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[with 4 poems from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing]

Eyes closed I listen as if casting a great spiral net into the forest. Behind, around me, above, although my two ears fixed in the horizontal plane are not excellent at discerning degrees of vertical, the vibrations arrive. Rarefaction and compression, faint means far, high amplitude is close beside me. A great disk of song and squeak and rustle, a half globe. What is the definition of a sphere? A surface whose every point is equidistant from the center.

How difficult, then, not to imagine the center is me. Plant my feet in sand and watch the sun descend below the western horizon; lie on my back at night for an hour and notice how Taurus and the Sisters wheel around me, I the fixed tether of all movement, I the pivot of their dance. My mind will argue against such silliness but my senses know its truth. As kids we never question the solar system we learn in school, later we even snicker at Ptolemy, his deferents, epicycles, and yet centrality is burned into us, ten thousand years of human psyche.

But imagine. What if? Hardwood creaks upstairs, Linda out of bed, but instead of imaging her descending soon to join me I am with her now, stretching, brushing teeth, gathering her hair and braiding. The first step is to step away from the imaginary center. The second is to not look back at self. Look out, look into the space between the hickory leaves and ferns, fly up with feathers and lace-veined wings. Claw the earth, creep between the rootlets. Not just imagine – be the other lives that pass in cars, that tend a child, that worry. Be the angry ones, the broken, the sad & silent. Behind, around, above. First step is to give up the center.

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Common Ground

What’s incomplete in me seeks refuge
in blackberry bramble and beech trees,
where creatures live without dogma
and water moves in patterns
more ancient than philosophy.
I stand still, child eavesdropping on her elders.
I don’t speak the language
but my body translates best it can,
wakening skin and gut, summoning
the long kinship we share with everything.

Laura Grace Weldon
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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Cardinal

I know my mother’s weeping is real by the way
she exhales, fragmented and flailing,

like someone newly mourning. My head only hip-high,
I stare up to her saddened face, too young to understand

any of this, but old enough to know something
is broken, and that with breaking, anguish follows,

old enough to know she would want to watch
the male cardinal she feeds every morning

newly perched in the bare Maple outside
the kitchen window. I nearly tell her to look,

to witness its bright red flame up against all
that white winter. But I wait, keep quiet

and listen, trying to hear in place of her grief,
the cardinal’s song just beyond the glass.

William Scott Hanna
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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As I read deeper into I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing, I feel my center shifting. In good poetry I discover how the poet feels; in excellent poetry I discover how I feel. These pages enfold an entire world – gardens and farms, back roads and highways, mining towns and river towns; people who struggle, joyful people, yearning, grieving, loving. Line by line, image by image these voices create a powerful place. I am drawn in, I am invited and indeed welcomed in. Hearing with their ears, seeing with their eyes, feeling their hearts I discover what has made meaning in my own life.

Thank you, Ohio’s Appalachian Voices. I am humbled to become part of the family.

Oh, and don’t forget the cardinals. I’ve lost count of the poems with the singing of cardinals. Spirits of the dead and still desired; messengers of color in a countryside too often locked in grey and white; outstanding singers of endless variation – and shared by OH and NC as state bird (along with WV, VA, IL, IN, KY)! Visitors from the West Coast see their first Cardinalis cardinalis and say, “I didn’t believe they were real!” Yes indeed, as real as these poets and as real as their poems.

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Chink

Backyard,
this is as small
as the cardinal’s good cheer gets,
sharp shard of sound
chipped from as-if-frozen air.
Still, if it were to have color
it would be pointed scarlet,
like a splint of fire,
or blue-white
like the flame of acetylene.
If it were music
it would be one high C,
some maestro’s hot-headed urge
of his horns.

In the woods,
chink is enough.
Under pine signs,
near the stony mumble
of the creek,
it speaks everything needed
to cardinal:
Here.
I know you’re there.
Listen.

Richard Hague
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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This Place Does Not Care If I Am Happy

This ruby-throated world is not for me.
Not mine, this jack pine tar, this chunky sunlight.
Not mine, the eggs or weeds or garter snakes.
This limping yellow willow is not for me,
Nor is the wrinkled willow that the lake makes.

These thrushes will still be here when I go.
Maybe not this robin and maybe not these reeds
But some robin in some reeds will be here when I go.
Some or another maple, some lightning-bent bough,
Some summer-sick magnolia will be here when I go.

This place has never cared if I am happy.
The fungus does not care, the fox does not care,
The deer looks as though – for just a moment –
But no. This place does not care if I am happy.

And I am thank you, thank you, I am.

Erica Reid
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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IMG_0880, tree

 

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[poems from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing]

Last week our sister Jill sent us photos from her recent camping trip in the Allegheny National Forest, a favorite spot called Kelly Pines. Big trees, moss & ferns, campfire, nylon tent – nothing lacking. There were also a few shots taken by our niece April – Jill hiking a trail between massive trunks, Hobbit Jill looking up into the giants. Jill’s comment – “Truly a magical seeming place . . .”

Gentle sun-dappled trail; open understory beneath a high canopy; mature second- (or third- or fourth- ) growth pines – a beautiful woodland setting . . . but magic? If I were to visit this spot for the first time would I discover more magic here than any other moderately impacted wood lot in the Appalachians, from Pennsylvania to northern Georgia? Ignore magic incantations and transmutations, ignore any lapses in the laws of physics, even so magic must create something around and within us that we don’t experience without magic.

But Kelly Pines (which, as a member of Linda’s family for over 50 years, I too refer to as Kelly’s Pines) does create magic. This little patch of forest, stream, rocky incline has been accruing magic since before these seven siblings were born. It’s the magic of shared stories – big Mama Bear crossing the trail just minutes after Linda had been walking there alone. It’s the magic of special visits – Linda and I camped at Kelly’s Pines for our honeymoon. Definitely the magic of roots – a bit of Linda’s Mom’s and Dad’s ashes are sprinkled there. And greatest of all is the magic of memories – those family camping expeditions have provided every sibling with their own recollections, carefully preserved treasures they dust off and pass around whenever any of the seven get together.

We make our magic. Our memories create magic. Sister Becky sums it up perfectly when she sees the photos: “It creates a great longing to be there with my loved ones.” Such magic!

Linda and I regularly hike a number of local trails where, when we listen, we hear the fey whispers of magic. Some are old trails with deep roots – we’ve visited Doughton Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway since the kids could walk. Some are newer, their magic bright and sprite and still emerging – the Grassy Creek “forest bathing” spur of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, where our grandson worked beside me to scrape a first pathway into the riparian gloom.

