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Posts Tagged ‘NC Poets’

[with 2 poems by Beth Copeland]

February 23, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sandhills Gold

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

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

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

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

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

blue honey into blue eyes that
stared back in a blur

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

of his veiled hat and long gloves,
bellowing hives

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll always
be my queen,

he said, bending
to kiss my forehead. I carry

that moment like a bee
in amber on a gold chain

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

of blackstrap and Hungry Jack
crystallizing in the dark,

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

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

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

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

ankles so swollen
from stings he slept with his feet propped

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

lozenge on my tongue, I want
to taste the sweetness

of mornings
before sorrow, anger, remorse

soured my vision of being
young and oblivious to his

pain, I want my words to flow
like a vein

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

hives onto our bread, our tongues, our lives.

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

 

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Nothing Blue

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

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

so she wouldn’t
embarrass me garbed in something

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

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

tired of wanting
her to hold onto that

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

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

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

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

growing wild around
a crinoline of Queen Anne’s

Lace – something
old, nothing

new, one thing borrowed,
almost blue

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

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

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

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[with 3 poems by Patricia Hooper]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To follow.

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

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

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

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Elegy for a Son-in-Law

1.

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

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

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

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

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In Tennessee

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

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

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At the Rifle River

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

till somebody cried, “Look up!”

and there it was
in the sky over the river

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

and the sky parted.

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

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

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

it rose over the steaming
forest, it disappeared.

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine my emptiness.

Imagine my surprise.

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

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GSMIT // SANCP

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

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

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[with 3 poems by Val Nieman]

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont – February 5-7, 2021

Winter on the mountain gavels its sentence, no appeal: wrestle the cold to keep it at bay; eat, feed the inner fire; light the darkness or fall and break. I pull my hood closer and hide myself. In the tent at night I bind my neck against cold fingers. I watch my feet.

The day is short. Nevertheless we fill it and discover it filling us. Small signs begin to reveal their stories – an incisored nut, scratches in the bark, one single hair. At first we hesitate, we thirteen who’ve journeyed here to explore, but in the light we gather as closely as prudence permits. Muddy track, scrabbled duff, compressed leaf, scat: where did Bear sleep? what did Coyote eat?

Winter on the mountain: what crouches here for us to notice?

The night is long. In this valley darkness is complete. The rush and growl of Middle Prong fill the cove as well as empty it. Are we alone? In the gap of sleep a brush and skitter, a brief chittered voice – I imagine dark eyes and gliding flight. The spirit is released from the prison of his tree. In the morning we will seek signs of his passing.

Winter on the mountain – I release myself to see, to question, to wonder.

 

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Valerie Nieman journeys landscapes of memory, family, heartache to reveal stories in the signs unearthed along the way. A path may seem clear but its meanings fissure and deepen into many layers. A bud, a leaf, a branch – are they simply of themselves wholly themselves? Look deeper: there are mysteries unfolding.

Val teaches creative writing at North Carolina A&T State University but she is preparing to retire this summer and replace syllabus revisions with fly selection for a day on the trout stream. Her poetry has appeared widely and has been published in numerous anthologies, including Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods and Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology. Her fifth novel, Backwater, will be published in 2021.

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Becoming Ariel
for Gerald Stern

Groundhog in a tree, behaving like a bird, like a squirrel,
nibbling tender green buds at branch end, high-wiring
above a bog. Any burrow dug here would be swamped,

front door to back stoop – how did he come to cross water
and ascend, diggers curved deep in the bark as a lineman’s spikes?
A crow would think twice about lighting on a branch so frail.

Soil-shoveling wedge of a face, a fat tail that never could balance
his loose bulk: this creature was not meant for such heights.
His round belly was destined to bloat in a ditch beside the road.

Still, he sways against the sky, close to the sun, Caliban
joyously drunk on spring sap drawn up from the mud
and darkness he was born to, tiny feet dancing and dancing.

from The Georgia Review, University of Georgia

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Captures

I sprayed for tiny ants
late last night, killing the spider
doing its best to corral them.

