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Posts Tagged ‘seasonal imagery’

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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[poems: Charles Causley, A. R. Ammons, Psalm 118
Su Tung-P’o, Jack Gilbert, R. S. Thomas]

In Celebration:

Day and night meet as equals, vow their green promise, the brown and blasted fields blossom.

Evil thoughts, evil words, evil actions, from all these we refrain and the earth is blessed.

Colors of my hand, your face, are only the colors of our friendships renewed and restored.

Release from bondage, a night like no others, let me tell you what it means to be set free.

The single step that begins the journey of awareness is behind you and before you.

The upper room, the garden, the cross, down this path the stone has been rolled away.

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In 2021:

Vernal Equinox and the beginning of Spring is March 20 at 09:37 GMT.

Ramadan is April 12 through May 11, Eid al-Fitr May 12.

Holi (Festival of Colors) is March 28 through 29.

Passover is the evening of March 27 to evening of April 4, first Seder March 27.

Vestak (Buddha Day) is May 26.

Lent is February 17 through April 1, Easter April 4.

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In Joy:

Charles Causley – At Kfar Kana
A. R. Ammons – The City Limits
Psalm 118 – selected verses
Su Tung-P’o – With Mao and Fang, Visiting Bright Insight Monastery
Jack Gilbert – Horses at Midnight without a Moon
R. S. Thomas – In a Country Church

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At Kfar Kana

The bus halts its long brawl
with rock and tar and sun.
The pilgrims trudge to where
the miracle was done:
each altar the exact
authenticated site
of a far, famous act
which if performed at all
may well have been not here.

I turn away and walk
and watch the pale sun slide,
the furry shadows bloom
along the hills rough hide.
Beneath a leafy span
in fast and falling light
Arabs take coffee, scan
the traveller, smoke, talk
as in a dim, blue room.

The distant lake is flame.
Beside the fig’s green bell
I lean on a parched bay
where steps lead to a well.
Two children smile, come up
with water, sharp and bright,
drawn in a paper cup.
‘This place, what is its name?’
‘Kfar Kana,’ they say,

Gravely resuming free
pure rituals of play
as pilgrims from each shrine
come down the dusty way
with ocean-coloured glass,
embroidered cloths, nun-white,
and sunless bits of brass –
where children changed for me
well-water into wine.

Charles Causley (1917-2003)

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The City Limits

When you consider the radiance, that it does not
+++ withhold itself
but pours its abundance without selection into
+++ every nook
and cranny not overhung or hidden;
+++ when you consider

that birds’ bones make no awful noise
+++ against the light
but lie low in the light as in a high testimony;
+++ when you consider
the radiance, that it will look into the guiltiest

swervings of the weaving heart and bear
+++ itself upon them,
not flinching into disguise or darkening;
+++ when you consider
the abundance of such resource as illuminates
+++ the glow-blue

bodies and gold-skeined wings of flies
+++ swarming the dumped
guts of a natural slaughter or the coil of shit
+++ and in no way
winces from its storms of generosity;
+++ when you consider

that air or vacuum, snow or shale, squid or wolf,
+++ rose or lichen,
each is accepted into as much light as it will take,
+++ then the heart
moves roomier, the man stand and looks
+++ about, the

leaf does not increase itself above the grass,
+++ and the dark
work of the deepest cells is of a tune
+++ with May bushes
and fear lit by the breadth of such calmly
+++ turns to praise.

A. R. Ammons (1926-2001)

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Psalm 118

You pressed me hard,
++ I nearly fell;
++ but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and song;
++ He has become my deliverance.
The tents of the righteous resound with joyous shouts
++ of deliverance,
++ “The right hand of the Lord is triumphant!
The right hand of the Lord is exalted!
The right hand of the Lord is triumphant!”

I shall not die but live
++ and proclaim the works of the Lord.
The Lord punished me severely,
++ but did not hand me over to death.

Open the gates of righteousness for me
++ that I may enter them and praise the Lord.
This is the gateway to the Lord –
++ the righteous shall enter through it.

I praise You, for You have answered me,
++ and have become my deliverance.
The stone that the builders rejected
++ has become the chief cornerstone.

This is the Lord’s doing;
++ it is marvelous in our sight.
This is the day that the Lord has made –
++ let us exult and rejoice in it.

from the Egyptian Hallel —  Psalm 118:13-24

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With Mao and Fang, Visiting Bright Insight Monastery

It’s enough on this twisting mountain road
++ to simply stop.
Clear water cascades thin down rock, startling
++ admiration,

white cloud swells of itself across ridgelines
++ east and west,
and who knows if the lake’s bright moon is above
++ or below?

It’s the season black and yellow millet both begin
++ to ripen,
oranges red and green, halfway into such lovely
++ sweetness.

All this joy in our lives – what is it but heaven’s
++ great gift?
Why confuse the children with all our fine
++ explanations?

Su Tung-P’o (1037-1101), translated from the Chinese by David Hinton

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Horses at Midnight without a Moon

Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
The summer mornings begin inch by inch
while we sleep, and walk with us later
as long-legged beauty through
the dirty streets. It is no surprise
that danger and suffering surround us.
What astonishes is the singing.
We know the horses are there in the dark
meadow because we can smell them,
can hear them breathing.
Our spirit persists like a man struggling
through the frozen valley
who suddenly smells flowers
and realizes the snow is melting
out of sight on top of the mountain,
knows that spring has begun.

Jack Gilbert (1925-2012)

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In a Country Church

To one kneeling down no word came,
Only the wind’s song, saddening to the lips
Of the grave saints, rigid in glass;
Or the dry whisper of unseen wings,
Bats not angels, in the high roof.