Every week, in every season and weather, we discover the healing magic these footpaths through forest desire to share with anyone who’ll visit. Some magic is tangible: today the tiny Adam and Eve orchids are just opening, and to appreciate them I have to kneel with my nose in the leaf mould. Some magic is inchoate: the breeze on our necks, how it stirs ferns in the glade, the color of light ferns hold and release when we pause from all motion and let the woods overtake us.

When we return from these walks it isn’t the sweat and tired old muscles we remember. The magic of memory creates connection, shared presence, becoming one. Yes, Jill, that is a magical place. Oh yes, the trees, the mountains, but what really brings each place’s magic into being is what we share there together.

Fern Glade above Grassy Creek, MST

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Girl in the Woods

Before the earth became her bed, she raked away
+++++ the rubble and rocks, scraped the soil smooth.

There are no candy men here, no dope peddlers,
+++++ no pill pushers, no one to hand out 40s and 80s –

those perfect stones with their false promise to cut her
+++++ pain with their fuzz and blur – the way they do

at her apartment in the projects, a home more makeshift
+++++ than her nylon tent with its walls stretched taut,

its strings staked between oak roots. In this quiet,
+++++ she sketches her children’s faces with charcoal,

applying skills she’s learning in community college
+++++ art classes. She outlines their curved cheeks,

their almond-shaped eyes, uses long, sweeping strokes
+++++ for her daughter’s hair, a softer mark for the scar

on her son’s chin. Dark comes early beneath the trees.
+++++ Without the luxury of electric light, she’s learning

how to smudge charcoal, how to block in the mid-tones,
+++++ by battery-powered lantern – a small sacrifice

for this shelter of trees when she most misses her kids,
+++++ when her brain won’t stop buzzing.

Denton Loving
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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Southern Ohio, pronounced “Ohia” if you’re from there, is Appalachia. Forget Cleveland and Toledo and their Lake Erie, forget Columbus and its gateway to the great plains. Think Athens, Portsmouth, Logan, Hocking Hills. Nearly one fourth of the area of Ohio is hills, glacial carvings, forest, and streams flowing down to the Big River that borders West Virginia and Kentucky. These poems are from the new anthology, I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, poetry called forth and collected by current Ohio state poet laureate, Kari Gunter-Seymour.

These voices are remarkable. Inspiring. Dire. Funny as hell. Every day I pick up the book and just leaf to a new page at random, and every poem speaks to me. It’s not just because I have family in those hills and know the smells and sounds of those back roads and farms, the funkiness of those river towns, the long lightless days of winter, the disappointment of “Ohio false spring.” It’s because these poems are honest and human and speak to anyone who has ever looked to discover another person standing beside them. Join me, open the book, let’s see where it takes us! Let’s us be part of the community, bigger and bigger.

You’n’s, us’n’s, all of us together.

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Some Kind of Prayer

What can I tell you that you do not already know?
Listen to the grass, its long legs whistling as it swishes.
Touch the brush of cattails, the brittle wings of pine cones,
the dry skin of chokeberries – feel
their burst. Taste rain. Say you’re sorry

not for what you did but for how you doubted
yourself for so long. This life is filled
with a million cocoons and you can choose
how long, which one, or none.

Sleep is so close. Run now, run.

Shuly Xóchitl Cawood
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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To No One in Particular

I am never happy to see summer go,
earth stripped of its finest voice.
I am sitting outside in my heavy coat,
porch light off. There is no moon,
no ambient distractions, the sky a Zion.

I take solace in considering the age
of this valley, the way water
left its mark on Appalachia,
long before Peabody sunk a shaft,
Chevron augured the shale or ODOT
dynamited roadways through steep rock.

I grew up in a house where canned
fruit cocktail was considered a treat.
My sister and I fought over who got
to eat the fake cherries, standouts in the can,
though tasting exactly like very other
tired piece of fruit floating in the heavy syrup.

But it was store-bought, like city folks
and we were too gullible to understand
the corruption in the concept, our mother’s
home-canned harvest superior in every way.
I cringe when I think of how we shamed her.

So much here depends upon
a green corn stalk, a patched barn roof,
weather, the Lord, community.
We’ve rarely been offered a hand
that didn’t destroy.

Inside the house the lightbulb comes on
when the refrigerator door is opened.
My husband rummages a snack,
plops beside me on the porch to wolf it down,

turns, plants a kiss, leans back in his chair,
says to no one in particular,
A person could spend a lifetime
under a sky such as this.

Kari Gunter-Seymour
from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, edited by Kari Gunter-Seymour; Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, © 2022

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Linda and Bill at Kelly’s Pines, 1974

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[with 3 poems from PINESONG]

Do you see me . . . writing you back into the world?
+++++++++++++++++++ Maria Rouphail

What is reality? Perhaps it does require ten dimensions to explain quantum phenomena but we sentient creatures are stuck with four, all we are able to feel. That’s as real as we can get. And with entropy dictating the direction of time’s arrow, it’s a one-way street.

But what about dreams? What about memory? The one is all hallucinatory confabulation, jetsam from the brain’s real work of making sense. The other – random imprint of synapses in hippocampus, little tangles and sparks of wishfulness, wholly unreliable. Then why do dreams open doors into worlds we are absolutely compelled to explore? Why are memories so deeply, viscerally, demandingly real?

My Grandpop Cooke died when I was five. We lived states apart; I spent only a few weeks with him each year. Most of my memories are stories told about him later – his eclectic brilliance, his inventions and patents, his ferocious calling as physician and surgeon. In most of the photos from our few shared years he is behind the camera composing, the rest of us the subject, the scene. Mostly I sense him in the recalled scent of his workshop, oil & sawdust, or in the heft of the books he left. I never hear his voice.

But in these two memories Grandpop is real to me. We’re standing on the bluff above Bogue Sound while he tosses corn to his mallards, wordless memory, me the child allowed to reach his hand into the pan of grain. He is kneeling, my 4-year old hand in his while he outlines the little bones in those fingers and teaches me, “Phalanges, Metacarpals.”

I tell you these stories. I write them down. Time holds its breath, reverses its flow. I bring Grandpop back into the world.