Between the sheets I struggled
hand to hand with old lovers
and other aliens

descending cosmic ladders
to pincer my heart,
boiling them in the ichor

my bare claws released
from their flesh.
But this morning,

I catch a humpback cricket
in the sink, cup it
between my hands

and toss it out
the back door
to take its chances.

This morning, I’m
mild as a painted virgin,
my hands empty of slaughter.

from Change 7

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Approach

Arms stretched wise,
right hand to the dawn,
left toward eventual night,
I face north.

As latitude rises,
life flattens:
forest to taiga,
to tundra, to permanent ice.

Everything will have
a name of cold:
polar bear, arctic fox,
glacier flea, snowy owl.

~ ~ ~

A compass is known to stray
from true north, lured
by the earth’s magnetic heart.
Now the needle swings

at the approach
of a frost spirit
from those barrens
I’ll have to cross

without advice,
without a companion,
or a harness of wolf-dogs,
or good boots.

from Hotel Worthy, Press 53, Winston-Salem, © 2015

Becoming ArielCapturesApproach  © Valerie Nieman

 

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

Ariel, the spirit in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, is released from his prison in the split pine by the magician Prospero.

 

 

 

 

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[with 4 poems by Ruth Moose]

I’m driving from Elkin up to Dobson, our county seat, smack in the center of Surry. About half way there, as Mountain Park Road peels off to the left, Poplar Springs Road completes its transformation to Zephyr Road. I love that – Zephyr Road. There are farms and rolling hills and plenty of zephyrs, though some of them are perfumed with a whiff of chicken house or skunk. Soon winter wheat will green the fields, then Spring will raise corn, soybeans, finally tobacco. Off to the south you can see vineyards pruned and expectant.

While the pastures are still winter brown, pay attention. Look, there’s one – close to that big oak in the middle of an empty field, a little patch of green. Come March you’ll spy the yellow nod of daffodils. Why out there of all places?

Those daffodil plots, slowly spreading, most likely once knelt at the front stoop of a farm cabin. A century ago, even longer? No sign of it from the road but if I walked around the oak I might scuff up a few squared off stones that were its foundation or that hoisted a step up to the porch. The daffodils remember. And maybe it was the same man and the woman who hoed the corn, milked the cow, every winter killed the hog, two together across the years who some quiet evenings found an hour to sit on that porch, maybe they’re the ones who named the wagon track below the field Zephyr Road. I love that.

 

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Ruth Moose’s poems reflect the North Carolina icon she is. She draws on generations of memory to weave her stories and sketch her vivid images of locality and personality. Her sly wit, cloaked but never hidden by gentility, brings out the quirky individuality of the denizens of her world, real and imagined. And she reveals the deep, deep heart of longing, loss and yearning, our fragile mortality.

These poems are from three of her collections spanning decades. Ruth has also published novels, many short stories including two collections, and has won many awards and fellowships. Charles Edward Eaton said of her: Few writers can handle both prose and poetry, but Ruth Moose does them equally well, and with this double grasp has become one of North Carolina’s best writers. Ruth taught creative writing at the University of North Carolina until her retirement and she continues to support the creative life our home state.

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Smith Grove

There is a heaven
for farmhouses.
Acres of them
lit by cloud hills
that plunge and wind
past creeks
where cows crowd on hot days.
A million windows watch
where farm wives waited,
minded those who came,
those who left,
counted the colors
of morning, evenings,
the sky at noon.
From back door stoops
they marked storm clouds,
summers rent with heat lightning,
saying both aloud and under
their tongues the chant
of superstitions, old tales,
familiar talk until the dark
dissolved.

