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Posts Tagged ‘Southern writing’

[with 3 poems by Rebecca Baggett]

How many grooves are there in a 12-inch 33 ⅓ rpm long-play record? The seven-year old doesn’t think us a bit odd when we fish out the big black discs and set them spinning: Burl Ives, Disney Princess theme songs, John Denver and the Muppets. She sings along with Miss Piggy, “Five Go-old Rings!” Would she have hopped off the couch last night and boogied with us to The James Gang cranked to the max on Funk 48?

We still have a landline at our house and until recently a rotary dial phone in the basement. I just read that only this year is Chuckie Cheese phasing out software updates shipped on 3.5 inch disks – which the article called “floppies” (remember? 5 ¼ inch, 360 kb, don’t toss them into a drawer with any magnets). Physical artifacts may be relegated to the landfill, but words remain our tools even if we’ve never knapped a flint. Dial it for me. The car won’t crank. Meet me at half-past (fractional arc of an analog circle?).

Last week I checked in at radiology for an x-ray. The young woman entered all my identifiers and when she got to my email address, she remarked, “Gee, AOL, I haven’t heard that one in a while.” Darlin’, that just means I’ve been jacked into the internet since before you were born. Juggling floppies. Writing DOS batch files before breakfast. And I’ll bet you don’t even know how many grooves.

Just one. That’s all it takes to be real groovy.

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Before the Stories Begin

Before the stories begin, the mothers die,
setting their daughters adrift, little coracles
bobbing rudderless, at the mercy of river currents
and ocean tides. Abandoned in forests so thick
no light touches their ferny floors, imprisoned
in crumbling towers guarded by rampant brambles,
banished to the dank depths of castle kitchens.

But here is the alternate reading:
Before the stories can begin, the mothers must die,
setting their daughters free – released from cautioning
fingers and pursed lips, from disapproving quirks
of a brow, from warnings weighted with echoes of warnings,
the line of foremothers frowning down the generations.

The daughters find themselves oddly light,
abruptly free to renounce titles and abandon kingdoms
for life on the high seas, to fall in love with a man-beast
deep in the forest, a stable boy, a fairy godmother.
To seclude themselves in towers full of groaning
bookshelves, to spend their days squinting
at the twisting calligraphy of ancient manuscripts,
to aim telescopes toward the night skies,
to rename all the stars.

Rebecca Baggett
from The Woman Who Lives Without Money, Regal House Publishing, Raleigh, NC, © 2022

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Words are artifacts by which we might glimpse the world. Words are not the world; words do not contain the world nor create the world; words are simply pebbles someone has painted, incised, knapped and dropped along the path. But Oh, how words may guide us along that path!

Rebecca Baggett is an inherent and inveterate sesquipedalian, as she confesses in the poem by that title in her book, The Woman Who Lives Without Money: a lover of complicated ‘foot-and-a-half long’ words. And yet the words she uses to craft these mysterious, marvelous, poignant, sad, hilarious poems are seemingly simple words. Everyone knows these words, these comfortable and familiar words. How Rebecca has painted, incised, and knapped these words, though! How she has lined them up and breathed into them meaning they had only dreamed of. How wonderful is the world she reveals in this ethereal and at once solid collection of words, such telling artifacts, these powerful words.

The Woman Who Lives Without Money (Regal House Publishing, 2022) is the winner of the 2020 Terry J. Cox Poetry Award. Rebecca has also published four chapbooks, including God Puts on the Body of a Deer, winner of the 2010 Main Street Rag Chapbook Contest. She was born in coastal North Carolina and his lived her adult life in Athens, Georgia.

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Weeping Willow

The willow missed
the children, their chatter –
like squirrels, but more various
and musical – missed
the sparrow-light bodies pressed
against her, the secrets
they whispered, how thy clung
to her branches with their small
hands, the way their legs twined
around her.

++++++++++ Nothing inhabited her
like that, nothing loved
so fiercely or so foolishly.
They believed they would be
hers forever,
++++++++++ did not understand,
at all, necessity, compulsion,

letting go

Rebecca Baggett
from The Woman Who Lives Without Money, Regal House Publishing, Raleigh, NC, © 2022

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Chestnut

I touched a chestnut sapling
in the Georgia mountains.

