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Posts Tagged ‘NC Poets’

[with 3 poems by Gerald Barrax Sr.]

Next month I’ll be leading a couple of nature walks for our local trails association. My fellow naturalists-for-a-morning – as we enter the world of trees and ferns, birds and bugs, what special guidance shall I give you? I’ll mention the primary tasks of the naturalist – notice; ask questions; make connections – but what might make our small journey together even more personal and meaningful?

I think I’ll say, Let’s be slow to name things. Yes, we are each going to encounter some things we recognize. We will also each see or hear or smell something unknown, maybe an odd shaped leaf, a bird call, a pungent mushroom. Either way, may we allow everyone to fill their senses with the thing, share the encounter, before we speak its name.

Am I correct in this: once I give something a name do I stop noticing it as fully? I end my close attention, my exploration of its flower, its leaf. I quit asking myself, What does this remind me of? What is this like and what is it not? I’m done. I’ve finished wondering.

Let’s be slower to name things. Let’s extend wonder as long as we can. Wonder is why we’ve come here.

On the other hand, working together to figure out something’s name is bonkers. As in, we share a crazy laugh when we’ve done it. Yesterday Linda and I visited the NC Zoo with our daughter and her family. All day and many miles of walking through Uwharrie forest to visit Africa and North America with a four-year old, what a blast.

Late afternoon SIL Josh and I lagged behind Linda, Margaret, and Bert – we’d heard a very unfamiliar bird call in the canopy and were craning our necks. Sort of a half-hearted cluck framed by a sharp tik or two fore and aft. I’d been listening to birdsong CDs and it kind of reminded me of the hiccup of Henslow’s Sparrow. Nah, super rare, plus completely wrong habitat. Then we caught a glimpse – way bigger than a sparrow or warbler, long bill, yellow all over.

A female summer tanager! High fives. Yeah, we were a little slow but we worked it out together. Totally bonkers. Or maybe not.

 

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To Waste at Trees

Black men building a Nation,
My Brother said, have no leisure like them
No right to waste at trees
Inventing names for wrens and weeds.
But it’s when you don’t care about the world
That you begin owning and destroying it
Like them.

And how can you build
Especially a Nation
Without a soul?
He forgot that we’ve built one already –
In the cane, in the rice and cotton fields
And unlike them, came out humanly whole
Because our fathers, being African,
Saw the sun and moon as God’s right and left eye,
Named Him Rain Maker and welcomed the blessing osf his spit,
Found in the rocks his stoney footprints,
Heard him traveling the sky on the wind
And speaking in the thunder
That would trumpet in the soul of the slave.

Forget this and let them make us deceive ourselves
That seasons have not meanings for us
And like them
we are slaves again.

Gerald Barrax Sr.
from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA

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As I recently began reading Black Nature I stumbled through the sections at random until I happened upon a name I recognized – a name may be an anchor or it may become a sail to catch the wind. I followed the guyline of Gerald Barrax through all the pages it touched. Lines so rich, so provoking and impeaching, I can’t be the same after reading.

Gerald William Barrax, Sr. (June 21, 1933 ~ December 7, 2019) was the first African American professor at North Carolina State University, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, and winner of the North Carolina Award for Literature. Other awards include the Sam Ragan Award and the Raleigh Medal of Arts. In 2006 he was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. His teaching career at NC State spanned 27 years and he served as the editor of the Black literary journal Obsidian.

I’ll be sharing more poetry discoveries from this amazing anthology as I continue my explorations.

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What More?

My lawnmower has awakened the resident god of my yard
who rugs its leafy hand in anticipation
of troubling me again with one of its cruel koans,

this one a small bird dropped
from the sky, or thrown out,
out of the sweetgum tree

where I was cutting
that long triangle of grass outside
the back fence: put there

when I wasn’t looking, it lies
on its back twitching half in and out of the swath
I cut a minute before.

I’m being tampered with again,
like an electron whose orbit and momentum
are displaced by the scientist’s measurement

and observation. If I’d found something already stiff
and cold on the ground
I’d have kicked or nudged it out of my path:

but the just-dead, the thing still warm,
just taken its last breath, made its last
movement, has its own kind of horror.

I leave the small patch of uncut grass around it.
Back inside my enclosed yard
I see a brown thrasher come and stand over the body,

with some kind of food in its bill.
(I was careful to say “bill” and not “mouth.”)
By the next time I cut myself around the yard,

I see the thrasher sitting on the fence above the still dead,
still holding whatever it has in its bill. I’ve described
it all accurately. What more could anyone expect of me?

Gerald Barrax Sr.
from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA

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I Called Them Trees

The last time
+++ +++ +++ I went to the library
I looked at the flowers
surrounding the statue of Steven Collins
Foster and the old darkie ringing
+++ the banjo at his feet
+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ :flowers planted
in four triangular beds
alternating red and white.
I saw they were all the same kind.

There were others
+++ +++ +++ +++ in front of the building
in long wide rectangular rows
bordered by round clusters of pastel green
and white that were too deep, too dark
+++ red, maroon, for easy images
+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ :I called

them all flowers.
And the stunted trees I
wished I had known, bending over the green

terrace above the flowers
+++ like women whose faces
I couldn’t see washing
their hair in deep green pools, I called
trees. If I had told you would you
+++ had known them?

+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ There were
flowers for me. There
were trees. There were kinds
of birds and something blue
that crouched
+++ +++ +++ in the green day waiting
for evening.
If I had told you would
you have known?

I sat
+++ on a bench among flowers
and trees facing
the traffic +++ surveying all

I knew of impalas, cougars, falcons
barracudas, mustangs wild
+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ cats,
marlins, watching cars
go by. +++ I named them
+++ all.

Gerald Barrax Sr.
from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Edited by Camille T. Dungy, © 2009 University of Georgia Press, Athens GA

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Doughton Park Tree 4/30/2022

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[with 3 poems by Joanne Durham]

As my years advance does the bowl of my life become deeper, wider, more capacious? Joanne Durham’s new book of poetry from Evening Street Press has me reflecting, and not least because of its title. Events, experiences, memories fill the bowl; when I return to the bowl and drink I discover that the more I refresh myself the more the bowl fills itself. And me. Never emptied, always replenished. As Joanne reminds us with this opening quotation by Naomi Shihab Nye: Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us we find poems . . . .

Certainly. If you are a poet the bowl of memory will give you a poem. If you’re an artist, a painting. If a novelist, a houseful of spicy characters, no doubt. Writers intentionally revisit the milestones and landmarks of the past like a traveler trying to find their way back home after a long absence. Or like a possum in the compost heap convinced there are tasty bits concealed there.

But if I am simply jotting down recollections for the purpose of crafting a few lines, I am missing the deeper power of this image: to drink from a wider bowl. Not a cup, narrow and designed for only one person; a bowl, a communal vessel, something we all may dip into. Something that perhaps actually requires more than one for it to be lifted and poured. Not necessarily to say that advancing years invariably bring wider perspective and wisdom. If only that were true.