In the museum
of porch swings and farm tools,
kitchen work is rusted,
thick with the oven of meals,
baked enamel, porcelain polished
like plates.

from Smith Grove, Sow’s Ear Press, Abingdon, Virginia, 1997
Illustrations are by Ruth’s husband the late Talmadge Moose, widely published and displayed artist and illustrator; read more at Life As He Saw It in Our State Magazine, April, 2011, by Ruth Moose.

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Making the Bed

No matter how well
or worse the sleep
someone must take
the four cornered world
and set it straight.
Two can do it better,
take turns with edges,
coverlet, shams,
blanket and bolster,
wait in turn.

You can do it in the dark,
by feel, familiarity,
plumping feathers or foam.
You know your own scent,
shallow spots your knees
seek, the place you
fall into, dark and faraway,
taking you back or forward
like a train, all scenes
lighted cars you can look into,
out again. You hear the engine
that goes nowhere, the solitary
shriek as daybreak unrolls,
all wrappings out like flowers.

We go on with our lives.

from Making the Bed, Pure Heart Press / Main Street Rag Publishing, 1995

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Almost a Pantoum on Being

A script is not needed; our place is already there.
We come into the world naked, unafraid.
Helpless we learn as we go, if somebody cares.
From water we swim, kicking into blue air.

We come into the world naked, unafraid.
The spell is everywhere, something the soul knows.
From water we swim, kicking into blue air.
Alive as the earth is alive and newly green.

The spell is everywhere, something the soul knows.
No angels hover over us, sit on our shoulders.
We are alive as the earth is alive and newly green.
Taking the flight one wing at a time.

No angels hover over us, sit on our shoulders.
Celebration waits in the arms of others.
We learn the dance one step at a time.
Moving to tunes heard in our heads.
No script is needed. Our place is already there.

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How I Think It Will Be

My mother never talked about that winter
she had a husband in the VA hospital
not knowing how or if or when
he’d recover, three children sick
with the big red measles and twelve
inches of show on the ground
for over a week. She mentioned
it once, that’s all I remember
and the sound of her sewing
machine late, late into the night.
What did she sew? Her sanity?
Her soul? I only know I woke
suddenly, had gone from hot to cool,
my fever broken, my pillow wet.
I felt her hand on my forehead,
her touch, her voice as I left
that darkness and came into light.

I imagine it will be as she said then,
“Oh, here you are.”

both selections from The Librarian and Other Poems, Main Street Rag Publishing 2009
dedicated to HWLWG – HE WHO LEFT WITHOUT GOODBYE

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Chatham Arts Council bio of Ruth Moose
Poetry Foundation listing

 

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[with two poems by Lenard D. Moore]

Mockingbird knows both of Blue Jay’s songs: the astringent lament that flings the blue name of the blue Corvid into pathos; the softer plaintive wheedle of him who begs to be thought better of. What does all that conversation signify when it erupts from the beak of the Jay? What meaning has the Mocker usurped, if any meaning at all? Who can listen and understand, and who can answer?

We of different class order family genus species can only speculate why the Mockingbird repeats four times each song he knows, and each song he himself composes, as he hops from the tip of power to the mailbox to the thorn bush and back again and his notes spiral the neighborhood. We are probably safe to bet that Mocker doesn’t care two bits about impressing the Jays. Song as proclamation, song as beacon, song as telegraphy, song as bulwark – let’s just imagine that Mockingbird proclaims music is glory and improvisation is king.

Listen and understand.

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I have known Lenard Moore mainly from his haiku. He points the way to that parallel universe which is only a hairsbreadth from ours and then with observation and pointed brush he opens the door.

I also know Lenard as a teacher and mentor to Carolina writers in many, many different organizations and settings, and particularly I remember a meeting about 10 years ago at Weymouth Center in Southern Pines, NC. While Bill Blackley played blues harmonica, Lenard riffed and bopped with his jazz poetry. Now I’m holding a book that brings it back: The Geography of Jazz, issued in 2020 by Blair as a reprint of a publication by Mountains and Rivers Press in 2018.

