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[with poems by Helen Losse]

Until we find the communal meaning and significance of the suffering of all life, we will continue to retreat into our individual, small worlds in our misguided quest for personal safety and sanity. – fr. Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation

Follow a six-year old around the yard when flowers are blooming. Most enticing, of course, is the dandelion puffball. Got to pick that one! It takes several tries for her to blow those little dancing featherettes into the breeze – a few seedlets stick to her unicorn t-shirt, a few in her hair. Will they grow there?

Next comes anything purple or pink. She must add a few grape hyacinths on their too-short stems to the bouquet of daffodils we’re cutting for Grandmommy. And some pink azalea, cut that one, Pappy. Oh my, and look what has opened since the sun came out yesterday! She pulls a single bleeding heart and holds it in her palm. We’ll float it in a paper cup of water so she can take it to Mom this evening.

Finally return to the everywhere-flowers, yellow in everyone’s lawn. Walking around the block it’s Truth or Dare – will they paint your fingers if you pick them? Tooth of the Lion, look at the notched incisored leaves. She chooses the brightest flower. Nothing is a weed if someone loves it.

Which is the theme of Easter and of Helen Losse’s book, A Flower More Enduring: Love redeems. God is God of life.

Yellow Blossoms

populate the uncut yard.
Weeds with purple blooms

create asphalt cracks.
Hardy wildflower,

tall blades of Bermuda grass
widen others. I fall to my knees

on the lawn near a budding
thistle. Saints and angels

present but silent, I pray
for a dandelion heart.

Helen Losse

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The poems in Helen Losse’s A Flower More Enduring are intensely personal but enticingly universal. Her conversion to the Roman Catholic Church has brought her assurance but also challenge. She finds herself in the company of Mary and the Saints yet still she seeks and seeks . . . what? Perhaps to discover what she had never expected to find.

And Helen’s readers who come from different faith traditions, I being one, or from no tradition at all, may still discover with her an experience which we never expected: the universe reaching toward us in unconditional love. The outstretched hand of human commonality that might unite us in our suffering. The hand we ourselves lift to return that touch, the reaching which is called hope.

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I cry out to God

on the night of the knife-wind.
Thoughts rise, incense
under waning moon blows with fog.
Phlox darkens the soggy prairie:
downy phlox, moss pink,
phlox the color of lavender.

O, how I cherish God’s creation:
flora, small rocks, tall hills, mountains,
feral beasts, domesticated pets,
each human soul, the Savior
on the Cross: Eucharistic Morsel:
Source of Grace I can’t store
in a lidded basket.

I am a rabbit returning
each night to a summer garden.
I must eat again & again.

Helen Losse
A Flower More Enduring, Main Street Rag Publishing, © 2021 Helen Losse

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I stand in the shaded bathroom

with it high useless mirrors
into which I cannot see,
asking, “Are we rich?”

Daddy holds me on his knee
but would never tell me (or
any innocent child)

he doesn’t know how he’ll pat the thirty-seven fifty
house payment due on Friday.

Instead, he explains,
“We are rich in love.”

Helen Losse

 

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In the Christian liturgical calendar today, 15 April 2022, is known as Good Friday, three days before Easter. On Sunday morning our little congregation will adorn a rough wooden cross with flowers – death conquered by life. Perhaps there’s a subconscious bit of pagan homage to the vernal equinox, but to my mind the message of new life is our foundation. Consider: no person and no thing exists outside the sphere of God’s universal love of life. In the cosmological sense there is no outside; in the spiritual sense no outsider.

A Crucified God is the dramatic symbol of the one suffering that God fully enters into with us — not just for us, as we were mostly taught to think, but in solidarity with us. The Good News is we do not have to hold that suffering alone. In fact, we cannot hold it alone. As we approach Easter, let us remember that we too can follow this path, actively joining God’s loving solidarity with all. What starts in God ends in God. All of reality is moving toward resurrection.

fr. Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation: Transformed people working together for a more just and connected world.

