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Posts Tagged ‘imagery’

The lesson you need is the one you weren’t looking for.

The lesson you keep is the one you didn’t want.

Our final exercise is to sit. Not in the open air pavilion where we’ve weathered hours of presentations and discussion. And not by any means moving along the trails we’ve hiked for hours encountering a new species every minute. Now at the close of our weekend naturalist course on plants of the Smokies we are instructed to stop, settle, sit. We are to find a green thing we don’t know or one we’ve have ignored and sit for half an hour. Pay attention. Become intimate.

I choose to sketch a bryophyte not much bigger than my thumb. Perhaps I’ll never know its true name – starmoss? sphagnum? – but we could become friends. I won’t even give it a name. Be satisfied sometimes simply to explore, to know first with all my senses, that is what I’m learning. Where does it like to lie and spread? Whom does it choose for neighbors? How does it make its living? Naming can come later.

Moss with Doghobble leaf

Look at us all, scattered like toadstools across this mountain glade quietly noticing. For now the birds and insects get to make all the noise. Eventually our quiet must end and we gather one last time for closing and summarizing and making sense. Now Tonya has a surprise. A worm snake, while she sat, has burrowed, well, wormed into her open sandals and curled around her toe. She untangles it and cradles it for us all to see while it tries to bite her with its mere slit of a mouth, better suited for eating slugs. If we were quiet, if we paid attention, if we sat long enough would we be reclaimed by moss and crawling things and become a haven for all that is small and necessary?

We eat our lunch along the trail, we travel back to Tremont, we pack our cars. At the parking lot I congratulate Tonya upon completing her final course and receiving her Naturalist Certification. I tell her, I’m still only half way through.

Tonya turns to me. She sets down her pack. She is solid, present, her eyes deep and full as a hardwood cove. Help the new ones, she pleads. Share what you know.

And during the five hour drive back to my foothills what image recurs? Not family characteristics that differentiate Brassicaceae, Lamiaceae, Asteraceae; not frond morphology and sorus distribution. No, the image I can’t escape is of the two first-timers in our course turning a leaf over and over in their hands, turning the leaves of a guidebook, excited, figuring things out. And of me a pace or two removed, watching them, adding nothing.

Sometimes I think I have the perfect temperament and skill set to be a moss-covered log slowly digested by fungal mycelia. Ah, the long and placid observations I would make. But that’s not the lesson I need or the lesson I will keep. Instead, this: don’t imagine you know so much. But know that what you do know has value when you share it. Know that its only value is in the sharing. You have joined the circle of seekers. Now open the circle wide.

Rudbeckia lacianata; Cutleaf Coneflower; Asteraceae

Rudbeckia lacianata

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A week ago I shared here two poems by Malaika King Albrecht from her most recent book. I’m not finished with her. Something about this collection of poetry has become very necessary for me as I continue to pile and compile the lessons from my most recent course in the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. The quantity of information itself is just shy of infinite. I’m working through a book titled, Botany in a Day, which would more realistically be In a Couple of Years. Just the new vocabulary reminds me of starting Med school (that was 1974 – what am I doing here?!) or maybe of being smacked with a breaker at Fort Macon beach.

But being overwhelmed with information is the trees, it is not the forest. That is why I need poetry. I will study the taxonomy but poetry will teach me the connections. I will feel like I can never know enough but poetry will teach me to live with and love the mystery. I will work on what to know but poetry will teach me how to know.

Malaika’s collection is just the solace and challenge and promise needed. Her poems can be grounded in the senses but spiral into the imagined and unimagined. I would say her poems make connections but even more they open me to make connections. It can be the difference between burying myself in the Field Guides and opening myself to the field.

Thanks again, Malaika!

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Following the Wind

Everything leaves a mark:
dull grass in the morning where the raccoon
ambled away full of cat food,
antler scratches along the willow oak,
and tracks and scat everywhere.

I know what stirs in this forest:
Deer nosing the horse path,
red fox slitting the tall switch grass,
rabbit bounding, freezing, and hopping again.

At the edge of Loftin Woods, I fall
for the wind, the way it parts the grass,
makes branches speak
and vultures glide their shallow V’s.

If sky holds our dreams,
then earth, our memories,
and wind, only the now
of this moment calling,
calling from everywhere.

Elephantopus carolinianus; Elephant Foot; Asteraceae

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Praise Song for What Is

Praise the frozen rain, the icicles daggering
the trees, the gray snow sludge. Praise
the shiver, the wet wind cutting through clothes,
the frozen water troughs. Blessed be
the hard frost, the frozen pond,
the apple sapling snapped in half.

Praise autumn and spring, the hot then cold
then hot again. Praise the corn mazes,
the haystacks, the reaping what we’ve sown.
Blessed be the fig tree, the honeycomb, the hive.
Praise the kudzu, the poison ivy,
the forsythia shouting yellow at a fence.

Praise the mosquito, the itch,
the scratch. Praise the heat waves,
the asphalt, the stopped
highway traffic. Blessed be
the dusty, the wilted, the dry
husks of corn in summer drought.

Praise the possum lumbering
into the chicken coop,
the fox slinging the wood’s edge.
The owl, the hawk, blessed be
their swift descent to prey.
Praise the failures, the losses. Blessed be
the broken path that brought me here.

