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Posts Tagged ‘NC Poets’

[with poems by Kim O’Connor, AE Hines, Cheryl Wilder, Yvette Murray]

The North Carolina Poetry Society was organized in 1932 at the Charlotte home of Edna Wilcox Talley. The six members present elected Zoe Kincaid Brockman, well known poet and women’s editor of the Gastonia Gazette, as the organization’s first president. Could those six writers have imagined that ninety years later their idealistic endeavor would be thriving, with a membership of over 500 and sometimes more than a hundred persons from all across the state attending meetings? That through the decades the North Carolina Poetry Society would be the forerunner of additional writers’ organizations such as the Poetry Council of North Carolina, NC Writer’s Network, and NC Writer’s Conference, not to mention numerous local and regional groups in NC towns and counties? That poetry would be happening in schools with Poetry Out Loud, in shop windows and on buses through Poetry in Plain Sight, in countless books and journals published in North Carolina every year?

Zoe Brockman, Edna Talley, and friends knew the truth long before Doris Betts coined the phrase: North Carolina is the “writingest state.” Perhaps they wouldn’t have expressed it so eloquently but they would have agreed with Ed Southern, NC Writers’ Network executive director, that “one cannot spit, piss, or throw a rock in the Old North State without hitting a writer.” I like to believe those women of an earlier time would have been pleased but unsurprised at the many poets inducted into the NC Literary Hall of Fame after its inauguration by Sam Ragan at Weymouth Center in 1996; they especially would have applauded when all the inductees in 2014 were poets – Shelby Stephenson, Betty Adcock, Ron Bayes, Jaki Shelton Green. The Charlotte Six would no doubt have volunteered to serve as mentors in the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series, helped set up tables at the Sam Ragan Poetry Festival, and host open mic on Zoom during the pandemic. We who participate in the North Carolina Poetry Society of 2022 benefit from their high ideals, keen vision, and energy – we uphold a worthy tradition, and we have embraced the creativity, inclusion, and diversity that now make this tradition our own.

NCPS gathered to celebrate its 90th anniversary on September 17 at Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities, Southern Pines, NC – the first meeting in person in two and a half years. We look back and we look forward. We pay tribute to those who have taught and inspired us, and we open ourselves to the newest voices among us. We listen to the words of poets who dedicated their lives to building the power of literature in North and South Carolina: Joseph Bathanti reading Kathryn Stipling Byer, Shelby Stephenson reading Marty Silverthorne, David Radavich reading Susan Laughter Meyers. And we listen to the words of today’s poets reading the poems of now.

The Brockman-Campbell Book Award is the most prestigious honor bestowed by NCPS, awarded annually for the best book of poetry published by a North Carolina poet in the preceding year. Past winners have included Fred Chappell, AR Ammons, Betty Adcock, and Robert Morgan, among many others. The 2022 winner is Kimberly O’Connor for her book White Lung. Finalists are Anything That Happens by Cheryl Wilder and Any Dumb Animal by AE Hines.

❦ ❦ ❦

The History of My Silence
Hendersonville, North Carolina, 1961

white people sit in the front my great-grandmother
says my mother is angry
she wants to sit in the back

my mother is six years old
her first time on a bus
she wants to sit in the back

why? she stamps her foot

my great-grandmother does not answer the rest of the world
the boycotts the marches the fire
hoses let loose on children burning
crosses any of it does not
exist for them

they sit in the front like good white
women I think that

their silence their
compliance
has flowed into me
a river I have to swim
even as the water turns to flame.

Kimberly O’Connor
from White Lung (Saturnalia Books, Ardmore PA, © 2021)

Kim is a North Carolina native who lives in Golden, Colorado. She received an MFA from the University of Maryland and has taught creative writing and literature in middle school, high school, and college classrooms in Colorado, Maryland, West virginia, and North Carolina.

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Naturalization

We’d been lucky. I’d made it out of Guatemala
alone with the baby, and the baby still alive.
I hadn’t let him crawl out a hotel window.
I hadn’t let him swallow a button from my sleeve.
Managed to feed him and change him
and carry him in taxis and embassies, through
markets and airports, beneath the electric barbwire
of US Immigration. In Houston, I watched
badged women and men berate
brown men in shackles while they sat
tethered to stiff chairs beside us. Most stared
at their shoes. I am embarrassed to admit
I did nothing. Said nothing. Didn’t catch a man’s
tired eye and offer him even a nod, my feeble Spanish.
Instead, I just called my little son’s name over
and over, and bounced him on my lap.
Then we were ushered back into the land
I’d promised him. Bound together by law,
and off to our next gate without a glance back
at the men on their way to whatever place
they no longer called home.

AE Hines
from Any Dumb Animal (Mainstreet Rag Publishing, Charlotte NC, © 2021)

Earl grew up in rural North Carolina and currently resides in Portland, Oregon where he is pursuing his MFA from Pacific University. He is winner of the Red Wheelbarrow Prize and a finalist for the Montreal International Poetry Prize.

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Bailed Out

The house stirs with my stirring.
I am the elephant, the devil’s minion.
Secure in my arms a woven afghan

blue and darker blue. I run
fingers through holes and open
like a wish bone but cannot pull

them apart. A wish not wished
establishes habit, like sleep-dancing
or tangling the vacuum cord around my wrist

to make love. I am two people now—
the before and the after; one I’ve already forgotten
the other I have not met. I hear voices whisper

what if—a crossroad so difficult to leave
I build a roadside bench. At some point
I will rise from this bed, speak though I only hear

his curdled breath, allow my first taste of bone
in the broth I can smell, but no one will notice
my stained hands, the bloody prints on the wall.

Cheryl Wilder
from Anything That Happens (A Tom Lombardo Poetry Selection, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021.)

Cheryl lives near the Haw River in North Carolina, where she gives talks and workshops on art and writing, serves as president of the Burlington Writers Club, and owns a small web development company. She is co-founder and editor of Waterwheel Review.

