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Posts Tagged ‘NC Poets’

Hepatica: its flowers spring up in March before its new leaves. Quick! Before arching limbs furl their green sails and hijack the wind of sunlight, quickly make your tiny seeds from last year’s photons! New leaves will have all summer and fall to glean what the canopy misses.

When Linda and I discover the first hepatica blooming along Elkin Creek each spring we take heart. The world is not such a grim and wintry place. One morning last April we counted 50 individual plants along a mile of trail. Such bounty! How they thrive! How our hearts do!

A few weeks ago I walked one mile of nature trail at Chimneys picnic area in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At the end of September hepatica leaves are glossy, taut, ready to overwinter. As I strolled the cove, deep cathedral of old growth hardwoods, I estimated within 5,280 feet I saw 50,000 individual hepatica plants.

Sharp-lobed Hepatica, Hepatica acutiloba, Ranunculaceae, buttercup family

Life wants more of itself. Life wants to fill every niche. How many generations, how many hundred, did it take to create this mountain cove topography? Mossed, leafy, pits and mounds left by an ancient giant fallen. The light gap its falling created. Explosion of variety in the margins. Trunks of all sizes and ages in the understory, massive individuals creating the canopy. I didn’t know a black cherry, a silverbell, ever got this big!

Leave a patch of ground alone long enough and it will grow into what it is meant to be. Mountain flanks and shoulders for protection, rain upon rain, limestone subsoil for minerals – the old growth cove hardwood community shelters biodiversity approaching a tropical rainforest. These few sections in the Smokies that the loggers never reached are still revealing new species. Life wants more.

And to what purpose? What is it good for? I could probably list a few dozen reasons the undisturbed and unmanipulated forest is good for me and good for you. But how about this – the thousands of reasons it is simply good for itself.

Black Cherry, a BIG one, Prunus serotina, Rosaceae, rose family

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Kathryn Stripling Byer (1944-2017) was North Carolina Poet Laureate from 2005-2009 and the first woman to hold that position. She and her family lived in the mountains of western NC (she taught and was poet-in-residence at Western Carolina University); her grace and generosity reached throughout the southeast and beyond. She was teacher and mentor but, even more, she encouraged and celebrated the creative spirit wherever and in whomever it was found. Even me. Thinking of her today brings me joy.

I have gone back to Kay’s first book for these two poems. The Girl in the Midst of the Harvest was her debut collection (Texas Tech Press, 1986) and was re-issued by Press 53 (Winston-Salem, NC) in 2013.

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The Backwoods

Great-grandmother carried the cadence of Genesis.
Girl cousins up late at family reunions,
we made her an Indian, although her forebears
were Irish. Before her lay darkness, the empty fields
barren as desert until she came forward,
the sweat on her high cheekbones gleaming like eyes
we imagined surrounding her, bob-cat and red fox,
the last of the sleek, singing wolves. Every evening
she shouldered her how and walked home
through the tasselling corn. The Good Lord only knows
what bare feet stalked the backwoods in those days,
what waited behind every woodpile! She brought forth
a daughter with black hair that never curled.
Shy as a fieldmouse, that girl fell in love
with a man scything hay in the twilight. They kissed
twice. A moment she stood in her white dress
and smiled back at us, then she grew fat and sighed
in the kitchen. Four daughter she bore,
and the three who survived scarlet fever
wove grass in their brown hair and danced every night
with the fireflies. They galloped on wild horse
bareback until they got married and gave birth
to us, Southern Belles who could sit in a parlor
all evening and never complain. We could faint
in a handsome man’s arms. We could charm a
a stone wall. But we never forgot the back door,
how to disappear into the darkness, our crinolines rustling
like cornstalks between our legs. We told
this story so well, we inherit its black earth
where women hoe all night, inscrutable as Indians.

Pale jewelweed, Impatiens pallida, Balsaminaceae, touch-me-not family

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Frost

“Shake the cold from our hands,” you call, running ahead
of me onto the frozen grass. Look, in the garden
your father wrests vines from a tripod of bamboo stakes.
Okra’s grown weary with mourning another year
gone and just yesterday, Darling,
they wore yellow buds in their hair. Like you

twisting a puny chrysanthemum into your tangles
and galloping off on a broomstick. Down Caney Fork
scarecrows come hobbling like old soldiers
leaving their cornfields. They’ll sit by the river
and talk about what the crows told them: a hard winter
coming. Those windy crows, all they keep saying
is cold, cold, and when I see clouds swept
like ice down the creek, I believe them
too easily. Why must the maple leaves rattle

Remember me, as if someday
I’ll forget there were thousands came
falling the morning I felt for the first time you
shiver inside me, no fish as I thought you would be
but a mouse in its burrow? Now you sit in sand
and make birthday cakes, blowing out candles
that aren’t there. I blow on my hands
like an old woman taking no heed of a child
who believes time can be shaken from her like water.

poems by Kathryn Stripling Byer
from The Girl in the Midst of the Harvest, Press 53, © 2013 Kathryn Stripling Byer
first published by Texas Tech Press, January 15, 1986

 

Mountain bugbane, Cimicifuga americana, Ranunculaceae, buttercup family

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Mountain Cove plant communities occur in sheltered areas with abundant rainfall in mid- to lower-elevation areas of the Southern Appalachians. Especially the Rich Cove Forest subset, with less acidic and more rich mineral soils, is home to a huge diversity of tree species, flowering plants and ferns, insects, reptiles and amphibians. Original (old growth) forests will have massive individual trees hundreds of years old mixed with trees of all ages where a giant has fallen and allowed sunlight to reach the forest floor. There are a number of these areas where loggers never reached in GSMNP, such as Chimneys and near Cades Cove.

