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Posts Tagged ‘NC Poets’

[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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Poetry Formatting in WordPress

Are you frustrated when you try to re-create complex line formatting in a WordPress post?

Sure, you can right / left / center justify a paragraph, and you can “add indent” to a paragraph, but unless you open the hood and get grease on your hands writing HTML, you can’t add tabs or spaces to a line to get it to look like this:

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The damselfly hovers,
+++ lays her eggs
++++++ in the sky
+++++++++ of pond,

her abdomen
+++ a slender J
++++++ pierces
+++++++++ the mirror.

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Instead after you save your draft and preview the screen here’s how it looks:

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The damselfly hovers,
lays her eggs
in the sky
of pond,

her abdomen
a slender J
pierces
the mirror.

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How pedestrian. How constipated.

Here’s my fix: clunky but effective. Tell me your fix if it’s better!

1 – ADD CHARACTERS TO THE SPACES OR TABS YOU WANT TO INSERT INTO THE LINE:

The damselfly hovers,
+++ lays her eggs
++++++ in the sky
+++++++++ of pond,

her abdomen
+++ a slender J
++++++ pierces
+++++++++ the mirror.

Here I’m using THREE +’s for each tab grouping; use more, fewer, any character you like.
I am also adding a [SPACE] after each grouping of +’s to make it easier to highlight them later.

2 – ONE AT A TIME, HIGHLIGHT EACH GROUPING OF +’S YOU WANT TO TRANSFORM

3 – CHANGE THE FONT COLOR TO “WHITE”

Click the small down arrow next to the A for Font and select the White square

Note – if your blog uses a background color OTHER than white, then instead of white you need to change the font color to your background color!

4 – CONTINUE FOR EACH GROUPING . . .
++++++++ SAVE DRAFT . . .
++++++++++++++++ PREVIEW . . .
++++++++++++++++++++++++ VOILA!

You can speckle random text all over the screen using this technique.

There must be a better way (short of learning to write code), but I haven’t found it!

Here’s the entire poem, which appeared in a slightly different version in my chapbook RIVERSTORY : TREESTORY published by the Orchard Street Press, © 2018

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Light

The damselfly hovers,
+++ lays her eggs
++++++ in the sky
+++++++++ of pond,

her abdomen
+++ a slender J
++++++ pierces
+++++++++ the mirror.

+++ Once.
+++ Again.
+++ One egg.
+++ Another.

Light as a morning
+++ kiss, light
++++++ as the voice

that ripples
+++ between
++++++ these lines,

+++ airy, watchful,

let no hungry trout
+++ swirl, lunge,
++++++ swallow
+++++++++ their maker.

+++ One.
+++ Another.
+++ Again.
+++ And tomorrow

these words become
+++ creatures
++++++ with silver wings

+++++++++ that rise
++++++++++++ into light.

 

from RIVERSTORY : TREESTORY, The Orchard Street Press, © 2018 Bill Griffin

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[with 3 poems by Diana Pinckney]

No hesitation. Out the back door she takes my hand and we hike down through the woods, steep switching trail, slick moss rocks, sliding on last fall’s leaves. Big brother is not with us today; she is the explorer. I wonder if she’ll hold back at the wash but she hops rocks across the rivulet and even runs ahead of me along Dutchman Creek. Threading the briers, skirting mud, twigs in her hair – she is all go today.

When we reach our destination, the shallow pools that linger from winter floods and may be dry by August, I hesitate. Not so many months ago she would make me check the playroom floor for millipedes, back away from pillbugs on the porch steps, want to be carried to the car.

I squat in a squishy place beside the water and show her clumps of clear jelly. Most of the eggs have hatched, some larvae still in their shivery globes, many tadpoles swimming free. With one finger I push algae aside so she can see them wriggle. Instantly her fingers are in the water, too. Tickling the tiny black wigglers. Oblivious to muck and slime. Pappy, can we come back here tomorrow?

