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[with 4 poems by Richard Allen Taylor]

I need one of those little fountains that floats in your birdbath. I need more gravel for the driveway. I need a sharper macro lens. I need to check my investment strategy.

I need to clean the hummingbird feeders. I need to sit down with my life insurance agent. I need to pull the crabgrass between the lilies. I need to empty the dehumidifier. I need an empty inbox.

I need to listen to my sister. I need to reassure Linda. I need to tell Amelia a story. I need to thank Jill and Sue and Josh and Allison . . . I need to thank a whole lot of people. I need a cool morning on the porch with birdsong and poems by my friend Richard. I need the forgiveness I didn’t know I needed.

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The Train to Redemption

I almost miss it, but catch the last car,
find a window seat next to a woman
who opens her bag of sewing –
needles, pins, fabric spilling over
her knees – and what she’s sewing,
I don’t know. She says nothing
as I lean my head against the sad
window, and watch the land scroll,
trees waving like sword-grass
in a rush of green infantry, charging
the horizon until the sun sinks
and pulls the sky down with it.

After an hour of darkness, the lights
of Redemption appear and the woman
hems while she hums, a tune I won’t name
because it’s one of those that sticks
in your head and drives you crazy for hours
once you hear it. As the train approaches
the station, the air in the car smells
like apples and rain, and this woman
who has not spoken to me, but has
the gift of threading her eyes
with whatever the moment requires,
stitches me with a look of forgiveness
I didn’t know I needed.

Richard Allen Taylor

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Maybe 2014? A good while back Richard Allen Taylor set himself the challenge of writing poems about angels; they make a marvelous collection. A marvelous concatenation. Conceptualization. Conciliation. Oh sure, Gabriel has a cameo, but these are Richard’s angels, your and my angels: the Angel of Bureaucracy; Angel of Minor Disputes; Angel of Pain. And the Angels of Hope.

What do I really need? How about you? Redemption, can that actually mean anything more than cashing in the winning lottery ticket? Richard in Armed and Luminous offers poems with humor, imagination, and gentle compassion that have redeemed my morning. Yes, there are angels here, more than you may have expected, but I wasn’t hoping for any glowing personage with wings. What I have discovered instead is a spirit that wells up in two persons’ hearts and allows them to truly touch.

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Angel of Hope

As she grows invisible, her confidence blooms,
a moonflower in darkness, buoyed by terrestrial air
that gives lightness to her presence.

To the man drowning in despair, the garden feels heavy.
Nothing grows as planned. Renegade vines pull down
the rusted trellis, fruit fallen and rotted.

She watches his waning moon fade somber
in the box-like night of a four-walled sky.
In one corner, a shadow thickens, crosses

from stone to path and pulses against
light promised but not yet come.
The man, still unaware of the angel

who waits at the edge of his surrender,
senses a ripple in the darkness and draws closer
to speak, but seeing nothing, keeps his peace

and bows his head – in prayer or resignation
who can say? The angel’s cloak, opaque,
wide-winged and flutter-flapped – hides her completely.

He has shuttered himself, but she sees what he needs
is hers to give. She unwraps, offers her spirit light
like a lover’s body, but only for a heartbeat.

She closes her cloak, knowing hope is a drug
best administered in small doses. She gives him enough
to swim, rise to the surface, breathe again.

Richard Allen Taylor

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Blue Ridge Mountains

The possibilities were infinite.
When God made this place

He could have made it flat
or barren or covered with ice

or submerged in a hot soup
of gases, but he chose this

contemporary design, mountains
sprigged with tallest pine,

oak, maple, and poplar,
cloud-catching peaks and spines

that radiate into folds. He
let there be light, and the bright

afternoon reflected green
from the nearest slopes,

now blue-gray from a distant arc,
Mt. Mitchell under siege

from a flotilla of clouds,
gray-hulled, white-sailed.

It was quiet here when God created
the vacuum, before He created air

and water to carry sound.
He threw stones and ice,

enough to squeeze the earth
into a ball. Before this windy

breath in the trees, before
the voices in the meadow

or the click of heels
against flagstone walks,

before dry leaves scratched
across the porch, God

did his best work in silence.
He assigned Mother Nature

to manage construction.
She pushed to get the work done,

pitting one continent against another,
subcontracting certain details

to volcanism and erosion, giving the piece
a mixed-media look. I stand on rock

born deep in the earth, spewed
to the surface, sparkled with mica.

the dinosaurs have left, and our turn
at the controls has just begun, our time

a thin sheet in the layers of time,
but already, we have begun the undoing.

Richard Allen Taylor

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Cello in Moonlight

The strings pull me
to a darkened house,
through a door left open
to a room, empty
except for a wicker chair,
where a woman
in a shawl of moonlight
sits weeping, a private ritual,
her voice the cello,
the cello her voice.

An intruder, I turn to leave.
She asks me to stay.

Richard Allen Taylor

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all poems from Armed and Luminous, Richard Allen Taylor, Main Street Rag Publishing, © 2016

Header art by Linda French Griffin

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So they say a distinctive of Southern writing is attention to “place?” If not obsession with? What, you mean like Spanish moss dripping from live oaks on the old plantation? Oh come on, the South has so gotten over Tara. The South is the Doobie Brothers at Merle Fest in North Wilkesboro last weekend. The South is Beer Fest in Raleigh last month, a hundred artisanal microbrews. And the South is the Piedmont Land Conservancy preserving the Mitchell River watershed, or the grand opening on May 21 of the restoration of historic Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head, home of the newest NC Aquarium.

You can say that Southern writing celebrates connection to place, but I’d put the emphasis on the first word in the phrase. Connection. And that’s what I get when I read the poems of Richard Allen Taylor. Connection to a moment — as if the lines I’m reading have just popped into his head and I’m party to the tangled warp of consciousness poised to say, “Ah ha!” Connection to people, not only all manner of ex-lovers but also that tall waitress with the dark hair, and then the rest of the just slightly off-center characters he seems to encounter everywhere he goes. OK, OK, and connection to place, too, especially his hometown of Charlotte: the notorious ice storms, stuck in traffic on the beltway, deep into re-write with his writer’s group. And as the reader, I discover after each poem that I feel more and more connected with Richard. Even when he’s writing about the murkiest wanderings of the heart, and certainly with every tart turn of phrase and crisp newly minted image, he just can’t help but be his quirky crack-me-up self. (Hmmm . . . maybe that’s a distinctive of Southern writing, too.)

So there’s a lot more to geography than getting from here to there or droppin’ in to set a spell. The connections within these poems are personal, revealing; they invite me into the poem and into a relationaship with the poet. He and I, lets take us a rollicking road trip together, through the geography of the heart.

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Geography of the Heart

She was never happy in Charleston, though I loved
the sultry nights there, silken breezes from the harbor

where the Cooper joins the Ashley and dark ships
plod like old mules past Patriot’s Point,

plow into the fog beyond Fort Sumter,
stern lights fading to nothingness.

She grew bored with the moist softness of the South,
mountains low, lowlands tame. She took me

to her desert, a crackling skillet — wildfires,
burnt sagebrush, soot-blackened ponderosa.

On the way to Tahoe she showed me poles by the road
over Mt. Rose, put there to measure the snow

and guide the plows away from the edge. The Sierras,
in a hurry to fall down, tossed boulders like dice

across the brown valleys. She loved living
where desert and mountain can kill. Nevada — her dream,

not mine. She kissed me goodbye in Reno,
completing my degree in geography of the heart.

Richard Allen Taylor, from Punching Through the Egg of Space, Main Street Rag Publishing, 2010

Richard Allen Taylor, sample poems

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