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[poems by James Dickey, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost]

Last Friday I got to play a new game with my grandson Bert, one he made up with his Dad – This Animal. We had walked a mile or so on the Crabtree Creek Greenway in Raleigh and it was time to head home. Along the waterway there were plenty of enticements: red-headed woodpecker at the tip of a snag; big splashes chunking clinkers into the stream; Spring Beauties (why does Pappy kneel down and look at every flower?); tiny slug rescued from squishing.

Now we’ve turned into the neighborhoods to walk on home. Sidewalks. Lawns. Much less exciting. Soon I hear a little voice pipe up, “Let’s play This Animal!”

I get first crack. “I’m an animal that sleeps during the day . . .” “No, Pappy! You have to say This Animal!” Oh yeah, got it. Four-year olds are sticklers for protocol. “This animal sleeps during the day hanging upside down then flies around at night catching insects.”

“A bat!”

Bert knows his animals. In his presence you’d better not mistake a Blue Whale for a Sperm Whale. Or even a Crocodile for an Alligator. Now it’s his turn: “This Animal has ten legs, a stinger, AND claws!” (Hint: In his pocket Bert is clasping the plastic scorpion he’s been playing with all afternoon.)

What a kid! One of these days we’ll kick the game up a notch to This Bird. He can already name most of them that come to the feeder. And I can foresee the day when Bert has me totally stumped as we play This Lichen.

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The Heaven of Animals

Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing, desperately
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.

For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.

James Dickey (1923-1997)
from The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1945-1992. Copyright © 1992 by James Dickey.

 

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All three of today’s poems are collected in The Ecopoetry Anthology; Edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

Today’s photographs are from the exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Exquisite Creatures by Christopher Marley. These amazing works are created by Marley from preserved specimens from around the world (and no vertebrates were killed in creating his art). The Museum describes this as a dialogue with art, nature and science, and Marley states his intention to allow each of us to tap into our innate biophilia, our love of life and living things.

Oh yes, and the little plastic insects came from the Museum gift shop. We all had to stop and play with them as soon as we left the building.

[The last day of the exhibit in North Carolina is March 20, 2022. It is appearing simultaneously in Idaho; check for future exhibits at Christopher Marley’s site.]

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Spring and All

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)
from Spring and All, first published in 1923 by Robert McAlmon’s Contact Publishing Co.

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The Need of Being Versed in Country Things

The house had gone to bring again
To the midnight sky a sunset glow.
Now the chimney was all of the house that stood,
Like a pistil after the petals go.

The barn opposed across the way,
That would have joined the house in flame
Had it been the will of the wind, was left
To bear forsaken the place’s name.

No more it opened with all one end
For teams that came by the stony road
To drum on the floor with scurrying hoofs
And brush the mow with the summer load.

The birds that came to it through the air
At broken windows flew out and in,
Their murmur more like the sigh we sigh
From too much dwelling on what has been.

Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf,
And the aged elm, though touched with fire;
And the dry pump flung up an awkward arm;
And the fence post carried a strand of wire.

For them there was really nothing sad.
But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,
One had to be versed in country things
Not to believe the phoebes wept.

Robert Frost (1874-1963)
first published in 1923 in Frost’s New Hampshire poetry collection; public domain.

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[with 3 poems by Scott Owens]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In the Cathedral of Fallen Trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Possibility of Substance Beyond Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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Sharing a Drink on My 55th Birthday

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

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

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

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[poems by Bill Griffin, John Morgan, Anne McCrary Sullivan]

Always something new. Trees I’ve passed a dozen times, these stones, did they always look like this? Oh sure, no doubt those gray-green blotches scattered here & there just so sparked some cryptic synapse of recognition: lichen. But slow down, kneel, look close and learn, understand a fragment of what is happening here and has been happening for too long to grasp. Always something new to discover.

How do they do it? Fungal hyphae, infinitely winding threads coil to embrace their chosen algae, held in their arms like waifs. Separate them, fungus and plant, separate kingdoms, and the textbook shows their single forms: flask of gray goo, flask of green. Let them mingle, though, and they create miniature cityscapes, ramparts, pastorales wilder than the dreams of Seuss.