Sultry, syncopated, steamy – if you can read this book without bobbing your head and tapping your foot you need a little more sax in your life.

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At the Train Stop

I imagine the quick hand:
Thelonious Monk waves
at red, orange, yellow leaves
from Raleigh to Rocky Mount.
Alone in this seat,
I peer out the half-window
at the rainbow of faces
bent toward this train
that runs to the irresistible Apple,
determine to imagine Monk
glows like Carolina sun
in cloudless blue sky.
I try so hard to picture him
until his specter hunkers
at the ghost piano, foxfire
on concrete platform.
Now I can hear the tune ‘Misterioso’
float on sunlit air.
If notes were visible,
perhaps they would drift crimson,
shimmer like autumn leaves.
A hunch shudders
into evening, a wordless flight.

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Ascension: John Coltrane

I didn’t pick up the tenor
and soprano saxophones
for legendhood.
I wanted only to explore chords
into progression, step into another world
I had to escape anything too strict,
take ‘Giant Steps’ all the way
from Hamlet, North Carolina.
The music shimmered like a lake
inside me and turned blue.
It was kind of spiritual.
I thought of extending the scales.
I wanted to play on and on,
sail as long as the horn could
and eventually come back again
as if I had never left.
It was maybe the only time
I left my body.

both selections from The Geography of Jazz, Lenard D. Moore, Blair Publishing 2020 reprint, © 2018 Lenard D. Moore

More about Lenard D. Moore, his poetry, and haiku.

 

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Afterword: Old Jay still has a few tricks of his own. He can mimic perfectly the three Buteos in his breeding range: Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, and Broad-winged Hawks. Nobody messes with Mr. Blue Jay.


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2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

 

 

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[with two poems by Julie Suk]

Silence does not exist for me. I’ve had my tinnitus mapped by an audiologist: four different frequencies in each ear, one or two dominant (louder!). One tone (on the left) is pitched so low that the only time I’ve heard it was before sunrise in Shining Rock Wilderness (near Mt. Pisgah) – no wind, no birdsong, no people, no machines. The other tones are high pitched, constant whining needles of sound, minor chords that never resolve.

I’ve heard that some people are driven insane by tinnitus. Perhaps you’d better be extra vigilant when you’re around me. Somehow, though, I’ve been blessed with the gift of mostly ignoring it, not caring. I can’t remember a life before I heard this daily continuous ringing screech. Where did it come from? All that target practice earning Marksmanship Merit Badge in Boy Scouts? All those lawns mowed as a kid? All those Grateful Dead and J. Geils Band concerts?

Intrusive noise. Which of us in 2021 doesn’t suffer from such? Thank you, iPhone, for telling me my screen time increased 23% last week. Add to that I’m a terrible meditator. If I try to empty my mind what immediately creeps in to fill the vacuum is regret and guilt for every screwup I’ve ever committed in my entire life. What works better for me is poetry. Feet flat on floor. Deep breaths, in and out. Open the book. Read a page. Stare unfocused into space. What tinnitus?

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At first I’m tempted to apologize for introducing Julie Suk with an essay that endeavors to wring a smile, but no, the light touch is not inappropriate. The poems in Astonished to Wake, Julie Suk’s sixth book published in 2016 when she was 92, are often about loss and all of them are about her own impermanence – they are solemn but they are never grim. The poems are simply perfectly human.

We all share one thing on this earth – our own mortality. Admitting that, we may be open to discover that we share much more: grief that we must live through and live beyond; loves that are no longer present but which still warm us like the dying fire’s embers; moments of joy, however brief.

As I sit down for a couple of hours to re-read this book in its entirety I become thoughtful, reflective, connected, grave, but not sad. And the only ringing I hear is Julie’s words.

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Migrations

A stretto of rain on the windowpane,
a swirl of bees caught in the creek’s overflow,
the yard going under.

Remember how replete our lives once were,
brimming over, the future a muted thunder
drawing us close.