Was he balked by the silence? He kneeled long,
And saw love in a dark crown
Of thorns blazing, and a winter tree
Golden with fruit of a man’s body.

R. S. Thomas (1913-2000)

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At Kfar Kana; In a Country Church: collected in Tongues of Fire, An Anthology of Religious and Poetic Experience, Introduced and edited by Karen Armstrong, Viking Penguin Books, © 1985

The City Limits; With Mao and Fang, Visiting Bright Insight Monastery; Horses at Midnight without a Moon: collected in The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy edited by John Brehm, Wisdom Publications, © 2017

Psalm 118: The Jewish Study Bible, Jewish Publication Society, Oxford University Press, Second Edition © 2014; TANAKH translation © 1985,1999

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Patricia Hooper]

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, February 05-07, 2021

the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen . . .

Faint tracks – but when has life ever laid it out plain, an open book, page upon page with footnotes? Aren’t I still searching between the lines, faint traces, no clear prints? Lately I dream every night of making diagnoses, explaining treatments, buffing up my charts. Is Jung telling me that this was my only purpose in life and now it’s over?

Deer walk a diagonal gait – each hoof print is really two impressions, the forefoot overlaid with the rear. If the rear hoof strikes a little lateral within each fore print it means the pelvis is wider = you are following a female.

Don’t plan on seeing a bear in the Smokies in February. Mom is asleep in a hollow tree with her cubs and Dad is dozing under a bush somewhere (he snores), though he might rouse up to forage on a warm afternoon. So why are we studying mammals at Tremont in February? In the sere meadows, the leaf-littered groves, under the pale unforgiving sky the book of all their signs is open for us to read. Let’s hike up to that oak tree and see who’s been scratching for acorns, see who has left us some scat. Let’s follow that faint trail through dry brown stalks to check out predator and prey. Who clawed up this white pine? Who stepped in the mud?

Canids: dog paw prints show deep claw marks with claws of outer toes angled outward; coyote claw marks are less distinct but all aligned strait ahead; gray fox claw marks are the least distinct since they save the claws for climbing trees, and the rear pad looks scalloped like a chevron.

But clear prints are maybe 1% of tracking. We’re learning a new vocabulary of chewed nut and compressed grass. Tracking is patterns and connections, habitats and behaviors. Measure the size of the incisors that gnawed this antler. Measure the bits of skull and femur in this dropping.

And can I learn a new language? Maybe all these dreams are about knitting up the years, tying the last knot, laying it away to pull out when I need to reminisce. Or maybe I need to discover something missed. Life is not disjunctive – the end of every moment flows into the beginning of the next. The assurance of past creates future. Tracking in Cades Cove – a metaphor for opening oneself to an unseen message within, to the evidence of human purpose. Connections, convictions. We track a personal ecology that leaves signs for us to discover, to question, to wonder.

To follow.

Tracks have lead us to this place, maybe with a lesson or two that sunk in along the way. Some wisdom. And the tracks that still lead forward?

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Patricia Hooper’s bright clear poetry touches earth with a feather – to bring color and flight. Garden, feeder, wild crag, starry night, in all seasons she observes the particular and discovers its connection to the universal. Nature is her palette but human nature is the canvas she illuminates. The poems of her latest book, Wild Persistence, taken singly seem to open our eyes to brief moments or localities, but as a whole these poems weave a complex narrative of family, longing, grief, redemption. I find joy in her art.

Patricia moved to North Carolina in 2006 and lives in Gastonia. In 2020 she was awarded the Brockman-Campbell Award of the North Carolina Poetry Society for Wild Persistence, awarded for the year’s best book of poetry by a North Carolina author.

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Elegy for a Son-in-Law

1.

A distant figure on the mountainside
seems to be coming closer, then it turns,
a blue, retreating cap, a scarlet jacket.
Without another sign, I know you’re there,
climbing again the way you used to climb
before you were a ghost. I want to call
Don’t go! Come back! I have your two small sons
sleeping behind me in the car, their mother
watching the sky for falcons. But you move
farther away. Or we do. Now you’re gone,
back toward Mount Sterling where she took your ashes.
I hope it’s peaceful there. I hope you know
they’re doing well. I hope you didn’t see us.

2.
These are the mountains where you were a boy,
broad waves of mountains rolling like an ocean
into the distance, no horizon, only
these smoky contours where you knew each rise
and hemlock forest, plunging stream. Your friends
tell how you often left them for a while
after you’d reached the top, to be alone,
then met them at the camp, all tales and laughter.
Today, a red-tailed hawk riding the breeze,
gold leaves, cascading creeks, – your kind of joy:
cold rushing currents, then the ecstatic slide.

3.
This is the world you wanted: brisk fall air,
the valleys hung with haze, that long blue range
half-hidden by the clouds. It’s coming clear.
How far you must have seen from there! And here?
It’s hard to see around so many hills,
so many peaks and gorges, and the curves
are slippery on the parkway, miles of turns.
We’re heading home. The boys are waking now,
their mother’s passing crackers, pointing out
the overlook ahead: blue waterfall,
deep river valley, autumn leaves, the pines
along the ridge, the rising trail – and there,
the summit you’d have shown them. Mist and shine.