My friend writes of the great trees
and their vanishing,

but I have seen a young chestnut,
tender and green, rising from its ashes.

I, too, write of loss and grief,
the hollow they carve

in the chest,
but that hollow may shelter

some new thing,
a life I could not

have imagined or wished,
a life I would never

have chosen. I have seen
the chestnut rising,

luminous,
from its own bones,

from the ash of its first life.

Rebecca Baggett
from The Woman Who Lives Without Money, Regal House Publishing, Raleigh, NC, © 2022

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Doughton Park Tree 4/30/2022

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[with 3 poems by Maria Rouphail]

A stroll down the beach at dusk – I was sixteen and she was almost. Would you call it our first date? I think we held hands. I know we didn’t kiss. Fifty-four years later the beach is still there, although not the pier we walked beneath, things the earth makes, less so human desires. This afternoon she is upstairs writing a letter and I have just cleaned up after lunch. Where have we been and where are we going? Well, in an hour we’ll take a walk beside the river.

Oh Wise One, long-married, specialist in domestic bliss and expert in the cultivation of love, impart your secrets! Are you kidding me? I’ve spent all morning making a list and it is exactly two items long: (ONE) Never Imagine You Know; and, (TWO) Never Quit Working to Find Out. Number One becomes apparent every time I assume or jump to a conclusion or utter as comfort some empty platitude (or, cardinal sin, just wasn’t paying attention). Number Two is the quick corollary as Number One’s immediate aftermath and the sooner engaged the better – not Working to Find Out usually invites conflagration.

Which is probably why love is such a necessary obsession of poetry. Infatuation is the hot minute of attraction; love is the cool hour of reflection. Poetry may germinate unseen underground as the temperature rises, but its sprout becomes visible when the creature is leaned back in chair, pen hovering listless over paper, the image of affection growing into clarity within the cool, reflective mind. And as I reflect further, I perceive that the seeds of most of my own love poems involve messing up with Number One and Two, above, only to be rescued and reconciled by the big sighs and small gods of forbearance and forgiveness.

Even now I imagine her at her desk, pen and paper, that elegant typographer’s script, those meticulous phrases – oh yes, I want to love her and I do.

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Annunciation
++++ (after Lynn Emmanuel)
+++++++ for Robert

He wants to be born.
So first he enters the dream of the woman
a doctor has told will never conceive.

He lets himself in through the gate
of her sleeping brain
during a hard snow
in late November.

He give himself eyes and hair like hers,
wraps himself in thick fleece, his fingers curving
over the hem, like a paws of a burrowing mammal.

She wakes with the dream of him still clinging,
I’ve birthed a back-eyed baby boy, I’ve carried him
up the aisle of the church to the baptismal font.

She goes to the window where slantwise
snow erases the houses across the street.
Only a curbside lamp on its iron stalk breaks through,
++++ a yellow clot in the boreal blur.

After she has laid aside the dream or forgotten it,
he enters her body sometime in January.
His arrival ignites engines and fires up turbines

with power unknown to her, making her whole
being a construction zone for the laying of foundations,
the framing of the many rooms of his evolving body.

In April, cornerstone and beam well set and level,
he shows her his brain and spine, a string of perfect lights
blinking the in the midnight sky of the sonogram.

The doctor is speechless. But the woman
rehearses the names of her beloved living and dead.
She will pick one of them.

She watches the tiny heart strobe in its cage.
Beacon of what is coming in October.
A swaddling blanket. A christening.

Maria Rouphail
from All the Way to China, Finishing Line Press, © 2022

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One line echoes in each poem I read in Maria Rouphail’s collection: Even then, / I could not say you did not love me. All the Way to China is a conversation between daughter and mother that spans decades, even generations. Many different speakers inhabit the poems, in many places and circumstances, but the voice of daughter/mother is audible in each, even if only as a whisper. Through harsh treatments, neglect, destructive choices, and pain that whisper of love still works to keep itself alive.