But that fungal/algal friendship – it’s not all long-stemmed roses and dark chocolate. In school I learned lichen = symbiosis, mutual give and take, but there’s evidence of some darker biochemical power-brokerage at play. Fungus need’s sugar from algae’s photosynthesis to live (or some fungi hook up with cyanobacteria). Algae get a scaffold for stability, a moist enclave, protection from the sun. But fungus tweaks its algae to make them spill more sugar, and no algal cell is ever free to leave. Vaguely sinister.

Still the two together create a world neither could create alone. How old is it, that 7 cm patch of speckled gray on the rock face half way up Lumber Ridge, staking its stark black divide between the creeping yellow patch adjacent? How long have they been growing there? Ten years? A hundred? Nine hundred species of lichens in the Smokies (at least!) making infinitesimal advances, making spores or little baby lichen granules for the next boulder over, the next bare patch of bark – stable, solid partnerships of mycobiont/photobiont as old as stone. As everlasting and as changeable, evolving, as this gradually eroding ridge.

I will never walk this way again without wondering. Actually, I’ll never walk anywhere without lichen – between the boards on my porch, on every tree (look close!), even thriving on that old junker someone’s hauling west on US 421. I can’t help it now, noticing their different forms and colors. Their sweet pocked apothecia. Their spreading. Lichens, steadfast, pursue their wonderfully odd and ancient lifestyle and I am becoming something new.

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Becoming Something New
+++ Lichens are a lifestyle.
+++ Dr. James Lendemer, NY Botanical Garden

Mountains stretch themselves beneath
the undifferentiated open,

overhead unblinking: ridgeback, rock face,
cove & holler to the sky

look like Chigger Thicket, Princess Shingles
cradled in arms of ageless folded earth

upholding hornbeam, hemlock, oak
yet closer each bole the shepherd

of its own beloved
flocks, foliose & fruticose,

spire cleft & spore sac all sustained
upon the nod of small green globes,

embrace of interlacing hyphae.

From two as far removed as earth and sky
comes something new.

Perhaps we shouldn’t name it love, this dance
so intimate, maybe just the way

life gets things done, gets through
with welcome damp, a speck of sun

for sustenance, enfolding arms
to lean into each other, but consider this:

can any two who persevere
in all this ancient making kingdom

ever take more than they give?

Bill Griffin – for John DiDiego and the Likin’ Lichens course of the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program, Great Smokies Institute at Tremont

Chigger Thicket – Usnea stigosa
Princes Shingles – Cladonia strepsilis
+++ Thanks to Dr. James Lendemer for the common names of lichen
+++ and for opening the door to worlds unseen . . .

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Poetry and the National Park Service

Sometimes a poem takes me to a new place of heart and spirit, like walking through a national park takes me to a new place of earthforms and creatures. These are experiences of curiosity, wonder, awe, renewal – in the encounter I become something new.

The National Park Service is all about poetry. The National Historic Site Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters includes many resources from Romantic nature poetry to Emerson and transcendentalism. Other links at NPS.gov range from Mary Oliver and Ed Roberson to Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner and Arther Sze. Over the years many writers have served as poets-in-residence in various parks; poems they wrote during these times are featured online and I’m sharing two today. The Park Service recognizes the importance of poetry at the interface between human person and nature, as is in this online statement:

Unlike most Romantic nature poetry, which primarily focused on the sentimental beauty of nature, many modern nature poems examine ecological disasters or human’s role in the environment’s decline. Through poetry, these “eco-poets” explore this ever-evolving relationship between human and nature. Some poems bring awareness to ecological crises or challenge readers to reflect on their own relationship with nature. Still, some are odes of gratitude to nature or elegies for the changing environment, and others are a call to action.

National Park Service nature poetry resources
Poems by Poets-in-Residence at National Parks
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow nature poetry at NPS.GOV

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Vision

Followed a fox toward Polychrome Pass.
Red smudged
with black along its lean rib-cage,

it rubs its muzzle on a former meal,
ignores the
impatient poet on its tail.

Then nearing the overlook, sun shearing
through low clouds
transmutes the view to glitter. Everything’s

golden, scintillant. I feel like a seedpod wafted
into space and
check my shaky hands on the steering wheel.

As the road crests over its top, boundaries
dissolve. Beside that
sheer intractable edge, I greet my radiant center,

discharge all my terms. How easy it seems
to channel between
worlds, my old self dying into a new,

with nothing firm to hold me here
but love. And that’s
what nature has it in its power to do.