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Dandelion on green lawn

A girl bends low, picks a flower
to give to her mother.

The child loves the flower,
a weed adults tend to favor less.

The child blows seeds from the puffball,
whit feathery globe of potential.

The seed is the heart of the flower:
tiny perhaps but profoundly fecund.

Each seed floats with the wind, grows
where it lands, blossoms in sunshine and rain.

Helen Losse

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2020-03-07 Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems from When There Were Horses]

Once upon a time there was a little boy . . . . a frisson of anticipation: the four-year old’s attention is now riveted on Pappy. What mischief will the boy in the story create, what adventure awaits, what danger?

When my grandson used to ask me to tell him a story it was a gift to both of us. Often the stories sprouted spontaneously from our pretending and play, their main characters usually some of his favorite companions like Mousey and Blue Rat. What joy and entertainment when you engage with the characters in a narrative! Even more so if you identify with the characters – their plight, their seeking, their discoveries strike a resonant chord in your own heart. You live a little richer and fuller through them.

But what if you are them?! What if you are the little boy in the story unfolding? What if a door opens and you enter the story and it becomes an extension of your own? The gift the teller gives you in that moment can’t be measured.

So many of the poems in Pat Riviere-Seel’s new book, When There Were Horses, open that door for me. I enter the lines. Not only do I engage, not only identify, but I become a part of the narrative. The resonance moves me to reflect on my own arc, my own plight and seeking. How does that happen?

How does poetry do that stuff? Mmmm, mystery and magic. Art and invitation. I admit I don’t actually know the details or specifics of many of Pat’s narratives but even so I have come to feel a part of them. When I get past asking, “What does she mean by that?” and just enter the flow of how she is creating meaning, then her poems crack open new earth. There, beneath the mud of daily routine, behind the obfuscation of some constant ringing little voice in my head, something waits. Waiting to sprout and bloom. Waiting to sing a new song. Waiting and wanting to peel back all that separates us from each other, and from our inner self. Something is beneath the surface, waiting to break our heart, and to heal it.

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From the Almanac of Broken Things

I choose this earth that breaks
my heart again and again,

the woods for the way trees
bend, fall, and return to dirt.

I choose the sand dollar, the nautilus
that in brokenness finds new creation.

I choose the favorite doll that no longer cries,
loved into silence, into rags.

I choose the memory of a stranger’s touch
that lifted my face above water. Because

I did not drown, I choose morning,
the gauzy-gray dawn that returns.

I choose the once-wild Palomino
whose beauty can never be tamed.

I choose light from long dead stars
that illuminates without heat.

I choose March with its promise of spring,
the warm days that tease, the blizzard

that insulates and warms the bulbs, the seeds,
all that lies beneath the surface, waiting.

Pat Riviere-Seel
inspired by Linda Pastan’s poem The Almanac of Last Things

 

 

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What the Moon Knows

She knows shadow, how to
slip behind clouds. She’s perfected
the art of disappearing. She knows
how to empty herself into the sky,
whisper light into darkness.
She knows the power of silence,
how to keep secrets, even as men
leave footprints in the dust, try to claim her.
Waxing and waning, she summons
the tides. Whole and holy symbol,
she remains perfect truth, tranquility.
Friend and muse, she knows the hearts
of lovers and lunatics. She knows
she is not the only one that fills the sky,
but the sky is her only home.

Pat Riviere-Seel

 

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Enough

Ahead, I see her watching me, pity
or compassion, hard to tell
from this distance. I want to ask her,
my future self, what she knows
and when she knew it. I want to know
whose laughter fills her hours? Does she
still dance? Still run? What does she know
of grace? These days I know so little.