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All photos by Bill Griffin from Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program; Southern Appalachian Ecology, September 2020, Great Smokies Institute at Tremont; instructors Jeremy Lloyd and Elizabeth Davis.

 

 

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Deep shade, red spruce, heavy moss – the trail switches up, cuts back, winds steadily higher. We can smell the transition, conifer tang, slow decomposition. We can feel it on our faces, in our pores, sweat cooling, wraith of mist blown up the ridge to envelope us. And we feel it somewhere deeper.

Something changes, so gradual we sense it before we know it. Daylight creeps through, one tree with toothed sun-colored leaves, then two; smell of spring and sweet flowering even at the end of autumn; witch hobble and pale mountain asters give way to dwarf goldenrod. Look, here are beech drops, flowers faded, seeds set, never green, their skinny bodies and appendages like effigies set among the trees they parasitize. We stop and breathe. Again, deeper. This is beech gap.

Leave a patch of ground alone long enough and it will grow into what it is meant to be. Its personality is in its community. Why does this beech gap persist? Its elders, Fagus grandifolia, stunted and twisted in communion with mountain maple, wood ferns, sedges – why not fir and spruce intruding? Elevation, precipitation, mountain aspect, soil pH? Centuries-old seed repository in the duff? Visitation by warblers, jays, and small mast-seeking mammals? Protection by allelopathic residues? Protection by mountain spirits?

All of these may define but don’t explain. It is the community that becomes itself: shallow spreading roots and pervasive mycelia, leaf and frond, sporangium and ovule, every one essential to the personality of place.

And you and I? We may choose how tall we stand. We choose which way we face, whether we learn from our elders, teach our children. We rest here for a few minutes and commune with this other. The silence of a ridge-crest glade: fragile or resilient? Retreat or restoration? Will we descend from the mountain and bring this peace, this purpose, into our own communities?

Beech drops, Epifagus virginiana, Orobanchaceae (Broomrape family)

 

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These two poems by Debra Kaufman speak to me of reverence and restlessness, of longing for community and the fear of isolation. Are we welcome on this earth and will we welcome others? Will we create more than we destroy?

As described on the cover of her book, God Shattered, Kaufman discovers how personal disillusionment can be a guide to finding the godly within ourselves. These poems lead us to contemplate and understand our place in this fragile world.

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Great White
An angel is nothing but a shark well-governed.
– Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Everyone carries a shadow.
The less it is embodied in the conscious self,
the blacker and denser it is.

Does a savage self always lurk
just below the surface,
on the hunt, no matter

our good intentions? Is our higher
nature ready to do battle against the dark,
harpoon at the ready?

If, as the Buddha says, there is no I,
does awareness reside
between empty spaces?

I understand so little.
But I can see Aleppo is rubble,
its people scattered;

anyone who listens can hear the cries
of girls being shuttled into brothels,
can imagine comforting someone suffering

here or half the world away.
How do we stop what is sacred
from being ravaged,

witness life out of balance yet not despair?
There must be ways
toward doing what is right.

Why else, as Job asked, would
light be given to a man
whose way is hidden?

The great white shark
is nearly extinct. It can sense
a beating heart over a mile a way.

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Welcome

You, one of seven billion born
helpless, nearly hairless,

one more chimp-cousin
in our midst:

Will you be swaddled,
neglected, anointed,

will you breathe air
that smells like rain?

Which foods will sustain you,
upon what ground

will you walk? What storm,
fires, floods will sweep

over you, what languages
will you learn, what

dances, what prayers?
Here is my hope for you,

little stranger: may you feel
beholden to this wondrous planet,

may you take your hungry,
humble place in it,

may you dedicate your life
to making it a world worth

revering, holding, passing on.

poems by Debra Kaufman from God Shattered, Jacar Press, © 2019

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Debra Kaufman grew up in the Midwest but has lived in North Carolina for thirty years. She has published three poetry chapbooks and four full length poetry collections: God Shattered, Delicate Thefts, The Next Moment, and A Certain Light.

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The Beech Gap is a rare subtype of Northern Hardwood Forest, found scattered in small patches surrounded by Fraser Fir and Red Spruce in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and elsewhere at the highest elevations of the Southern Appalachians. The Beech, mixed with small numbers of Buckeye, Birch, and Maple species, are stunted by the cold climate and high winds, with an open understory but relatively rich herb layer. Some patches in the Smokies are fenced to prevent destruction by invasive non-native wild pigs. Why this seemingly stable climax plant community remains stable and is not overtaken by Spruce-Fir remains a mystery.

 

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All photos by Bill Griffin from Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program on Southern Appalachian Ecology, September 2020, Great Smokies Institute at Tremont; instructors Jeremy Lloyd and Elizabeth Davis.

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Poem in the Key of E

Some trees keep their color and shape
even beyond the time that we have ceased
to dream. They tease us into faith.

This one I approach from a distance.
Its leaves, like tiny flags of grace,
beckon to me. It is November, and the rain

has pelted us, sweeping masses
of yellow to the sodden earth.
But these leaves stay, and the tree,

bright orange against the now blue
sky, stands against the growing dark.
Some days I am afraid to come,

fearing that a mean and fickle God
will flip the table, leaving me nothing
but a tangle of dark and dirty branches.

