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[with 3 poems by Michael Beadle]

4 AM. Reason says you need to sleep; everything but reason says forget about it. Sweating, restless – how long? – I finally force into the background those pricks of regret past & future and focus on the faces of my friends. In silence I speak each name and visualize each person. Then their son. Their granddaughter. I wish for them enfolding arms of peace.

And as I see their smiles I also see their pain. Can I imagine a single one who has not been visited by grief? Who isn’t struggling, right now, 4 AM, with worries for the ones they love, with heartsickness, with loneliness? All of them suffer behind the smiles.

And all of them go on living. Remarkable, isn’t it? Unbelievable. All of us suffer and all of us go on living for those few moments of hope, of joyfulness, of connection with another, moments that waft through our days like some longed-for fragrance – we can’t tell where it’s come from, we can’t catch it and keep it, we simply trust it will return.

Moments that waft through our nights. 4 AM. I breathe out a word of love for each friend. Call it prayer. May we be one.

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Wild Horses

They know they’ll never stand again –
the bay colt missing a hind leg,
the palomino whose front hoof

came unglued, the cream-coated filly
with ebony ears and a clipped tail.
Porcelain stallions paraded for decades

on living room doilies, unbridled mares
guarding crystal jars of peppermints.
Silent companions of cocktail parties,

Christmas dinners, afternoon tea.
If Oma gave them names, I never knew.
After she died, they spent months

wrapped in newspaper,
boxed on basement shelves.
Perhaps they grew restless,

kicked each other in a barn-fire panic,
hoping to free themselves for the rainy day
when strangers came to haggle over

the china I’d never use. Let them
take the pewter goblets, the steins that smelled
like old pencils, tubs of tools

that bore the scars of hard seasons.
The tray of horses was all I hoped to keep.
I came to love them –

not for what they once were,
but, being broken,
how they went on living.

+++++ Michael Beadle

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Poets play with words. They select them as carefully as the chocolate from the sampler that must be raspberry truffle. They wiggle words around until uncomfortable becomes comfortable and we exclaim, Oh! I see! They tickle them until the words gasp out a new meaning they’d never revealed before.

Michael Beadle plays and frolics and romps with words. He flips over rocks and pulls out wrigglers that haven’t been seen on a page in a coon’s age, if ever. If he can’t find the words he wants he makes up some new ones right then and there. He cavorts, he rolls around on the floor with words until they all collapse laughing. He snuffs them up, he savors, he rolls words around in his mouth until he’s sure he’s found just the right flavor.

And Michael sits down on the sofa with words, arms around each other’s shoulder, while they speak to each other oh so softly. I understand. We’ll get through this together. What are friends for?

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The Naming

“What about this one?” I asked.
“Mylax,” he replied.
“And this one?”
“Plumdrum.”

We were at the lakeshore again
among the cool bed of rocks,
our words echoing
across the water.

Ghozlak +++++ Aya +++++ Zephanos

Lifting each rock,
we felt its weight in our palms,
closed our eyes
until a name arose.

Millanthium +++++ Whillet +++++ Lippery

We hurled the rocks
as far as we could
into the lake,
giving them
a new depth to find.

There we sat for hours,
the only ones left in this world
who could conjure
its litany of names.

Perio +++++ Shezai +++++ Calex

As darkness crept into the cove,
we chose new rocks,
hardened by time, tempered by water,
and steadied our minds
for the Naming.

+++++ Michael Beadle

 

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These three poems are from Michael Beadle’s The Beasts of Eden (©2018, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC). Its three sections include deep memories and deeply poignant moments; raucous celebrations of Western North Carolina roots and language; pointed retelling of myths, local legends, and Bible stories. Michael, you’ve made me laugh and you’ve made me cry. You’ve brought a sweet fragrance into this moment. I am restored and refreshed by joining you as friend.

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Yay-long

It is most certainly not a member of the metric system,
perhaps a distant relation to the foot or yard.

Snubbed by the methodical and meticulous
who pride themselves with empirical accuracy,

it endures as a standard among Southerners
when a tape measure won’t do.

How big was that possum? the man at the gas station asks.
‘Bout yay-long, his friend replies, hands spread wide, like so.

Yay-long or yay-high declares without stretching
the truth to eleventy feet. Used sparingly,

yay-long approximates for those who didn’t see
the neighbor’s copperhead startled in the wood pile.

A breath of anticipation between those hands,
experience borne from the invisible.

Yay-long serves memory as memory serves the teller,
and so we nod, eager for the rest of the story.

+++++ Michael Beadle

 

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

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[poems by Jaki Shelton Green, Joseph Bathanti, Shelby Stephenson]

Perhaps you saw the photograph in last week’s news: Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee at Kabul Airport cradling an infant evacuee in her arms. A few days after the shot was taken, Sgt. Gee was killed by an ISIS-K suicide bomber while she worked at the airport gates. Twelve other American soldiers were killed; one hundred fifty Afghan civilians were killed. The world is full of hate which can only be answered with vengeance and punishment.

One the last day of her life, Sgt. Gee continued her mission to give Afghan women and children hope. She saved their lives. The world is full of hate which can only be answered with love.