But she’s still faithful, the self I look back
to see at dawn, a quarter century ago,
running out Colbert Creek road between
woods and murmur of the South Toe River, two-lane
Highway 80 South, past Mount Mitchell Golf Course,
down macadam that turns into gravel, clatter across
the low water bridge, out Rock Creek Road,
before she turns toward her dusty driveway,
past grape vines, the garden where the black cat
waits to walk her home. She’s the one who
declared, I am enough. She’s kept her promise.
But now, knowledge brings scraps
falling from bone that offers proof
something happened here in this lost country –
three deaths, one new love.

Pat Riviere-Seel
all selections from When There Were Horses, © 2021 Pat Riviere-Seel, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte NC

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FULL DISCLOSURE: Pat Riviere-Seel is my cousin. Third cousin one generation removed is how I think we figured it. Pat and I first met twenty years ago at a North Carolina Poetry Society meeting at Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines. During a break we were sharing casually about what we’d been doing lately and she mentioned her recent family reunion in Lewisville, NC.

“We met at an old Methodist Church in Lewisville where my Great-Great-Grandfather is buried.”

“No way, we had a family reunion in Lewisville a few years ago and we met at a church, might be the same one, where my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather is buried. His name was J.N.S. Daub.’

“Uh, hmm, mine is named Daub, too. Reverend Daub.”

“I’ve got a photo of the headstone at home. I’ll send you a copy.”

Sure enough, one and the same Daub. That was my maternal Great-Grandmother’s maiden name. Three Daub sisters married three McBride brothers. So Pat and my Mom are third cousins (although separated in age by more than a generation).

All those years, something beneath the surface, waiting.

– – – B

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2020-11-03a Doughton Park Tree

 

 

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Hepatica

[poems from Kakalak 2021 by Beth Copeland, Danielle Ann Verwers, Don Ball]

How cool would it be if your friends got together and wrote a book for you? Friends you hadn’t seen in a while, like maybe two years. Friends you’ve swapped a few stories with and suddenly here they are sharing new stories. Friends who at this very moment are just now becoming your friends.

How cool? Very cool.

Kakalak 2021 arrived last week and here are my friends! I’ve read the book through and gone back to re-read my favorites over and over again; the Carolinas have suddenly become cozy and personable and at once broad and expansive. Heart-expanding! Among the poets and visual artists in the book I see so many people I’ve met before at a literary gathering, read with at an open mic, served with on a board or committee. And then there are all the people whose books I’ve read or whose names I’ve seen and now the many more names I’ve not heard before but am learning. Names becoming friends. Somehow they’ve all come together to write a book for me. And for you.

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Fog

Morning fog erases the mountain and trees.
No, not an erasure but unseen.

+++ Not an erasure but unseen.
+++ The mountain, the laurel still green.

Unlike the mountain and laurel still green,
the dearly departed lie beneath white sheets.

+++ The deer depart beneath white sheets
+++ of fog, stepping into a forgotten dream

of fog slipping into a forgotten dream
the ghost mountain dreams.

+++ The ghost mountain dreams.
+++ Crows fly to pines on mascara wings.

Crows fly to pines on mascara wings,
mourning. Fog erases the mountain, the trees.

Beth Copeland

 

Ptera

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In between reflecting on the poems and enjoying the art, I flip to the back of the book for the bios. The array of people’s publishing kudos is, of course, impressive, but personal glimpses also shine through (which, true confession, is what I’m really looking for in a bio):
Dean of Arts & Sciences at Isothermal Community College . . . Kathy Ackerman
interior designer . . . Melanie T. Aves
proud member of The Poet Fools . . . Don Ball
retired librarian . . . Richard Band
academic therapist . . . Joan Barasovska
feels a good day mellows blissfully with . . . creating art . . . Christina Baumis
poems featured on a transit bus . . . Michael Beadle
beginning poet . . . Gay Boswell (an awesome beginning here, a devastating poem)
eats dark chocolate daily . . . Cheryl Boyer
loves roots music . . . Joyce Compton Brown
marriage and family therapist . . . Bill Caldwell
sings in several church choirs . . . Joy Colter
masterfully overbooks non-existent free time . . . Julie Ann Cook
creates “convoluted notions” . . . Caren Stuart
passionate about reading aloud to children . . . Jennifer Weiss
collects library cards . . . Danielle Ann Verwers
and more, and more . . . . . . . .