The neighbors think I’m weird.
“For Christ sake,” the plumber says.
“It’s just a fucking tree.” Maybe.

I thought that once myself. But now
if I close my eyes hard in the night,
the color comes and the room

slides away. I float upward in this
orange, this strange treeness.
My body is inside, looking out.

 

Anthony S. Abbott, from The Angel Dialogues, Lorimer Press, 2014

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Poetry, on some level, is about saving things. . . . Things die; poetry retrieves them.

Tony Abbott graced my life during the few years I knew and worked with him. He was president of the NC Poetry Society while I served on the Board, he was mentor in the Gilbert-Chappell program for students, and he was an inspiring colleague and friend. I sat in awe: Davidson professor, poet and novelist, literary leader. But Tony didn’t want our awe. He was a seeker for meaning in this tangled, sometimes messy human journey and he simply invited fellow travelers.

Perhaps empathy and humility spring from the same root. If one has suffered deeply, one cares for and feels deeply the suffering of others; if one has experienced the frailties and missteps to which none of us are immune, one sets aside pride and judgement and stoops to lift the burden of one’s fellows. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Tony, with his vast gifts and achievements, embodied empathy and humility. My life is richer for having shared it with him. Now his voice we carry within ourselves.

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Going Home:
a poem in memory of those North Carolina writers who have gone before us

– Weymouth Center, July, 2009

Late afternoon. I lie in the long grass and wait
for words. The still white clouds mock me. Then,
unexpectedly, the sound of music. I sit up. From
an open window upstairs, the clear sounds
of Dvorak. I know these notes like I
know the timbers of my own soul. Yes.

The English horn sings the theme, and sings it
yet again, with the bass clarinet. And then
the strings enter, like a prayer. Take me home,
Lord, take me home. Now the clarinets,
and the horns like faith answer. Then the strings
whisper softly, yes, and again, yes.

I see Graham Jackson, tears running down his black
cheeks, Graham Jackson, in full dress uniform, playing
“Goin’ Home” for his beloved Franklin Roosevelt, and then
the farmers, young and old, black and white, all
of them poor, who loved the only man they had
ever known as President of the United States, hundreds
standing on the hills of Georgia and the Carolinas
watching the train go by with the body of their lost
leader, watching the train take him home. “Goin’ home”
say the English horns again, and then the clarinet returns.

Here I am, listening, images surfacing – the trim brick walks
of my beloved town, the green hills to the west, rising
and falling like the strings, the waves on the outer
banks crashing like the cymbals, then sliding back
like the clarinets. I see the faces of my friends, I hear
the voices of the poets who have gone before, their words
rising again. Dark skinned and light, old and young, male
and female, children of the valleys and the mountains,
children of the coast and the Piedmont. I am here, they say,
I have made the path for you, and I am still here, my words
as true as the rock face of Cold Mountain.

The music soars and for a moment there is light. The whole
orchestra together in hope. then the English horn alone,
mournful, and the strings so soft, almost a whisper.
The strings carry our love over the hills to the sea,
the horns offer it to the sky, and the strings set it aloft.
It is done. They have gone home, and who and what
they are we carry within ourselves. The evening comes.
I rise from the grass and walk toward the open window.

 

Anthony S. Abbott, from If Words Could Save Us, Lorimer Press, 2011

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Poetry, on some level, is about saving things. Even a poem so simple as “Growing Up” in A Small Thing is about saving the wonder of the child in an adult world that conspires to destroy it. Maxine Kumin uses the term ‘Retrieval System’ in one of her great poems. Poetry is a retrieval system. Things die; poetry retrieves them.
from Anthony S. Abbott – In His Own Words

Tony Abbott’s publications at Lorimer Press

Biography and induction into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame

The scriptural quotation above is I Corinthians 12:26, New Revised Standard Version

Sam Ragan Poetry Festival of the North Carolina Poetry Society — March 22, 2015

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This evening at suppertime she peers into the beef and carrots simmering on the right burner; I snip pea pods and spinach into the black bean broth on the left burner. Pretty soon both pots are smelling darn good. It’s usually something like this, the scene in our kitchen all the years since I decided to stop eating meat and she didn’t. Separate skillets, or sequential nuking, then sit down together.

But then every once in a while it’s all her show. She steams the broccoli while I sit near the lamp and read. I start on a little dry white wine (she’ll accept two ounces for herself later – Pastor Jan, pretend you didn’t read this) while she simmers the pasta. She serves two blue patterned Japanese bowls we’ve owned since year one. Then we sit down together.

When I die, sorry to say, I have no faith that there will be an angel in heaven who can make broccoli Alfredo this good.

 

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Getting home from the office early these days, I’m revisiting the overflowing stacks beside my desk. Poetry, philosophy, poetry, nature, poetry — I’ve rediscovered that all of Terri Kirby Erickson’s poems are home.

Lots of poetry is about home – you get a peak through the curtains and maybe you can imagine life on the other side of the pane. Terri’s poems are home. Welcome in. Don’t mind the mess. Maybe you didn’t understand this is your home but for twenty or thirty lines you will be part of the family. So many families. So many homes longed for, left behind, returned to. Soft light, hard edges. Sweet and harsh and all shades between. Come on in. Let’s sit down together.