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After “After Years” by Ted Kooser

At once when you walked by,
I noticed something on your face that I
hadn’t seen in a long time.
You, smiling into your phone,
stepping over a dead rat on the street vent,
were a revelation.
Around us, the collapsed a skyscraper into the ground
and, as you rushed past without realizing,
a breeze blew a lamppost into a hurricane.
For this instant of infinity,
God must have a heart to
let me see you among the mills of people
coming and going, back and forth
between the drone of city life and the thrill of living at all.

As I lose you to the background,
the weightlessness of your memory bombards me.
How quietly did you leave to ensure
I wouldn’t notice your absence?
Where did you possibly go if not
further into the pile of things I swore to forget?

We are all bound by finality.
To stop living in circles, you take flight
and I watch the world wear away my stubborn grief
until I forget why I ever had to grieve at all.

Claire Wang
PINESONG, Sherry Pruitt Award, Third Place
11th Grade, Marvin Ridge High School, Waxhaw, NC
Teacher: Bobbi Jo Wisocki

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Today’s three poems are from PINESONG, the annual anthology of the North Carolina Poetry Society. Ten adult contests, four for students; winners and honorable mentions. Judges from all over the country, diversity of poets as well – no two year’s collections are similar. Some of these names will go on to glean literary honors; many already have.

You can buy a copy (or if you are a NCPS member request a copy gratis) by contacting me and I will forward your request to the appropriate address: comments@griffinpoetry.com

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The Waters

A naiad swims to the bottom of the ocean
feels the great press of all that water,
the suffocating embrace of the dark.
At these depths, she wonders, does the giant squid
feel a need, like childbirth, to release her ink?
She lays her hand on the throat of beginnings;
and Earth takes a tremendous breath,
blows out bubbles, bubbles, bubbles –
multitudes that almost shine like light.

A woman sinks to the nadir of life,
where every single thing is hard.
Not just difficult – that’s brushing hair,
teeth; saying the right thing;
avoiding saying the wrong;
awakening before the sun sits atop a vast blue.
Truly hard:
the corners of counters, cement floor,
the slam of a door. Glass breaks
behind her eyes every single day,
glittering, blinding, refracting,
reflecting failure, filling her mind’s eye
with shard of adamantine static.

A girl swims the abyss of her nightmare.
Hears a voice – maybe her mother’s – but garbled,
muted the way a fetus hears in the womb.
It is hard to breathe.
Treading the water of sleep, fear and desire
swirl in the dark below her. Shy bumps the land,
the bed, the sheets twine her legs like kelp.
Consciousness slips around her, a gleaming eel
she finally lays hands on. Here is morning,
bright and smooth as a clam’s mantle.

Alison Toney
PINESONG, Thomas H. McDill Award, Honorable Mention

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Abuela

In the dream,
my dead father speaks the same words
as when he was in the flesh.
Leaning into my ear, he says
Imaginate, hija –
the nuns at the convent school
taught your grandmother to write –
My lips part again,
as when he told me the first time
about the black-eyed girl
with a birth and death date no one remembered,
who saw visions and wrote them down.
That was before she became the too-young mother
abandoned by her impatient man
who refused the burden of a tubercular wife
and their two baby boys – Poemas,
my orphaned father said.
I turn to face him,
as though he were
the door to a vast room.
But then I wake,
and breath streams out of my body like a tide – ¡Abuela, abuelita!
Do you know that I see you, the poet at her desk?
Do you see me at mine, writing you back into the world?

Maria Rouphail
PINESONG, Thomas H. McDill Award, Second Place

Maria also won the 2022 Poet Laureate Award from the NC Poetry Society for her poem, Two Variations on a Theme of a Tenement (as Viewed from the Window of a Moving Train) With a Song Interposed.

 

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[with poems from Tar River Poetry]

Neon yellow, fluorescent orange, that’s a lingo we can understand: road work ahead; survey crew; litter pick-up. Why on earth, though, did Robert Price dress all his lawn & landscape guys in this eye-popping pink, his name in big bold black across the back? So no one would want to steal their shirts? So we’d be sure to notice?

Oh, and we do notice. Our three-year old adores the stilt-legged birds in her favorite color, one last night on her little jammies, a sudden mob of them last weekend in the neighbor’s yard turning 50. Now she startles as we drive past them with their zero-turn radius mowers and tyrannosauric leaf blowers – recognition, yes! Excitement! From her car seat she points and announces . . . !

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If You Could

Would you unstitch the world,
pick it apart until you held in your cupped hands
a burning heap of atoms that glowed
like the last stars fading
into the sun? Say if you believe
the plants are doing God’s work
when they insinuate themselves
into foundation cracks and chips
in ancient stone walls, when
they tease apart the edges of brick,
begin crumbling concrete back to sand.

Tell me, if you believe
you could have done better,
what you would have omitted
when you spit into that handful
of dark earth and stardust
and worked it in your palm
to make a mannikin, when you breathed
your sweet breath with its scents
of rainwater and crushed clover
into its lips, when you watched it rise
and strut around the world, eyeing its riches
like a hungry dog eyes meat. What
would you have done to make it
less arrogant, less dangerous –
or could you? Would you have simply
smashed it, declared the world
complete?

Rebecca Baggett
from Tar River Poetry, Volume 61 Number 2, Spring 2022; © 2022 Tar River Poetry

insect

 

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Why am I featuring Tar River Poetry in the same post as Falingos / Flamingos? Is this twice-a-year journal as arresting as a yard full of men in pink, as much fun as a yard full of plastic birds? Is it because when each new issue arrives in the post I exclaim from my car seat and want to point it out to the world? Is it that the words it contains and the way they’re arranged are so deliciously novel, so eye-popping, such exotic new sensations on the tongue?

All of the above and none of the above. Who knows why, as I was sitting on the porch reading TRP as I have most every issue for a bunch of years now, I suddenly remembered that story of our granddaughter at 3? Who knows why bits of hippocampus are jangled and what bits of limbic system will be spangled when one reads a poem that jumps up and shivers? All I know is the poems of TRP are always so various, so beguiling, so full of and stimulating to imagination that I always want to read them all.

Oh, and maybe I’ve been wanting to share that Falingo story for a good while now.

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The Rope

Today a junco –
And yesterday, I think, some kind of sparrow.

