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Posts Tagged ‘nature poetry’

[with 3 poems by Terry Blackhawk]

Monty and I are trying some new knots, big husky knots, and we’re pretty sure we have it right this time. The stalwart little paratrooper I got for Christmas, his broad red and white plastic parachute and the web of thin strings that fix to his shoulders – they just won’t hold together. Each time we fold the chute just so, roll the trooper carefully so nothing tangles, throw it as hard and as high as we can, but the lines come loose as soon as the plastic banner deploys. Our man has plummeted to his death over and over.

It’s 1965. I’ve only been living in Wilmington, Delaware for a few months; the heritage of where I moved from to get here is firmly affixed in the nickname all the other sixth graders have given me – “Memphis.” My new school might as well be Mars Colony A, so distant it seems from Colonial Elementary. I have four different teachers, most of them are men, and they seem determined to require a boy to think. On this final afternoon of winter break, Monty and I are determined to have our last hour of fun.

The breeze has picked up. Most of the snow has melted but our hands are red and chapped – you can’t tie knots with gloves on. We pull the last string tight, tighter, fold and roll, and we’re ready. I hold the soldier like a grenade, lean back, and lob him straight up with a grunt. At the peak of its arc the little package unrolls; red and white unfurls and fills with evening’s breath. The knots hold.

And the wind takes our paratrooper higher and higher into the east.

Monty and I give chase through backyards and down long sidewalks in our housing development. The parachute dims and shrinks in the distance. We run until our sides ache and the brave soldier is out of sight. Gone. We stop, gasping, and stare into the lowering dusk as lights blink on in windows around us.

I imagine my little man has crossed the Delaware River, surprising people who happen to look up from the railroad yards, the factories and warehouses. He holds his lines tight; he swings and sways. Catching the last light from that high vantage, now he can see the Atlantic. I imagine him never coming down.

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The Woodcock

Weary of the daily terror I turn
to the mystic body of the bird. A woodcock
I found crackling the twigs and ivy,
barely escaped from a cat’s clumsy claws.
I feared for the odd angle of its wing,
the surprised flopping it made there,
but I did not fear the extreme length
of its beak or the eyes popping diametrically
on either side of its head. I loved the feathers’
deckled edges and the light weight it made
as I scooped it up and put it, limpsy and weak,
into an old canvas book bag, and when I
released it from that soft safe space
some time later, out on Belle Isle, I missed it
at once, as one would miss a friend.
It whirred straight up, explosively,
toward freedom on the other side of the river,
its pulse now gone from my hands.

Terry Blackhawk
from One Less River, Mayapple Press, Woodstock NY, © 2019 Terry Blackhawk

note: “samples Song of Myself, 10, in which the speaker imagines succoring a runaway slave”

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Sometimes a knot is so twisted and curlicued you can’t make out whether it’s one string or a handful, much less how it all connects. Let’s see, Catherine Carter told me about Katherine Wakefield’s book, which led me to Patricia Hooper, who inspired me to read Terry Blackhawk. Or maybe the lines snake in and out along different paths; maybe I’m leaving out a thread here and there, most likely it goes back way farther even than that. I know, however, that I can count on this – the connections stretch and extend and I’ve not yet reached the end.

Such a warp and weft Terry threads through her book, One Less River. The Detroit River, subtropical shorelines, paths through dunes and forest, paths through myth and memory – the poems take us someplace new with each turning page. But despite shadows and storms these poems don’t cast us alone into dark landscapes. There is light. Light rises from the companionship of solid friends like Whitman and Dickinson, from companionable invitations to partake and be filled of rich intent and novel images. It is possible to wander through this book and be surprised and also reassured. The path will definitely challenge, because living is a challenge and preserving our world is a challenge. At the end we may discover that we are all tied together a little more closely. Our knots are not fetters but the shared bonds of humanness.

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The Extinct Fresh Water Mussels of the Detroit River
+++++++++++++++ for Kathryne Lindberg (1951-2010)

These are gone: the deer-toe maple leaf, the fat
mucket, the snuffbox, the rainbow shell. Here, still,

the rusted manhole cover and the chipping paint,
the lights and arches of the elegant bridge,

all coated no doubt then in ice. Here the breeze,
here the freighters but not the car. Quiet as it’s kept,

it’s no secret the keys were left in the ignition.