Love is work. In one of Fred Chappell’s novels, a youngster asks his old grandfather how is it possible that he and grandmother have managed to stay married for so many years. The old guy’s answer? “You don’t leave, and you don’t die.” In Maria’s poems, leaving is a frequent threat and dying too soon is a reality, but the magical work of poetry allows the dialogue to continue in spite of, maybe even because of, mortality. Telling a story allows it to discover its meaning. Telling a hard and painful story allows it to discover new meaning that just may open a door to healing.

The final two poems in the book bring meaning and healing forward and invited me to turn back to the first page and read the cycle again: Laudate Omnes (in praise of everything), and Mother and Daughter, Two Voices – III, Daughter. Yes, this collection is the work of love.

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Laudates Omnes
++++++(for Asher, young grandson)

Let’s talk
to the bees.

++++++Let’s say

Ladies, thank you
each and all

for coming this day
to the hyssop and bergamot.

Thank you
for diving

into the boggy throats
of pale blue sage.

Thank you
for letting sticky

pollen crawl
up your hairy legs.

Thank you
for the sweet spit of the hive.

Now to the trees turn and say,
Brothers,

I don’t know all your name
or what families you belong to,

but you over there,
tall and handsome with your spiky green:

if you and I were lone survivors
of a meteorological catastrophe,

I’d live with you.
I’d hole up under your branches.

Leaves and rain
would be our food and drink each day.

Now let’s say thanks and thanks and thanks
for the hive’s honeyed paradise,

for meadows of thick-maned mares
drowsing with their foals,

for bees, horses, and trees,
ocean, plains, and the sky.

Let’s say thanks
for the darkness between stars

which is not an emptiness,
but a rookery

where God dreams us.
And if we found ourselves

on a comet flying
beyond Pluto’s orbit,

even there we would
be not separate and alone,

but we would be
as now we are

in the heart of things,
the very heart.

Maria Rouphail
from All the Way to China, Finishing Line Press, © 2022

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Margie’s Daughter Talks Back

Wood. Shell. Bone. Buttons
in every size and color your mother saved for mending.

You, too, saved them,
in the round cookie tin on a high shelf.
Rainy days, and you’d take it down
and we’d remember
buttons from faded summer dresses,
buttons from coats returned from war,
buttons with bits of garments still clinging,
flesh and tendon of them. Red grosgrain,
shock of silver wedding silk,
fingers of fragrance still clinging.
Attar of rose and vetiver still clinging.
Heft and pour, the cascading clack and clatter
of buttons, like coins or pretend jewels.

You, too, loved them.
You and I together breathed the old secrets hanging
like the kitchen smells in that Bronx apartment.
Buttons from a man’s flannel before zippers were.
Your father’s, you said. And the blue bruise
your mother tried to hide with a lock of hair when
you, looking, and in your small voice, asked,
What happened to your eye, Mama?
as she reattached the right arm of your school sweater.
In the next room the bleats of a baby boy,
and a darkness you hoisted onto your twelve-year-old hip
and hauled through the rest of your life.
Hauled it into my life, too.

Would you believe me if I told you?
I have survived the winter.
Here is the faith I’ve entered with myself,
rule, rite, and rigor of it:
I will not belong to whatever happens to me.
It’s OK to say these things.

Maria Rouphail
from All the Way to China, Finishing Line Press, © 2022

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2019-02-09 Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Katherine Soniat]

This morning is the thirteenth day of the first month in the Gregorian calendar. Outside my window the sunlight is thin and pale and all the birds wear their winter flannels. New Year, you say? Seems pretty frayed and achy this morning. Like me.

Not every culture celebrates the new year in the depths of Winter. Chinese New Year, based on a lunisolar calender, arrives with the new moon between January 21 and February 20. In much of Asia this timing includes the first glimmers of Spring, so New Year is a celebration of new growth and new arrivals. In 2023 that date is January 22.

The Islamic calendar is strictly lunar; the new year commemorates the Hijrah, the migration of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina (year 622 in the Gregorian). This can fall in any season of the year; for 2023 it’s Summer, July 19.

Rosh Hashanah (“head of the year”) is the Jewish New Year. By tradition this is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. It is celebrated 163 days after first day of Passover at the new moon closest to the Autumn equinox, between Sept 5 and Oct 5. For 2023 that’s September 15.

