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Posts Tagged ‘NC Poets’

 

[poems by Jaki Shelton Green, Joseph Bathanti, Shelby Stephenson]

Perhaps you saw the photograph in last week’s news: Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee at Kabul Airport cradling an infant evacuee in her arms. A few days after the shot was taken, Sgt. Gee was killed by an ISIS-K suicide bomber while she worked at the airport gates. Twelve other American soldiers were killed; one hundred fifty Afghan civilians were killed. The world is full of hate which can only be answered with vengeance and punishment.

One the last day of her life, Sgt. Gee continued her mission to give Afghan women and children hope. She saved their lives. The world is full of hate which can only be answered with love.

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You are part of the human heart. With her beautiful voice and beautiful heart Chanda Branch opened the book launch for Crossing the Rift last Sunday (September 12) in Winston-Salem. Editors Joseph Bathanti and David Potorti shared the vision that led them to create this anthology of North Carolina poets writing on 9/11 and its aftermath. About a hundred of us gathered in the breezeway at Bookmarks on 4th St. to listen, to remember, to witness, to continue to heal.

Among the poems we heard that afternoon are these three by current NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green and former Laureates Joseph Bathanti and Shelby Stephenson. Twenty years: it’s hard to imagine it’s been that long; it’s hard to believe that it has been only twenty. The world changed on 9/11/2001. It’s hard, but if we seek them hard and also work hard to create them we may find some signs of change for the better. What is the answer for hate? Where will we be at the thirtieth anniversary?

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lifting veils

++++ 11 september 2001

++++ ++++ I

it is a bloodstained horizon
whispering laa illaha il-allah
prelude to a balmy evening
that envelops our embrace
we stand reaching across
sands, waters, airs full of blood
in the flash of a distant storm
i see you standing on another shore
torn hijab
billowing towards an unnamed wind
we both wear veils
blood stained
tear stained
enshrouding separate truths

++++ ++++ II

misty morning
teardrops of dust
choke and stain lips
that do not move
will not utter
it is a morning of shores
sea shadows that caress memory
of another time
another veil
another woman needing
reaching
lifting

++++ ++++ III

into your eyes i swam
searching for veils
to lift
to wrap
to pierce
dance with
veils that elude such mornings
veils that stain such lips
veils tearing like music

++++ ++++ IV
it is the covering of spirit
not the body
my hijab your hijab
connecting interweaving crawling snaking binding
into a sky that will not bend

Jaki Shelton Green (ninth and current NC Poet Laureate, since 2018)

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Katy

After the first plane,
Katy phoned her brother.
She was safe, in another building.

They were evacuating. DJ thought
she had said the other building—
the South Tower—crashed into

by United Flight 175 at 9:03,
moments after the line went dead.
That’s all Katy’s mother, my sister,

Marie, could tell me when I called.
All we had to cling to:
a single syllable, separating another

from other, negligible, mere nuance;
but, in this case, the difference
between escape and incineration—

a seam notched for her in the secret ether,
should she stumble into it,
to pass through unharmed.

To cast wider our search,
Marie and I tuned to different networks,
watching for Katy among the fleeing hordes.

They had talked the night before
about what she’d wear to her client meeting:
a brown suit, a black bag; her black hair

was shorter since last I’d seen her.
All day I peered into the TV—punching
the cordless: Katy’s office, home, cell,

office, home, cell, over and over—scanning
faces unraveling diabolically
like smoldering newsreels, smeared

with hallucinatory smoke and ash.
They came in ranks, wave upon wave,
leagued across the avenues:

the diaspora into John’s Apocalypse.
Those still on their feet staggered.
Others lay in the street snarled

in writhing weirs of fire-hose.
The firmament had been napalmed:
orange-plumed, spooling black. Volcanic stench.

Somewhere beyond the screen,
inside that television from which we all, that day,
received, like communion, the new covenant,

for all time, was my niece in her brown suit
and new haircut, her purse—outfitted
for her seventh day in Manhattan,

her fourth day at the World Financial Center,
six days past her twenty-second birthday.
I would spy her, coax her back to us

through the TV’s lurid circuitry
into my living room. Our perfect girl,
my princess—she had lost her shoes—

wandering the skewered heart of the future—
finally arrived, black-hooded, afire,
eerily mute—toward the Upper East side:

a bus, a shared cab with an old man
who befriended her, then barefoot blocks
and blocks to her apartment on 89th Street

where she dialed her parents and announced
with the sacrificial modesty of saints
that she had made it home.

Joseph Bathanti (seventh NC Poet Laureate, 2012-2014)

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September Mourning

O limbo of life—
the wings dapple
mourning,
a twitter in the field,
color in the wind,
a spider on feet of purest gossamer.

Trust goes up in flames.

Girders

change

loved ones,

doors strange to touch,

all the lovely times

sinking

in the face of the steely plumes

breaking apart

brilliances
under the jet, so silver and
beautiful—
gone—

the going on
lifting

dreams

competing for truth

for dear life’s sake

holding the screams

held together by need.

Give me breath.

Cockleburs on an old man’s knees—
roses November leaves—

the memory of this place

catches us
off center

loses hold
and holds to nothing,

the world seeming
seamless
days of glory,

a tapestry
of women and men
dawdling
and scuffling their
shoes, eyeing their toes,

knowing there is nothing to say

that might lighten the load
turning around, coming back, onward,
never to finish telling the story

numb in the name
of the fluttering flag
o say can the tattered one
defend the fences fenced around
and in and through this century of all times
the way a baby’s wrapped in a shawl or shirt for the
tucking into the arms
clutching dear life so thin
the stubborn holding on
a giving in

Shelby Stephenson (eighth NC Poet Laureate, 2015-2017)

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Crossing the Rift – North Carolina Poets on 9/11 & Its Aftermath
edited by Joseph Bathanti and David Potorti, © 2021
Press 53, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA

Available from Press 53 and from Bookmarks

Links to the NC Arts Council regarding current and past NC Poets Laureate

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[with 3 poems by Shelby Stephenson]

While I sit with Dad in the hospital we make a checklist of everything we need to do to close up the house. He had a TIA last night – “a little health problem” is how he’ll describe it to the agent at the News & Observer to explain why he’s canceling his subscription. His scans show no stroke. We wait for the doctor to discharge him, then he’ll take it easy (will he?) for a few days while I do laundry and winterize the cottage in Pine Knoll Shores, avoid the Labor Day traffic for the drive back to Winston.