from Wild Persistence, Patricia Hooper, University of Tampa Press, 2019

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In Tennessee

The Blue Ridge at sunset – hardly a missed note
in the hemlocks where a mockingbird is singing
while to the west a falcon dips, then glides
over the valley, indistinct from here
except that the bird falls lower than the chair
I’m sitting in, and disappears. The sky
is the color of pomegranate, and the balcony
slips into shadow like the distant hills.
No wonder that the mockingbird is singing
a medley of every song he knows,
no matter whose. No wonder that he sits
in the glow of a single flood lamp high above
the roof, a pool he must mistake for sunlight,
enough to urge him on and on and through
his repertoire that bird by bird is ringing
over the day’s end, over the night’s coming.
Maybe he has to sing to know himself
as part of things – finch, cardinal, wren, and now
that long coarse call that sounded like the crow
or Steller’s jay – whatever voice he’s pulling
out of himself, some sound against the silence,
against the signs of brightness vanishing.
The railing of the porch dissolves in mist,
the sun has set, and now we’re weightless, drifting
as if suspended in the blackening air.
His sphere of light no longer seems as clear.
Maybe he knows the lamplight isn’t sunlight.
Maybe he feels he too is disappearing
into the darkness like this porch and chair.
he has to sing, he has to keep on singing,
to know he’s really there.

from Wild Persistence, Patricia Hooper, University of Tampa Press, 2019

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At the Rifle River

When the eagle unfurled, clearing
the green dome of the forest,
I almost missed it

till somebody cried, “Look up!”

and there it was
in the sky over the river

which I saw it must have owned
the way it spanned the rapids
with a single stroke,

and the sky parted.

I can’t say I believe
in messengers from the clouds,

but I didn’t believe
this was an accident either,

the way its light
tore through the drab morning
I barely lived in, and then

it rose over the steaming
forest, it disappeared.

*
At the time I was only watching
my own path by the river,

but afterward
I knew it must still be there
over the rim of maples

its white helmet, its fire,
and its gold eye turned toward me,

or something enough like it,
something powerful and amazing
which someone else sees.

Imagine my certainty
the moment before it rose
through the world, crossing the water,
that there was nothing anymore to surprise me.

Imagine my emptiness.

Imagine my surprise.

from Separate Flights, Patricia Hooper, University of Tampa Press, 2016

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GSMIT // SANCP

Special thanks to Jeremy Lloyd and John DiDiego directors and instructors at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, for the weekend Mammals course, which is part of the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program, and to Wanda DeWaard, guest instructor for the day and master tracker and naturalist.

The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program at GSMIT comprises eight weekend courses designed to provide fundamental and specialty skills in Southern Appalachian ecology and interpretive techniques. Each weekend includes 15 hours and more of lecture and hands-on field study. Upon completion the student receives the non-credit Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certificate from the University of Tennessee.

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[with 3 poems by Val Nieman]

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont – February 5-7, 2021

Winter on the mountain gavels its sentence, no appeal: wrestle the cold to keep it at bay; eat, feed the inner fire; light the darkness or fall and break. I pull my hood closer and hide myself. In the tent at night I bind my neck against cold fingers. I watch my feet.

The day is short. Nevertheless we fill it and discover it filling us. Small signs begin to reveal their stories – an incisored nut, scratches in the bark, one single hair. At first we hesitate, we thirteen who’ve journeyed here to explore, but in the light we gather as closely as prudence permits. Muddy track, scrabbled duff, compressed leaf, scat: where did Bear sleep? what did Coyote eat?

Winter on the mountain: what crouches here for us to notice?

The night is long. In this valley darkness is complete. The rush and growl of Middle Prong fill the cove as well as empty it. Are we alone? In the gap of sleep a brush and skitter, a brief chittered voice – I imagine dark eyes and gliding flight. The spirit is released from the prison of his tree. In the morning we will seek signs of his passing.

Winter on the mountain – I release myself to see, to question, to wonder.

 

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Valerie Nieman journeys landscapes of memory, family, heartache to reveal stories in the signs unearthed along the way. A path may seem clear but its meanings fissure and deepen into many layers. A bud, a leaf, a branch – are they simply of themselves wholly themselves? Look deeper: there are mysteries unfolding.

Val teaches creative writing at North Carolina A&T State University but she is preparing to retire this summer and replace syllabus revisions with fly selection for a day on the trout stream. Her poetry has appeared widely and has been published in numerous anthologies, including Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods and Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology. Her fifth novel, Backwater, will be published in 2021.

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Becoming Ariel
for Gerald Stern

Groundhog in a tree, behaving like a bird, like a squirrel,
nibbling tender green buds at branch end, high-wiring
above a bog. Any burrow dug here would be swamped,

front door to back stoop – how did he come to cross water
and ascend, diggers curved deep in the bark as a lineman’s spikes?
A crow would think twice about lighting on a branch so frail.

Soil-shoveling wedge of a face, a fat tail that never could balance
his loose bulk: this creature was not meant for such heights.
His round belly was destined to bloat in a ditch beside the road.

Still, he sways against the sky, close to the sun, Caliban
joyously drunk on spring sap drawn up from the mud
and darkness he was born to, tiny feet dancing and dancing.

from The Georgia Review, University of Georgia

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Captures

I sprayed for tiny ants
late last night, killing the spider
doing its best to corral them.

Between the sheets I struggled
hand to hand with old lovers
and other aliens

descending cosmic ladders
to pincer my heart,
boiling them in the ichor

my bare claws released
from their flesh.
But this morning,

I catch a humpback cricket
in the sink, cup it
between my hands

and toss it out
the back door
to take its chances.

This morning, I’m
mild as a painted virgin,
my hands empty of slaughter.

from Change 7

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Approach

Arms stretched wise,
right hand to the dawn,
left toward eventual night,
I face north.

As latitude rises,
life flattens:
forest to taiga,
to tundra, to permanent ice.

Everything will have
a name of cold:
polar bear, arctic fox,
glacier flea, snowy owl.