 

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from In the Palms of Angels, Terri Kirby Erickson, Press 53 © 2011

 

Wayfarer

He seems like a man
you’d see walking down a long
stretch of road, the kind
with dust

rising

in a red haze beneath the wheels
of pickup trucks, cutting
through fields of golden

wheat. Scudding clouds cast
shadows
across the ground like whales

swimming through clear
water, and the air carries the scent
of grain and loam.

Every few miles, the glint of a silo
(startling against the lonesome

sky)

signals a farm house
where peach pies sit cooling
on window sills, and patterned
carpets are worn-out from parents

pacing to and fro with fretful babies
in their arms.

He’s traveling toward the horizon
with the steady gait of someone
with a place to go, whose tender

gaze

will soon find home, that place
more sacred than communion wafers
nestled in the palms
of angels.

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Rosary

Down by the creek,
we sit on dry
stones,

our shoes and socks
jumbled in a pile.
The sun

warms our toes
and casts its
net of light

from bank to bank,
where willows
trail their

fingers in the water,
and snakes look
like branches

floating by
them. Mosquitoes
lay their eggs

in stagnant pools,
far from leaves
and grasses snagged

by rocks, twisting
in the current.
Tadpoles swim

in tight formation,
wiggling their tails
in tandem,

as salamanders
scuttle by, searching
for places to nap.

Dragonflies hover,
then hurry
away,

their wings
thrumming a one-note
song – while we,

silent as nuns in prayer,
count the beads
of summer.

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[Rosary first appeared in Basilica Review; other collections by Terri Kirby Erickson from Press 53 include: Telling Tales of Dusk; A Lake of Light and Clouds; Becoming the Blue Heron.]

Author Page, Terri Kirby Erickson, Press 53, Winston-Salem, NC.

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Let’s meet at Grandview above the New River Gorge while the sun is still working its way through the pine and bare hickory. The hardcore birders left from Shelter #4 hours ago but we will follow the same course down the abandoned mining road to the River. We will follow the wild flowers. We will walk into Spring.

We don’t see a lot blooming up here at the end of April, elevation 2,500 feet in the West Virginia Appalachians. Beneath the trees and in the sunny patches the landscape is still mostly brown, but that doesn’t hold for long. Trailing arbutus and trout lily greet us in the first quarter mile, wake robin and four more species of trillium pop up along the course of the trail, wild iris and asters appear by the time we’ve descended 1,000 feet to river’s edge – all of Spring blooming in one morning.

And just in case we miss something we have a guide: my wife’s sister Jodi French-Burr, National Park Service ranger, naturalist, and interpreter. She’ll be kneeling in the duff gently parting the leaves so we can see the wild ginger blossoms. She’ll have at the tip of her tongue the name of every growing thing we discover. She’ll tell us the history of this winding trail and point out relics and landmarks along the way. And she will usually laugh at my jokes.

Come and convince yourself that the earth is filled with beauty.

Bring water and a snack. RESERVATIONS requested by April 21, 2020: 304-465-2632 or jodi_french-burr@nps.gov.

[UPDATE 3/23/2020 — due to the COVID-19 Pandemic many NPS and New River Gorge activities may have to be canceled or rescheduled. Be sure the check this site for the latest info:

https://www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/wildflower-weekend.htm

BUT . . . outdoor activities with family and small groups (maintaining your social distancing) are just what THIS doctor orders! Get out into nature! Viruses hate sunlight! . . . . . . . . Bill G  ]

 

Erythronium americana — Trout Lily (Dog-tooth Violet, yellow adder’s tongue, fawn lily)

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Deborah H. Doolittle has created a unique botanical and poetic experience with her collection Floribunda, a true garden of verse. The focal point of each poem is a particular flower, from Cowslip to Gardenia, but the speaker or the style of each poem is a giant of literature, from William Blake and Lewis Carroll to Sylvia Plath and Wallace Stevens. To wander the garden path of Deborah’s poetry is to smell the fragrance and delight in the colors but also to abide in the company of great writers, Deborah H. Doolittle not the least of them. Open to any page and converse.

[all selections are from Floribunda, © Deborah H. Doolittle, Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2017]

Hepatica americana — Round-lobed Hepatica

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Emily Dickinson’s Wild Flowers

The way she dressed a flower was
just that extravagant.
The haute couture of wild flowers!
wild flowers! her element.

To that pale cheek she called petal,
she pressed both stem and leaf –
the lupine, like crinoline; sweet
clover, tight Damascus weave.

She had played the part of Botanist,
a child’s specialty.
Swamp candles shed no brighter light
in Latin for the bee.

Grasses of Parnassus, skullcap
of the tiny laces,
she pressed herself soft as a moth
treading through her pages.

Antennaria solitaria — Solitary Pussytoes

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Henry David Thoreau and the Sunflower

Who among us has not followed the sun
and hated the clouds that hid its shining face?
Who else but us can claim that we have traced
across the sky the very path it runs?

We’ve traveled much through Concord, you and I.
The widest fields are fenced and most contain
cattle or corn or the stock of kitchen
gardens. The farmers never wonder why

your seeds proliferate upon their grounds.
I know how the wind blows the smallest crumb
and how the bees and birds know where to come.
The two of us, like them, know no such bounds.

The hedgerows and stonewalls can’t grow taller.
The sun is but a star and you’re its flower.

