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Posts Tagged ‘nature photography’

[poetry by Liz Garton Scanlon, Alice Walker,
John Hoppenthaler, Catherine Carter, David Poston]

All the World

Rock, stone, pebble, sand
Body, shoulder, arm, hand
A moat to dig, a shell to keep
All the world is wide and deep

Hive, bee, wings, hum
Husk, cob, corn, yum!
Tomato blossom, fruit so red
All the world’s a garden bed

Tree, trunk, branch, crown
Climbing up and sitting down
Morning sun becomes noon-blue
All the world is old and new

Road, street, track, path
Ship, boat, wooden raft
Nest, bird, feather, fly
All the world has got its sky

Slip, trip, stumble, fall
Tip the bucket, spill it all
Better luck another day
All the world goes round this way

Table, bowl, cup, spoon
Hungry tummy, supper’s soon
Butter, flour, big black pot
All the world is cold and hot

Spreading shadows, setting sun
Crickets, curtains, day is done
A fire takes away the chill
All the world can hold quite still

Nanas, papas, cousins, kin
Piano, harp, and violin
Babies passed from neck to knee
All the world is you and me

Everything you hear, smell, see
All the world is everything
Everything is you and me
Hope and peace and love and trust
All the world is all of us

written by Liz Garton Scanlon
illustrated by Marla Frazee
All the World, Little Simon, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, New York NY, © 2009

❦ ❦ ❦

I love this children’s book by Elizabeth Scanlon – the whirl and dance of the poetry, the absolutely beguiling illustrations by Marla Frazee. It is elemental and compelling, it is joyous and inclusive. It is all of us.

But I had to think long about whether to lead us to Earth Day with this poem. Is it Ecopoetry? Is it a little too much centered on one particular species? How do we celebrate the earth? How do we revere the one blue dot in the universe upon which we can live and thrive?

All the world is all of us. Dogwoods still blooming, warblers arriving, golden ragwort masquerading as weeds, rockfish spawning in Roanoke River, hellbender ugly as sin. Dandelions in the lawn, princess tree crowding out the basswood, wisteria strangling another neglected back lot. Celebrate us all – even while hacking the invaders – but don’t leave out the most aggressive, invasive, threatening species of all. You guessed it – you and me.

One might argue that there are far more pressing needs in our one world than environmentalism. Reminds me of a t-shirt my friend Evan brought me back from a trip to Yellowstone: along with illustrations of various animal scat and the label “Endangered Feces” is the tagline, No Species, No Feces. Which makes the other side of this argument: “No Environment, No World Problems.”

Poverty, politics of hate, racism, homophobia, nationalism, war – how can we make a place in our hearts to worry about our environment when these and so many other worries take priority? Perhaps these things are as intrinsic to our nature as the jillion seeds of princess tree and the invincible roots of wisteria. Are they?

Here’s my thesis – begin reading All the World to every kid at age 2 and by the time they can read it for themselves they may have planted a seed of love within their hearts. They might love themselves no matter what they look like. They might accept a whirling dance of neighbors as their kin. They might have room in their hearts to care about weeds and warblers and ugly giant salamanders.

Think so? Do you think that if we are going to preserve all the world as a place for all to thrive we are going to have to address the aggression, invasiveness, and threat within each one of us? For all the world is all of us . . .

❦ ❦ ❦

We Have a Beautiful Mother

We have a beautiful
mother
Her hills
are buffaloes
Her buffaloes
hills.

We have a beautiful
mother
Her oceans
are wombs
Her wombs
oceans.

We have a beautiful
mother
Her teeth
the white stones
at the edge
of the water
the summer
grasses
her plentiful
hair.

We have a beautiful
mother
Her green lap
immense
Her brown embrace
eternal
Her blue body
everything we know.

Alice Walker

Selected by Becky French (my sister), who writes: I especially like this poem by Alice Walker from her book of meditations titled We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For. The prose that follows the poem in the book is quite poetic as well: The earth mother, who stands behind the Human Mother, can be known by lying on her breast. She can be known by swimming in her oceans, or even by looking at them. She can be known by eating her collard greens and carrots. Savoring her fruits, walking through her wheat fields. She is everywhere, our Mother Earth; … (p. 129).

❦ ❦ ❦

The Whale Gospel

Whales have run aground off Cape Cod again.
What if God created them for us as metaphor?

How like us they are, beached and prostrate,
sand shifting under them with every wave

from heaven. Bloated and murder to move,
they slowly rot in the blurry sunshine, victims

of distress we can’t fathom. All we can think
to say is beware the giant squid, the seaquake,

beware sickness in your leaders. Beware the dark-
eyed shark, sonar’s ping and Japan’s traditional hunger.

The rusty bows of ghost ships
++++++++++++++++++ are singing through the water.

John Hoppenthaler
online in “Two Meditations on Ecology

❦ ❦ ❦

Lactobacilli

Invisible and everywhere,
on your hands,
on your shoes,
in your nose, lining
your ells of bowel,
we lay down scraps
of chromosomes
and pick them up
like screwdrivers
or cards, if half the cards
are wild as sauerkraut-
e. coli, listeria,
seaweed, straight flush.

Nor are you you,
some single entity
cruising the lonely black
star-seas like a whale:
you are a ship, a host,
the poker table.
We are crew
and players and spirit,
your spirit, the one many-
bodied soul you can know
for sure. Genius loci.
Spirits of place.
Full house.

Catherine Carter
Southern Humanities Review, Spring 2020

❦ ❦ ❦

The Garden Takes over Itself

the world is sacred++++ it cannot be improved
snow is shadow++++ ice is light
we breathe++++ and wildness comes in
bit by bit++++ the garden takes over itself

snow is shadow++++ ice is light
the moon not only full++++ but beautiful
bit by bit++++ the garden takes over itself
after we leave it++++ we dream of falling

the moon not only full++++ but beautiful
descending and ascending++++ all our lives
after we leave it++++ we dream of falling
the space within us++++ is not our own

ascending and descending++++ all our lives
the world is sacred++++ it cannot be improved
the space within us++++ is not our own
we breathe++++ and wildness comes in

David E. Poston
from Iodine Poetry Journal XVII (2016): 105.
Reprinted as POETRY IN PLAIN SIGHT poster. NC Poetry Society, 2021.