❦ ❦ ❦

The Susan Laughter Meyers Fellowship in Poetry was established in 2017 in memory of former president of both the North Carolina and South Carolina Poetry Societies, Susan Meyers. The annual merit-based fellowship for one North Carolina or South Carolina poet requires submission of five poems with blind judging by a three-judge panel. It is co-sponsored by NCPS and the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities, and includes a one-week residency at Weymouth Center plus an honorarium. The 2022 Fellowship recipient is Yvette R. Murray.

Poem In Which Words

don’t deserve this.
They have been around a long time; served us well.
Why then do we use them like poisoned blue darts?
Words have been so kind as to adapt.
They want to stay relevant too.
But we spit them into red plastic cups like
‘bacca juice and leave them on the side of the road.
They never harmed us,

Yet we turn them ugly side out,
Pit them against each other,
Use our fangs to inject venom.

The poor words can’t be unheard,
the ring after of their scent,
makes folk mad.

I hope they don’t cry,
I hope they don’t die by suicide,
I hope they don’t vanish within.

Then we will never again find the words.
They might like that though.
Scrubbed clean with different color hair
They can hold hands,
stroll the streets,
carry their shopping bags,
or look for a bistro
in peace.

Yvette R. Murray
from a gathering together literary journal, Spring 2021

Yvette is a Gullah poet from Charleston, SC. She writes because she has to. The words bump around in her head and give her headaches. Just kidding! For Yvette, Poetry is the most beautiful event space on the planet.

THANK YOU to so many who made this North Carolina Poetry Society 90th Anniversary gathering not only possible but truly worthy of the banner, Infusing Ceremony with Celebration: Poetry with Light, Soul, and Sound: Lynda Rush-Myers, for a year of planning and countless hours of preparation and presentation; Celestine Davis, ever-present ever-encouraging ever keeping the wheels on the bus; Regina Garcia, heart and soul and thrilling Tribute introductions, and Romeo Garcia making sure we all got lunch; the entire NCPS Board of Directors, setting up, hanging signs, welcoming and greeting, picking up the trash; and special thanks to the staff of Weymouth Center and Executive Director Katie Wyatt, we/you couldn’t do it without you/us.

NEXT WEEK: NCPS 90th Anniversary celebrations continue with the Lena Shull Manuscript Prize: poems by winner Ana Pugatch, finalists David Poston and Maureen Sherbondy, and workshop presenter Joan Leotta

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Portions adapted from The North Carolina Poetry Society: Part 5 – 2012-2022, Ninety Years of Creativity, Challenge, and Change; compiled and composed by Bill Griffin with special collaborator David Radavich; © 2022 The North Carolina Poetry Society.

Why We Are “The Writingest State”; Southern, Ed. North Carolina Literary Review; Greenville NC, Nr. 25 (2016): 92-99.

 

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[with 3 poems by Joan Barasovska]

What is the perfect ripeness of Touch-Me-Not to pop its pods into my hand? How will the little brown kernels taste? How far would they fly if I didn’t catch them?

These questions I ask of myself, but I also ask them for the thirteen curious women who have enlisted me as their nature guide. Together we chew the little seeds – like untoasted sunflower. Together we are curious about everything. This tiny pale bloom with the three-lobed lip, how is it related to bright scarlet three-lobed Cardinal flower, gigantic by comparison? The white-striped red-lined caterpillar, what will its moth look like? Every one of these ferns, vines, sedges, mints, asters along the trail we’re walking, what is their family, who are their cousins, how did they get these odd names?

Maybe I’m too curious. Most of the other hikers have left me behind as we near trail’s end. It’s hard to pass even one speck of lilac among the Meadow Beauties and Dog Fennel. Hello, what’s this? A year ago near here I discovered a first (for me), a single plant, blue flowers with improbable arching stamens and pistil like dainty tusks. I thought it was extirpated when the farmer sprayed herbicide along his electric fence line last Spring. I have to kneel to examine this one small survivor. A single flower. Lamiaceae, Mint family – well, mints do make lots of seeds.

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Carrying Clare

Mystery conceived in passion
spreads a tent inside my body,
scoops out space
I’d blithely claimed as mine.

I grow heavy with her campsite
and the gear we’ve taken on.
After work each day I buy
a secret chocolate éclair
and eat it at Nelson’s Bakery,
where I’ll soon show off my baby.

Her father grants me
naming rights if it’s a girl.
On a cold day at the beach,
jacket straining to span my belly,
with one booted foot I trace
her name in giant letters
in wet sand: CLARE.

I pray this hidden daughter,
now assembling all she’ll require,
will live to be my better self,
take chances I could never take.
I pray for a safe birth.
I pray to be the mother she will need.

Her father and I wait for March.
He says she could easily be a boy,
but our daughter’s eyes, not yet open,
greedily seek mine.

Joan Barasovska
from Carrying Clare, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte NC, © 2022

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Joan Barasovska’s Carrying Clare is a memoir in verse about the life of a family with a child who is critically and chronically ill. Will the baby live? Will the little girl’s illness rob her of childhood’s joy? How will a new baby brother shoulder his way into this picture? And most of all where does it arise, this deep well of strength in the mother who must watch her child fade and perhaps fail? Strength for the hours waiting outside surgical operating rooms, for the administering of medications and IV’s at home, for the nights bereft of hope? Where does it come from, the strength of such unrelenting love?

I ask myself one more question. What strength must it have taken to gather these poems across the decades of struggle they convey, to look them squarely in the eye and relive each moment once more, and then to share them?

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Strength

Ten-day-old Clare wails on an X-ray table,
her tiny ovaries protected, but she’s naked
on metal, flailing under strange light.
I sit rigid against the wall.

No one ever called me strong.
Fragile, even frail, a waif
without endurance. Not strong.
People have had to rescue me.

My baby’s body is red from screaming,
her back arched, skull uncradled.
I croon to her, my breasts leak for her,
but in her agony I can’t yet save her.

The technician finishes at last.
I dress and swaddle Clare,
give her my breast,
sate her with my power.

Joan Barasovska
from Carrying Clare, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte NC, © 2022

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January Walk

Winter claims the day.
It hikes the road,
roams the fallow fields.
It lifts and stirs the air.

