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Posts Tagged ‘imagery’

[with poems by Kim O’Connor, AE Hines, Cheryl Wilder, Yvette Murray]

The North Carolina Poetry Society was organized in 1932 at the Charlotte home of Edna Wilcox Talley. The six members present elected Zoe Kincaid Brockman, well known poet and women’s editor of the Gastonia Gazette, as the organization’s first president. Could those six writers have imagined that ninety years later their idealistic endeavor would be thriving, with a membership of over 500 and sometimes more than a hundred persons from all across the state attending meetings? That through the decades the North Carolina Poetry Society would be the forerunner of additional writers’ organizations such as the Poetry Council of North Carolina, NC Writer’s Network, and NC Writer’s Conference, not to mention numerous local and regional groups in NC towns and counties? That poetry would be happening in schools with Poetry Out Loud, in shop windows and on buses through Poetry in Plain Sight, in countless books and journals published in North Carolina every year?

Zoe Brockman, Edna Talley, and friends knew the truth long before Doris Betts coined the phrase: North Carolina is the “writingest state.” Perhaps they wouldn’t have expressed it so eloquently but they would have agreed with Ed Southern, NC Writers’ Network executive director, that “one cannot spit, piss, or throw a rock in the Old North State without hitting a writer.” I like to believe those women of an earlier time would have been pleased but unsurprised at the many poets inducted into the NC Literary Hall of Fame after its inauguration by Sam Ragan at Weymouth Center in 1996; they especially would have applauded when all the inductees in 2014 were poets – Shelby Stephenson, Betty Adcock, Ron Bayes, Jaki Shelton Green. The Charlotte Six would no doubt have volunteered to serve as mentors in the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series, helped set up tables at the Sam Ragan Poetry Festival, and host open mic on Zoom during the pandemic. We who participate in the North Carolina Poetry Society of 2022 benefit from their high ideals, keen vision, and energy – we uphold a worthy tradition, and we have embraced the creativity, inclusion, and diversity that now make this tradition our own.

NCPS gathered to celebrate its 90th anniversary on September 17 at Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities, Southern Pines, NC – the first meeting in person in two and a half years. We look back and we look forward. We pay tribute to those who have taught and inspired us, and we open ourselves to the newest voices among us. We listen to the words of poets who dedicated their lives to building the power of literature in North and South Carolina: Joseph Bathanti reading Kathryn Stipling Byer, Shelby Stephenson reading Marty Silverthorne, David Radavich reading Susan Laughter Meyers. And we listen to the words of today’s poets reading the poems of now.

The Brockman-Campbell Book Award is the most prestigious honor bestowed by NCPS, awarded annually for the best book of poetry published by a North Carolina poet in the preceding year. Past winners have included Fred Chappell, AR Ammons, Betty Adcock, and Robert Morgan, among many others. The 2022 winner is Kimberly O’Connor for her book White Lung. Finalists are Anything That Happens by Cheryl Wilder and Any Dumb Animal by AE Hines.

❦ ❦ ❦

The History of My Silence
Hendersonville, North Carolina, 1961

white people sit in the front my great-grandmother
says my mother is angry
she wants to sit in the back

my mother is six years old
her first time on a bus
she wants to sit in the back

why? she stamps her foot

my great-grandmother does not answer the rest of the world
the boycotts the marches the fire
hoses let loose on children burning
crosses any of it does not
exist for them

they sit in the front like good white
women I think that

their silence their
compliance
has flowed into me
a river I have to swim
even as the water turns to flame.

Kimberly O’Connor
from White Lung (Saturnalia Books, Ardmore PA, © 2021)

Kim is a North Carolina native who lives in Golden, Colorado. She received an MFA from the University of Maryland and has taught creative writing and literature in middle school, high school, and college classrooms in Colorado, Maryland, West virginia, and North Carolina.

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Naturalization

We’d been lucky. I’d made it out of Guatemala
alone with the baby, and the baby still alive.
I hadn’t let him crawl out a hotel window.
I hadn’t let him swallow a button from my sleeve.
Managed to feed him and change him
and carry him in taxis and embassies, through
markets and airports, beneath the electric barbwire
of US Immigration. In Houston, I watched
badged women and men berate
brown men in shackles while they sat
tethered to stiff chairs beside us. Most stared
at their shoes. I am embarrassed to admit
I did nothing. Said nothing. Didn’t catch a man’s
tired eye and offer him even a nod, my feeble Spanish.
Instead, I just called my little son’s name over
and over, and bounced him on my lap.
Then we were ushered back into the land
I’d promised him. Bound together by law,
and off to our next gate without a glance back
at the men on their way to whatever place
they no longer called home.