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You are part of the human heart. With her beautiful voice and beautiful heart Chanda Branch opened the book launch for Crossing the Rift last Sunday (September 12) in Winston-Salem. Editors Joseph Bathanti and David Potorti shared the vision that led them to create this anthology of North Carolina poets writing on 9/11 and its aftermath. About a hundred of us gathered in the breezeway at Bookmarks on 4th St. to listen, to remember, to witness, to continue to heal.

Among the poems we heard that afternoon are these three by current NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green and former Laureates Joseph Bathanti and Shelby Stephenson. Twenty years: it’s hard to imagine it’s been that long; it’s hard to believe that it has been only twenty. The world changed on 9/11/2001. It’s hard, but if we seek them hard and also work hard to create them we may find some signs of change for the better. What is the answer for hate? Where will we be at the thirtieth anniversary?

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lifting veils

++++ 11 september 2001

++++ ++++ I

it is a bloodstained horizon
whispering laa illaha il-allah
prelude to a balmy evening
that envelops our embrace
we stand reaching across
sands, waters, airs full of blood
in the flash of a distant storm
i see you standing on another shore
torn hijab
billowing towards an unnamed wind
we both wear veils
blood stained
tear stained
enshrouding separate truths

++++ ++++ II

misty morning
teardrops of dust
choke and stain lips
that do not move
will not utter
it is a morning of shores
sea shadows that caress memory
of another time
another veil
another woman needing
reaching
lifting

++++ ++++ III

into your eyes i swam
searching for veils
to lift
to wrap
to pierce
dance with
veils that elude such mornings
veils that stain such lips
veils tearing like music

++++ ++++ IV
it is the covering of spirit
not the body
my hijab your hijab
connecting interweaving crawling snaking binding
into a sky that will not bend

Jaki Shelton Green (ninth and current NC Poet Laureate, since 2018)

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Katy

After the first plane,
Katy phoned her brother.
She was safe, in another building.

They were evacuating. DJ thought
she had said the other building—
the South Tower—crashed into

by United Flight 175 at 9:03,
moments after the line went dead.
That’s all Katy’s mother, my sister,

Marie, could tell me when I called.
All we had to cling to:
a single syllable, separating another

from other, negligible, mere nuance;
but, in this case, the difference
between escape and incineration—

a seam notched for her in the secret ether,
should she stumble into it,
to pass through unharmed.

To cast wider our search,
Marie and I tuned to different networks,
watching for Katy among the fleeing hordes.

They had talked the night before
about what she’d wear to her client meeting:
a brown suit, a black bag; her black hair

was shorter since last I’d seen her.
All day I peered into the TV—punching
the cordless: Katy’s office, home, cell,

office, home, cell, over and over—scanning
faces unraveling diabolically
like smoldering newsreels, smeared

with hallucinatory smoke and ash.
They came in ranks, wave upon wave,
leagued across the avenues:

the diaspora into John’s Apocalypse.
Those still on their feet staggered.
Others lay in the street snarled

in writhing weirs of fire-hose.
The firmament had been napalmed:
orange-plumed, spooling black. Volcanic stench.

Somewhere beyond the screen,
inside that television from which we all, that day,
received, like communion, the new covenant,

for all time, was my niece in her brown suit
and new haircut, her purse—outfitted
for her seventh day in Manhattan,

her fourth day at the World Financial Center,
six days past her twenty-second birthday.
I would spy her, coax her back to us

through the TV’s lurid circuitry
into my living room. Our perfect girl,
my princess—she had lost her shoes—

wandering the skewered heart of the future—
finally arrived, black-hooded, afire,
eerily mute—toward the Upper East side:

a bus, a shared cab with an old man
who befriended her, then barefoot blocks
and blocks to her apartment on 89th Street

where she dialed her parents and announced
with the sacrificial modesty of saints
that she had made it home.

Joseph Bathanti (seventh NC Poet Laureate, 2012-2014)

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September Mourning

O limbo of life—
the wings dapple
mourning,
a twitter in the field,
color in the wind,
a spider on feet of purest gossamer.

Trust goes up in flames.

Girders

change

loved ones,

doors strange to touch,

all the lovely times

sinking

in the face of the steely plumes

breaking apart

brilliances
under the jet, so silver and
beautiful—
gone—

the going on
lifting

dreams

competing for truth

for dear life’s sake

holding the screams

held together by need.

Give me breath.

Cockleburs on an old man’s knees—
roses November leaves—

the memory of this place

catches us
off center

loses hold
and holds to nothing,

the world seeming
seamless
days of glory,

a tapestry
of women and men
dawdling
and scuffling their
shoes, eyeing their toes,

knowing there is nothing to say

that might lighten the load
turning around, coming back, onward,
never to finish telling the story

numb in the name
of the fluttering flag
o say can the tattered one
defend the fences fenced around
and in and through this century of all times
the way a baby’s wrapped in a shawl or shirt for the
tucking into the arms
clutching dear life so thin
the stubborn holding on
a giving in

Shelby Stephenson (eighth NC Poet Laureate, 2015-2017)

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Crossing the Rift – North Carolina Poets on 9/11 & Its Aftermath
edited by Joseph Bathanti and David Potorti, © 2021
Press 53, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA

Available from Press 53 and from Bookmarks

Links to the NC Arts Council regarding current and past NC Poets Laureate

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[with 3 poems by Sam Barbee]

Life is not a waltz but sometimes it’s a samba. There are no numbered footprints painted on the floor; you can’t count the meter and the next step is never prescribed. The syncopation will throw you off, take you by surprise. And there are always more percussionists than anyone counted on.