Absence makes the fond heart wander, the mind
meander, the river to swallow its flow –

the self-same river, the self-same self, even the one
that knew better, the self that knew better

than to pick up a phony ten-dollar bill folded
to disguise some evangelical come-hither.

Com hither, said the bridge.

Little earwig mussel, pimpleback, northern riffle shell,
something lacy yet along the rim.

In the print gallery a dry-point fox in outline
(“Running Fox,” R. Sintemi, Germany, 1944) floats
as if on the surface of a river, water swelling upward
on the verge of breaking up its lines –

Did you float, dear bat-out-of-hell, dear gnashing teeth –
the pointed ears, the flowing tail outlined on water not water,

on paper not paper, on the not-water before there only was
water, where we are floating now, as over a great uncertainty,
a mirroring surface that hides as much as it reveals.

No more rayed bean, purple warty back, O fragile paper shell
Where was the artist in 1944? What did he do in 1939?

You would have wanted to know.

Terry Blackhawk
from One Less River, Mayapple Press, Woodstock NY, © 2019 Terry Blackhawk

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Again, the Moon

And now the moon, its vitreous pour
so quickly come again
moonstruck moon melon moon

I drive the unfamiliar
town, going where Siri tells me
through unlit streets

I cannot dial back to another
moon, although there have been many –
moons of loss, lists, listing oh the self-
consciousness of the moon

Look at the moon in the sky,
not the one in the lake, says Rumi
The pleasures of heaven are with me
and the pains of hell are with me, says Whitman

So which is the lake and which
the sky? With a moon this bright
I cannot find the stars.

Terry Blackhawk
from One Less River, Mayapple Press, Woodstock NY, © 2019 Terry Blackhawk

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[with 3 poems from Quiet Diamonds
Bob Wickless, Susan Craig, Bill Griffin]

O narrow track, how I have missed you! O wee well trodden way, favorite mile, little path through pasture and wood that my right knee has refused to let me walk for all these weeks, I am so glad to see you again. Last visit you had all but shed your autumn yellows, not to mention cardinalflower reds and pastel meadowbeauties. Now here you are blowing snow across my path.

The season has arrived of whites and browns, feathers and fluff, crowns and rounds – seeds! Hello little calico aster whose name I just learned last summer; now your stems are strung with new stars so fine. Hello crownbeard; petals fallen, you lift your regal head. And hello snowy boneset and thoroughwort; one puff of breeze is all it takes to loft your feathered promises across the meadow.

There is a bare patch below my house beneath the powerline. There is an empty bag in my pocket. You won’t mind, prodigal wingstem, goldenrod, ironweed, if I catch a bit of your seedstuff and carry it home to a new bed? You won’t run short of provender when goldfinches and sparrows come to call. You won’t ever hear me, like some others, name you weeds.

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Prayer in Spring

beginning with a line from Seneca

Not hoping without doubt,
Not doubting without hope,
We enter the slow country
Of change, clad in the garment
Thread through the loom of change,
Woven in green doubt
Though woven in hopes

Greener than any hopes are:
May the clothes of the world
Still fit, in the eye’s mind
And in the mind’s eye, may
Our vision still clear
As the iced eye of the river
Cataracts, loosens, the view

In the breeze of the green flag
That is not failure, in one light
That will melt the white flag
Of surrender – Lord, we had not
Given up though the air had said
Surrender, through the vines, trees
Were all blasted with failure,

Though no light shone
Through the fabric of sky
But one pale and unaccomplished,
Wan, washed out as our vision,
Faded divinity, in the blank
Washed out country called snow,
A world neglected, blue

Now, Lord, even as the sky

Bob Wickless (Reidsville, NC)
from Quiet Diamonds 2022, The Orchard Street Press, Gates Mill OH

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Today in Elkin this blowing snow is windborne seeds of last summer’s asters, but inches of the cold frozen sort are accumulating in northeastern Ohio around Lake Erie. Snow belt – that’s where Linda and I met, dated, and graduated from the high school we walked to through slush & drifts. Call off school for a “snow day” in Ohio? Bah! The last time we visited Portage County was for Linda’s birthday six years ago. The old Aurora Country Club had been converted to a nature preserve – how many species of goldenrod filled those reclaimed fairways? The Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area had since 2000 become a National Park; we still talk about the canal trail, every ten meters another chipmunk to chirp and run across our feet.