Hold me, hold me

meaning I was fearful the same as you.

Drowning in sweet addictions,
we paused in a childlike daze –

no way to foresee
how and when we’d be swept away,

our bones washed up long after –
perhaps a fragment carved into a flute,

breath,
once again, floating through the wilderness.

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Between Lives

And what if it’s true that the life we’ve lived
flashes by at the moment of death?

Not even for an instant would I want repeated
the boring drone of guilt,
nor the shabby aftermaths of desire.

The black tunnel lit with epiphanies
would be my take –

sighs of contentment, laughter, a wild calling out –

and at the end,
a brief flaring of the one we’d hoped to become
escorting us into the light.

Julie Suk, from Astonished to Wake, © 2016 Jacar Press

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Julie Suk (born Julie Madison Gaillard; 1924) is a prize-winning American poet and writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. She is the author of six volumes of poetry – The Medicine Woman (St. Andrews Press, 1980), Heartwood (Briarpatch Press, 1991), The Angel of Obsession (The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), The Dark Takes Aim (Autumn House Press, 2003), Lie Down With Me (Autumn House Press, 2011), and Astonished To Wake (Jacar Press, 2016), and co-editor of Bear Crossings: an Anthology of North American Poets. She is included in The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry. Her poems have appeared in many literary journals including The Georgia Review, Great River Review, The Laurel Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, Shenandoah, and TriQuarterly.

[Bio from Wikipedia]

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[with poems by Dannye Romine Powell]

When we lower her pack from the tree where it has swung all night like a bell mocking the bear, the skunk, she opens it and screams: a fairy crown atop her sweatshirt and socks, a perfect round nest and four perfect hairless mouse pups like squirming blind grubs. We peer in awe, shepherds at the manger.

Mother mouse has hidden herself, not in the pack with her babies. We lift the nest intact, hide it in a bush beside the tree, nestle leaves around. Mother will sniff out her precious ones, reclaim her treasure. But we have other lambs to tend.

We eat, stow gear, shoulder our packs, face the trail, and consider: the pack was in the tree just one night; the nest is woven from meadow grass where we slept; the mother who climbed – how many trips up and back? – was heavy with her brood.

Miles before us, a new year before us – how heavy will each day’s burdens become before night brings rest?

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A new book by Dannye Romine Powell arrived in the mail this week: In the Sunroom with Raymond Carver from Press 53 in Winston-Salem. I meant to read one or two poems this morning but I have read them all. A central persona that weaves through the collection is Longing: she visits rooms in old houses, unfolds memories into the light, shares the pain that others might lock in closets. Grief shared conceives within us hope to rekindle joy. Sharing grief, sharing joy, we become more human.

 

 

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The Secret

Light glazes the near-empty streets
as I drive. Beside me, my grown son asks
if a secret I thought I’d kept buried
is true. A secret
that can still catch fire.
We stop on red. A bird flies
by the windshield. My father’s words:
Easier to stand on the ground
and tell the truth than climb a tree
and tell a lie. Now, I think. Tell him.
I stare at my son’s profile,
straight nose, thick lashes.
I remember, at about his age,
how a family secret fell
into my lap, unbidden.
That secret still ransacks a past
I thought I knew, rearranging its bricks,
exposing rot and cracks,
changing the locks on trust.

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In the Night, the Wind in the Leaves

swirled and rustled
out our open window as if
for the first time,
as if we never were,
the earth newborn, sweet.

And what of us – asleep
on the too-soft bed
in the old mountain house?

Gone.

Also our children.
the ones who lived, the ones who died
before they grew whole. All night

the breeze swirled and rustled
through the leaves as if it played
a secret game, swirling
and rustling all night

as if we never were.

from In the Sunroom with Raymond Carver, Dannye Romine Powell, © 2020 Press 53

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Dannye Romine Powell has won fellowships in poetry from the NEA, the North Carolina Arts Council, and Yaddo. Her poems have appeared over the years in The Paris Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, Harvard Review Online, Beloit, 32 Poems, and many others. She is also the author of Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers. For many years, she was the book editor of the Charlotte Observer. In 2020 she won the Randall Jarrell Poetry Competition for her poem “Argument.”