The horses I pass eat hay
and miss sweet grass.
Under a heavy coat
my heart beats hot.

I think of the baby tossing
in my daughter’s womb.
He floats in a weatherless world
while I lean into cold wind.

The horses stand side-by-side,
breath streaming hot in one fog.
The baby stirs in tight orbit,
waiting for March.

Joan Barasovska
from Carrying Clare, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte NC, © 2022

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Thank You to Dee Neil and the Ladies Elkin Valley Trail Association for inviting me to be your naturalist for a morning. Walking out from Isaacs’ Trail Head on the Mountains-to-Sea trail for a couple of hours, we lost count of the number of wild flowers, ferns, vines, sedges, mosses, and other plants we discovered. And one boldly decorated caterpillar capped the day.

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2016-05-08a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by J. S. Absher]

Building bridges. Maybe as a metaphor the phrase is not quite as worn down, rusty, and liable to drop chunks of concrete as the old Elkin bridge that carried US 21 high above the Yadkin River and railroad tracks. Built in 1931, stretching 1509 feet, named for Hugh G. Chatham, even after it was condemned by DOT in 2008 we still couldn’t bring ourselves to call in the demolition crews for that old bridge until 2010. Spanning a treacherous gulf. Lowering barriers between two rival communities. Safe passage, a more elevated view of life, making connections. Grand old metaphor.

The bridge we built today, though, is not a metaphor. It’s a 50-foot aluminum frame that will span a creek near the Mitchell River to extend the Mountains-to-Sea trail a few more miles. Mike, the engineer, showed us how to lay out the dozens of struts and braces and then we were on them like chicks on a Junebug. We put it together in three sections inside the big Surry County maintenance building at Fisher River Park; later we’ll move it into place, bolt the last connectors, and add planking. Amazing to see pallets of unrecognizable metal pieces becoming a structure.

Some of these volunteers today were born with a torque wrench in their fist but some are like me, tinkering all day with my Erector Set when I was 10. Sweating even with the giant fan blowing, pinching our fingers, joking. I still can’t get the smell of Anti-Seize out from under my fingernails. Someday soon will I hike across that bridge with my grandkids and say, “Hey, that’s one of my bolts!?” Moving out into a new world. Grand old metaphor.

September, 2022, all that’s left of the old Chatham Bridge on the Surry County side is a pleasant pedestrian garden with a long stairway from Gwyn Avenue down to Main Street. And, near the former base of one of those mighty pylons, the Angry Troll Brewery.

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The Day

The little room’s only window looked out
towards the ridgetop, the Dunkard church in the curve
of the two-lane, and, just beyond, the graveyard.

The morning sun sidled in past the partly
closed slats and resolved into rays and flecks
burning in the light – dust motes, I know,

and likely knew then, too, but still I watched
entranced one morning after our breakfast.
On this day I’d have otherwise forgotten,

probably my grannies were in the kitchen –
Emma with arms stretched out to read who’d died
(she’d be in the Dunkard cemetery soon),

half-crippled Sallie stringing the green beans
(years of suffering and strokes lay just ahead) —
while I stood quietly in the little room

watching the random sparkles in the sunbeam,
worlds I could move with a single breath
of poem or prayer, but could not control.

J. S. Absher
from Skating Rough Ground, © 2022 J. S. Absher, Kelsay Books, American Fork, UT

❦ ❦ ❦

worlds I could move with a single breath / of poem or prayer, but could not control

I have often been moved by Stan Absher’s poetry. Not moved as by a shiver of emotion or a momentary ah ha at his thesis or his craft. Rather I’ve felt myeself shifted into a different awareness, a new plane of being. Translocated. Enlightened. Despite the deep bedrock of conviction in all his work, despite the scholarship and the epiphany, he writes as if he is still searching, searching for truth. A spiritual seeker. So he may claim, but I consider Stan Absher a spiritual finder. I can’t help believing as I read these poems that he has encountered and grasped the numinous, wrestled with God as did Jacob.

Worlds he can move but not control? Perhaps that is the secret Stan conveys and which I would do well to take into my own heart. The seeking itself is intrinsic to the desideratum. The bridge. The poems in Skating Rough Ground cover such a lot of ground. Family history, Christian history, art history, and every topic and observation is put to diligent good work unfolding the petals of the human flower. Stan is in perfect control of his art, which makes even more believable his message that our condition enfolds a great mystery.

One other remark: even though Stan mentions Wittgenstein and his book includes sixteen erudite endnotes, his poems are never high-flown or inaccessible. He is not looking down on us mortals from the heights; he is right here among us. And he is not above a little poke in the ribs or the murmur of a wry joke. These poems are companionable companions – pick up the book and come along on the journey.

[additional information on works by J. S. Absher . . . ]

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The Conversation of Matter

I could hear things talk. When something was lost,
I stood in the room, asked it to show itself.
Sometimes it spoke an image in the mind – a drawer
++++ to search, a cherry
++++ bureau to look under.

Those who have spent their lives mastering tools
and techniques can hear their material speak,
David crying naked out of Carrara marble
++++ to be rescued from
++++ Agostino’s botched start.

But things usually speak by resisting –
weight too heavy to lift, edge too sharp to hold,
a moving part that grinds and heats and breaks, a poem’s
++++ application of
++++ friction to language –

slow it! stoke it hotter than Gehenna!
salt its path with grit!
keep it from slip-sliding
away on its own melt! flick sawdust into the eye
++++ to make it dilate!
++++ Without friction – so said

Wittgenstein, older and word-worn – language
does not work. If it wears skates on rough ground, it
takes a tumble. Even prayer needs resistance – a stick
++++ crosswise in the throat
++++ garbling words like a sob.

How hard to admit we love the world – how
hard it ought to be – yet its unrequiting
beauty resists abandonment: Show yourself, come out
++++ of hiding, come out
++++ of quarantine, and live.