~ ~ ~

A compass is known to stray
from true north, lured
by the earth’s magnetic heart.
Now the needle swings

at the approach
of a frost spirit
from those barrens
I’ll have to cross

without advice,
without a companion,
or a harness of wolf-dogs,
or good boots.

from Hotel Worthy, Press 53, Winston-Salem, © 2015

Becoming ArielCapturesApproach  © Valerie Nieman

 

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The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont comprises eight weekend courses designed to provide fundamental and specialty skills in Southern Appalachian ecology and interpretive techniques. Each weekend includes 15 hours and more of lecture and hands-on field study. Upon completion the student receives the non-credit Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certificate from the University of Tennessee.

Ariel, the spirit in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, is released from his prison in the split pine by the magician Prospero.

 

 

 

 

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[with 4 poems by Ruth Moose]

I’m driving from Elkin up to Dobson, our county seat, smack in the center of Surry. About half way there, as Mountain Park Road peels off to the left, Poplar Springs Road completes its transformation to Zephyr Road. I love that – Zephyr Road. There are farms and rolling hills and plenty of zephyrs, though some of them are perfumed with a whiff of chicken house or skunk. Soon winter wheat will green the fields, then Spring will raise corn, soybeans, finally tobacco. Off to the south you can see vineyards pruned and expectant.

While the pastures are still winter brown, pay attention. Look, there’s one – close to that big oak in the middle of an empty field, a little patch of green. Come March you’ll spy the yellow nod of daffodils. Why out there of all places?

Those daffodil plots, slowly spreading, most likely once knelt at the front stoop of a farm cabin. A century ago, even longer? No sign of it from the road but if I walked around the oak I might scuff up a few squared off stones that were its foundation or that hoisted a step up to the porch. The daffodils remember. And maybe it was the same man and the woman who hoed the corn, milked the cow, every winter killed the hog, two together across the years who some quiet evenings found an hour to sit on that porch, maybe they’re the ones who named the wagon track below the field Zephyr Road. I love that.

 

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Ruth Moose’s poems reflect the North Carolina icon she is. She draws on generations of memory to weave her stories and sketch her vivid images of locality and personality. Her sly wit, cloaked but never hidden by gentility, brings out the quirky individuality of the denizens of her world, real and imagined. And she reveals the deep, deep heart of longing, loss and yearning, our fragile mortality.

These poems are from three of her collections spanning decades. Ruth has also published novels, many short stories including two collections, and has won many awards and fellowships. Charles Edward Eaton said of her: Few writers can handle both prose and poetry, but Ruth Moose does them equally well, and with this double grasp has become one of North Carolina’s best writers. Ruth taught creative writing at the University of North Carolina until her retirement and she continues to support the creative life our home state.

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Smith Grove

There is a heaven
for farmhouses.
Acres of them
lit by cloud hills
that plunge and wind
past creeks
where cows crowd on hot days.
A million windows watch
where farm wives waited,
minded those who came,
those who left,
counted the colors
of morning, evenings,
the sky at noon.
From back door stoops
they marked storm clouds,
summers rent with heat lightning,
saying both aloud and under
their tongues the chant
of superstitions, old tales,
familiar talk until the dark
dissolved.

In the museum
of porch swings and farm tools,
kitchen work is rusted,
thick with the oven of meals,
baked enamel, porcelain polished
like plates.

from Smith Grove, Sow’s Ear Press, Abingdon, Virginia, 1997
Illustrations are by Ruth’s husband the late Talmadge Moose, widely published and displayed artist and illustrator; read more at Life As He Saw It in Our State Magazine, April, 2011, by Ruth Moose.

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Making the Bed

No matter how well
or worse the sleep
someone must take
the four cornered world
and set it straight.
Two can do it better,
take turns with edges,
coverlet, shams,
blanket and bolster,
wait in turn.

You can do it in the dark,
by feel, familiarity,
plumping feathers or foam.
You know your own scent,
shallow spots your knees
seek, the place you
fall into, dark and faraway,
taking you back or forward
like a train, all scenes
lighted cars you can look into,
out again. You hear the engine
that goes nowhere, the solitary
shriek as daybreak unrolls,
all wrappings out like flowers.

We go on with our lives.

from Making the Bed, Pure Heart Press / Main Street Rag Publishing, 1995

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Almost a Pantoum on Being

A script is not needed; our place is already there.
We come into the world naked, unafraid.
Helpless we learn as we go, if somebody cares.
From water we swim, kicking into blue air.

We come into the world naked, unafraid.
The spell is everywhere, something the soul knows.
From water we swim, kicking into blue air.
Alive as the earth is alive and newly green.

The spell is everywhere, something the soul knows.
No angels hover over us, sit on our shoulders.
We are alive as the earth is alive and newly green.
Taking the flight one wing at a time.

No angels hover over us, sit on our shoulders.
Celebration waits in the arms of others.
We learn the dance one step at a time.
Moving to tunes heard in our heads.
No script is needed. Our place is already there.

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How I Think It Will Be

My mother never talked about that winter
she had a husband in the VA hospital
not knowing how or if or when
he’d recover, three children sick
with the big red measles and twelve
inches of show on the ground
for over a week. She mentioned
it once, that’s all I remember
and the sound of her sewing
machine late, late into the night.
What did she sew? Her sanity?
Her soul? I only know I woke
suddenly, had gone from hot to cool,
my fever broken, my pillow wet.
I felt her hand on my forehead,
her touch, her voice as I left
that darkness and came into light.

I imagine it will be as she said then,
“Oh, here you are.”

both selections from The Librarian and Other Poems, Main Street Rag Publishing 2009
dedicated to HWLWG – HE WHO LEFT WITHOUT GOODBYE

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Chatham Arts Council bio of Ruth Moose
Poetry Foundation listing

 

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Forest Bathing Trail, Grassy Creek off Mountains-to-Sea Trail

[with poems by Lucinda Trew and Jane Craven]

Last week I took a walk in the woods with my oldest friend Bill (distanced by 2-meter dog leash). We were forest bathing (shinrin yoku): phones off, listening to Grassy Creek accompany our rustic trail, smelling leafmold, fungus, pines, going nowhere and getting there; reflecting on the moment, simmering in our conjoined past which stretches all the way back to our grandfathers who worked together on the same railroad 60 years ago.