 

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Wilderness Advent
(Pisgah Stranger)
Lyrics: Bill Griffin . . . . . . . . . . Music: David L. McCollum

 

Elkin Community Chorus 58th Annual Concert
December 2nd, 2018 – First Baptist Church, Elkin, North Carolina

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This year (2020) would have been the 60th annual concert of the Elkin Community Chorus. The ensemble draws singers from towns and counties across northwest NC, rehearses for seven weeks, and gives two free concerts to the public on the 2nd Sunday in Advent. Linda and I have sung with the group for more than 30 years. We miss it. We’re listening to our stack of recordings from previous years and holding onto the hope that we’ll all be vaccinated and singing together again next fall.

David McCollum has been one of the group’s directors for more than 20 years. Several years back he asked me to write a Christmas poem for which he would compose the music. ECC debuted Wilderness Advent in 2018. Thank you, David, thank you Amy Johnson and Amy Tayloe for your accompaniment, thank you Tonya Smith, co-director, and thanks to the 90 or more of our neighbors whose voices make the waiting, the yearning, the anticipation of Christmas a sacrament.

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Wilderness Advent
(Pisgah Stranger)

A stranger here, I sleep beneath the slash of stars,
The Pisgah forest deep and friendless.
I close myself to love, my heart requires the dark;
Can night within this cove be endless?

Come, you’ve slept too long
And love grows dim.
Awaken to a song – Can it be Him?

Is it madness or a dream that seems to whisper here?
The murmur of a stream or singing?
It chants, a still small voice, I’ve nothing now to fear
For tidings of great joy it’s bringing.

Come, you’ve slept too long
And love grows dim.
Awaken to a song and welcome Him!

And now the music swells as every fir and spruce
Unloose their boughs to tell the story:
May all God’s creatures wake, hearts quickened by the truth,
Invited to partake of mercy.

Come, we’ve slept so long
That love grows dim.
Awaken that our song may worship Him.

Come sing it with the wind and all the Pisgah throng:
The Child reclines within the manger!
With owl and bear and deer my soul’s reborn in song
For none of us is here a stranger.

Come, you’ve slept too long;
If love grows dim
Awaken to a song for it is Him!

Waken . . . welcome . . . worship . . . it is Him!

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MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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Forest Bathing Trail, Grassy Creek off Mountains-to-Sea Trail

[with poems by Lucinda Trew and Jane Craven]

Last week I took a walk in the woods with my oldest friend Bill (distanced by 2-meter dog leash). We were forest bathing (shinrin yoku): phones off, listening to Grassy Creek accompany our rustic trail, smelling leafmold, fungus, pines, going nowhere and getting there; reflecting on the moment, simmering in our conjoined past which stretches all the way back to our grandfathers who worked together on the same railroad 60 years ago.

Every trail, though, has a way of turning. Almost back to our cars, Bill happened to ask, “What are you going to do with your stuff before you die?” Us old guys, especially old poets, think about dying. Good story fodder. Let me tell you the one about . . . . Just not usually as concrete as what will become of our earthly matter when no one wants it any more.

Stoff: German, translates as substance. Two synonyms for Oxygen are Sauerstoff and Atemluft, the first meaning acid substance (early chemists’ misconception that all acids must contain oxygen) and the second meaning air for breathing. We humans can live about 3 minutes without oxygen before our brains lose neurons and our substance begins to degrade, but oxygen is pure poison to many microorganisms and tricky to deal with even for our own mammal cells (or why else would anti-oxidants be such a big deal?).