“the world is sacred…” from Lao Tzu, quoted by Jack Turner interviewed by Leath Tonino (The Sun Aug. 2014)
“we breathe…” also from Jack Turner
“snow is shadow…” is Barbara Sjoholm in The Palace of the Snow Queen
“the moon not only full…” is from Aldous Huxley’s Meditation on the Moon
“…the garden takes over itself” is from Sandra Cisneros, in The House on Mango Street

❦ ❦ ❦

Early in April I asked readers to share a favorite poem that celebrates the interdependence and interconnection of all life on earth. I am including their offerings in three posts before, on, and after Earth Day, April 22. Thank you to those who responded, and thanks to all of you who read this page and share in the celebration.
❦ Bill Griffin ❦

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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

IMG_2931

 

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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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Hepatica americana (Buttercup family), last year’s foliage and new barely opened blossoms

[with 3 poems by Sam Love]

On March 15 I walked an Elkin trail I hadn’t visited in months. The Elkin & Allegheny Nature Trail includes a couple of miles of restored railway grade and many more miles of side trails, loops, and spurs, plus 5-6 miles of intermediate level bike trail. I hiked most of those miles on the 15th but only partially for the exercise – I was walking mostly for ephemera.

Note the date. Looking back at my photos and notes I uncover Hepatica blooming as early as January 27, a single plant in a protected hollow, but usually here in Elkin, elevation around 1000 feet, the earliest Hepatica and Trout Lily emerge toward the middle or end of February. So who’ll be showing themselves mid-March? I ask myself, and how long will they last?

The study of cyclical biological phenomena is phenology. When do migrating warblers arrive from Central America? We saw our first Ovenbird March 19; I heard a Northern Parula out back on April 3. When do Wood Frogs lay eggs? When do Midges and Mayflies hatch out and Eastern Bluebirds build their nests? Sometimes local weather affects a given year’s record but longer term trends are linked to climate change. Can’t help worrying about those Parulas if the hatching of their chicks is out of sync with the juicy bugs. Phenology is a leading indicator of climate change impact, especially on vulnerable species.

For today, my phenology project is discovering tiny blooms just making their appearance.

And if that weren’t enough, as I walk a section of bike trail beside Elkin Creek a pair of wood ducks skitter up from the water and the male flashes his phenomenal colors before they veer around a bend.

Solitary Pussytoes, Antennaria solitaria (Aster Family), flowers less than 10 mm in diameter

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A Monument to Another Time

A winding rutted road
rambles through scattered rocks
to an abandoned homestead
that traces time backwards.

In the overgrown clearing
a hand laid stone chimney
pokes above winding vines
and gnarled tree limbs.

The fireplace stands as
tribute to an unknown mason
whose calloused hands
meticulously stacked the stones.

With the charred house gone
front porch music
no longer blesses the mountain
with notes and harmonies
that surf the Appalachian wind.

In spring wild flowers
scatter sun dappled beauty
among the crannies of this dream
of a simpler life, an abundant garden
and a small homestead taming nature.

Through winter the chimney
stands alone among
a palette of brown hues
that wait for spring shoots
to burst forth and repaint
the landscape.

Sam Love
Earth Resonance – Poems for a Viable Future, The Poetry Box, Portland, Oregon, © 2022

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Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis (Poppy family, Order Ranunculales), flower barely unfurling

 

Yellow Trout Lily (Adder’s Tongue, Dogtooth Violet, Erythronium americanum (Lily family)

 

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Thanks to Sam Love for alerting me to his new book of poetry about ecology and the environment: Earth Resonance – Poems for a Viable Future. Such an edgy relationship we humans have with all the other creatures in our biosphere. Mostly we ignore them except when they’re on our dinner plates. Any surprise that we have so much trouble getting along with things that creep and crawl and skitter and pounce (much less the ones that just stand there being green) when we can hardly get along with they guy whose yard sign doesn’t match ours?

And thanks to the Town of Elkin Recreation Department and the Elkin Valley Trails Association for all the great places to walk!

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Visiting Khatyn
+++Peace Memorial in Minsk Region, Belarus

At sunset each step up the earthen berm
slowly reveals stone chimneys standing
as monuments to an unimagined darkness
that reduced hundreds of villages
to stone rubble and ashen timbers.

Across the field masonry memorializes
thousands of villagers burned alive
as Fascists sought revenge
for partisan guerilla attacks
launched from surrounding forests.

On hearths reaching to the horizon
urns rest filled with ashes and soil
scooped from the 628 flamed hamlets.
Each now lovingly stands as
a spiritual reminder of war’s insanity.

Three solitary birch trees and an eternal flame
symbolize the one quarter of Belarusians killed
in the world war that targeted their villages.
On this site twenty-six bells toll every hour
to remember the homes that once stood here.

The wind that whipped the flames
and charred the flesh, now cleanses the earth
leaving only spirits to haunt the memorial
and remind us of the horrors of war.

Sam Love

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Virginia Pennywort, Obolaria virginica (Gentian family), flowers just about to open

 

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Turtle Earth

In the Lenape creation story—Nanapush asks,
“Who will let me put cedar branches on top of you
so that all the animals can live on you?”
And the turtle says, “You can put them on me
and I’ll float on the water.”

In a vision the Native American holy man
sees the animals bringing earth
from under the water to make land
on the back of the turtle
to create a verdant Eden
where plants and animals flourish.

In another dream the Indian shaman
sleeps a long sleep and
sees a barren turtle
with writhing serpents
thrashing rattlers through portals
in its armor-plated shell.

This hollow eerie sound
resonates with a dry rattle
of primordial notes memorializing
the emerging death of nature.

Sam Love

Virginia Heartleaf, Hexastylis virginica, tiny brown jugs are the flowers just emerging

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IMG_1948

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NCPS Chappell Stephenson

 

C ++++ THE EPIGRAMMATIST

Mankind perishes. The world goes dark.
He racks his brain for a tart remark.