This is what I would wish for her at five and all her life – to be innocent and yet be bold. To face the new and the scary and not look away. To discover, to wonder. And to remember the immense power of NO! bursting from her body, now when her brother thwarts her playful imaginings and always when the world conspires to steal that innocence from her.

And, for as long as I’m able, I wish for her to still want me to carry her.

 

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Who is completely innocent and who is entirely beast? Diana Pinckney’s poems are subtle like a rustle in the night but lucid, windows breathing light and fragrance into the world. Her language and lines are effortlessly elegant. Her poems seem to arrive from all the points of the compass to create community: persona poems in which the reader comes to inhabit a new being; poems of family, loss, commemoration, revelation; ekphrastic poems that uncover hidden truth in painting, sculpture, representation.

And woven throughout her book, The Beast and the Innocent, lurks the wolf: tyrant predator, misunderstood victim; purity and profane. Who is the threat and who the threatened? Aren’t we all only doing what it takes to survive?

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Ghost Wolves, for My Grandchildren

You may see one in a zoo
***** and ask, does he howl
********** and I may say, what would

he howl about? What, you ask, does a wild
***** wolf sound like? What could I answer? Wind
********** when it rises from the deepest

canyon to the tops of spruce
***** or the fog’s blue surge, the drift
********** above dying embers. Smoke alone

moves toward the stars in a world
***** where nothing is heard and only the moon
********** knows then the last tree falls.

Emptiness that whispers
***** after the wilderness
********** has forgotten what it longs for.

from The Beast and the Innocent, Diana Pinckney, FutureCycle Press, © 2015

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My Brother Sings
after Raymond Carver’s “What the Doctor Said”

He sings when the dogwoods are blooming as I drive
him and his wife along the highway from Asheville,
away from a hospital where we waited in the doctor’s office,
sitting in gray chairs, joking about my allergy

to their six cats, ow I can’t sleep in their house
and still breathe. I watched my brother move
his fingers over swollen knuckles that he used to
crack when I was little just to tease. There to hear

the results of the lung biopsy, now we know.
Traveling through Blue Ridge mountains, we see
dogwoods, redbuds, cherry trees heavy
with April’s abundance. When my brother

begins the song, his wife in the back seat on her cell
interrupts, Dabney, will you please stop singing
while I’m telling Sis you have cancer. Oh, sorry, he says.
He glances at me while petals drift with us

down the mountain. Our laughter’s almost soundless.

from The Beast and the Innocent, Diana Pinckney, FutureCycle Press, © 2015

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The Beast and The Innocent

Of course, dogs and cats go to heaven,
my mother announce from her deathbed.
Welcomed into heaven, my childhood cat
will groom Grandmother’s canary, feathers the same
yellow as the black cat’s eyes, the bird

he ate when I was seven. In paradise
pointers lap at duck ponds while cockatiels
screech and perch on each dog’s white- or black-
spotted back. Heaven’s way is,

as we have heard, the lion lying down
with the lamb. A place where Christians kindle
the eight candles of Hanukkah, Muslims unfurl
prayer rugs for Hindi, and the roped Tibetan prayer

flags flutter good fortune for the Chinese.
The wine and wafer bless a round wooden table, a feast
celebrated with unleavened and leavened,
mango and oyster, babel unlimited. And the spaniel
that killed my brother’s rabbits will lie

on the wide-bladed grass of my youth, all manner
of four- and two-legged creatures leaping
over him, some stroking the red-and-white silk
of his fur for pure pleasure, for the grace.

from The Beast and the Innocent, Diana Pinckney, FutureCycle Press, © 2015

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Doughton Park Tree 2021-03-23

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[with 3 poems by Tony Abbott]

Mike and I met at a remote trailhead below Mt. Pisgah to hike up into Shining Rock Wilderness. We planned to spend one night at our favorite site after reaching it by this unfamiliar approach. End of September, gorgeous reds and golds, brittle blue sky, and we were prepared for cold above 5,000 feet.