Northeastern Ohio lives fondly in our hearts. Just up Chillicothe Road from the Cuyahoga and our old school is the village of Gates Mills and The Orchard Street Press, another font of fondness. OSP editor Jack Kristofco published my chapbook Riverstory : Treestory in 2018, so I most certainly love him, but even more I love the anthology his press produces every year, Quiet Diamonds. This year’s collection is deep and various and moving. The poems can be personal and at the same time universal. I find myself leafing back and forth through the book reading each one several times, in a different sequence, discovering new moods with each passage. So many I would love to feature on this page, wonderfulness from poets all over the US, but here I continue my focus on us Southerners.

Check in with The Orchard Street Press in January for their 2023 contest.

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Looking for the Banded Sphinx

++++++ I’d seen clutched last night to the railing
its wings of veined mahogany like a master craftsman’s
the way my brother’s finest tables
were inlaid in gold and amber

++++++ yet, only the marsh hawk waits
atop the same wooden rail outside the same glass door
its wing-shoulders brownish-gray
as any familiar relative

++++++ and even its flight, when it senses
the small breeze of my arrival, appears
blasé as a loping dog

++++++++++ Last night, the next-door young couples
played guitar as midnight lapsed into new year
sang Jolene in a lusty chorus
that rose and fell like the distant sea pulled
by a stranger’s violin

++++++ I ask my husband about the banded moth
Gone, he says, at first light
without a hint of nuance
++++++ the same way wonder disappears, the way
dust becomes fugitive

++++++++++ My eyes trace mid-morning’s
pale pentimento of moon
while at the edge of marsh a stalking ibis
is osmosed in plumes of fog
where sun glints cold creek
++++++ and we find no reason to speak
as the hawk melds like another riddle into winter’s
moss-draped bones

Susan Craig (Columbia, SC)
from Quiet Diamonds 2022, The Orchard Street Press, Gates Mill OH

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We Never Give Up Hoping

Morning frozen hard. Pour
++++boiling water
into the birdbath;
++++ they will come
to drink when I have gone.

++++ God of holy ice, holy
++++++++ steam,
++++ give my children
++++++++ water
++++ that all my hoping
++++++++ can’t.

Sound of wings, splash
++++ diminishing;
find the world again
++++ iced over.
Fill the kettle. Holy water.

Bill Griffin (Elkin, NC)
from Quiet Diamonds 2022, The Orchard Street Press, Gates Mill OH

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EARLY SNOW: ASTERACEAE

Stare across any random autumn afternoon and soon you’ll notice the jig and curtsey of little airborne tufts. Catch one and see if there isn’t a tiny hard seed hanging from that feathery wisp. The early snowflake you’re holding is a member of family Asteraceae.

Except for Cardinal flower (Bellflower family, Campanulaceae) and Meadowbeauties (Meadow Beauty family, Melastomataceae), all the flowers mentioned in my homage above are members of the Composite family (Asteraceae). This is the largest family of flowering plants in North America and vies for the world title with Orchidaceae. Besides typical species like asters, sunflowers, black-eyed susans, and coneflowers, Asteraceae includes less obvious suspects like Joe-Pye Weed, goldenrod, ragweed.

Study a daisy: you figure you’re seeing one standard flower, right? A ring of petals around the edge (corolla), eye in the center. Basic taxonomy of flowers depends on the configuration of their reproductive apparatus – flowers. But a daisy is a Composite – each “petal” is 3 or more fused petals from a complete individual Ray flower; each spot in the eye is an individual Disc flower with its own minuscule petals, pistil, and stamen, ready to make a seed. (And if that’s not already confusing, some Composites have only Ray flowers, no Disc (Dandelion), and some have only Disc flowers with no Rays (Fireweed).)

So what about this early snow, then? Ah, sepal and pappus . . .

In most flowers, sepals are the layer, just outside the petals, that make up the protective bud cloak. After the bud opens, the ring of sepals is called the calyx. In Composites, each “flower” actually multiple little florets all clumped together with zero elbow room, the calyx is diminished to almost nothing: the pappus, sometimes visible only with a microscope where it’s fixed to the seed. Except . . . those members of Asteraceae whose pappus is a bristle, hair, tendril, feather. For wind dispersal, but also for wonder and delight. When a breeze puffs the boneset or fireweed or lowly dandelion, one might imagine the pasture will soon be knee deep.