AE Hines
from Any Dumb Animal (Mainstreet Rag Publishing, Charlotte NC, © 2021)

Earl grew up in rural North Carolina and currently resides in Portland, Oregon where he is pursuing his MFA from Pacific University. He is winner of the Red Wheelbarrow Prize and a finalist for the Montreal International Poetry Prize.

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Bailed Out

The house stirs with my stirring.
I am the elephant, the devil’s minion.
Secure in my arms a woven afghan

blue and darker blue. I run
fingers through holes and open
like a wish bone but cannot pull

them apart. A wish not wished
establishes habit, like sleep-dancing
or tangling the vacuum cord around my wrist

to make love. I am two people now—
the before and the after; one I’ve already forgotten
the other I have not met. I hear voices whisper

what if—a crossroad so difficult to leave
I build a roadside bench. At some point
I will rise from this bed, speak though I only hear

his curdled breath, allow my first taste of bone
in the broth I can smell, but no one will notice
my stained hands, the bloody prints on the wall.

Cheryl Wilder
from Anything That Happens (A Tom Lombardo Poetry Selection, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021.)

Cheryl lives near the Haw River in North Carolina, where she gives talks and workshops on art and writing, serves as president of the Burlington Writers Club, and owns a small web development company. She is co-founder and editor of Waterwheel Review.

❦ ❦ ❦

The Susan Laughter Meyers Fellowship in Poetry was established in 2017 in memory of former president of both the North Carolina and South Carolina Poetry Societies, Susan Meyers. The annual merit-based fellowship for one North Carolina or South Carolina poet requires submission of five poems with blind judging by a three-judge panel. It is co-sponsored by NCPS and the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities, and includes a one-week residency at Weymouth Center plus an honorarium. The 2022 Fellowship recipient is Yvette R. Murray.

Poem In Which Words

don’t deserve this.
They have been around a long time; served us well.
Why then do we use them like poisoned blue darts?
Words have been so kind as to adapt.
They want to stay relevant too.
But we spit them into red plastic cups like
‘bacca juice and leave them on the side of the road.
They never harmed us,

Yet we turn them ugly side out,
Pit them against each other,
Use our fangs to inject venom.

The poor words can’t be unheard,
the ring after of their scent,
makes folk mad.

I hope they don’t cry,
I hope they don’t die by suicide,
I hope they don’t vanish within.

Then we will never again find the words.
They might like that though.
Scrubbed clean with different color hair
They can hold hands,
stroll the streets,
carry their shopping bags,
or look for a bistro
in peace.

Yvette R. Murray
from a gathering together literary journal, Spring 2021

Yvette is a Gullah poet from Charleston, SC. She writes because she has to. The words bump around in her head and give her headaches. Just kidding! For Yvette, Poetry is the most beautiful event space on the planet.

THANK YOU to so many who made this North Carolina Poetry Society 90th Anniversary gathering not only possible but truly worthy of the banner, Infusing Ceremony with Celebration: Poetry with Light, Soul, and Sound: Lynda Rush-Myers, for a year of planning and countless hours of preparation and presentation; Celestine Davis, ever-present ever-encouraging ever keeping the wheels on the bus; Regina Garcia, heart and soul and thrilling Tribute introductions, and Romeo Garcia making sure we all got lunch; the entire NCPS Board of Directors, setting up, hanging signs, welcoming and greeting, picking up the trash; and special thanks to the staff of Weymouth Center and Executive Director Katie Wyatt, we/you couldn’t do it without you/us.

NEXT WEEK: NCPS 90th Anniversary celebrations continue with the Lena Shull Manuscript Prize: poems by winner Ana Pugatch, finalists David Poston and Maureen Sherbondy, and workshop presenter Joan Leotta

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Portions adapted from The North Carolina Poetry Society: Part 5 – 2012-2022, Ninety Years of Creativity, Challenge, and Change; compiled and composed by Bill Griffin with special collaborator David Radavich; © 2022 The North Carolina Poetry Society.

Why We Are “The Writingest State”; Southern, Ed. North Carolina Literary Review; Greenville NC, Nr. 25 (2016): 92-99.

 

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[with 3 poems by Joan Barasovska]

What is the perfect ripeness of Touch-Me-Not to pop its pods into my hand? How will the little brown kernels taste? How far would they fly if I didn’t catch them?