As I kid I’d flip through the albums beneath my Dad’s phonograph. Found it – between George Szell and Peter and the Wolf I always came back to Getz and Gilberto. I knew who Stan was but it was decades before I learned the other names: Jobim, João and Astrud. To weave and shimmer through life, offbeat and upbeat, who could desire more?

At 18 my life rolled and rocked so allegro I doubt I even noticed it was passing. At 38 maybe I convinced myself life really was a waltz, laid out just so, I-lead-you-follow, all outcomes preordained. So here we go now, 68, and how many times have we knocked over the music stand or the band arrived drunk? And just who upped the damn tempo? How many morning coffee melodies will be interrupted by a crisis of (not quite 98) parents? Wolf, spit out that duck! Who made me director of this cacophany?

Settle. Close eyes, sway with me. Night is falling in Corcovado.

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Soft Spots in the Stream

My son wants stories
at bedtime of when I was his age –
how I loved blue jays and feared shadows.
Back then,
+++++ my sense of adventure
required the black mud bottom
of Burnt Mill Creek: stones, bream schools,
turtle beds. As frogs plunged in reeds,

my dad motioned open-handed
as I pleaded to stay close:
++++++++++ Trust the day.
He marched, under the gauze of Spanish moss,
fearless of water snakes. Water over my knees,
he taught me creek walking, how to balance
up slick banks with willow spindles and cypress knees.
I emerged, baptized with solutions.

+++++++++++++++ Once home,
he lacked answers,
those waning days when things unraveled,
when he often clenched his fist.
He bogged down with questions,
brooding in his recliner:
++++++++++ Keep with it,
the best he could offer.

Now, I escort my son
off to sleep, with his unresolved
problems and prayers, and at times I shrug,
unable to help him add things up.
But in his murky waters,
I part the surface, and
search with him for
soft spots in the stream.

Sam Barbee

Jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum

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That Rain We Needed: good title for July. Good collection for any season of life, this book by Sam Barbee from Press 53. These poems are a complete lifetime’s memoir: adopted childhood, young parent’s uncertainties, long married life with its waltzes & sambas. There is often a hint in the background of dissonance, but Sam Barbee has had a full and joyful life and he blesses us with it through his recollections and close observations.

Into every life a little rain must fall – let’s certainly hope so, before the herb garden is plumb dried up!

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The Color of Things

A trace of your image escapes
from darkness. Between
sundown and REM, you visit me:

nightgown drooped on the bedpost,
that marvelous thud of lace
on the hardwood floor, toes burrowing

beside me beneath the blanket’s down.
You, so often sequestered in the study
with cigarettes and Russian Tea,

travel the immaculate distance
mapped in memory, plotted only with love’s
intuition. I inventory lines in your face,

validations of the pattern that makes you up.
You remind me, It’s not the shape of things,
but their color.

Sam Barbee

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Red Planet

We speed to the shore’s horizon
and I am certain
there must be more to us
as we leave the aura of tiny wars.
Our calling lies closer to the sun,
on a world where love and longing fuse,

not into white-hot anguish but
into a peaceful absolute.
When I love you, black sky’s discord
brightens washed with stars, disorder calmed.
Sun, close enough to evaporate doubt,
warms our beach where we fight no theory.,

do not cling to construed arguments.
Content, we absorb sparkles in sandwash,
white foam abandoned on the beach
by ancient crests. Here we will wait,
shoulder to shoulder, wrapped
in laughter, poised for radiance.

Sam Barbee

all selections from That Rain We Needed, Sam Barbee, Press 53, Winston-Salem, NC, © 2016

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Green Heron, Butorides virescens

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2014-06-30a Doughton Park Tree

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For Easter, remembering Easters past and those we shared them with . . .

Homeless Jesus

He lies there, on a metal bench, feet bare,
the nail holes boring into the very marrow
of our souls. This is not the angry prophet
who threw the money changers from the icy
temple. Oh no, this is Jesus, after what we
did to him. Yes, not they, but we. He is not
sleeping there because some sculptor thought
it smart for his art. God no! He is sleeping there
because we put him there, every day, every
hour, every second.

Look at the size of the holes. A child
was frightened by those holes, someone tells me.
Good. Let the child go home. Let the parents
tell the child what we did to him, what
we still do to him.
++++++++++++++++ And you, who read
these words, stop your cars, get out, go sit
with him and talk. Bend down and look
into that sleeping face beneath the hood.
Pour water through his parched lips, bandage
his naked feet. Cover the holes we have made.
Do it now, do it now, do it now, and perhaps
on Easter morning early you’ll drive by and see
the bench is bare, the empty cloak crumpled
on the ground.

Meanwhile, in a different town on a back street
in a cardboard box, another homeless Jesus waits.