Fred Chappell

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Poets are a sober and studious lot. Profoundly introspective, respectably staid. Their rhymes are the quintessence of conservatism and decorum, their meter most martial. Their lines are ever crafted and solid as Cold War architecture, their images invariably  illuminate and never titillate. Their thoughts are only a little lower than the angels’.

No poet and no poet’s poetry better represent these fundamental verities than Fred Chappell and Fred Chappell’s. For today’s APRIL FIRST missive we have selected the utmost in staid, respectable, and illuminating offerings from a book by Old Fred (as he has called himself) titled simply C (Roman numeral “100,” designating the exact number of poems in the book as well as Dr. Chappell’s initial, which this writer had not actually remarked upon for the first 29 years that he owned this book until today over lunch while he was reading aloud and his wife commented on the typeface, then pointed out the connection to the author’s last name). Illuminatio Lector.

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V ++++ HOW TO DO IT

“Chappell – you who love to jest –
Hear the things that make life blest:
Family money not got by earning;
A fertile farm, a hearthfire burning;
No lawsuits and no formal dress;
A healthy body and a mind at peace;
Friends whom tactful frankness pleases;
Good meals without exotic sauces;
Sober nights that still spark life;
A faithful yet a sexy wife;
Sleep that makes the darkness brief;
Contentment with what you plainly need;
A death not longed for, but without dread.”
++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ – Martial

VI ++++ REJOINDER

Now let’s even up the score
And tell what things make life a bore:
Sappy girls who kiss and tell;
Televangelists’ threats of hell;
Whining chain saws, mating cats;
Republicans; and Democrats;
Expertly tearful on their knees,
Plushlined senators copping pleas,
Swearing by the Rock of Ages
That they did not molest their pages;
Insurance forms and tax reports;
Flabby jokes and lame retorts;
Do-gooders, jocks, and feminists;
Poems that are merely lists.

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All of today’s poems, epigrams, epitaphs, enlightenment, and erudition are from C, by Fred Chappell, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge & London, © 1993.

Fred Chappell is the author of more than thirty volumes of poetry and prose. He has received the Bollingen Prize, the T. S. Eliot Award, and the Thomas Wolfe Prize. His fiction has been translated into more than a dozen languages and received the Best Foreign Book Award from the Académie Française. He was the poet laureate of North Carolina from 1997 to 2002. [bio from LSU PRESS]

NCPS

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XV ++++ UPON A CONFESSIONAL POET

You’ve shown us all in stark undress
The sins you needed to confess.
If my peccadilloes were so small
I never would undress at all.

 

XXIII ++++ LITERARY CRITIC

Blandword died, and now his ghost
Drifts gray through lobby, office, hall.
Some mourn diminished presence; most
Can see no difference at all.

XXVI ++++ ANOTHER

Blossom’s footnotes never shirk
The task of touting his own work.

 

NCPSNCPS

 

LIII ++++ EL PERFECTO

Senator No sets up as referee
Of everything we read and think and see.
His justification for such stiff decreeing
Is being born a perfect human being
Without a jot of blemish, taint, or flaw,
The Dixie embodiment of Moral Law,
Quite fit and eager to pursue the quarrel
With God Whose handiwork he finds immoral.

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NCPS

 

LXXIX ++++ UPON AN AMOROUS OLD COUPLE

This coltish April weather
Has caused them to aspire
to rub dry sticks together
In hopes that they’ll catch fire.

 

XLI ++++ RX

Dr. Rigsbee
Drank all my whiskey.
He said, when I objected, “Hell,
Fred, you’re paying me to make you well.”
++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ – Martial

 

LXVIII ++++ EPITAPH: PREVARICATION

A lonely sorrow
This monument tells:
Here lies one
Who did nothing else.

NCPS Laughter

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And the penultimate:

XCIX ++++ APOLOGY

If any line I’ve scribbled here
Has caused a politician shame
Or brought a quack a troubled night
Or given a critic a twinge of fear
Or made a poet’s fame appear
Transitory as candleflame,
Why then, I gladly sign my name:
Maybe I did something right.

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And one last item, and about this there is no fooling:
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY MARGARET AND JOSH!

 

Margaret & Josh , April 1, 2016

 

LXII ++++ WEDDING ANNIVERSARY

Gale winds tore this tree
And drought and frost came near
To killing it. But see:
In its thirtieth year
It blooms like a candleflame,
And puts its youth to shame.

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NCPS

 

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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[with poetry by Alana Dagenhart]

Here, take some with you. You’re not likely to leave my Dad’s presence without hearing these words. It could be a little plastic tub of leftovers from the meal I just brought him and Mom; maybe cookies or a chocolate; a couple of apples – he says he and Mom can’t eat them all. You’ll definitely be carrying the stack of New Yorkers and Sunday funnies he’s been saving. Just try leaving empty handed after visiting my Dad, just try.

Here, take some. How many years before I realized he always has and always will say this? How long have I been trying to analyze why he does? Does anyone ever really understand their father (or their son, for that matter)?

Here, take. It can be too easy to overlook Dad’s deep, even urgent, desire to give. He may seem stubborn and commandeering (just like me, although I prefer “assertive”). He takes charge of every conversation (probably because he literally can’t hear anyone talking but himself; maybe he thinks he’s just filling an awkward lull). Admit it, he acts like a Dad – so let me cut him some slack and open my eyes to the source of his generous essence.

Dad grew up during the Depression in the rural South – just imagine. World War II paid for him to go to Duke. He worked for the same huge company from the time I was four until he retired; he always seemed to be traveling and working at home nights & weekends. Because of Dad’s promotions we moved three times in two years while I was in Junior High (origin of my many quirks, no doubt), but then he declined promotions so my little sister didn’t have to move midway through High School.