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Doughton Park Tree 2021-02-23

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[with poems from Visions International]

From the ridge above the creek the tallest tulip trees poke their heads up to catch the evening sun. Hammered gold, bright lemon and lime, for a moment they torch the forest and we who look up catch their display. Without this certain angle of sun, autumn lends these trees only ochre dashed with butterbrown; without us looking up at just this certain moment we might not appreciate them at all.

Most everyone mid-October is planning their looking up. Hey Honey, wanna drive up on the Parkway on Saturday (the crowds, the crowds!)? Which weekend will be peak color? Was late summer wet enough and September nights cool enough for the maples to manufacture their anthocyanins? (Yes, most everyone is debating phytochromes and anthocyanins whether they know it or not.) Slowing the car. Craning necks. Meanwhile Linda and I are back in deep shade where beech and hickory still hold onto their leaves. We’re looking down, not up. The color we seek is reclusive, modest, avoiding the limelight.

Right now is when Beech Drops bloom. No one is noticing. If you see them at all, you probably assume they’re the leafless twigs of some summer forb that’s already succumbed. It’s hard to even realize that their bare centimeter-long appendages are flowers. Bud, bloom, and pod all look pretty much the same. In fact I didn’t even realize they were blooming until I got down on my belly with a macro lens and then blew up the images. A streak or two of deep purple up their sides; pursed lips of fused petals; one protruding yellow stigma, anthers too delicate to see – but little friends, you’re gorgeous!

Epifagus virginiana is the only member of its genus. It is parasitic, like many other members of the Broomrape family (Orobanchaceae). It attaches to roots of Beech trees for all of its nourishment; it makes no chlorophyll and the only remnants of leaves are tiny scales along its stem. There’s no sign that Beech Drops weaken or harm their host, but in late summer and fall their pale stems emerge from the leaf litter like bony fingers of the undead – just in time for Halloween! Walk through a beech grove: when you notice your first Beech Drop you’ll suddenly realize there are hundreds all around you, and when the low angle of late sun catches them, translucent purple like pale flesh, you might just get creeped out.

For years I had mistaken Beech Drops for the dry leavings of Puttyroot or Cranefly Orchid. Now that I’ve learned their identity, I make a point of seeking them out. On display, this is the one qualification of the Naturalist: Curiosity. The four steps along the path of the Naturalist: Pay attention; Ask questions; Make connections; Share. And the motto of the Naturalist, a motto I just made up and have taken for myself, at least: Semper plus discere. “Always more to learn.”

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Snow on the Back of Cattle

They seem, at first, dark formations of stone,
half drifted in, bunched and volcanic, rectangular
with oddly shaped outcroppings, sun glinting
on crystal, fringes of gray-green and palest
yellow: lichen, sage, bleached dry grasses
Then small puffs of steam, their breath, shift
and snuffle, soft voices lowing, hooves cracking
the frost. In two places near the herd’s edge,
bright splashes of red where calves dropped
in the darkness, where rough tongues licked
them clean and muzzles nudged small bodies
until they stood, shaking with wonder, to
search out the straining udders and drink.

B. J. Buckley (Power, Montana)
from Visions International, #106, Autumn, 2022

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Forty years ago Bradley Strahan collected work from poets from around the world and created the first slender volume of Visions International. Twenty years ago I first picked up a copy from a table at a poetry conference, not fully grasping what I was holding. I wondered about the title. Not the International part – holy cow, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Ireland, Italy – but the Visions. For the past several years I’ve been a subscriber and I think I’m finally getting it. To see . . . with another’s eyes, from within another’s place and persona. With every issue that arrives, the poems nudge, jostle, encourage with their quiet insistence that I open my eyes. And learn.

Semper plus discere – always more to learn. The two Latin roots disco and doceo are closely related (from the same Proto-Indo-European origin) – to learn, to understand / to teach, to instruct or show. I perceive that Bradley’s mission is to rattle us loose from the cage of our unquestioned routine, to crack a first fracture into our ossified assumptions. Always more to teach, always more to learn. And how about the homologue discern – from dis – cernere, to take apart – to be able to distinguish or perceive the differences between two things that might at first have seemed to be identical. The poems in Visions International never fail to open my eyes, my mind, my heart to a larger world, more varied, more diverse. More exciting!