No camp fires permitted in a Wilderness Area. We made tea over a little alcohol stove, sat on the ground, and talked until it grew too dark to see. The ultralight 2-person tent Mike had packed was cozy, which is to say it was more like a 1 ½-person tent. We’d be keeping each other warm.

I woke up after midnight in dense darkness and couldn’t breathe. Got out of the tent, pulled on my balaclava, walked away to pee, sat on a log – deep silence, no owl hoot, no chitter of flying squirrels, not one breath of wind. When my butt started to freeze I tried squeezing back into my mummy bag. No good. My chest tightened, the thick black pushed down on my face, I had to claw its hand away. Worst claustrophobia ever.

I finally dragged my sleeping pad and bag out to a level space in the pine needles, wrapped a jacket around my feet, and hunkered in just as the moon rose through the red spruce. Cold light expanded my lungs. At some point, hours creeping, moon in my eyes, I fell asleep. Mike woke me at first sun.

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What can bring light into darkness? What hand comforts the clench of fear? What consoling faith casts away doubt? What companion banishes loneliness?

The forward to Anthony S. Abbott’s book Dark Side of North, published posthumously by Press 53 this year, consists of a remembrance presented by Dr. Jacqueline Bussie at Tony’s memorial service on October 17, 2020. Here is an excerpt:

Suffering didn’t make Tony unique. What he did with it did. Tony was the first adult, and the first teacher, I’d ever met in life who was willing to talk about the hard stuff. He taught us that suffering sucks. That suffering denied is suffering unhealed. He taught us to never sugarcoat suffering, smack a pink bow on it, or shove it to the back of the drawer. In one of my favorite lines in Tony’s poetry, he urges us to get down to “the Humpty-Dumpty business of trying to make a jewel out of the cracked pieces of the heart.”

Dr. Jacqueline Bussie, page xiv, Dark Side of North

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The Boy from Somewhere Else

lived in the open mouth of the world.
He chewed on the dry branches of time.
He was handsome enough, to be sure,

but there was in his voice
the deep well of absence.
He was with them, but not of them.

His speech was familiar, but not theirs,
and when he told tales
of his drunken uncles and stage-struck

sisters, they nodded politely
and they spoke in their apple-round voices
of kith and kin, and told how their

grandfathers had founded the first
bank in Hitchcock County.
He would wait, this boy.

He would find one day the person
who could hear his music
as blood red leaves matched autumn.

He could not be mistaken about this.
When she came, he would recognize her
at once – as one knows the coming storm

by the first, distant clap of thunder.
Perhaps he could not keep her.
Perhaps one can never keep such a gift.

But, still, she would grace his years – the buds
of his growing up, the rattling trains of the
middle passage, the brittle bones of the slow

descent, the icy nights of the final coming down.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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The Light in the Window
In memory of Nancy Abbott Hieronymus (1926-2017)

How early I must have known that she was
my true mother, that when she packed her bag
I must go with her. She would keep me safe.

How early I must have known that she was
my true teacher, making the sounds of the words
with her mouth so I could learn them, too.

How early I must have known that she was
my true protector, throwing herself across me
slashing her knee on the broken windshield glass.

Later, when I was nearly grown, cocky sophomore
in prep school, riding the subway home at 2 a.m.,
she left a light in the window on that I

would turn out when I came in. I didn’t know
she stayed awake until she heard the door open
and close, heard the click of the light going off.

Now I sit by her bed and watch her sleep and wake,
sleep and wake, and tell me how she loves
her precious Dick, how she will hold his hand

all the way to heaven. Beyond the light in her window
the evening comes over the island, the deer prick up
their ears, the foxes peek from their dens. In the pines

the gold crowned kinglet waits. She is coming, they say,
our friend is coming, the one who loved us all these years.
Tonight I will go home, and the friends who loved her so

will arrive, one by one, to take her in their arms,
and the next night the angel will stand at the foot
of her bed. You are loved, he will say, and enfold her

with his bright wings. And she will go where that brightness
is and, like a light in the window, shine upon us all.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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The Long Afternoon

All through the long afternoon
the wind moved in the branches.
I had lived in the city and had seen
only the dust from the tires,
the diesel gas from the gray brown
buses with their leaden burdens.