 

Anthony S. Abbott
from Dark Side of North, Press 53, Winston-Salem, NC © 2021 the Estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

John 13:34 (NIV)

 

 

 

 

Remembering . . .

Rick Flanery    (1945-2019)
Edwin “Skip” Ball    (1944-2020
Cora Burley    (1923-2020)
Charles McKenzie    (1931-2020)
Charlotte Case    (1923-2020)
Charles Hair    (1934-2021)

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[with 3 poems by Tony Abbott]

Mike and I met at a remote trailhead below Mt. Pisgah to hike up into Shining Rock Wilderness. We planned to spend one night at our favorite site after reaching it by this unfamiliar approach. End of September, gorgeous reds and golds, brittle blue sky, and we were prepared for cold above 5,000 feet.

No camp fires permitted in a Wilderness Area. We made tea over a little alcohol stove, sat on the ground, and talked until it grew too dark to see. The ultralight 2-person tent Mike had packed was cozy, which is to say it was more like a 1 ½-person tent. We’d be keeping each other warm.

I woke up after midnight in dense darkness and couldn’t breathe. Got out of the tent, pulled on my balaclava, walked away to pee, sat on a log – deep silence, no owl hoot, no chitter of flying squirrels, not one breath of wind. When my butt started to freeze I tried squeezing back into my mummy bag. No good. My chest tightened, the thick black pushed down on my face, I had to claw its hand away. Worst claustrophobia ever.

I finally dragged my sleeping pad and bag out to a level space in the pine needles, wrapped a jacket around my feet, and hunkered in just as the moon rose through the red spruce. Cold light expanded my lungs. At some point, hours creeping, moon in my eyes, I fell asleep. Mike woke me at first sun.

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What can bring light into darkness? What hand comforts the clench of fear? What consoling faith casts away doubt? What companion banishes loneliness?

The forward to Anthony S. Abbott’s book Dark Side of North, published posthumously by Press 53 this year, consists of a remembrance presented by Dr. Jacqueline Bussie at Tony’s memorial service on October 17, 2020. Here is an excerpt:

Suffering didn’t make Tony unique. What he did with it did. Tony was the first adult, and the first teacher, I’d ever met in life who was willing to talk about the hard stuff. He taught us that suffering sucks. That suffering denied is suffering unhealed. He taught us to never sugarcoat suffering, smack a pink bow on it, or shove it to the back of the drawer. In one of my favorite lines in Tony’s poetry, he urges us to get down to “the Humpty-Dumpty business of trying to make a jewel out of the cracked pieces of the heart.”

Dr. Jacqueline Bussie, page xiv, Dark Side of North

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The Boy from Somewhere Else

lived in the open mouth of the world.
He chewed on the dry branches of time.
He was handsome enough, to be sure,

but there was in his voice
the deep well of absence.
He was with them, but not of them.

His speech was familiar, but not theirs,
and when he told tales
of his drunken uncles and stage-struck

sisters, they nodded politely
and they spoke in their apple-round voices
of kith and kin, and told how their

grandfathers had founded the first
bank in Hitchcock County.
He would wait, this boy.

He would find one day the person
who could hear his music
as blood red leaves matched autumn.

He could not be mistaken about this.
When she came, he would recognize her
at once – as one knows the coming storm

by the first, distant clap of thunder.
Perhaps he could not keep her.
Perhaps one can never keep such a gift.

But, still, she would grace his years – the buds
of his growing up, the rattling trains of the
middle passage, the brittle bones of the slow

descent, the icy nights of the final coming down.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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The Light in the Window
In memory of Nancy Abbott Hieronymus (1926-2017)

How early I must have known that she was
my true mother, that when she packed her bag
I must go with her. She would keep me safe.

How early I must have known that she was
my true teacher, making the sounds of the words
with her mouth so I could learn them, too.

How early I must have known that she was
my true protector, throwing herself across me
slashing her knee on the broken windshield glass.

Later, when I was nearly grown, cocky sophomore
in prep school, riding the subway home at 2 a.m.,
she left a light in the window on that I

would turn out when I came in. I didn’t know
she stayed awake until she heard the door open
and close, heard the click of the light going off.

Now I sit by her bed and watch her sleep and wake,
sleep and wake, and tell me how she loves
her precious Dick, how she will hold his hand

all the way to heaven. Beyond the light in her window
the evening comes over the island, the deer prick up
their ears, the foxes peek from their dens. In the pines

the gold crowned kinglet waits. She is coming, they say,
our friend is coming, the one who loved us all these years.
Tonight I will go home, and the friends who loved her so

will arrive, one by one, to take her in their arms,
and the next night the angel will stand at the foot
of her bed. You are loved, he will say, and enfold her

with his bright wings. And she will go where that brightness
is and, like a light in the window, shine upon us all.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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The Long Afternoon

All through the long afternoon
the wind moved in the branches.
I had lived in the city and had seen
only the dust from the tires,
the diesel gas from the gray brown
buses with their leaden burdens.

Here it was different. Here on the grass
we had found by chance, walking
away, just away from everything
and then, a clearing and green
grass and the wind moving
like silver over the water
and in the branches, too. Yes,

all through the long afternoon
the wind moved and we were silent
in awe of the day and leaves
yellow and red and orange,
which floated slowly down
into our waiting hands.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Later
I found these leaves in a book
where you had put them for
safe keeping, a book you knew
I would take down and read
some distant starry night.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

 

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Thank you, Tony. We will continue trying, and we will not stop trying, to make something beautiful from the brokenness that we are. Together. May it be and become so.