John Morgan
from his poetry collection entitled The Hungers of the World: Poems from a Residency, written after a stay at Denali National Park in June, 2009.

Of his time in the park John writes, “Being in residence means, in a sense, being at home, and having the wonderful Murie Cabin to live in made me feel a part of the wilderness whenever I stepped outside. Over the course of ten days the boundary between myself and the natural world grew very thin. These intimations culminated, toward the end of my stay, with the experience recounted in the poem Vision.”

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At Season’s End, Singing to The Alligator

I was prepared to arrive at the slough and for the first time
find no gators there, but there was one swimming steadily
away from the boardwalk. I watched.

I began to sing to him (I don’t know why), hum rather.
He slowed down. A coincidence probably. I kept humming.
He stopped, turned sideways, looked at me.

I came then as close to holding my breath
as one can while humming.

He began to submerge (felt safer that way, I suppose)
but did not submerge completely. I hummed.

Slowly, he swam toward me
stopped directly beneath me
hung in the water the way they do
legs dangling, listening.
(Be skeptical if you will.
I know that gator was listening.)

We stayed that way a long time,
I leaning over the rail humming,
he looking up at me, attentive—
until he folded his legs to his body,
waved that muscled tail and left me

alone, dizzy with inexplicable joy.

Anne McCrary Sullivan
from Ecology II: Throat Song from the Everglades, a book of poems inspired by her residency at Everglades National Park.

Of her art Anne writes, “Poetry is a way of seeing. It requires heightened attention to detail and a sensitivity to pattern and relationship. It looks simultaneously at inner and outer worlds, locates connections, and ultimately presents a meaning-charged kernel of experience.”

{Sounds to me like naturalist methods and poetry involve parallel attitudes and aptitudes. – Bill}

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2017-03-06a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 4 poems by Jane Mead]

What is Leafy yet has no Leaves?

On our way home Mike and I pull over at Newfound Gap but not for the Appalachian vistas: it’s our last stop to hunt lichens before we leave the Smokies. And maybe an opportunity to spread some lichen joy.

No need to hunt – stop moving long enough and a lichen will find you. Two old guys squinting through magnifying glasses at rocks and bark, though, and it also isn’t long before a passing family asks, “What gives?” “Looking at all the lichens,” Mike answers. “What’s a lichen?” Jackpot! Mike begins to tell their story . . . “a whole little world of fungus and algae” . . . while I wander on.

Now a couple asks me why I’ve raised my camera toward this one tree among the millions. Spreading from its bark are crooked fingers, hands of crones, veined, flattened, beseeching. “That’s lichen?” says the woman when I tell her. “I thought it looked like wind had plastered leaves against the trunk.” Exactly, that’s just how it looks. But it has no leaves!

Lobaria pulmonaria: Lungwort, you need a new name. Not even remotely kin to spiderworts, toothworts, liverworts, you are no wort at all – though your presence is atmosphere’s benediction. Draw deeply, my lungs! Exhale wonder! What shall we call you, Leafy without Leaves? Troll’s Greeting? Across the Aisle? Or maybe simply Lichen Welcome.

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Three Candles
And a Bowerbird

I do not know why
the three candles must sit
before this oval mirror,

but they must. –
I do not know much
about beauty, though

its consequences
are clearly great – even
to the animals:

to the bowerbird
who steals what is blue,
decorates, paints

his house; to the peacock
who loves the otherwise
useless tail of the peacock –

the tail we love.
The feathers we steal.
Perhaps even to the sunflowers

turning in their Fibonacci
spirals the consequences
are great, or to the mathematical

dunes with ripples
in the equation of all things
windswept. Perhaps

mostly, then, to the wind.
Perhaps mostly to the bowerbird.
I cannot say.

But I light the candles: there is
joy in it. And in the mirror
also, there is joy.

Jane Mead (1958-2019)

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These poems by Jane Mead appear in To the Wren: Collected & New Poems (Alice James Books, Farmington ME, © 2019). The book spans three decades of Mead’s life: running her family’s vineyards in Napa Valley; the death of her mother; her own cancer which ultimately took her life. All through her poetry there is a fierce seeking for identity – But always it’s either I or world. / World or I.  Relentlessly she seeks justice for the earth, for creatures, for the self. Poet Gerald Stern writes, “Jane Mead’s mission is to rescue—to search and rescue; and the mind, above all, does the work…. Her poems are a beautiful search for liberation and rebirth.” Nature is not something we write about; nature is what we are.