Every trail, though, has a way of turning. Almost back to our cars, Bill happened to ask, “What are you going to do with your stuff before you die?” Us old guys, especially old poets, think about dying. Good story fodder. Let me tell you the one about . . . . Just not usually as concrete as what will become of our earthly matter when no one wants it any more.

Stoff: German, translates as substance. Two synonyms for Oxygen are Sauerstoff and Atemluft, the first meaning acid substance (early chemists’ misconception that all acids must contain oxygen) and the second meaning air for breathing. We humans can live about 3 minutes without oxygen before our brains lose neurons and our substance begins to degrade, but oxygen is pure poison to many microorganisms and tricky to deal with even for our own mammal cells (or why else would anti-oxidants be such a big deal?).

Stuff is pretty frangible. Are the moment’s mental occupations or the day’s consuming concerns any more tangible? Bill shared with me a photo of his granddad Enoch Blackley in his engineer’s gear from the 30’s, outline of pocket watch visible through the denim of his overalls. I have one very similar of my granddaddy Peewee Griffin. The bit of stuff comprising those old prints, grains of silver on paper, is mere milligrams of matter; the cubic volume of memory those images reveal is larger than many lives.

My Stoff – carbon, nitrogen, phosporus – will feed the trees. May I leave behind the tempo of my walk, the sound of laughter, honest tears of compassion, a couple of good poems. Maybe that’ll do.

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These two poems are from Kakalak 2020, the annual anthology of Carolina poets, by writers whom I don’t know and hadn’t read before. Lucinda Trew’s Of Stars fills me with wonder, all the universe in a crow-eye seed, somewhere within the secrets of universe wanting to be spilled out. Jane Craven’s Speaking of the World does just that, the image of a small flower expanding to hold the pain and contradictions of the most intimate relationships.

Metaphor is the tool that communicates the mysteries which swirl around us and within us, the inexplicable spark of our synapses, the spin of our electrons. Some things can’t be spoken, only sung.

Forest Bathing Trail, Grassy Creek off Mountains-to-Sea Trail

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Of Stars
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe. – Carl Sagan

The conjuring orchard man
holds hemispheres in sturdy hands
cupping chaos and creation
presenting apple halves
for inspection
and the revelation

of stars
a crop circle enigma etched
within sweet flesh
five symmetrical rays cradling
crow-eye seeds
small enough to spit
vast enough to hold eternity –
the very dust and stuff

of stars
carbon, nitrogen, oxygen
phosphorus – the breath and wingbeat
of birds who rise from reeds and nest

the rush and thrum
of boys who scrabble up bark, swagger
wave applewood swords

the sway and silhouette
of branches, girls dancing
longing for the moon

of pulse and surge
of cities, song, engines
prayer

the earthen realm
of roots and worm, turnips
and bones

the axial turn
of tides and shells
molecular chains

and of apples
twisted exquisitely, evenly
in half
spilling stars
and seeds and secrets
of the universe

Lucinda Trew, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Forest Bathing Trail, Grassy Creek off Mountains-to-Sea Trail

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Speaking of the World

Pinprick faces open in a violet fever behind my house – swathes
of mazus flowering downhill. A cultivar

from the Himalayas, it’s bred to survive scarcity and climate extremes.

In your world, the doctors have gone, left your body

a prescribed burn, lightly
elevated in a rented hospital bed, handfuls of pills labeled for days.

The trees, to a one, freeze beneath a milky lichen – and you who sleep

year round with open windows are speaking of the world –
of the last deer you saw weaving through balsam, of the bear

who bent double the birdfeeder, wild turkeys and their long-
neck chicks, a lone slavering coyote crossing the yard.

Grief, you say
three times,
each a dry leaf
papering
from your lips.

I left you in the boreal world, rushed back to my own life.
And I admit this with unnatural ease, like there’s no shame

in turning toward the sun, in enduring.

Jane Craven, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Lucinda Trew: http://trewwords.com/about/
Jane Craven: https://www.janecraven.com/bio

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2020-11-03b Doughton Park Tree

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[with poems by Joan Barasovska and Kathy Ackerman]

Everything or nothing. The radio is off. The screen is frozen. The refrigerator snores. The clock won’t tick any faster, any slower. In an hour we leave for Raleigh to see our grandson (backyard, distanced, masked) but right now nothing is happening

I’m no good at nothing. If I wake in the dark my brain whirls venom trying to bite its tail. Where is dawn’s blessed peace? If I take deep breaths, watch the feeder, daily agendas begin to scroll down the back of my cornea. How many seconds after emptying myself before I fill back up with everything?

We are entering the season of nothing. The azalea may feint a few off-season blossoms but will we ever bloom again? We are in the season of waiting. Where is the so fragrant earth we lost so long ago? Where is the muscle and spunk of summer that convinced us we might carry through? The season of turning. What justice like waters, what righteousness like an ever-flowing stream? When? How do these shortened days stretch so long?

In the woods, something is happening. Orchids are making sugar. How have I missed that? One species will bloom in May, the second in August, but their leaves are now. Their delicate little tenacious tough-ass corms swell all winter waiting to rocket up a spike of summer flowers into a leafed-out overshaded world.

Something is always happening. Something is deeper than those scrolling agendas. Something in the world and something behind my optic chiasm in deep matter. Something that maybe wants me to be still and notice. Something to hope for, to wait for, to go forth and meet.

