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Posts Tagged ‘Pat Riviere-Seel’

Some other breathers in the starry night, / Living their days beyond all others’ hearing.

Pat Riviere-Seel has just finished her first day as Poet-in-Residence and the North Carolina Zoological Park in Asheboro.  Tours, meetings, crowds, getting lost, getting found – her mind is awhirl.  She’s finally found a few minutes to unpack and now she returns to the Zoo after closing.

You’ve visited zoos . . . how many times?  Right now you can visualize your favorite animals: the lion invariably asleep, only the tip of its tail atwitch; giraffe curling that improbable tongue around its leafy dinner; monkeys teasing, chasing, swatting each other like sixth-graders on the playground.  And then there are the smells: “Dad, do we have to go in the elephant house?”  But what about the sounds?  Do you remember any animal sounds other than toddlers crying for the ice cream they’ve dropped, mom’s calling for their young’uns to stick close and don’t get lost?

I wonder at the silence that Pat is discovering right now.  Have strange calls begun to rise from the aviary as birds seek their roosts?  Can she detect the crunch as oryx and kudu finish the day’s last mouthful?  After the crowds have disappeared, is that when elephants trumpet and lions roar?

The silent are not those who make no noise.  The silent are those we fail to hear.

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Song for the Silent
James Boyd

Down here the mule leans in the traces,
The plow swims through the loam,
And men at dusk turn quiet faces
To chimney smoke and home.
The roof is touched, then, by the first star’s finger,
A lamp stands in the wall;
Inside the house, slow sparse words linger,
Slow shadows rise and fall.

Out where the tracery of trees is cool
The plow leans toward the shed
In whose black cave the mule
Lies on his rustling bed.
Deep dark and silence come,
The mule no longer stirs,
the house, the darkened room
Seem filled with whisperers:
No sound but quiet breathing,
No light but from the star,
Whose beams through starlight and dark forests weaving
Form webs to where there are
Some other breathers lost in woods and clearing,
Some other breathers in the starry night,
Living their days beyond all others’ hearing,
Beyond all others’ sight.
But not beyond the web that holds them
To plow, to mule, to star,
And with light, lovely majesty enfolds them
And all the earth’s silent breathers, lone and far;
Breathers and brothers in the world’s dark reaches,
Brothers at peace within the web of light,
Free of the day and the ill day teaches,
At rest now in the silver of the night.

The manikins of state who scheme astutely
To blot each other’s names from history’s page
Forget that here in lonely cabins mutely
Men watch the feuds they wage.
But when through roads by ghosts of soldiers haunted
The crippled boys come back to mule and star,
If they shall miss the brotherhood they wanted
Our leaders may learn who the silent are.

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Written in the 1940’s, the final stanza of this poem could equally well describe this current decade, this very day.  So many voices that we fail to hear, voices of creatures both human and other.  Will our leaders learn who the silent are?

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James Boyd (1988-1944), novelist and poet, was a North Carolina literary luminary.   After World War I he and his wife moved to Southern Pines and for the next quarter century stimulated and promoted literary arts in the South, their influence spreading throughout the country.  Boyd wrote five historical novels set in North Carolina, revitalized The Southern Pines Pilot as its editor and publisher, and with WWII approaching organized The Free Company of Players, which produced a radio drama around such themes as freedom of speech, the right of assembly, racial equality, and the right to vote.  His collection Eighteen Poems was published the year after his death.

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Read Pat’s artist’s statement and bio.

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In three weeks my cousin Pat is going to take a small step into the vast unknown.  Pat Riviere-Seel is going to spend a week at the NC Zoological Park in Asheboro as its first Poet-in-Residence.  She and I have been whispering and tittering (in the email sense) about her preparations almost daily because just a few weeks after her sojourn ends I am going to follow her in the same role.  And yes, before you ask, the curators have promised fresh straw in our cages.

How does one  qualify to become a Zoo Poet?  The decision process of the artistic committee that established this new program remains obscure to us, the selected, but I can tell you a little about Pat’s qualifications as a poet.  She has the ability to imagine herself into unimaginable personalities.   She can speak in the voices of the voiceless . . . so many voices.  To read her poetry is to be touched, mind and heart, by people you could never otherwise have known.

Perhaps some of this creative skill has grown from her affliction, as she describes it, of “recovering journalist.”  In the thousands of interviews and articles over the years, how many personalities consumed her?  How many epiphanies when she suddenly saw with another person’s eyes and felt the whole of their motivations?  In her book The Serial Killer’s Daughter, Pat has completed the astonishing transition from journalist to poet.  Through the poems speak not only the daughter and mother, but other family members, victims, onlookers.  The story as it unfolds, and as the daughter begins to suspect, gives me a chill every time I read it.  It can’t be easy to weave together fear and desperation with calculating cruelty and still leave the reader with a sense of compassion, but my cousin Pat is someone ever willing to take a step into the vast unknown.

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My Brother’s Keeper

My brother doesn’t believe me
when I tell him it’s no accident
everyone close to Mama dies.

Always Mama’s favorite, he’s
the smart one, college degree,
office job.  He can’t afford

a stain of doubt ringing
the collar of his starched
life.  How could he forget

what happened when
he enlisted:  Mama declared
the Army wouldn’t take him,

a widow’s only son.  Two weeks
she railed like a street preacher
calling to the lost.  My brother claimed

Mama’s grief soured his stomach.
It’s nothing, he told me.  Just the stress
from seeing Mama so upset.

He forced himself to eat with us
the day before he left.  No cake,
he said to me.  But Mama insisted.

Clumsy, she screeched
as I slipped
and the cake shattered.

© Pat Riviere-Seel, The Serial-Killer’s Daughter, 2009, Main Street Rag Publishing Company.  Additional sample poems at Pat’s homepage.

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Yes, Pat and I are really cousins.  Her great-grandfather, the Reverend J.N.S. Daub, is also my mother’s great-grandfather.  That makes us second cousins one generation removed.  (Your attention please:  due to the vagaries of genealogical arithmetic, this does not mean that Pat is old enough to be my mother.)  We discovered this connection only about ten years ago when we met at an NCPS meeting and she mentioned that she’d just attended a family reunion in Lewisville.  I said, “Hey, that’s where my great-great-grandfather is buried,” then later mailed her a photo I’d taken of the headstone.  Cosmic!

And as far as her being selected as Zoo Poet, I also happen to know that Pat has written a number of poems about bears.

The Poets-in-Residence will be offering adult and youth workshops during our weeks with the animals.  For more information about Pat, me, and the third Zoo Poet Michael Beadle follow these links!

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