In every season, a new year. God’s course is one eternal round. Gray, dormant, stuporous, on hold, nothing happening you say? Linda and I enjoy celebrating the New Year with the arrival of our NC Wildlife Federation Journal. On the back page of every issue is a seasonal almanac, “Jeff Beane’s Guide to Natural North Carolina.” Just a sampling –

Dec 25 – Christmas fern, running-cedar, mistletoe — plenty of GREEN
Dec 28 – Winter holly and yaupon berries are RIPE AND READY
Jan 2 – hardy butterflies out & about on warm afternoons:
+++++++++ buckeye, fritillary, red admiral
Jan 7 – Bald Eagles are laying eggs
Jan 12 – Great Horned Owls nesting and hooting up a storm

And my favorite, on my birth date:

Feb 11 – Gray squirrels are having babies

Life goes on. Time is not standing still. The year is no straight line but a circle always new.

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For Sweet Dreams

Crimson with rash, I’m in bed in a hotel, my box of blue
capsules for sleep labeled: por sueños, dulce y tranquilos

beside me. Swallowing three with red wine, I doze off
to wander from door to door calling – I’m here for sweet dreams

until a figure ushers me into the room where you’re dying. Winter here,
embers smolder in the grate. The scarlet rug with a bear woven at its center
covers you, almost up to the eyes – as if I need a reminder in this room with your
white metal bed on wheels.

Again, I insist that I’ve come only for dreams, knowing that when you’re gone,
part of our darkness will be complete.

From down the hall comes the smell of stew, that domestic porridge,
and I want you, the father of my children, not to die. I promise to stay on the path
with our basket of food as slowly you rise from bed

to hold me from behind. With your hands on my stomach, you say
we’re headed home, and this time it feels right to be going, sundown
in a gold winter day.
++++ ++++ ++++ Then, as if doused,

++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ that dream goes black,

++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ blank –

++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ my basket stone-heavy
++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ ++++ and empty.

Katherine Soniat
from Polishing the Glass Storm, Louisiana State University Press, © 2023 Katherine Soniat

 

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I’ve been stretched on the couch for an hour reading Polishing the Glass Storm. I close my eyes. Pale lights, words with subtle breath, stalking figures fourstep slowly. They don’t make sense – they are sense. But now I’ve opened my eyes and they release my hands and the dance moves elsewhere. On and back.

Katherine Soniat’s poem sequence is the birthing place of memory, dreams, archetype. Time is fluid; memory shifts, now deceitful, now suddenly tangible. The speaker is child and mother, daughter to the dying, confessor, lover. The poems are conversations with the speechless, conversations of the soul with those living and those past living. Katherine recommends reading each section and its poems in sequence so that context can dissolve and reassemble. The images weave and drift; from an expressionistic landscape emerges the story of a life.

This is a challenging collection but worth the sojourn, the journey. From one comment on the cover: Soniat has the audacity to create a mythic language for the soul’s adventure that is utterly unguaranteed, adamantly open to the unknown . . . . More than a sequence, this is a cycle, a turning into and around. No straight line but a circle always new.

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In Bed at Night

In my mother’s house there was no heart.
In my mother’s heart she was always looking
for a home.
++++ ++++ I threaded stories of her, ones neither
of us had heard. Soft ones with feathers
at the bottom.

When my son had a daughter, she came into this blueness
knowing details with a past.

In bed at night playing puppets with the covers, she had
the smallest one whisper, You know, there’s so much sadness in this world.
She was three, and I almost didn’t hear that.

It was dark in the room, and inside her head. ++++ She thought in stride
with nothing — humped-up sheet, her cave in a city on earth
that must might go away.

Katherine Soniat
from Polishing the Glass Storm, Louisiana State University Press, © 2023 Katherine Soniat

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Place Where the Wind is Born

My promise is to stay by the bed, one finger tracing
his forehead into a fountain – up and out of the hospice,
over the garden wall.

He stays and I stay, the loping past, tail to mouth,
circles the room. Feeding. Time twisted about, only hours
left to count forward.
++++ ++++ ++++ Sound disappears. His vocal cords
sigh a bit – the syllabics of this life, done.