Sanguinaria canadensis — Bloodroot

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Sylvia Plath and the Impatiens

Unlike my empty hands,
it does not just lie there
with its flowers opening

upon white bed linen.
All its seeds jettisoned,
its future guaranteed

for at least another
season, this jewel-weed,
asks for nothing that I

cannot give it. It basks
in my sunlight, breathes in
my exhalations as fast

as I can breathe them out,
again. Still, we are both
waiting for the nurses

to make their rounds, the sun
to rise up, then subside,
for the moon and the stars

to appear and disappear,
for winter’s frost to turn
us into limp black rags.

Asarum virginicum – Heart-leaf Ginger (Little Brown Jugs)

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The other way to walk into Spring, although it takes a month or two, is to stroll along the same trail every day. Linda and I walk the Elkin Valley Trail Association Nature Trail along Big Elkin Creek at least three days a week. First appears trout lily, hepatica close behind, then every day or two there’s a new species in sequence: pussy-toes, wild ginger, bloodroot, rue anemone, star chickweed. In a month there will be foamflower, bellwort, jewel-weed, jack-in-the-pulpit. The photos in this post were all blooming on the same day, March 16, 2020.

Anemonella thalictroides — Rue Anemone

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Deborah H. Doolittle moved from her birthplace in Hartford, Connecticutt through many different landscapes and gardens before settling in Jacksonville, North Carolina. She has an MA in Women’s Studies and and MFA in Creative Writing and teaches at Coastal Carolina Community College. She serves on the Board of the North Carolina Poetry Society and she loves flowers.

Stellaria pubera – Star Chickweed

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Heavenly body, we circle, approach, broad ellipse, eye each other across the expanse, still closer, with proximity our velocity increases. Will we join, mutual revolution, orbit, or will we sling each other into outer darkness?

Am I speaking to you, lines of verse? Or are you speaking to me? From a distance you attract but how finely do I perceive your true nature? Like the person I have loved for so many years: at the moment I say, “I know the real You,” at that precise moment you surprise me, swift and sudden, slap or caress, and I must humble myself or be humbled by the universe of you.

Heavenly body, I continue. Your placid visage resolves, light that blinds, deepest shadow. We move each other, we move before each other, we move but never cross the same path twice, we flow and bud and the moments we create are like no other moments. There is more to you than can be known.

. .  lunar eclipse January 21, 2019; photo by Bill Griffin . .

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I knew Bruce Lader from a distance. We greeted each other at poetry gatherings, shared the occasional comment about the program or a reader. He was solid and planed as an oak table; he met my eye and I had no fear of being shaken; he invited me into his calm.

And then I read two of his books of poetry. The lines compel you to be shaken. He taught for years in New York City, rough and troubled teenagers, and those characters populate many of his poems. Scary at times. And he writes of relationships and longing, about culture and human frailty in images bright and dark but always hand-hewn and polished from the rock of reality. Joanna Catherine Scott wrote of his book Landscapes of Longing: It does not hold back. Open it with care.

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Gravity

Fugitives from each other,
they skulk along dark corridors
of denial, kidnap shadows
cast by a slivered moon
of eclipsed emotions.

Wordlessness betrays them
at the apogee of centrifugal flight,
as they ransom the desperate
anodyne of sex.

. . . Without a fingerprint
the tides of bodily language
have shifted elliptic;
will a touch burn or freeze?
mend or violate?
The quark of midnight:
inexorable undertow,

they treadmill between grief
and fault, looking for a vague
similitude of conjunction
nothing can rescue.

Bruce Lader, from Landscapes of Longing, Main Street Rag Publishing, 2009
[first appearance in Poetry Salzburg Review]

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Siege

All night, freezing rain – the lights
won’t make up their mind;
then everything’s dark. Trees are walking dead.

In the tar pit of time, a transformer
groans like a dinosaur, becomes extinct.
The turncoat furnace sleeps.

Daybreak we are hostages of the ice storm,
light candles, stove, put a bucket
under the leak by the sliding doors,
resuscitate the fireplace, check for damage.

Storm – odd word for weather
so calm where ice builds by degrees,
immures us inside a cold hurricane’s eye.

The neighborhood is a breath
of blown glass. Crack, crash – trees discard
sodden branches. A dove is still
on a telephone wire of silver stalactites.

Debris is strewn over the battlefield
of tree bones. Broken limbs have toppled
the fence, could crush the roof.
We need a generator, radio batteries.
Is there enough food?

Wounded are throwing shivers
helter-skelter against the windows.
A transparent antler points
as a ghost staggers to shelter.

The phone’s gone dead.
In a million offices, packs of wolves
circle, move closer, with fiery silver eyes.

Bruce Lader, from Discovering Mortality, March Street Press, 2005
[first appearance in The Potomac Review]

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Bruce also published Fugitive Hope in 2014, ISBN-13: 978-0991009183.

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Wow, I really like your enjambment.

To the women who said this to me after a reading last Spring: Where are you? Who are you? I’d like to get to know you better. Let’s get together and talk . . .

. . . about my poetry. Oh, right, about yours, too. About all sorts of poetry. Just remember: the sexiest line in the English (Major) language is, I like your poem.

Because let’s face it, most of the people I run into every day don’t want to hear about my poetry. I’d most likely encounter a blank stare, or even a lynch mob, if I confided, “I’m writing a sestina using the argot of 1930’s gangster Chicago.”

But there must be someone out there who admires my enjambment. I guess I’ll have to place myself at the mercy of the Editors.