Stuff is pretty frangible. Are the moment’s mental occupations or the day’s consuming concerns any more tangible? Bill shared with me a photo of his granddad Enoch Blackley in his engineer’s gear from the 30’s, outline of pocket watch visible through the denim of his overalls. I have one very similar of my granddaddy Peewee Griffin. The bit of stuff comprising those old prints, grains of silver on paper, is mere milligrams of matter; the cubic volume of memory those images reveal is larger than many lives.

My Stoff – carbon, nitrogen, phosporus – will feed the trees. May I leave behind the tempo of my walk, the sound of laughter, honest tears of compassion, a couple of good poems. Maybe that’ll do.

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These two poems are from Kakalak 2020, the annual anthology of Carolina poets, by writers whom I don’t know and hadn’t read before. Lucinda Trew’s Of Stars fills me with wonder, all the universe in a crow-eye seed, somewhere within the secrets of universe wanting to be spilled out. Jane Craven’s Speaking of the World does just that, the image of a small flower expanding to hold the pain and contradictions of the most intimate relationships.

Metaphor is the tool that communicates the mysteries which swirl around us and within us, the inexplicable spark of our synapses, the spin of our electrons. Some things can’t be spoken, only sung.

Forest Bathing Trail, Grassy Creek off Mountains-to-Sea Trail

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Of Stars
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe. – Carl Sagan

The conjuring orchard man
holds hemispheres in sturdy hands
cupping chaos and creation
presenting apple halves
for inspection
and the revelation

of stars
a crop circle enigma etched
within sweet flesh
five symmetrical rays cradling
crow-eye seeds
small enough to spit
vast enough to hold eternity –
the very dust and stuff

of stars
carbon, nitrogen, oxygen
phosphorus – the breath and wingbeat
of birds who rise from reeds and nest

the rush and thrum
of boys who scrabble up bark, swagger
wave applewood swords

the sway and silhouette
of branches, girls dancing
longing for the moon

of pulse and surge
of cities, song, engines
prayer

the earthen realm
of roots and worm, turnips
and bones

the axial turn
of tides and shells
molecular chains

and of apples
twisted exquisitely, evenly
in half
spilling stars
and seeds and secrets
of the universe

Lucinda Trew, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Forest Bathing Trail, Grassy Creek off Mountains-to-Sea Trail

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Speaking of the World

Pinprick faces open in a violet fever behind my house – swathes
of mazus flowering downhill. A cultivar

from the Himalayas, it’s bred to survive scarcity and climate extremes.

In your world, the doctors have gone, left your body

a prescribed burn, lightly
elevated in a rented hospital bed, handfuls of pills labeled for days.

The trees, to a one, freeze beneath a milky lichen – and you who sleep

year round with open windows are speaking of the world –
of the last deer you saw weaving through balsam, of the bear

who bent double the birdfeeder, wild turkeys and their long-
neck chicks, a lone slavering coyote crossing the yard.

Grief, you say
three times,
each a dry leaf
papering
from your lips.

I left you in the boreal world, rushed back to my own life.
And I admit this with unnatural ease, like there’s no shame

in turning toward the sun, in enduring.

Jane Craven, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Lucinda Trew: http://trewwords.com/about/
Jane Craven: https://www.janecraven.com/bio

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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[with poems by Joan Barasovska and Kathy Ackerman]

Everything or nothing. The radio is off. The screen is frozen. The refrigerator snores. The clock won’t tick any faster, any slower. In an hour we leave for Raleigh to see our grandson (backyard, distanced, masked) but right now nothing is happening

I’m no good at nothing. If I wake in the dark my brain whirls venom trying to bite its tail. Where is dawn’s blessed peace? If I take deep breaths, watch the feeder, daily agendas begin to scroll down the back of my cornea. How many seconds after emptying myself before I fill back up with everything?

We are entering the season of nothing. The azalea may feint a few off-season blossoms but will we ever bloom again? We are in the season of waiting. Where is the so fragrant earth we lost so long ago? Where is the muscle and spunk of summer that convinced us we might carry through? The season of turning. What justice like waters, what righteousness like an ever-flowing stream? When? How do these shortened days stretch so long?