Their lives flown on
Without them, they now lie still. Were these two drawn

By what they saw
As a threat in the glass they didn’t see? Claws

Raised for a foe
That wasn’t there, they pierced the air that froze

And knocked them out
Of this world. Seeing such things, it’s hard to doubt

A flight can end
In the middle of its arc. We like to pretend

The path is clear
Straight to the goal. We think music we hear

Means all is well,
So we ignore it. But the inverted well

Of a bell is full
Of nothing, most hours: silence. Someone must pull

Its rope to knock
Its music loose. Had these two birds been hawks,

I want to insist
I’d have watched. But is this true? I barely noticed

Their flights and songs.
I only write them down now that they’re gone.

Michael Spence
from Tar River Poetry, Volume 61 Number 2, Spring 2022; © 2022 Tar River Poetry

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Rebecca Baggett is the winner of the 2020 Terry J. Cox poetry award from Regal House Publishing; her collection The Woman Who Lives Without Money was published in March 2022.

Michael Spence was awarded the New Criterion Poetry Prize for his collection Umbilical.

Pam Baggett was awarded the 2019-2020 Fellowship in Literature from the NC Arts Council; her book Wild Horses (2018) is from Main Street Rag Publishing.

Tar River Poetry: Editor – Luke Whisnant; Founding Editor and Editor Emeritus – Peter Makuck; Associate Editor – Carolyn Elkins; Advisory Editor – Melinda Thomson; Assistant Editor – Caroline Puerto; Contributing Editors – Phoebe Davidson, Elizabeth Dodd, Brendan Galvin, Susan Elizabeth Howe, James Kirkland, Richard Simpson, Tom Simpson. East Carolina University, Greenville NC.

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The Losses to Come

A mild April day, the smell of death
leads me past half-grown oaks to pond’s edge,
where I find a snapping turtle,
big as a hay bale, flipped on its back,
startle a vulture that lifts away, leaving holes
where the turtle’s head and feet belong.
Nothing that stalks these woods strong enough
to capsize a creature whose slashing tail,
snapping jaw held such fury. Then I spot
the pond’s dam, short but steep,
pond shrunk by drought so the turtle
tumbled down it onto dry ground.

The horror hits like a hard fall –
I walked this path every day
as the snapper paddled its stubby legs
in mid-air, sank into stillness.

++++++++++++ ~

Early November, leaves sifting down,
I see the shell in the woods a hundred feet
from where I first found it. Bleached
beige, a dishpan, nowhere near a hay bale.
What had made me believe I mourned
so huge a creature, except the size of this grief,
insistent as sunrise, over losses to come:
catfish and bream, bullfrogs and peepers,
the pond’s dragonflies that swoop and dive,
seeking mosquitoes –

all may perish, along with the snapper,
on Earth for sixty-five million years,
built to survive almost anything.

Pam Baggett
from Tar River Poetry, Volume 61 Number 2, Spring 2022; © 2022 Tar River Poetry

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[poems from CAVE WALL]

. . . a person is a museum of rooms they’ve visited . . .
++++++ ++++++ ++++++ Han VanderHart

Hold the door for her, even a low threshold is an invitation to fall. Scuff of sole syncopates with tap of cane, I listen and watch sidelong along past the neighbors’ for any evidence of stumble. Hold hands over rough spots. Now here’s the road – is it safe to even think about crossing?

At the corner garden Mom asks me to remind her of the name of each flower. Zinnia, phlox, coneflower. At the picket fence she points to the bottommost backer rail, This is where we leave a biscuit for Penny but I forgot to bring one. At the next house, Boz lives here, he always barks.

Staying these weeks with Dad and Mom I sometimes enter a room to find Mom perfectly still, halfway between chair & table. Not staring at anything, not expecting particularly, not even struggling to discover something lost because even the idea of something lost is lost. Rooms of her life that she no longer visits.

But when I touch her arm she will tell me again where the flowers on the table have come from, See how long they’ve lasted? Every house we pass on our walks she knows the life of the dog it holds. Dogs and flowers. A walk with Mom. What could be more beautiful?

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When My Grandmother Barbara Jean was Dying, My
++++++ Mother Sat on Her Bed and Played “House of the
++++++ Rising Sun” on Her Guitar, Because It Was the Only
++++++ Song She Knew

And this is also ekphrasis: the song plucked
out of the guitar, held on a child’s lap, sat on a sickbed

My mother shaping the air around herself
and her mother: a small rain of notes.

There is a house in New Orleans, she strummed
not knowing her mother was dying.

Bobbie with her hair that waves like mine,
resists the clip that holds it back.

Don’t wish your life away, my mother still says,
words her mother, shadow-sick, said.

If a person is a museum of rooms they’ve
visited, inside my mother is a room

with a bed, a guitar, and her mother
who is not dying, only resting.

It is called the rising sun.

Han VanderHart
from Cave Wall, Spring/Summer 2022, Number 17, © Cave Wall Press LLC

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Rhett, tell me if this memory is true. When we first met at a poetry meeting at Weymouth you were wearing a t-shirt with a comic book character (in a room of dresses and neckties). What you didn’t know was that my basement was full of boxes, mostly Marvel, and I was way more into John Byrne, Frank Miller, and Barry Windsor-Smith than T.S. Elliot and Ezra Pound. When you stood up at open mic, though, I was rocked. Here it is – this is it. Absolutely real.

And Cave Wall continues to be it. Every issue’s poems open layers in my heart I had forgotten I possessed, or else had halfway bandaided back together. Well, yes, sometimes it hurts in inward person to fall into a well of emotion, but sometimes the deep sigh is healing. And sometimes I want to toss the little book into the air for a high five as it descends. This issue, though, Number 17, I just can’t get over. Thanks for opening door into all these rooms and inviting us to step through.

Cave Wall editors Rhett Iseman Trull & Jeff Trull; Assistant Editor Michael Boccardo; Contributing Art Editor Dan Rhett; Official Poem Accepters Audrey & Cordelia Trull; Editorial Assistant Tracey Nafekh; Contributing Editors Sally Rosen Kindred, Renee Soto; Editorial Advisory Board Dan Albergotti, Sandra Beasley, Natasha Tretheway. www.cavewallpress.com

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August

and swollen as I was
with our first son, we stopped at Bennett Place,
the nineteenth century farmhouse
outside Durham, where
one general surrendered
to another, ending the Civil War.
Hot as blazes, but a stray breeze
lifted our spirits and we kept at it,
touring the wooden farmhouse,
the outbuildings, the grounds.
While you inspected the rows
of tents, I lingered
in the log kitchen. Something
about the narrow window panes
and the orchard view
made me think an earlier century
might have transformed me
into the wife I longed to be –
a patient woman, filling and refilling
the porcelain pitcher
as you bathed at the white bowl.
A woman blameless, steady
at her weaving, aflame only for you.