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Tell Me Where All Past Years Are

She had a broad lap, a feed sack apron.
We sat warming on the stoop, and everything around falling
fell into her sack, golden
catkins, chinquapin burs, pods
of locust sticky with their honey,
dust of stars, dust out of the furrows.
She hummed; I translate:
+++++ When will the time come back to me
when hours were in my pocket
as man and heavy as loose pennies,
when days oozed thicker than
end-of-summer honey, when happiness
formed in my hands like butter from the churh
to squeeze and pat into a cake
and print with a petal crown of daisies?
+++++ No we both are humming, sixty or more
years between renditions, and while
we sing the sun clocks out and the moon
on the ridgetop stands and shakes out its lap,
a glowing radium dial.

J. S. Absher (Raleigh, North Carolina)
from Visions International, #106, Autumn, 2022

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Magpie Potential

The cloak requires to be worn lightly.
You cope with its invisibility
and, trying it on for size, dip your hands
in its deep pockets until they

smuggle up four eggs of lustrous blue,
brown-spotted, the same eggs
you climbed to find in Ballyduggan wood
in your barefoot childhood.

One by one you put the eggs
to your ear, amazed to hear from each
the whir of magpie potential.
Gently you bed them back down,

hoping for wingtips to sprout, bodies
and legs and darkly the eyes
and cowled heads
to come about. Hoping for feathered

iridescence, even for flight,
and your life of hoard-need, or reining in,
of fear that you might fail,
seems only a grounding for this

exuberant scatter and go. You withdraw
your hands, but all is empty now,
and clay, make of it what you
will, clings cold under every fingernail.

Patrick Deeley (Dublin, Ireland)
from Visions International, #106, Autumn, 2022

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Note: Issue Number 106 of Visions International also includes a poem by Deborah Doolittle (Jacksonville, North Carolina) that I admire, Bird Poem, plus work by poets from Italy, China, Germany, France, Bulgaria, Hungary, Ireland, Ukraine, and eleven states in the USA.

Visions International is published by Visions International Arts Synergy, a 501(c)3 non-proift group for the promotion of poetry and the arts. Subscriptions are $25 for 4 issues; Contact BLACK BUZZARD PRESS / 309 Lakeside Drive / Garner, NC 27529.

To which little magazines do you subscribe? Support poetry by reading it. I’ve got 20 years of Mainstreet Rag piled on the bookcase; the mailman brings me every issue of Tar River Poetry and Cave Wall. Semper plus discere. Semper plus legere.

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Doughton Park Tree 4/30/2022

 

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periodic table

[with poems celebrating the Periodic Table by Mary Soon Lee]

Maybe I was six I when fell in love with chemistry. Dad perched us on a chair by the sink to watch him mix Sodium Bicarb and Vinegar. Fizzy bubbles! Do it again!

NaHCO3 + CH3COOH = CO2 + NaCH3COO + H2O

I would definitely have been in love by eight when Dad took us out in the front yard for an experiment: a little too much Drano in a Coke bottle, add some water, snap on a balloon and stand back! Bob and I cheered as the balloon inflated (hydrogen gas, stand way back), and even louder when the too much Drano boiled up in the bottle and ate the balloon. It was quite a few years later that I worked out the reaction: Sodium Hydroxide (lye) and water plus metallic Aluminum (the shiny bits in Drano) produce Hydrogen (as in add Oxygen and BOOM!) plus Sodium Tetrahydroaluminate.

2Al + 2NaOH + 6H2O = 2Na[Al(OH)4] + 3H2

By twelve I was hanging out in the back aisles of drug stores where in those days they sold real chemicals like Potassium Permanganate and Sodium Nitrate. Magic trick – slowly drip Hydrogen Peroxide into a deep purple Permanganate solution, bubbles, bubbles, suddenly the color disappears! And not quite what you’d call magic – almost blowing up my room after figuring out the recipe for gunpowder. (Mom rushes in and cries, “I heard an explosion!” I say, “It didn’t explode. It just burned real fast.”)

