Posts Tagged ‘Scott Owens’

[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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I lived in five different states while I was growing up: different schools, different friends and Scout troops, even different accents when I talked, but there was at least one constant.  No matter how far the drive, we spent one week every summer at Granddaddy and Grandmother’s house in Hamlet, N.C.  Granddaddy was my namesake – Grandmother always called him by our first name,  Eugene – but the men he worked with on the Seaboard Airline Railroad for over fifty years knew him only as Pee Wee.

I believed Granddaddy completely when he told me the reason he was bald was that all his hair had burned off shoveling coal into the fierce throat of those monstrous steam locomotives.  He worked his way from fireman to engineer and ultimately flew massive diesels from Raleigh to Columbia SC, a leg of the Orange Blossom Special and the Silver Star.  We would go downtown to the Hamlet station to see him off, maybe eat ham and grits and biscuits in the Purity Café at 5 a.m. In those days Hamlet was the hub of passenger and freight lines – you could actually call it “downtown.”  Dad and Bob and I would wait along the tracks to wave goodbye while the porters helped people aboard.  I’d always jump about five feet whenever the air brakes released.  Never got used to it.  Then Granddaddy would nudge the throttles, and the diesel growl would rise from basso to baritone.  The brakeman would make one last inspection, jump up and grab a handrail, each car would clang in succession as the couplings took up the slack, and the line would begin to move.

When I turned thirteen Granddaddy figured I was finally man enough to ride with him in the engine.  Seventy miles an hour through the Carolina night, headlight flaring down the rails and gyrating light sweeping alongside to catch a deer as it leapt across, side door open while summer rushed past, I couldn’t even talk it was that intoxicating.  Did I get to sound the horn?  I can’t remember, but I do know Granddaddy let me pee out the side door when there were no crossings ahead.  That was 1966, the year before Granddaddy retired. I’m not sure my little brother ever got to make the trip.

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My Dad (Eugene Wilson Jr.) still goes back to Hamlet for Seaboard Festival every October.  The one year I joined him I bought the Seaboard belt buckle I’m wearing as I write this.  My old HO set is in boxes in the basement.  It’s been years since I last danced along the ties to follow the tracks below our house out to the edge of town.  But every once in a while I take Saul downtown in Elkin when the switcher is swapping out big hopper cars of wood chips for ABT or Weyerhaueser, of corn for Wayne Farms or Perdue.  We listen to the throaty rumble as the big diesels wind up, we hear the whine of the wheels as they lean into a curve and the clunk as they cross the points.  The engineer fires us a short blast of horn when we wave.  Man, there’s just nothing like a train.

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This poem by Scott Owens closes his book, Country Roads: Travels Through Rural North Carolina.  It’s a collaboration with photographer Clayton Joe Young; every poem, every image evokes memories in danger of fading.  As Scott writes in Reading the Weather: These are the simple truths.  Not nostalgia, not a maudlin attempt to memorialize something that never was, this book just shows us who we are and how we got here.  If you’re lucky Scott has still got a few of these books.  Call him today and buy one.

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Every child should have one, a pair, really,
a matched set, set apart just the right width
so that one foot pressed against each one
leaves you stretched out about as far
as you can go, unable to move, feeling
almost trapped, almost actually in danger.

And every child should walk them as if
that’s what they were intended for,
leading out of town, around the curve,
along the river, revealing the backsides
of people’s homes, clotheslines and refuse,
the yards you weren’t supposed to see.

And every child should learn to balance
atop the railhead without the constant
unsightly tipping from side to side,
should be able to step exactly the distance
between the ties consistently, almost
marching without kicking up ballast.

And every child should have a bridge
they go under to hide and look
at dirty magazines and smoke cigarettes
and place coins on the rails to flatten
and see if this could be the one
to cause the train to leap the tracks.

And every child should know the lonely
distant sound of late night travel
when bad dreams have kept them awake
wondering where they come from, what
they bring or take, and where when it’s all
done they might return and call home.

© 2011 by Scott Owens, from Country Roads: Travels Through Rural North CarolinaA Collaboration Between Photographer Clayton Joe Young & Poet Scott Owens

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Scott Owens has undoubtedly written another poem in the time it took you to read this.  Or else he has taught another workshop, planned another poetry event, posted another online journal.  Does he ever sleep?  If he does, I am certain that he dreams in verse.  Scott’s poetry covers faith and agnosticism, abuse and parenting, alienation and existentialism, loneliness and collaboration, entrapment and liberation, personal relationships and self-sufficiency, the disappearance of a rural American South characterized as both pastoral and violent, and the possibilities of redemption as his characters attempt to make sense of an often seemingly senseless world.  Check out his blog, read the journal he edits, buy his books . . . tell him Bill says “Hi.”

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Dad on tracks



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