Dad saw to it that I graduated from university and med school with no more debt than I could manage. When Linda and I got married and our old boat of a car couldn’t bear the load, Dad towed a trailer from Ohio to North Carolina to meet us after our honeymoon. All these years I can’t recall him spending money on himself, except maybe golf clubs every few decades, but Dad will keep shelling out whatever it takes to maintain the old beach house so all his grandkids can go on enjoying it after he and Mom are gone.

Don’t you want some more? Oh yeah, that’s the other thing Dad says. I hope he can hear me when I reply, “Thanks, Dad, it’s been plenty.”

 

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All the Silver Space

Fire pops and burns blue, Sunday morning
October in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Hiss and hum, the constant roaring –
wood is changing,
solid to light,
before my eyes
like you, Dad
muscle to sacks of dry ice.
We both know.

I walk the mountain top trail
yearning for afternoon heat,
your sun in my bones

Sunset: the inside of a buttercup
empty at the horizon.
The sky fades like a tie-dyed tee-shirt,
from canary to lizard
gravel to irises to ocean.
The underbellies of clouds
are streaked in cotton candy.

Moon again, full and daring
around pine and rock.
Your blue eyes
not saying what we know
to be true. Back

cover first.
I knew to look,
bottom corner,
last page of the book,
your handwriting
small and faint.
You didn’t even want to leave a mark.

Alana Dagenhart

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Alana Dagenhart’s Yellow Leaves is not a narrative time line, it is a lyrical collage of visions and visitations interwoven with the relentless thread of her father’s death. We enter her dreams, intrusive but illuminating; we get to know ancestors imagined and remembered; we are invited to share Alana’s days most mundane and most profound. The thread of family tangles and unspools, knots and releases, and what could be dark, somber, a burden too heavy, becomes another bright morning, all the colors of revelation, a yellow leaf whirled and unsettled finally discovering its place of rest.

All today’s poems are from Yellow Leaves, Alana Dagenhart, Redhawk Publications, Hickory, NC. © 2022

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Yellow Then, Will Fly to Every Eave

The blackest bruise
of our human trauma may
not heal completely through.
Some lingering yellow stays.

But Nature’s first green is gold,
her hardest hue to hold,
and what was yellow once and bold
fades in time in form and folds.

Blue will tend the sky of day,
and black will stay the night,
but yellow always leaves again
when sun is out of sight.

Death’s second self, made up of all
the dark the Earth contains,
snuffs bright yellow out, till
none but veiled despair remains.

Then violence bangs
& cuts us to our knees,
blooded-violet searing pain,
rooted between burning trees,

Coral dies, and chestnuts’ blight,
and green is gone –
all gone to dust and yellow leaves.

Unless a poet writing through the night,
will pen an echo fluttering of light
and yellow the, will fly to every eave
and someone late will read from time-tinged leaves

a verse or tow that speaks to them alone
a shelter of thatched pages, like a home.

Alana Dagenhart

Nature’s first green . . . from Robert Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay; Death’s second self from Shakespeare Sonnet 73.

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What Yellow Light

illuminates the fields of the dead?
What fevered hue burns hot
on the faces of our beloved?

What lime? What straw?

What platinum beam cast triangles
on the oak board floors
of the room they wait
beyond this spectrum?

The Yellow Submarine blaring loud
COMCRUDESLANT command
where sailor scrub-shine metal
and Navy top brass smile big teeth
behind sunglasses?

The neon yellow of the pick-up truck
where my brother and I rode
our backs against the cab
in October, Boone, the Blue Ridge
with our legs under a patchwork quilt?

Th old gold of historic hallways
restored in the color of statesmen?

The palest lemonade sides
of papa’s house, squash in the filed
a buckwheat horse?

The sure blonde of my towheaded little brother?

What frequency has that light?

Is it far from here?

Alana Dagenhart

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POSTSCRIPT: Dad at age 95 says some scary stuff, too. The most anxiety provoking = I have complete confidence in my ability to drive. The ability part is scary enough but the confidence is terrifying.

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

 

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[poems by James Dickey, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost]

Last Friday I got to play a new game with my grandson Bert, one he made up with his Dad – This Animal. We had walked a mile or so on the Crabtree Creek Greenway in Raleigh and it was time to head home. Along the waterway there were plenty of enticements: red-headed woodpecker at the tip of a snag; big splashes chunking clinkers into the stream; Spring Beauties (why does Pappy kneel down and look at every flower?); tiny slug rescued from squishing.

Now we’ve turned into the neighborhoods to walk on home. Sidewalks. Lawns. Much less exciting. Soon I hear a little voice pipe up, “Let’s play This Animal!”

I get first crack. “I’m an animal that sleeps during the day . . .” “No, Pappy! You have to say This Animal!” Oh yeah, got it. Four-year olds are sticklers for protocol. “This animal sleeps during the day hanging upside down then flies around at night catching insects.”

“A bat!”

Bert knows his animals. In his presence you’d better not mistake a Blue Whale for a Sperm Whale. Or even a Crocodile for an Alligator. Now it’s his turn: “This Animal has ten legs, a stinger, AND claws!” (Hint: In his pocket Bert is clasping the plastic scorpion he’s been playing with all afternoon.)

What a kid! One of these days we’ll kick the game up a notch to This Bird. He can already name most of them that come to the feeder. And I can foresee the day when Bert has me totally stumped as we play This Lichen.

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The Heaven of Animals

Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing, desperately
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.

For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.

James Dickey (1923-1997)
from The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1945-1992. Copyright © 1992 by James Dickey.

 

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All three of today’s poems are collected in The Ecopoetry Anthology; Edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

Today’s photographs are from the exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Exquisite Creatures by Christopher Marley. These amazing works are created by Marley from preserved specimens from around the world (and no vertebrates were killed in creating his art). The Museum describes this as a dialogue with art, nature and science, and Marley states his intention to allow each of us to tap into our innate biophilia, our love of life and living things.

Oh yes, and the little plastic insects came from the Museum gift shop. We all had to stop and play with them as soon as we left the building.

[The last day of the exhibit in North Carolina is March 20, 2022. It is appearing simultaneously in Idaho; check for future exhibits at Christopher Marley’s site.]