The converse, though, certainly is true – one does not need six or seven decades to open oneself to the wider world of human feeling. The wider bowl is the horizon that embraces not only my own recalled experiences but invites me to drink understanding and compassion for the experiences of others as well. When I drink from a wider bowl, I value and treasure the lives of those I don’t even know. Poetry knows how to do that. Poetry invites, includes, embraces – three gestures the world will always need.

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Learning

What happens to the sun at night?
I ask the four-year-olds,
cross-legged on the carpet,
Marcos confidently explains,
It goes to New Jersey.
April, whose Mom has read her books
about everything
helpfully chirps,
The earth tilts and you
can’t see it anymore.
Darnell with raised arm churning the air
counters, The sun breaks up
Into little pieces and fills the sky
with stars. It the morning
they come back together
and make another sun.

Science and poetry
poised on the edge of cosmic battle,
until my smiling voice
intervenes, celebrates
how children’s minds tilt
on their own axes.
You are creators of stories,
to explain the world.
You carry on
an ancient tradition.

On my way home, I ponder
if we could learn
to live this way:
Each in the darkness
illuminating
one small stretch of sky,
and then together making
a brilliant, focused energy,
from all we’ve seen,
from all we’ve learned.

Joanne Durham

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To Drink from a Wider Bowl, Joanne Durham, Evening Street Press © 2022, Sacramento CA; winner of the 2021 Sinclair Poetry Prize.

Joanne has divided her book into seven sections to create a chronology, from recollections and tales of her grandparents, to the heritage of her parents, to today’s experiences with her own grandchildren. The themes that recur are love for family and also wider love for community and for the earth.

Perhaps Joanne’s seven sections are deliberate: if I hold a memory of my great-grandmother and my great-grandchildren have memories of me, we create a span that connects seven generations. And if our families, communities, and nations consider in all our deliberations the impact we will have down to the seventh generation, perhaps we could truly discover solutions to the world’s poverty, ignorance, disease, and injustice. Perhaps we would learn this through drinking from the widest bowl.

[Seventh Generation Ethics is recognized as an essential part of the ethos of the Iroquois Nations and that of other indigenous peoples.]

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Repair

The dishwasher repairman
politely speaks
with a deep Nigerian accent

reading us fine print
on the receipt: accept treatment
or pay anyway for the visit

his body rigid to absorb
the anticipated blow
of our irritation

before we leave him, disgusted,
to do the job
he’ll get a fraction

of the charge for.
Then my husband
offers him a beet

lush purple half-moons
of some alien
landscape

freshly boiled, peeled, sliced.
Ever had one?
I never cooked them before.

the gesture doesn’t
sweep the counter clean,
but it leaves

an even surface
for three people
to laugh, talk, and eat.

Joanne Durham

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Maps

Every home
needs a map of the world.
Hang it by the entrance.
Bless it as you might
a cross or a mezuzah
when you come and go.
Trace your finger across continents
not your own.
Say names of countries whose sounds
tickle your throat and move your lips
differently from your own language.
Be curious about who lives there,
sharing seas and stars.
Hope to meet them,
fellow earth-dwellers,
all calling this planet
home.

Joanne Durham
[ a recitation of this poem ]

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IMG_1822, mountain

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IMG_0768, tree

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[poetry by Catherine Pierce, Noel Crook, Jenny Bates,
Nikolai Kantchev, Sam Love]

Planet

This morning this planet is covered by winds and blue.
This morning this planet glows with dustless perfect light,
enough that I can see one million sharp leaves
from where I stand. I walk on this planet, its hard-packed

dirt and prickling grass, and I don’t fall off. I come down
soft if I choose, hard if I choose. I never float away.
Sometimes I want to be weightless on this planet, and so

I wade into a brown river or dive through a wave
and for a while feel nothing under my feet. Sometimes
I want to hear what it was like before the air, and so I duck
under the water and listen to the muted hums. I’m ashamed

to say that most days I forget this planet. That most days
I think about dentist appointments and plagiarists
and the various ways I can try to protect my body from itself.

Last weekend I saw Jupiter through a giant telescope,
its storm stripes, four of its sixty-seven moons, and was filled
with fierce longing, bitter that instead of Ganymede or Europa,
I had only one moon floating in my sky, the moon

called Moon, its face familiar and stale. But this morning
I stepped outside and the wind nearly knocked me down.
This morning I stepped outside and the blue nearly

crushed me. This morning this planet is so loud with itself—
its winds, its insects, its grackles and mourning doves—
that I can hardly hear my own lamentations. This planet.
All its grooved bark, all its sand of quartz and bones

and volcanic glass, all its creeping thistle lacing the yards
with spiny purple. I’m trying to come down soft today.
I’m trying to see this place even as I’m walking through it.

Catherine Pierce
© 2017 Catherine Pierce. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017. https://poets.org/poem/planet

Selected by Jeanne Julian

❦ ❦ ❦

I’ve just returned from a morning’s hike and it’s time to write. My desk looks out a window past the holly bush to profligate red azaleas of glory. The window to the right is dark with dense crowding boxwood; window to left glows with every shade of new leaf green, unfurling dogwood, maple, tuliptree. I can even see a little sky. Thank you, Planet, for all colors and for colorless crisp bright breath.

Earlier this morning at Isaac’s trail head before I’d even shrugged into my pack I heard a Parula. Not sixty feet up in some obscurantist oak but right above my head in the lowest breezy branches of a black cherry. Glean – sing – glean. Fattening up after his flight from Belize. Blue and yellow! You never get to see these little buggers without 8X field glass, if then. Thank you, Planet, for all creatures that move of themselves or that allow the air to move them.

Swept the back porch when I got home from hiking. Our “yard” slopes steeply away from the house, slowly maturing third-growth beech-oak. These past two weeks Linda and I have measured each day by the rise of green up from the creek, first brassy gold, then lime chiffon, now encroaching emerald. And of course the fecund kelly milt from each of a trillion anthers that has powdered the world in extravagant hope of seeds. Sweep – sneeze – sweep. Thank you, Planet of wombs, womb of a Planet, for all life.

Thank you, Planet, and may my reverence, my gratitude, and whatever other small parts of my life I can give you be worthy of what you give to all, life without ceasing.

nature tadpole Amphibian

❦ ❦ ❦

Big Sky

Little sky in these Carolina woods,
more greens than you can number,
above us crooked rafters of washed-out

blue. Here are ten kinds of birds all hollering
at once, ten songs of secret nest and sifted
light. Here we are hemmed in by tendrils,

socked in, loblolly so high and thick
even the pasture’s a cracked sarcophagus

where you have to look quick to locate the moon.