Check lists. Dad already has a dog-eared collection, each one another page on his yellow pad. I create an updated list on my phone while we wait – first entry, “check Dad’s check lists.” When we finally buckle in on Tuesday and tick off the last item we will have accomplished something.

Or so I want to think. The next five hours in the car generate their own list: find accessible bathrooms, some roadside shade for the lunch we packed. Damn, forgot to give Mom a COVID mask at the rest stop. Unload, unpack, raid the freezer for supper. Make sure we’ve sequestered all the medical records for his appointment with his local doctor.

When I shoot a macro of a flower I want that anther tack sharp, but the blur of stem and leaves hinders identification of the species. Hey, I know all these lists I make are just to keep me hopping from one moment’s task to the next but I see the big picture. I read Dad’s echocardiogram and joke that he’s 94 in the body of an 80-year old. I know there’s a check list whose final box is his final breath.

But then flip the page. Another list. At the top: Remember. Let me tell you all the stuff we talked about on that drive home.

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[TIA – transient ischemic attack: a brief episode of decreased brain perfusion
that may herald an impending stroke]

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The Local Falls

When I come home I walk to Middle Creek
through thirty minutes of springtime bushes
to where the Mouth of Buzzard Branch trickles
with water to bridge the bubbly rushes.

Dangling their legs, a few bank-fishermen
mumble to Chub Robin full moon in May,
cigars and cigarettes in roll-your-owns,
eyes on lead-lines for bottom feeders they

bait with grub-worms dug behind the outhouse.
They fish too with fat swamp-worms freed from mud
near head of Cow Mire’s spring, a pudding-souse
Time works into clumps like huge Angus cuds.

All’s quiet: Daddy sets a turtle-hook
and baits it with chicken guts, one motion
as he stabs the stob, slings the cord the brook
settles, waffling under his location.

His hands gather Nature’s complete cunning.
Love allows for fresh food on our table,
His tongue, lips, face, limbs, and actions winning
affection of his wife, my mother, Maytle.

He’s gone; I help turtles cross Sanders Road.
Interstate-40 whizzes loud nearby.
Every waking day’s a different load.
What glory warriors must have wooed with sighs.

Pollution’s out of honor and our shame.
The sunfish’s eyes bloat like old eyes.
They wear bumps like my psoriasis (blame
chemicals on crops – fertilizers).

I bid the owl keep me pitched with tenor
to carry this: run blue-tailed swamp-rabbit?
I hear the beagles yow-yowing: Jake Mills
says those rabbits taste like the swamp run-off.

Shelby Stephenson

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These selections are from more, by Shelby Stephenson; Redhawk Publications, Hickory, North Carolina; © 2020 Shelby Stephenson. Used by permission of publisher.

A new book by Shelby Stephenson in his 82nd year is an anchor to the past and a beacon to the future. His lines settle you down and hold you fast like the mud near Cow’s Mire spring. His lines open your heart to love, death, redemption – to all of life. His lines advocate for the heritage of language and the language of heritage spoken in unflinching truth. There is no sentimentality here. And woven through each poem is the music of his tenor cum baritone – never forget Hank Williams! – and the gentle humor that wraps an arm around your shoulder and lets you know you’re welcome here.

Shelby has been professor, editor, NC Poet Laureate, minstrel, and most of all traveling ambassador of the word. If you’ve met him or heard him, you’ve been encouraged to read more, to write more. During years of submitting to Pembroke Magazine while Shelby was editor, I came to treasure his rejections, hand written on a tiny slip, invariably with a message like “not quite, Bill, but keep trying.”

Shelby Stephenson still lives on his family farm, Paul’s Hill; his family has “owned” it for generations. Shelby always adds those quotation marks. It must be quite a lofty hill because from there Shelby seems to be able to survey and discern all of human nature, as well as animal and earth nature. His poems may nest in the springtime bushes near Middle Creek but they fly over the countryside and lighten all the sky. He reminds me of North Carolina’s second Poet Laureate, James Larkin Pearson (1879-1981), who in his poem Fifty Acres (1937) sees all the world from his home in Boomer, Wilkes County, NC.

I’m just beginning to see a bit myself.

More please, Shelby – more!

 

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Circling Sonnet Number Two

You call it “realistic” that we should stay
where we are, you among your friends for life
and I, here, on Paul’s Hill miles away
from you and the very feel of a knot
sanctimonious ceremonies would
sour tightly sweaty aspersions barren
of Discord and Disdain and just a ton
of regret that we two should let heaven
outstrip all praise for earthly things and fame.
The easy new is not décor but blood
turned jelly in emotions and refrain.
Your reputation may dull those whose load
might turn both sides from love’s scent
if we do not sound out Love’s instrument.

Shelby Stephenson

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For Robert Frost

When you came to Memorial Hall to read,
Your black coat made your white shirt muss your hair,
As if you were standing outside in wind.
In a speech class I presented a “there”
in “Birches,” letting music in your lines
Lead the way of conversation in rhyme.

I did not try to imitate you, as ome would.
That crackle down in your throat, the doting
Tone seeking for you that turn in your woods,
When you paused, said someting about the road
You took that made for you the difference.
You reminded me of Luke the Drifter,

One of my childhood heroes who brought me
To songs and music, along with sermons
That wadded the pulpit at my Rehobeth
Primitive Baptist Church, yes, the come-ons,
A Brother, never a Sister, lining
Off a hymn for me in perfect timing.

I had never been to a poetry
Reading, by the way, would not have been there
Except for Charlie Whitfield who barged in
My dorm room in Lewis, saying, “Shelby,
You want to see a cadaver?” (Charlie
Was studying hard for medical school.)

I was silent; my mind flashed to Rehobeth,
Mortality, death, promises, and grace,
While there beside a long scalpel she lay,
Uncovered, more naked that a fish, scaled.
I said, “Charlie, let’s get out of this place.”
We arrived at The Hall; I sat blank-faced.

A few years later I failed the law; my
Memory never did lose your presence.
I bought easements, rights-of-way, for towers
Around New Hampshire, saw birches bending,
And boulders sunning, plus those rambling walls,
And I could hear you leading me, always.