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Spring and All

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)
from Spring and All, first published in 1923 by Robert McAlmon’s Contact Publishing Co.

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The Need of Being Versed in Country Things

The house had gone to bring again
To the midnight sky a sunset glow.
Now the chimney was all of the house that stood,
Like a pistil after the petals go.

The barn opposed across the way,
That would have joined the house in flame
Had it been the will of the wind, was left
To bear forsaken the place’s name.

No more it opened with all one end
For teams that came by the stony road
To drum on the floor with scurrying hoofs
And brush the mow with the summer load.

The birds that came to it through the air
At broken windows flew out and in,
Their murmur more like the sigh we sigh
From too much dwelling on what has been.

Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf,
And the aged elm, though touched with fire;
And the dry pump flung up an awkward arm;
And the fence post carried a strand of wire.

For them there was really nothing sad.
But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,
One had to be versed in country things
Not to believe the phoebes wept.

Robert Frost (1874-1963)
first published in 1923 in Frost’s New Hampshire poetry collection; public domain.

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IMG_1827

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[with 3 poems by Scott Owens]

Which came first? Separate a few of the living creatures in the photo above and see what you can identify: the distinctive mottled leaf of Saxifrage; beneath it a glimpse of moss, its diminutive creeping green; a big hairy leaf, I should know that one but I don’t. Down in the damp there’s bound to be a little township of bacteria, waterbears, wormy things, arthropods.

And what’s that right in the center? A little stemmed goblet corroded like verdigris growing out of that patch of gray-green flakes (squamules)? Center stage – lichen, probably Cladonia pyxidata. Its tiny cup is pebbled within by extra lichen bits growing there (more squamules!) and some of the rough and powdery appearance may be an obligate lichen-loving fungus taken up residence. So which came first in this little community of many kingdoms and phyla?

Most likely the lichen comes first. It can hold onto bare rock where nothing else lives. It gathers moisture into itself out of the very air and how could a wandering moss spore resist? Anything drifting by may land and latch. Plus that little lichen chemical factory can break down rock so that others may use the minerals. Pretty soon a Saxifrage seed finds just enough earth to sprout and enough wet to grow and wedge its roots further into rock (saxifrage = rock-breaker). Everything discovers what they need; everyone adds to the life of the community.

What gifts may I add to my little community? A bit of cautious optimism and encouragement. An appreciation for all living things (OK, yes, that does extend to human beings, at least I’m trying my best). Appreciation of a good joke and appreciation as well of the folks who tell bad jokes. Curiosity and a sense of wonder. The world’s best recipe for Nutty Fingers.

We all need something but we all bring something. Who knows, maybe what I’ve got is just what you need. When one really gets down to it, all the stuff growing in that photo looks pretty haphazard and messy. Just like a real community. Just like life.

And if you know what that hairy leaf is, please tell me!

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In the Cathedral of Fallen Trees

Each time he thinks something special
will happen, he’ll see the sky resting
on bent backs of trees, he’ll find
the wind hiding in hands of leaves,

he’ll read some secret love scratched
in the skin of a tree just fallen.
Because he found that trees were not
forever, that even trees he knew

grew recklessly towards falling,
he gave in to the wisteria’s plan
to glorify the dead. He sat down
beneath the arches of limbs reaching

over him, felt the light spread
through stained glass windows of leaves,
saw every stump as a silent altar,
each branch a pulpit’s tongue.

He did not expect the hawk to be here.
He had no design to find the meaning
of wild ginger, to see leaves soaked
with slime trails of things just past.

He thought only to listen
to the persistent breathing of tres,
to quiet whispers of leaves in wind,
secrets written in storied rings.

Each time he thinks something special
will happen. He returns with a handful
of dirt, a stone shaped like a bowl,
a small tree once rootbound against a larger.

Scott Owens
from Sky Full of Stars and Dreaming, Red Hawk Publications, © 2021

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I’ve admired Scott Owens for many years, not only as a poet but even more so as a builder of community. Scott’s writing wields its openness, its wonder, its unflinching honesty to invite us to realize we are all part of one human family. As in his poem, Words and What They Say: the hope we have / grows stronger / when we can put it into words. Not only words – in everything else he does Scott is building as well. He teaches, he mentors, he makes opportunities happen for the people around him. Perhaps his poems are a window into why he values people as he does, and why he works so hard to make hope a reality.

Sky Full of Stars and Dreaming is Scott Owens’s sixteenth poetry collection. He is Professor of Poetry at Lenoir Rhyne University, former editor of Wild Goose Poetry Review and Southern Poetry Review, and he owns and operates Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse and Gallery where he coordinates innumerable readings and open mics, including POETRY HICKORY, and enlarges the community of creativity.

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The Possibility of Substance Beyond Reflection

I didn’t see the V of geese fly overhead in the slate gray sky as I sat waiting for a reading in my Prius in front of the Royal Bean Coffee House & Gift Shop in Raleigh, NC.

What I saw was the V of geese presumably flying overhead in the slate gray sky reflected in the slate gray hood of the Honda CRV parked before me in front of the Royal Bean Coffee House & Gift Shop in Raleigh, NC.

And they took a long time to travel such a short distance, up one quarter panel, across one contoured crease, then the broad canvas of the hood’s main body, down the other crease and onto the edge of the opposite quarter panel before

disappearing into the unreflective nothingness beyond, where even they had to question just how real they were or just how real they might have been.

Scott Owens
from Sky Full of Stars and Dreaming, Red Hawk Publications, © 2021

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Sharing a Drink on My 55th Birthday

Sharing a drink on my 55th birthday,
my son, his tongue firmly planted
in his cheek, asks what advice I have
for those not yet as old as I,
and I, having had too much to drink,
miss his humor and tell him
always get up at 5
as if you don’t want to miss
any part of any day you can manage.
Clean up your own mess
and don’t clean up after those who won’t.
Take the long way home,
hoping to see something new,
or something you don’t
want to not see again.
Stay up late, drink in as much
of every day as you can.
Be drunk on life, on love, on trees,
on mountains, on spring,
on rivers that go the way
they know to go,
on words, on art, on dancing,
on poetry, on the newborn
fighting against nonexistence,
on night skies, on dreams, on mere minutes,
on the ocean that stretches beyond
what you ever imagined forever could be.
And when someone asks you
what advice you have, give them,
as you’ve given everyone and everything,
the best of what you have.