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The North Carolina Poetry Society has honored Anthony S. Abbott’s memory and shared Tony’s poetry at its January, 2021 literary meeting and with a commemoration in the Winter, 2021 edition of its quarterly publication, Pine Whispers.

The line “the Humpty-Dumpty business of trying to make a jewel out of the cracked pieces of the heart.” is from Tony’s poem Before Forty in his book The Girl in the Yellow Raincoat (St. Andrews Press, 1989) and collected in New & Selected Poems (Lorimer Press, 2009).

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2015-06-15Doughton Park Tree

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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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[with three poems by Glenis Redmond]

She wanted you to have this to remember her by. Callie’s niece hands me a simple paper gift bag, pink with a heart, like you’d give your sweetie on Valentine’s. It’s heavy. I lift the thick book from inside carefully because the front cover has already fallen away. Onionskin leaves are curling. A Holy Bible.

During my forty years as a small town family doctor my patients occasionally gave me little gifts and mementos. The tomatoes and squash and sacks of Brushy Mountain apples I shared with the staff then took the rest home, but the knickknacks piled up on my desk and bookshelves. Handcrafts and little painted figurines, usually of an old time doctor. Inspirational plaques. Paperweights and ornaments. Bric-a-brac.

I retired September, 2020. What to do with all this stuff? If it’s flat I file it in a scrapbook: crayon drawings kids made while they waited, photos, thank-you’s (and a few angry letters – I saved those, too). The most interesting, which I remove from its frame, is the February 20, 1927 Honorable Discharge from the Army of Ellis, who died November 20, 2005, age 100. His niece thought I should have it.

Callie’s niece enclosed a sweet card with the well-read Bible. It sat under my desk at the office in its pink bag for years and now it’s nudging my right foot under my desk at home. All my shelves are packed, stacked, stratified. Most of that other bric-a-brac, after girding my loins, I threw away. How do you throw out a Bible? I certainly don’t need another one – I’m not going to try to count all the versions and editions on my shelf (and there are eleven Bibles in an app on my iPhone). Callie’s Bible doesn’t include any inscription, not even her name, no family births and deaths recorded, nothing personal. Except that from Genesis to Revelation there are small x’s penciled along the beginning of each chapter, maybe to mark how far she’d read that day. And the pencil is still there, stuck between the pages.

Is it even possible to throw away a Bible? Not today. Back under the desk you go.

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I’ve just read Glenis Redmond’s book, What My Hand Say (Press 53, 2016). Its eighty-some poems seem like a lifetime’s work, a generation’s, a civilization’s. She picks, plows, pushes and pulls memory, history, lore, wisdom until they glow with heat, danger, pain, joy. She doesn’t hold back. To read these poems is to walk in the dust with the little black girl from Fountain Inn, South Carolina. To read these is to have a grandmother who teaches you hard, hard lessons. To read is to open your heart to the suffering we all share as humans but also to be welcomed into the circle that offers each of us human family, community, inspiration, love.

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From What My Hand Say, Glenis Redmond, Press 53 © 2016

Benediction

We took back roads cutting cross-country
traveling from one small road to another
snaking from Moonville to Mauldin.
My big brother Willie and I rode
while the blue Duster began stuttering a dubious rattle,
sputtering to a stop on a small rural track of road called Conastee,
a quarter-mile stretch riddled with seven steeples,
each pointing a path to God:
First Baptist, Church of God, Deliverance of God,
United Methodist, Reedy River Presbyterian,
Conastee fellowship Hall and McBee United Methodist.
Sure we were cloaked in the protection of the Lord
as we knocked on the first door we saw,
a sweet grandma-looking lady
opening her door like a smile
granting us a Samaritan’s Act
by letting us use her phone.
Her words spilling over us like gospel,
we heed even today.
Hurry, night’s about to fall. You two
are not safe around here.

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Bruised
For Middlesex County Academy in New Brunswick, NJ – Alternative School
and Damon House – Alcohol & Drug Treatment Facility

They banter back and forth like boys do:
You charcoal, son. you so black you purple.
I tell them, hol’up in defense of my mahogany skin
and the boy they’re putting down. I say,
You know that they say? In cue as if we rehearsed it,
we both chime, the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice.
We flash twin smiles. There’s a moment when the air
gets less complicated in the room. The space is large enough
for me to ask, why y’all hate on each other so hard?

Oh, he? He my boy. See, that’s how we show love.
They crush so hard I want to weep –
I’m so tired of everybody being gangsta hard,
but they are being real. I know ‘cause I got three brothers
and growin up I never saw them show love,
except in that one on one – man on man dunk in you face.
Call you ignant ten times a day kind of way.
Their talk swags like their walk.
I follow the conversation as it dips and drags.
We end up talking about how we were punished as kids.