[Above poem excerpt by Jane Mead is from In Need of a World.
Three bright yellow lichens of the Smokies found at Newfound Gap:
= Xanthomendoza weberi
= Caloplaca falvovirescens, “Colonel Mustard”
= Caloplaca flavocitrina, “Continental Firecrackers”
++++  – – Species identification revised 2/28/2022 after review by Dr. Lendemer]

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The Argument Against Us

The line of a man’s neck, bent
over welding, torchlight breaking
shadows on his face, hands cracked
into a parched map of fields he has woken –
the gods wanted us.

Think of their patient preparation:
the creature who left the rocking waves behind,
crawling up on some beach, the sun
suddenly becoming clear. Small thing
abandoning water for air, crooked body
not quite fit for either world, but the one
that finally made it. Think of all the others.

Much later, spine uncurls, jaw pulls back, brow-bone
recedes, and as day breaks over the dry plain
a rebellious boy takes an upright step
where primitive birds are shrieking above him.

He did it for nothing. He did it
against all odds. Bone of wrist, twist
of tooth, angel of atoms – an infinity
of courage sorted into fact
against the shining backdrop of the world.

The line of one man’s neck, bent –
torchlight breaking shadows on his face.

There was a creature who left the waves behind
and a naked child on a windy plain:
when the atom rips out into our only world
and we’re carried away on a wave of hot wind
I will love them no less: they are just how much
the gods wanted us.

Jane Mead (1958-2019)

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The Geese

slicing this frozen sky know
where they are going –
and want to get there.

Their call, both strange
and familiar, calls
to the strange and familiar

heart, and the landscape
become the landscape
of being, which becomes

the bright silos and snowy
fields over which the nuanced
and muscular geese are calling.

Jane Mead (1958-2019)

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To the Wren, No Difference
No Difference to the Jay

I came a long
way to believe
in the blue jay

and I did not cheat
anyone. I
came a long way –

through complexities
of bird-sound and calendar
to believe in nothing

before I believed
in the jay.

Jane Mead (1958-2019)

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When Mike Barnett and I stopped at Newfound Gap (on US 441 smack in the middle of Great Smoky Mountains National Park) we were returning from the weekend lichens course at Tremont, part of the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program. We bow down in gratitude to John DiDiego, Education Director at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, for convincing Dr. James Lendemer to teach this course. Dr. Lendemer is chief lichenologist at New York Botanical Gardens and literally wrote the book: Field Guide to the Lichens of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (which weighs 1.48 kg, not so much a “field guide” as an entire encyclopedia!).

Dr. Lendemer in his book names L. pulmonaria “Crown Jewel of America” – it is the biggest baddest lichen of them all. Thank you, James – we love lichens! Thank you GSMIT and SANCP and GSMNP. And thanks to all you little fungal hyphae, algal photobionts, cyanobacteria – you look mah-velous.

Resources:

More by and about Jane Mead at Poetry Foundation.

Field Guide to the Lichens of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Erin A. Tripp and James C. Lendemer, University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, © 2020.

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program.

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2019-02-09 Doughton Park Tree

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[with poetry by William Stafford]

Limbs in the water, shrubby but clean across the stream, three weeks along no change in the heap. Grassy Creek backed up to meadowbank, no flood. Felled beech, bark gnawed away, most but not all. Incisored branches laid straight, unshifted, uneaten. Two brass shell casings, .380 auto.

 

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After the first mile rhythm kicks in. Metronomic footfall. Downbeat rimshot, trekking poles. Syncopated squeaking pack straps (or is that my right knee cartilage?). Inhale . . . Exhale . . . Inhale.

All this rhythm discombobulates at the first uphill. Cross Grassy Creek on Hurt Bridge (named for the land donor, not the ensuing incline). Switchbacks, elevation, what is this jazz riff, 7/4 or 5/2 or both at once? Knee definitely squeaking. Inhale . Exhale . Inhale . Exhale.

Leveling out again, buck up, it wasn’t even half a mile. Here’s a turnoff and sign – spur trail to Grassy Creek Winery. Tempting . . . .