Scott Owens
from Sky Full of Stars and Dreaming, Red Hawk Publications, © 2021

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*** Extra Geek Credit — the lichen Cladonia pyxidata is host to the lichenicolous (lives on lichens) fungus Lichenoconium pyxidatae. Such fungi are parasites of their lichen host and mostly specific to a single genus or even to single species of lichen, but although some may be pathogens for the lichen in many cases the relationship is commensal. No harm done. Join the party!

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[poems by Bill Griffin, John Morgan, Anne McCrary Sullivan]

Always something new. Trees I’ve passed a dozen times, these stones, did they always look like this? Oh sure, no doubt those gray-green blotches scattered here & there just so sparked some cryptic synapse of recognition: lichen. But slow down, kneel, look close and learn, understand a fragment of what is happening here and has been happening for too long to grasp. Always something new to discover.

How do they do it? Fungal hyphae, infinitely winding threads coil to embrace their chosen algae, held in their arms like waifs. Separate them, fungus and plant, separate kingdoms, and the textbook shows their single forms: flask of gray goo, flask of green. Let them mingle, though, and they create miniature cityscapes, ramparts, pastorales wilder than the dreams of Seuss.

But that fungal/algal friendship – it’s not all long-stemmed roses and dark chocolate. In school I learned lichen = symbiosis, mutual give and take, but there’s evidence of some darker biochemical power-brokerage at play. Fungus need’s sugar from algae’s photosynthesis to live (or some fungi hook up with cyanobacteria). Algae get a scaffold for stability, a moist enclave, protection from the sun. But fungus tweaks its algae to make them spill more sugar, and no algal cell is ever free to leave. Vaguely sinister.

Still the two together create a world neither could create alone. How old is it, that 7 cm patch of speckled gray on the rock face half way up Lumber Ridge, staking its stark black divide between the creeping yellow patch adjacent? How long have they been growing there? Ten years? A hundred? Nine hundred species of lichens in the Smokies (at least!) making infinitesimal advances, making spores or little baby lichen granules for the next boulder over, the next bare patch of bark – stable, solid partnerships of mycobiont/photobiont as old as stone. As everlasting and as changeable, evolving, as this gradually eroding ridge.

I will never walk this way again without wondering. Actually, I’ll never walk anywhere without lichen – between the boards on my porch, on every tree (look close!), even thriving on that old junker someone’s hauling west on US 421. I can’t help it now, noticing their different forms and colors. Their sweet pocked apothecia. Their spreading. Lichens, steadfast, pursue their wonderfully odd and ancient lifestyle and I am becoming something new.

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Becoming Something New
+++ Lichens are a lifestyle.
+++ Dr. James Lendemer, NY Botanical Garden

Mountains stretch themselves beneath
the undifferentiated open,

overhead unblinking: ridgeback, rock face,
cove & holler to the sky

look like Chigger Thicket, Princess Shingles
cradled in arms of ageless folded earth

upholding hornbeam, hemlock, oak
yet closer each bole the shepherd

of its own beloved
flocks, foliose & fruticose,

spire cleft & spore sac all sustained
upon the nod of small green globes,

embrace of interlacing hyphae.

From two as far removed as earth and sky
comes something new.

Perhaps we shouldn’t name it love, this dance
so intimate, maybe just the way

life gets things done, gets through
with welcome damp, a speck of sun

for sustenance, enfolding arms
to lean into each other, but consider this:

can any two who persevere
in all this ancient making kingdom

ever take more than they give?

Bill Griffin – for John DiDiego and the Likin’ Lichens course of the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program, Great Smokies Institute at Tremont

Chigger Thicket – Usnea stigosa
Princes Shingles – Cladonia strepsilis
+++ Thanks to Dr. James Lendemer for the common names of lichen
+++ and for opening the door to worlds unseen . . .

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Poetry and the National Park Service

Sometimes a poem takes me to a new place of heart and spirit, like walking through a national park takes me to a new place of earthforms and creatures. These are experiences of curiosity, wonder, awe, renewal – in the encounter I become something new.

The National Park Service is all about poetry. The National Historic Site Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters includes many resources from Romantic nature poetry to Emerson and transcendentalism. Other links at NPS.gov range from Mary Oliver and Ed Roberson to Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner and Arther Sze. Over the years many writers have served as poets-in-residence in various parks; poems they wrote during these times are featured online and I’m sharing two today. The Park Service recognizes the importance of poetry at the interface between human person and nature, as is in this online statement:

Unlike most Romantic nature poetry, which primarily focused on the sentimental beauty of nature, many modern nature poems examine ecological disasters or human’s role in the environment’s decline. Through poetry, these “eco-poets” explore this ever-evolving relationship between human and nature. Some poems bring awareness to ecological crises or challenge readers to reflect on their own relationship with nature. Still, some are odes of gratitude to nature or elegies for the changing environment, and others are a call to action.

National Park Service nature poetry resources
Poems by Poets-in-Residence at National Parks
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow nature poetry at NPS.GOV

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Vision

Followed a fox toward Polychrome Pass.
Red smudged
with black along its lean rib-cage,

it rubs its muzzle on a former meal,
ignores the
impatient poet on its tail.

Then nearing the overlook, sun shearing
through low clouds
transmutes the view to glitter. Everything’s

golden, scintillant. I feel like a seedpod wafted
into space and
check my shaky hands on the steering wheel.

As the road crests over its top, boundaries
dissolve. Beside that
sheer intractable edge, I greet my radiant center,

discharge all my terms. How easy it seems
to channel between
worlds, my old self dying into a new,

with nothing firm to hold me here
but love. And that’s
what nature has it in its power to do.

John Morgan
from his poetry collection entitled The Hungers of the World: Poems from a Residency, written after a stay at Denali National Park in June, 2009.