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From The Stumble Fields, Malaika King Albrecht. Main Street Rag Publishing Company, Charlotte, North Carolina. © 2020.

Botany in a Day, The Patterns Method of Plan Identification; Thomas J. Elpel; HOPS Press, LLC; © 2018; An Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families of North America

Wildflowers of Tennessee the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians; Dennis Horn and Tavia Hathcart; Partners Publishing © 2018; The Official Field Guide of the Tennessee Native Plant Society

 

 

 

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Charismatic Megafauna is what people hope to see when they visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If traffic barely creeps approaching Cades Cove there must be a black bear feeding near a pullout; if traffic stops altogether Mama has cubs. And if cars are pulled over for a mile along the prairie verge leading to Oconaluftee Visitor Center it means elk are grazing the pasture.

From the center lane I saw the big bull with six-foot rack and a harem of twenty and I slowed but I didn’t stop: the gate into Tremont would only be open from 4:00 to 5:00. It takes at least an hour up and over New Found Gap down to Sugarlands and on west into the Park. Fifteen of us will be arriving for a naturalist course on this final weekend in August, hoping to get personal with that other charismatic Kingdom – Plantae.

Lobelia cardinalis; Cardinal Flower; Campanulaceae

Trees, ferns, and flowers certainly draw many to the Smokies, if only for the deep summer shade and restorative air. Some people are even known to kneel. As winter unscrews her frozen vice we hurry to see ephemerals – trailing arbutus, hepatica, bloodroot. Then the princess of spring’s reign is trillium, including uncommon Catesby’s and Vasey’s. As we wind through the seasons we lust for phacelia, fringed orchids, lady’s slippers. But what about now at the tail end of summer?

Summer, the season of yellow: asters, wild sunflowers, goldenrod (19 species in the Park), but driving west on I-40 didn’t every weedy median present us with all these and more Asteraceae? Solid gold at 70 mph. Time to slow down. The hour for Latin and Linnaeus is after vespers with our books and guides. In this moment the growl of Harleys on Little River Road can’t penetrate the glade. The rumble of the river into its Sinks reaches us only as subsonic reassurance through our soles. All light has slipped bent drifted through tuliptree and hemlock to recline with us among shaggy green. We are crouched among the ferns.

Botrychium dissectum; Common Grape Fern; Ophioglossaceae

So many different kinds of ferns. Notice blade and stipe, dimensions and symmetries. We “frondle” them to read the hieroglyphics of their spores. We smell them. We struggle to know their names.

But here’s another fern-like frond, toothed and divided but with a tell-tale: a spike of yellow flowers like sequins in the wildwood. Lean closer. Five-petaled, many threads of stamens, Rose family. Agrimonia, harvestlice, swamp agrimony, but let us name it rose-among-the-ferns. Let us name ourselves sit-and-notice. Call us one-more-among-all-small-things. Look closely. Kneel. The least among the most is what we have come here to discover.

Agrimonia parviflora; Harvestlice Agrimony; Rosaceae

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Before, during, and after my summer visit to Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont I have been reading Malaika King Albrecht’s newest book of poetry, The Stumble Fields. If a work of art could be a facial expression her book would be a quiet, welcoming smile – the kind that lets you know she is about to share a great confidence. Her poems are revealing in the way sitting patiently in a quiet glade will gradually begin to reveal its true life.

And the spirit that often winds among her lines is, to me, that same spirit that leads us to desire to live truly in this world. Not to skip along its edges but to draw fully and be drawn deeply into it, discovering our selves as we discover the truths of our co-travelers. It is the naturalist urge – to find our connections at every stratum and station.

I am thankful to be connected to Malaika through her words.

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Lactuca floridana; Florida Blue Lettuce; Asteraceae

Loftin Woods

I’ve wanted to be a single story,
so I could tell you a happy ending
but every breath’s different.
In these woods I’m lost enough
to notice but not lost enough to care.
I find my body when the barred owl
startles the air. I find
my body where white trillium
catches light. I find my body
in the music of cantering horses
singing to sky. Today I could fall
right through this fabric of grass.

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Prunella vulgaris; Heall All; Lamiaceae

Silver Tangle of Brambles at Midnight

Late night you remember God’s first language
is silence. The space between heart beats,

the pause before someone says, Yes,
a brief moment before ebb becomes flow.

So you say, Fine. Don’t talk to me
like God’s a stubborn ghost.

You say, I’ll hear messages
whether you speak or not.

Every closed-door signals detour,
and each broken heart demands

sitting quietly for a time.

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From The Stumble Fields, Malaika King Albrecht. Main Street Rag Publishing Company, Charlotte, North Carolina. © 2020.

Vernonia flaccidifolia; Tennessee Iron Weed; Asteraceae

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This evening at suppertime she peers into the beef and carrots simmering on the right burner; I snip pea pods and spinach into the black bean broth on the left burner. Pretty soon both pots are smelling darn good. It’s usually something like this, the scene in our kitchen all the years since I decided to stop eating meat and she didn’t. Separate skillets, or sequential nuking, then sit down together.