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Sky

I like you with nothing. Are you
what I was? What I will be?
I look out there by the hour,
so clear, so sure. I could
smile, or frown – still nothing.

Be my father, be my mother,
great sleep of blue; reach
far within me; open doors,
find whatever is hiding; invite it
for many clear days in the sun.

When I turn away I know
you are there. We won’t forget
each other: every look is a promise.
Others can’t tell what you say
when it’s the blue voice, when
you come to the window and look for me.

Your word arches over
the roof all day. I know it
within my bowed head, where
the other sky listens.
You will bring me
everything when the time comes.

William Stafford (1914-1993)

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Wherever God has sent me,
the meadowlarks were already there.
++++ from Put These in Your Pipe

Today’s poems are from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, William Stafford, Graywolf Press, 1998. The book contains poems chosen from all of William Stafford’s books from 1977 through 1991 plus a lengthy section of new poems from the last two years of his life. It includes the poem he wrote on the morning of his death.

This is a book you can simply open to any page, sit down, and listen to Mr. Stafford’s voice. It’s a book you can read straight through page by page and discover his deep connections: to the earth, the world, the daily, to you. William Stafford grew up on the Great Plains, lived in the West and Northwest, but especially he lived in the moment and in the particulars of place. He lived through World War II, Korea and Viet Nam as a pacifist. He taught, he argued, he encouraged, but most especially he felt deeply.

I’m reading the book in both ways, meandering trail of pages but also skipping about, bushwhacking. I’m hearing a voice that challenges my heart, pries it open, offers to heal.

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You and Art

Your exact errors make a music
that nobody hears.
Your straying feet find the great dance,
walking alone.
And you live on a world where stumbling
always leads home.

Year after year fits over your face –
when there was youth, your talent
was youth;
later, you find your way by touch
where moss redeems the stone;

And you discover where music begins
before it makes any sound,
far in the mountains where canyons go
still as the always-falling, ever-new flakes of snow.

William Stafford (1914-1993)

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For a Daughter Gone Away

1
When they shook the box, and poured out its chances,
you were appointed to be happy. Even in a prison
they would give you the good cell, one with warm pipes
through it. And one big dream arched over everything:
it was a play after that, and your voice found its range.
What happened reached back all the time, and “the octo,”
“the isped,” and other patterns with songs in them
came to you. Once on the Yukon you found a rock
shaped like a face, and better than keeping it, you placed
it carefully looking away, so that in the morning when
it woke up you were gone.

2
You aw the neighborhood, its trees growing and houses
being, and streets lying there to be run on;
you saved up afternoons, voluptuous warm old fenders
of Cadillacs in the sun, and then the turn of your thought
northward – blends of gold on scenes by Peace River . . .

3
It was always a show, life was – dress, manners –
and always time to walk slowly: here are the rich
who view with alarm and wonder about the world
that used to be tame (they wear good clothes, be courteous);
there are the poets and critics holding their notebooks
ready for ridicule or for the note expressing
amusement (they’re not for real, they perform; if you
take offense they can say, “I was just making
some art”); and here are the perceivers of injustice; they
never have to change expression; here are the officials,
the police, the military, all trying to dissemble
their sense of the power of their uniforms. (And here
at the end is a mirror – to complete the show for ourselves.)

4
Now, running alone in winter before dawn has come
I have heard from the trees a trilling sound, an owl I
suppose, a soft, hesitant voice, a woodwind, a breathy
note. Then it is quiet again, all the way out
in that space that goes on to the end of the world. And I think
of beings more lonely that we are, clinging to branches or drifting
wherever the air moves them through the dark and cold.
I make a sound back, those times, always trying for only
my place, one moving voice touching whatever is present
or might be, even what I cannot see when it comes.

William Stafford (1914-1993)

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[poems by Joyce Compton Brown and Billy]

Happy Birthday to Me!

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

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

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

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

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

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Looking Across

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

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

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

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

 

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Mattie, 1955

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Stroke

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

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

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

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

kept him from
trying to tell
what they didn’t

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

guitar strings
that flatpick style
speaking its own sad voice

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

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

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

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

felt the heat
in seething brain,
felt the gift

of flaming tongue,
watched them all
leaning inward.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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[poems by Kathleen Wakefield]

A slew of 35 degree days and 20 degree nights make the rare and lovely snow hard as a skillet and slick as spilt grease (olive oil in my case). Our favorite trails want to maim us. I tried walking down the ridge back of our house and made it about twenty yards before I realized just one slip and I’d be sliding on my butt all the way into Dutchman Creek. When I turned back uphill I couldn’t take a step. My trekking poles wouldn’t pierce the crust.