J. S. Absher
from Skating Rough Ground, © 2022 J. S. Absher, Kelsay Books, American Fork, UT

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The Creator Praises Birds

Vent and crissum,
lores and crest and comb: I
made them all – the

nares, nape, those
horny bill plates – I in
feathered trochees

made them: peacock,
sparrow, tufted titmouse,
flitting jenny

filled with joy of
beaking worm, of strut and
glide, of piping

double on their
syrinx. Praise how flock and
murmuration

call out warning,
call to fly or roost or
call for pleasure:

See me! Hear me!
Pur-ty! Pur-ty! Pur-ty!
Cheer up! Pibbity!

Praise the brave-heart
tender fledgling, wobbly
winging over

houses, over
pavement, risking all to
climb the air by

beating wind I
too created, rising
heavenward in joy.

J. S. Absher
from Skating Rough Ground, © 2022 J. S. Absher, Kelsay Books, American Fork, UT

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[with 4 poems by John Hoppenthaler]

When Saul turned 9, his Mom passed down her old tablet to him. No phone, internet disabled; he didn’t use it to learn higher math or play games. What Saul did with that cracked and creaky tablet was create videos. He wrote, produced, and narrated a whole series titled, “Animal Habitat.” First were the off-center and slightly zany documentaries of the daily lives of the family pets. Then he moved on to both parents, then toddler sister (not an entirely complimentary biopic of the latter). The search for ever more subjects led him to, uh oh, grandparents.

“Welcome to Animal Habitat. Today we explore a very strange creature, The Granny. Here she is in her native surroundings doing what she loves to do most – tear up old National Geographics. Why does she do this every afternoon? That is just one of the mysteries of Animal Habitat.”

Yes, Linda does tear up old National Geographic magazines. We had close to fifty years of accumulated piles – beginning with the oldest, she’s been ripping out articles she wants to keep, reread, and refer to before recycling the discards. She sorts the articles by topic and stores them in clear plastic sheaths (leftovers from my comic book collection). We’ve been learning a lot. I believe she’s made it to August, 2010.

Tearing up National Geographics – the perfect metaphor for our long marriage. You can’t hang on to all your old garbage; sometimes the big heave ho is mandatory. Some of that stuff is mildewed, nasty, blacks your fingers. Nevertheless, there are definitely some pearls in there worth recovering and holding up to the light. Better yet, you might learn something new. In fact, there’s a new issue every month – you’d better always be open to learning something new.

One more thing – when Linda does discover anything cool, she shares it with me.

John Hoppenthaler discovers metaphors in the garden: metaphors for the prickly beauty of love, for weeds of rejection and disappointment, for childhood and parenthood, for loss and luminous joy. John’s 2015 collection, domestic garden (Carnegie Mellon University Press), is one I won’t be tearing up or consigning to a plastic envelope. I’ll keep it on a shelf nearby, ready for when I need to learn something new.

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domestic garden

A ghost has disarranged these roses
+++ lining the walkway. Some greenhouse
++++++ jokester must have switched

Jackson & Perkins packaging – Heaven
+++ on Earth for Change of Heart, Black

Magic with Beloved. I’ll name them
+++ rancor lilies in your absence, though
++++++ I don’t hate you, & they’re not lilies,

& you aren’t really gone, except in the way
+++ presence sometimes contradicts itself.

Should they grow on me – fugitive varietals
+++ I never thought to plant – will they lure
++++++ your bouquet any closer, spirit

away weeks I’ll name neglect, aphids
+++ who’ll stay aphids, sucking at the stalk?

John Hoppenthaler
from domestic garden, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2015

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passing

I’ve just received a text that says a buddy
died last night but that doctors brought him back
to us with a shot, and so my friend is a Lazarus.

I’m in a boathouse owned by another old pal;
he is traveling for work somewhere abroad.

Mallards have lifted from the vernal pond,
and thousands of frogs are singing
because it’s raining. I wish Bill ws here so we could

talk about our friend who has gone and returned.
Crows call to each other across the lake. Same old

story: there’s danger and it surrounds us. And now
the blue heron I’d failed to notice pulls his legs
free of mud and flies away. A small falcon skims

the shoreline. When he was raised, was Lazarus pleased?
I wonder how he lived the rest of his unforeseen days.

Were his preparations any different than they’d been before?
It’s early March, and Easter will be here soon. Jesus, too,
realized how permeable the membrane is that keeps us

this side of death, and that the dead can come back
if they’re summoned. The ducks, the hawk and the heron

have passed on through to somewhere else,
but the joyful frogs remain crazy
with song. A hunter’s gunshots punctuate the distance,

a single crow lands in the crook of a tree, and it seems
as though the blessed rain has nearly stopped for now.

John Hoppenthaler
from domestic garden, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2015

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John Hoppenthaler is Professor of English at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC. For ten years, he served as Editor for A Poetry Congeries online journal, and he currently serves on the Advisory Board for Backbone Press, specializing in the publication and promotion of marginalized voices. domestic garden won the North Carolina Poetry Society’s Brockman-Campbell Award for the best book of poems by a North Carolinian in 2015.

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what we find when we’re not looking

++++++ I was hiking the quiet ridge of pines
beyond Lake Kathleen. it felt so like a church then
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ that I knelt.

++++++ When I stood again, when I was able,
I found a woman’s Timex strapped around a limb,
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ thick as your wrist.

++++++ She’d been pacing – that much I could see –
and kept stopping at the watch’s face. Was time moving
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ slowly or quickly?

++++++ Late sun rolled from the valley. Rain
would surely come. No one – I called out once but no one.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ She looked over

++++++ nearly a dozen cabins, the bed and breakfast.
She could see the vacant day camp, the eagle’s nest. Things
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ were about to end,

++++++ and soon it would begin. It felt so like a church then
that she knelt, stood up, took off her watch and strapped it around
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ the branch. She

++++++ meant to free herself from time. It couldn’t last.
She lost her definition; time defines us. She was hiking
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ and lost her watch.