Shelby Stephenson

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Crystal Simone Smith]

First day of kindergarten – we pick Amelia up from the bus stop. Glassy-eyed. She climbs into the carseat and takes off her mask but won’t say a thing. Or can’t. We paw through her backpack to find Tammy, well-worn fox companion – nuzzle, no words. We search her face for psychic trauma. “How was school?” “Are you OK?” Silent nods.

I drop them off and drive to fetch her brother from middle school. When we return Amelia and Granny are playing Candyland. Audible levity. After the rematch Amelia hops over to me. “Play, Pappy.”

Hummingbirds in the Andes descend into protective torpor every cold night. Their heart rate drops from 200 to 30. When sun reaches them next morning it takes 30 minutes for the little engine to rev back up. You can watch the brief shiver, flexing feathers, accelerating vibration of their chest. The tiny eyes pop open and they fly.

Amelia wants to ride her scooter to the mailbox, fly through August heat and sweat to chase the rainbow soccer ball across the yard, run and kick and score. When we take her home at suppertime, Mom meets us in the driveway, hugs her bouncing vibrating child, says, “My, your hair is wet.”

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Eastern Horsemint, Mondarda punctata

Eastern Horsemint, Mondarda punctata

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It Took a Village

It took a village to raise me
+++++and when my best friend’s
++++++++++islander mother shouted

in her broken tongue for me to ge’ toff
+++++the building roof, I listened –
++++++++++saved moon rock scavenging

for a safer day. It was a sort of lovespeak.
+++++I was no different than her own
++++++++++bouquet of fatherless children –

a brood of six, all hues and ages. She had lived,
+++++had become religious and arthritic,
++++++++++grimacing as she peeled the smooth,

maroon skin from mangos she offered,
+++++and I’d scoff down
++++++++++before I scaled a tree

to peer at the building – a colossal dollhouse
+++++or real live stirring.
++++++++++and when she stood,

crying and talking to the sun,
+++++I looked away. I knew
++++++++++she was talking to God.

Crystal Simone Smith

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Uncloudy Day

At the tenth year’s dark mark
+++++the clouds are white as bones

and the sky is the sky
+++++where the ocean stand
+++++after the last splattering of night,
a horizon so convincing even
+++++the cynic can glimpse the other side.

For so long I resented the swallowing earth,
held every pinch of darkness –

+++++a co-worker’s harmless but sharp remark:
++++++++++Exhume a body after a year
++++++++++and it’s basically human soup.

my mother stood stove-side once,
+++++her eyes filled with a clumsy glee
+++++as she spoke of fourth Sundays.
Her mother fried chicken after church.

The preacher might come.
All other days they ate beans and ham hocks.

+++++She gave it a name, uncloudy day,
a day that is just so, you are unbroken
+++++by memories where you stand
gazing at the sky, unfisted and glad.

Crystal Simone Smith

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Can a poem be a shovel, stabbing the earth to turn over what’s hidden and dark, to bring up a spadeful that smells also of fecundity and life? Dig, demand these poems of Crystal Simone Smith, into the heart of things, weeds and flowers worthy and alive, discover them all. Dig to the roots.

Perhaps a few poems can dig into our hearts and make us one family.

Amber Flora Thomas writes, “Has freedom made us lazy, we might wonder as we read these incredible poems in Smith’s Down to Earth? Are we tourists in our lives, troubled by a history of enslavement? The voices and stories of black lives penetrate these questions in this collection of poems that don’t coddle or pull away from our earthly struggles to find hope and meaning in our human work. Down to Earth is an asking, a plea to take comfort in the stories and people who anchor our living.”

These three selections are from Down to Earth, Longleaf Press at Methodist University, Fayetteville, NC, © 2021.

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Still Becoming

+++++~after Full Frame Documentary Film Festival

Age forty plus & I still consider
what I can become.

The slave wage of an adjunct is a choice,
the gatekeepers say.

So I teach the slave narrative
to white, affluent students.

A lesson they’ll never find use for – how to
escape bondage without it killing you.

I drive thirty miles with the sun rising in the east.
Every morning I speed – a lesson

taken from oppression – never offer
overtime without the compensating penny.

Often I pass a pulled-over brother struggling
to gaze into the cop’s face through riotous rays.

Those days especially, I consider a career change
or at least, how I can be a better citizen.

The narrative being, we are all keepers
with our iPhones and droids on standby.

I could become the viral documenter
of what can still become of a man

freed a century & fifty plus years
under the same magnificent sun.

Crystal Simone Smith

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Crystal Simone Smith holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte and lives in Durham, NC with her husband and two sons where she teaches English Composition and Creative Writing. She is the Managing Editor of Backbone Press. Her other books are Routes Home (Finishing Line Press, 2013), Running Music (Longleaf Press, 2014), and Wildflowers: Haiku, Senryu, and Haibun (2016).

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2017-03-06a Doughton Park Tree

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[including poems by Mary Oliver and Bill Griffin]

Because they are themselves and we have begun to see that they are,
++++because we are not humble but have been humbled,
++++because we can’t begin to love ourselves until we love them,
++++because we can’t love them unless we know them,
++++because in a world that scoffs at the word “sacred” we have
++++++++ accepted a sacred calling,
for all these reasons and more we protect them from us.

We are going to count the salamanders in Dorsey Creek. Before we leave Tremont and hike to their watershed we spray our boots with weak bleach (to kill the Ranavirus). We wear gloves so that we don’t smear them with our own flora (they have a rich commensal surface bacterial that keeps them healthy). We touch them only briefly and hold them in water in bags, not in our hands (a scant few grams of flesh, thin and magical skin, even the heat of our palms would stress them). Just a few minutes to check for gills if they’re still larvae, to count their spots and markings, look for cheek chevrons, flip and inspect the tint of their bellies, then we take them back to the leaf litter or flashing stream where we found them. Perhaps each one may be counted again, perhaps dozens of times over a ripe salamander lifespan of 20 years.

And perhaps, rising from our knees with new names in our mouths (Desmognathus monticola, quadramaculatus, conanti) and something sacred in our hearts, perhaps we will see the world as if for the second time, the way it really is.