Yesterday I ventured back to Grassy Creek and the MST for the first time in two weeks. Shaded areas were crunchy and slippy but sunkissed slopes had cleared. As I hiked I was specifically looking for leaves poking through the snow to photograph: cranefly orchid, wild ginger, pipsissewa. And then I came upon eight little alien life forms such as I’d never seen.

Imagine a thumb-sized lemon cupcake with a beak of orange icing in the center. The cupcake papers peel back to make a grungy collar. Each little cakelet is elevated on a 3 inch tangled stalk like chewed up rutabaga or moldy hemp. One of the cupcakes is broken and oozing white custard. And they are all peering through the snowy crust as if they intend to take over this dormant and unsuspecting planet.

I figured weird looking = fungus. After much searching I learned their identities – Calostoma lutrescens. Yellow-stalked puffball (not actually in the same clade as true puffballs), “pretty mouth,” or “hot lips.” Listed as common in the Southern Appalachians. Shoot, thought I’d found something new and rare. On the other hand there was only this one little cluster of eight fruits in four miles of trail; their little cupcakes will no doubt dry, shrivel, and disappear within a few days; I’d certainly never seen anything like them before.

Common does not preclude rare. Old they are, but new to me.

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Why We Do Not Cut the Meadow Down

It establishes itself like the sea.
We ride its swells.
Two kinds of dragonfly, cobalt and crimson,
a pair of catbirds, orioles skim the tops of the grasses,
insect glints, multitudes unnamed.

Once it was an orchard, a woods,
before that a real sea that left us a lake.
Today the dry meadow is all fire and pulse –
hot sputter of crickets, bees cruising the nightshade,
the wings of a small white butterfly dipping at this and that,
yes and yes above the brasses where light assembles.

The meadow admits stray saplings, cottonwood and ash.
Opens to rain like a body full of desire.
The fringed flags of the grasses take note of
the least wind: when you think it’s still
a cloud of pollen swells and lifts.

The meadow does not mistake the seed –
scutcheoned, tasseled or winged – for anything else
Whatever comes into the meadow, earthworm, black beetle, ant,
feels the long fall of sunlight on its back
before it descends.

Kathleen Wakefield
+++ from Grip, Give and Sway, Silver Birch Press, © 2016

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Reverent. Grateful. Seeking. The poems in Kathleen Wakefield’s Grip, Give and Sway require attention from the reader but they hold nothing back. Their beauty bewitches but also unsettles, like dawn when the dark forest holds its breath and anticipates light. Gradually the shapes of trees arise. I found myself reading each poem twice, then again, to take in everything it wanted to impart.

Each of the book’s four sections has its own subtle voice: imagistic and deeply rooted, lyrical and lingering on the tongue, lightly touching the moment to make it universal. In the final section the invisible stenographer observes and records the millennia and their follies but sometimes forsakes her reserve and becomes a participant. This is a book that inspires both deep feeling and deep thought, that invites contemplation about what is within us and what is without us.

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The Invisible Stenographer Tries Not to Look in the Mirror

What would she see –
++++ ++++ ++++ transparency
of oxygen, or eyes smudged with kohl?

Head-binding wimple.
++++ ++++ ++++ Sky blue burkha.
Iron brank tearing into the tongue
which said too much.

A cat mask, candle-lit, trimmed
with gold sequins and feathers
++++ ++++ the color of a bishop’s robe.

Hematite lips, lips drawn in rose madder;
cheeks ash streaked; tattooed;
++++ white powdered, porcelain smooth

++++ A single pearl drop earring
dangling above a creamy ruff
++++ ++ of belgian lace
stained from centuries of use.

Is everything she sees
who she is?
++++ Why not a coiled forest of dreadlocks,
or the shapeliness of a head
shaved to the cool shine of the moon?

Or worry crossing a woman’s brow
++++ like cloud shadow troubling a wheatfield,
as if she were remembering a stove
on at thome, the child left
too long alone.