Dannye Romine Powell
from Cave Wall, Spring/Summer 2022, Number 17, © Cave Wall Press LLC

 

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The three poets selected from this issue of Cave Wall all have connections to North Carolina:

Han VanderHart lives in Durham. They host Of Poetry podcast, edit Moist Poetry Review, and review at EcoTheo Review; their collection What Pecan Light is from Bull City Press (2021).

Dannye Romine Powell lives in Charlotte. Her fifth collection, In the Sunroom with Raymond Carver, won North Carolina’s 2020 Roanoke Chowan Award.

Anne McCrary Sullivan received an MFA from Warren Wilson College. Her publications include Ecology II: Throat Song from the Everglades.

 

 

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Driving Loop Road

after cocoplums with their dark fruit,
wax myrtle, firebush, wild coffee

small openings, like keyholes
through which I could see

how a swamp darkens beyond fern
how a prairie extends into light

a young alligator sprawled in the road
three hawks held to their branches

shapes ahead of me scurried into scrub
an otter crossed in the rearview mirror

time was longer than it was,
so much in it –

the limestone gravel road
always narrowing

then the rain and milk-white puddles
wet green +++++ and solitude

hawk time, alligator time
storm coming, rainy season

but since you ask, three and a half hours
dragonflies whirling over the road

Anne McCrary Sullivan
from Cave Wall, Spring/Summer 2022, Number 17, © Cave Wall Press LLC

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2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

 

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#8: 200 yds uphill from True Word Baptist Church on L past brick house R

It’s a little before 6:30 a.m. on May 28, 2022, when I pull into the dew soaked grass and walk up to the pasture fence: Stop #8. Stop #1 was 5:33, Venus rising above the tree line, the chorus just rustling awake led by Chuck-will’s-widow. Now the eastern sky is peach and the birds are full throat.

For 25+ years I’ve been counting a route for the annual Breeding Bird Survey of the US Geologic Survey (Patuxent Wildlife Research Center). These courses were established in 1966 to monitor North American bird populations; there are more than 4,000 of the 25 mile courses in the US and Canada. It’s no coincidence that the impetus arose to study declining bird numbers around the same time Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published (1962).

Since 1995 I’ve counted the Copeland route in southern Surry County into Wilkes. This year I added a second route, Mt. Airy, mainly northern Stokes County. Start ½ hour before dawn, fifty defined roadside stops a half mile apart, count every bird you hear and see in three minutes.

Stop #8. The knob of Pilot Mountain emerges from shadow. Mist rising in the hollows. Click my timer. Listen!

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On March 31, 2011 I posted the first offering on my new blog, including the poem Hymn by A.R. Ammons, which is still my favorite. I named the blog Griffin~Poetry, Verse and Image – I imagined combining powerful metaphor and poetic imagery with my own photography. For the past two years I’ve posted at least once a week, usually Friday mornings: today (a Wednesday) is post # 208.

Today I’m changing the site’s name. I’m dropping “Griffin~Poetry.” I’m stepping back from the spotlight. For one thing, only about 5% of the poems I’ve ever included are written by me. I’ve so far featured about 185 poets, everyone from Abbott, Tony to York, Carolyn. This blog is not about Griffin’s Poetry as author, it’s about poetry I treasure as reader.

Secondly I’m changing the header photo to Pilot Mountain at dawn from Stop #8. The Pilot has always been a landmark for our family, an ensign of home. When we lived in Ohio and drove to North Carolina once a year to visit my Grandparents, spotting the knob from Rte. 52 meant we were almost there. Every April I’ll restore the header to artwork by my wife Linda French Griffin in honor of Earth Day, but for now let Pilot Mountain guide us.

Finally, there’s this:
It belongs to the nature of every ‘being’ that it is a potential for every ‘becoming.’
++++++++++++++++++++ Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality
Whitehead is saying that the fundamental building blocks of reality are not atoms or quarks or anything that ‘is’ but rather the constant flux of moments coming into being, ‘becoming.’ Everything changes but everything is connected. Whitehead’s book is all but impenetrable (although there are some excellent guidebooks, not unlike the ones about birds, ferns, and flowers I carry in my pack on every outing), but a world that is obtuse, confusing, seemingly malevolent can open to enlightenment via metaphor. Through poetic imagery.

Thank you, Poetry, for offering to give us a glimpse of reality.

❦ ❦ ❦

Birds – perfect metaphor for the struggle to find meaning. Familiar but elusive, civilized but wild, possible to recognize but impossible to fully know. The Dawn Chorus begins and we are inspired to go on pilgrimages to discover our place among them.

Cuckoo Song ++++++++++++++++++ Anonymous c. 1250

SUMER is icumen in,
++ Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweth sed, and bloweth med,
++ And springth the wude nu—
+++++ Sing cuccu!

Canterbury Tales   (lines 9-12) +++++++ Geoffrey Chaucer (1340(?)–1400)

And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,

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And of course here are three minutes of birds from Stop #8:
American Crow (2)
Carolina Wren (2)
Gray Catbird
Yellow-breasted Chat
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting

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2020-06-11a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Joseph Mills]

Nothing makes sense. Even so we tell stories hoping to make sense, to create a little sense.

My brother just called from the beach to tell me my mother has had some sort of spell this morning. Maybe a seizure. Wee, pellucid, bone china and silver lace, she is smiling now and saying, “I feel just fine.” The doctor in me asks questions. The son I am worries but then pauses to touch myself on the shoulder and remind: “Her family surrounds her. She is 94 and smiling. She is fine.”

How can we make sense of all this? What should we do?

The evening before they left I sat beside Mom while everyone else made supper and packed. She’d been standing in the middle of the living room for several minutes – feeling that she should be contributing to the activity in the kitchen? – when I convinced her to join me on the couch. For a week she hadn’t been feeling well but a fruitless ER stay, a visit with her beloved family doctor, lab tests, an ECG, none had put a finger on the malady.

I asked Mom if she really felt well enough to ride five hours in the car. I didn’t have to guess how much she wanted to spend two weeks with my brother’s family, their once a year trip east from Montana. She smiled, said she was fine, then started to list all the spots they’d go out to eat during their visit. At least one restaurant there is older than me and the host recalls my name from when I was four. She couldn’t remember the names of several of the places but she could tell me just how to find them and what she’d most likely order.