I lead with, I’m from the South and y’all don’t know
nothin about a switch – havin to go ‘round back
fetch your own hickory, the same stick use to beat you.
I say these words and I still feel the sting of the switch.
See welts raising into an angry language of graffiti on my skin.
One says, don’t bring back no skinny one neither.
I shake my head in solidarity – the blood we’ve spilled makes us kin.
Another boy says, what about those belts?
I hear my mama’s beating cadence,
a belt whip with every word, I-told-you-not-to . . .

Another says, extension cord.
I’m brought fully awake, ‘cause
I don’t know nothing ‘bout that kind of whippin.
We only heard of Cedric down the street gettin beat like that.
Then, we did not know the word, Abuse,
or the phrase Child Protective Services.
We just said his mama was MEAN.

Jicante, another says, I say huh? Rice.
You kneel on raw rice for hours.
We walk down alleys; I listen as they go deeper
into the shadows farther than I have ever been,
but we don’t skip a beat. We laugh –
joke about our beatings and nobody mentions
the pain, but it’s all understood – we are all battered.
We bump up against each other’s wounds before we brainstorm.
I pick up the marker and they bicker blue versus red.
I read between the gang signs. It is not lost on me,
that when these colors mingle, they make purple.
I muse in my mind how violence for them still continues.
I come back to the poem, that we are here to write;
the ones that saved my life. I know this detour we took
down old roads is a place we had to go,
places where we have been loved so hard it hurts,
so hard we are still bruised.
We bear our scars,
then we pick our pens
and write.

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My First Poetry Teacher
for Carrie McCray

Teach like the congregation
at Bethlehem Baptist Church yells Preach
and she did. Said, Poets look back.
Mine the memory.
Find the journey work taking.
Don’t dismiss the coal.
Go down the dark shaft.
Go down into the danger.
Go down into the lives lost.
Plummet. Clear the smoke.
Wipe your eyes and the grime.
Write.
Polish the rock
that made the past
till all facets
come to light
shine

 

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[author bio from Press 53]

Glenis Redmond travels nationally and internationally reading and teaching poetry so much that she has earned the title, Road Warrior Poet. She has posts as the Poet-in-Residence at The Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville, South Carolina, and also at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey. During February 2016, at the request of U.S. State Department for their Speaker’s Bureau, Glenis traveled to Muscat, Oman, to teach a series of poetry workshops and perform poetry for Black History Month.

In 2014-16, Glenis served as the Mentor Poet for the National Student Poet’s Program to prepare students to read at the Library of Congress, the Department of Education, and for First Lady Michelle Obama at The White House. Glenis is a Cave Canem Fellow, a North Carolina Literary Fellowship Recipient, and a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist. She also helped create the first Writer-in-Residence at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, North Carolina.

Glenis believes that poetry is a healer, and she can be found in the trenches across the world applying pressure to those in need, one poem at a time.

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2016-10-17b Doughton Park Tree

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[with two poems by Kathryn Stripling Byer]

Hepatica: its flowers spring up in March before its new leaves. Quick! Before arching limbs furl their green sails and hijack the wind of sunlight, quickly make your tiny seeds from last year’s photons! New leaves will have all summer and fall to glean what the canopy misses.

When Linda and I discover the first hepatica blooming along Elkin Creek each spring we take heart. The world is not such a grim and wintry place. One morning last April we counted 50 individual plants along a mile of trail. Such bounty! How they thrive! How our hearts do!

A few weeks ago I walked one mile of nature trail at Chimneys picnic area in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At the end of September hepatica leaves are glossy, taut, ready to overwinter. As I strolled the cove, deep cathedral of old growth hardwoods, I estimated within 5,280 feet I saw 50,000 individual hepatica plants.

Sharp-lobed Hepatica, Hepatica acutiloba, Ranunculaceae, buttercup family

Life wants more of itself. Life wants to fill every niche. How many generations, how many hundred, did it take to create this mountain cove topography? Mossed, leafy, pits and mounds left by an ancient giant fallen. The light gap its falling created. Explosion of variety in the margins. Trunks of all sizes and ages in the understory, massive individuals creating the canopy. I didn’t know a black cherry, a silverbell, ever got this big!

Leave a patch of ground alone long enough and it will grow into what it is meant to be. Mountain flanks and shoulders for protection, rain upon rain, limestone subsoil for minerals – the old growth cove hardwood community shelters biodiversity approaching a tropical rainforest. These few sections in the Smokies that the loggers never reached are still revealing new species. Life wants more.

And to what purpose? What is it good for? I could probably list a few dozen reasons the undisturbed and unmanipulated forest is good for me and good for you. But how about this – the thousands of reasons it is simply good for itself.

Black Cherry, a BIG one, Prunus serotina, Rosaceae, rose family

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Kathryn Stripling Byer (1944-2017) was North Carolina Poet Laureate from 2005-2009 and the first woman to hold that position. She and her family lived in the mountains of western NC (she taught and was poet-in-residence at Western Carolina University); her grace and generosity reached throughout the southeast and beyond. She was teacher and mentor but, even more, she encouraged and celebrated the creative spirit wherever and in whomever it was found. Even me. Thinking of her today brings me joy.

I have gone back to Kay’s first book for these two poems. The Girl in the Midst of the Harvest was her debut collection (Texas Tech Press, 1986) and was re-issued by Press 53 (Winston-Salem, NC) in 2013.