But then every once in a while it’s all her show. She steams the broccoli while I sit near the lamp and read. I start on a little dry white wine (she’ll accept two ounces for herself later – Pastor Jan, pretend you didn’t read this) while she simmers the pasta. She serves two blue patterned Japanese bowls we’ve owned since year one. Then we sit down together.

When I die, sorry to say, I have no faith that there will be an angel in heaven who can make broccoli Alfredo this good.

 

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Getting home from the office early these days, I’m revisiting the overflowing stacks beside my desk. Poetry, philosophy, poetry, nature, poetry — I’ve rediscovered that all of Terri Kirby Erickson’s poems are home.

Lots of poetry is about home – you get a peak through the curtains and maybe you can imagine life on the other side of the pane. Terri’s poems are home. Welcome in. Don’t mind the mess. Maybe you didn’t understand this is your home but for twenty or thirty lines you will be part of the family. So many families. So many homes longed for, left behind, returned to. Soft light, hard edges. Sweet and harsh and all shades between. Come on in. Let’s sit down together.

 

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from In the Palms of Angels, Terri Kirby Erickson, Press 53 © 2011

 

Wayfarer

He seems like a man
you’d see walking down a long
stretch of road, the kind
with dust

rising

in a red haze beneath the wheels
of pickup trucks, cutting
through fields of golden

wheat. Scudding clouds cast
shadows
across the ground like whales

swimming through clear
water, and the air carries the scent
of grain and loam.

Every few miles, the glint of a silo
(startling against the lonesome

sky)

signals a farm house
where peach pies sit cooling
on window sills, and patterned
carpets are worn-out from parents

pacing to and fro with fretful babies
in their arms.

He’s traveling toward the horizon
with the steady gait of someone
with a place to go, whose tender

gaze

will soon find home, that place
more sacred than communion wafers
nestled in the palms
of angels.

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Rosary

Down by the creek,
we sit on dry
stones,

our shoes and socks
jumbled in a pile.
The sun

warms our toes
and casts its
net of light

from bank to bank,
where willows
trail their

fingers in the water,
and snakes look
like branches

floating by
them. Mosquitoes
lay their eggs

in stagnant pools,
far from leaves
and grasses snagged

by rocks, twisting
in the current.
Tadpoles swim

in tight formation,
wiggling their tails
in tandem,

as salamanders
scuttle by, searching
for places to nap.

Dragonflies hover,
then hurry
away,

their wings
thrumming a one-note
song – while we,

silent as nuns in prayer,
count the beads
of summer.

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[Rosary first appeared in Basilica Review; other collections by Terri Kirby Erickson from Press 53 include: Telling Tales of Dusk; A Lake of Light and Clouds; Becoming the Blue Heron.]

Author Page, Terri Kirby Erickson, Press 53, Winston-Salem, NC.

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Here’s a sobering thought: even when you receive that wondrous acceptance letter (or email) telling you that The Editor has decided to publish one of the poems you sent him or her, she or he is still rejecting the other two or three or four that were in the envelope (or .PDF). I hear the trombones going, “WAH Wah wah.” And equally sobering: if anyone is reading the poem once it does get published, they’re not calling you to tell you how much they like it. How not sexy is that?

But no, wait a minute, I take that back. I have a special friend who always tells me she likes my poems. (I won’t reveal her name, but her initials are “Caren Stuart.”) If she finds something I’ve written appearing in a regional journal or anthology she shoots me the kind of email that is 100% guaranteed to improve posture, dissolve scowl lines, and overcome even the most stubborn case of writer’s block. For several years she and I and Nancy King had a monthly email poetry critique session going. We’d share one poem apiece and comment. CS could find something wonderful in my lamest efforts, which inspired me to keep hacking away at them until they really were wonderful. Thanks, Kiddo – I write a lot better when you’re in the world.

Give it a try yourself. Lot’s of times I’ve discovered a poem by someone I know, picked out my favorite line, and sent them a little message about why I like it. Such an act never fails to reverse entropy and slow down global warming.

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Yellow Fringed Orchid, Patanthera ciliaris — Gorges State Park NC, 8/2015

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I confess that for a few years I’ve almost quit submitting poems for publication. Who needs the fame, right? But in 2015 the tide is turning. Maybe I’m beginning to see that my personal journey as poet is developing a more unifying theme or gestalt. Maybe I’m feeling more comfortable in the community of poets. And it certainly helps that so many journals accept online submissions – I’ve got a roll of 100 “second ounce” postage stamps I’ve hardly touched. I’m sending my little darlings out to the Mercy of Editors again.

AND . . . I’ve got a new system. Which I am going to share with you.

Ever get all fired up with a sheaf of poems, stuffing them into a .PDF only to discover the journal you’ve envisioned for them closed its annual submission period last week? Grieve no longer. Check out the creation below (which has been made possible by dozens of hours on the computer and a constant infusion of what CS calls my “Type A-ness”):

Submission Calendar Page 1_crop

This table shows the months when various journals accept submissions, plus how to research their submssions guidelines. Just look down the column of the current month to pick a journal that’s currently open to submissions!

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Click the link below for the entire .PDF. As of March, 2016 I have about 75+ journals and contests listed. I’d like to keep expanding– my email address is listed in the document so you can send me your suggestions and additions, plus any corrections. I’ll keep the updated document linked to this page.