I want the western sky
of my girlhood, purple as lupines
and longing. Unligatured wind

that will hollow your bones
like the kiss of a boy at sixteen
who flattened me over the hot hood

of his Ram truck. Give me sun-stunted
scrub oaks rooted in rock and shaped like
bad hearts; the summer a mountain lion

ambushed an appaloosa colt by the barn
and two bottle-fed backyard deer, their bones
dragged to the dump to be picked clean

and sun-whitened. Give me found flint
arrowheads the color of lost rivers,
the barbed-wire fact that Comanche girls

liked burning the captured fawn slowly
to death before breakfast; scorched
earth, nights rampant with stars,

the Pleiades fleeing, an orange skiff of moon going
down fast into black swells of hills. Sunrise
the colors of cataclysm, the singular

solace of the canyon wrens, their strafed
ululations, and, in a cartwheel of azure,
the lone buzzard wheeling and waiting.

Noel Crook
from Salt Moon (2015), Southern Illinois University Press. This poem first appeared in One.

Selected by Richard Allen Taylor, who writes: I had the privilege of reviewing Noel Crook’s book Salt Moon for The Main Street Rag several years ago and fell in love with this poem, which reminds us that ecology is not just a just a polite society of sweet little animals getting along with Mother Nature and each other. Ecology runs on violence and the brutality of food chains, varies from place to place, and interacts with humans—us!

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Clouded Leopard

How does it feel returning from extinction?

Climbing head first down
my Anthropocene spine

I break, with each twist of
wrist, incision of claw.

Divergent several million years
reduced to eleven in captivity.

Under your limber bones
I squall, choke and pitch
tipping into your patient wound.

Wind your tail round my neck
hero of revenge, and ossified
purr.

Your long tooth guilt-piercing.
We won’t say anything to anyone
perilous beauty kills,

Shroud me in your cloud.

Jenny Bates

Published (online) by Self Educating Poets Network in 2021. The Self-Educating Poets Network is an education group providing resources and meeting space to poets, writers and artists. It was founded on principles of grassroots activism as well as the free spirit of poets who met from the Cantab Poetry Lounge and Boston Poetry Slam.

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Autumn Resurrections

The autumnal equinox is uneasy,

restless with the pain of the lonely stork.
Time has paused along the way for a visit
and won’t raise its voice in defense.
Unworldly, I accept the world
surviving its deadly silence by the skin of my teeth.

After the summer swarms have stopped their buzzing,
see how time droops amidst the bickering clocks.
Nothing will remain of their springs.
Instead the journal of eternity will endure
and a calm tear will glaze its eye.

Look, the sky has its blue-jeans on
and the chimney smokes its millionth cigarette.
The city lifts up its multitude of windows,
while it puts out fires in the dreams of the burnt.
Somnambulists look out in a riot of joy, wondering,
will the blaze of their lust seduce the moon.

There’s such a fine female smell about the meadow.
The fog has dropped its handkerchief there
and we long to pick it up as a token
but our trembling betrays our cowardice.
The breath of resurrection wakes the silence.
Let all the crowns of thorns burst into blossom!

The farmer stands calling for his cart
loaded with dried out lightnings and sets off.
Don’t weep poor one, for while you wring your hands
the wheat spins its golden fleece
and the wind-rose will bloom at dawn.
Paradise is just this world with an other-worldly climate.

Nikolai Kantchev
Translated from the Bulgarian by Pamela Perry, with B. R. Strahan

Selected by Bradley Strahan

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The Ecology Symbol

Once upon an Earth Day millions
marched to Ron Cobb’s creation
melding the E for environment
and the O for organism
to create the ecology symbol

Such a simple graphic,
just a circle and slash to symbolize
care for the planet,
respect for nature,
and the nurturing of a legacy
for generations unborn

Today I didn’t see the ecology symbol
at the Climate March
But it’s co-conspirator the peace symbol
seems to be everywhere
At Wal-mart you can buy it
on underwear and day glow T shirts

The vanishing ecology symbol
with its pesky admonitions
to reduce consumption,
reuse materials, and respect nature
must be too threatening
to the dollar sign worshippers

It must be too threatening
to the comfort of North Americans
who consume 60 percent
of the Earth’s resources
just to support our obese life style

It must be too threatening
to the 80 million new mouths
birthed on the planet each year
babies who will aspire to America’s life style
Babies who will be in for a surprise

If everyone lived like Americans
we would need a planet three times
the size of Mother Earth
and the last time I looked
she’s not gaining weight

Sam Love
from Earth Resonance: Poetry for a Viable Future, The Poetry Box, Portland, Oregon, © 2022

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Early April I asked readers to share a favorite poem that celebrates
the interdependence and interconnection of all life on earth.
I am including their offerings in three posts before, on, and after Earth Day, April 22. Thank you to all those who responded, and thanks to all of you
who read this page and share in the celebration of life on earth.

❦ Bill Griffin ❦

2014-06-30a Doughton Park Tree

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[with poems by Helen Losse]

Until we find the communal meaning and significance of the suffering of all life, we will continue to retreat into our individual, small worlds in our misguided quest for personal safety and sanity. – fr. Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation

Follow a six-year old around the yard when flowers are blooming. Most enticing, of course, is the dandelion puffball. Got to pick that one! It takes several tries for her to blow those little dancing featherettes into the breeze – a few seedlets stick to her unicorn t-shirt, a few in her hair. Will they grow there?

Next comes anything purple or pink. She must add a few grape hyacinths on their too-short stems to the bouquet of daffodils we’re cutting for Grandmommy. And some pink azalea, cut that one, Pappy. Oh my, and look what has opened since the sun came out yesterday! She pulls a single bleeding heart and holds it in her palm. We’ll float it in a paper cup of water so she can take it to Mom this evening.

Finally return to the everywhere-flowers, yellow in everyone’s lawn. Walking around the block it’s Truth or Dare – will they paint your fingers if you pick them? Tooth of the Lion, look at the notched incisored leaves. She chooses the brightest flower. Nothing is a weed if someone loves it.

Which is the theme of Easter and of Helen Losse’s book, A Flower More Enduring: Love redeems. God is God of life.

Yellow Blossoms

populate the uncut yard.
Weeds with purple blooms

create asphalt cracks.
Hardy wildflower,

tall blades of Bermuda grass
widen others. I fall to my knees

on the lawn near a budding
thistle. Saints and angels

present but silent, I pray
for a dandelion heart.

Helen Losse

IMG_2931

 

.     .     .     .     .     .     .

The poems in Helen Losse’s A Flower More Enduring are intensely personal but enticingly universal. Her conversion to the Roman Catholic Church has brought her assurance but also challenge. She finds herself in the company of Mary and the Saints yet still she seeks and seeks . . . what? Perhaps to discover what she had never expected to find.

And Helen’s readers who come from different faith traditions, I being one, or from no tradition at all, may still discover with her an experience which we never expected: the universe reaching toward us in unconditional love. The outstretched hand of human commonality that might unite us in our suffering. The hand we ourselves lift to return that touch, the reaching which is called hope.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .