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Two Sparrows for a Penny

+++ I.
If an airport is anything, it must be purgatory. And positioned
here in this terminal is benevolent holding space to store heavy
baggage as I watch my status, wait for take-off. A hollow metal
locker contains all my small treasures as I perch near walls of
windows. Iron flocks drift into the cumulous blue.

+++ II.
Milton, the bishop not the poet, believed humans would soar
in time. Brethren mocked his vision, convinced all schematics
to be sketched were drafted, nothing new under the sun to be
invented. Still, Milton knew his offspring inherited aviation
faith in their DNA, their eyes fixed on the heavens, their irises
bright with flight. Before fruition, typhoid took him. He missed
it when his sons fulfilled the prophecy, when his boys flew
with sparrows.

+++ III.
No one sings about two sparrows for a penny. Instead, we praise
our own ascent after a shell of flesh is molted. I’ll fly away, Oh Glory!
When I die let them sing the blues. Play a minor key for the birds
who crashed, feathers intact. Sing about birds who caught
tender gaze of God. Yes, let them sing of paradise lost.

+++ IV.
Close your eyes. Imagine you are a cloud drifting in the sky.
Light and free. No—imagine you possess hollow bones, you
are all sparrow. And now you flap your feathered wings but
your sternum is lead heavy. And you are falling towards the
ground at the speed of—no imagine you are light, warm and
bright. Imagine beams emit from your eyes, your chest, your
feathers, your beak. You radiate. No—I take it back. Imagine
you are a vapor, here today and gone tomorrow. Yes, imagine
you are a cloud.

Danielle Ann Verwers

 

Two

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Somehow they’ve all come together to write me a book . . .

Well, not somehow come together – they’ve arrived here by intention. This book for me (and for you) was born of diligent labor and evolved quite intentionally. Enabled by the founders, sustained by editors and publishers through the years, the Kakalak vision perseveres and flourishes – a regional anthology created of and for people connected to North & South Carolina. This year’s Editors have sprinkled their selections with an especially effervescent cloud of pixie dust: they have created magical groupings of poems, 2 or 3 or more with complementary theme, style, subject. And the Art Editor has added a swish more magic by partnering the groupings with art that amplifies the verse.

And then . . . and then the real magic. The shiver. The heart to heart. I read these lines and something shifts inside me. I see with another’s eyes. I feel the depth of another’s struggle. God almighty, this is the place and this is the thing I need and this is certainly the time. When have we ever before needed it so much, this connection? Here we find it: connection with each other; connection with our small place on this planet; connection with our self.

Thank you, friends, for writing this book for me.

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Wish
Park View Hospital, Rocky Mount, NC

I am supposed to kiss my grandfather,
stroke-frozen in his high-racked hospital bed,
but he is angry at us and crying,
half-realizing the difference.
I stand by my brother and close my eyes.

About the same,
my mother says to someone in the hall,
and he’s about the same,
she whispers later on the bedside phone,
nodding to the wall.

But I am changed
by the hospital light, cold-yellow and dry,
by the white carts gliding through plastered corridors,
rattling over steel plates, swallowed by the swinging doors,
and voices that start up and quit—voices
suffocated by the secret-keeping walls.

This is it — I am thinking —
God almighty, this is the place.

Outside we are walking, our breath released.
The summer evening is blade-green and black.
The parking lot is full but quiet.
Crickets call behind looming elms,
and the moon booms out into the open sky.

Look, points my mother, The first star.
Make a wish.

The rows of hospital rooms are burning and hanging;
my brother is bending over the hint of a penny;
Grandfather, I am kissing you goodbye.