2 KMnO4 + 3 H2SO4 + 5H2O2 = 2 MnSO4 + K2SO4 + 5O2 + 8H2O
[add a little Sulfuric Acid as catalyst]

Well, of course I became a Chem Major. What else? Then Biochem in Med School; renal physiology remains a bit of a head scratcher and I’d have to crack the books again, but who doesn’t want to know why pee tastes salty? I’ve traded in my blowing-things-up days for making snow volcanoes for the grandkids (tip: more Bicarb and less dishwashing liquid). Nevertheless one thing cannot fail to bring back the old love pangs – just a glimpse of the Periodic Table and I’m leaning over that fizzing sink again.

I’ll wait another day to extol Mendeleev; today belongs to Mary Soon Lee. She has created an entirely new poetic form, the Elemental (my terminology): 3 lines like haiku but without kigo or kireji, call it perhaps senryu, but elementally and intrinsically conjoined with Nature. Deep Nature. Every poem is devoted to one member of the Periodic Table.

Mary Soon Lee’s book Elemental Haiku was this year’s Father’s Day present from my daughter and son-in-law. I started fizzing as soon as I saw the cover. It is very hard to narrow down one’s favorite among the 118 elements but I’ve selected four that stand out: Sodium, so maligned but essential to firing synapses; Magnesium and Manganese, those rival cousins; Neodymium, both for its cool name like some god of the 22nd century and also because I love strong magnets. Rather than transcribe the Elementals I’ve scanned each page to provide their full effect.

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Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but has lived in Pittsburgh for over twenty years. Her two latest books are from opposite ends of the poetry spectrum: Elemental Haiku, containing haiku for each element of the periodic table (Ten Speed Press, 2019) and The Sign of the Dragon, an epic fantasy with Chinese and Mongolian elements (JABberwocky Literary Agency, 2020). She also has degrees in mathematics and computer science from Cambridge University and gained an M.Sc. in astronautics and space engineering from Cranfield University.

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periodic bow

 

2020-03-07 Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by J. S. Absher]

Building bridges. Maybe as a metaphor the phrase is not quite as worn down, rusty, and liable to drop chunks of concrete as the old Elkin bridge that carried US 21 high above the Yadkin River and railroad tracks. Built in 1931, stretching 1509 feet, named for Hugh G. Chatham, even after it was condemned by DOT in 2008 we still couldn’t bring ourselves to call in the demolition crews for that old bridge until 2010. Spanning a treacherous gulf. Lowering barriers between two rival communities. Safe passage, a more elevated view of life, making connections. Grand old metaphor.

The bridge we built today, though, is not a metaphor. It’s a 50-foot aluminum frame that will span a creek near the Mitchell River to extend the Mountains-to-Sea trail a few more miles. Mike, the engineer, showed us how to lay out the dozens of struts and braces and then we were on them like chicks on a Junebug. We put it together in three sections inside the big Surry County maintenance building at Fisher River Park; later we’ll move it into place, bolt the last connectors, and add planking. Amazing to see pallets of unrecognizable metal pieces becoming a structure.

Some of these volunteers today were born with a torque wrench in their fist but some are like me, tinkering all day with my Erector Set when I was 10. Sweating even with the giant fan blowing, pinching our fingers, joking. I still can’t get the smell of Anti-Seize out from under my fingernails. Someday soon will I hike across that bridge with my grandkids and say, “Hey, that’s one of my bolts!?” Moving out into a new world. Grand old metaphor.

September, 2022, all that’s left of the old Chatham Bridge on the Surry County side is a pleasant pedestrian garden with a long stairway from Gwyn Avenue down to Main Street. And, near the former base of one of those mighty pylons, the Angry Troll Brewery.

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The Day

The little room’s only window looked out
towards the ridgetop, the Dunkard church in the curve
of the two-lane, and, just beyond, the graveyard.

The morning sun sidled in past the partly
closed slats and resolved into rays and flecks
burning in the light – dust motes, I know,

and likely knew then, too, but still I watched
entranced one morning after our breakfast.
On this day I’d have otherwise forgotten,

probably my grannies were in the kitchen –
Emma with arms stretched out to read who’d died
(she’d be in the Dunkard cemetery soon),

half-crippled Sallie stringing the green beans
(years of suffering and strokes lay just ahead) —
while I stood quietly in the little room

watching the random sparkles in the sunbeam,
worlds I could move with a single breath
of poem or prayer, but could not control.