I cry out to God

on the night of the knife-wind.
Thoughts rise, incense
under waning moon blows with fog.
Phlox darkens the soggy prairie:
downy phlox, moss pink,
phlox the color of lavender.

O, how I cherish God’s creation:
flora, small rocks, tall hills, mountains,
feral beasts, domesticated pets,
each human soul, the Savior
on the Cross: Eucharistic Morsel:
Source of Grace I can’t store
in a lidded basket.

I am a rabbit returning
each night to a summer garden.
I must eat again & again.

Helen Losse
A Flower More Enduring, Main Street Rag Publishing, © 2021 Helen Losse

.     .     .     .     .     .     .

 

I stand in the shaded bathroom

with it high useless mirrors
into which I cannot see,
asking, “Are we rich?”

Daddy holds me on his knee
but would never tell me (or
any innocent child)

he doesn’t know how he’ll pat the thirty-seven fifty
house payment due on Friday.

Instead, he explains,
“We are rich in love.”

Helen Losse

 

.     .     .     .     .     .     .

In the Christian liturgical calendar today, 15 April 2022, is known as Good Friday, three days before Easter. On Sunday morning our little congregation will adorn a rough wooden cross with flowers – death conquered by life. Perhaps there’s a subconscious bit of pagan homage to the vernal equinox, but to my mind the message of new life is our foundation. Consider: no person and no thing exists outside the sphere of God’s universal love of life. In the cosmological sense there is no outside; in the spiritual sense no outsider.

A Crucified God is the dramatic symbol of the one suffering that God fully enters into with us — not just for us, as we were mostly taught to think, but in solidarity with us. The Good News is we do not have to hold that suffering alone. In fact, we cannot hold it alone. As we approach Easter, let us remember that we too can follow this path, actively joining God’s loving solidarity with all. What starts in God ends in God. All of reality is moving toward resurrection.

fr. Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation: Transformed people working together for a more just and connected world.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .

Dandelion on green lawn

A girl bends low, picks a flower
to give to her mother.

The child loves the flower,
a weed adults tend to favor less.

The child blows seeds from the puffball,
whit feathery globe of potential.

The seed is the heart of the flower:
tiny perhaps but profoundly fecund.

Each seed floats with the wind, grows
where it lands, blossoms in sunshine and rain.

Helen Losse

.     .     .     .     .     .     .

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2020-03-07 Doughton Park Tree

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Hepatica americana (Buttercup family), last year’s foliage and new barely opened blossoms

[with 3 poems by Sam Love]

On March 15 I walked an Elkin trail I hadn’t visited in months. The Elkin & Allegheny Nature Trail includes a couple of miles of restored railway grade and many more miles of side trails, loops, and spurs, plus 5-6 miles of intermediate level bike trail. I hiked most of those miles on the 15th but only partially for the exercise – I was walking mostly for ephemera.

Note the date. Looking back at my photos and notes I uncover Hepatica blooming as early as January 27, a single plant in a protected hollow, but usually here in Elkin, elevation around 1000 feet, the earliest Hepatica and Trout Lily emerge toward the middle or end of February. So who’ll be showing themselves mid-March? I ask myself, and how long will they last?

The study of cyclical biological phenomena is phenology. When do migrating warblers arrive from Central America? We saw our first Ovenbird March 19; I heard a Northern Parula out back on April 3. When do Wood Frogs lay eggs? When do Midges and Mayflies hatch out and Eastern Bluebirds build their nests? Sometimes local weather affects a given year’s record but longer term trends are linked to climate change. Can’t help worrying about those Parulas if the hatching of their chicks is out of sync with the juicy bugs. Phenology is a leading indicator of climate change impact, especially on vulnerable species.

For today, my phenology project is discovering tiny blooms just making their appearance.

And if that weren’t enough, as I walk a section of bike trail beside Elkin Creek a pair of wood ducks skitter up from the water and the male flashes his phenomenal colors before they veer around a bend.

Solitary Pussytoes, Antennaria solitaria (Aster Family), flowers less than 10 mm in diameter

.     .     .     .     .     .     .

A Monument to Another Time

A winding rutted road
rambles through scattered rocks
to an abandoned homestead
that traces time backwards.

In the overgrown clearing
a hand laid stone chimney
pokes above winding vines
and gnarled tree limbs.

The fireplace stands as
tribute to an unknown mason
whose calloused hands
meticulously stacked the stones.

With the charred house gone
front porch music
no longer blesses the mountain
with notes and harmonies
that surf the Appalachian wind.

In spring wild flowers
scatter sun dappled beauty
among the crannies of this dream
of a simpler life, an abundant garden
and a small homestead taming nature.

Through winter the chimney
stands alone among
a palette of brown hues
that wait for spring shoots
to burst forth and repaint
the landscape.

Sam Love
Earth Resonance – Poems for a Viable Future, The Poetry Box, Portland, Oregon, © 2022

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Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis (Poppy family, Order Ranunculales), flower barely unfurling

 

Yellow Trout Lily (Adder’s Tongue, Dogtooth Violet, Erythronium americanum (Lily family)

 

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Thanks to Sam Love for alerting me to his new book of poetry about ecology and the environment: Earth Resonance – Poems for a Viable Future. Such an edgy relationship we humans have with all the other creatures in our biosphere. Mostly we ignore them except when they’re on our dinner plates. Any surprise that we have so much trouble getting along with things that creep and crawl and skitter and pounce (much less the ones that just stand there being green) when we can hardly get along with they guy whose yard sign doesn’t match ours?

And thanks to the Town of Elkin Recreation Department and the Elkin Valley Trails Association for all the great places to walk!

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Visiting Khatyn
+++Peace Memorial in Minsk Region, Belarus

At sunset each step up the earthen berm
slowly reveals stone chimneys standing
as monuments to an unimagined darkness
that reduced hundreds of villages
to stone rubble and ashen timbers.

Across the field masonry memorializes
thousands of villagers burned alive
as Fascists sought revenge
for partisan guerilla attacks
launched from surrounding forests.

On hearths reaching to the horizon
urns rest filled with ashes and soil
scooped from the 628 flamed hamlets.
Each now lovingly stands as
a spiritual reminder of war’s insanity.

Three solitary birch trees and an eternal flame
symbolize the one quarter of Belarusians killed
in the world war that targeted their villages.
On this site twenty-six bells toll every hour
to remember the homes that once stood here.

The wind that whipped the flames
and charred the flesh, now cleanses the earth
leaving only spirits to haunt the memorial
and remind us of the horrors of war.

Sam Love

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Virginia Pennywort, Obolaria virginica (Gentian family), flowers just about to open

 

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Turtle Earth

In the Lenape creation story—Nanapush asks,
“Who will let me put cedar branches on top of you
so that all the animals can live on you?”
And the turtle says, “You can put them on me
and I’ll float on the water.”

In a vision the Native American holy man
sees the animals bringing earth
from under the water to make land
on the back of the turtle
to create a verdant Eden
where plants and animals flourish.