Don Ball

Currituck

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Kakalak 2021
Copyright © Moonshine Review Press, Harrisburg, North Carolina, 2021

Editors & Contest Judges:
+++ Kimberlyn Blum-Hyclak
+++ David E. Poston
+++ Richard Allen Taylor

Executive Editor and Publisher (and Art Editor)
+++ Anne M. Kaylor

[You might imagine how difficult it was to select just a few poems from many, many new favorites in this book!

Today’s art were among the entries I submitted but which were not published in Kakalak 2013, 2018, 2020, 2021. You’ll have to buy a copy of your book to see Incisors, selected for this year’s issue! — Bill Griffin.]

Order your copy of Kakalak 2021.

Explore past issues of Kakalak published by Main Street Rag.

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Delivery

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2020-03-07 Doughton Park Tree

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[with 4 poems by Richard Allen Taylor]

I need one of those little fountains that floats in your birdbath. I need more gravel for the driveway. I need a sharper macro lens. I need to check my investment strategy.

I need to clean the hummingbird feeders. I need to sit down with my life insurance agent. I need to pull the crabgrass between the lilies. I need to empty the dehumidifier. I need an empty inbox.

I need to listen to my sister. I need to reassure Linda. I need to tell Amelia a story. I need to thank Jill and Sue and Josh and Allison . . . I need to thank a whole lot of people. I need a cool morning on the porch with birdsong and poems by my friend Richard. I need the forgiveness I didn’t know I needed.

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The Train to Redemption

I almost miss it, but catch the last car,
find a window seat next to a woman
who opens her bag of sewing –
needles, pins, fabric spilling over
her knees – and what she’s sewing,
I don’t know. She says nothing
as I lean my head against the sad
window, and watch the land scroll,
trees waving like sword-grass
in a rush of green infantry, charging
the horizon until the sun sinks
and pulls the sky down with it.

After an hour of darkness, the lights
of Redemption appear and the woman
hems while she hums, a tune I won’t name
because it’s one of those that sticks
in your head and drives you crazy for hours
once you hear it. As the train approaches
the station, the air in the car smells
like apples and rain, and this woman
who has not spoken to me, but has
the gift of threading her eyes
with whatever the moment requires,
stitches me with a look of forgiveness
I didn’t know I needed.

Richard Allen Taylor

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Maybe 2014? A good while back Richard Allen Taylor set himself the challenge of writing poems about angels; they make a marvelous collection. A marvelous concatenation. Conceptualization. Conciliation. Oh sure, Gabriel has a cameo, but these are Richard’s angels, your and my angels: the Angel of Bureaucracy; Angel of Minor Disputes; Angel of Pain. And the Angels of Hope.

What do I really need? How about you? Redemption, can that actually mean anything more than cashing in the winning lottery ticket? Richard in Armed and Luminous offers poems with humor, imagination, and gentle compassion that have redeemed my morning. Yes, there are angels here, more than you may have expected, but I wasn’t hoping for any glowing personage with wings. What I have discovered instead is a spirit that wells up in two persons’ hearts and allows them to truly touch.

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Angel of Hope

As she grows invisible, her confidence blooms,
a moonflower in darkness, buoyed by terrestrial air
that gives lightness to her presence.

To the man drowning in despair, the garden feels heavy.
Nothing grows as planned. Renegade vines pull down
the rusted trellis, fruit fallen and rotted.

She watches his waning moon fade somber
in the box-like night of a four-walled sky.
In one corner, a shadow thickens, crosses

from stone to path and pulses against
light promised but not yet come.
The man, still unaware of the angel

who waits at the edge of his surrender,
senses a ripple in the darkness and draws closer
to speak, but seeing nothing, keeps his peace

and bows his head – in prayer or resignation
who can say? The angel’s cloak, opaque,
wide-winged and flutter-flapped – hides her completely.

He has shuttered himself, but she sees what he needs
is hers to give. She unwraps, offers her spirit light
like a lover’s body, but only for a heartbeat.

She closes her cloak, knowing hope is a drug
best administered in small doses. She gives him enough
to swim, rise to the surface, breathe again.