John Hoppenthaler
from domestic garden, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2015

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the way to a man’s heart
+++for Christy

To sautéed garlic and onions I add
pureed plum tomatoes, a great splash
of good, red wine. Never cook with
wine you wouldn’t drink, someone
offered, and we agree. I pour a glass.
Later, I’ll add coarsely chopped basil
from the herb garden, sea salt, maybe
a pinch of sugar, and always the drizzle
of extra virgin.
++++++++++++ But now, as you see,
this extended metaphor is dissolving,
so I’m left with Pinot Noir and the glass,
fresh basil sprigs which remind me of you
And now there’s musing on the oil’s earthy flavor,
and not this aching hunger, and who is it
who says poetry makes nothing happen?

John Hoppenthaler
from domestic garden, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2015

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[with 3 poems by M. Scott Douglass]

I don’t eat meat. Just a decision ten years ago, my choice. It has nothing to do with you; I don’t think you’re “bad” if you eat meat. I has nothing to do with Bambi; I don’t think oysters are especially cute but I refrain from eating them as well. It has nothing to do with personal health; my cholesterol readings were already to (not) die for. And it certainly has nothing to do with ought or should; hominids evolved eating meat (and lots of insects) – perhaps all that protein made possible these brains we think are so big.

All it has to do with is my personal effort to make somewhat less of an impact on this planet. Leave it in a little better shape for my grandkids. Per pound of protein, how much acreage . . . water . . . diesel fuel . . . nitrates & phosphates . . . methane & CO2? Beans and beets will always beat out beef and poultry. How many billions of people can this planet sustain? Not nearly all the billions we have right now if we all want meat every day.

But what baffles me is how “vegetarian” has become a fighting word to some people. If I order plant-based sausage at Cracker Barrel will it make the guy at the next table choke on his chicken-fried steak? Simmer down, Dude. If nine billion people eating meat is going to hurry up and toast Mother Earth to a crispy golden caramelized finish, isn’t it kind of cool that a few people opt for rabbit food? Think of the choice this way – consider it my gift to you.

 

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A Tinderbox of Unsubtle Discourse
++++ It is the law: as a civilization dies and goes down
++++ to eat ashes along with all other dead civilizations
++++ – it is the law all dirty wild dreamers die first –
++++ gag ‘em, lock ‘em up, get ‘em bumped off.
++++ And since at the gates of tombs silence is a gift,
++++ be silent about it, yes, be silent – forget it.
+++++++++++ ~ Carl Sandburg, from At the Gates of the Tombs

There are those who prefer silence
to the sound of the wind in the trees.
For them, my voice rustles their peace
like a harsh unwelcome breeze.

I am the ghost of a storm they
would rather forget, as if they
believe a wave of their hand could
disperse an approaching hurricane.

There’s a red sky this morning,
red as the hot California hills,
and they think they can wish it
away with happy thoughts.

The wind has had its day, they say.
They want to muffle it, muzzle
the barking dog that wakes them,
shakes them from their comfort zone.

I am an inconvenient dog,
a crusty leaf skittering down the road,
a spark dropped in a dry forest:
Pretending won’t make me go away.

M. Scott Douglass
from Living in a Red State Blues, © 2022, Paycock Press, Arlington VA

❦ ❦ ❦

In the forward to his poetry collection Living in a Red State Blues, Scott Douglass wonders about attracting readers. The people on the reading end may have been burned out by it. Perhaps they were eager to move on from this period in our history or tired of hearing angry voices – . . . I prefer to think of it as exhaustion. Yep, I’d say that about sums it up. Exhaustion. Probably explains why the book’s cover stared at me from my desk for months before I finally cracked it open. I just get bone tired sometimes. Many’s the day I haven’t even opened my news feeds because I figure I already know all the headlines.

Also probably because I know Scott Douglass does not suffer fools gladly. Or quietly. But which of us has never been the fool? OK, I know this book will include at least one (high decibel) rant about all the bullshit of our current epoch, but it has been born from the pen and heart of a human being. One whose voice I respect. And hey, I’m a human being, too. Scott and I have something in common. Oh yes, we do.

❦ ❦ ❦

Reunion in an Airport Restroom

What do you do when
the man at the adjacent urinal
starts a conversation as if
resuming a thought left hanging
with a long-lost relative at
a wedding or picnic. You,
having held silent the business
at hand, the business for which
you have waited for hours stuffed
into a flying steel barrel, your
plumbing aching to be drained
for so long now that, amid this
scintillating discussion, it
sputters to a slow rebellious
drip, but wait, did he ask
a question; try to divert you
from your primary purpose
in this porcelain concourse,
where all the gates are full
and line runs from the door
to the tarmac; try to draw you
out of your self-conscious state,
shake off antisocial incivility,
embrace your fellow man?

M. Scott Douglass
from Living in a Red State Blues, © 2022, Paycock Press, Arlington VA

❦ ❦ ❦

March 13

Today is the anniversary of my
father’s death, or was it the day before
when his eyes last opened ore the week before
when he froze in mid-sentence, rigid fingers
reaching up to still air for stray words
that never returned to him again.

His words find me at odd times.

It’s only the last two minutes
of the game that matter.

But it’s unspoken moments
that haunt me most, moments
that echo throughout my day: the way

he turned a cereal spoon upside down
on the table when he was finished eating,
peanut butter spread to the edge
of a Ritz, a dab of Smucker’s
black raspberry jelly in the middle.

knowledge is the only thing that’s truly ours,
the only thing they can never take away.

On a shelf above my head he sits,
an eight-year-old on a black and white pony,
tall and proud, fists full of reigns. Sometimes
I look up to that pony boy and chuckle knowing
his parents paid a nickel to have it taken at
a carnival, how it was the closest he ever got
to riding a real horse, city boy that he was.

if you’re going to do something,
don’t do it half-assed

I though of my father every day
of the week leading up to this date,
but morning found me immersed in work,
the work he taught me, a job he envied.
When my nephew texted a photo of
his grandfather in a 1940’s Navy uniform,
shame swept a chill through me, realizing
I’d almost let the day slip by neglected.

do unto others as you would have them
do unto you

I look up at the pony boy on the shelf
and remember why, of all the photos
I have of him, I choose to display this one.
It’s because it frames him as someone
I know he never was, but reminds me
of his most cherished gift to me:
a sense of wonder, imagination,
the foresight to perceive the possible.

face the music, even when
you don’t like the tune

I am my father’s dreamer son,
the one who sometimes loses track
of time, the one who’s been tossed
from numerous horses, landed hard,
but always found a nickel to climb back on
because that’s what he expects of me.
While I may forget days and dates,
I will never forget that. Not that.