Of his time in the park John writes, “Being in residence means, in a sense, being at home, and having the wonderful Murie Cabin to live in made me feel a part of the wilderness whenever I stepped outside. Over the course of ten days the boundary between myself and the natural world grew very thin. These intimations culminated, toward the end of my stay, with the experience recounted in the poem Vision.”

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At Season’s End, Singing to The Alligator

I was prepared to arrive at the slough and for the first time
find no gators there, but there was one swimming steadily
away from the boardwalk. I watched.

I began to sing to him (I don’t know why), hum rather.
He slowed down. A coincidence probably. I kept humming.
He stopped, turned sideways, looked at me.

I came then as close to holding my breath
as one can while humming.

He began to submerge (felt safer that way, I suppose)
but did not submerge completely. I hummed.

Slowly, he swam toward me
stopped directly beneath me
hung in the water the way they do
legs dangling, listening.
(Be skeptical if you will.
I know that gator was listening.)

We stayed that way a long time,
I leaning over the rail humming,
he looking up at me, attentive—
until he folded his legs to his body,
waved that muscled tail and left me

alone, dizzy with inexplicable joy.

Anne McCrary Sullivan
from Ecology II: Throat Song from the Everglades, a book of poems inspired by her residency at Everglades National Park.

Of her art Anne writes, “Poetry is a way of seeing. It requires heightened attention to detail and a sensitivity to pattern and relationship. It looks simultaneously at inner and outer worlds, locates connections, and ultimately presents a meaning-charged kernel of experience.”

{Sounds to me like naturalist methods and poetry involve parallel attitudes and aptitudes. – Bill}

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2017-03-06a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 4 poems by Jane Mead]

What is Leafy yet has no Leaves?

On our way home Mike and I pull over at Newfound Gap but not for the Appalachian vistas: it’s our last stop to hunt lichens before we leave the Smokies. And maybe an opportunity to spread some lichen joy.

No need to hunt – stop moving long enough and a lichen will find you. Two old guys squinting through magnifying glasses at rocks and bark, though, and it also isn’t long before a passing family asks, “What gives?” “Looking at all the lichens,” Mike answers. “What’s a lichen?” Jackpot! Mike begins to tell their story . . . “a whole little world of fungus and algae” . . . while I wander on.

Now a couple asks me why I’ve raised my camera toward this one tree among the millions. Spreading from its bark are crooked fingers, hands of crones, veined, flattened, beseeching. “That’s lichen?” says the woman when I tell her. “I thought it looked like wind had plastered leaves against the trunk.” Exactly, that’s just how it looks. But it has no leaves!

Lobaria pulmonaria: Lungwort, you need a new name. Not even remotely kin to spiderworts, toothworts, liverworts, you are no wort at all – though your presence is atmosphere’s benediction. Draw deeply, my lungs! Exhale wonder! What shall we call you, Leafy without Leaves? Troll’s Greeting? Across the Aisle? Or maybe simply Lichen Welcome.

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Three Candles
And a Bowerbird

I do not know why
the three candles must sit
before this oval mirror,

but they must. –
I do not know much
about beauty, though

its consequences
are clearly great – even
to the animals:

to the bowerbird
who steals what is blue,
decorates, paints

his house; to the peacock
who loves the otherwise
useless tail of the peacock –

the tail we love.
The feathers we steal.
Perhaps even to the sunflowers

turning in their Fibonacci
spirals the consequences
are great, or to the mathematical

dunes with ripples
in the equation of all things
windswept. Perhaps

mostly, then, to the wind.
Perhaps mostly to the bowerbird.
I cannot say.

But I light the candles: there is
joy in it. And in the mirror
also, there is joy.

Jane Mead (1958-2019)

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These poems by Jane Mead appear in To the Wren: Collected & New Poems (Alice James Books, Farmington ME, © 2019). The book spans three decades of Mead’s life: running her family’s vineyards in Napa Valley; the death of her mother; her own cancer which ultimately took her life. All through her poetry there is a fierce seeking for identity – But always it’s either I or world. / World or I.  Relentlessly she seeks justice for the earth, for creatures, for the self. Poet Gerald Stern writes, “Jane Mead’s mission is to rescue—to search and rescue; and the mind, above all, does the work…. Her poems are a beautiful search for liberation and rebirth.” Nature is not something we write about; nature is what we are.

[Above poem excerpt by Jane Mead is from In Need of a World.
Three bright yellow lichens of the Smokies found at Newfound Gap:
= Xanthomendoza weberi
= Caloplaca falvovirescens, “Colonel Mustard”
= Caloplaca flavocitrina, “Continental Firecrackers”
++++  – – Species identification revised 2/28/2022 after review by Dr. Lendemer]

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The Argument Against Us

The line of a man’s neck, bent
over welding, torchlight breaking
shadows on his face, hands cracked
into a parched map of fields he has woken –
the gods wanted us.

Think of their patient preparation:
the creature who left the rocking waves behind,
crawling up on some beach, the sun
suddenly becoming clear. Small thing
abandoning water for air, crooked body
not quite fit for either world, but the one
that finally made it. Think of all the others.

Much later, spine uncurls, jaw pulls back, brow-bone
recedes, and as day breaks over the dry plain
a rebellious boy takes an upright step
where primitive birds are shrieking above him.

He did it for nothing. He did it
against all odds. Bone of wrist, twist
of tooth, angel of atoms – an infinity
of courage sorted into fact
against the shining backdrop of the world.

The line of one man’s neck, bent –
torchlight breaking shadows on his face.

There was a creature who left the waves behind
and a naked child on a windy plain:
when the atom rips out into our only world
and we’re carried away on a wave of hot wind
I will love them no less: they are just how much
the gods wanted us.

Jane Mead (1958-2019)

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The Geese

slicing this frozen sky know
where they are going –
and want to get there.

Their call, both strange
and familiar, calls
to the strange and familiar

heart, and the landscape
become the landscape
of being, which becomes

the bright silos and snowy
fields over which the nuanced
and muscular geese are calling.