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The Backwoods

Great-grandmother carried the cadence of Genesis.
Girl cousins up late at family reunions,
we made her an Indian, although her forebears
were Irish. Before her lay darkness, the empty fields
barren as desert until she came forward,
the sweat on her high cheekbones gleaming like eyes
we imagined surrounding her, bob-cat and red fox,
the last of the sleek, singing wolves. Every evening
she shouldered her how and walked home
through the tasselling corn. The Good Lord only knows
what bare feet stalked the backwoods in those days,
what waited behind every woodpile! She brought forth
a daughter with black hair that never curled.
Shy as a fieldmouse, that girl fell in love
with a man scything hay in the twilight. They kissed
twice. A moment she stood in her white dress
and smiled back at us, then she grew fat and sighed
in the kitchen. Four daughter she bore,
and the three who survived scarlet fever
wove grass in their brown hair and danced every night
with the fireflies. They galloped on wild horse
bareback until they got married and gave birth
to us, Southern Belles who could sit in a parlor
all evening and never complain. We could faint
in a handsome man’s arms. We could charm a
a stone wall. But we never forgot the back door,
how to disappear into the darkness, our crinolines rustling
like cornstalks between our legs. We told
this story so well, we inherit its black earth
where women hoe all night, inscrutable as Indians.

Pale jewelweed, Impatiens pallida, Balsaminaceae, touch-me-not family

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Frost

“Shake the cold from our hands,” you call, running ahead
of me onto the frozen grass. Look, in the garden
your father wrests vines from a tripod of bamboo stakes.
Okra’s grown weary with mourning another year
gone and just yesterday, Darling,
they wore yellow buds in their hair. Like you

twisting a puny chrysanthemum into your tangles
and galloping off on a broomstick. Down Caney Fork
scarecrows come hobbling like old soldiers
leaving their cornfields. They’ll sit by the river
and talk about what the crows told them: a hard winter
coming. Those windy crows, all they keep saying
is cold, cold, and when I see clouds swept
like ice down the creek, I believe them
too easily. Why must the maple leaves rattle

Remember me, as if someday
I’ll forget there were thousands came
falling the morning I felt for the first time you
shiver inside me, no fish as I thought you would be
but a mouse in its burrow? Now you sit in sand
and make birthday cakes, blowing out candles
that aren’t there. I blow on my hands
like an old woman taking no heed of a child
who believes time can be shaken from her like water.

poems by Kathryn Stripling Byer
from The Girl in the Midst of the Harvest, Press 53, © 2013 Kathryn Stripling Byer
first published by Texas Tech Press, January 15, 1986

 

Mountain bugbane, Cimicifuga americana, Ranunculaceae, buttercup family

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Mountain Cove plant communities occur in sheltered areas with abundant rainfall in mid- to lower-elevation areas of the Southern Appalachians. Especially the Rich Cove Forest subset, with less acidic and more rich mineral soils, is home to a huge diversity of tree species, flowering plants and ferns, insects, reptiles and amphibians. Original (old growth) forests will have massive individual trees hundreds of years old mixed with trees of all ages where a giant has fallen and allowed sunlight to reach the forest floor. There are a number of these areas where loggers never reached in GSMNP, such as Chimneys and near Cades Cove.

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All photos by Bill Griffin from Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program; Southern Appalachian Ecology, September 2020, Great Smokies Institute at Tremont; instructors Jeremy Lloyd and Elizabeth Davis.

 

 

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Young Isaac is strolling through the orchard, another undifferentiated non-linear autumn afternoon of this perplexing equation we call life. Some of the fruit has detached itself and translocated several meters closer to the center of the earth. It has begun, with the help of fermenting microorganisms, to succumb to entropy. Isaac steps in it. He slips.

Isaac’s 70 kilograms, density of water, accelerate at 9.8 meters per second per second. Suddenly prone, the gravity of the situation strikes him. There, 10 centimeters from the tip of his nose, lies a perfect red spheroid. Glossy. Fragrant. The tiny lenticels on its taut unblemished skin are arranged with the symmetry of stars distributed across the heavenly sphere. “What an apple!” young Isaac exclaims, “Artios!” (his years of Greek instruction now finally relevant): That which is perfectly suited to its nature. The essence of appleness.

And how will Isaac’s own essence be transformed by this epiphany? How will yours and mine? No longer undifferentiated, will he discover his many gifts and their ideal trajectory? Will we ours? For are we not each of us an essence, our process of formation either distracted and garbled by the noisy physics of our history and our surroundings or alternatively able to grasp that trajectory perfectly suited to our unique nature? Besides mass and density and the ability to struggle upright against gravity, don’t we human animals also possess the agency of choice and change and discovery?

Isaac sits up and regards the apple. You know where this is headed. It will be 218 years before young Albert slips and falls and realizes that what Isaac experienced is actually the curvature of space. Meanwhile why don’t we all, each of us, sit up and regard our nature. Artios! To become that which is the perfect expression of our nature. It’s about time.

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I have been a DAVID MANNING fan since I first sat up and discovered poetry. Whether he does it with a compassion that draws me deeper into the circle of human family or with a wry and pointed barb that makes me snort, he regards human nature and tells its truths. I will be the first person in line when his NEW AND SELECTED is released from PRESS 53 later this year.