These questions I ask of myself, but I also ask them for the thirteen curious women who have enlisted me as their nature guide. Together we chew the little seeds – like untoasted sunflower. Together we are curious about everything. This tiny pale bloom with the three-lobed lip, how is it related to bright scarlet three-lobed Cardinal flower, gigantic by comparison? The white-striped red-lined caterpillar, what will its moth look like? Every one of these ferns, vines, sedges, mints, asters along the trail we’re walking, what is their family, who are their cousins, how did they get these odd names?

Maybe I’m too curious. Most of the other hikers have left me behind as we near trail’s end. It’s hard to pass even one speck of lilac among the Meadow Beauties and Dog Fennel. Hello, what’s this? A year ago near here I discovered a first (for me), a single plant, blue flowers with improbable arching stamens and pistil like dainty tusks. I thought it was extirpated when the farmer sprayed herbicide along his electric fence line last Spring. I have to kneel to examine this one small survivor. A single flower. Lamiaceae, Mint family – well, mints do make lots of seeds.

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Carrying Clare

Mystery conceived in passion
spreads a tent inside my body,
scoops out space
I’d blithely claimed as mine.

I grow heavy with her campsite
and the gear we’ve taken on.
After work each day I buy
a secret chocolate éclair
and eat it at Nelson’s Bakery,
where I’ll soon show off my baby.

Her father grants me
naming rights if it’s a girl.
On a cold day at the beach,
jacket straining to span my belly,
with one booted foot I trace
her name in giant letters
in wet sand: CLARE.

I pray this hidden daughter,
now assembling all she’ll require,
will live to be my better self,
take chances I could never take.
I pray for a safe birth.
I pray to be the mother she will need.

Her father and I wait for March.
He says she could easily be a boy,
but our daughter’s eyes, not yet open,
greedily seek mine.

Joan Barasovska
from Carrying Clare, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte NC, © 2022

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Joan Barasovska’s Carrying Clare is a memoir in verse about the life of a family with a child who is critically and chronically ill. Will the baby live? Will the little girl’s illness rob her of childhood’s joy? How will a new baby brother shoulder his way into this picture? And most of all where does it arise, this deep well of strength in the mother who must watch her child fade and perhaps fail? Strength for the hours waiting outside surgical operating rooms, for the administering of medications and IV’s at home, for the nights bereft of hope? Where does it come from, the strength of such unrelenting love?

I ask myself one more question. What strength must it have taken to gather these poems across the decades of struggle they convey, to look them squarely in the eye and relive each moment once more, and then to share them?

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Strength

Ten-day-old Clare wails on an X-ray table,
her tiny ovaries protected, but she’s naked
on metal, flailing under strange light.
I sit rigid against the wall.

No one ever called me strong.
Fragile, even frail, a waif
without endurance. Not strong.
People have had to rescue me.

My baby’s body is red from screaming,
her back arched, skull uncradled.
I croon to her, my breasts leak for her,
but in her agony I can’t yet save her.

The technician finishes at last.
I dress and swaddle Clare,
give her my breast,
sate her with my power.

Joan Barasovska
from Carrying Clare, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte NC, © 2022

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January Walk

Winter claims the day.
It hikes the road,
roams the fallow fields.
It lifts and stirs the air.

The horses I pass eat hay
and miss sweet grass.
Under a heavy coat
my heart beats hot.

I think of the baby tossing
in my daughter’s womb.
He floats in a weatherless world
while I lean into cold wind.

The horses stand side-by-side,
breath streaming hot in one fog.
The baby stirs in tight orbit,
waiting for March.

Joan Barasovska
from Carrying Clare, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte NC, © 2022

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Thank You to Dee Neil and the Ladies Elkin Valley Trail Association for inviting me to be your naturalist for a morning. Walking out from Isaacs’ Trail Head on the Mountains-to-Sea trail for a couple of hours, we lost count of the number of wild flowers, ferns, vines, sedges, mosses, and other plants we discovered. And one boldly decorated caterpillar capped the day.

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2016-05-08a 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

❦ ❦ ❦

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 . . . ]

❦ ❦ ❦

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 3 poems by Miles A. Coon]

to become the very brink you live on . . . Miles Coon

The other day I was trying to fix my Dad’s Life Alert system while the rest of the family ate lunch fifteen feet away. I couldn’t figure out why the damn lights kept flashing. While I was cussing the instruction booklet – there’s such a thing as being written too simply – I overheard Dad tell my daughter, “Bill sure does a lot for us.”