Kathleen Wakefield
+++ from Grip, Give and Sway, Silver Birch Press, © 2016

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Rumors

All night the bee that’s clung
++++ to the sunflower, dark as
++++ ++++ coffee, waits for the sun

to warm its stilled apparatus,
++++ one leg ticking like the hand of a tiny clock
++++ ++++ that can’t get started.

See how the morning glories,
++++ like closed umbrellas glazed
++++ ++++ with rain, open in the cool air

to cobalt cups of heaven
++++ or the idea of heaven, gone
++++ ++++ by noon. The wood thrush

I’ve never seen repeats
++++ last night’s song, trill and lick
++++ ++++ spilling from the flute of its throat

as if it knows a rigorous joy,
++++ as if the world’s consolable.
++++ ++++ Blue sky, clear and widened

like a mind that’s looked into itself and beyond,
++++ is this what we fear, or long for?
++++ ++++ Caught

in the undertow of the linden’s shade,
++++ rumors of something sweet and light
++++ ++++ and never forgotten.

Kathleen Wakefield
+++ from Grip, Give and Sway, Silver Birch Press, © 2016

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I learned about Kathleen Wakefield and her poetry through her friend Patricia Hooper, also featured in these pages. She has worked as a poet-in-the-schools and taught creative writing at the Eastman School of Music and University of Rochester.

Give, Grip and Sway and Silver Birch Press.

More about the Calostoma genus, which includes the irresistibly named and undeniably repugnant “tomato-in-aspic” fungus.

 

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Poetry Submissions Calendar – UPDATE 02/01/2022

Placing yourself at the mercy of the editors, are you?! In 2015 I originally posted a table I use to keep track of when and where to submit poems for publication. Not to say I thrive on rejection, but the occassional favorable comment from an editor, not to mention an acceptance, do feed one’s motivation.

Here is the most recent update:

……….. Poetry Submissions Table – PDF file ……….

Since my last posted update in August, 2021, I’ve added more than 25 entries and corrected several dozen, including sites no longer accepting submissions. There are currently more than 200 journals and contests listed.

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Here’s how I use the calendar:

It’s arrayed by month – look down the column to see what journals and sources are open for submissions right now!

Subscription Calendar Screen Shot: February, 2022 —-CLICK TO ENLARGE

Each row includes the web address – be sure to check before you submit, because requirements may have changed since I last updated!

The row also includes other information such as:

Is this an online publication only?
Do they accept simultaneous submissions?
Should your submission be a single document?
What format files do they accept?

There are more instructions on the table itself. Feel free to print it out. And I would really appreciate it if you notify me of any errors or suggested changes!

In particular, if you have journals to which you’ve enjoyed submitting I can add them to the table! Please send me the details, especially the web address!

I will try to post an updated table several times a year and whenever I have made significant additions and corrections to the table.

Here’s the original post from 2015 with a little musing about rejection:

https://griffinpoetry.com/2015/08/31/editors-mercy-part-2/

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Enjoy!

And if you find this useful or discover errors please reach me at comments@griffinpoetry.com

BILL GRIFFIN

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[with poems by Augusta Wray]

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

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

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

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Trees at Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Release

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

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand

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Nocturne in Silver

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

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

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

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand

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

Flowering Plum

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

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

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

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

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

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand

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

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History of the North Carolina Poetry Society

Charlotte / Mecklenburg historical timeline

Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry

2015-06-15Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3, no, 4 poems by Paul Jones]

Oh well . . . life goes on . . .

No it doesn’t! Who ever said that? At least not on and on and on. And the problem is not growing old, the problem is everyone around me is growing older.

I’m biased and I know it – too many all-nighters in the ICU knowing my patients will never wake up, will never breathe again without that machine. Why choose to prolong those hours? Too many weekly visits to the nursing home, my patients who will never again chew, swallow, recognize, understand, smile. Why choose to prolong those days?

Still, when you are breathing and smiling there’s a huge hurdle to leap before you’re willing to talk about how you want your body treated when you can’t breathe or smile. Easy to put off making that living will when you’re in the midst of living; too late when you’re in the midst of dying.

Last year I spent a few weeks helping Dad update his and Mom’s will and estate. Gather up mounds of papers, talk things over, scratch heads, and then the final step: spending a morning with their attorney to nail it all down tight. Just because most politicians are attorneys does not imply the converse, that most attorneys are self-infatuated power-lusting villains. Not at all. Dad’s attorney, Ms. S., treated us like family. Like she was the cousin who knows a whole lot more than we do but who can explain it in a way anyone can understand.