In another dream the Indian shaman
sleeps a long sleep and
sees a barren turtle
with writhing serpents
thrashing rattlers through portals
in its armor-plated shell.

This hollow eerie sound
resonates with a dry rattle
of primordial notes memorializing
the emerging death of nature.

Sam Love

Virginia Heartleaf, Hexastylis virginica, tiny brown jugs are the flowers just emerging

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IMG_1948

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NCPS Chappell Stephenson

 

C ++++ THE EPIGRAMMATIST

Mankind perishes. The world goes dark.
He racks his brain for a tart remark.

Fred Chappell

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Poets are a sober and studious lot. Profoundly introspective, respectably staid. Their rhymes are the quintessence of conservatism and decorum, their meter most martial. Their lines are ever crafted and solid as Cold War architecture, their images invariably  illuminate and never titillate. Their thoughts are only a little lower than the angels’.

No poet and no poet’s poetry better represent these fundamental verities than Fred Chappell and Fred Chappell’s. For today’s APRIL FIRST missive we have selected the utmost in staid, respectable, and illuminating offerings from a book by Old Fred (as he has called himself) titled simply C (Roman numeral “100,” designating the exact number of poems in the book as well as Dr. Chappell’s initial, which this writer had not actually remarked upon for the first 29 years that he owned this book until today over lunch while he was reading aloud and his wife commented on the typeface, then pointed out the connection to the author’s last name). Illuminatio Lector.

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V ++++ HOW TO DO IT

“Chappell – you who love to jest –
Hear the things that make life blest:
Family money not got by earning;
A fertile farm, a hearthfire burning;
No lawsuits and no formal dress;
A healthy body and a mind at peace;
Friends whom tactful frankness pleases;
Good meals without exotic sauces;
Sober nights that still spark life;
A faithful yet a sexy wife;
Sleep that makes the darkness brief;
Contentment with what you plainly need;
A death not longed for, but without dread.”
++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ – Martial

VI ++++ REJOINDER

Now let’s even up the score
And tell what things make life a bore:
Sappy girls who kiss and tell;
Televangelists’ threats of hell;
Whining chain saws, mating cats;
Republicans; and Democrats;
Expertly tearful on their knees,
Plushlined senators copping pleas,
Swearing by the Rock of Ages
That they did not molest their pages;
Insurance forms and tax reports;
Flabby jokes and lame retorts;
Do-gooders, jocks, and feminists;
Poems that are merely lists.

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All of today’s poems, epigrams, epitaphs, enlightenment, and erudition are from C, by Fred Chappell, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge & London, © 1993.

Fred Chappell is the author of more than thirty volumes of poetry and prose. He has received the Bollingen Prize, the T. S. Eliot Award, and the Thomas Wolfe Prize. His fiction has been translated into more than a dozen languages and received the Best Foreign Book Award from the Académie Française. He was the poet laureate of North Carolina from 1997 to 2002. [bio from LSU PRESS]

NCPS

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XV ++++ UPON A CONFESSIONAL POET

You’ve shown us all in stark undress
The sins you needed to confess.
If my peccadilloes were so small
I never would undress at all.

 

XXIII ++++ LITERARY CRITIC

Blandword died, and now his ghost
Drifts gray through lobby, office, hall.
Some mourn diminished presence; most
Can see no difference at all.

XXVI ++++ ANOTHER

Blossom’s footnotes never shirk
The task of touting his own work.

 

NCPSNCPS

 

LIII ++++ EL PERFECTO

Senator No sets up as referee
Of everything we read and think and see.
His justification for such stiff decreeing
Is being born a perfect human being
Without a jot of blemish, taint, or flaw,
The Dixie embodiment of Moral Law,
Quite fit and eager to pursue the quarrel
With God Whose handiwork he finds immoral.

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NCPS

 

LXXIX ++++ UPON AN AMOROUS OLD COUPLE

This coltish April weather
Has caused them to aspire
to rub dry sticks together
In hopes that they’ll catch fire.

 

XLI ++++ RX

Dr. Rigsbee
Drank all my whiskey.
He said, when I objected, “Hell,
Fred, you’re paying me to make you well.”
++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ – Martial

 

LXVIII ++++ EPITAPH: PREVARICATION

A lonely sorrow
This monument tells:
Here lies one
Who did nothing else.

NCPS Laughter

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And the penultimate:

XCIX ++++ APOLOGY

If any line I’ve scribbled here
Has caused a politician shame
Or brought a quack a troubled night
Or given a critic a twinge of fear
Or made a poet’s fame appear
Transitory as candleflame,
Why then, I gladly sign my name:
Maybe I did something right.

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And one last item, and about this there is no fooling:
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY MARGARET AND JOSH!

 

Margaret & Josh , April 1, 2016

 

LXII ++++ WEDDING ANNIVERSARY

Gale winds tore this tree
And drought and frost came near
To killing it. But see:
In its thirtieth year
It blooms like a candleflame,
And puts its youth to shame.

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NCPS

 

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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[with poetry by Alana Dagenhart]

Here, take some with you. You’re not likely to leave my Dad’s presence without hearing these words. It could be a little plastic tub of leftovers from the meal I just brought him and Mom; maybe cookies or a chocolate; a couple of apples – he says he and Mom can’t eat them all. You’ll definitely be carrying the stack of New Yorkers and Sunday funnies he’s been saving. Just try leaving empty handed after visiting my Dad, just try.

Here, take some. How many years before I realized he always has and always will say this? How long have I been trying to analyze why he does? Does anyone ever really understand their father (or their son, for that matter)?

Here, take. It can be too easy to overlook Dad’s deep, even urgent, desire to give. He may seem stubborn and commandeering (just like me, although I prefer “assertive”). He takes charge of every conversation (probably because he literally can’t hear anyone talking but himself; maybe he thinks he’s just filling an awkward lull). Admit it, he acts like a Dad – so let me cut him some slack and open my eyes to the source of his generous essence.

Dad grew up during the Depression in the rural South – just imagine. World War II paid for him to go to Duke. He worked for the same huge company from the time I was four until he retired; he always seemed to be traveling and working at home nights & weekends. Because of Dad’s promotions we moved three times in two years while I was in Junior High (origin of my many quirks, no doubt), but then he declined promotions so my little sister didn’t have to move midway through High School.

Dad saw to it that I graduated from university and med school with no more debt than I could manage. When Linda and I got married and our old boat of a car couldn’t bear the load, Dad towed a trailer from Ohio to North Carolina to meet us after our honeymoon. All these years I can’t recall him spending money on himself, except maybe golf clubs every few decades, but Dad will keep shelling out whatever it takes to maintain the old beach house so all his grandkids can go on enjoying it after he and Mom are gone.

Don’t you want some more? Oh yeah, that’s the other thing Dad says. I hope he can hear me when I reply, “Thanks, Dad, it’s been plenty.”