Click  below for .PDF file with the FULL LIST:
[Last updated 3/6/2016]

. . . . . . . . . . . !!Submissions Calendar 2016-03 . . . . . . . . . .

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Luna Moth, Actias luna — Gorges State Park NC, 8/2015

After Shelby Stephenson published Orange Cap in Pembroke Magazine in 2005 I didn’t submit again for a few years, and now he has turned over the reins to the new Editor, Jessica Pitchford. Last year I had written a poem about my paternal grandmother that I thought my aunt and cousins might enjoy. Whenever we’re together we usually share a story or two about Grandmother (no lesser title could ever suffice), the stoic matriarch and proud link to the Weatherspoon side of the family, now to be captured for posterity in a sonnet. But before I sent the poem to the family I sent it to Pembroke. Thanks, Jessica! The family is indeed enjoying this. (And it explains why I bought four extra copies of Pembroke #47.)

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Sonnet for the Woman Who Fried 10,000 Chickens

And don’t forget about a bazillion quail,
each three bites for breakfast with biscuits and grits
and gravy über Alles thanks to red setters’ skill,
Granddaddy’s gun, and us willing to pick little nits
of birdshot out of our teeth, but save that fat pullet
for this Sunday’s dinner, piled crisp high and brown
as pecans shelled last night for green jello salad.
The triumphal platter Grandmother sets down,
we pray Come Lord Jesus, me and Brother grab
for the juiciest piece ‘til we backpeddle before
her Presbyterian eye – Boys, what will you have?
and Finish your greens before you ask for more.
.     No one says thigh or breast here: Grandmother will offer
.     only second joint, white meat, and everything proper.

[First appeared in Pembroke Magazine number forty-seven, 2015]

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Extremely hungry millipede, Narceus americanus, trying to untie my bear bag & steal the goodies. Gorges State Park NC, 8/2015

Post Script – One other reason to send out a poem: last year I wrote a poem about a friend and patient who had died at the age of 98. It placed in a contest and appeared in an anthology. This summer I took a copy of the book to his widow, herself 98, read her the poem and just reminisced for a while about the many great stories her husband had shared with me over the years. About a month later she mailed me a thank you note, said all her kids had enjoyed the poem about their daddy, and she had read my other poem that appeared in the same book and commented on it.

It doesn’t take a thousand readers to make the writing worth the effort. One will do.

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Keep close to Nature’s heart, yourself;
and break clear away 
once in a while,
and climb a mountain
or spend a week in the woods.
Wash your spirit clean.
John Muir

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Why have they come?  Why have they driven hundreds of miles of highway and another twenty of Forest Service gravel to this Deep Gap?  Why have they tracked down my friend Mike Barnett and persuaded him to share with them everything they will need to know to spend a few nights on the trail? Why forsake comfort for mist, rain, steep switchbacks, cold nights, hard ground?  Why have they come here?

Now they huddle at the trail head – Judy, Nora, Cathy, Gloria, Joan, Nancy – median age 65 (just a wild guess, Ladies!).  They pull on fleece and rain gear because we’re already above 3,000 feet and it’s mid-October.  Mist condenses on the leaves and drips like rain.  The plan is to hike the AT for three days with everything we need to survive on our backs: food, stove, water & filter, tent, mummy bags, and lots of layers for nights just above freezing.  We’ll reward ourselves the third night with a short side hike to Albert Mountain and hope to catch the sunset and sunrise from the 5,280 foot summit and fire tower.

That sunrise seems a long way off as we hunker down for the first night half-way up Standing Indian Mountain.  It’s pitch dark , a “hunter moon,” first new moon after equinox, but what does absent moon matter when we are engulfed in cloud with thunder echoing ridge to ridge as lightning strikes the summit?  Kids, I just want to let you know that your grandmothers are some tough-ass mountain women – they wake up the next morning joking that the howl of wind and rain had caused them to miss George Clooney’s surprise midnight visit.  And the only complaint I hear is when Joan comes back from digging a cat hole just as the mist lifts to reveal a nice rainproof privy not twenty yards from our camp site.

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Our second night we stop at Beech Gap, a saddle between peaks with a good spring and level tent sites.  The stars burn cold as diamond just above our shoulders; we are wearing every layer of clothing we’ve carried.  I ask, “Why?  Why did you go to so much trouble to put this trek together?”

Judy was the instigator.  She told Nora she wanted to hike at least one stretch of the Appalachian Trail before she died.  Nora replied, “Gee, I know someone who’s been taking kids on high adventure hikes in the mountains for twenty years, and his sister-in-law Carol is my good friend.”  Nora called Carol, Carol called Mike, and Mike said, “OK.”  (I still haven’t asked him why he said yes!)  Wheels began to turn.  It began to look like Judy’s promise to herself that she’d have something big to to tell her grandchildren would be fulfilled.

Nora invited others, and Mike’s wife Nancy makes six.  One had hiked with her family as a child and wanted to recapture that feeling.  One walked miles every day and wondered if she could handle the challenge of doing it uphill with a pack.  Another had become concerned about her stamina and embarked on a course to improve her fitness; now she wanted to kick it up a notch. One had never experienced mountain wilderness.  All of the women had come with a frank openness to experiencing something new.  Something challenging.

