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Posts Tagged ‘Main Street Rag Publishing’

[with poems by Joan Barasovska and Kathy Ackerman]

Everything or nothing. The radio is off. The screen is frozen. The refrigerator snores. The clock won’t tick any faster, any slower. In an hour we leave for Raleigh to see our grandson (backyard, distanced, masked) but right now nothing is happening

I’m no good at nothing. If I wake in the dark my brain whirls venom trying to bite its tail. Where is dawn’s blessed peace? If I take deep breaths, watch the feeder, daily agendas begin to scroll down the back of my cornea. How many seconds after emptying myself before I fill back up with everything?

We are entering the season of nothing. The azalea may feint a few off-season blossoms but will we ever bloom again? We are in the season of waiting. Where is the so fragrant earth we lost so long ago? Where is the muscle and spunk of summer that convinced us we might carry through? The season of turning. What justice like waters, what righteousness like an ever-flowing stream? When? How do these shortened days stretch so long?

In the woods, something is happening. Orchids are making sugar. How have I missed that? One species will bloom in May, the second in August, but their leaves are now. Their delicate little tenacious tough-ass corms swell all winter waiting to rocket up a spike of summer flowers into a leafed-out overshaded world.

Something is always happening. Something is deeper than those scrolling agendas. Something in the world and something behind my optic chiasm in deep matter. Something that maybe wants me to be still and notice. Something to hope for, to wait for, to go forth and meet.

There is no nothing. It’s all everything.

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These two poems are from Kakalak 2020, the annual anthology of Carolina poets. It is an eclectic volume – conversational, confessional, contemplative. Not as many COVID poems as I expected but wait until 2021.

The poems by Joan Barasovska and Kathy Ackerman speak to me of the winding thread that connects our past to our present. Knots and tangles, yes, but also a lashing to secure us in the lashing storm. The something that is happening every day is us becoming human.

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Cranefly Orchid, Tipularia discolor

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Her Breath

Mike and I exchange a glance
over her cooling body.
Our eyes are dry.
Elsie wears a faded housedress
with a pattern of flowers.
Thirty minutes ago
an aide crossed
her swollen hands.

All morning we sat waiting
while Death rattled her.
She died in the afternoon
while we were out walking.
Our mother took a slow
rollercoaster ride to this day,
dragging us with her on
every shivery dip and climb.

Back from the dead,
Mike said when she woke
from a coma, angry to find herself
in a clean hospice room.
She raged until he put her back home.
Frail, sick, ninety-three, hanging on
ten hears after Dad’s death.
She scolded me yesterday.
I was late for lunch.
I had forgotten to pick up her mail.

Their old bed had been replaced
by a narrow hospital bed
rolled in the hospice workers
while she fumed in the living room
and I boiled water for tea.
Now her jaw is slack,
her last silent treatment.
Above her head hangs
a sad-eyed portrait of me at nine,
painted in blues and grays.

Mike and I are limp with relief.
the secret of Elsie’s anger died with her,
but it was probably sadness.
We are second-generation Americans,
inheritors of the sadness seed.

This mother
lying flat between us
birthed me sixty years ago.
With her last breath,
She’s in a better place
and so am I.

Joan Barasovsaka, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Adam-and-Eve Orchid, “Puttyroot,” Aplectrum hyemale

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Misnomer
for Goliath, my father

i.
This story begins when I believed every word my daddy said.
Honeysuckle, he called them, tending the cuttings
that go all the way back to Rock Creek 50 years,
Aunt Gracie’s yard in the hills where I never lived.

Honeysuckle was all I had to root me to that ancient soil,
so every home I bought I planted some
from Daddy’s supply, rooted in plain clear water.
I wondered why it had no scent, was not a vine,
was pink, for crying out loud.

Now shopping for plants for house #5,
I see the truth in 5-gallon pots before me:
Weigela.

I imagine old Aunt Gracie shooing my father away
from her quilting or canning or sitting alone.
Go cut back that honeysuckle
before it swallows up the outhouse.

Later, seeing his mistake, she didn’t correct him –
a name is just a name –
Grace just glared at tiny Goliath
so proud of his mound of pink and green
already wilting

while the roof of the outhouse
still plushed with yellow sweetness
he’d confuse for 80 years
with a plant that belongs
to the same family, after all,
but so much harder to say.

ii.
Start me some honeysuckle, Daddy, I blurt out
in one of awkward lulls.
I want to imagine his hands on the branch,
the snip of sprigs of coal country
where Gracie’s old feist
barked me all the way to the outhouse and back
when I was too small to know
how hard it is
to keep what lives alive.