 

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All the Silver Space

Fire pops and burns blue, Sunday morning
October in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Hiss and hum, the constant roaring –
wood is changing,
solid to light,
before my eyes
like you, Dad
muscle to sacks of dry ice.
We both know.

I walk the mountain top trail
yearning for afternoon heat,
your sun in my bones

Sunset: the inside of a buttercup
empty at the horizon.
The sky fades like a tie-dyed tee-shirt,
from canary to lizard
gravel to irises to ocean.
The underbellies of clouds
are streaked in cotton candy.

Moon again, full and daring
around pine and rock.
Your blue eyes
not saying what we know
to be true. Back

cover first.
I knew to look,
bottom corner,
last page of the book,
your handwriting
small and faint.
You didn’t even want to leave a mark.

Alana Dagenhart

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Alana Dagenhart’s Yellow Leaves is not a narrative time line, it is a lyrical collage of visions and visitations interwoven with the relentless thread of her father’s death. We enter her dreams, intrusive but illuminating; we get to know ancestors imagined and remembered; we are invited to share Alana’s days most mundane and most profound. The thread of family tangles and unspools, knots and releases, and what could be dark, somber, a burden too heavy, becomes another bright morning, all the colors of revelation, a yellow leaf whirled and unsettled finally discovering its place of rest.

All today’s poems are from Yellow Leaves, Alana Dagenhart, Redhawk Publications, Hickory, NC. © 2022

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Yellow Then, Will Fly to Every Eave

The blackest bruise
of our human trauma may
not heal completely through.
Some lingering yellow stays.

But Nature’s first green is gold,
her hardest hue to hold,
and what was yellow once and bold
fades in time in form and folds.

Blue will tend the sky of day,
and black will stay the night,
but yellow always leaves again
when sun is out of sight.

Death’s second self, made up of all
the dark the Earth contains,
snuffs bright yellow out, till
none but veiled despair remains.

Then violence bangs
& cuts us to our knees,
blooded-violet searing pain,
rooted between burning trees,

Coral dies, and chestnuts’ blight,
and green is gone –
all gone to dust and yellow leaves.

Unless a poet writing through the night,
will pen an echo fluttering of light
and yellow the, will fly to every eave
and someone late will read from time-tinged leaves

a verse or tow that speaks to them alone
a shelter of thatched pages, like a home.

Alana Dagenhart

Nature’s first green . . . from Robert Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay; Death’s second self from Shakespeare Sonnet 73.

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What Yellow Light

illuminates the fields of the dead?
What fevered hue burns hot
on the faces of our beloved?

What lime? What straw?

What platinum beam cast triangles
on the oak board floors
of the room they wait
beyond this spectrum?

The Yellow Submarine blaring loud
COMCRUDESLANT command
where sailor scrub-shine metal
and Navy top brass smile big teeth
behind sunglasses?

The neon yellow of the pick-up truck
where my brother and I rode
our backs against the cab
in October, Boone, the Blue Ridge
with our legs under a patchwork quilt?

Th old gold of historic hallways
restored in the color of statesmen?

The palest lemonade sides
of papa’s house, squash in the filed
a buckwheat horse?

The sure blonde of my towheaded little brother?

What frequency has that light?

Is it far from here?

Alana Dagenhart

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POSTSCRIPT: Dad at age 95 says some scary stuff, too. The most anxiety provoking = I have complete confidence in my ability to drive. The ability part is scary enough but the confidence is terrifying.

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

 

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[with 3 poems by Scott Owens]

Which came first? Separate a few of the living creatures in the photo above and see what you can identify: the distinctive mottled leaf of Saxifrage; beneath it a glimpse of moss, its diminutive creeping green; a big hairy leaf, I should know that one but I don’t. Down in the damp there’s bound to be a little township of bacteria, waterbears, wormy things, arthropods.

And what’s that right in the center? A little stemmed goblet corroded like verdigris growing out of that patch of gray-green flakes (squamules)? Center stage – lichen, probably Cladonia pyxidata. Its tiny cup is pebbled within by extra lichen bits growing there (more squamules!) and some of the rough and powdery appearance may be an obligate lichen-loving fungus taken up residence. So which came first in this little community of many kingdoms and phyla?

Most likely the lichen comes first. It can hold onto bare rock where nothing else lives. It gathers moisture into itself out of the very air and how could a wandering moss spore resist? Anything drifting by may land and latch. Plus that little lichen chemical factory can break down rock so that others may use the minerals. Pretty soon a Saxifrage seed finds just enough earth to sprout and enough wet to grow and wedge its roots further into rock (saxifrage = rock-breaker). Everything discovers what they need; everyone adds to the life of the community.

What gifts may I add to my little community? A bit of cautious optimism and encouragement. An appreciation for all living things (OK, yes, that does extend to human beings, at least I’m trying my best). Appreciation of a good joke and appreciation as well of the folks who tell bad jokes. Curiosity and a sense of wonder. The world’s best recipe for Nutty Fingers.

We all need something but we all bring something. Who knows, maybe what I’ve got is just what you need. When one really gets down to it, all the stuff growing in that photo looks pretty haphazard and messy. Just like a real community. Just like life.

And if you know what that hairy leaf is, please tell me!

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In the Cathedral of Fallen Trees

Each time he thinks something special
will happen, he’ll see the sky resting
on bent backs of trees, he’ll find
the wind hiding in hands of leaves,

he’ll read some secret love scratched
in the skin of a tree just fallen.
Because he found that trees were not
forever, that even trees he knew

grew recklessly towards falling,
he gave in to the wisteria’s plan
to glorify the dead. He sat down
beneath the arches of limbs reaching

over him, felt the light spread
through stained glass windows of leaves,
saw every stump as a silent altar,
each branch a pulpit’s tongue.

He did not expect the hawk to be here.
He had no design to find the meaning
of wild ginger, to see leaves soaked
with slime trails of things just past.

He thought only to listen
to the persistent breathing of tres,
to quiet whispers of leaves in wind,
secrets written in storied rings.

Each time he thinks something special
will happen. He returns with a handful
of dirt, a stone shaped like a bowl,
a small tree once rootbound against a larger.

Scott Owens
from Sky Full of Stars and Dreaming, Red Hawk Publications, © 2021

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I’ve admired Scott Owens for many years, not only as a poet but even more so as a builder of community. Scott’s writing wields its openness, its wonder, its unflinching honesty to invite us to realize we are all part of one human family. As in his poem, Words and What They Say: the hope we have / grows stronger / when we can put it into words. Not only words – in everything else he does Scott is building as well. He teaches, he mentors, he makes opportunities happen for the people around him. Perhaps his poems are a window into why he values people as he does, and why he works so hard to make hope a reality.

Sky Full of Stars and Dreaming is Scott Owens’s sixteenth poetry collection. He is Professor of Poetry at Lenoir Rhyne University, former editor of Wild Goose Poetry Review and Southern Poetry Review, and he owns and operates Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse and Gallery where he coordinates innumerable readings and open mics, including POETRY HICKORY, and enlarges the community of creativity.

