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[poems by Jeanne Julian]

The cosmos blossoms by the rotting stump.

“That’s not scary.” We’re hiking through the Haunted Forest with Amelia, age 5. Tree limbs drip with giant cobwebs and red-eyed spiders, bats dangle, skeleton hands reach up from pine needle cemeteries beside the path. The crew has outdone themselves decorating this stretch of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail that, except for the month of October, is nicknamed the Enchanted Forest. Now Amelia stops and calls, “What’s that?!” at the skull-faced ghost bound up in chains, but it’s more curiosity than apprehension.

Past the Halloweeny stretch, though, I see something well off the trail that causes me to stop and exclaim, “Look!!” An immense fairy ring coaxed forth by last week’s rain: chain of mushroom caps that loops and twists and branches through the pines before doubling back on itself. On and on, a new arc & angle appears every place we look. At the word fairy Amelia is instantly engaged. What sprite danced here before us? What might be hiding beneath the ghost-white caps?

I’m thinking, Dang, that is one big organism, mycelia threaded through at least a half acre.

Amelia is thinking, Wonder . . . wonder . . . wonder.

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The Reservoir

I’m looking for Wildcat Road.
There’s a “Free Manure” sign,
two blossoming magnolias, and a boy
who, up here, gives this passing car
an over-the-shoulder glance
as he walks. I’m going the wrong way.
But, here’s a turn for a road
sharing the reservoir’s name.
Clouds cover the sun and move on.
Light sweeps the hills, harried by gloom.
Birches whiten and fade again.

There’s the expanse of lusterless
water through leafless trees:
I’ve found it, rounding a bend.
Angle and clouds shift, and
the landscape remembers its colors
as if a lady’s fan had opened
revealing a scene in lapis, henna, and rhinestone.

We sat her, on this rock,
years ago – April then, too – learning
to touch, and in late summer embraced
there, on the dam where youngsters
scrawl their names indelibly.
In the silence, eddies of air sound “hush”
at my ear. Those antique fans were meant
to conceal, weren’t they, and
we in shadow to forget.

Jeanne Julian

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These three poems are from Blossom and Loss by Jeanne Julian (Longleaf Press, Methodist University, Fayetteville NC, © 2015). The delicate volume follows the seasons with all the imagery and metaphor that organic cycle can reveal. Sometimes the captured moments, the vignettes, the narratives are so personal they become cryptic, but as I read on I discover my own stories flowing forth to fill unspoken phrases. Thus does poetry enlighten and inspire. Thus does it become, in the words of Andrea Hollander, entertaining and useful.

The cosmos blossoms / by the rotting stump. from Jeanne’s poem Loss and Blossom

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Haunted

Each Halloween we hang
ghostlets in the tree,
by morning off they’ve blown.

My friends’ lost boy: how
had he been retrieved? By whom?
Alone? What varnish glossed his veins?

In the hospital they hung
on every beat and breath,
clung to any chance

until their changeling offspring
splintered, vanished, leaving a hollow
husk for them to burn

like autumn leaves or questions or endless
mourning muddled with routine,
travail of the telling and retelling,

dread burden of cereal in bowls
recalling a pajamaed imp held
in the lap, reading The Giving Tree aloud.

How unstoppably he must’ve lapped it up,
a lacquer lulling the limbic brain
until the one dose shoved him over

that last callow October. Still each Halloween
children clamber up the steps for sweets.
“See, I am a butterfly,” the smallest says.

Jeanne Julian

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Melting

The snow that attacked so frantically while we slept
has blistered into water on the branches.
We also melt ut not as completely as Baum’s witch,
who cannot suffer water. Remember the crooner
in the small-town lounge, that ersatz L.A. club,
who kissed you on the left eyelid
when you were twelve? Remember that first
swig of Colt 45 Malt Liquor? Remember the cocoon
of oblivion that sucked you under before
the scalpel splayed your belly flesh? Remember
how the pressure of one finger spirals
your inner hold into ripples of languid indifference
to all but feeling?
One day too soon you’ll let go for good.
Dripping from the eaves, the fresh liquidity
will patter on unheard while you dissolve –
easily, let us hope, easily, and neither up nor down, while
on the roof the newly fallen expanse, unsullied,,
luxuriates under the sun.

Jeanne Julian

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[poems by Marty Silverthorne]

I have a good friend with a titanium leg named Mike.
Oh yes? And what’s the name of his other leg?
Ugh. You should be ashamed of yourself. Although Mike would certainly declare there is nothing like a good joke.
And that was nothing like a good joke.
Who’s in charge of this story anyway? I was trying to tell you about Mike, the king of story tellers.