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Years ago when I first became afflicted with this obsession Poetry I was writing in a vacuum. Lines tumbling about in my head pressuring to be set down on paper – why does someone do that? For a Pulitzer? Not in a million years. Pushcart? Never heard of it. Fortune? Ha ha ha ha ha! Fame? Of course not . . . well, maybe a little would be nice.

No, I suppose I write for the same reason as all writers: the compulsion to get it onto the page, and to get it right. But how to know if it’s right? I was desperate to have someone read from the growing stack. Not to tell me it was good (OK, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they did) but just to confirm that what I was writing was poetry. That the lines communicated what they were meant to. That they connected with the reader.

Having no access to a writer’s group it occurred to me that I should submit to poetry journals. The Editors would let me know how I was doing! Editors are wonderful human beings, but of course they are far busier than I imagined. Most of the feedback they gave came from their Xerox machines. A few had distinctly negative things to say (without ever quite using the word “sucks”). But there was one Editor, one Golden Pen beyond the vale of the SASE, who never failed to encourage.

Perhaps you’ve guessed – I’m talking about Shelby Stephenson. Between 1999 and 2004 I sent him seventeen submissions, eighty plus poems. I must have exhausted him! But the tiny slips that returned along with the poems usually said, “Keep writing!” or “You’ll place these elsewhere.” Sometime during those years I met Shelby in person at an NC Poetry Society meeting and then I understood. The concept rejection does not reside in the man’s soul.

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And then on April 14, 2005, I received in the mail an 8½ x 11 page on the Pembroke Magazine stationery. An acceptance. I must have written a real poem at last.

Here are a few samples of the “non-rejection” slips – I saved every one. Here’s the acceptance letter, and here’s the poem Orange Cap which appeared in Pembroke Magazine Number 38 in 2006.

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Pembroke 2005-04-12

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Orange Cap
for Grady at ninety

Common as dirt; cotton and nylon with a plastic snap band,
stiff front, forehead’s high profile that begs
for jaw ballast of a heavy chew; the kind a man wears
while he primes tobacco, hoes a row of beans,
seep of sweat darkening the brim, its shade
a cool welcome across the man’s red face
while the Piedmont sun sows his ears with slow cancer.
I can see one like it settled low on your narrow head

in many a long day’s field, beneath the nights’ revival tent,
at sixty still cutting timber with your boys,
your bony arms like axe handles, your hoarse chuckle
taming the chainsaw’s growl. You’ll never sit still,
almost ninety now and determined to ride that durned mower
across town, little wagon in tow to carry a brown paper sack –
bread, milk, a slab of streakéd meat
for the creases your daughter cut at the creek bank.

Never still and never capless, one clutched in silent hands
at the hospital that night we lingered with Opal,
last Yadkin County breath struggling from her lungs,
prayers that she’d open her eyes one more time
to your foolish teasing, the only one who could make her laugh –
prayers to be answered in the next life.
For today, always a cap and another to share:
I’ve kept the one you gave me, orange, Kennedy Auto Supply,

dusty then and more so now from its berth
beside these books that don’t tell a single story
that’s as worth hearing. See, I inked your gift’s date
here inside the hem: May 19, 1989. Remember
all the times I’ve rediscovered it, surprised you
at the door with the old blaze perched on my scalp?
Used it to make Opal cluck (but she couldn’t help grinning)?
Coaxed a phlegmy chuckle from your throat?

At each goodbye you ask, Still got that cap?
Like all the things we can’t take off –
the smell of woodsmoke in a canvas jacket,
black tobacco gum beneath cracked nails;
like all the things we’ll wear into glory –
grief, redemption, love for one companion,
shared laughter at an old fool’s tales . . .
yes, friend, I’ve still got it.

first appeared in Pembroke Magazine Number 38, 2006

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Spring Larkspur, Delphinium tricorne — Appalachian Trail north of Groundhog Creek Shelter, 5/2015

Post script

– I pulled out my copy of Number 38 this summer to leaf through it again and discovered there a host of poets I’ve since some to know and revere: Ronald H. Bayes, Ann Deagon, Janice Moore Fuller, Sharon Sharp, Heather Ross Miller, Nancy Tripp King, Isabel Zuber, Susan Meyers, Ruth Moose, and more. I just want to say, “Holy Cow, Shelby!”

And THANKS!

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Doughton Park Tree #3

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Our habitual experience is a complex of failure
and success in the enterprise of interpretation.
If we desire a record of uninterpreted experience,
we must ask a stone to record its autobiography.
Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality

One day the world’s unhappiest man decided to just stuff it all. His business partner had cheated him out of a fortune. His wife had left him. For the business partner. His son was in Rehab. His best friend had gotten himself elected to Congress . . . Republican. Every day the post delivered another stack of rejection slips. “Screw it,” said the world’s unhappiest man.

The world’s unhappiest man had read that scientists had discovered the world’s happiest man living in a small monastery in Nepal, so he tossed an extra pair of socks into a backpack and got on a plane, a bus, a donkey cart, a yak, his own two feet. As he walked upward through the mountains he gave his last rupee to a beggar, but he wasn’t happy. He recalled the happy days with his wife and truly wished for her to be happy again, but he wasn’t happy. He finally figured out that his son was going to have to take responsibility for his own life, but he wasn’t happy. He totally forgot about politics and for a minute he was almost happy. It occurred to him that he would probably write a poem about all this and he thought, “I’ll be happy if it’s any damn good.”