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There are plenty of obvious physical challenges to spending a night on a mountain.  Just deciding what you’re willing to carry vs. what you’re willing to live without can become a metaphysical exercise.  Then there’s the trail itself.  Where will I find water?  Will the spring be dry?  How many uphill miles before my buns turn to steel?  How much huffing and puffing before I have a heart attack?

Physical challenges are obvious, but they are illusory.  I may be thirsty now, but I will drink later.  When the trail is steep, I walk more slowly.  I stop and rest.  Tired and sore?  Leaves are falling that I may scrape together for a bower.  Strange noises in the night?  My companions are close by.

I’m guessing there are still more reasons we’ve come to these mountains that none of us have yet spoken.  I’m certain there are reasons we couldn’t even have named until after we took this walk together.  There are reasons we’ll discover only with days and weeks of contemplation to come.  A taste of wildness – remote, unforgiving, pristine, elemental.  An assurance of self – I made it, I persevered.  Connection, unvarnished and unabashed – each one of us making our small offering to the survival, and the joy, of the group.  And a much larger connection – wind, trees, slopes, stars . . .  we are part of this living realm and can’t exist without it.

Why have we come here?  That’s exactly what we’re still discovering.

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Final question: Why did Mike ask me if I’d like to come and lend a hand as general schlepper, filter pumper, water boiler, story teller?  Because he knew as soon as the word “mountains” left his lips I would be saying, “YES!”

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Forever Mountain
Fred Chappell

for J.T.Chappell, 1912-1978

Now a lofty smoke has cleansed my vision.

I see my father has gone to climb
Lightly the Pisgah slope, taking the time
He’s got a world of, making spry headway
In the fresh green mornings, stretching out
Noontimes in the groves of beech and maple.
He has cut a walking stick of second-growth hickory
And through the amber afternoon he measures
Its shadow and his own shadow on a sunny rock.
Not marking the hour, but observing
The quality of light come over him.
He is alone, except what voices out of time
Swarm to his head like bees to the bee-tree crown,
The voices of former life as indistinct as heat.

By the clear trout pool he builds his fire at twilight,
And in the night a granary of stars
Rises in the water and spreads from edge to edge.
He sleeps, to dream the tossing dream
Of the horses of pine trees, their shoulders
Twisting like silk ribbon in the breeze.

He rises glad and early and goes his way,
Taking by plateaus the mountain that possesses him.

My vision blurs blue with distance,
I see no more.
Forever Mountain has become a cloud
That light turns gold, that wind dislimns.

This is continually a prayer.

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from The Fred Chappell Reader, St. Martin’s Press, (c) 1987 by Fred Chappell

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A brief postscript: Mike has told me several times of his instructions to Nancy that his ashes are to be strewn from the top of Standing Indian Mountain.  By noon on our second day the mist had lifted, and we ate lunch at that summit with glorious views of the autumn-hued ridges extending to an infinite horizon.  Mike, I hope it’s years in our future, but I can’t think of a better spot to lend the flora a little potash and calcium for all eternity.

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Our true home lies outside, deep in the wilderness of forest and mountain, river and desert and sea, the source of our being and the destiny of our great meandering blundering dreaming journey through time. Like Odysseus in his wanderings, we are homeward bound whether we know it or not.
Edward Abbey

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Linda and I take walks.

Take?  The walking gives itself to us.  We talk, catch up on the hours, days sometimes.  We list things that need to get done, places that must be gone, eroding detritus of stuff that clamors to be fixed.  We laugh at the last cute thing Saul did, the cute thing he said that we’ve smiled at twenty times already.  We discover small things along the path – what is the name of that little blue flower? – and rediscover things that have brought us small delights in the past.  And we hope we burn up some calories and coax some blood to run its circuit a little faster.

Throughout the breeding season American Avocet pairs greet each other by rubbing along the length of their long recurved bills while the male drapes a wing over the female’s back.  Cozy.  Most birds that form lasting pairs, for a season or for life, have some sort of bonding display – preening, mock-feeding, a dance, aerobatics.  Evolutionary biologists conjecture that these instinctive behaviors strengthen the pair-bond and increase the chance of reproductive success.  More eggs, more chicks, more offspring successfully fledged.  Survival.

Linda and I take walks.

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Yesterday afternoon Linda and I walked Old Man’s Gorge in the Hocking Hills of southern Ohio.  Over thirty years ago Linda’s Mom and Dad bought a little farm in the woods near there.   It’s been close to twenty years since we last visited Old Man’s Cave.  During that time the new trail markers, new bridges, steps, railings, everything has a moist green fuzz of moss, as if the three-hundred million year old blackhand sandstone has invited all things in the Gorge to appear as old is it does.  Linda and I keep remarking to each other, “Was this here last time we came?  I don’t recognize this stone wall, but it looks ancient.”

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Overcast, damp, ten degrees cooler than its summit, the basin of Old Man Gorge just feels like Ohio.  Maples have begun to turn color along the rim, but in the shade of the grand overhangs all hues become muted.  The eroded walls are a hundred variations of gray and rock-green, a lichen wash of winter sky. The shades of our Ohio roots:

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 Twenty‑Three Grays

The first is crossing the Ohio into Marietta,
not the green river yearning west
but each of its scalloped reflections
like scales on a crappy, and at each ripple’s
lip a premonition of ice.