Here it was different. Here on the grass
we had found by chance, walking
away, just away from everything
and then, a clearing and green
grass and the wind moving
like silver over the water
and in the branches, too. Yes,

all through the long afternoon
the wind moved and we were silent
in awe of the day and leaves
yellow and red and orange,
which floated slowly down
into our waiting hands.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Later
I found these leaves in a book
where you had put them for
safe keeping, a book you knew
I would take down and read
some distant starry night.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

 

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Thank you, Tony. We will continue trying, and we will not stop trying, to make something beautiful from the brokenness that we are. Together. May it be and become so.

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The North Carolina Poetry Society has honored Anthony S. Abbott’s memory and shared Tony’s poetry at its January, 2021 literary meeting and with a commemoration in the Winter, 2021 edition of its quarterly publication, Pine Whispers.

The line “the Humpty-Dumpty business of trying to make a jewel out of the cracked pieces of the heart.” is from Tony’s poem Before Forty in his book The Girl in the Yellow Raincoat (St. Andrews Press, 1989) and collected in New & Selected Poems (Lorimer Press, 2009).

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2015-06-15Doughton Park Tree

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[with 2 poems by Beth Copeland]

February 23, 2021

It’s all downhill from here. That’s what someone told me when I retired last September and it didn’t sound much like a benediction. Today though, sitting down to eat lunch half way through my long day’s hike and knowing that this is, indeed, the highest point on the Blue Ridge I’ll reach, all downhill sounds pretty inviting.

Today is my “birthday hike.” Every February I spend one day hiking the 17-mile perimeter trail at Doughton Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway. A few times I’ve had to break trail through fresh snow, once freezing sleet slicked my balaclava into a glass helmet, but today it’s supposed to reach the 40’s up here near 3,000 feet. I might get sunburned. I’m eating lunch at the 8.5 mile mark, a stone NPS shelter at the top of Alligator Back that looks down into Basin Cove, and across the holler I can trace this morning’s elevation profile.

Park at Basin Creek, climb the trail a quick 800 feet or so, then another more gradual 800, then continue following the ridgeline to encircle the cove – up / down \ up / down \ up / up / up, the final ice-encased switchbacks climbing Alligator Back especially gruesome. But here I am half way done and now it’s all downhill! Hmmm, after more than 20 years of hiking this trail I know better. For every moderate descent there’s another knob rising up ahead, down \ up /down until the final mile of narrow white-knuckle hairpins back to the creek.

It’s not how long the trail, it’s the elevation change. Mom turns 93 tomorrow and Dad at 94 is right there with her. She can hear better than he; he can remember better than she. They practice exercises the Therapist is teaching them so they can walk the mild uphills and downhills around their block every afternoon. So far this year they haven’t really had any net elevation change in independence, well, not enough to sweat; we’re all living day to day on pretty level ground. For her birthday Linda and I have given Mom a book of animal photography by Joel Sartore – her face shines as she turns each page. My sister Mary Ellen and her partner Wendy gave her a patio fire pit table and Mom and Dad look happy as Hobbits hunched around it.

From this vantage that we call today we can look across the blue mountains of time and retrace in memory what brought us here. The trail ahead is less clear, or maybe our vision is perfectly clear even if not clearly perfect. Rough paths, slick spots – inevitable. It can get steep. For today let’s share the view together.

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I’m reading Beth Copeland’s Blue Honey for the second time and I know I will be reading it yet again. Most of the poems are set during the years her parents were entering their 90’s and declining as Alzheimer’s Disease progressed. She meets each waypoint of loss, theirs and hers, with tenderness and clarity. From vignettes of memories and intense moments she paints a portrait of their lives and reveals her own.