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The Possibility of Substance Beyond Reflection

I didn’t see the V of geese fly overhead in the slate gray sky as I sat waiting for a reading in my Prius in front of the Royal Bean Coffee House & Gift Shop in Raleigh, NC.

What I saw was the V of geese presumably flying overhead in the slate gray sky reflected in the slate gray hood of the Honda CRV parked before me in front of the Royal Bean Coffee House & Gift Shop in Raleigh, NC.

And they took a long time to travel such a short distance, up one quarter panel, across one contoured crease, then the broad canvas of the hood’s main body, down the other crease and onto the edge of the opposite quarter panel before

disappearing into the unreflective nothingness beyond, where even they had to question just how real they were or just how real they might have been.

Scott Owens
from Sky Full of Stars and Dreaming, Red Hawk Publications, © 2021

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Sharing a Drink on My 55th Birthday

Sharing a drink on my 55th birthday,
my son, his tongue firmly planted
in his cheek, asks what advice I have
for those not yet as old as I,
and I, having had too much to drink,
miss his humor and tell him
always get up at 5
as if you don’t want to miss
any part of any day you can manage.
Clean up your own mess
and don’t clean up after those who won’t.
Take the long way home,
hoping to see something new,
or something you don’t
want to not see again.
Stay up late, drink in as much
of every day as you can.
Be drunk on life, on love, on trees,
on mountains, on spring,
on rivers that go the way
they know to go,
on words, on art, on dancing,
on poetry, on the newborn
fighting against nonexistence,
on night skies, on dreams, on mere minutes,
on the ocean that stretches beyond
what you ever imagined forever could be.
And when someone asks you
what advice you have, give them,
as you’ve given everyone and everything,
the best of what you have.

Scott Owens
from Sky Full of Stars and Dreaming, Red Hawk Publications, © 2021

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*** Extra Geek Credit — the lichen Cladonia pyxidata is host to the lichenicolous (lives on lichens) fungus Lichenoconium pyxidatae. Such fungi are parasites of their lichen host and mostly specific to a single genus or even to single species of lichen, but although some may be pathogens for the lichen in many cases the relationship is commensal. No harm done. Join the party!

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[poems by Joyce Compton Brown and Billy]

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yep, February 11, this is my day. Sixty-nine years ago my Mom was probably feeling the Niagara rumble from her birthing bed on the umpteenth floor of St. Mary’s. On the American side of the Falls, if you were wondering. Name already picked out – Eugene Wilson the Third – but already in use by Dad and Granddaddy so nickname picked out as well – Billy.

In a few years Mom and Dad moved back down south – Memphis, this time – then over the next ten years to Delaware, Michigan, finally Ohio, but never back to their home state of North Carolina. “Here’s to the land of the Long-Leaf Pine, a summer land where the sun doth shine.” Linda and I moved to NC a week after our wedding – to Durham, Duke Med – and held a place for them here. Just in case.

It’s a good thing. Ten years ago Mom and Dad at last resettled near us, Winston-Salem, where Mom grew up and went to Reynold’s High. They’re right across the street from historic Old Salem. I visited yesterday (secretly hoping there might be cake and candles – Birthday Party #1-of-many). Today I’m expecting Margaret and Bert (4) from Raleigh. Maybe tomorrow Saul (13) and Amelia (6) from across just around the corner. Maybe more cake?

So what do I actually want for my birthday? In Russia I’d have a pie with my name in the crust; in China a longevity noodle that fills the entire bowl (with scallions & bok choy); Hungarians would pull my earlobes (69 times); Jamaicans would dust me with flour.

All those sound awesome, but no, don’t bring presents. I have a walk in the woods with Linda planned. I have Grandkids to wear me out and make me laugh. We have the Blue Ridge with its arms spread to hold us here, not saying much, not needing to. Trees and mountains, family, homeplace – happy birthday to me!

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Looking Across

the fog shuffles
++++ within
++++ ++ the folded mountain

whispers
++++ old stories
++++ ++ of before we were

Joyce Compton Brown
++++ from Standing on the Outcrop, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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I’ve heard Joyce Compton Brown read her poetry at many a gathering and my admiration still grows and grows. There is a treasure of different voices in this collection from Redhawk, Standing on the Outcrop, but they all have in common their deeply felt truth, authentic as hunger and earth. These are rural voices, Southern voices, mountain voices, mostly from the first half of the twentieth century; they are telling urgent stories in danger of being lost if Joyce does not hear them and reveal them to us. Places, history, personal struggle, hard-won triumph — these are Joyce Brown’s specialties and she here treats them well.

 

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Mattie, 1955

Before our families came
++++ there wasn’t much.
They say there were some old forts,
++++ and arrowheads
the men turned up
++++ in the plowing.
We mad collections,
++++ sent them to school
++++ ++++ for the kids to show.

They say these pastures
++++ were good hunting grounds,
And I don’t wonder,
++++ look at this land, these two mountains –
Linville, with its craggy top, Honeycutt
++++ folding on up toward the highlands,
this river, the clearest water.
++++ Any living thing would be drawn
++++ ++++ to this valley.

they say the Catawba and Cherokee fought
++++ over it till we came.
Then they fought us.
++++ It was perfect for these farms.
You can still see,
++++ those big old white houses
from before the land got too divided
++++ and people had to find work.

They say it had a name,
++++ Conasaga, an Indian word
for beautiful valley.
++++ That may just be talk.
But we use the name
++++ for our cookbook, and the kids use it
for their school yearbooks.
++++ They like the way it sounds.

Joyce Compton Brown
++++ from Standing on the Outcrop, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

 

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Stroke

Afterwards he was free
to speak a new language,
come back to tell them all.

They strained to understand
to interpret his assertions
to feel his newfound power.

He told them how
he’d hated factory saws
the whine of lathe and blade

Told them how
the smoldering glow
held by tight-closed lips

kept him from
trying to tell
what they didn’t

want to hear.
How he’d loved
his fingers shuffling

guitar strings
that flatpick style
speaking its own sad voice

milking the cow
in his own sweet barn
before everybody else was up

They couldn’t see
the fiery tongue
above his head.

They couldn’t feel
the pyretic fury
in his mind.

But now he was
at center, felt the
glow from lips of fire,

felt the heat
in seething brain,
felt the gift

of flaming tongue,
watched them all
leaning inward.

Joyce Compton Brown
++++ from Standing on the Outcrop, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

 

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I’ll close my Birth Day post with a poem I wrote almost 20 years ago. Oldest son, first grandson, I was always the good boy. Never got into trouble (or at least never got caught). High school class pres. Early admissions, graduations with honors. Married my high school honey and we’re still best buds.