M. Scott Douglass
from Living in a Red State Blues, © 2022, Paycock Press, Arlington VA

❦ ❦ ❦

 

2020-03-07 Doughton Park Tree

Read Full Post »

 

[with 3 poems from PINESONG]

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

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

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

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

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

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

❦ ❦ ❦

After “After Years” by Ted Kooser

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

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

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

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

❦ ❦ ❦

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

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

❦ ❦ ❦

The Waters

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

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

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

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

❦ ❦ ❦

Abuela

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

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

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

 

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❦ ❦ ❦

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[with poems from Tar River Poetry]

Neon yellow, fluorescent orange, that’s a lingo we can understand: road work ahead; survey crew; litter pick-up. Why on earth, though, did Robert Price dress all his lawn & landscape guys in this eye-popping pink, his name in big bold black across the back? So no one would want to steal their shirts? So we’d be sure to notice?

Oh, and we do notice. Our three-year old adores the stilt-legged birds in her favorite color, one last night on her little jammies, a sudden mob of them last weekend in the neighbor’s yard turning 50. Now she startles as we drive past them with their zero-turn radius mowers and tyrannosauric leaf blowers – recognition, yes! Excitement! From her car seat she points and announces . . . !

❦ ❦ ❦

If You Could

Would you unstitch the world,
pick it apart until you held in your cupped hands
a burning heap of atoms that glowed
like the last stars fading
into the sun? Say if you believe
the plants are doing God’s work
when they insinuate themselves
into foundation cracks and chips
in ancient stone walls, when
they tease apart the edges of brick,
begin crumbling concrete back to sand.

Tell me, if you believe
you could have done better,
what you would have omitted
when you spit into that handful
of dark earth and stardust
and worked it in your palm
to make a mannikin, when you breathed
your sweet breath with its scents
of rainwater and crushed clover
into its lips, when you watched it rise
and strut around the world, eyeing its riches
like a hungry dog eyes meat. What
would you have done to make it
less arrogant, less dangerous –
or could you? Would you have simply
smashed it, declared the world
complete?

Rebecca Baggett
from Tar River Poetry, Volume 61 Number 2, Spring 2022; © 2022 Tar River Poetry

insect

 

❦ ❦ ❦

Why am I featuring Tar River Poetry in the same post as Falingos / Flamingos? Is this twice-a-year journal as arresting as a yard full of men in pink, as much fun as a yard full of plastic birds? Is it because when each new issue arrives in the post I exclaim from my car seat and want to point it out to the world? Is it that the words it contains and the way they’re arranged are so deliciously novel, so eye-popping, such exotic new sensations on the tongue?

All of the above and none of the above. Who knows why, as I was sitting on the porch reading TRP as I have most every issue for a bunch of years now, I suddenly remembered that story of our granddaughter at 3? Who knows why bits of hippocampus are jangled and what bits of limbic system will be spangled when one reads a poem that jumps up and shivers? All I know is the poems of TRP are always so various, so beguiling, so full of and stimulating to imagination that I always want to read them all.

Oh, and maybe I’ve been wanting to share that Falingo story for a good while now.

❦ ❦ ❦

The Rope

Today a junco –
And yesterday, I think, some kind of sparrow.

Their lives flown on
Without them, they now lie still. Were these two drawn

By what they saw
As a threat in the glass they didn’t see? Claws

Raised for a foe
That wasn’t there, they pierced the air that froze

And knocked them out
Of this world. Seeing such things, it’s hard to doubt

A flight can end
In the middle of its arc. We like to pretend

The path is clear
Straight to the goal. We think music we hear

Means all is well,
So we ignore it. But the inverted well

Of a bell is full
Of nothing, most hours: silence. Someone must pull

Its rope to knock
Its music loose. Had these two birds been hawks,

I want to insist
I’d have watched. But is this true? I barely noticed

Their flights and songs.
I only write them down now that they’re gone.

Michael Spence
from Tar River Poetry, Volume 61 Number 2, Spring 2022; © 2022 Tar River Poetry

❦ ❦ ❦

Rebecca Baggett is the winner of the 2020 Terry J. Cox poetry award from Regal House Publishing; her collection The Woman Who Lives Without Money was published in March 2022.

Michael Spence was awarded the New Criterion Poetry Prize for his collection Umbilical.

Pam Baggett was awarded the 2019-2020 Fellowship in Literature from the NC Arts Council; her book Wild Horses (2018) is from Main Street Rag Publishing.

Tar River Poetry: Editor – Luke Whisnant; Founding Editor and Editor Emeritus – Peter Makuck; Associate Editor – Carolyn Elkins; Advisory Editor – Melinda Thomson; Assistant Editor – Caroline Puerto; Contributing Editors – Phoebe Davidson, Elizabeth Dodd, Brendan Galvin, Susan Elizabeth Howe, James Kirkland, Richard Simpson, Tom Simpson. East Carolina University, Greenville NC.

❦ ❦ ❦

The Losses to Come

A mild April day, the smell of death
leads me past half-grown oaks to pond’s edge,
where I find a snapping turtle,
big as a hay bale, flipped on its back,
startle a vulture that lifts away, leaving holes
where the turtle’s head and feet belong.
Nothing that stalks these woods strong enough
to capsize a creature whose slashing tail,
snapping jaw held such fury. Then I spot
the pond’s dam, short but steep,
pond shrunk by drought so the turtle
tumbled down it onto dry ground.

The horror hits like a hard fall –
I walked this path every day
as the snapper paddled its stubby legs
in mid-air, sank into stillness.