When we lose a parent to death the moment is etched on our hearts but also the calendar. We recall where we were, what was said; we commemorate the date. With Alzheimer’s we lose our parent in random bits like sparks that fly up from a campfire and extinguish in the night. Eventually the body sitting before us contains nothing of the person except an occasional glimpse as ephemeral as ash. Beth Copeland shows us that this sort of loss will make you cry, will make you pissing angry, and will also sometimes thank God make you laugh! Her poems are intensely personal but I also discover myself in so many of them. These lines are, from their first step along the trail and through all the sweaty climbs and bittersweet descents, perfectly human.

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Sandhills Gold

. . . in the Sandhills of North Carolina,
a few lucky beekeepers strike blue gold.
– Chick Jacobs

The year Daddy died, beekeepers found blue
honey in their hives. How it turns

blue or why it only happens
here no one knows. Some

think bees feed on bruised huckleberries, scuppernongs
or kudzu blossoms. Too far inland, Daddy

never found it in the forty-five years
he kept hives. In the nursing home, I talked

blue honey into blue eyes that
stared back in a blur

of lost memory and sleep. What
was he thinking? I spoke

of his veiled hat and long gloves,
bellowing hives

with smoke so he could pull combs and
honey from inside, and pour sourwood

into old Mason jars in slow motion
like the lengthening summer day

when the sky was so delphinium
it could be music, or the blue

shadow that followed me through the doorway
into the buzzing of bees when I

was thirteen, crying behind the pear tree because
I wasn’t popular enough to be

May Queen. This is what I choose
to keep against forgetting:

You’ll always
be my queen,

he said, bending
to kiss my forehead. I carry

that moment like a bee
in amber on a gold chain

above my heart to ward off wintering
broods and dark swarms, a queen without

a country or hive, standing in slanted light
as bees droned

around my head, weaving a crown of wings
and buzzing with sweetness.

* * * * *

Grief like honey left too long in the jar,
like the pint we bought last year

from a beekeeper who used to sell pot,
in the pantry all winter flanked by bottles

of blackstrap and Hungry Jack
crystallizing in the dark,

too solid to spoon onto bread unless you melt it
in water on the stove. Impatient,

I spread the gold grains on my toast, remembering
when he was alive and it

poured in slow
measures onto my mother’s home-baked bread. One

summer he visited me in Chicago after robbing
his hive of a quart jar of sourwood, his

ankles so swollen
from stings he slept with his feet propped

on pillows. I want this
grief to dissolve like a lemon

lozenge on my tongue, I want
to taste the sweetness

of mornings
before sorrow, anger, remorse

soured my vision of being
young and oblivious to his

pain, I want my words to flow
like a vein

onto the blue-lined page as holy
honey flowed from his white

hives onto our bread, our tongues, our lives.

from Blue Honey, Beth Copeland, The Broadkill River Press, © 2017

 

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Nothing Blue

When I leave she asks, Are you
going to that cabin with Phil? She can’t

recall our wedding. She wore
a periwinkle dress she bought at Belk’s

so she wouldn’t
embarrass me garbed in something

old as she sipped champagne and nibbled
cake. I live there. We’re

married, remember? She blinks. Oh,
that’s right. Not her fault, but I’m so

tired of wanting
her to hold onto that

one day. When I arrive to chauffeur
her to the doctor, she’s not

dressed but tells the nurse, I could live
on my own if I had a family. What

am I, chopped
liver? She tells her friends I never

visit because she forgets. On the drive
home, I pass a blur of chicory

growing wild around
a crinoline of Queen Anne’s

Lace – something
old, nothing

new, one thing borrowed,
almost blue

from Blue Honey, Beth Copeland, The Broadkill River Press, © 2017

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Blue Honey won the 2017 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize from The Broadkill River Press. Not long after the book’s release Beth, Teresa Price, and I read together at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville. A brilliant day! I still have the Poetrio Author! April 8, 2018 bookmark in my copy of Beth’s book. Zoom is a congenial gathering of sorts but reading beside another author you admire before a phalanx of expectant mostly strangers, well, that’s adrenaline.