(Although when we were college Juniors and told my parents we wanted to get married, my Mom said, “Oh thank goodness, I’m so glad you didn’t decide to run off and live in a commune!” I guess maybe my hair was a little on the long side that year.)

Being the eternal good boy might become a burden – especially when one knows full well that one is not nearly as good as everyone makes out. (But anyway I prefer, Linda too, the silence of a forest to the company of people – no dang commune for this good boy.)

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Good Boy Turns 50
++++ “I ain’t no physicist, but I knows what matters.” – Popeye

How did he earn this golden sobriquet
first christened by Nana for the merest trait
of being born the first grandchild, the grinning gay
toddler who could do no wrong? And wait,
how did he keep it all through the sixties when
pick up your toys and set the table gave way
to a ponytail and poems by Ho Chi Minh
(though there was no doubt he’d still bring home the A)?
Forever the glass-half-full sort of guy,
in marriage, too, he hefts vows more abundant
than Old Fred’s prescription, “Don’t leave and don’t die” –
the grace of wanting to want what she may want.
++++ So let’s give him what he needs in the next fifty
++++ if he ever discovers what that might be.

Bill Griffin
++++ first appeared in Pinesong, annual anthology of the NC Poetry Society;
++++ ++++ first place in the “formal poetry” category, 2004
++++ collected in Crossing the River, Main Street Rag Publishing, © 2017

 

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[with poems by Augusta Wray]

1932, Charlotte, North Carolina – the Great Depression has all but silenced the constant rumble of railcars from Atlanta to D.C. through this hub of the South. Most of the cotton mills are shuttered but Ben Gossett, president of Chadwick-Hoskins, has an idea. He asks President Herbert Hoover for help. Mill workers will weave cloth from 50,000 bales of cotton sitting in idled factories and sew it into clothing for the needy. Slowly the Queen City will again stir to life.

That same year, 1932, The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra was founded. More songs were recorded in Charlotte than in Nashville (and just 4 years later Bill Monroe would make his first recording in a closed Charlotte warehouse). Seeking a different kind of music, six poets gathered that spring in the home of Edna Wilcox Talley to begin a venture dedicated to expanding the appreciation of poetry in their state. The North Carolina Poetry Society would begin to admit members whose skills “measured up.” Over the next few years they would hold monthly workshops and an annual banquet, with a prominent writer as speaker, begin publication of a regional literary journal, and slowly expand their reach from Charlotte to the entirety of the state and beyond.

One of these Charter Members was August Wray. She had lived in Charlotte since her marriage in 1902. She attended every meeting of the NCPS through the 1950’s. Her poems would appear in The North Carolina Poetry Review, Journal of American Poetry, and many other publications, especially the poetry column of The Charlotte Observer, edited by Andrew Hewitt. She won many poetry honors and prizes in the 1930’s and 1940’s. And in 1959 she would publish a full length collection, Engravings on Sand, edited by Dorothy Edwards Summerrow.

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Trees at Night

Ink spots upon a midnight sky – fantastic,
+++ sinister and dark –
At night, trees take on fearsome shapes
+++ with no detail of leaf or bark
To add to grace of swaying limb where
+++ branches curve and intertwine,
No carven foliage of jade – all monotone
+++ in black design,

Carbon pictures, weird and ghostly, of night
+++ Dragons crouched to spring,
Warily silent and foreboding, menacing,
+++ like a wounded thing –
Smoky masses, deeply shadowed, with outlines blurred
+++ that mystify –
Trees clutch the heart in night’s dark silence
+++ silhouetted against the sky.

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand, Poets Press, Charlotte NC, © 1959

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Last week I received Engravings on Sand in the mail. Bibliophile Carmela Dodd discovered it at a flea market and upon reading its inscription by Augusta Wray to “Mrs. Charles Evans,” Carmela felt that the book deserved a home with the North Carolina Poetry Society. Thank you, Carmela! What an amazing artifact and memorial during the Society’s 90th anniversary year.

Dorothy Edwards Summerrow, who edited the collection, writes this to begin her foreward: When, at Augusta Wray’s request, I was given the pleasure of compiling and editing “Engravings on Sand,” there was turned over to me a large suitcase literally bulging with poetry manuscript. Dorothy describes excitement but also dismay at selecting the best work of one of North Carolina’s finest poets . . . because I must of necessity select for public inspection, only a small fraction of the prodigious output of her private heart.

In 1959 Augusta Wray was 83 years old. She had been widowed four years earlier. She and her husband had no children nor other close family; she told Dorothy, “My poems are my children.” Dorothy describes the treasure before her: When I opened the suitcase entrusted to me, the sparkle of the poems made the dark, rainy afternoon brilliant with the fire of many gems.

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Release

In the dark and tranquil stillness of the night
When quietude has simulated peace,
When joy is born without the aid of light
And sorrows softly fade away and cease,
When weary eyes are drifting into sleep
That carries them afar from day’s dull care,
When dreams appear invitingly to seep
Through all perplexities and leave them bare –
Then does the spirit take command and things
Become unreal and float away like foam;
The soul is loosed and on unweary wings
takes leave of what was once its mortal home.
++ The soul and body separate, go free,
++ When sleep, or death, gives them their liberty.

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand

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Nocturne in Silver

Silver shadows in somber silence
Wrap folds around the tranquil night,
Silver rain from a silver moon
Pours its radiance through silver light.

Sleeping leaves from moon-drenched branches
Drip silver pendants edged with pearl,
Flowers with their petals closing
Gleam with silver as the furl.

Cobwebs, silver-strewn with dewdrops,
Chiming tone when brushed by moth wings,
Are silken harps, tht quivering, make
Plaintive music from silver strings.

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand

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The seasons . . . love . . . death . . . these are the themes of most of Augusta Wray’s collected poems. She is steeped in Carolina culture and climes. In this final poem I’ve chosen, though, I hear an understated voice of longing and regret. Perhaps she refers here to her childlessness, but perhaps she is opening herself, and her readers, to discovering beauty in the reality that is her life – who cares what it may have seemed to some to lack?

Flowering Plum

In loveliness she stands,
Blonde beauty rare,
With white and fragile hands
Folded in prayer.

Of bridal purity,
A perfumed veil
Hides with security
A body frail.

The season waits for her,
She blooms each year
When winds softly murmur:
“Spring is now here.”

Feathered choristers sing
Blithely and loud,
Sheltered beneath the wing
Of petaled cloud..

Lonely she stand apart,
No fruit she bears.
Such beauty serves the heart.
Barren? . . . Who cares?

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand

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Dorothy Edwards Summerrow was a renowned Carolina poet herself, winner in 1957 of the Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry. She also noted in the foreward: In Silver Echoes, the poetry anthology published in the spring of 1959 by the North Carolina Federation and edited and compiled by this editor, more of [Augusta Wray’s] poetry is included that that of any other writer in the state.

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History of the North Carolina Poetry Society

Charlotte / Mecklenburg historical timeline

Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry

2015-06-15Doughton Park Tree

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