Mom watched my niece bring glasses to the table and pour the wine. She leaned against me, my arm around her shoulder, and said, “I’m fine. I can’t wait!”

Nothing makes sense and for a moment it doesn’t at all need to.

the answers may be
in the trees, but the questions
are not what you think
+++++++++++from Wind Dancing by Joseph Mills

Joseph Mills tells stories. Wonderful wide-ranging stories, in each of which one of the characters is dance. The poems of Bodies in Motion (Press 53, 2022) take me to cities I’ve never visited; to foreign countries; to high school gyms, wild parties, intimate moments. Even more so they take me into relationships and conflicts and epiphanies I’ve never experienced but which I recognize, instantly familiar. The poems, the stories – do they hold the answers, do they make sense of life? Perhaps, probably not, but they do invite me into communion with the family of all humans – in joy and celebration we shall share our questions.

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At the Arts Conservatory

Music comes from practice rooms
a piano sonata, a cello being bowed,
scales on a clarinet.

Dancers slide out of studios
bend at the drinking fountain,
go to the bathrooms, check phones.

The hall smells of sweat,
detergent, the latex paint
institutions use on cinder block.

I’m here to talk about poetry,
but for now, I fold against a wall
in a way that eases my back,
and thumb through messages.

In a hospice room in Brittany,
my father-in-law is dying of cancer.
The doctor says when the pain comes
that will be a signal. The signal.

Through a doorway
I can see bandaged ankles,
knee braces, thigh wraps.
Dancers balance and jump
on calloused, scarred feet.

They are young and beautiful
and already know a great deal
about pain. The musicians do too,
talking with familiarity
about repetitive stress injuries.

And they too may know
someone who is dying
at this very moment,
perhaps nearby,
perhaps far away.

I turn off my phone,
and step into a studio,
crossing the threshold
that clears away concerns
at least temporarily.
This is what art making is,

a momentary amnesia,
a pausing, and perhaps
that’s all it is because
the signal will come
for those we love,
and nothing we do,
will stop it or change it.

The students regard me,
curious as to why I am there
and what I will ask of them.
A moment ago, I thought I knew.
but suddenly I consider telling them
how I used to bring my daughter
to the school to watch dances
and afterwards she would play
choreographer, each time ending
stretched out on the floor
with her eyes closed, and I consider
telling them how my father-in-law
lives in Finisterre, which means
the end of the earth, a name
and phrase I’ve always loved.
From his window, he can see

the sea, the edge of everything.
And I consider telling them
in the hallway I remembered
when my grandfather built a seawall.
A man, more comfortable with tools
than children, he kept grumbling
for us to get out of the way, then,
once he had shaped the cement
he lined us up to write our names in it.

The students watch and wait,
and I find myself saying something
neither in my notes or my memory.
I’m going to start by reading some poems,
and I want you to see if you can tell
which ones are by people still alive
and which by those long since dead.

Some students look worried,
some lean forward.

Joseph Mills
+++ from Bodies in Motion, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2022; first appeared in Sky Island Journal

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Physics

We may not have understood the laws of motion,
but we exemplified them. Inertia kept us from moving
onto the dance floor, but once we started we wanted
to keep going and grumbled when the band stopped.
We spent each night colliding with and recoiling from
one another. Forget the falling apple. Isaac Newton
would have looked at our rumpled sweat-stained shirts,
wayward hair, our staggering orbits, and said, Eureka!
Or perhaps he simply would have shook his head
as he drank and jotted formulas and vectors on napkins,
notes he would crumple after closing time as we all stood
on the sidewalk in the dark, a cluster of wandering bodies.

Joseph Mills
+++ from Bodies in Motion, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2022; first appeared in Change Seven Magazine

 

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Gratitude

After a dance,
thank your partner

no matter how good
either of you are.

Thank them to acknowledge
how unnecessary it is
such dancing

and so how much more
a gift

Thank them
for giving you
a part of their life.

Thank them
for allowing you
to give a part of yours.

Joseph Mills
+++ from Bodies in Motion, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2022; first appeared in The Power of Goodness

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Doughton Park Tree 4/30/2022

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[with poems by Joseph Bathanti]

In my post of May 20, I wrote this: Green is God’s best idea.

I wasn’t kidding. None of us would be here without green. Slugs, snow leopards, billionaires, and all the rest of us, we only have being by the beneficence of creatures that can turn sunlight into sugar.

I expected a rebuttal, however, to the best idea position. Wait, isn’t Homo sapiens God’s best idea? Humans, are we not the pinnacle? To have dominion over all (some would say dominance)? Do grey wolves and groundhogs even have souls? Not to mention old growth hemlocks?

Perhaps we humans, with our large and complex brains of which we are so proud, are the only creatures that have evolved an awareness of God’s presence. Perhaps, though, all other creatures live their every precognitive moment within that enfolding perfect presence. Perhaps we have yet to attain the harmony of oneness which must be every creature’s reason for being – perhaps grey wolves and ground hogs are born into it.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Genesis 2:15 (New International Version)

Here’s a good idea: Perhaps each one us, almost nine billion now, might consider one way we can contribute to the loving care we take of this single known planet in the cosmos which harbors God-aware organisms.

The contemporary ecological crisis, in fact, lays bare precisely our incapacity to perceive the physical world as impregnated with divine presence. We have swapped the lofty vision of the physical world as God’s own abode, sanctified by the incarnation of the Son of God, with the one-dimensional mechanistic outlook of modernity. Father Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity, and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. William Blake

To me, to worship God means to recognize that mind and intelligence are woven into the fabric of our universe in a way that altogether surpasses our comprehension. Freeman Dyson

Look at the animals roaming the forest: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the birds flying across the sky: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the tiny insects crawling in the grass: God’s spirit dwells within them. Pelagius

Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment. R. Buckminster Fuller

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April Snow

The grass whelps in biblical mien –
mowers spend themselves –

a writ of greenest green,
spangled in sunbursts,

as if Van Gogh decided on
the remnant petrified thistle,

the first violets at his feet,
and painted Billings’ meadow.

Robins pompously swagger.
Swifts (little crosses)

jet above them. Birdsong.
Frog-song. Early spring

by habit exaggerates itself,
the green a blinding recognition.