++++++++++++ ~

Early November, leaves sifting down,
I see the shell in the woods a hundred feet
from where I first found it. Bleached
beige, a dishpan, nowhere near a hay bale.
What had made me believe I mourned
so huge a creature, except the size of this grief,
insistent as sunrise, over losses to come:
catfish and bream, bullfrogs and peepers,
the pond’s dragonflies that swoop and dive,
seeking mosquitoes –

all may perish, along with the snapper,
on Earth for sixty-five million years,
built to survive almost anything.

Pam Baggett
from Tar River Poetry, Volume 61 Number 2, Spring 2022; © 2022 Tar River Poetry

❦ ❦ ❦

IMG_6432

 

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[poems from CAVE WALL]

. . . a person is a museum of rooms they’ve visited . . .
++++++ ++++++ ++++++ Han VanderHart

Hold the door for her, even a low threshold is an invitation to fall. Scuff of sole syncopates with tap of cane, I listen and watch sidelong along past the neighbors’ for any evidence of stumble. Hold hands over rough spots. Now here’s the road – is it safe to even think about crossing?

At the corner garden Mom asks me to remind her of the name of each flower. Zinnia, phlox, coneflower. At the picket fence she points to the bottommost backer rail, This is where we leave a biscuit for Penny but I forgot to bring one. At the next house, Boz lives here, he always barks.

Staying these weeks with Dad and Mom I sometimes enter a room to find Mom perfectly still, halfway between chair & table. Not staring at anything, not expecting particularly, not even struggling to discover something lost because even the idea of something lost is lost. Rooms of her life that she no longer visits.

But when I touch her arm she will tell me again where the flowers on the table have come from, See how long they’ve lasted? Every house we pass on our walks she knows the life of the dog it holds. Dogs and flowers. A walk with Mom. What could be more beautiful?

❦ ❦ ❦

When My Grandmother Barbara Jean was Dying, My
++++++ Mother Sat on Her Bed and Played “House of the
++++++ Rising Sun” on Her Guitar, Because It Was the Only
++++++ Song She Knew

And this is also ekphrasis: the song plucked
out of the guitar, held on a child’s lap, sat on a sickbed

My mother shaping the air around herself
and her mother: a small rain of notes.

There is a house in New Orleans, she strummed
not knowing her mother was dying.

Bobbie with her hair that waves like mine,
resists the clip that holds it back.

Don’t wish your life away, my mother still says,
words her mother, shadow-sick, said.

If a person is a museum of rooms they’ve
visited, inside my mother is a room

with a bed, a guitar, and her mother
who is not dying, only resting.

It is called the rising sun.

Han VanderHart
from Cave Wall, Spring/Summer 2022, Number 17, © Cave Wall Press LLC

❦ ❦ ❦

Rhett, tell me if this memory is true. When we first met at a poetry meeting at Weymouth you were wearing a t-shirt with a comic book character (in a room of dresses and neckties). What you didn’t know was that my basement was full of boxes, mostly Marvel, and I was way more into John Byrne, Frank Miller, and Barry Windsor-Smith than T.S. Elliot and Ezra Pound. When you stood up at open mic, though, I was rocked. Here it is – this is it. Absolutely real.

And Cave Wall continues to be it. Every issue’s poems open layers in my heart I had forgotten I possessed, or else had halfway bandaided back together. Well, yes, sometimes it hurts in inward person to fall into a well of emotion, but sometimes the deep sigh is healing. And sometimes I want to toss the little book into the air for a high five as it descends. This issue, though, Number 17, I just can’t get over. Thanks for opening door into all these rooms and inviting us to step through.

Cave Wall editors Rhett Iseman Trull & Jeff Trull; Assistant Editor Michael Boccardo; Contributing Art Editor Dan Rhett; Official Poem Accepters Audrey & Cordelia Trull; Editorial Assistant Tracey Nafekh; Contributing Editors Sally Rosen Kindred, Renee Soto; Editorial Advisory Board Dan Albergotti, Sandra Beasley, Natasha Tretheway. www.cavewallpress.com

❦ ❦ ❦

August

and swollen as I was
with our first son, we stopped at Bennett Place,
the nineteenth century farmhouse
outside Durham, where
one general surrendered
to another, ending the Civil War.
Hot as blazes, but a stray breeze
lifted our spirits and we kept at it,
touring the wooden farmhouse,
the outbuildings, the grounds.
While you inspected the rows
of tents, I lingered
in the log kitchen. Something
about the narrow window panes
and the orchard view
made me think an earlier century
might have transformed me
into the wife I longed to be –
a patient woman, filling and refilling
the porcelain pitcher
as you bathed at the white bowl.
A woman blameless, steady
at her weaving, aflame only for you.

Dannye Romine Powell
from Cave Wall, Spring/Summer 2022, Number 17, © Cave Wall Press LLC

 

❦ ❦ ❦

The three poets selected from this issue of Cave Wall all have connections to North Carolina:

Han VanderHart lives in Durham. They host Of Poetry podcast, edit Moist Poetry Review, and review at EcoTheo Review; their collection What Pecan Light is from Bull City Press (2021).

Dannye Romine Powell lives in Charlotte. Her fifth collection, In the Sunroom with Raymond Carver, won North Carolina’s 2020 Roanoke Chowan Award.

Anne McCrary Sullivan received an MFA from Warren Wilson College. Her publications include Ecology II: Throat Song from the Everglades.

 

 

❦ ❦ ❦

Driving Loop Road

after cocoplums with their dark fruit,
wax myrtle, firebush, wild coffee

small openings, like keyholes
through which I could see

how a swamp darkens beyond fern
how a prairie extends into light

a young alligator sprawled in the road
three hawks held to their branches

shapes ahead of me scurried into scrub
an otter crossed in the rearview mirror

time was longer than it was,
so much in it –

the limestone gravel road
always narrowing

then the rain and milk-white puddles
wet green +++++ and solitude

hawk time, alligator time
storm coming, rainy season

but since you ask, three and a half hours
dragonflies whirling over the road

Anne McCrary Sullivan
from Cave Wall, Spring/Summer 2022, Number 17, © Cave Wall Press LLC

❦ ❦ ❦

 

2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

 

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[with 3 poems by Joseph Mills]

Nothing makes sense. Even so we tell stories hoping to make sense, to create a little sense.