J. S. Absher
from Skating Rough Ground, © 2022 J. S. Absher, Kelsay Books, American Fork, UT

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worlds I could move with a single breath / of poem or prayer, but could not control

I have often been moved by Stan Absher’s poetry. Not moved as by a shiver of emotion or a momentary ah ha at his thesis or his craft. Rather I’ve felt myeself shifted into a different awareness, a new plane of being. Translocated. Enlightened. Despite the deep bedrock of conviction in all his work, despite the scholarship and the epiphany, he writes as if he is still searching, searching for truth. A spiritual seeker. So he may claim, but I consider Stan Absher a spiritual finder. I can’t help believing as I read these poems that he has encountered and grasped the numinous, wrestled with God as did Jacob.

Worlds he can move but not control? Perhaps that is the secret Stan conveys and which I would do well to take into my own heart. The seeking itself is intrinsic to the desideratum. The bridge. The poems in Skating Rough Ground cover such a lot of ground. Family history, Christian history, art history, and every topic and observation is put to diligent good work unfolding the petals of the human flower. Stan is in perfect control of his art, which makes even more believable his message that our condition enfolds a great mystery.

One other remark: even though Stan mentions Wittgenstein and his book includes sixteen erudite endnotes, his poems are never high-flown or inaccessible. He is not looking down on us mortals from the heights; he is right here among us. And he is not above a little poke in the ribs or the murmur of a wry joke. These poems are companionable companions – pick up the book and come along on the journey.

[additional information on works by J. S. Absher . . . ]

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The Conversation of Matter

I could hear things talk. When something was lost,
I stood in the room, asked it to show itself.
Sometimes it spoke an image in the mind – a drawer
++++ to search, a cherry
++++ bureau to look under.

Those who have spent their lives mastering tools
and techniques can hear their material speak,
David crying naked out of Carrara marble
++++ to be rescued from
++++ Agostino’s botched start.

But things usually speak by resisting –
weight too heavy to lift, edge too sharp to hold,
a moving part that grinds and heats and breaks, a poem’s
++++ application of
++++ friction to language –

slow it! stoke it hotter than Gehenna!
salt its path with grit!
keep it from slip-sliding
away on its own melt! flick sawdust into the eye
++++ to make it dilate!
++++ Without friction – so said

Wittgenstein, older and word-worn – language
does not work. If it wears skates on rough ground, it
takes a tumble. Even prayer needs resistance – a stick
++++ crosswise in the throat
++++ garbling words like a sob.

How hard to admit we love the world – how
hard it ought to be – yet its unrequiting
beauty resists abandonment: Show yourself, come out
++++ of hiding, come out
++++ of quarantine, and live.

J. S. Absher
from Skating Rough Ground, © 2022 J. S. Absher, Kelsay Books, American Fork, UT

❦ ❦ ❦

The Creator Praises Birds

Vent and crissum,
lores and crest and comb: I
made them all – the

nares, nape, those
horny bill plates – I in
feathered trochees

made them: peacock,
sparrow, tufted titmouse,
flitting jenny

filled with joy of
beaking worm, of strut and
glide, of piping

double on their
syrinx. Praise how flock and
murmuration

call out warning,
call to fly or roost or
call for pleasure:

See me! Hear me!
Pur-ty! Pur-ty! Pur-ty!
Cheer up! Pibbity!

Praise the brave-heart
tender fledgling, wobbly
winging over

houses, over
pavement, risking all to
climb the air by

beating wind I
too created, rising
heavenward in joy.

J. S. Absher
from Skating Rough Ground, © 2022 J. S. Absher, Kelsay Books, American Fork, UT

❦ ❦ ❦

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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.

❦ ❦ ❦

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

❦ ❦ ❦

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

❦ ❦ ❦

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.

❦ ❦ ❦

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

❦ ❦ ❦

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

❦ ❦ ❦

❦ ❦ ❦

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

❦ ❦ ❦

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

❦ ❦ ❦

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.

❦ ❦ ❦

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

❦ ❦ ❦

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

❦ ❦ ❦

Linda and Bill at Kelly’s Pines, 1974

❦ ❦ ❦

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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 . . . !

❦ ❦ ❦

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

 

❦ ❦ ❦

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.

❦ ❦ ❦

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

❦ ❦ ❦

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.

❦ ❦ ❦

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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IMG_6432

 

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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

❦ ❦ ❦

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.

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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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