Richard Allen Taylor

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Blue Ridge Mountains

The possibilities were infinite.
When God made this place

He could have made it flat
or barren or covered with ice

or submerged in a hot soup
of gases, but he chose this

contemporary design, mountains
sprigged with tallest pine,

oak, maple, and poplar,
cloud-catching peaks and spines

that radiate into folds. He
let there be light, and the bright

afternoon reflected green
from the nearest slopes,

now blue-gray from a distant arc,
Mt. Mitchell under siege

from a flotilla of clouds,
gray-hulled, white-sailed.

It was quiet here when God created
the vacuum, before He created air

and water to carry sound.
He threw stones and ice,

enough to squeeze the earth
into a ball. Before this windy

breath in the trees, before
the voices in the meadow

or the click of heels
against flagstone walks,

before dry leaves scratched
across the porch, God

did his best work in silence.
He assigned Mother Nature

to manage construction.
She pushed to get the work done,

pitting one continent against another,
subcontracting certain details

to volcanism and erosion, giving the piece
a mixed-media look. I stand on rock

born deep in the earth, spewed
to the surface, sparkled with mica.

the dinosaurs have left, and our turn
at the controls has just begun, our time

a thin sheet in the layers of time,
but already, we have begun the undoing.

Richard Allen Taylor

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Cello in Moonlight

The strings pull me
to a darkened house,
through a door left open
to a room, empty
except for a wicker chair,
where a woman
in a shawl of moonlight
sits weeping, a private ritual,
her voice the cello,
the cello her voice.

An intruder, I turn to leave.
She asks me to stay.

Richard Allen Taylor

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all poems from Armed and Luminous, Richard Allen Taylor, Main Street Rag Publishing, © 2016

Header art by Linda French Griffin

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[with 3 poems by Pam Baggett]

The last time I saw my best friend Rick was in his hospital room. His counts were so low he couldn’t go home. They would never budge. Oh yes, last time, the idea must have hovered above us like a moth in pale daylight but we didn’t speak it. Isn’t it always easier to count on one more time before the last?

What we did talk about was lighthouses. Linda and I had taken our grandson to the Outer Banks that summer. We’d found the Mexican food truck on Ocracoke just like Rick had described it. We’d climbed Hatteras, Bodie, Currituck. Rick loved to hear our tales, loved those beaches, loved telling us his own stories. That’s how we shared our last couple of hours, transporting ourselves out of that hospital room into places we loved together.

Rick loved stories but in a deeper sense Rick just simply loved. He loved us into his family when our own family was just getting started. Through forty-some years of mountaintops along with several dry rocky valleys in between, he never checked us off his love list. A few days after that visit, Jan called to let us know that the last of Rick’s last times had run out. But last is not the same thing as over.

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After

Huddled on the porch steps,
sheltered from wind, you crave something deeper
than warmth. Sparrows scratch in the garden,
though the frozen soil yields only stones.
A hound howls from a half-mile away
and caffeine stirs in your blood. Startled
to heel hope nudge, you inch forward into a shard
of sunlight. You’re a few days past Christmas,
overdosed on food and family regret.
Your best friend and your dog
have just died. You know telling people
makes you sound like a Conway Twitty song,
yet you’ve spend hours on the phone,
letting them know who the world has lost.

Sitting out here, throat-sore, silent,
you knit blue fingers around your knees,
rocking, rocking, your thoughts black birds
circling an empty sky.

Pamela Baggett

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Senecio aureus, Golden Ragwort

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Let me recommend something. Sit down for an hour with Pam Baggett’s book, Wild Horses; start with the first poem; read straight through to the very end. It is a novella about friendship. It’s about not over. The 29 poems span maybe forty years: Pam & Cindy at 13 crazy about boys but crazier about rock and roll; best friends separated; best friends reunited and still crazy; best friends together through all the last times while one is dying of cancer. Oh my, the music. And of course the stories. The stories we share transport us into places we love together.