There is no nothing. It’s all everything.

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These two poems are from Kakalak 2020, the annual anthology of Carolina poets. It is an eclectic volume – conversational, confessional, contemplative. Not as many COVID poems as I expected but wait until 2021.

The poems by Joan Barasovska and Kathy Ackerman speak to me of the winding thread that connects our past to our present. Knots and tangles, yes, but also a lashing to secure us in the lashing storm. The something that is happening every day is us becoming human.

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Cranefly Orchid, Tipularia discolor

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Her Breath

Mike and I exchange a glance
over her cooling body.
Our eyes are dry.
Elsie wears a faded housedress
with a pattern of flowers.
Thirty minutes ago
an aide crossed
her swollen hands.

All morning we sat waiting
while Death rattled her.
She died in the afternoon
while we were out walking.
Our mother took a slow
rollercoaster ride to this day,
dragging us with her on
every shivery dip and climb.

Back from the dead,
Mike said when she woke
from a coma, angry to find herself
in a clean hospice room.
She raged until he put her back home.
Frail, sick, ninety-three, hanging on
ten hears after Dad’s death.
She scolded me yesterday.
I was late for lunch.
I had forgotten to pick up her mail.

Their old bed had been replaced
by a narrow hospital bed
rolled in the hospice workers
while she fumed in the living room
and I boiled water for tea.
Now her jaw is slack,
her last silent treatment.
Above her head hangs
a sad-eyed portrait of me at nine,
painted in blues and grays.

Mike and I are limp with relief.
the secret of Elsie’s anger died with her,
but it was probably sadness.
We are second-generation Americans,
inheritors of the sadness seed.

This mother
lying flat between us
birthed me sixty years ago.
With her last breath,
She’s in a better place
and so am I.

Joan Barasovsaka, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Adam-and-Eve Orchid, “Puttyroot,” Aplectrum hyemale

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Misnomer
for Goliath, my father

i.
This story begins when I believed every word my daddy said.
Honeysuckle, he called them, tending the cuttings
that go all the way back to Rock Creek 50 years,
Aunt Gracie’s yard in the hills where I never lived.

Honeysuckle was all I had to root me to that ancient soil,
so every home I bought I planted some
from Daddy’s supply, rooted in plain clear water.
I wondered why it had no scent, was not a vine,
was pink, for crying out loud.

Now shopping for plants for house #5,
I see the truth in 5-gallon pots before me:
Weigela.

I imagine old Aunt Gracie shooing my father away
from her quilting or canning or sitting alone.
Go cut back that honeysuckle
before it swallows up the outhouse.

Later, seeing his mistake, she didn’t correct him –
a name is just a name –
Grace just glared at tiny Goliath
so proud of his mound of pink and green
already wilting

while the roof of the outhouse
still plushed with yellow sweetness
he’d confuse for 80 years
with a plant that belongs
to the same family, after all,
but so much harder to say.

ii.
Start me some honeysuckle, Daddy, I blurt out
in one of awkward lulls.
I want to imagine his hands on the branch,
the snip of sprigs of coal country
where Gracie’s old feist
barked me all the way to the outhouse and back
when I was too small to know
how hard it is
to keep what lives alive.

Kathy Ackerman, Kakalak 2020, Main Street Rag Publishing Company

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Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.
Amos 5:24

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2019-02-09 Doughton Park Tree

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[with two poems by Malaika King Albrecht]

The lesson you need is the one you weren’t looking for.

The lesson you keep is the one you didn’t want.

Our final exercise is to sit. Not in the open air pavilion where we’ve weathered hours of presentations and discussion. And not by any means moving along the trails we’ve hiked for hours encountering a new species every minute. Now at the close of our weekend naturalist course on plants of the Smokies we are instructed to stop, settle, sit. We are to find a green thing we don’t know or one we’ve have ignored and sit for half an hour. Pay attention. Become intimate.

I choose to sketch a bryophyte not much bigger than my thumb. Perhaps I’ll never know its true name – starmoss? sphagnum? – but we could become friends. I won’t even give it a name. Be satisfied sometimes simply to explore, to know first with all my senses, that is what I’m learning. Where does it like to lie and spread? Whom does it choose for neighbors? How does it make its living? Naming can come later.

Moss with Doghobble leaf

Look at us all, scattered like toadstools across this mountain glade quietly noticing. For now the birds and insects get to make all the noise. Eventually our quiet must end and we gather one last time for closing and summarizing and making sense. Now Tonya has a surprise. A worm snake, while she sat, has burrowed, well, wormed into her open sandals and curled around her toe. She untangles it and cradles it for us all to see while it tries to bite her with its mere slit of a mouth, better suited for eating slugs. If we were quiet, if we paid attention, if we sat long enough would we be reclaimed by moss and crawling things and become a haven for all that is small and necessary?

We eat our lunch along the trail, we travel back to Tremont, we pack our cars. At the parking lot I congratulate Tonya upon completing her final course and receiving her Naturalist Certification. I tell her, I’m still only half way through.

Tonya turns to me. She sets down her pack. She is solid, present, her eyes deep and full as a hardwood cove. Help the new ones, she pleads. Share what you know.

And during the five hour drive back to my foothills what image recurs? Not family characteristics that differentiate Brassicaceae, Lamiaceae, Asteraceae; not frond morphology and sorus distribution. No, the image I can’t escape is of the two first-timers in our course turning a leaf over and over in their hands, turning the leaves of a guidebook, excited, figuring things out. And of me a pace or two removed, watching them, adding nothing.

