turned into the neighborhoods to walk on home. Sidewalks. Lawns. Much less exciting. Soon I hear a little voice pipe up, “Let’s play This Animal!”

I get first crack. “I’m an animal that sleeps during the day . . .” “No, Pappy! You have to say This Animal!” Oh yeah, got it. Four-year olds are sticklers for protocol. “This animal sleeps during the day hanging upside down then flies around at night catching insects.”

“A bat!”

Bert knows his animals. In his presence you’d better not mistake a Blue Whale for a Sperm Whale. Or even a Crocodile for an Alligator. Now it’s his turn: “This Animal has ten legs, a stinger, AND claws!” (Hint: In his pocket Bert is clasping the plastic scorpion he’s been playing with all afternoon.)

What a kid! One of these days we’ll kick the game up a notch to This Bird. He can already name most of them that come to the feeder. And I can foresee the day when Bert has me totally stumped as we play This Lichen.

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The Heaven of Animals

Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing, desperately
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.

For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.

James Dickey (1923-1997)
from The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1945-1992. Copyright © 1992 by James Dickey.

 

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All three of today’s poems are collected in The Ecopoetry Anthology; Edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

Today’s photographs are from the exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Exquisite Creatures by Christopher Marley. These amazing works are created by Marley from preserved specimens from around the world (and no vertebrates were killed in creating his art). The Museum describes this as a dialogue with art, nature and science, and Marley states his intention to allow each of us to tap into our innate biophilia, our love of life and living things.

Oh yes, and the little plastic insects came from the Museum gift shop. We all had to stop and play with them as soon as we left the building.

[The last day of the exhibit in North Carolina is March 20, 2022. It is appearing simultaneously in Idaho; check for future exhibits at Christopher Marley’s site.]

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Spring and All

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)
from Spring and All, first published in 1923 by Robert McAlmon’s Contact Publishing Co.

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The Need of Being Versed in Country Things

The house had gone to bring again
To the midnight sky a sunset glow.
Now the chimney was all of the house that stood,
Like a pistil after the petals go.

The barn opposed across the way,
That would have joined the house in flame
Had it been the will of the wind, was left
To bear forsaken the place’s name.

No more it opened with all one end
For teams that came by the stony road
To drum on the floor with scurrying hoofs
And brush the mow with the summer load.

The birds that came to it through the air
At broken windows flew out and in,
Their murmur more like the sigh we sigh
From too much dwelling on what has been.

Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf,
And the aged elm, though touched with fire;
And the dry pump flung up an awkward arm;
And the fence post carried a strand of wire.

For them there was really nothing sad.
But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,
One had to be versed in country things
Not to believe the phoebes wept.

Robert Frost (1874-1963)
first published in 1923 in Frost’s New Hampshire poetry collection; public domain.

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[with 3 poems from When There Were Horses]

Once upon a time there was a little boy . . . . a frisson of anticipation: the four-year old’s attention is now riveted on Pappy. What mischief will the boy in the story create, what adventure awaits, what danger?

When my grandson used to ask me to tell him a story it was a gift to both of us. Often the stories sprouted spontaneously from our pretending and play, their main characters usually some of his favorite companions like Mousey and Blue Rat. What joy and entertainment when you engage with the characters in a narrative! Even more so if you identify with the characters – their plight, their seeking, their discoveries strike a resonant chord in your own heart. You live a little richer and fuller through them.

But what if you are them?! What if you are the little boy in the story unfolding? What if a door opens and you enter the story and it becomes an extension of your own? The gift the teller gives you in that moment can’t be measured.

So many of the poems in Pat Riviere-Seel’s new book, When There Were Horses, open that door for me. I enter the lines. Not only do I engage, not only identify, but I become a part of the narrative. The resonance moves me to reflect on my own arc, my own plight and seeking. How does that happen?

How does poetry do that stuff? Mmmm, mystery and magic. Art and invitation. I admit I don’t actually know the details or specifics of many of Pat’s narratives but even so I have come to feel a part of them. When I get past asking, “What does she mean by that?” and just enter the flow of how she is creating meaning, then her poems crack open new earth. There, beneath the mud of daily routine, behind the obfuscation of some constant ringing little voice in my head, something waits. Waiting to sprout and bloom. Waiting to sing a new song. Waiting and wanting to peel back all that separates us from each other, and from our inner self. Something is beneath the surface, waiting to break our heart, and to heal it.

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From the Almanac of Broken Things

I choose this earth that breaks
my heart again and again,

the woods for the way trees
bend, fall, and return to dirt.

I choose the sand dollar, the nautilus
that in brokenness finds new creation.

I choose the favorite doll that no longer cries,
loved into silence, into rags.

I choose the memory of a stranger’s touch
that lifted my face above water. Because

I did not drown, I choose morning,
the gauzy-gray dawn that returns.

I choose the once-wild Palomino
whose beauty can never be tamed.

I choose light from long dead stars
that illuminates without heat.

I choose March with its promise of spring,
the warm days that tease, the blizzard

that insulates and warms the bulbs, the seeds,
all that lies beneath the surface, waiting.

Pat Riviere-Seel
inspired by Linda Pastan’s poem The Almanac of Last Things

 

 

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What the Moon Knows

She knows shadow, how to
slip behind clouds. She’s perfected
the art of disappearing. She knows
how to empty herself into the sky,
whisper light into darkness.
She knows the power of silence,
how to keep secrets, even as men
leave footprints in the dust, try to claim her.
Waxing and waning, she summons
the tides. Whole and holy symbol,
she remains perfect truth, tranquility.
Friend and muse, she knows the hearts
of lovers and lunatics. She knows
she is not the only one that fills the sky,
but the sky is her only home.

Pat Riviere-Seel

 

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Enough

Ahead, I see her watching me, pity
or compassion, hard to tell
from this distance. I want to ask her,
my future self, what she knows
and when she knew it. I want to know
whose laughter fills her hours? Does she
still dance? Still run? What does she know
of grace? These days I know so little.

But she’s still faithful, the self I look back
to see at dawn, a quarter century ago,
running out Colbert Creek road between
woods and murmur of the South Toe River, two-lane
Highway 80 South, past Mount Mitchell Golf Course,
down macadam that turns into gravel, clatter across
the low water bridge, out Rock Creek Road,
before she turns toward her dusty driveway,
past grape vines, the garden where the black cat
waits to walk her home. She’s the one who
declared, I am enough. She’s kept her promise.
But now, knowledge brings scraps
falling from bone that offers proof
something happened here in this lost country –
three deaths, one new love.

Pat Riviere-Seel
all selections from When There Were Horses, © 2021 Pat Riviere-Seel, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte NC

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FULL DISCLOSURE: Pat Riviere-Seel is my cousin. Third cousin one generation removed is how I think we figured it. Pat and I first met twenty years ago at a North Carolina Poetry Society meeting at Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines. During a break we were sharing casually about what we’d been doing lately and she mentioned her recent family reunion in Lewisville, NC.

“We met at an old Methodist Church in Lewisville where my Great-Great-Grandfather is buried.”

“No way, we had a family reunion in Lewisville a few years ago and we met at a church, might be the same one, where my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather is buried. His name was J.N.S. Daub.’

“Uh, hmm, mine is named Daub, too. Reverend Daub.”

“I’ve got a photo of the headstone at home. I’ll send you a copy.”

Sure enough, one and the same Daub. That was my maternal Great-Grandmother’s maiden name. Three Daub sisters married three McBride brothers. So Pat and my Mom are third cousins (although separated in age by more than a generation).

All those years, something beneath the surface, waiting.

– – – B

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2020-11-03a Doughton Park Tree

 

 

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