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Dog Dreams

In Cindy’s back yard, far from her mother
snoring in the recliner, we slap mosquitoes
despite a smelly citronella candle,
dodge slobber from the neighbor’s black Lab
who loves Cindy like a favorite chew toy.
Fifty years old, we giggle about our moms
as if we’re still thirteen. Mine answers every doorbell
gripping a suitcase. Cindy’s rubs her eye
until it’s teary, convinced there’s glass.

Almost midnight, Cindy sighs.
Keith Richards is nearly seventy, you know.
I yawn. Who’d have thought he’d make it so long?
Silence. Then Cindy lets me off easy –
Remember when we used to take drugs?
For fun? I bend to tie my shoe, hiding my face.
Why the hell did I promise not to cry?

Her skin goes gray when she tires.
I hug her, and her hair, thinned
from chemo, still smells like the pillow
I slept on all those high school weekends
decades ago. I offer reassurances,
a game of pretend. Pat the Lab
one last time before I leave.

Than night I dream my two dead beagles
race across the neighbor’s lawn
to hurl muscled bodies against me, my dogs
who in this vision belong to someone else.
I think, I have to return them, but then I realize
they’ve claimed me, the way her love
claims me, even as she surrenders
to the cold steady fire burning away inside her.

Pamela Baggett

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At 3:00 A.M.

Driven from bed’s warm covers,
I stumble to my desk.
Beyond the open window,
a fox barks, some small animal screams.
Gnats spin in drunken spirals
around the lamp. Grief
performs its slow
dazed circuit of my thoughts.

Now, in the hell of your last
days, I clutch at each moment,
trying not to picture
the cold clay blanket
that will soon cover you.

I shiver, a rabbit
that has seen the fox
but waits until the last second,
frozen, before it runs.

Pamela Baggett
all selections from Wild Horses, Pam Baggett, Main Street Rag Publishing, © 2018

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Anemone cinquefolia, Wood Anemone

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2016-05-08b Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Maureen Ryan Griffin]

At the National Zoo in DC the Maned Wolves are sniffing them out – crunch; the Red River Hogs have dug up their entire enclosure to welcome them; the Big Cats just couldn’t care less about them; the River Otters bat them like shuttlecocks a few times, then crunch; the Keepers are busy calculating how much less protein to allot each daily feed because of all the crunching of them.

Here in Elkin an army of little workmen fill the trees, each holding in his middle arms and forward arms a tiny leaf blower set on max. Their women can’t resist that sound. Cedar waxwings can’t resist coming down from the heights where they usually hang out to nab nymphs climbing up the oak trees. Yellow-billed cuckoos are planning three broods this summer after checking out the buffet.

In 10th grade Mrs. Schilling made sure we learned the major orders – Lepidoptera, Diptera, Hymenoptera, etc., not least Hemiptera, the True Bugs (you’d better not call a Coleoptera a “bug”). Stink Bugs, you guys are old news after this year’s Hemiptera (suborder Homoptera) emergence — Magicicada septendecim Brood X, The Great Eastern Brood, magical indeed, to you we doff our hats. Second thought I’ll keep mine on.

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Ten Thousand Cicadas Can’t Be Wrong

