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Posts Tagged ‘Press 53’

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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Our habitual experience is a complex of failure
and success in the enterprise of interpretation.
If we desire a record of uninterpreted experience,
we must ask a stone to record its autobiography.
Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality

One day the world’s unhappiest man decided to just stuff it all. His business partner had cheated him out of a fortune. His wife had left him. For the business partner. His son was in Rehab. His best friend had gotten himself elected to Congress . . . Republican. Every day the post delivered another stack of rejection slips. “Screw it,” said the world’s unhappiest man.

The world’s unhappiest man had read that scientists had discovered the world’s happiest man living in a small monastery in Nepal, so he tossed an extra pair of socks into a backpack and got on a plane, a bus, a donkey cart, a yak, his own two feet. As he walked upward through the mountains he gave his last rupee to a beggar, but he wasn’t happy. He recalled the happy days with his wife and truly wished for her to be happy again, but he wasn’t happy. He finally figured out that his son was going to have to take responsibility for his own life, but he wasn’t happy. He totally forgot about politics and for a minute he was almost happy. It occurred to him that he would probably write a poem about all this and he thought, “I’ll be happy if it’s any damn good.”

Mouse Creek Falls, GSMNP, 5/2015

A funny thing happened. The clean mountain air, the music of singing birds and laughing brooks, the mighty Himalayas on the horizon – yeah, yeah, whatever. He wasn’t happy.

The world’s unhappiest man finally arrived at the monastery with holes in his shoes, holes in his socks, holes in his heart. He crept into the chilly closet where the world’s happiest man lived and waited while the monk finished his meditation. When the monk opened his eyes, he smiled and welcomed the world’s unhappiest man and said, “People have called me the world’s happiest man, but now that you are here with me my joy is complete.”

The world’s unhappiest man sat down next to the monk and began thinking about that.

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What does it mean to be happy? God knows.

But what does it take to be human? Sitting down next to another.

These poems by Richard Krawiec in his new book, Women Who Loved Me Despite, are not often happy, but there is joy in these lines. Not the easy joy of summer mornings and wrens singing, but the hard-won joy of darkness and pain shared with another.

And there is mercy here, dropping as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. Mercy for the writer who has walked the unforgiving mountain and now sits down to consider. Mercy for us, the readers, who share that walk and that considering and discover, not happiness, but the possibility that we might still be connected, each with the other.

Big Creek, Walnut Bottom, GSMNP, 5/2015

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by Richard Krawiec

Lux Aeterna

I stand on the corner of a downtown street
tapping my feet to a klezmer trio
frenzied strokes of bass and fiddle,
rolling runs from a concertina,
conjuring twirling scarves and gypsies.
In five minutes the bells will strike,
so I turn and race to my friend’s concert,

enter the Cathedral of All Souls
breathless and sweaty as the singers
begin to raise their voices in Lux Aeterna;
the hush builds until the sopranos
pierce the dark inner encavement,
arched steeple-space misted green
and blue from the stained glass robes
of Mary, Joseph, the infant looking down.

Seated to the side of the main aisle,
I watch an aged man’s breathing
start to slow; he slumps sideways,
caught by a woman’s surprised hands.
Two men dressed in choirboy robes,
rush to comfort; one presses the pules
the other encircles shrunken shoulder,
hugs close a gray-crowned head.

Come Holy Spirit the choir sings,
the mass continues, through cleanse . . .
heal . . . joy everlasting . . . broken loaves
of brown wheat. The singers repeat
the sermon litany . . . blessed are . . . blessed are . . .
while EMS, clad in black, rush in and
crimp the man sideways into a wheelchair.
I leave the wine for the darkened streets.

One girl, a mountain Dorothy,
ripped leggings and shiny shoes,
gutter-throats an Appalachian lament
to the faceless mannequin in a storefront
window. It’s wearing a party dress
woven from condoms, black skirt accented
with white. The girl turns away from the bills
I flutter, finger-picks a banjo run of escape
taps a rhythm on the brick sidewalk,
toe plates sparking. Above her, night-scattered
stars loom down. She closes her eyes to embrace
everything as light, and nothing as eternal.

Yellow Ladies' Slippers, Appalachian Trail, 5/2015

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Richard Krawiec – poet, novelist, playwright; editor, publisher, educator – lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. Women Who Loved Me Despite is published by Press 53 in Winston-Salem, which also published an earlier collection by Richard, She Hands Me the Razor.

Richard is the founder of Jacar Press in Raleigh.

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Doughton Park Tree #2

 

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 . . . it is nothing but a song – the long journey home:

Homecoming – what sort of images does that word evoke?

Marching band lined up, the girls with their blue and gold pom poms, boys becoming men bursting through crepe paper onto the field.