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Alligator Poem
++++ Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

I knelt down
at the edge of the water,
and if the white birds standing
in the tops of the trees whistled any warning
I didn’t understand,
I drank up to the very moment it came
crashing toward me,
its tail flailing
like a bundle of swords,
slashing the grass,
and the inside of its cradle-shaped mouth
gaping,
and rimmed with teeth –
and that’s how I almost died
of foolishness
in beautiful Florida.
But I didn’t.
I leaped aside, and fell,
and it streamed past me, crushing everything in its path
as it swept down to the water
and threw itself in,
and, in the end,
this isn’t a poem about foolishness
but about how I rose from the ground
and saw the world as if for the second time,
the way it really is.
The water, that circle of shattered glass,
healed itself with a slow whisper
and lay back
with the back-lit light of polished steel,
and the birds, in the endless waterfalls of the trees,
shook open the snowy pleats of their wings, and drifted away,
while, for a keepsake, and to steady myself,
I reached out,
I picked the wild flowers from the grass around me –
blue stars
and blood-red trumpets
on long green stems –
for hours in my trembling hands they glittered
like fire.

from New and Selected Poems, © 1992 by Mary Oliver, Beacon Press, Boston. Reprinted in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

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Sorceress’ lizard, bellows breath, fire worm, winged dog – O, little salamander, how you inspire us with your magic! Pliny the Elder recognized that you are not a lizard but ancient Greeks still rumored that you quench fire with the chill of your body. The Talmud explains you are a product of fire and immune to its harm. Perhaps during the long winters of the Middle Ages you emerged miraculously from the log thrown onto the hearth to substantiate your reputation. Marco Polo believed your true nature to be an “incombustible substance found in the earth.” And let’s not forget the fearful excretions of your skin, poisonous enough to kill the entire village if you fall into the well, fundamental ingredient of witches’ brews, irresistible aphrodisiac.

Little wriggling Caudata, the reality of your nature is more wondrous than myth. You eat small things that would starve larger creatures and yet you thrive; your biomass exceeds that of all the mammals in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Your skin breathes – most of you don’t even have lungs! – and brews up a constellation of compounds that confound the biochemist. Some of you live 4 years with gills in the swift chill stream before becoming adults, others metamorphose within your eggs beneath forest duff and emerge fully formed, but all of you with your efficient ectothermic life plan grow and grow, make eggs, survive perhaps for decades. And Great Smokies holds more of your diversity than any other place in the world.

We are amazed! We students of SANCP Reptiles and Amphibians Course of 2021 are just astonished and awestruck. You are the coolest of the cool (ectotherms, that is)! We thank your Chief Sorcerer of Knowledge, Professor John Maerz, and Acolyte of Hands-On, Graduate Research Assistant Jade Samples, for sharing their lore, showing us how to find you, leading us to love you.

Salamanders – you rule!

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Salamander
++++ Bill Griffin

This is my gift –
++++++++ to change.
From Inadu Creek I leave behind
my frilly gills and climb
the spire of blue-eyed grass.
Having become a creature of air bathing
myself in dew, am I not still
a creature of water?

I invite you to discover
in each of my family our variations,
discern that every runnel, every spring,
every palm-sized cup of moisture
holds its lithe expectation, for this
is my gift to you –
++++++++ to notice changes.

I will let you lightly touch
the welcome of my smoothness
while I drink a little warmth
from your hand. Now count
the dapples down my length,
measure the blush of my cheek,

then find when you descend
the eastern face of Snake Den Ridge
those subtle alterations my cousins
are accumulating until finally
they acquire a new name.

And when you have returned me
to my bed of blue-bead lily, then touch
a smooth place within yourself
and carry with you into the world
++++++++ your own changes.

 

from Snake Den Ridge: a bestiary, © 2008 by Bill Griffin, March Street Press, Greensboro, NC. Illustrations and historical preface by Linda French Griffin.

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The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program is an adult education endeavor of Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Their mission of connecting people with nature continues even during pandemics! The science-based educational programs have evolved with science-based precautions and modifications to allow small communities to form for a weekend at a time.

Many thanks to John DiDiego, GSMIT Education Director, and to the awe-inspiring instructors for the July, 2021 SANCP Reptiles and Amphibians course, Dr. John Charles Maerz from University of Georgia, and his intrepid research assistant, Jade Samples. We crammed a semester’s worth of herpetology into 36 hours out of doors in the Smokies. (Did I sleep? Maybe a little.)

All photographs by Bill Griffin. Plethodon jordani on blue-eyed grass by Linda French Griffin. Header art also by Linda Griffin.

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2014-06-30a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Sam Barbee]

Life is not a waltz but sometimes it’s a samba. There are no numbered footprints painted on the floor; you can’t count the meter and the next step is never prescribed. The syncopation will throw you off, take you by surprise. And there are always more percussionists than anyone counted on.

As I kid I’d flip through the albums beneath my Dad’s phonograph. Found it – between George Szell and Peter and the Wolf I always came back to Getz and Gilberto. I knew who Stan was but it was decades before I learned the other names: Jobim, João and Astrud. To weave and shimmer through life, offbeat and upbeat, who could desire more?

At 18 my life rolled and rocked so allegro I doubt I even noticed it was passing. At 38 maybe I convinced myself life really was a waltz, laid out just so, I-lead-you-follow, all outcomes preordained. So here we go now, 68, and how many times have we knocked over the music stand or the band arrived drunk? And just who upped the damn tempo? How many morning coffee melodies will be interrupted by a crisis of (not quite 98) parents? Wolf, spit out that duck! Who made me director of this cacophany?

Settle. Close eyes, sway with me. Night is falling in Corcovado.

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Soft Spots in the Stream

My son wants stories
at bedtime of when I was his age –
how I loved blue jays and feared shadows.
Back then,
+++++ my sense of adventure
required the black mud bottom
of Burnt Mill Creek: stones, bream schools,
turtle beds. As frogs plunged in reeds,

my dad motioned open-handed
as I pleaded to stay close:
++++++++++ Trust the day.
He marched, under the gauze of Spanish moss,
fearless of water snakes. Water over my knees,
he taught me creek walking, how to balance
up slick banks with willow spindles and cypress knees.
I emerged, baptized with solutions.

+++++++++++++++ Once home,
he lacked answers,
those waning days when things unraveled,
when he often clenched his fist.
He bogged down with questions,
brooding in his recliner:
++++++++++ Keep with it,
the best he could offer.

Now, I escort my son
off to sleep, with his unresolved
problems and prayers, and at times I shrug,
unable to help him add things up.
But in his murky waters,
I part the surface, and
search with him for
soft spots in the stream.