Mouse Creek Falls, GSMNP, 5/2015

A funny thing happened. The clean mountain air, the music of singing birds and laughing brooks, the mighty Himalayas on the horizon – yeah, yeah, whatever. He wasn’t happy.

The world’s unhappiest man finally arrived at the monastery with holes in his shoes, holes in his socks, holes in his heart. He crept into the chilly closet where the world’s happiest man lived and waited while the monk finished his meditation. When the monk opened his eyes, he smiled and welcomed the world’s unhappiest man and said, “People have called me the world’s happiest man, but now that you are here with me my joy is complete.”

The world’s unhappiest man sat down next to the monk and began thinking about that.

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What does it mean to be happy? God knows.

But what does it take to be human? Sitting down next to another.

These poems by Richard Krawiec in his new book, Women Who Loved Me Despite, are not often happy, but there is joy in these lines. Not the easy joy of summer mornings and wrens singing, but the hard-won joy of darkness and pain shared with another.

And there is mercy here, dropping as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. Mercy for the writer who has walked the unforgiving mountain and now sits down to consider. Mercy for us, the readers, who share that walk and that considering and discover, not happiness, but the possibility that we might still be connected, each with the other.

Big Creek, Walnut Bottom, GSMNP, 5/2015

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by Richard Krawiec

Lux Aeterna

I stand on the corner of a downtown street
tapping my feet to a klezmer trio
frenzied strokes of bass and fiddle,
rolling runs from a concertina,
conjuring twirling scarves and gypsies.
In five minutes the bells will strike,
so I turn and race to my friend’s concert,

enter the Cathedral of All Souls
breathless and sweaty as the singers
begin to raise their voices in Lux Aeterna;
the hush builds until the sopranos
pierce the dark inner encavement,
arched steeple-space misted green
and blue from the stained glass robes
of Mary, Joseph, the infant looking down.

Seated to the side of the main aisle,
I watch an aged man’s breathing
start to slow; he slumps sideways,
caught by a woman’s surprised hands.
Two men dressed in choirboy robes,
rush to comfort; one presses the pules
the other encircles shrunken shoulder,
hugs close a gray-crowned head.

Come Holy Spirit the choir sings,
the mass continues, through cleanse . . .
heal . . . joy everlasting . . . broken loaves
of brown wheat. The singers repeat
the sermon litany . . . blessed are . . . blessed are . . .
while EMS, clad in black, rush in and
crimp the man sideways into a wheelchair.
I leave the wine for the darkened streets.

One girl, a mountain Dorothy,
ripped leggings and shiny shoes,
gutter-throats an Appalachian lament
to the faceless mannequin in a storefront
window. It’s wearing a party dress
woven from condoms, black skirt accented
with white. The girl turns away from the bills
I flutter, finger-picks a banjo run of escape
taps a rhythm on the brick sidewalk,
toe plates sparking. Above her, night-scattered
stars loom down. She closes her eyes to embrace
everything as light, and nothing as eternal.

Yellow Ladies' Slippers, Appalachian Trail, 5/2015

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Richard Krawiec – poet, novelist, playwright; editor, publisher, educator – lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. Women Who Loved Me Despite is published by Press 53 in Winston-Salem, which also published an earlier collection by Richard, She Hands Me the Razor.

Richard is the founder of Jacar Press in Raleigh.

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Doughton Park Tree #2

 

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.   .   .   Think of the wren
and how little flesh is needed to make a song. 

from Why Regret?,  Galway Kinnell

Brown-Headed Nuthatch

Sitta pusilla

The Grandson and I are playing with Legos on the back porch. Above the constant chitter of the goldfinch kaffeeklatsch shines a sudden clear bright whistle. “Listen, Saul. That’s a Carolina Wren.”

After a few minutes of silent cogitation, a few more minutes of Lego cars brmmm-brmming across the planks, we hear the bird again. Saul remarks, “He’s saying Senner-pede, Senner-pede.”

“You mean centipede, the little crawly thing with a hundred legs?”

“No, Senner-pede.” Brmm, brmm. “I made that up.”

And the moral of the story: Encountering the logic of the philosopher, even if only six years old, it’s probably best to listen.

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The Carolina Wren is one of my favorites, feisty little troglodyte whose voice is 30 decibels too big for his 30 grams of fluff. Listen to enough wren song and you discover the birds can be quite individual. Scolds, chatters, and so many variations on that 2- or 3- or 4-note whistle: just when you think you know them all someone new moves into the neighborhood.

Fred Chappell is one of my other favorites. He’s one of the writers that inspired me about twenty years ago to rediscover the dark forest of Poetry. I carried a typescript copy of his poem Forever Mountain around in my wallet until it wore through and I’d about memorized it. As I sort through the piles on my shelves I think it’s safe to say I’ve bought every one of his books. The epigrams, the complex forms, the backsass, the cat poems . . .

. . . and just when you think you know his song someone new moves into the neighborhood. At this year’s Sam Ragan Poetry Festival Fred revealed to us that he’s now writing fables, poems that tell a story with a moral. His voice just keeps getting bigger and bigger. And you can bet that a Fred Chappell fable is going to stretch your intellect and then bite you on the ass.

Feisty, yes; troglodyte, no.