All the old families filing into Salem Fork Baptist for preaching, and in the afternoon pot luck under the willow oaks.

A long absence, a holiday, sitting down to share the meal with family, wondering where you really belong and beginning to get an inkling.

The prodigal returning to discover the grace of unconditional love.

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How about this one: men and women who have known each other for fifty years, or one year, or just today, gathered in a single great room to listen and be silent, to laugh and to cry, to start out wondering whether they belong and discover themselves bound together by the soul of words into one family.

Sam Ragan Poetry Festival at Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities and the tenth anniversary celebration of the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series – friends, it was one hell of a homecoming! Oh yes, the readings, Fred Chappell bringing new poems, fables and morals to slap you upside the head; Gilbert-Chappell mentors Cathy Smith Bowers, Joseph Bathanti, Lenard D. Moore, Tony Abbott each with their prized student protege from the program; from basketball to angels; from love lost to love well shet of; from growing up to growing old to refusing in any fashion to grow old. And the greetings – more hugs and handclasps per unit time than any baby shower or wake or political convention on record.

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And then there was Shelby Stephenson. Our “newest” NC Poet Laureate? How about our oldest and truest friend and guide? Has anyone in our state done more to encourage poets? To teach and encourage? To just plain get the poetry joy juice flowing in the crowd’s veins?

When I read the announcement that Shelby had been selected as Poet Laureate I immediately dug out my file – all the rejection slips he sent me while he was editor at Pembroke magazine. Friends, you would have to knock me down to get me to part with these sixteen little 2 x 3 inch slips of yellow paper (some actually just a post-it note with the Pembroke rubber stamp). Almost every one has a personal scribble: “good luck placing these” . . . “keep writing” . . . ” liked [poem] best” . . . “send more any time.” My God, how I harassed him with submissions until glory be one was good enough to keep.

Shelby Stephenson, thanks for the poetry homecoming. I am still discovering where I belong.

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from fiddledee
(read by Shelby at the 2015 Sam Ragan Poetry Festival)

Saying I need an image to make the world
I went back home and held my eyes on the hill
and it said You need a word deeper than I

so I took the old fencerails the lizards ran
and my family’s tongue came out of the Mouth
of Buzzard’s Branch, the sound of that one story,

everywhere, in the marshes, in the fields,
and lowgrounds, and I said Where is the word
that holds All I am trying to say? –

and the cows lowed through their cuds over
and over it is nothing but a song – the long journey home:

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.  .  .  let go the body: the cardinal

flowers stretch across the landscape, handsome
in their high keys: there goes a plankhouse into
a hedge: we come from a desert of innumerable

dances made in pain and pleasure arriving
forever, America’s promise, Huckleberry
laid back every spring when the little green

corn is sided, what broken clods to bounce
in the dirt: the literature of the world
is the people: Whitman, where are you? Our

faculties run out into the unknown:
results are beginning, continuously
extending the plain chance to hold a seat,

here, hardy as a foot soldier: an articulate
voice lowers to let the mind down so the
undergarments might hear humanity

in the bosom stumbling back to breathe independently:
transitory, we bequeath to thee, O Death,
this victorious song thou breaks, the word

of the singer, his parentage and home,
the wood in the flames a quiet crackle
of no hurry going up and out, moving

the dust that settles the ashes, a tune,
a farway injury of happiness,
a bliss that is hard to empty: time and space

affirm the rhythm, the dimensions of
across and around: wrap a tent around
the music and steal away: images edge

the feelings like heels grinding lightly on
a board of closest imaginative
stances delighting the reapers in the

wheat, the keepers in the creek: the word is
another form of dancing: the body
moves on the surface just over truth: we

live amid the skin: the true art of
experience is practiced by the skipper
bugs: they skate so well: I clap my hands and

the water scoots a wake beating with a
new beauty: and the line which begins behind
is brought forward: I look back one more time

to draw a radiance in language, a
radical system formless and grammatically
mountainous and divine, mortal as the

fertilizing rain, a lingering space
that gives the celebration a morning, noon
and night swallowed up by the dallying and playing

world holding the ancient beard in an avenging
dance, a cosmos for jollity: high in
the pocket of a farmhouse I am alone,

a laughing moon brightening like an orange on ice.

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fiddledeedee
© 2014 by Shelby Stephenson, Press 53, Winston-Salem, NC

More information about Shelby at http://www.shelbystephenson.com/home.htm

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Over the next couple of weeks I will share more vignettes, poetry and photos from the 2015 Sam Ragan Poetry Festival & tenth anniversary celebration of the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poetry Series

Also check back for a link to the full photo gallery, forthcoming

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Doughton Park Tree #3

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