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View across Basin Cove from Flat Rock Ridge — see the speck of a tree all by itself in the bald patch on the horizon? Watch for it . . . !

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[with 3 poems by Patricia Hooper]

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, February 05-07, 2021

the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen . . .

Faint tracks – but when has life ever laid it out plain, an open book, page upon page with footnotes? Aren’t I still searching between the lines, faint traces, no clear prints? Lately I dream every night of making diagnoses, explaining treatments, buffing up my charts. Is Jung telling me that this was my only purpose in life and now it’s over?

Deer walk a diagonal gait – each hoof print is really two impressions, the forefoot overlaid with the rear. If the rear hoof strikes a little lateral within each fore print it means the pelvis is wider = you are following a female.

Don’t plan on seeing a bear in the Smokies in February. Mom is asleep in a hollow tree with her cubs and Dad is dozing under a bush somewhere (he snores), though he might rouse up to forage on a warm afternoon. So why are we studying mammals at Tremont in February? In the sere meadows, the leaf-littered groves, under the pale unforgiving sky the book of all their signs is open for us to read. Let’s hike up to that oak tree and see who’s been scratching for acorns, see who has left us some scat. Let’s follow that faint trail through dry brown stalks to check out predator and prey. Who clawed up this white pine? Who stepped in the mud?

Canids: dog paw prints show deep claw marks with claws of outer toes angled outward; coyote claw marks are less distinct but all aligned strait ahead; gray fox claw marks are the least distinct since they save the claws for climbing trees, and the rear pad looks scalloped like a chevron.

But clear prints are maybe 1% of tracking. We’re learning a new vocabulary of chewed nut and compressed grass. Tracking is patterns and connections, habitats and behaviors. Measure the size of the incisors that gnawed this antler. Measure the bits of skull and femur in this dropping.

And can I learn a new language? Maybe all these dreams are about knitting up the years, tying the last knot, laying it away to pull out when I need to reminisce. Or maybe I need to discover something missed. Life is not disjunctive – the end of every moment flows into the beginning of the next. The assurance of past creates future. Tracking in Cades Cove – a metaphor for opening oneself to an unseen message within, to the evidence of human purpose. Connections, convictions. We track a personal ecology that leaves signs for us to discover, to question, to wonder.

To follow.

Tracks have lead us to this place, maybe with a lesson or two that sunk in along the way. Some wisdom. And the tracks that still lead forward?

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Patricia Hooper’s bright clear poetry touches earth with a feather – to bring color and flight. Garden, feeder, wild crag, starry night, in all seasons she observes the particular and discovers its connection to the universal. Nature is her palette but human nature is the canvas she illuminates. The poems of her latest book, Wild Persistence, taken singly seem to open our eyes to brief moments or localities, but as a whole these poems weave a complex narrative of family, longing, grief, redemption. I find joy in her art.

Patricia moved to North Carolina in 2006 and lives in Gastonia. In 2020 she was awarded the Brockman-Campbell Award of the North Carolina Poetry Society for Wild Persistence, awarded for the year’s best book of poetry by a North Carolina author.

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Elegy for a Son-in-Law

1.

A distant figure on the mountainside
seems to be coming closer, then it turns,
a blue, retreating cap, a scarlet jacket.
Without another sign, I know you’re there,
climbing again the way you used to climb
before you were a ghost. I want to call
Don’t go! Come back! I have your two small sons
sleeping behind me in the car, their mother
watching the sky for falcons. But you move
farther away. Or we do. Now you’re gone,
back toward Mount Sterling where she took your ashes.
I hope it’s peaceful there. I hope you know
they’re doing well. I hope you didn’t see us.