Jane Mead (1958-2019)

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To the Wren, No Difference
No Difference to the Jay

I came a long
way to believe
in the blue jay

and I did not cheat
anyone. I
came a long way –

through complexities
of bird-sound and calendar
to believe in nothing

before I believed
in the jay.

Jane Mead (1958-2019)

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When Mike Barnett and I stopped at Newfound Gap (on US 441 smack in the middle of Great Smoky Mountains National Park) we were returning from the weekend lichens course at Tremont, part of the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program. We bow down in gratitude to John DiDiego, Education Director at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, for convincing Dr. James Lendemer to teach this course. Dr. Lendemer is chief lichenologist at New York Botanical Gardens and literally wrote the book: Field Guide to the Lichens of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (which weighs 1.48 kg, not so much a “field guide” as an entire encyclopedia!).

Dr. Lendemer in his book names L. pulmonaria “Crown Jewel of America” – it is the biggest baddest lichen of them all. Thank you, James – we love lichens! Thank you GSMIT and SANCP and GSMNP. And thanks to all you little fungal hyphae, algal photobionts, cyanobacteria – you look mah-velous.

Resources:

More by and about Jane Mead at Poetry Foundation.

Field Guide to the Lichens of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Erin A. Tripp and James C. Lendemer, University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, © 2020.

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program.

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2019-02-09 Doughton Park Tree

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[with poetry by William Stafford]

Limbs in the water, shrubby but clean across the stream, three weeks along no change in the heap. Grassy Creek backed up to meadowbank, no flood. Felled beech, bark gnawed away, most but not all. Incisored branches laid straight, unshifted, uneaten. Two brass shell casings, .380 auto.

 

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After the first mile rhythm kicks in. Metronomic footfall. Downbeat rimshot, trekking poles. Syncopated squeaking pack straps (or is that my right knee cartilage?). Inhale . . . Exhale . . . Inhale.

All this rhythm discombobulates at the first uphill. Cross Grassy Creek on Hurt Bridge (named for the land donor, not the ensuing incline). Switchbacks, elevation, what is this jazz riff, 7/4 or 5/2 or both at once? Knee definitely squeaking. Inhale . Exhale . Inhale . Exhale.

Leveling out again, buck up, it wasn’t even half a mile. Here’s a turnoff and sign – spur trail to Grassy Creek Winery. Tempting . . . .

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Sky

I like you with nothing. Are you
what I was? What I will be?
I look out there by the hour,
so clear, so sure. I could
smile, or frown – still nothing.

Be my father, be my mother,
great sleep of blue; reach
far within me; open doors,
find whatever is hiding; invite it
for many clear days in the sun.

When I turn away I know
you are there. We won’t forget
each other: every look is a promise.
Others can’t tell what you say
when it’s the blue voice, when
you come to the window and look for me.

Your word arches over
the roof all day. I know it
within my bowed head, where
the other sky listens.
You will bring me
everything when the time comes.

William Stafford (1914-1993)

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Wherever God has sent me,
the meadowlarks were already there.
++++ from Put These in Your Pipe

Today’s poems are from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, William Stafford, Graywolf Press, 1998. The book contains poems chosen from all of William Stafford’s books from 1977 through 1991 plus a lengthy section of new poems from the last two years of his life. It includes the poem he wrote on the morning of his death.

This is a book you can simply open to any page, sit down, and listen to Mr. Stafford’s voice. It’s a book you can read straight through page by page and discover his deep connections: to the earth, the world, the daily, to you. William Stafford grew up on the Great Plains, lived in the West and Northwest, but especially he lived in the moment and in the particulars of place. He lived through World War II, Korea and Viet Nam as a pacifist. He taught, he argued, he encouraged, but most especially he felt deeply.

I’m reading the book in both ways, meandering trail of pages but also skipping about, bushwhacking. I’m hearing a voice that challenges my heart, pries it open, offers to heal.

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You and Art

Your exact errors make a music
that nobody hears.
Your straying feet find the great dance,
walking alone.
And you live on a world where stumbling
always leads home.

Year after year fits over your face –
when there was youth, your talent
was youth;
later, you find your way by touch
where moss redeems the stone;

And you discover where music begins
before it makes any sound,
far in the mountains where canyons go
still as the always-falling, ever-new flakes of snow.

William Stafford (1914-1993)

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For a Daughter Gone Away

1
When they shook the box, and poured out its chances,
you were appointed to be happy. Even in a prison
they would give you the good cell, one with warm pipes
through it. And one big dream arched over everything:
it was a play after that, and your voice found its range.
What happened reached back all the time, and “the octo,”
“the isped,” and other patterns with songs in them
came to you. Once on the Yukon you found a rock
shaped like a face, and better than keeping it, you placed
it carefully looking away, so that in the morning when
it woke up you were gone.

2
You aw the neighborhood, its trees growing and houses
being, and streets lying there to be run on;
you saved up afternoons, voluptuous warm old fenders
of Cadillacs in the sun, and then the turn of your thought
northward – blends of gold on scenes by Peace River . . .

3
It was always a show, life was – dress, manners –
and always time to walk slowly: here are the rich
who view with alarm and wonder about the world
that used to be tame (they wear good clothes, be courteous);
there are the poets and critics holding their notebooks
ready for ridicule or for the note expressing
amusement (they’re not for real, they perform; if you
take offense they can say, “I was just making
some art”); and here are the perceivers of injustice; they
never have to change expression; here are the officials,
the police, the military, all trying to dissemble
their sense of the power of their uniforms. (And here
at the end is a mirror – to complete the show for ourselves.)

4
Now, running alone in winter before dawn has come
I have heard from the trees a trilling sound, an owl I
suppose, a soft, hesitant voice, a woodwind, a breathy
note. Then it is quiet again, all the way out
in that space that goes on to the end of the world. And I think
of beings more lonely that we are, clinging to branches or drifting
wherever the air moves them through the dark and cold.
I make a sound back, those times, always trying for only
my place, one moving voice touching whatever is present
or might be, even what I cannot see when it comes.

William Stafford (1914-1993)

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