Summer sings sweet songs for her supper,
but her golden slippers aren’t for sale – no unless
you happen upon some celestial bargain basement
of goodly delights. There, nearly hidden under
last year’s turquoise silk sky, raspberries ripen, rampant,
as the mourning dove’s plum notes whirr, winged
into basil-drenched dreams. All this, and watermelon, too,
and fireflies, and the daylilies from your mother’s
last garden, double-headed. Just don’t forget
there are chiggers, and mosquitoes, of course, and that heat
everyone speaks of, muggy, tasting of
mildewed shower shoes, sounding for all the world like
kudzu unfurling in Jackson, Mississippi, where Janis Joplin
might have sung supper songs of her own. I don’t know.
I’ve never been there. I do know freedom’s not
just another word for nothin’ left to lose, and that you’ll never
find that bargain basement, no matter how long you look.
Listen, ten thousand cicadas can’t be wrong.
Anybody knows larvae never lie, not as long as
persimmons pucker and peaches procrastinate.
Lollygag in your hammock if you must, whenever
the tomatoes lean, but remember
that the persnickety bookie of guilt and doubt
is keeping score. You can’t hide but you can
run. You can steal the chiggers right out from under
the blackberries. You can rob from the raspberries
in bruised homage to the summer afternoon
the two most beautiful words in the English language,
according to Henry James, whose afternoons
are elsewhere now. Tu connais Uncle Death?
No worries. Aunt Morning will waltz willfully
wanton beyond noon, yea, and onward, well past dusk,
in Sister Summer’s silver slippers, the ones
deep in her closet that she seldom thinks to wear.

Maureen Ryan Griffin

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Could there be a more perfect moment to re-read Maureen Ryan Griffin’s book Ten Thousand Cicadas Can’t Be Wrong? Her poetry is often about the changing seasons, the changes in our lives, the mile markers and wrong turns and new pathways discovered in the process. Nature and human nature interwoven, the book is rich and broad-ranging; I’d add even more selections from the Ten Thousand but when the sun comes out the little leaf-blowers rev up and soon I can’t hear myself think.

[Rather than 10 to the 4th we’re dealing with 10 to the 13th = tens of trillions. But they are nice and crunchy.]

Maureen (no kin to this writer) is best known as “midwife to dreams” for the many writers she has instructed, encouraged, and inspired through the years. Visit her website WORDPLAY and learn more about “spinning words into gold” through her contributions to the award-winning CHARLOTTE READERS PODCAST.

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I’d like to think it isn’t greed

impelling us
to gather
far beyond need, whatever
our predilection –
++++++ blackberries
++++++ buckeyes
++++++ daylilies
++++++ fireflies
++++++ olive shells
++++++ sand dollars
++++++ stones –
++++++++++++ rather,
the feel of familiar
texture, convexity,
the comfort
of a particular weight
cradled in a palm.
Who knows
what it is that sings
as we fill
+++ baskets to overflowing
with our own peculiar harvests.
We feel the lure
+++ cull just one more
as if it were important to
keep this bit of fruit
from what we think of
as waste, to save
another shell from being
shattered by the sea,
to make ourselves a home among
the things of this world.

Maureen Ryan Griffin

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When the Leaves Are in the Water

When my brother and I walked
through these woods, he pointed out
subtleties of bark and branches,
read growth rings, spoke of drought
and rainy years. Said I look

like Mother. What I love
about trees: they endure
the seasons. I yearn
to be sweet gum, sugar maple.
My brother named me

ironwood, divined my rusting
heart, too hard to yield
forgiveness. Would we agree on oak,
my gallnuts early griefs
painstakingly transformed?

Arriving at the creek bank,
I let silt run through my fingers,
minute bits of pebble
with unseen roughness.
I wasn’t looking when my hands

turned into hers. I plunge them
into cold creek water.
I once thought
forgiving her was clean,
balsam on a wound

to make it heal. It’s more
like washing hands
before a meal. I have to do it
over and over: forgiveness
to the third power. I feel

it’s time, but loss spirals
deeper each succeeding
season. What will I be without
my holy anger – stripped bare
like the skeleton of a tree,

my stipule scars, my leaf
scars showing. Trees are born
to nakedness – I’m not ready.
My brother told me
the Cherokee believe

it’s a time of great power
when the leaves are in the water.
I fling in handfuls of
hard memories, watch the current
carry them away.

Maureen Ryan Griffin
all selections from Ten Thousand Cicadas Can’t Be Wrong, New and Selected Poems, Main Street Rag Publishing, © 2014 Maureen Ryan Griffin

Magicicada

Brood X

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IMG_6432

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[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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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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