Haven’t I always been the good boy? May I confess that all my life I’ve chosen to do things that would confirm my good boy status? Around 20 years ago I wrote a sonnet titled, Good Boy Turns 50; the closing couplet reads, So let’s give him what he needs in the next fifty / if he ever discovers what that might be. Was I trying to slip in a bit of tension there, as if maybe I don’t always like myself for striving always to be the person everyone likes?

Someday I’ll write a poem about being twenty and driving the interstate back to college from Pittsburgh with my friend John in the big bashed up Mercury I’d inherited from Granddaddy. One of the near-bald tires blew, and as we rolled to a stop on the shoulder we looked at each other and started to sweat. In the trunk, on top of the spare, was a big trash bag of illegal vegetation John had plucked up, roots and all, from where he’d been growing it out back of his parents’ estate while they were in Paris or Tokyo or some such. We tried to look purposeful, puttering around the trunk until the traffic thinned, then threw the bag up into the weeds (no pun, please), jacked up the car, wrenched on the spare, and retrieved John’s harvest. No lights & sirens. Back at school in central Ohio after dark, I unloaded John behind his dorm. End of story. Good boy escapes to be good another day.

Someday I’ll write a poem about that.

Not today.

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The Beginning

Before I had a self, I grew
in the half-dark, half-light world
I knew belonged to me.

Two disappointing gods
shaped me. Before I had
a self, I was a topiary.

Birds were everywhere
in me, singing, while I
stood mute.

One day, the gods split
this world in two.
Before I had a self,

I was taken by each of them
to the great sea of disillusionment,
thrown in from separate shores.

My first-self emerged from the sea,
my body soaked in brine.
I could taste my own salts.

To be washed clean,
to be naked and alone,
to become the very brink you live on

is to bury your gods,
as your heirs will bury you.
This is genesis, where we begin.

Miles A. Coon
from The Quotient of My Self Divided by Myself, © 2022, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC.

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As I reached the close of each poem in The Quotient of My Self Divided by Myself, I paused, loosed held breath, then returned to the beginning to read it again. Not because the poems are difficult to understand. The poems are so full of understanding I couldn’t hold it all in a single reading. The language is as beautiful and fresh as the stories are piercing and full of hurt, yet the speaker heals in the telling and heals us. Observer, actor, perpetrator – innocent, confused, divine – Miles Coon enters himself through doors he opens as if for the first time and enters us as if we are knowing another person for the first time.

I am still learning about myself from this book. Perhaps that is its theme, that we may explore our selves all our lives and never reach the end of our journey. How heartbreaking and how full of joy the final line of the final poem: How little of this world I know.

[Note: Miles died on May 21, 2022, just days before the publication by Press 53 of his first book-length collection of poems.]

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Where I Was Going

I.
Where was I going under the weight
of my bookbag, case law, and statutes? Not to the
Harvard Café for Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes.
Not to the cinderblock dorms, their dimly lit corridors
of thought. Not home. Where was I going so full of
argument and words?

II.
I joined the cynical and jaded. My father hired me.

Not to work next to illegal aliens in the plastics factory.
Not to load forty-two-foot trailer trucks with
one hundred forty thousand garment hangers, stacked
in cases, side-by-side, front-to-back, floor-to-
ceiling, every cubic inch packed tight.

Not to the boss’s office where the Harvard Law degree
vanished into uh-oh, here comes the boss’s son.
Not to the trade shows at the Hotel New Yorker
where I licked the soles of jobbers, plied them
with booze.

III.
Where was I going? To the fertility expert with my semen
in a jar? Never to Little League with my son. Never
to go ice-skating with my daughter. Where was I going?

Not three times a week to Dr. Bernie, self-indulgent,
taking a magnifying glass to my problems. He said
I had it wrong. We were removing the magnifying glass.

IV.
Where was I going, going to
my father’s funeral, my mother’s grave. I was going
to the closing when I sold the business. I was going
to my daughter’s wedding, to the firehouse where my son
showed me his gear and the enormous truck
he drove to Ground Zero.

Where was I going? Not to grow fables of my own
making: I was just going to my wife’s studio
to help support her art, I was going to write a poem for her,
always my best reader.

Miles A. Coon
from The Quotient of My Self Divided by Myself, © 2022, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC.

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Against a Wall

Sometimes, when the moon
is courted by wolves,
and the bats shake themselves out,

I’ll move through the mouth
of the cave like a breath,
press against the windowpane,

and there inside the house
a frail young boy stands stiff
against a wall. His father measures him.