And I have been favored to preview the manuscript. Wandering these wonderful poems spanning decades I enter an inner landscape and pass from reader to personal companion. There is a deep imagination at work; there is joy and no lack of laughter and sometimes a little weirdness; there are bright moments of insight and connection.

Most of all there is WONDER. No aspect of our human situation or our confounding universe goes unnoticed. David’s artistry gathers a desert landscape, a snatch of opera, a funky conversation and weaves from them with perfect sense and sensitivity an affirmation. When I reach the final page I say, “YES, that is the way it is.”

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Sailing with Anne

Santa Monica, California, 1950

After her sailing class we cast off
into the ruffled Pacific blue, tide
incoming, echoes of great breakers
lapping the dock. She-the sailor,
the tiller, mine.

As we headed west, tacking
into a strong breeze I remember
marveling at who she was
to do these things. I imagined her
at the helm become Anne Bonny,
running a four-master down,
the setting sun turning red lights
in her hair.

I hope we left something there-
if only a boat paint-scrape
or salt spray from her hair.
Maybe something from that day
was never lost, but joined
the Pacific’s history, some trace
still riding the blue circuit
between the poles, with the sea-grape
and tiny life that make the coral.

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Star Journey

Sometimes at night I return

to the Griffith Park planetarium

where stars from the surrounding hills

come out to music.

North of Los Feliz

I step from city lights into the night

sky of Patagonia with its wind-swept shores

under the warm lights of Fornax,

Fomalhaut, Alpha Crucis, a bright canopy

of southern stars, to music-Gymnopedie,

Satie’s barefoot dance.

Then, under the soft night sky,

I take off my shoes

and find my way into the stars.

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David Manning’s NEW AND SELECTED POEMS is anticipated later this year from Press 53.

Star Journey first appeared in KaKalaK 2017 – Anthology of Carolina Poets
Sailing with Anne first appeared in Pinesong: The North Carolina Poetry Society

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This evening at suppertime she peers into the beef and carrots simmering on the right burner; I snip pea pods and spinach into the black bean broth on the left burner. Pretty soon both pots are smelling darn good. It’s usually something like this, the scene in our kitchen all the years since I decided to stop eating meat and she didn’t. Separate skillets, or sequential nuking, then sit down together.

But then every once in a while it’s all her show. She steams the broccoli while I sit near the lamp and read. I start on a little dry white wine (she’ll accept two ounces for herself later – Pastor Jan, pretend you didn’t read this) while she simmers the pasta. She serves two blue patterned Japanese bowls we’ve owned since year one. Then we sit down together.

When I die, sorry to say, I have no faith that there will be an angel in heaven who can make broccoli Alfredo this good.

 

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Getting home from the office early these days, I’m revisiting the overflowing stacks beside my desk. Poetry, philosophy, poetry, nature, poetry — I’ve rediscovered that all of Terri Kirby Erickson’s poems are home.

Lots of poetry is about home – you get a peak through the curtains and maybe you can imagine life on the other side of the pane. Terri’s poems are home. Welcome in. Don’t mind the mess. Maybe you didn’t understand this is your home but for twenty or thirty lines you will be part of the family. So many families. So many homes longed for, left behind, returned to. Soft light, hard edges. Sweet and harsh and all shades between. Come on in. Let’s sit down together.

 

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from In the Palms of Angels, Terri Kirby Erickson, Press 53 © 2011

 

Wayfarer

He seems like a man
you’d see walking down a long
stretch of road, the kind
with dust

rising

in a red haze beneath the wheels
of pickup trucks, cutting
through fields of golden

wheat. Scudding clouds cast
shadows
across the ground like whales

swimming through clear
water, and the air carries the scent
of grain and loam.

Every few miles, the glint of a silo
(startling against the lonesome

sky)

signals a farm house
where peach pies sit cooling
on window sills, and patterned
carpets are worn-out from parents

pacing to and fro with fretful babies
in their arms.

He’s traveling toward the horizon
with the steady gait of someone
with a place to go, whose tender

gaze

will soon find home, that place
more sacred than communion wafers
nestled in the palms
of angels.

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Rosary

Down by the creek,
we sit on dry
stones,

our shoes and socks
jumbled in a pile.
The sun

warms our toes
and casts its
net of light

from bank to bank,
where willows
trail their

fingers in the water,
and snakes look
like branches

floating by
them. Mosquitoes
lay their eggs

in stagnant pools,
far from leaves
and grasses snagged

by rocks, twisting
in the current.
Tadpoles swim

in tight formation,
wiggling their tails
in tandem,

as salamanders
scuttle by, searching
for places to nap.

Dragonflies hover,
then hurry
away,

their wings
thrumming a one-note
song – while we,

silent as nuns in prayer,
count the beads
of summer.

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[Rosary first appeared in Basilica Review; other collections by Terri Kirby Erickson from Press 53 include: Telling Tales of Dusk; A Lake of Light and Clouds; Becoming the Blue Heron.]

Author Page, Terri Kirby Erickson, Press 53, Winston-Salem, NC.

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