Kathy Ackerman, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.
Amos 5:24

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2019-02-09 Doughton Park Tree

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I’ve lived in this little town for thirty-one years, but almost every day someone still asks me, “Where you from?”  I don’t tell them.  Maybe if I’m not in my long-suffering persona at the moment I might just say, “Here.”  And move on.  Or I might sidestep with, “How far back do you mean?” and if they press then I inform them that my Griffin forebears moved down here from Virginia to Union County (near Charlotte) before the Revolution.  Or I might go on the offensive: “All my folks are from around here,” with further ammunition that my Mom grew up in Winston-Salem and Dad in Hamlet.

But I never tell them where I was actually born.  That would end the conversation.  Because what they’re really saying is, “You ain’t from around here, are you?”  And I’ll be damned if I’m going to confirm it.

Why?  What’s the big deal?  Afraid of being labeled a Yankee?  It’s not as if there aren’t fifty other things besides my pure midwestern accent that brand me an outsider in this rural county.  Not Baptist.  Not Republican.  Not a football fan.  Not a Tarheel (although I have no compunction about letting my Carolina friends know I went to Duke).

No, I’m not running away from the things I’m not.  I”m running toward what I long to be.  Not exactly a state of being, but a state of belonging.

I belong to North Carolina and it belongs to me.  I’ve slept on the ground in its forests and mountains.  I’ve drunk from its streams.  I’ve planted trees here.  I can recite its toast: Here’s to the land of the longleaf pine . . . .  I’ve lived in a lot of other towns and a lot of other states, but this is the one I need to accept me and take me in and hold me.  Maybe it’s exactly because I lived in so many different places growing up – I need some place where I belong.

So I won’t apologize for getting defensive when someone tries to imply I’m not from around here.  Just take heart all you folks who have moved more than twenty miles from the place where you were born.  Even if your great x 10 grandfather didn’t live here, you can belong.  Just put down a taproot of love, and when someone asks where you’re from, you tell them, “Right here, damn it.”

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Moving – I couldn’t help but get agitated about all those moves after reading that Jodi Barnes has moved at least twenty-four times in her life, as far as she can remember.  Her book Unsettled keeps returning to that theme, the quest for belonging.  Of course there are the boxes packed, unpacked, repacked, and their tangible artifacts of memory.  We can’t let go of things because we can’t bear to be cut off from our past.  Memories – are they really roots that are strong enough to feed us?  Is home what we’ve left behind or where we long to arrive?

Jodi’s poems reveal so many things left behind.  Love: we thought it was real, but it has moved on without us.  Lives: that pack our hearts long after we’ve lost them.  So many false steps and false starts that may end with us feeling cut off.  Is there any hope for us wayfaring strangers to finally discover our home?  The gods of metaphor; the dirt beneath our feet; the persona of myth we don like an astonished cloak; all those things that leave us feeling uncertain and longing.  Everything unsettled.  And yet . . .

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IMG_1895

Pretend Pioneer

My friends ask, are you moved in yet?
They mean is my stuff unpacked;
am I settled?
I envision wagon wheels,
mail-order brides, the frontier.

But here my sole risk is to trip
over cardboard,
the clutter of privilege.

Once I unwrap what I thought I’d need,
I circle camps of chattel on a polished floor,
stretch the metaphor of expansion,
contrast this mansion with teepee
desire – its flapping door.

Next time I’ll answer Hell No
I got to keep moving.

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The Hardness of Cardboard Philosophy

Memories hide beneath cardboard wings,
seek solace against worn seams.
Last night, I dreamed this box
grew feathers and flew away.

But it stays, obeys gravity,
reminds me of a frayed decision:
to face the weight or leave this matter
to tidy imagination.

I think I remember why it’s no use
to ply back flaps on time capsules.
It’s the same stuff.  Pixies don’t exist.
And there is no magic in this dust.

Yet something pulls me to the drab,
unrelenting, rectangular shape,
my arms extend, my fingers bend
to search breaches in brittle tape.

Strands of hair, stale baby’s breath,
baptismal candle, eyelet gown,
first tooth, proof of life –
unmoved, they stare me down.

As I try to keep them dry,
not mourn her past, the missed –
angelic imps resist my wish; the box sits.
Another blurred present flies by.

From Unsettled, (c) 2010, Jodi Barnes, Main Street Rag Publishing

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With his masters in chemical engineering, my Dad got a job with Western Electric straight out of Georgia Tech.  I was born in Niagara Falls, the American side.

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