Silence enters every muscle. Visceral stillness. His lungs keep
breathing. Little motion but mine that afternoon in the shade-slated
room, the Dalai Lama’s chant playing by another sickbed. The fan
moves back and forth, as I blow breath on him.

He receives me like a sail.
Old Fudo, I tell him, purrs at this feet, the ocean vast and clear –
the tiller in his hand. In a strange, fierce tongue I speak
of what is no more.

Not much to let go – diminished relic of a man, something Franciscan
and medieval about him. ++++ ++++ By the window Buddha sits

with a load on his jade back.

Katherine Soniat
from Polishing the Glass Storm, Louisiana State University Press, © 2023 Katherine Soniat

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2020-03-07 Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Scott Owens]

. . . walls that don’t line up, some bricks
uneven, some not quite the right size,
and that’s what the mortar’s for,
the gray areas of tolerance,
forgiveness, understanding,
empathetic appreciation of things
being left imperfect, only as good
as we can stand to make them be.
+++++++ from Reclamation

E&A Nature Trail, Elkin rec center, Mountains-to-Sea, Forest Bathing – none of these trails today. Instead Mom and Dad and I walk their customary course behind the townhouse, traversing maybe 200 meters of blacktop. They tap their canes on the far curb to mark the first turnaround; it’s a little uphill and a lot slower approaching the second turn but then all downhill back to their doorway. Some days we keep going a little farther. This afternoon we feel like it’s been enough.

And why do we spend 45 minutes on our little trek, 3 or 4 careful steps per meter? Just needing the exercise? A breath of fresh air? Halfway through our circuit, Maggie’s owner appears and drops her leash, little fluffdog who gallops to Dad because she knows he always carries biscuits in his pockets. Norris stops to share the latest (oldest) joke. Here’s Peggy to check on how Mom and Dad made it through family travels over New Year’s (and to say Hi to this particular family person still staying with them tonight). Wave at Julia who’s expecting company for supper, wave at the FEDEX guy. Comment on all the little gardens behind each townhouse – Nice wreath! Is that a new bench?

This slow-gaited noticeably-hunched deliberate meander is the mortar of Mom and Dad’s days. These few folks they greet, and never overlook the dogs, are their neighborhood. “I’m going to get better, I’m going to walk farther,” says Dad, but even this afternoon it no doubt strengthens him just as much to hear, “I just can’t believe you’re 96.” Acceptance, understanding, empathy for the relentlessness of aging and decline – these hold the chipped, uneven bricks together. Let’s take another walk tomorrow, no matter how meager, no matter how slow.

And you can keep an eye out with me – I have yet to catch Dad slipping those dog biscuits into his pocket.

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Common Ground

My brother has never kept a single lake,
a single lost grave to himself.
Always he calls, then waits until I
can come, lets me lead the way,
find it like the first time,
proclaiming the names I know, the shapes
of bird and stone, cloud and tree.

Once in the same day I saw
a kestrel, a mantis, an arrowhead
and took it as a sign, though since
I have seen each in their own days
and miles away from each other.

I do not believe God will bend
to kiss this mouth. I do not believe
the wine will turn to blood. But something
knows the moment of sunflower,
the time of crow’s open wing,
the span of moss growing on rock,
and water washing it away.

In the pictures I remember, there is you
letting me stand on the fallen tree
as if it were mine. There is you
letting my arm rest on top of yours
around our mother. There is you
lifting me up to the limb I couldn’t reach.

This is the faith I’ve wanted, to know
that even now we are capable of such
sacrifice, such willingness to love.

Scott Owens
from Prepositional, New and Selected Poems, Redhawk Publications, The Catawba Valley Community College Press, © 2022 Scott Owens.

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Scott Owens travels through life in this solid, substantial collection of poems, Prepositional. He is coming from it, being of it, finding its deep inside and its dark under, discovering its thrall over and above. And as Scott sees through and into life, he invites us to accompany, to courageously push things forward.