Sam Barbee

Jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum

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That Rain We Needed: good title for July. Good collection for any season of life, this book by Sam Barbee from Press 53. These poems are a complete lifetime’s memoir: adopted childhood, young parent’s uncertainties, long married life with its waltzes & sambas. There is often a hint in the background of dissonance, but Sam Barbee has had a full and joyful life and he blesses us with it through his recollections and close observations.

Into every life a little rain must fall – let’s certainly hope so, before the herb garden is plumb dried up!

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The Color of Things

A trace of your image escapes
from darkness. Between
sundown and REM, you visit me:

nightgown drooped on the bedpost,
that marvelous thud of lace
on the hardwood floor, toes burrowing

beside me beneath the blanket’s down.
You, so often sequestered in the study
with cigarettes and Russian Tea,

travel the immaculate distance
mapped in memory, plotted only with love’s
intuition. I inventory lines in your face,

validations of the pattern that makes you up.
You remind me, It’s not the shape of things,
but their color.

Sam Barbee

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Red Planet

We speed to the shore’s horizon
and I am certain
there must be more to us
as we leave the aura of tiny wars.
Our calling lies closer to the sun,
on a world where love and longing fuse,

not into white-hot anguish but
into a peaceful absolute.
When I love you, black sky’s discord
brightens washed with stars, disorder calmed.
Sun, close enough to evaporate doubt,
warms our beach where we fight no theory.,

do not cling to construed arguments.
Content, we absorb sparkles in sandwash,
white foam abandoned on the beach
by ancient crests. Here we will wait,
shoulder to shoulder, wrapped
in laughter, poised for radiance.

Sam Barbee

all selections from That Rain We Needed, Sam Barbee, Press 53, Winston-Salem, NC, © 2016

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Green Heron, Butorides virescens

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2014-06-30a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Maureen Ryan Griffin]

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

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

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

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Ten Thousand Cicadas Can’t Be Wrong

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

Maureen Ryan Griffin

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

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

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

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I’d like to think it isn’t greed

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

Maureen Ryan Griffin

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When the Leaves Are in the Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magicicada

Brood X

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IMG_6432

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photo by Saul Griffin

[with 3 poems by Becky Gould Gibson]

Amelia’s Papa Jimmy brought the bunnies to playschool yesterday. Four of them had fallen from a nest destroyed as he cleared a field two weeks ago. No mother in sight.

When we heard he’d bought bunny milk at Tractor Supply and was feeding them four drops every two hours we first thought, Is he raising them for the dogs? Not to eat, to teach. He trains young beagles to hunt; maybe they need to learn the smell of rabbits?

But no, not at all, it’s just that Jimmy can’t leave helpless young to die. Tractor Supply will mix up formula for any small critter you may have need of. He used a dropper until they learned to suck from a nipple. Two weeks later they’re hopping, eating tasty greens.

Yesterday each four- and five-year old got to hear the bunnies’ story, touch their soft ears and heads. Today Jimmy will release them at the edge of the woods, restored to bunny-ness, preserved for no other purpose than themselves.

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Stand of Birches

The woods are wet this morning – rain yesterday
or the day before, maybe – such a sense of quiet,
all the damp peace of it, mostly trees to be with,
birches especially, minimalists in chic black and white,
raw silk with horizontal markings like wounds
slashed across white paper, dashes, staples, lines
of ghostly scansion, every beat, every syllable
of wood and glade accented, no scales or hierarchies
scored in their bark, rather universal emphasis,
as if everything mattered – this tiny white-headed
flower, this ant on some errand, even the mosquito
buzzing my ankles, these low-growing grasses,
branch with its bark pulled back, underbelly softening,
chartreuse mosses – though brief, briefly important.

Becky Gould Gibson

photo by Saul Griffin

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These poems by Becky Gould Gibson are from her book Heading Home, the winner of the inaugural Lena Shull Book Contest in 2013. The poetry is strongly rooted in family and place but also richly steeped in literary tradition and history. I keep coming back to Stand of Birches for its eloquent, even spiritual expression of the deepest premise of Ecology: not utilitarian, not exploitative, not derivative or charismatic or anthropocentric – each living thing in all its interconnectedness is of value in and for itself.

Yes, yes, OK, OK, even mosquitoes.

In 2012 the Poetry Council of North Carolina elected to dissolve its organization and merge its residual funds with the North Carolina Poetry Society. Since 1949 PCNC had promoted the craft of poetry in the state with its annual contests; now in collaboration with NCPS it established an endowment to sponsor the annual Lena Shull Book Contest for an unpublished full length manuscript by a North Carolina writer, named for founder and first president of PCNC. Becky Gould Gibson was the first Lena Shull winner.

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Scuppernongs
+++ Immortal life will be given . . .
+++ The Lord of harvest gathers us, / Sheaves of the dead –
++++++++++++++++++++++ for Bill

When death lifts its edge a little,
as in the first movement of Mahler’s C minor symphony,
you wonder will you be ready.
We finish a bowl of scuppernongs from the market,
wild bronze from childhood,
delighting in the bite, thick skin between our teeth,
touch tongue-tip to tongue-tip.
You taught my tongue to talk back.
I recall all those summers,
you in another county, nearly a decade before we would meet.

Now, come with me.
We’re together, then. It’s a languid afternoon in late August.
I’m eight. You’re ten.
As for death, I still think I can talk my way out of it.
Follow me across the un-mowed yard,
weeds tickling our legs,
to the scuppernong bush at the edge of Mr. Marcus’s field.
For you, death is no fiction.
At six, made to duck under your desk at school,
wear a dog tag, so someone could identify your body.
No bucket. We stuff ourselves madly.
Know what happens if you swallow a seed? We laugh.

No, love. It is not my own death I worry about, but yours –
will I ever be ready for it?
To be alone as I was that distant August,
memory plucking the fruit of you, scuppernong ripe in my mouth.

Becky Gould Gibson

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Lines to Yeats on the Anniversary of His Death
++++ January 28, 1939
++++ for Alice

To a soul just fledged, still damp, in a nest
Of paper, flimsy bits of Plato, Paul,
Shelley, Wordsworth, Tennyson, all the rest
Who believed (or even half-believed) soul
Could soar above the earth (earth a mere cast
Of heaven), spirit somehow separable
From flesh, you came, William (my dear Willie)
With your poems of pure song, heart’s own music.