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Fox and Bust by Fred Chappell; read at Sam Ragan Poetry Festival,
Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines, NC, on March 21, 2105

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Every year the North Carolina Poetry Society sponsors the Sam Ragan Poetry Festival, named for our state’s third and longest-serving Poet Laureate.  Sam was succeeded by Fred Chappell as our fourth Poet Laureate, illuminating that post from 1997-2002. In 2004 Fred collaborated with philanthropist and poet Marie Gilbert, assisted by William Jackson Blackley and a volunteer board, to create the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series.  Each year since then three notable NC poets have been selected to serve as mentors, each to 3 or 4 students middle school to adult, to create and critique a body of poems, followed by public readings in libraries throughout the state.  Fred is still a guiding light for this endeavor, which celebrated its tenth anniversary at this year’s Sam Ragan Poetry Festival in Southern Pines on March 21, 2015.

The photos and poems from this and the five preceding GriffinPoetry posts commemorate that event.

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Weymouth Woods

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Doughton Park Tree #1

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As an undergrad I majored in (geek alert!) Chemistry. So sophomore year that meant signing up for Physical Chemistry, alias P Chem, universally dreaded for its incomprehensible math and completely non-intuitive concepts. But that year the department had hired a new junior professor whose hair was almost as long as ours. Dr. Falletta was ambi – he could stand at the blackboard with his back to us and write equations with both hands. The chalk would be squeaking, he’d be explaining non-stop, our heads would be just about to explode, and then he would stop mid-sentence, spin around to face us, and exclaim, “I love this stuff!” Thanks, Dr. F, I think I started to love it, too.

Since I went to a liberal arts college even the (geek alert!) Chem Majors had to take English. So sophomore year that meant signing up for American Lit. Dr. Consolo was universally adored. If a student happened to let drop in casual conversation the word epiphany, everyone in the room immediately said, “Oh, you’re taking Consolo’s Lit class.” And even though we had to write a long thesis about a writer of our choice (I selected George Santayana. It was the 70’s; maybe my subconscious imagined I had heard him at Woodstock.), even though it took two all-nighters with Corrasable Bond and carbon paper in the Smith-Corona, I had my epiphany. Thanks, Dr. C, I think that’s when I started to love language.

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I don’t remember a lot about Santayana, even less about P Chem, but I remember the good teachers. The ones who make you want to learn the subject. The ones who convince you that you can learn. That’s what strikes me as I read this poem by Lenard D. Moore. That’s what struck me seeing him with his student, Morgan Whaley Lloyd, at the Sam Ragan Poetry Festival last month. Lenard was Morgan’s mentor in the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet program and he invited her to return and read with him at the 10th anniversary celebration. Lenard makes the lectern thump and hop when he reads; he throws lightning bolts with his poems. You can tell Morgan has been lit up by one of those bolts. You can tell she loves language.

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The Good Students          –           Lenard D. Moore

I cast metaphors
from front of the classroom,
an urgency of brine on the air.
Necks crane,
eyes target the ceiling,
as if a trope might drop,
sprawl across the tables.

Can they bring up
starfish, jellyfish or blowfish
in such salty spewing
in brilliant autumn sunlight
while hands flounder
across blank journal-pages
hot and desperate for words?

Now that an hour rings
their heads lower,
nets hook some blue crabs
clawing into the hearts of poems
in this moment of classroom lore,
dragging pens between lines,
white edges of shores.

The Good Students originally appeared in Solo Café 8 & 9: Teachers and Students (Solo Press, 2011).

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Joy in The Run           –          Morgan Whaley Lloyd

Knees crack like an ungreased lever
Short steps, pounding pavement.
The stiffness begins to wear off;
the first mile was the warm up
‘Miles to go before I sleep’
The future is uncertain, find joy in run, for fear is just a test.

Obstacles begin to appear dim and distant,
but before I know it, they catch up to me.
I have to reroute to stay the course.
Short, staggering breaths as I trek the puddled sidewalk
adorned with last night’s spring shower.
The future is uncertain, find joy in run, for fear is just a test.

A wash out causes me to stumble
my ankle has a meeting with death,
but the quickness of cat-like reactions
returns my stance to center
my balancing beam arms retract.
The future is uncertain, find joy in run, for fear is just a test.

This turn reveals turbulence.
My feet tap the concrete, and
I feel like a deer gliding through a wood.
My steps are gentle to lessen the impact.
Eyes, lasered on the clearing.
The future is uncertain, find joy in run, for fear is just a test.

The sun shines; I’m blinded by its glare.
Trusting my senses, I am lead by smells of honeysuckle and pine.
A cool breeze entices the nerves in my legs.
My insecurities are left behind.
Then, a dog barks from a nearby home, and my senses awaken.
The future is uncertain, find joy in run, for fear is just a test.

The sidewalk, sprinkled with challenges,
The crowded highway with distractions
just waiting to pull me away has formed a cross.
I decrease my speed, clueless as which road is the
‘less traveled by’ or which will make ‘all the difference’
The future is uncertain, find joy in run, for fear is just a test.

My skin is weathered by the trip
The scares are passport entries detailing my every move
My steps cannot be undone
My path cannot be retraced
The journey is the trophy
The future is uncertain, find joy in run, for the only fear you should have is the end.

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Geek Alert: I got an A in P Chem . . . and an A in American Lit.

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Morgan Whaley Lloyd is English Department Head at James Kenan High School in Duplin County, NC.

Lenard D. Moore is Executive Chairman of the North Carolina Haiku Society, among many other teaching and writing responsibilities; see additional bio at South Writ Large.

Lenard’s most recent book is A Temple Looming.

Other poems by Lenard at Connotations Press and Cordite Poetry Review

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