Next: passing the first car southbound
salt‑encrusted with two hundred miles
of I‑77 — what color is it really?  A casual visitor
to this state still our home may claim
there is no color here, but doesn’t gray
enfold the possibility of every color?
Sky layered in bands dark and darker
preserving as in a comforter some memory,
warm purple; fingery hawthorn
and buckeye almost yellow; cattails
coyly pink; dark earth chocolate
between cream snowcrests —
all of them holding everything within.

In Canton the window eyes of Mercy
Hospital passing no judgement.
In Akron, the stone walls of Rockne’s,
frost like stale beer foam; peeling letters
at the exit sign: Peninsula/Hudson.
Geese in the ditch beside a Cape Cod;
rust‑gray girders where we drive beneath
tank cars, coal cars, and then the Turnpike
overpass.  And as we reach your driveway,
rime, old tears the wipers can’t beat back.

Those who’ve never left here, do they notice?
And we who return, can we name
what comforts us?  Only in his eighties
did your Dad’s hair surrender to the shades
of sky and winter fields, and now when I hold
you this close full of days recalled, stories
we=re sharing as if for the first time,
the good full color of Dad’s life now passed
fully into our hearts, I see in your hair thin streams
coalescing, bands of evening sky and highway,
winters we will hold together, and the springs.

© Bill Griffin.  First appeared online in John Hoppenthaler’s Congeries at Connotation Press, June, 2011.

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American Avocet — Recurvirostra americana

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[After you read this post, move on to my revised definition of the
SOUTHERN SENTENCE POEM
at
https://griffinpoetry.com/2012/11/25/when-the-train-whistle-blows/
And send me your offerings at our Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/SouthernSentencePoem?ref=hl ]

Last month after a poetry workshop we all went out for lunch.  Someone had been reading a book of Buson and Issa, and we got to complaining about how hard it is to transmigrate haiku from Japanese to English.  Syllable counting aside, Japanese haiku has so many formalities that just don’t translate.  Each word is drenched in a thousand years of cultural nuance; lotus, frog, mountain, they all have layers of meaning very difficult for an outsider to grok.  Why do we even try to write haiku ourselves?

At some point we came up with the idea – note here that no alcohol was involved in these discussions – that we Southern poets need a poetic form we can call our own.  I remember us laughing about what we might call such a thing;  the term “Bubba” seems to have come up a few times, with various prefixes and suffixes.  At the end of the day, though, we hadn’t really developed anything substantial.

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I’ve been thinking about that conversation ever since, and I’m now ready to unleash upon the literary world a new poetic form: the Southern Sentence Poem.  Besides consisting of a single sentence (which actually ain’t too Southern, knowing how we like to tell long-winded stories), each Southern Sentence must include all three of the following:

1 – Place.

A word or phrase has to place the poem in the American South.  It can be the name of a town, a geographic feature, a mention of some typical flora or fauna, even an ACC university.

2 – Past.

We Southerners make fretful Buddhists – we just can’t let go of the past.  The poem can be “in the moment” but it requires a reference to the past: kinfolk, a historical event, a personal experience (inevitably with a bad outcome, of course, but lesson learned).

3 – Culture.

Let the New Englanders and the Californians and the Canadians come up with their own poetic form – this here poem is about the South!  The reference to Southern culture can be food, customs, language/slang, clothing, agriculture or business . . . even anthropologists have a trouble defining the word “culture.”

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And to my mind a really good Southern Sentence would be seasoned with a drop of bittersweet.  Aren’t some of our great themes sin and redemption, hurt and healing, always at least a little hopefulness?  And it is ever appropriate to inject a little humor.  Just one additional rule: no cussed semicolons.  I love semicolons, but they are just too damn Yankee.

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Help me out.  Send me some Southern Sentence Poems.  If I get a whole passle of them I might start a whole new blog, or at least give them their own page.  Any comments and enlargements on my three rules?  Make the form your own.

AND . . . can anyone think of a better name than Southern Sentence Poem?

Finally, here are a couple of examples (it’s only a coincidence that each is 3 lines; that’s not one of the rules):

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Nana said she despised those “jawflies,”
cicadas that filled the oaks around her house,
but every August I think of her.

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In Nana’s preserves each fig
was suspended in gold – the summer sunset
on Bogue Sound.

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I just finished reading Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith . . . while on hold to Time-Warner Cable.  Seriously.  I called the help line, heard the perky attendant mention, “We are currently experiencing thirty minute hold times,” and went back upstairs for my book.  Read the last 35 pages in 30 minutes and was just about to start the appended excerpt of G-Smith’s latest book when a human being answered.  Is there some cosmic irony in the fact that someone who turns his TV on less than an hour a week (except during the Olympics) spends about that same amount of time reading a book while waiting to have the TV fixed?

Reading while on hold – what a concept.  The problem is the inane music they play.  First was a scratchy version of Beethoven’s Für Elise, then what sounded like an instumental version of (I swear I’m not making this up) 70’s disco, followed by smooth sax jazz so generic that static would have been preferable.  And then the sequence repeated.  I hope it didn’t do some subliminal damage to my auditory cortex while I read how John Wilkes Booth (spoiler alert!!) became a vampire.

