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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 3 poems by Alan Michael Parker]

When grandson Bert walks the lakeside trail at Yates Mill in Raleigh with his Dad & Mom, they are ever alert for evidence of the Swamp Monster. Those unexplained bubbles in the pond? Could be Swamp Monster breathing. The sudden galoomp that startles us, abrupt pivot, but all we see are receding ripples? Yep, SM. A patch of pond lily that speckles and ripples the surface? Bert explains to me, instructor to pupil – that’s Swamp Monster’s ridged, scaley back.

At age five Bert teeters on the delicious cusp between credulity and manly savvy. He knows there’s not really a Swamp Monster, but he still craves more of those tingly shivers that rise like dark forms from dark water, birthed by lingering maybe’s. And who’s to say that Swamp Monster is not the wisest of teachers? Step One and Step Two along the Naturalist Way are Pay Attention; Ask Questions. No question is ever too silly; all questions are worthy. Like this one – Does Swamp Monster have pets?

Maybe those two turtles jostling among the pickerel weed. Maybe the northern watersnake camouflaged beside the minnow-filled mill pond. And what in the world is this thing? Glommed around a root in the water, a gelatinous hive, a lurking snotball! And there’s another, and another. Yuck, Swamp Monster!

We have made a discovery, life forms creepy enough to serve as pet to any self-respecting Swamp Monster: fresh water bryozoans. That mucusy ball, almost as big as a Jack-o-Lantern, is a clonal colony of tiny filter-feeding invertebrates. Occupying their own Phylum, for goodness sake! Each tiny individual everts a ring of tiny tentacles with cilia that waft food particles down toward its tiny mouth. If there’s danger, it pulls them back in and down pops the lid. In some colonies there are specialized individuals that can sting. Some species are able to creep around (although at only a couple of centimeters a day, they’re not about to engulf us)! Nice Bryo . . . Sit! . . . Stay!

All of this is just to say – whenever you’re hiking through prime Swamp Monster habitat, it is always important to pay attention.

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Breakfast
++++ It’s not just sentimental, no, no, no…

Once there was a blueberry
in a bowl of granola.
The bowl was Melamine, the table was pine,
the kitchen was linoleum and metal and oak,
and the house was brick and cedar and aluminum,
and the roofing material in the shingles
was fire-rated Class A, don’t worry.
There were trees: hawthorns and one river birch.
There were azaleas and a Lindlley’s Butterfly Bush.
The sky was 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen,
with a trace of argon gas, and ice in crystals.
Space was an almost perfect vacuum,
with a few hydrogen atoms per cubic meter.

Maybe the blueberry and one hydrogen atom
were cousins, cosmically and/or metaphysically.
The spoon that held up the blueberry
was aluminum, the shine a little worn,
and the blueberry was violet in a gradient,
a tad puckered, still with a bit of stem.

Today, class, let’s all be astronauts.
We’ll begin with breakfast, and then
we’ll search the universe for tenderness,
which I suspect – so long,
my blueberry, adieu
may be the last perfect thing.

Alan Michael Parker
from The Age of Discovery, Tupelo Press, © 2020.

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These poems by Alan Michael Parker dance on the knife-edge of joy. Oh yes, my warm Companion, we may slip and often we may bleed, but just for a minute let’s join that puffy red cloud drunk on sunset. Let’s confess our secret angry names (“asshole,” you say?). Let’s discover the microeconomics of love, the birth of the cool, the future of love. Isn’t this, after all, the Age of Discovery?

Who’s to say that the highest life form is not a colony of clonal bryozoans? Can you or I wave our little ciliated arms over our heads and expect sustenance to waft into what might pass for a mouth? On the other hand, you and I are blessed with cheeks able to detect the tender kiss of the cosmos, and hearts with the capacity of affection for tender bryozoans. Let’s join Alan Michael Parker on the journey: Dear Reader, I know you’re dying / That’s sad. Me too. // How about we wait here together?

The epigraph to Breakfast is from “Try a Little Tenderness,” covered by Otis Redding in 1966, backed by Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Psalm is after Yehuda Amichai’s “Jewish Travel: Change is God and Death is His Prophet.”

 

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Ornithology

When a bird flew into my window
and made a hard and soft death sound,

I found her in the dirt below
and I fixed a cardboard nest for her
and fed her from an eyedropper
what the Internet suggested,
and I named her Young Self,

and when a bird flew into my living room
and frantically bumped at every corner above,
I named her Old self,

and because height and light are
humankind’s spiritual aspiration,
I wished my hands were birds.

Luckily, it was evening,
the outside version of my sorrow:

the swallows flocked and flew
to sleep somewhere, presumably,
and every swallow was like a minute,

so I watched and tried to count, which is what I do,
despite so much of each day
happening to me,

and I fed my Young Self more sugar water
while my Old Self
beat in a corner to get out.

Alan Michael Parker
from The Age of Discovery, Tupelo Press, © 2020.

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Psalm

If there are grave stones, may there be
shy stones, kind stone, mad stones,
scared stones, thoughtful stones,
and may we have a choice;

and if there are hummingbirds, may there be
humming walks and humming naps,
humming minutes between
the minutes that hum in anger,
a humming table and chair by the fire,
and a warm and humming towel to wrap us in.

If there are thunder clouds, may there be
whisper clouds and echo clouds,
clouds the rustling of linens,
giggling clouds scampering,
and clouds to call a child home;

if there are heavy sighs, may there be
sighs that float or sink or rise,
and sighs that drift away,
and sighs to take from us our sighs;

and may the weeping willow,
the weeping redbud,
and the weeping cherry
weave of their weeping an evening gown;

and when we come to the end of days,
may we come to a beginning;
and if there is a time keeper,
may there be a time giver,
and if there is a guard house,
may the house be safe unguarded,

and if there is an ocean view, may we see
what the ocean sees,
the little boats of our bodies
nudged into the tide.

Alan Michael Parker
from The Age of Discovery, Tupelo Press, © 2020.

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IMG_1783

 

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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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[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

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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.

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Common Ground

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

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

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Cardinal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chink

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

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

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

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This Place Does Not Care If I Am Happy

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

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

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

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

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

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IMG_0880, tree

 

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[poems from I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fern Glade above Grassy Creek, MST

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Girl in the Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’n’s, us’n’s, all of us together.

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Some Kind of Prayer

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

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

Sleep is so close. Run now, run.

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

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To No One in Particular

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Linda and Bill at Kelly’s Pines, 1974

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[with 3 poems from PINESONG]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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After “After Years” by Ted Kooser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Waters

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

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

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

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

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Abuela

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

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

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

 

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#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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[with poems by Joseph Bathanti]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April Snow

The grass whelps in biblical mien –
mowers spend themselves –

a writ of greenest green,
spangled in sunbursts,

as if Van Gogh decided on
the remnant petrified thistle,

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

Robins pompously swagger.
Swifts (little crosses)

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

by habit exaggerates itself,
the green a blinding recognition.

To the ridge mount pines and firs.
Ancient hardwoods swell

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

its cane shrove-purple
from the long winter.

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

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

It forgets nothing.
Life is more than fable,

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Bathanti

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

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Floyd County, Kentucky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Bathanti

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Doughton Park Tree, 2022-05-17B

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

Green is God’s best idea.

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

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

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

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

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The Cure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carl Phillips

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

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

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

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

❦ ❦ ❦

What There Was

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Janice N. Harrington

❦ ❦ ❦

Thank You

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

Ross Gay

 

❦ ❦ ❦

 

Doughton Park Tree, 2022-05-17A

 

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