His mother, tanned, hair bleach-blonde,
shines the sterling silver tray,
then serves a fifth of Haig & Haig

in the cut crystal drinking glass.
The boy’s dismissed
the minute his father takes a sip.

I’ve pressed my ear
to the landscaped ground
and heard the panic in his retreat

on tiptoe, in stocking feet.
His only trace, his father’s mark,
indelible on the measuring wall.

Though I cannot leave
the dark until it’s dark,
I do survive.

Here, inside the cave,
bats hang
harmless as handkerchiefs.

I can hear my tardy rebel stir
from years of sleep,
rising up, stretching his limbs,

hungering for light.
Soon, I will follow him out,
marking the walls as I go.

Miles A. Coon
from The Quotient of My Self Divided by Myself, © 2022, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC.

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It takes the lake to make a line of moonlight . . . Miles A. Coon, from Shadow Life

 

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[with 4 poems by John Hoppenthaler]

When Saul turned 9, his Mom passed down her old tablet to him. No phone, internet disabled; he didn’t use it to learn higher math or play games. What Saul did with that cracked and creaky tablet was create videos. He wrote, produced, and narrated a whole series titled, “Animal Habitat.” First were the off-center and slightly zany documentaries of the daily lives of the family pets. Then he moved on to both parents, then toddler sister (not an entirely complimentary biopic of the latter). The search for ever more subjects led him to, uh oh, grandparents.

“Welcome to Animal Habitat. Today we explore a very strange creature, The Granny. Here she is in her native surroundings doing what she loves to do most – tear up old National Geographics. Why does she do this every afternoon? That is just one of the mysteries of Animal Habitat.”

Yes, Linda does tear up old National Geographic magazines. We had close to fifty years of accumulated piles – beginning with the oldest, she’s been ripping out articles she wants to keep, reread, and refer to before recycling the discards. She sorts the articles by topic and stores them in clear plastic sheaths (leftovers from my comic book collection). We’ve been learning a lot. I believe she’s made it to August, 2010.

Tearing up National Geographics – the perfect metaphor for our long marriage. You can’t hang on to all your old garbage; sometimes the big heave ho is mandatory. Some of that stuff is mildewed, nasty, blacks your fingers. Nevertheless, there are definitely some pearls in there worth recovering and holding up to the light. Better yet, you might learn something new. In fact, there’s a new issue every month – you’d better always be open to learning something new.

One more thing – when Linda does discover anything cool, she shares it with me.

John Hoppenthaler discovers metaphors in the garden: metaphors for the prickly beauty of love, for weeds of rejection and disappointment, for childhood and parenthood, for loss and luminous joy. John’s 2015 collection, domestic garden (Carnegie Mellon University Press), is one I won’t be tearing up or consigning to a plastic envelope. I’ll keep it on a shelf nearby, ready for when I need to learn something new.

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domestic garden

A ghost has disarranged these roses
+++ lining the walkway. Some greenhouse
++++++ jokester must have switched

Jackson & Perkins packaging – Heaven
+++ on Earth for Change of Heart, Black

Magic with Beloved. I’ll name them
+++ rancor lilies in your absence, though
++++++ I don’t hate you, & they’re not lilies,

& you aren’t really gone, except in the way
+++ presence sometimes contradicts itself.

Should they grow on me – fugitive varietals
+++ I never thought to plant – will they lure
++++++ your bouquet any closer, spirit

away weeks I’ll name neglect, aphids
+++ who’ll stay aphids, sucking at the stalk?

John Hoppenthaler
from domestic garden, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2015

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passing

I’ve just received a text that says a buddy
died last night but that doctors brought him back
to us with a shot, and so my friend is a Lazarus.

I’m in a boathouse owned by another old pal;
he is traveling for work somewhere abroad.

Mallards have lifted from the vernal pond,
and thousands of frogs are singing
because it’s raining. I wish Bill ws here so we could

talk about our friend who has gone and returned.
Crows call to each other across the lake. Same old

story: there’s danger and it surrounds us. And now
the blue heron I’d failed to notice pulls his legs
free of mud and flies away. A small falcon skims

the shoreline. When he was raised, was Lazarus pleased?
I wonder how he lived the rest of his unforeseen days.