2.
These are the mountains where you were a boy,
broad waves of mountains rolling like an ocean
into the distance, no horizon, only
these smoky contours where you knew each rise
and hemlock forest, plunging stream. Your friends
tell how you often left them for a while
after you’d reached the top, to be alone,
then met them at the camp, all tales and laughter.
Today, a red-tailed hawk riding the breeze,
gold leaves, cascading creeks, – your kind of joy:
cold rushing currents, then the ecstatic slide.

3.
This is the world you wanted: brisk fall air,
the valleys hung with haze, that long blue range
half-hidden by the clouds. It’s coming clear.
How far you must have seen from there! And here?
It’s hard to see around so many hills,
so many peaks and gorges, and the curves
are slippery on the parkway, miles of turns.
We’re heading home. The boys are waking now,
their mother’s passing crackers, pointing out
the overlook ahead: blue waterfall,
deep river valley, autumn leaves, the pines
along the ridge, the rising trail – and there,
the summit you’d have shown them. Mist and shine.

from Wild Persistence, Patricia Hooper, University of Tampa Press, 2019

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In Tennessee

The Blue Ridge at sunset – hardly a missed note
in the hemlocks where a mockingbird is singing
while to the west a falcon dips, then glides
over the valley, indistinct from here
except that the bird falls lower than the chair
I’m sitting in, and disappears. The sky
is the color of pomegranate, and the balcony
slips into shadow like the distant hills.
No wonder that the mockingbird is singing
a medley of every song he knows,
no matter whose. No wonder that he sits
in the glow of a single flood lamp high above
the roof, a pool he must mistake for sunlight,
enough to urge him on and on and through
his repertoire that bird by bird is ringing
over the day’s end, over the night’s coming.
Maybe he has to sing to know himself
as part of things – finch, cardinal, wren, and now
that long coarse call that sounded like the crow
or Steller’s jay – whatever voice he’s pulling
out of himself, some sound against the silence,
against the signs of brightness vanishing.
The railing of the porch dissolves in mist,
the sun has set, and now we’re weightless, drifting
as if suspended in the blackening air.
His sphere of light no longer seems as clear.
Maybe he knows the lamplight isn’t sunlight.
Maybe he feels he too is disappearing
into the darkness like this porch and chair.
he has to sing, he has to keep on singing,
to know he’s really there.

from Wild Persistence, Patricia Hooper, University of Tampa Press, 2019

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At the Rifle River

When the eagle unfurled, clearing
the green dome of the forest,
I almost missed it

till somebody cried, “Look up!”

and there it was
in the sky over the river

which I saw it must have owned
the way it spanned the rapids
with a single stroke,

and the sky parted.

I can’t say I believe
in messengers from the clouds,

but I didn’t believe
this was an accident either,

the way its light
tore through the drab morning
I barely lived in, and then

it rose over the steaming
forest, it disappeared.

*
At the time I was only watching
my own path by the river,

but afterward
I knew it must still be there
over the rim of maples

its white helmet, its fire,
and its gold eye turned toward me,

or something enough like it,
something powerful and amazing
which someone else sees.

Imagine my certainty
the moment before it rose
through the world, crossing the water,
that there was nothing anymore to surprise me.

Imagine my emptiness.

Imagine my surprise.

from Separate Flights, Patricia Hooper, University of Tampa Press, 2016

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GSMIT // SANCP

Special thanks to Jeremy Lloyd and John DiDiego directors and instructors at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, for the weekend Mammals course, which is part of the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program, and to Wanda DeWaard, guest instructor for the day and master tracker and naturalist.

The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program at GSMIT comprises eight weekend courses designed to provide fundamental and specialty skills in Southern Appalachian ecology and interpretive techniques. Each weekend includes 15 hours and more of lecture and hands-on field study. Upon completion the student receives the non-credit Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certificate from the University of Tennessee.

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