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[poems by Kathleen Wakefield]

A slew of 35 degree days and 20 degree nights make the rare and lovely snow hard as a skillet and slick as spilt grease (olive oil in my case). Our favorite trails want to maim us. I tried walking down the ridge back of our house and made it about twenty yards before I realized just one slip and I’d be sliding on my butt all the way into Dutchman Creek. When I turned back uphill I couldn’t take a step. My trekking poles wouldn’t pierce the crust.

Yesterday I ventured back to Grassy Creek and the MST for the first time in two weeks. Shaded areas were crunchy and slippy but sunkissed slopes had cleared. As I hiked I was specifically looking for leaves poking through the snow to photograph: cranefly orchid, wild ginger, pipsissewa. And then I came upon eight little alien life forms such as I’d never seen.

Imagine a thumb-sized lemon cupcake with a beak of orange icing in the center. The cupcake papers peel back to make a grungy collar. Each little cakelet is elevated on a 3 inch tangled stalk like chewed up rutabaga or moldy hemp. One of the cupcakes is broken and oozing white custard. And they are all peering through the snowy crust as if they intend to take over this dormant and unsuspecting planet.

I figured weird looking = fungus. After much searching I learned their identities – Calostoma lutrescens. Yellow-stalked puffball (not actually in the same clade as true puffballs), “pretty mouth,” or “hot lips.” Listed as common in the Southern Appalachians. Shoot, thought I’d found something new and rare. On the other hand there was only this one little cluster of eight fruits in four miles of trail; their little cupcakes will no doubt dry, shrivel, and disappear within a few days; I’d certainly never seen anything like them before.

Common does not preclude rare. Old they are, but new to me.

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Why We Do Not Cut the Meadow Down

It establishes itself like the sea.
We ride its swells.
Two kinds of dragonfly, cobalt and crimson,
a pair of catbirds, orioles skim the tops of the grasses,
insect glints, multitudes unnamed.

Once it was an orchard, a woods,
before that a real sea that left us a lake.
Today the dry meadow is all fire and pulse –
hot sputter of crickets, bees cruising the nightshade,
the wings of a small white butterfly dipping at this and that,
yes and yes above the brasses where light assembles.

The meadow admits stray saplings, cottonwood and ash.
Opens to rain like a body full of desire.
The fringed flags of the grasses take note of
the least wind: when you think it’s still
a cloud of pollen swells and lifts.

The meadow does not mistake the seed –
scutcheoned, tasseled or winged – for anything else
Whatever comes into the meadow, earthworm, black beetle, ant,
feels the long fall of sunlight on its back
before it descends.

Kathleen Wakefield
+++ from Grip, Give and Sway, Silver Birch Press, © 2016

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Reverent. Grateful. Seeking. The poems in Kathleen Wakefield’s Grip, Give and Sway require attention from the reader but they hold nothing back. Their beauty bewitches but also unsettles, like dawn when the dark forest holds its breath and anticipates light. Gradually the shapes of trees arise. I found myself reading each poem twice, then again, to take in everything it wanted to impart.

Each of the book’s four sections has its own subtle voice: imagistic and deeply rooted, lyrical and lingering on the tongue, lightly touching the moment to make it universal. In the final section the invisible stenographer observes and records the millennia and their follies but sometimes forsakes her reserve and becomes a participant. This is a book that inspires both deep feeling and deep thought, that invites contemplation about what is within us and what is without us.

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The Invisible Stenographer Tries Not to Look in the Mirror

What would she see –
++++ ++++ ++++ transparency
of oxygen, or eyes smudged with kohl?

Head-binding wimple.
++++ ++++ ++++ Sky blue burkha.
Iron brank tearing into the tongue
which said too much.

A cat mask, candle-lit, trimmed
with gold sequins and feathers
++++ ++++ the color of a bishop’s robe.

Hematite lips, lips drawn in rose madder;
cheeks ash streaked; tattooed;
++++ white powdered, porcelain smooth

++++ A single pearl drop earring
dangling above a creamy ruff
++++ ++ of belgian lace
stained from centuries of use.

Is everything she sees
who she is?
++++ Why not a coiled forest of dreadlocks,
or the shapeliness of a head
shaved to the cool shine of the moon?

Or worry crossing a woman’s brow
++++ like cloud shadow troubling a wheatfield,
as if she were remembering a stove
on at thome, the child left
too long alone.

Kathleen Wakefield
+++ from Grip, Give and Sway, Silver Birch Press, © 2016

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Rumors

All night the bee that’s clung
++++ to the sunflower, dark as
++++ ++++ coffee, waits for the sun

to warm its stilled apparatus,
++++ one leg ticking like the hand of a tiny clock
++++ ++++ that can’t get started.

See how the morning glories,
++++ like closed umbrellas glazed
++++ ++++ with rain, open in the cool air

to cobalt cups of heaven
++++ or the idea of heaven, gone
++++ ++++ by noon. The wood thrush

I’ve never seen repeats
++++ last night’s song, trill and lick
++++ ++++ spilling from the flute of its throat

as if it knows a rigorous joy,
++++ as if the world’s consolable.
++++ ++++ Blue sky, clear and widened

like a mind that’s looked into itself and beyond,
++++ is this what we fear, or long for?
++++ ++++ Caught

in the undertow of the linden’s shade,
++++ rumors of something sweet and light
++++ ++++ and never forgotten.

Kathleen Wakefield
+++ from Grip, Give and Sway, Silver Birch Press, © 2016

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I learned about Kathleen Wakefield and her poetry through her friend Patricia Hooper, also featured in these pages. She has worked as a poet-in-the-schools and taught creative writing at the Eastman School of Music and University of Rochester.

Give, Grip and Sway and Silver Birch Press.

More about the Calostoma genus, which includes the irresistibly named and undeniably repugnant “tomato-in-aspic” fungus.

 

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