No wonder it entered my veins, my pulse
Learned to tick your rhythms. No matter you
Warned not to pleasure soul at the expense
Of body, who could even listen to
Such warning with such a beat, sound and sense
So perfectly married, as if to show
A manmade thing could become immortal,
Gold bird on a gold limb sing out its soul.

You made me more impatient than ever
To conceive such a poem of my own.
Your artless art merely fed the fever,
Yet every line fell stillborn from my pen.
Blood had become a colorless liquor
Nourished on symbols. Life had to happen,
And it did. Not a woman but a child,
Rather a child’s birth. It was a girl-child

Split me apart. No way to staunch the flood
(Nothing’s sole or whole that has not been rent)
Of blunt necessity. You had your Maud.
I had my Alice. She caught me up, lent
Me her knowledge. She, no man or bird-god,
Made loins shudder, roused me from those years spent
In abstraction, taught me bone, bowel, breath,
Body’s mortal work. She taught me my death.

Becky Gould Gibson

three poems from Heading Home, Winner of the 2013 Lena Shull Book Contest, Main Street Rag Publishing Company, © 2014 Becky Gould Gibson

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2016-05-08a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Jenny Bates]

Yellowthroats sing from three compass points. Who triangulates whom? One sings, flits, sings and a farther one answers, flits, answers. I stand motionless in the mud beside the lake’s lazy inflow. I want a bright bird to fly from his thicket and show himself to me.

As I stare into the leaves, still no success with my x-ray vision, something moves beside me. Down low. A muskrat six feet away is swimming upstream utterly unconcerned. I turn only my head. It reaches up the bank for a tasty green, swims some more, jeweldrops of water on its whiskers. It stops to scratch its nose. It swims on.

I look up and a yellowthroat is watching me.

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Triangulate: to discern your true position within the vital features that surround you.

After a couple of weeks with Jenny Bates’s books I learned not to read her poems to ferret out their meaning but to read to enter the poetry. Stare at the Pleiades in the night sky and they slip away from you; look slant and the Seven Sisters reach to you from the darkness. Let a line of Jenny’s verse slip into your awareness with eyes half closed, fortuitous inadvertency.

An intimate acquaintance / that leaves nothing but / earth.

I learned not to read Jenny like a field guide but like I read the breeze greeting sweat on my back when the trail stretches uphill, like I read the sun’s flagrant liason with blackberry blossoms.

Bent twig alphabet, language mist-twist
revises with no sequels, no chapters that leave-off.

I learned to read Jenny not like a genealogy of contracts and progeny but exactly like a genealogy of creatures and connections and the family of the one.

The bee does not claim originality as it takes
something from every flower.

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3 poems by Jenny Bates

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Merlot and Thyme
++++ with a Hummingbird Chaser

I uncork old resting places, no maps needed.
Just strange-tongued travelers of
++++ bird, wine and spice.
I sip Merlot, write in cloud-light
++++ missing mother’s voice
Conversations become riddles, coaxing the truth
out of her children, eventually.
Thyme and tarragon fill the clear jar
in front of me: I smell her there
++++ in herbal comfort.
No still dark corners to hide in her memory,
she emptied her children like clearing a table
set by despair, without lingering.
With an edge that never dropped off.

Hummingbirds have no brink to pass to their young.
Wisps of winding birds tousle leaves, jiggle air under
++++ diving, dancing, levitating.
Homing devices, trade routes birthed into them.
Swift and common lessons to grow by. Shade brings
++++ less frantic maneuvers.

I wear pink and grey – the first colors I liked
++++ as a child.
My grandparents farmhouse in Northern Michigan
was grey with pale pink shutters.
Dove colors for a delicate landing grandmother
would say. I hear mom in the background talking to
bees, kittens, mule, land. For a city girl, she could
ambush nature, then heal its wounds.
++++ No time was distant then.

 

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Engagement Rings

Morning insect yoga.
Grasshopper extends himself
in heat-stretching air.
Jumps into space, disappears.
No fossil fuels, no footprint.
Fly stuck to a metal merry-go-round,
a centrifuge so man can stick to
ceilings in his quest for flight.
Prometheus moth wings dismantled,
grounded, still-payment for
bringing man fire.

I walk earthling steps, marker-less,
circling your grave.
Mob of ants scurry in loops,
larvae in pincers turn you from
solid to liquid to solid again.
Jealous in my exile,
++++ lucky ants get to spend time with you
you continue in unending generosity.

The angel tree had sung a copperhead
right out of his skin.
I bring it, fresh and warm to my
neighbor who sculpts it into
suspended twists.
Hung it through a metal ring
at the studio door.
Bow Tie markings coiled to dry,
venom empty, benign husk.

Heat draws new flycatcher parents
to drink from your round water bowl
filled each day to the brim.
Parched squirrel’s half cry bubbles out,
scampers then hangs in shade relief.
Skinks run full speed in swirling chase
across the deck.
++++ don’t come out of the nest too soon . . .
++++ ++++ don’t fall . . .
the newly hatched chick yawns,
bellyful of ground up ants.

 

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How to Spell Sorrow

It’s beautiful, your words,
but I’ve read better in the eyes of my dog.

In spider webs and spider spaces.
When hummingbirds leave, you feel it –
empty air without fashion.

You put more sweet water out anyway,
wait for Buddhas and fools.

You wonder about ellipsis of Truth
wrapped in coyote calls.

You watch a groundhog prostrate like a saint
on the gravel drive – surrender play or
cooling his belly on the stones.

you see a murder of crows line their toes
straight and tight along the split rail fence.

Gripping the wood like text on your arms
becoming the word on your hand.

You curl your fingers into your palm
twist and spell – Sorrow.

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“Merlot and Thyme,” “Engagement Rings,” “How to Spell Sorrow” by Jenny Bates from her book Slip, Hermit Feathers Press, September, 2020

Jenny lives in the North Carolina foothills and is an animal whisperer and helping hand at Plum Granny Farm, an organic local farm in Stokes County, North Carolina.

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Header Artwork © Linda French Griffin

2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

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[poems by George Oppen, Jenny Bates, Matthew Olzmann, Dianna Pinckney]

an offering from Pat Riviere-Seel . . .

  PSALM
-Veritas sequitur …
– George Oppen –

In the small beauty of the forest
The wild deer bedding down—
That they are there!