What would you think about this alternative – listening to poetry while on hold?  Something catchy and non-generic that would make you smile, make you cry (nothing, however, that would make you cuss the cable company, or the service desk, or that trembling help guy in the corporate basement in Hamtramck, MI). Someone reading with feeling and verve and a little bit sexy.  Some astounding turn of phrase or unexpected conclusion that compels you to say, when the human interrupts, “WAIT!  Put me back on hold, please.”

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Next time your internet connection has spiraled into a black hole in the Greater Magellenic Cloud, or your dishwasher is autodialing a porn site in Belarus, or you’re trying to track down your personal banker who has absconded to her luxury condo on the coast of Belize, wouldn’t you rather listen to Dorianne Laux read this while you await succor?

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Singing Back the World

I don’t remember how it began.
The singing.  Judy at the wheel
in the middle of Sentimental Journey.
The side of her face glowing.
Her full lips moving.  Beyond her shoulder
the little houses sliding by.
And Geri.  Her frizzy hair tumbling
in the wind wing’s breeze, fumbling
with the words.  All of us singing
as loud as we can. Off key.
Not even a semblance of harmony.
Driving home in a blue Comet singing
I’ll Be Seeing You and Love Is a Rose.
The love songs of war.  The war songs
of love.  Mixing up verses, eras, words.
Songs from stupid musicals.
Coming in strong on the easy refrains.
Straining our middle aged voices
trying to reach impossible notes,
reconstruct forgotten phrases.
Cole Porter’s Anything Goes.
Shamelessly la la la-ing
whole sections.  Forgetting
the rent, the kids, the men,
the other woman.  The sad goodbye.
The whole of childhood.  Forgetting
the lost dog.  Polio.  The grey planes
pregnant with bombs.  Fields
of white headstones.  All of it gone
as we struggle to remember
the words.  One of us picking up
where the others leave off.  Intent
on the song.  Forgetting our bodies,
their pitiful limbs, their heaviness.
Nothing but three throats
beating back the world – Laurie’s
radiation treatments.  The scars
on Christina’s arms.  Kim’s brother.
Molly’s grandfather.  Jane’s sister.
Singing to the telephone poles
skimming by.  Stoplights
blooming green.  The road,
a glassy black river edged
with brilliant gilded weeds.  The car
as immense boat cutting the air
into blue angelic plumes.  Singing
Blue Moon and Paper Moon
and Mack the Knife, and Nobody Knows
the Trouble I’ve Seen.

by Dorianne Lux

collected in Poetry 180, edited by Billy Collins, © 2003 Random House

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This afternoon Ellen and Christa showed me a secret or two about how the magic is done.  Master welder, painter, and fabricator, Christa is one of seven sculptors who work in the design section at the NC Zoo.  We had just been looking at models of the new polar bear exhibit that will open in stages over the next two years.  I noticed a lichen-encrusted slab on the work table.  I picked it up.  It was a light sheet of some composite material painted in layers – I’ll still swear it was lichen.

Christa said, “When the visitors don’t even notice that the stones are hand-made, then we’ve done our job.”

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Does that mean that the Zoo’s mission is to create illusion?  No, the mission is to transcend and transport:  to transcend illusion and transport the visitor into a larger reality.  It is no accident that the sections have titles like “forest edge,” “African plains,” “rocky coast.”  In one day’s stroll you can enter all these  habitats and, for however briefly, become part of that which makes each place unique and notable.  And you get to see wild animals.

It’s called education.  The mission of the Zoo is to teach.  In five hundred acres or five hundred thousand acres the Zoo can’t conserve the world, but if we who come here to share the lives of these creatures gain even a glimmer of understanding and compassion, then we may become engaged in conserving the world for all creatures.  And for ourselves.

So why poetry at the Zoo?  The displays and installations are already various and superb.  They employ photographs, diagrams, puns (“just lion around” indeed).  You can walk right into a bush-copter hanger, a chimpanzee research station, a jungle, a desert.  Why do you need poetry?

Poetry can teach in a way that exposition and rhetoric cannot.  You are shaken by an unexpected metaphor.  You are halted in your tracks by an arresting image.  Poetry has slipped through the bars of your logical, calculating mind and has begun to teach directly to your heart.  Maybe, just maybe, you are transported into a larger reality.

You don’t even notice you’re being taught.  Poetry has done its job.

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Advice for Long Life

Keep simple, as simple as you can.
Like the heron who stands one leg on the sand.
Like the maple who stands one leg on the land.
Like the robin who, thirsty, gargles the worm.

The spider is simple if the web is not.
The tern is simple in a watery spot.
To be flexible, fluid, adored as a druid,
cryptic, mystic, blessed, lurid,
love simple as you can.

Plural by purpose, design, and make,
the effort to give is the urge to take.
Keep a hambone of joy at your right side.
Live broad, long, deep, wide,
but ride simple as you can.

Imitate wind and creep of dark –
as much as you can, the natural stark,
sun-driven crops and gradual shoat,
a frog spilling basso from a plum-blue throat
at river’s edge.  Be simple if you can.