Were his preparations any different than they’d been before?
It’s early March, and Easter will be here soon. Jesus, too,
realized how permeable the membrane is that keeps us

this side of death, and that the dead can come back
if they’re summoned. The ducks, the hawk and the heron

have passed on through to somewhere else,
but the joyful frogs remain crazy
with song. A hunter’s gunshots punctuate the distance,

a single crow lands in the crook of a tree, and it seems
as though the blessed rain has nearly stopped for now.

John Hoppenthaler
from domestic garden, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2015

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John Hoppenthaler is Professor of English at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC. For ten years, he served as Editor for A Poetry Congeries online journal, and he currently serves on the Advisory Board for Backbone Press, specializing in the publication and promotion of marginalized voices. domestic garden won the North Carolina Poetry Society’s Brockman-Campbell Award for the best book of poems by a North Carolinian in 2015.

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what we find when we’re not looking

++++++ I was hiking the quiet ridge of pines
beyond Lake Kathleen. it felt so like a church then
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ that I knelt.

++++++ When I stood again, when I was able,
I found a woman’s Timex strapped around a limb,
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ thick as your wrist.

++++++ She’d been pacing – that much I could see –
and kept stopping at the watch’s face. Was time moving
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ slowly or quickly?

++++++ Late sun rolled from the valley. Rain
would surely come. No one – I called out once but no one.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ She looked over

++++++ nearly a dozen cabins, the bed and breakfast.
She could see the vacant day camp, the eagle’s nest. Things
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ were about to end,

++++++ and soon it would begin. It felt so like a church then
that she knelt, stood up, took off her watch and strapped it around
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ the branch. She

++++++ meant to free herself from time. It couldn’t last.
She lost her definition; time defines us. She was hiking
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ and lost her watch.

John Hoppenthaler
from domestic garden, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2015

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the way to a man’s heart
+++for Christy

To sautéed garlic and onions I add
pureed plum tomatoes, a great splash
of good, red wine. Never cook with
wine you wouldn’t drink, someone
offered, and we agree. I pour a glass.
Later, I’ll add coarsely chopped basil
from the herb garden, sea salt, maybe
a pinch of sugar, and always the drizzle
of extra virgin.
++++++++++++ But now, as you see,
this extended metaphor is dissolving,
so I’m left with Pinot Noir and the glass,
fresh basil sprigs which remind me of you
And now there’s musing on the oil’s earthy flavor,
and not this aching hunger, and who is it
who says poetry makes nothing happen?

John Hoppenthaler
from domestic garden, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2015

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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

❦ ❦ ❦

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 poems from Tar River Poetry]

Neon yellow, fluorescent orange, that’s a lingo we can understand: road work ahead; survey crew; litter pick-up. Why on earth, though, did Robert Price dress all his lawn & landscape guys in this eye-popping pink, his name in big bold black across the back? So no one would want to steal their shirts? So we’d be sure to notice?

Oh, and we do notice. Our three-year old adores the stilt-legged birds in her favorite color, one last night on her little jammies, a sudden mob of them last weekend in the neighbor’s yard turning 50. Now she startles as we drive past them with their zero-turn radius mowers and tyrannosauric leaf blowers – recognition, yes! Excitement! From her car seat she points and announces . . . !

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If You Could

Would you unstitch the world,
pick it apart until you held in your cupped hands
a burning heap of atoms that glowed
like the last stars fading
into the sun? Say if you believe
the plants are doing God’s work
when they insinuate themselves
into foundation cracks and chips
in ancient stone walls, when
they tease apart the edges of brick,
begin crumbling concrete back to sand.

Tell me, if you believe
you could have done better,
what you would have omitted
when you spit into that handful
of dark earth and stardust
and worked it in your palm
to make a mannikin, when you breathed
your sweet breath with its scents
of rainwater and crushed clover
into its lips, when you watched it rise
and strut around the world, eyeing its riches
like a hungry dog eyes meat. What
would you have done to make it
less arrogant, less dangerous –
or could you? Would you have simply
smashed it, declared the world
complete?

Rebecca Baggett
from Tar River Poetry, Volume 61 Number 2, Spring 2022; © 2022 Tar River Poetry

insect

 

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Why am I featuring Tar River Poetry in the same post as Falingos / Flamingos? Is this twice-a-year journal as arresting as a yard full of men in pink, as much fun as a yard full of plastic birds? Is it because when each new issue arrives in the post I exclaim from my car seat and want to point it out to the world? Is it that the words it contains and the way they’re arranged are so deliciously novel, so eye-popping, such exotic new sensations on the tongue?