To the ridge mount pines and firs.
Ancient hardwoods swell

by the day with bringing forth.
Blackberry whip the swales,

its cane shrove-purple
from the long winter.

In Sugar Grove, daffodils worship
on the abandoned Ruritan diamond.

Bases bleach in the dirt.
Home plate is a pentagon.

It forgets nothing.
Life is more than fable,

but never stops stunning earth.
And so: hushed clouds, sheepish,

sheep-shaped, yet foretold,
slip over Snake Den Mountain.

Their shadows blanket the valley floor.
The snow they release is inevitable.

This is how we must think of it –
inevitable – how we must welcome it,

the white behest of silence,
the green beneath it jade, milky.

Joseph Bathanti

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April Snow and Floyd County, Kentucky are from Joseph Bathanti’s new book, Light at the Seam (LSU Press © 2022). The poems are about Appalachian coal country, its people, its deep spirit, its devastation by the mining practice of mountaintop removal. Many are inspired by photographer Carl Galie’s exhibition Lost on the Road to Oblivion: The Vanishing Beauty of Coal County and these lines are deeply visual and sensual. Joseph’s language is earthy and exalted; it synergizes with his intimate observations to make us reverent participants. Care for the earth as your beloved; enter as an acolyte into this tender presence; discover, deep within, light at the seam.

❦ ❦ ❦

Floyd County, Kentucky

No lintel to speak of,
but a chicken wire screen
door hinged on twelve-inch

block and lattice, jittering,
wind chimes knelling,
each time a charge grunts –

off-thunder rumbling the hollows.
The masonry had been sound;
shock split the seams: gashes

of mortar where it’s been repointed,
caulked sashes.
Number 2 pine gone ashy, fixing

to rot; the dooryard
held in a brazen of peonies,
rickety picket once-white

to corset them, pink-red
like the font in Luke
where Jesus says to John:

. . . the Son of Man hath not where to lay His Head.
Just inside hangs a woman’s shawl,
slick, see-through as onion skin;

maybe it’s parchment,
scrivened in bodement,
the letters gone to blood.

It can drive you to your knees:
how folks set out flowers
and look upon the earth.

Joseph Bathanti

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Doughton Park Tree, 2022-05-17B

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[with poems by Carl Phillips, Janice Harrington, Ross Gay]

Green is God’s best idea.

Yesterday afternoon Linda and I drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway for a hike at Doughton Park. Crossing Air Bellows Gap (elevation 1,135 m / 3,724 ft) we noticed the new leaves still flashed mint, gold, orange, pink, some foreshadowing their autumn hues. Once we’d climbed up to the overlook at Bluff Mountain, though, we saw the hardwoods down in Basin Cove fully decked in rich deep emerald and kelly, gradations of green from full summer in the bottoms to pale spring at ridgecrest. Which is all just to say: Go, little Chloroplasts, Go!

The first chloroplast was born about 2 billion years ago when an ancient cell engulfed an ancient cyanobacterium. And then didn’t digest it! The cyanobacterium became a tiny green internal organelle and its chlorophyll turned sunlight into sugar for the big cell; the big cell provided a safe home for the cb. They became first plant cell – a match made in heaven! In another mere billion years or so of reproducing like mad (and cranking out oxygen as a waste product), the earth’s atmosphere changed from having zero oxygen to having oxygen enough to support the development of the first animals. Of which you and I, of course, are two. Thank you, Green!

Postscript re: good ideas and all – Linda and I had parked beneath an oak tree. When we’d finished our five miles (including detour around a herd of steers that grazes on NPS land to keep the balds bald) I opened the car door and raised a visible cloud. Swelling eyes, paroxysms of coughing, nose gusher: oak tree in flower = pollen.

To make a seed you need an ovum and pollen. Every green thing that doesn’t make seeds makes spores instead and is a fern (well, OK, or moss, or liverwort, or lichen, or . . . ). Spores work pretty well but about 400 million years ago the gymnosperms appeared (conifers, ginkgo) and brought with them the first pollen, and when plants became smart enough to make flowers about 135 million years ago (angiosperms) the variety of living things on earth really skyrocketed. Go, Flowers, Go! So if you’ll hand me a tissue, God, I’ll grudge you this: pollen might be your second best idea.

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The Cure

The tree stood dying – dying slowly, in the ususal manner
of trees, slowly, but now without its clusters of spring leaves
taking shape again, already. The limbs that held them tossed,

shifted, the light fell as it does, through them, though it
sometimes looked as if the light were being shaken, as if
by the branches – the light, like leaves, had it been autumn,

scattering down: singly, in fistfuls. Nothing about it to do
with happiness, or glamour. Not sadness either. That much
I could see, finally. I could see, and want to see. The tree

was itself, its branches were branches, shaking, they shook
in the wind like possibility, like impatient escorts bored with
their own restlessness, like hooves in the wake of desire, in

the wake of the dream of it, and like the branches they were.
A sound in the branches like that of luck when it turns, or is
luck itself a fixed thing, around which I myself turn or don’t,

I remember asking – meaning to ask. Where had I been, for
what felt like forever? Where was I? The tree was itself, and
dying; it resembled, with each scattering of light, all the more

persuasively the kind of argument that can at last let go of them,
all the lovely-enough particulars that, for a time, adorned it:
force is force. The tree was itself. The light fell here and there,

through it. Like history. No – history doesn’t fall, we fall
through history, the tree is history, I remember thinking, trying
not to think it, as I lay exhausted down in its crippled shadow.

Carl Phillips

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Today’s selected poems are from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA.

Carl Phillips is the author of nine books of poetry, most recently Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems 1986-2006 and Riding Westward. A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, he teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.

Janice Harrington (b. 1956) grew up in Alabama and Nebraska. After working as a public librarian and as a professional storyteller, Harrington now teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has also written award-winning children’s books.

Ross Gay was born in 1974 in Youngstown, Ohio. He is a Cave Canem Fellow and a recipient of a grant from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts. He teaches poetry at Indiana University in Bloomington and gives readings and workshops in various venues across the country.

❦ ❦ ❦

What There Was

Pine, catalpa, pin oak, persimmon,
but not tree.

Hummingbird, hoot owl, martin, crow,
but not bird

Cannas, honeysuckle, cockscomb, rose,
but not flower.

Wood smoke, corn, dust, outhouse,
but not stench.

A spider spinning in a rain barrel,
the silver dipper by the back porch,
tadpoles shimmying against a concrete bank,
but not silence.