 Anna Wooten-Hawkins

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Anna Wooten-Hawkins grew up in Kinston, North Carolina and received her MFA in creative writing from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She was a poet and professor of English at Gardner-Webb University, and later at Campbell University, St. Mary’s College, North Carolina State University, Peace College, and Meredith College. Her accomplishments include being the faculty editor of The Lyricist at Campbell University and coordinating the annual Muse Literary Festival at St. Mary’s College. Before her untimely death in 2000, Anna won many honors for her poetry. Her collection “Satan Speaks of Eve in 7 Voices After the Fall” won the 1986 North Carolina Writers’ Network Chapbook competition in 1986. In 1985 she received the City of Raleigh Arts Commission Award for her excellence in writing and service to the arts. Some of her works have appeared in The Green River Anthology, The Lowlands Review, The Lyricist, The Greensboro Review, and Pembroke Magazine.

(from http://www.uncg.edu/aas/ccwa/AnnaWHawkins.html)

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Today my friends and fellow poets Guy and Carolyn York stopped by to see me at the Zoo.  If you’re intrigued by the Hippo Beach sculptures, that’s where we’re holding our adult workshop on Saturday, 7/14, at 10 a.m.  As Robert Frost would say, “You come too!”

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One more postscript:  on July 6 the Zoo was blessed with a new arrival.  Juma (means born on Friday) weighs 150 pounds and is 72 inches long.

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Saturday I was talking to a friend who lives in the woods.  I mean really in the woods.  From his kitchen window he can watch the pristine little creek twenty yards down the hill. Every so often a blue heron wades past.  Where an old tree has blown down a gray fox crosses the creek.  Pretty wild.  And yet as we were talking he noted his regret that he never sees whippoorwills any more.  Hasn’t heard one in ten or fifteen years.

Yesterday morning I left Elkin at 6:30 to get to the Zoo plenty early.  They’ve just finished a year-long project widening a stretch of 421 through Winston-Salem, and you know how a fresh roadway cut looks: planed-off angle of clay sown with chemicals and sprouting grass monoculture.  Just before the new exit ramp, at 7:15 in the morning as the city revved up, a female wild turkey strolled blithely along finding the odd beetle or something worth bending over for.

Pretty wild.

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Today I was privileged to meet with Dr. David Jones, Director of the NC Zoological Park.  Before assuming the post here in Asheboro he was director of the London Zoo.  He has worked with animals in more countries than I know the names of.  His photographs of Africa appear in many of the interpretive displays around the Park.  And the curators and staff he has assembled are equally impressive.

This evening Dr. Jones presided over the dedication of a new outdoor sculpture (installed along the trail up to Sonora Desert).  Piedmont Totem is a pottery tower created by students and instructors at Montgomery Community College, a series of nineteen cylinders stacked into a column.  Each piece intertwines native piedmont creatures and plants, beginning at the bottom with tadpole, fish, roots and culminating at the top with eagle and owl.  As Dr. Jones pointed out, when viewed as a whole the work embodies the interconnected web of life.  And as he emphasized, the primary mission of the Zoological Park is to have visitors discover those interconnections, and to feel themselves connected as a part of the web as well.

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I blame people’s cats for the loss of whippoorwills, ground-nesters who depend entirely on camouflage for survival.  Then again, maybe the raccoons are eating the whippoorwills’ eggs because the raccoons’ predators have been extirpated as varmints (may we hope that the coyotes that have moved into the countryside will eat the raccoons?!).  Or maybe it’s all the skunks’ fault, since  the only thing that will eat a skunk is a great horned owl, and I haven’t been hearing nearly as many owls lately, either.

Or maybe this whole interwoven web is so complex that every thread we disturb leads to three more unravelings.  Who’s to say we can do without any of them?

But I still wish you’d keep your cats indoors, damn it.

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The Clouded Leopards of Cambodia and Viet Nam

They are gone, almost, into the music of their name.
The few that are left
wait high and hesitant as mist
in the tallest trees where dawn breaks first.

Their color of mourning kindles
to patterns of stark white, random
and sudden as hope or daydream.
Moving, they could be mirrors of the sky,
that play of masks
behind which the ancient burning continues
to dwindle and flee.

Thousands of years in their bones
leap blameless as lightning toward us.
To come close to what they know
would feel like thunder and its silent afterword.
We would turn slowly on our shadows, look up
again to tame the shapes of the world:
monkey, temple, rat, rice bowl, god,
images echoed in the smoke of village cookfires,
in the drift of memory on the faces of elders.
We would stand in the clean footprints of animals,
holding like an offering our hope
for the lives of a handful of people,
a rain that is only rain.

Betty Adcock

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Asked in an interview what she hoped for in her poetry, Betty Adcock replied “to tell the truth and find that it is music.” Living all her writing life in North Carolina, she as won many literary awards including the Brockman-Campbell Award of the NC Poetry Society, the Roanoke-Chowan Award, the Sam Ragan Fine Arts Award, the Raleigh Fine Arts Award, a Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a North Carolina Individual Artist’s Fellowship.  Her most recent volume is Slantwise (LSU Press, 2008).

http://bettyadcock.com/links.html

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