My brother just called from the beach to tell me my mother has had some sort of spell this morning. Maybe a seizure. Wee, pellucid, bone china and silver lace, she is smiling now and saying, “I feel just fine.” The doctor in me asks questions. The son I am worries but then pauses to touch myself on the shoulder and remind: “Her family surrounds her. She is 94 and smiling. She is fine.”

How can we make sense of all this? What should we do?

The evening before they left I sat beside Mom while everyone else made supper and packed. She’d been standing in the middle of the living room for several minutes – feeling that she should be contributing to the activity in the kitchen? – when I convinced her to join me on the couch. For a week she hadn’t been feeling well but a fruitless ER stay, a visit with her beloved family doctor, lab tests, an ECG, none had put a finger on the malady.

I asked Mom if she really felt well enough to ride five hours in the car. I didn’t have to guess how much she wanted to spend two weeks with my brother’s family, their once a year trip east from Montana. She smiled, said she was fine, then started to list all the spots they’d go out to eat during their visit. At least one restaurant there is older than me and the host recalls my name from when I was four. She couldn’t remember the names of several of the places but she could tell me just how to find them and what she’d most likely order.

Mom watched my niece bring glasses to the table and pour the wine. She leaned against me, my arm around her shoulder, and said, “I’m fine. I can’t wait!”

Nothing makes sense and for a moment it doesn’t at all need to.

the answers may be
in the trees, but the questions
are not what you think
+++++++++++from Wind Dancing by Joseph Mills

Joseph Mills tells stories. Wonderful wide-ranging stories, in each of which one of the characters is dance. The poems of Bodies in Motion (Press 53, 2022) take me to cities I’ve never visited; to foreign countries; to high school gyms, wild parties, intimate moments. Even more so they take me into relationships and conflicts and epiphanies I’ve never experienced but which I recognize, instantly familiar. The poems, the stories – do they hold the answers, do they make sense of life? Perhaps, probably not, but they do invite me into communion with the family of all humans – in joy and celebration we shall share our questions.

❦ ❦ ❦

At the Arts Conservatory

Music comes from practice rooms
a piano sonata, a cello being bowed,
scales on a clarinet.

Dancers slide out of studios
bend at the drinking fountain,
go to the bathrooms, check phones.

The hall smells of sweat,
detergent, the latex paint
institutions use on cinder block.

I’m here to talk about poetry,
but for now, I fold against a wall
in a way that eases my back,
and thumb through messages.

In a hospice room in Brittany,
my father-in-law is dying of cancer.
The doctor says when the pain comes
that will be a signal. The signal.

Through a doorway
I can see bandaged ankles,
knee braces, thigh wraps.
Dancers balance and jump
on calloused, scarred feet.

They are young and beautiful
and already know a great deal
about pain. The musicians do too,
talking with familiarity
about repetitive stress injuries.

And they too may know
someone who is dying
at this very moment,
perhaps nearby,
perhaps far away.

I turn off my phone,
and step into a studio,
crossing the threshold
that clears away concerns
at least temporarily.
This is what art making is,

a momentary amnesia,
a pausing, and perhaps
that’s all it is because
the signal will come
for those we love,
and nothing we do,
will stop it or change it.

The students regard me,
curious as to why I am there
and what I will ask of them.
A moment ago, I thought I knew.
but suddenly I consider telling them
how I used to bring my daughter
to the school to watch dances
and afterwards she would play
choreographer, each time ending
stretched out on the floor
with her eyes closed, and I consider
telling them how my father-in-law
lives in Finisterre, which means
the end of the earth, a name
and phrase I’ve always loved.
From his window, he can see

the sea, the edge of everything.
And I consider telling them
in the hallway I remembered
when my grandfather built a seawall.
A man, more comfortable with tools
than children, he kept grumbling
for us to get out of the way, then,
once he had shaped the cement
he lined us up to write our names in it.

The students watch and wait,
and I find myself saying something
neither in my notes or my memory.
I’m going to start by reading some poems,
and I want you to see if you can tell
which ones are by people still alive
and which by those long since dead.

Some students look worried,
some lean forward.

Joseph Mills
+++ from Bodies in Motion, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2022; first appeared in Sky Island Journal

❦ ❦ ❦

Physics

We may not have understood the laws of motion,
but we exemplified them. Inertia kept us from moving
onto the dance floor, but once we started we wanted
to keep going and grumbled when the band stopped.
We spent each night colliding with and recoiling from
one another. Forget the falling apple. Isaac Newton
would have looked at our rumpled sweat-stained shirts,
wayward hair, our staggering orbits, and said, Eureka!
Or perhaps he simply would have shook his head
as he drank and jotted formulas and vectors on napkins,
notes he would crumple after closing time as we all stood
on the sidewalk in the dark, a cluster of wandering bodies.

Joseph Mills
+++ from Bodies in Motion, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2022; first appeared in Change Seven Magazine

 

❦ ❦ ❦

Gratitude

After a dance,
thank your partner

no matter how good
either of you are.

Thank them to acknowledge
how unnecessary it is
such dancing

and so how much more
a gift

Thank them
for giving you
a part of their life.

Thank them
for allowing you
to give a part of yours.

Joseph Mills
+++ from Bodies in Motion, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2022; first appeared in The Power of Goodness

❦ ❦ ❦

Doughton Park Tree 4/30/2022

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[with poems by Joseph Bathanti]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April Snow

The grass whelps in biblical mien –
mowers spend themselves –

a writ of greenest green,
spangled in sunbursts,

as if Van Gogh decided on
the remnant petrified thistle,

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

Robins pompously swagger.
Swifts (little crosses)

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

by habit exaggerates itself,
the green a blinding recognition.

To the ridge mount pines and firs.
Ancient hardwoods swell

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

its cane shrove-purple
from the long winter.

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

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

It forgets nothing.
Life is more than fable,

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Bathanti

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

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Floyd County, Kentucky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Bathanti

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Doughton Park Tree, 2022-05-17B

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