Sometimes I think I have the perfect temperament and skill set to be a moss-covered log slowly digested by fungal mycelia. Ah, the long and placid observations I would make. But that’s not the lesson I need or the lesson I will keep. Instead, this: don’t imagine you know so much. But know that what you do know has value when you share it. Know that its only value is in the sharing. You have joined the circle of seekers. Now open the circle wide.

Rudbeckia lacianata; Cutleaf Coneflower; Asteraceae

Rudbeckia lacianata

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A week ago I shared here two poems by Malaika King Albrecht from her most recent book. I’m not finished with her. Something about this collection of poetry has become very necessary for me as I continue to pile and compile the lessons from my most recent course in the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. The quantity of information itself is just shy of infinite. I’m working through a book titled, Botany in a Day, which would more realistically be In a Couple of Years. Just the new vocabulary reminds me of starting Med school (that was 1974 – what am I doing here?!) or maybe of being smacked with a breaker at Fort Macon beach.

But being overwhelmed with information is the trees, it is not the forest. That is why I need poetry. I will study the taxonomy but poetry will teach me the connections. I will feel like I can never know enough but poetry will teach me to live with and love the mystery. I will work on what to know but poetry will teach me how to know.

Malaika’s collection is just the solace and challenge and promise needed. Her poems can be grounded in the senses but spiral into the imagined and unimagined. I would say her poems make connections but even more they open me to make connections. It can be the difference between burying myself in the Field Guides and opening myself to the field.

Thanks again, Malaika!

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Following the Wind

Everything leaves a mark:
dull grass in the morning where the raccoon
ambled away full of cat food,
antler scratches along the willow oak,
and tracks and scat everywhere.

I know what stirs in this forest:
Deer nosing the horse path,
red fox slitting the tall switch grass,
rabbit bounding, freezing, and hopping again.

At the edge of Loftin Woods, I fall
for the wind, the way it parts the grass,
makes branches speak
and vultures glide their shallow V’s.

If sky holds our dreams,
then earth, our memories,
and wind, only the now
of this moment calling,
calling from everywhere.

Elephantopus carolinianus; Elephant Foot; Asteraceae

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Praise Song for What Is

Praise the frozen rain, the icicles daggering
the trees, the gray snow sludge. Praise
the shiver, the wet wind cutting through clothes,
the frozen water troughs. Blessed be
the hard frost, the frozen pond,
the apple sapling snapped in half.

Praise autumn and spring, the hot then cold
then hot again. Praise the corn mazes,
the haystacks, the reaping what we’ve sown.
Blessed be the fig tree, the honeycomb, the hive.
Praise the kudzu, the poison ivy,
the forsythia shouting yellow at a fence.

Praise the mosquito, the itch,
the scratch. Praise the heat waves,
the asphalt, the stopped
highway traffic. Blessed be
the dusty, the wilted, the dry
husks of corn in summer drought.

Praise the possum lumbering
into the chicken coop,
the fox slinging the wood’s edge.
The owl, the hawk, blessed be
their swift descent to prey.
Praise the failures, the losses. Blessed be
the broken path that brought me here.

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From The Stumble Fields, Malaika King Albrecht. Main Street Rag Publishing Company, Charlotte, North Carolina. © 2020.

Botany in a Day, The Patterns Method of Plan Identification; Thomas J. Elpel; HOPS Press, LLC; © 2018; An Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families of North America

Wildflowers of Tennessee the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians; Dennis Horn and Tavia Hathcart; Partners Publishing © 2018; The Official Field Guide of the Tennessee Native Plant Society

 

 

 

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I don’t know anything.  I’ve got a lot of people fooled into thinking I do, but no, I don’t know anything.

Sometimes Linda accuses me of thinking I know everything.  Well, OK, maybe I do tend to blurt out answers.  I hope I’m not as obnoxious as Bill Murray watching Jeopardy in Groundhog Day, but I do suffer from a mild case of expository blatheromania.  “What is a stereoisomer?”  “How about a four letter word for ‘wing-like’?”  Linda won’t let me within fifteen feet of her when she’s working a crossword. But all this fact stuff is just trivial.  I has nothing to do with knowing.  I say things out loud to test myself, to see if I finally do know anything.

Nope, still don’t.

All of which is making me very nervous about being the featured reader (along with Debra Kaufman) at Walking into April this Saturday. [April 14, Barton College, 9:00 a.m., Sam and Marjorie Ragan Writing Center – be there and place your bets as to whether I know anything.] It’s not the reading part.  I love to read and recite – my poetry, classic poems, a Sam Ragan or two – I’m a big ham.  No, it’s the little entry on the day’s schedule at 11:00 that says “Roundtable Discussion with Griffin and Kaufman, who will present their tips on writing and reading poetry.”

Right now the anything I don’t know the most about is poetry.  As in a total mistrust of whatever I possess that passes for taste, opinion, judgement, skill.  I worry that at the very moment I begin to like a certain poem that proves that it’s inferior.  “Man, you don’t know anything about GOOD poetry.”  And those poems that appear to me as if they were compiled by a random phrase generator?  “What is the matter with you, man?  Where’s your head?”  Maybe it’s just lack of self-confidence.  Maybe it would help to beg an audience with the Wizard of Oz, who would tell me, “Nonsense, lad!  You imagine you have no poetic soul, but all you need is this . . . [fill in the blank:  MFA; Fellowship; Pushcart; One thousandth ‘like’ on WordPress].”

There’s only one cure.  Read some more poems.  Let myself get caught up in images that seem to float effortlessly from line to line like dragonflies laying eggs on the mirror of a pond.  Words never before juxtaposed that now seem as if they were meant to be married since the genesis of language.  A narrative so exotic and at once so universal that I suddenly realize it’s my own story this strophe has captured.

Maybe I’ll discover I don’t need to know anything.