In the woods, something is happening. Orchids are making sugar. How have I missed that? One species will bloom in May, the second in August, but their leaves are now. Their delicate little tenacious tough-ass corms swell all winter waiting to rocket up a spike of summer flowers into a leafed-out overshaded world.

Something is always happening. Something is deeper than those scrolling agendas. Something in the world and something behind my optic chiasm in deep matter. Something that maybe wants me to be still and notice. Something to hope for, to wait for, to go forth and meet.

There is no nothing. It’s all everything.

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These two poems are from Kakalak 2020, the annual anthology of Carolina poets. It is an eclectic volume – conversational, confessional, contemplative. Not as many COVID poems as I expected but wait until 2021.

The poems by Joan Barasovska and Kathy Ackerman speak to me of the winding thread that connects our past to our present. Knots and tangles, yes, but also a lashing to secure us in the lashing storm. The something that is happening every day is us becoming human.

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Cranefly Orchid, Tipularia discolor

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Her Breath

Mike and I exchange a glance
over her cooling body.
Our eyes are dry.
Elsie wears a faded housedress
with a pattern of flowers.
Thirty minutes ago
an aide crossed
her swollen hands.

All morning we sat waiting
while Death rattled her.
She died in the afternoon
while we were out walking.
Our mother took a slow
rollercoaster ride to this day,
dragging us with her on
every shivery dip and climb.

Back from the dead,
Mike said when she woke
from a coma, angry to find herself
in a clean hospice room.
She raged until he put her back home.
Frail, sick, ninety-three, hanging on
ten hears after Dad’s death.
She scolded me yesterday.
I was late for lunch.
I had forgotten to pick up her mail.

Their old bed had been replaced
by a narrow hospital bed
rolled in the hospice workers
while she fumed in the living room
and I boiled water for tea.
Now her jaw is slack,
her last silent treatment.
Above her head hangs
a sad-eyed portrait of me at nine,
painted in blues and grays.

Mike and I are limp with relief.
the secret of Elsie’s anger died with her,
but it was probably sadness.
We are second-generation Americans,
inheritors of the sadness seed.

This mother
lying flat between us
birthed me sixty years ago.
With her last breath,
She’s in a better place
and so am I.

Joan Barasovsaka, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Adam-and-Eve Orchid, “Puttyroot,” Aplectrum hyemale

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Misnomer
for Goliath, my father

i.
This story begins when I believed every word my daddy said.
Honeysuckle, he called them, tending the cuttings
that go all the way back to Rock Creek 50 years,
Aunt Gracie’s yard in the hills where I never lived.

Honeysuckle was all I had to root me to that ancient soil,
so every home I bought I planted some
from Daddy’s supply, rooted in plain clear water.
I wondered why it had no scent, was not a vine,
was pink, for crying out loud.

Now shopping for plants for house #5,
I see the truth in 5-gallon pots before me:
Weigela.

I imagine old Aunt Gracie shooing my father away
from her quilting or canning or sitting alone.
Go cut back that honeysuckle
before it swallows up the outhouse.

Later, seeing his mistake, she didn’t correct him –
a name is just a name –
Grace just glared at tiny Goliath
so proud of his mound of pink and green
already wilting

while the roof of the outhouse
still plushed with yellow sweetness
he’d confuse for 80 years
with a plant that belongs
to the same family, after all,
but so much harder to say.

ii.
Start me some honeysuckle, Daddy, I blurt out
in one of awkward lulls.
I want to imagine his hands on the branch,
the snip of sprigs of coal country
where Gracie’s old feist
barked me all the way to the outhouse and back
when I was too small to know
how hard it is
to keep what lives alive.

Kathy Ackerman, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.
Amos 5:24

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2019-02-09 Doughton Park Tree

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