Their eyes
Effortless, the soft lips
Nuzzle and the alien small teeth
Tear at the grass

The roots of it
Dangle from their mouths
Scattering earth in the strange woods.
They who are there.

Their paths
Nibbled thru the fields, the leaves that shade them
Hang in the distances
Of sun

The small nouns
Crying faith
In this in which the wild deer
Startle, and stare out.

Psalm” by George Oppen, from New Collected Poems, copyright © 1975 by George Oppen, New Directions Publishing Corporation

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In the introduction to The Ecopoetry Anthology, Laura-Gray Street speaks of George Oppen’s “Psalm” and her epiphany in reading it: language – the Word – is not something that separates us from and elevates us above the rest of this planet. Rather, language is an integral part of our biological selves. The roots of it / Dangle from [our] mouths. We are language-making creatures in the same way that spiders are web-making creatures.

What does the language make of us as we make it? I watch my wife Linda French Griffin at her drawing table. She moves her pencil point across white paper and images take form and grow out of nothing to expand and link and resolve into something entirely new – as I look at her drawings I’m filled with feelings and ideas that grow out of nothing but are linked to all I have felt and known up until that point, and yet are entirely new. Reading a poem, writing a poem, may give substance to inchoate urges we had tried imperfectly to permit to lead us into a new place. Language conjures spirits that clothe themselves with the flesh of newly perceived reality. Language makes us a new person.

Several friends have offered poems that speak to them about our Earth and which offer to gather us all in together to celebrate Earth Day! I’m posting their offerings April 21, 22, and 23. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you notice? What do you feel? How are you changed? What will you do?

 

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an offering from Jenny Bates, her poem . . .

Doubts in Other Latitudes

You will not find them on any

geologist’s map; artifacts discarded
glimpses inset
in moments
stagger out of time.

Tippling trinities disrupt
the rhythmic landscape;
beer bottles

####pop cans
########chip bags
foul party of litter.

Earth ambitious
not without
want of amusement
yet with great
vision

####energy

########patience
its commitment of being mindful
confidence to complete its life,

a solitary endeavour.

Terra firma watches human struggle
from a caged window,
doubting its endorsement of evolution.
Dreams of smooth skinned ammonites

from the Jurassic,

Dinosaurs enjoying retirement
in geologic armchairs.

I do not make rubbish, says the ground
as I stir the forest leaves.

“Doubts in Other Latitudes” by Jenny Bates from Visitations (Hermit Feathers Press, 2019)

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an offering from Lisa Zerkle . . .

Commencement Speech, Delivered to a Herd of Walrus Calves
– Matthew Olzmann –

Young walruses, we all must adapt! For example,
some of your ancestors gouged the world
with four tusks, but you can grow only two.
It’s hard to say what evolution plans for your kind,
but if given a choice,
you should put in a request for thumbs.
Anyway, congratulations! You’re entering
a world that’s increasingly hostile and cruel
and full of people who’ll never take you seriously
though that will be a mistake on their end.
You are more tenacious than they know.
You’ll be a fierce and loyal defender
of those you love. You will fight polar bears
when they attack your friends and sometimes you’ll win.
Of course, odds always favor the polar bear,
but that’s not the point. The point is courage.
The point is bravery. The point is you are all fighters
even when the fight in which you find yourself
ensures unpleasant things will happen to you.
For example, the bear will gnaw apart your skull
or neck until you stop that persistent twitching;
it will eat your skin, all of it, then blubber, then muscle,
then the tears of your loved ones, in that order;
it will savor every bite, and you will just
suffer and suffer until the emptiness can wash over you.
The good news is: things change!
For example: the environment.
Climate change, indeed, is bad for you,
but it’s worse for polar bears whose conservation status
is now listed as “vulnerable” which is one step removed
from “endangered” which is one step removed
from “extinct” which is a synonym
for Hooray! None of you get eaten!
I suppose this will make some people sad.
Even now, they’re posting pictures
of disconsolate polar bears on melting ice floes
drifting toward a well-deserved oblivion.
They say, We need to stop this!
They say, We need to do something, now!
These people are not your friends.
One cannot be on both Team Walrus and Team Polar Bear
at the same time. I’m not saying these people are evil;
I’m saying, it’s time to choose a side.
I’m saying sharpen your tusks, young calves;
your enemies are devious. You need to train
yourself to do what they won’t expect.
For example: use computers, invest
in renewable energies, read Zbigniew Herbert.
Unrelatedly: your whiskers make you appear
to have mustaches, which, seeing as you’re
not even toddlers, is remarkably unsettling.
Babies that look like grown men freak me out.
Like those medieval paintings by so-called masters
where they’d make the face of little baby Jesus
look like an ancient constipated banker.
If that’s what God really looks like,
it’s no wonder we’ve done what we’ve done to the Earth.
Maybe you can repair what we spent lifetimes taking apart.
Replace some screws. Oil some hinges.
This might sound impossible, but have you ever
looked at yourselves? Seriously—take a quick look
and tell me how a walrus face is possible;
everything about it defies the laws of physics.

You will exist beyond the reach of nature.
You will learn to slow your own heartbeat to preserve oxygen
while diving to depths of over 900 feet.
You will stay awake for up to three consecutive days
while swimming on the open sea.
And when the ocean is too rough—
so terrible with longing, so ruptured with heartache—
you’ll find a small island of stone or ice offering refuge.
It will be difficult to climb from the water,
but because there’s hope for us all,
you will hoist yourself up,
using only your front teeth to drag your body
onto the shore.

Commencement Speech, Delivered to a Herd of Walrus Calves” by Matthew Olzmann from POETRY, Published in Issue 19, 2020

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Bloodroot; Sanguinaria canadensis; Mountains-to-Sea Trail above Brinegar Cabin

 

An offering from Diana Pinckney, her poem . . .

Clapper Rails

Thin, dark flitting invisible
through reedy creeks, these

calls and cackles gleeful
the sun has seeped into trees.

A raucous crowd, near, but not of
the ocean. Who cares if your eyes

ever glimpse a flurry, one or two
fluttering their wings, less graceful

than chickens careening
old barnyards. Marsh hens

natives called them, tracked
and trapped, such poultry

made a foul meal. So tough
no one dared fry or bake.

They ride tides, float eggs in pluff-mud
and shrill black waters. You know

they are close, answering each
other over oyster beds, blue crabs,

every scuttling appetite, the night
grasses alive with hoots rising,

a party you love to be near, not of.