To describe two hours with an attorney as a pleasure? Well, yes indeed.

As a family doctor I never found it easy to talk to my patients and their families about death. Necessary, yes; essential, yes; never easy. Perhaps it’s the taboo that if you name something you give it power over you. But a last will and testament is all about death. If you’re not going to die, don’t bother making a will.

Ms. S. talked with us for two hours about death, straight up, matter of fact. I learned a lot about what Dad and Mom want for their own final days and for a legacy to their children. I learned that Dad, in the right place and time, is willing and even anxious to talk about his death. We left the office smiling, arm in arm (figuratively as well as occasionally literally, 95-year old knees and all).

Of course, Dad still vows he’s going to live to a hundred. At least he’s got one helluva estate plan.

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Seventy Three

When in time frost found me, leaves were gone yellow
or fallen or few on branches or fallow
fields. Limbs were empty choir lofts. Youth’s bright birds sang
then left before the cold November must bring.
I found myself in twilight, the glow on snow
or rime on those brown stems or white wisps of breath
– how many more before death plants me below? –
But here I can see further, here my life’s breadth
forms a vista. Here where flames once leapt, grey ash
is heaped, warm still from what past fires I’ve known.
Still all this going is not completely gone.
Something of those late bird songs will stay, will last.
What we see in age makes all we love more strong,
knowing what we love we leave before too long.

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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I’ve always been a bit in awe of Paul Jones’s poetic gifts. Envious even. Not only because he can make rhyme so damn modern but even more for his capacious breadth and depth. What an imaginative reach! I’m not reprinting To a Tuber here but read it and you will become convinced that the potato is within all the vegetable kingdom most elegant, elevated, and worthy of praise.

So I knew before I ordered my copy of Paul’s new book Something Wonderful that it would be, and it is. The sly wit is there, waiting to pounce, but also heartfelt longing and wry uncompromising looks into personal finitude. You don’t really discover why the cover is covered with 19th century illustrations of bats until page 80 and the title poem. Take the time, make the trip. It’s worth it.

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Ireland Seen from a Porch Swing in Hickory, NC
+++ — for Adrian Rice

Ireland is a country without porches.
What they call a porch is just an entry.
No one sits there watching for neighbors
walking by with their electric torches.
Their voices, soft as blossoms, gently
fill humid summer nights with rumors.

Over there, secrets are shared in the pubs.
From unsteady high stools, the stories, tinged
with irony, rise easily as smoke.
New worlds are created by old words spoken.
even the weightiest tales take on wings,
if only whispered above the hubbub.

But here, the slow news is told by moonlight
in the lazy tease of an August night.
Too often tea, iced and sweet, is the drink
that greets the blink of stars through the dark
as our voices wander, each twang distinct,
in the dog-starred nights and the torpid days.

It’s ghosts that bind us across our weathers,
that tie the lilt and slur of daily sagas
told inside and out, in bars and open air,
to some episodic common drama.
They appear here and there, vivid and stark,
in talk that reweaves their spells in the dark.

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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Still Waters

I am still, waiting
for the one moment
that old Eastern sages
say gives absurdity
an absolute clarity,
the moment multiple
bald monks chant to induce.
They say the Way is
like water. It will work
its wonders at due time,
the way water always
breaks up rocks, turns them
into sand, but will not
be transformed itself.
Being water, it’s
already what it needs to be.
Winter and ice
merely redefine water.
Wind, when it works, only works
on the surface of water.
When fire meets water,
water is sent to heaven
but fire just becomes ash.
Water like saints returns
to perform its steady work.
Sleet, snow, rain or hail –
even fog – are water’s
temporary bodies.
In time, water will be
all part of one huge sea.
Water will save us all
in time. In time, they say.
In the meantime, be water
as best you can be. Me?
I am still waiting
for all waters to become
still, to run deep, and
clear a few things up.

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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Saint of the Trees

What is the proper sacrifice
To please our Lord, the Saint of Trees?
I asked the ferns for their advice:
What is the proper sacrifice?

“Lie here and dream of paradise,
Sink into the soil like the leaves.
That is the proper sacrifice
To please our Lord, the Saint of Trees.”

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

 

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2014-07-13 Doughton Park Tree

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