All of the above and none of the above. Who knows why, as I was sitting on the porch reading TRP as I have most every issue for a bunch of years now, I suddenly remembered that story of our granddaughter at 3? Who knows why bits of hippocampus are jangled and what bits of limbic system will be spangled when one reads a poem that jumps up and shivers? All I know is the poems of TRP are always so various, so beguiling, so full of and stimulating to imagination that I always want to read them all.

Oh, and maybe I’ve been wanting to share that Falingo story for a good while now.

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The Rope

Today a junco –
And yesterday, I think, some kind of sparrow.

Their lives flown on
Without them, they now lie still. Were these two drawn

By what they saw
As a threat in the glass they didn’t see? Claws

Raised for a foe
That wasn’t there, they pierced the air that froze

And knocked them out
Of this world. Seeing such things, it’s hard to doubt

A flight can end
In the middle of its arc. We like to pretend

The path is clear
Straight to the goal. We think music we hear

Means all is well,
So we ignore it. But the inverted well

Of a bell is full
Of nothing, most hours: silence. Someone must pull

Its rope to knock
Its music loose. Had these two birds been hawks,

I want to insist
I’d have watched. But is this true? I barely noticed

Their flights and songs.
I only write them down now that they’re gone.

Michael Spence
from Tar River Poetry, Volume 61 Number 2, Spring 2022; © 2022 Tar River Poetry

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Rebecca Baggett is the winner of the 2020 Terry J. Cox poetry award from Regal House Publishing; her collection The Woman Who Lives Without Money was published in March 2022.

Michael Spence was awarded the New Criterion Poetry Prize for his collection Umbilical.

Pam Baggett was awarded the 2019-2020 Fellowship in Literature from the NC Arts Council; her book Wild Horses (2018) is from Main Street Rag Publishing.

Tar River Poetry: Editor – Luke Whisnant; Founding Editor and Editor Emeritus – Peter Makuck; Associate Editor – Carolyn Elkins; Advisory Editor – Melinda Thomson; Assistant Editor – Caroline Puerto; Contributing Editors – Phoebe Davidson, Elizabeth Dodd, Brendan Galvin, Susan Elizabeth Howe, James Kirkland, Richard Simpson, Tom Simpson. East Carolina University, Greenville NC.

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The Losses to Come

A mild April day, the smell of death
leads me past half-grown oaks to pond’s edge,
where I find a snapping turtle,
big as a hay bale, flipped on its back,
startle a vulture that lifts away, leaving holes
where the turtle’s head and feet belong.
Nothing that stalks these woods strong enough
to capsize a creature whose slashing tail,
snapping jaw held such fury. Then I spot
the pond’s dam, short but steep,
pond shrunk by drought so the turtle
tumbled down it onto dry ground.

The horror hits like a hard fall –
I walked this path every day
as the snapper paddled its stubby legs
in mid-air, sank into stillness.

++++++++++++ ~

Early November, leaves sifting down,
I see the shell in the woods a hundred feet
from where I first found it. Bleached
beige, a dishpan, nowhere near a hay bale.
What had made me believe I mourned
so huge a creature, except the size of this grief,
insistent as sunrise, over losses to come:
catfish and bream, bullfrogs and peepers,
the pond’s dragonflies that swoop and dive,
seeking mosquitoes –

all may perish, along with the snapper,
on Earth for sixty-five million years,
built to survive almost anything.

Pam Baggett
from Tar River Poetry, Volume 61 Number 2, Spring 2022; © 2022 Tar River Poetry

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[poems from CAVE WALL]

. . . a person is a museum of rooms they’ve visited . . .
++++++ ++++++ ++++++ Han VanderHart

Hold the door for her, even a low threshold is an invitation to fall. Scuff of sole syncopates with tap of cane, I listen and watch sidelong along past the neighbors’ for any evidence of stumble. Hold hands over rough spots. Now here’s the road – is it safe to even think about crossing?

At the corner garden Mom asks me to remind her of the name of each flower. Zinnia, phlox, coneflower. At the picket fence she points to the bottommost backer rail, This is where we leave a biscuit for Penny but I forgot to bring one. At the next house, Boz lives here, he always barks.

Staying these weeks with Dad and Mom I sometimes enter a room to find Mom perfectly still, halfway between chair & table. Not staring at anything, not expecting particularly, not even struggling to discover something lost because even the idea of something lost is lost. Rooms of her life that she no longer visits.

But when I touch her arm she will tell me again where the flowers on the table have come from, See how long they’ve lasted? Every house we pass on our walks she knows the life of the dog it holds. Dogs and flowers. A walk with Mom. What could be more beautiful?