“Clapper Rails” by Diana Pinckney, first published in Wild Goose Poetry Review and collected in Green Daughters, Lorimer Press, © 2011 Diana Pinckney

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[original artwork by Linda French Griffin (c) 2021]

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Earth Day artwork by Linda French Griffin

[with poems by Dorianne Laux and Tony Hoagland]

The sensual man conforms thoughts to things; the poet conforms things to his thoughts. The one esteems nature as rooted and fast; the other, as fluid, and impresses his being theron.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, 1836

April 22, 1970 – the entire student body of Aurora High School is milling around outdoors in the Ohio springtime. In the front parking log five or six big black coffins are set up like grim milestones. The coffins bear epitaphs like “Clean Water” and “Beautiful Land” – the administration has granted the Student Council’s request to have an assembly to celebrate the first Earth Day.

I am taking photos for Borealis, the yearbook; my girl friend Linda French is assistant editor. She is vastly more the environmental activist than I. Our little farm town / bedroom community is forty miles from Cleveland and the where the Cuyahoga River crosses our local golf course it’s an insubstantial creek. The year before, though, the Cuyahoga River where it enters Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland caught fire and burned, and not for the first time. No big deal – oil slicks and pollution mean progress, full employment. Forget about it.

Maybe we all would have forgotten, except Time Magazine published articles about the burning river and then in December National Geographic featured it on the cover – “Our Ecological Crisis.” Congress had established the Environmental Protection Agency in January 1970; by spring even we kids in sleepy Aurora must be worrying how much longer we’ll have clean water and beautiful land.

Earth Day 1970

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A couple of years ago Linda and I took a road trip to northeastern Ohio to visit all the old haunts. The high school has additions and facilities we can’t even figure out. The golf course is now a reclaimed and replanted nature preserve with walking trails. There’s lots of new development in Aurora but there are still cow pastures and horses.

We also paid our first visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Designated a National Recreation Area in 1974, the same year we got married and moved to North Carolina, it became a National Park in 2000. Between Akron and Cleveland it comprises more than 33,000 acres following the river and the old Ohio & Erie Canal and reaching all the way into metropolitan Garfield Heights – the nation’s largest urban park. Even outside the Park the Cuyahoga is cleaned up, restored, back in the business of fish and wildlife and recreation instead of oil slicks. In 1970 if you fell into the river it meant an immediate trip the ER; now you just climb back up on your paddle board.

Without catching on fire.

Earth Day 1970

Earth Day 1970

 

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These two poems are collected in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas, © 2013.

Dorianne Laux has taught creative writing at NC State University and elsewhere. Her most recent book among many is Only as the Day Is Long: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 2019).

Tony Hoagland (1953-2018) was born in Fort Bragg, NC, and taught at the University of Houston and Warren Wilson College. His many books of poetry include Unincorporated Personas in the Late Honda Dynasty (Graywolf Press, 2005)

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Life is Beautiful

+++++++++ and remote, and useful,
if only to itself. Take the fly, angel
of the ordinary house, laying its bright
eggs on the trash, pressing each jewel out
delicately along a crust of buttered toast.
Bagged, the whole mess travels to the nearest
dump where other flies have gathered, singing
over stained newsprint and reeking
fruit. Rapt on air they execute an intricate
ballet above the clashing pirouettes
of heavy machinery. They hum with life.
While inside rumpled sacks pure white
maggots writhe and spiral from a rip,
a tear-shaped hole that drools and drips
a living froth onto the buried earth.
The warm days pass, gulls scree and pitch,
rats manage the crevices, feral cats abandon
their litters for a morsel of torn fur, stranded
dogs roam open fields, sniff the fragrant edges,
a tossed lacework of bones and shredded flesh.
And the maggots tumble at the center, ripening,
husks membrane-thin, embryos darkening
and shifting within, wings curled and wet,
the open air pungent and ready to receive them
in their fecund iridescence. And so, of our homely hosts,
a bag of jewels is born again into the world. Come, lost
children of the sun-drenched kitchen, your parents
soundly sleep along the windowsill, content,
wings at rest, nestled in against the warm glass.
Everywhere the good life oozes from the useless
waste we make when we create – our streets teem
with human young, rafts of pigeons streaming
over squirrel-burdened trees. If there is
a purpose, maybe there are too many of us
to see it, though we can, from a distance,
hear the dull thrum of generation’s industry,
feel its fleshly wheel churn the fire inside us, pushing
the world forward toward its ragged edge, rushing
like a swollen river into multitude and rank disorder.
Such abundance. We are gorged, engorging, and gorgeous.

Dorianne Laux
from Smoke, BOA Editions Ltd., © 2000 Dorianne Laux

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Wild

In late August when the streams dry up
and the high meadows turn parched and blond,

bears are squeezed out of the mountains
down into the valley of condos and housing developments.

All residents are therefore prohibited
from putting their garbage out early.

The penalty for disobedience will be
bears: large black furry fellows

drinking from you sprinkler system,
rolling your trashcans down your lawn,

bashing through the screen door of the back porch to get their
first real taste of a spaghetti dinner,

while the family hides in the garage
and the wife dials 1-800-BEARS on her cell phone,

a number she just made up
in a burst of creative hysteria.

Isn’t that the way it goes?
Wildness enters your life and asks

that you invent a way to meet it,
and you run in the opposite direction

as the bears saunter down Main Street
sending station wagons crashing into fire hydrants,

getting the police department to phone
for tranquilizer guns,

the dart going by accident into the
neck of the unpopular police chief,

who is carried into early retirement
in an ambulance crowned with flashing red lights,

as the bears inherit the earth
full of water and humans and garbage,

which looks to them like paradise.

Tony Hoagland
from Unincorporated Personas in the Late Honda Dynasty, Graywolf Press, © 2005 Tony Hoagland.

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Liverwort, Marchantia species; Liverworts are primitive nonvascular plants, perhaps the most primitive true plants still in existence.

Isn’t life beautiful? Not always pretty but always beautiful. Often messy, invariably smelly, predictably unpredictable, unexpectedly weird, but always beautiful. Scrunch down low enough to notice; don’t let it bite you (much); take off your anthropocentric glasses; what did I tell you – beautiful!

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[original artwork by Linda French Griffin (c) 2021]

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