A cotton row, a bucket lowered into a well,
a red dirt road, a winging crow,
but not distance.

A rooster crowing in the evening,
wasps humming beneath the eaves, hounds
baying, hot grease, but not music.

My mother running away at fifteen,
my grandmother lifting a truck to save a life,
an uncle at Pearly Harbor, Webster sitting
at the back of the bus when he looked as white
as they did, but not stories.

The entrails of a slaughtered sow, the child born
with a goat’s face, the cousin laid on a railroad
track, the fire that burned it all, but not death.

This poem, a snuff tin sated with the hair
of all our dead, my mother’s nighttime talks
with her dead father, my great-grandmother’s
clothes passed down, passed down, but not memory.

Janice N. Harrington

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Thank You

If you find yourself half naked
and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
again, the earth’s great, sonorous moan that says
you are the air of the now and gone, that says
all you love will turn to dust,
and will meet you there, do not
raise your fist. Do not raise
your small voice against it. And do not
take cover. Instead, curl your toes
into the grass, watch the cloud
ascending from your lips. Walk
through the garden’s dormant splendor.
Say only, thank you.
Thank you.

Ross Gay

 

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Doughton Park Tree, 2022-05-17A

 

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[with poems by Anthony Walton, Camille Dungy, Marilyn Nelson]

The first time down the path leads // to enlightenment, the second, to wonder; / the third finds us silent, listening

What path have you and I walked that led us here? Anthony Walton’s path is through the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge: between firm ground & marsh, between tidal creek and sound. What paths do we recall through life that carried us between extremes, that brought us to new places?

Literal paths: Bogue Sound when I was ten, over the dunes to the ocean at Emerald Isle when there wasn’t a single house in sight. The old orchard cum housing development in Michigan when I was 13, Larry and I walking to the old pond with the rope swing. Fifty miles of New Mexico I hiked at Philmont at 16, thinking every day of returning home to ask Linda on our first date.

And figurative paths: symbolic journeys, decisions made, setbacks, mistakes, turning points. In hindsight do they seem to have become inevitable, foreordained? Could my life have been different if . . . and would I have even wanted it to be?

To walk a path for the first time – well, of course you can only do that once. It’s been a couple of years since I first hiked the trail I now follow at least once a week: pick up the MST at Isaac’s trail head, westbound to Carter Falls, loop trail and back, about seven miles. I walked it today. This morning for the first time along Grassy Creek I saw a Redstart. Every walk, another first time. And those metaphorical paths – each time I recall, revisit, isn’t it another first time of a sort?

The first path, the first encounter, leads to enlightenment, the next to wonder, then finally silence. Keep walking our paths, whether they be sandy tracks, a mountain climb, an untangling of recollection and past reflection. The first time opens the mind, door to contemplation. The second opens the eyes, to see and be amazed. The third time opens the heart, and in silence may meaning enfold us.

❦ ❦ ❦

In the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge, Thinking of Rachel Carson

The elements raveling and unraveling:
groundwater misting into rain, falling

back into groundwater; salt water wash
through brackish freshwater bordering

sea; we two wandering in late March
along the upland, among evergreens

and bare deciduous and bushes held fast
by the last of the snow, the rush and bubble

of the tidal river winding through low tide,
salt hay, cord and spike grass, walking

the path between firm ground and marsh.
The first time down the path leads

to enlightenment, the second, to wonder;
the third finds us silent, listening

to the few gulls lift and caw as we watch
the wind, which makes itself known

in the sea grass and as it dimples the water,
skimming like sunlight until a Coast Guard

chopper drowns for a moment the drone
of cars and trucks in the distance.

Anthony Walton

❦ ❦ ❦

Language

Silence is one part of speech, the war cry
of wind down a mountain pass another.
A stranger’s voice echoing through lonely
valleys, a lover’s voice rising so close
it’s your own tongue: these are keys to cipher,
the way the high hawk’s key unlocks the throat
of the sky and the coyote’s yip knocks
it shut, the way the aspens’ bells conform
to the breeze while the rapid’s drum defines
resistance. Sage speaks with one voice, pinyon
with another. Rock, wind her hand, water
her brush, spells and then scatters her demands.
Some notes tear and pebble our paths. Some notes
gather: the bank we map our lives around.

Camille T. Dungy

❦ ❦ ❦

Ruellia Noctiflora

A colored man come running at me out of the woods
last Sunday morning.
The junior choir was going to be singing
at Primitive Baptist over in Notasulga,
and we were meeting early to practice.
I remember wishing I was barefoot
in the heavy, cool-looking dew.
And suddenly this tall, rawbone wild man
come puffing out of the woods, shouting
Come see! Come See!
Seemed like my mary janes just stuck
to the gravel. Girl, my heart
Like to abandon ship!

Then I saw by the long tin cylinder
slung over his shoulder on a leather strap
and his hoboish tweed jacket
and the flower in his lapel
that it was the Professor.
He said, gesturing, his tan eyes a blazing,
that last night, walking in the full moon light,
he’d stumbled on
a very rare specimen:
Ruellia noctifloria,
the night-blooming wild petunia.
Said he suddenly sensed a fragrance
and a small white glistening.

It was clearly a petunia:
The yellow future beckoned
from the lip of each tubular flower,
a blaring star of frilly, tongue-like petals.
He’d never seen this species before.
As he tried to place it,
its flowers gaped wider,
catching the moonlight,
suffusing the night with its sent.
All night he watched it
promise silent ecstasy to moths.

If we hurried, I could see it
before it closed to contemplate
becoming seed.
Hand in hand, we entered
the light-spattered morning-dark woods.
Where he pointed was only a white flower
until I saw him seeing it.

Marilyn Nelson

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❦ ❦ ❦

Today’s selected poems are from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA.

Anthony Walton was born in 1960 in Aurora, Illinois. He is the author of Mississippi: American Journey, and editor with Michael S. Harper of The Vintage Book of African American Poetry. He is a professor and the writer-in-residence at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

Camille Dungy edited Black Nature, which won a Northern California Book Award and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. A past professor in the creative writing program at San Francisco State University, she is currently a professor in the English department at Colorado State University.

Marilyn Nelson (b. 1946) is author or translator of many award-winning books and chapbooks, including A Wreath for Emmet Till. She is Professor Emerita of English and University of Connecticut and former Poet Laureate (2001-6) of the state.

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2020-06-11a Doughton Park Tree

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