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Now Debra Kaufman knows something.  I have sat in her presence.  As she shares, the lines wind and flow like silk ribbon that seems so casual but soon binds you with no escape.  Her poems may hint at a personal history at the same time they are invoking an entirely new and fantastic landscape.  I walk into that landscape, look around, and find myself at home.

I am counting on you, Debra.  Knowing you’ll be there on Saturday, I will stand up straight, put off all this sidling nonsense, and walk upright into April.

.     .     .     .     .

Autumnal Equinox

Sugar maples blaze at sunset;
leaves swoop and skirt
the chilling wind like chimney swifts.

A boy leaps into leaves,
calls to a neighbor’s Irish red,
as light falls, a cat’s white shadow,

on his grandmother’s lap.
Her hands rest there,
her grandmother’s hands,

the same boniness of wrist and knuckle,
dry fingers nearly flammable in the smoky air.
She smells ripe pears

and feels her body drawn
toward the darkness that rolls in
earlier each day.

Heat and light retreat,
and evening covers everything
except the boy, whose hair shines

silky silver light
as he tosses armfuls of color
upward, like sparks.

from The Next Moment (Jacar Press)

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Debra Kaufman is a North Carolina poet, playwright, and educator.  The Next Moment is her most recent poetry collection.  Her short and full-length plays have been performed throughout North Carolina and elsewhere. Debra is the recipient of a North Carolina Arts Council playwriting scholarship and of a grant from the Central Piedmont Regional Artists Hub Program.

Sample her work at:

Debra Kaufman homepage

Kathryn Stripling Byer — Here Where I Am (blog)

Scott Owen’s Musings

Moon-Mirror-Whiskey-Wind

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“As needed?”

When I left the hospital last Saturday night a fat Vidalia moon was just peering through the trees that circle the campus.  There were two cars and a pickup in the visitors’ lot.  Lined up on the front bumper of a dented black Civic were three of those deer blasters, chrome-plastic gizmos four inches long that look like little jet engines.  When you’re driving sixty they’re supposed to emit an ultrasonic whistle that spooks the deer so they don’t jump in front of your car.  Gives you an idea of the kind of traffic concerns we contend with out here in Surry County.

As I crossed to the lower lot (there was only one car at the far end – mine) I glimpsed movement.  I stopped and turned.  A grey fox trotted across the pavement.  Ignoring me.  It sauntered into the bushes at the perimeter of the landscaping and never made a sound or quickened its step.  Time to spring forward.

The big trees are still bare but this week the cherries blossomed.  Canada geese in the hospital pond have paired off.  Sunday morning I saw a pair of hooded mergansers and a wood duck eyeing each other near the nesting boxes I donated a couple of years ago.  How long until fuzzy chicks leap unafraid from the nesting cavity and plop into the water like tennis balls?  Everything is precisely as it should be.

What is needed?

Some day soon – five years?  ten? – I’ll make evening rounds for the last time.  There are plenty of things I’ll miss.  The Monday mornings after a long weekend on call.  Clowning around with the nurses – walk the halls with a big mug that says “DUKE” if you want to start a civil war.  My partners: sitting down to puzzle out a confusing patient; cracking each other up with the deadly black humor that makes you shut the door of the conference room.  And of course my patients.  Figuring out what they need and being right a lot of the time.  Figuring out who they are.  Figuring out who we are together.

And I wouldn’t even mention that there are plenty of things I won’t miss, except that they fall into the category of things-that-piss-me-off and are mostly the same for everyone who has survived into the twenty-first century: mindless productivity-sapping bureaucracy; people that manipulate and take advantage of you; being unappreciated, or underappreciated.

But there’s one more thing I really won’t miss.  Although it makes me irritable (ask Brenda and Carolyn at the office), it isn’t having to think about ten things at once – adrenalin just primes the pump, after all. It isn’t even the 3 a.m. calls from worried mothers – hell, that’s what I signed on for.  And it isn’t fear, although there have been plenty of crisis situations when I’ve been scared, and I don’t like that.  That thing I will be most glad to put behind me is something I might name “malignant uncertainty.”  I don’t know what comes next, I’m not sure what to do, but if I don’t make a decision in the next thirty seconds something real bad is going to happen.  Close corollary – I’ve given the order, the die is cast, and now I will sit and watch the outcome for minutes, hours.  Will this baby’s breathing slow to normal?  Will this old woman’s blood pressure come back up?  Will somebody hold my hand?

What do I need?

Besides another weekend off?  A couple of hours to write these lines?  An insight bright enough to make sense of it all?  A moon that pours through the branches while the fox and I pause to listen to spring peepers?

Will I figure it out before I’ve missed it?

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Painted Trillium

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The Geriatrician Ages

They don’t fly up at him, all these names,
n
o confusion of pigeons’ wings
in the parking lot; they don’t lock arms
            to block him entering
the next exam room;
maybe they awaken him near dawn
but not by shaking. More like
            the powdery flutter
of a moth disturbed in daylight,
the mute gray snowfall
of ash from burning newsprint.

Many he can’t recall, but all of them
he recognizes when their dry lips
whisper their presence
            from the other side –
not accusations (their ease of passing
one more benediction
of his calling), not really thanks
            though most are grateful,
mostly just an airy I . . . I
in his cluttered bag of memories.

So many, so often now, more and more.
Each murmur a spirit body bowed
into a wheelchair, curled mantis-like
            in bed, pushing against a walker,
each of them pushing, pushing
against what held them here
and what let them go.
            Some days he can’t remember
if he last saw them on evening rounds
or in a dream, and any moment
he expects the office door to open:
            one will enter, speak
his name, one he had thought
was gone.

.     .     .     .     .

first published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 304, No. 16, p.1754,  October 27, 2010

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