❦ ❦ ❦

When My Grandmother Barbara Jean was Dying, My
++++++ Mother Sat on Her Bed and Played “House of the
++++++ Rising Sun” on Her Guitar, Because It Was the Only
++++++ Song She Knew

And this is also ekphrasis: the song plucked
out of the guitar, held on a child’s lap, sat on a sickbed

My mother shaping the air around herself
and her mother: a small rain of notes.

There is a house in New Orleans, she strummed
not knowing her mother was dying.

Bobbie with her hair that waves like mine,
resists the clip that holds it back.

Don’t wish your life away, my mother still says,
words her mother, shadow-sick, said.

If a person is a museum of rooms they’ve
visited, inside my mother is a room

with a bed, a guitar, and her mother
who is not dying, only resting.

It is called the rising sun.

Han VanderHart
from Cave Wall, Spring/Summer 2022, Number 17, © Cave Wall Press LLC

❦ ❦ ❦

Rhett, tell me if this memory is true. When we first met at a poetry meeting at Weymouth you were wearing a t-shirt with a comic book character (in a room of dresses and neckties). What you didn’t know was that my basement was full of boxes, mostly Marvel, and I was way more into John Byrne, Frank Miller, and Barry Windsor-Smith than T.S. Elliot and Ezra Pound. When you stood up at open mic, though, I was rocked. Here it is – this is it. Absolutely real.

And Cave Wall continues to be it. Every issue’s poems open layers in my heart I had forgotten I possessed, or else had halfway bandaided back together. Well, yes, sometimes it hurts in inward person to fall into a well of emotion, but sometimes the deep sigh is healing. And sometimes I want to toss the little book into the air for a high five as it descends. This issue, though, Number 17, I just can’t get over. Thanks for opening door into all these rooms and inviting us to step through.

Cave Wall editors Rhett Iseman Trull & Jeff Trull; Assistant Editor Michael Boccardo; Contributing Art Editor Dan Rhett; Official Poem Accepters Audrey & Cordelia Trull; Editorial Assistant Tracey Nafekh; Contributing Editors Sally Rosen Kindred, Renee Soto; Editorial Advisory Board Dan Albergotti, Sandra Beasley, Natasha Tretheway. www.cavewallpress.com

❦ ❦ ❦

August

and swollen as I was
with our first son, we stopped at Bennett Place,
the nineteenth century farmhouse
outside Durham, where
one general surrendered
to another, ending the Civil War.
Hot as blazes, but a stray breeze
lifted our spirits and we kept at it,
touring the wooden farmhouse,
the outbuildings, the grounds.
While you inspected the rows
of tents, I lingered
in the log kitchen. Something
about the narrow window panes
and the orchard view
made me think an earlier century
might have transformed me
into the wife I longed to be –
a patient woman, filling and refilling
the porcelain pitcher
as you bathed at the white bowl.
A woman blameless, steady
at her weaving, aflame only for you.

Dannye Romine Powell
from Cave Wall, Spring/Summer 2022, Number 17, © Cave Wall Press LLC

 

❦ ❦ ❦

The three poets selected from this issue of Cave Wall all have connections to North Carolina:

Han VanderHart lives in Durham. They host Of Poetry podcast, edit Moist Poetry Review, and review at EcoTheo Review; their collection What Pecan Light is from Bull City Press (2021).

Dannye Romine Powell lives in Charlotte. Her fifth collection, In the Sunroom with Raymond Carver, won North Carolina’s 2020 Roanoke Chowan Award.

Anne McCrary Sullivan received an MFA from Warren Wilson College. Her publications include Ecology II: Throat Song from the Everglades.

 

 

❦ ❦ ❦

Driving Loop Road

after cocoplums with their dark fruit,
wax myrtle, firebush, wild coffee

small openings, like keyholes
through which I could see

how a swamp darkens beyond fern
how a prairie extends into light

a young alligator sprawled in the road
three hawks held to their branches

shapes ahead of me scurried into scrub
an otter crossed in the rearview mirror

time was longer than it was,
so much in it –

the limestone gravel road
always narrowing

then the rain and milk-white puddles
wet green +++++ and solitude

hawk time, alligator time
storm coming, rainy season

but since you ask, three and a half hours
dragonflies whirling over the road

Anne McCrary Sullivan
from Cave Wall, Spring/Summer 2022, Number 17, © Cave Wall Press LLC

❦ ❦ ❦

 

2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

 

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