The story about losing his leg is pretty harrowing, the lightning storm, the catastrophic collapse of the radio mast. Also the one about how long it took the doctors (years) to finally decide to amputate and order the titanium. But Mike has more stories than a rose garden has June bugs. And if he’s known you for one day, you’re part of the story, too. Like his neighbor Marcel who saw Mike fall into the bushes and came running out of the house half dressed to help. Or the other neighbor who saw Mike and Marcel shoveling dirt off Mike’s driveway and came out exclaiming, “Y’all need a young man to do that!”

Add in all the stories that are taking root right now from this afternoon when our whole church gathered COVID-safe in Mike’s driveway to share the ribs and chicken he’d been smoking for 3 days (and smoked portobellos for the solitary vegetarian, me). How for days all the neighbors’ mouths were watering. How Marcel, Jeremiah, and Jonathan accepted the invitation to lunch and joined right in with us. How we sang Happy Birthday to Hal’s mom Charlotte who would be 103 today (and died less than a year ago) and loosed balloons to soar in her memory. And shouted Happy Anniversary to Marcel who got married a year ago. How we drove away from Mike and Linda’s home having been fed in body and spirit.

That’s what our stories are for: to draw us together, feed us, and send us out. Friend, next time we meet I want to hear your story. And I’ve got a few to share with you as well . . .

[Today’s jokes were unabashedly stolen from Disney’s Mary Poppins, 1964]

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I knew Marty Silverthorne from a dozen or so poetry event in as many years. Sometime after his motorcycle accident in 1976, he began to write. When he died in 2019, Marty had spent over forty years in a motorized chair but his poems and stories not only had wheels but wings. He published a number of books and had a long career counseling persons suffering with addiction. He inspired innumerable struggling people to find their own strength and their own voice.

These two poems are from one of Marty Silverthorne’s last books, Naming the Scars. Truth has hard edges, rough and sharp; Marty doesn’t grind those edges down or polish them up, but neither did the truth grind Marty down or polish him off. In the midst of the grueling hardship of quadriplegia, Marty Silverthorne celebrates families, legacy, caregivers, fellow sojourners; Naming the Scars is dedicated For my family and for the hands of angels.

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Inside of Me

Inside of me you expected to find
a motorcycle wrapped around a tree,
whiskey bottles beside the road.
You did not expect to find daffodils
blooming in a pine thicket,
crepe myrtles close enough
to threaten their beauty.

Inside of me you expected to find
the soiled pages of Penthouse.
You did not expect Yeats and Keats
on a linen table cloth,
one large candle with a wavering flame,
a bottle of chardonnay.

Inside of me there are bracelets of old lovers,
stuffed animals martyred by time,
tangled dreams of childhood.
You did not expect to find forgiveness here,
the flag of my soul waving in surrender,
a truce between our hardened scars.
Here in this temple I have created
among azaleas and gardenias, I live with a woman I love,
whom grandmother called beautiful.

Marty Silverthorne (1957-2019)

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Naming the Scars

My right eye is underlined
by a thick-fisted scar
I won in a fight
brawling over a girl
who belonged to no one.

Under my beard line, a scar
shines like a crescent moon,
burned by a girl with a razor
engraving her pain in unfaithful flesh.

Half moon between thumb
and finger on my contracted left hand
I carved with a Barlow,
deceitful blood dripping
moon-drops on the countertop.

Suicide slashes cross my wrist
form a constellation of scars;
the jagged edge of a pop bottle
sliced flesh in rhythms,
painted my portrait in blood.

Crossing my body like a sickle
is a handlebar scar.
One August night, drunk on wind,
I tried to quiet the voices
when the one I loved
said she could go on without me.
I straddled the metal-flake frame,
carved out curves,
filled emptiness with speed.

Black necrotic spot marks the toe
I lost to a surgical show.
In Winston-Salem one snowy Christmas
Missed love so bad I checked into
a private room in a public hospital.
Too long ago to remember, so scar-proud
I can’t forget, I branded this body
with wounds no thread can bind.

Marty Silverthorne (1957-2019

Both selections from Naming the Scars, Longleaf Press, Methodist University, Fayetteville, NC; © 2017

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Books by Marty Silverthorne

Naming the Scars – Longleaf Press, 2017

Holy Ghosts of Whiskey – Sable Books, 2016

Marty Silverthorne – Ten Poems – St. Andrews University Press, 2016

Rewinding at 40 – Pudding House, 2009

No Welfare, No Pension Plan – Rank Stranger Press, 2006

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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