As the newest in a long line of books from a prolific poet, this collection yet seems to be an inflection, an exhalation of breath long held. These poems walked a long way to take their seats here. Some are new but all have been selected to become new. Or maybe it’s their relationships to each other that have grown new, as Scott explains in 13 Ways of Prepositions: every way a squirrel can be / in relation to a tree. These are poems about poetry, its art, its craft, but more so the arising of something greater out of something lesser. These are poems about students and teaching and being a student; these are poems about family ties in every Venn you can imagine. All these poems have gathered here, though, for a common purpose: to water the seeds of relationship; to somehow connect with each other and with you and me, their readers.

When I finished the last poem and laid the book down, this is the reverberation I still heard ringing in my mind: “The world is a wonderful place. You are a wonderful person. I’d like the two of us to sit down and share something of these two wonderful facts.”

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Words and What They Say

Some say you can’t tell anything
from the language that people use,
that Eskimos in fact have no
more words for snow than we,
nor Anglo-Saxons more
for cut, stab, thrust,
and the fact that our words for animals
when we eat them, beef, pork,
poultry, all come from French
doesn’t prove they’re better
cooks or bigger carnivores,
any more than 23 acronyms
for laughter shows that texting
teens just want to have fun,
but when I hear my carful of 2nd graders
from Sandy Ford Montessori School
making up names for the sun,
and the moon, and the stars that only
come out when you’re camping and the fire
goes out, and you turn off your flashlights
while our mother holds you in her arms,
I can’t help but believe
that not only is there hope for us all
but that the hope we have
is strongest when we find a way
to put it into words.

Scott Owens
from Prepositional, New and Selected Poems, Redhawk Publications, The Catawba Valley Community College Press, © 2022 Scott Owens.

 

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Of

Poetry is contrary to productivity.
Poetry encourages idleness.
Poetry stands at the window
because it is curious about the flowers,
this flower with its yellow fringed face
around its one brown eye.
Poetry stands at the window
because it is curious about the trees,
this tree with heart-shaped leaves,
some turning yellow in the first
days of fall, some fallen off and still
the limbs reaching up to the sky.
Poetry stands at the window
because it is curious about the sky,
how it got there, where it goes,
what it’s like where it ends.
Poetry wants the window down.
Poetry walks back and forth
through a field going nowhere.
Poetry thinks it’s okay to look
at the same sky day after day,
sometimes minutes at a time,
sometimes with no other purpose
but remembering blue.

Poetry refuses to follow the rules
of efficiency: get in line,
speak only when spoken to,
never say anything that would embarrass your mother.

The first poem ever written was a drum.
The first poem ever written was a foot
tapping on the side of the crib.
The first poem ever written was a rope
slapping the red clay playground
of William Blake Elementary School.

It is not necessary for poetry
to be beautiful
though sometimes it is.
It is not required of poetry
that it be profound
though it rarely closes its eyes.
It is not expected that the face
of poetry be etched with tears,
the hair dripping with sweat,
the mouth expressing awe.
Poetry owes nothing to anyone.

Still, poetry wakes up each morning,
walks to the edge of the world
and jumps, believing one time
it will fly, believing one time
the dive will not end, believing one time
an answer will rise from somewhere beyond.

Scott Owens
from Prepositional, New and Selected Poems, Redhawk Publications, The Catawba Valley Community College Press, © 2022 Scott Owens.

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Redhawk Publications; The Catawba Valley Community College Press;
2550 US Hwy 709 SE; Hickory, NC 28602.
Prepositional, New and Selected Poems by Scott Owens.

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[with 4 poems by Joan Barasovska]

In just a few days our home planet will reach that point in its yearlong circumsolar peregrination at which it will feel the maximum effect of its 23 degree axial tilt off the perpendicular. In other words, today is way too close to the solstice for us to have waited until 3:30 to begin our 5 mile hike.

Byrd’s Branch to Grassy Creek and out to the far terminus of Forest Bathing: when we turn at last to retrace our steps we see that the shadows have lengthened into no shadows at all. Splitting the utter stillness as we skirt Klondike Lake, fifty geese suddenly spook and lift and wheel over us. The urgency of their wings is the sound night makes when it is falling too fast. As we leave the creek and climb up from the shadowy vale, we do regain a bit of skyglow from the western horizon, that thin chill winter platinum that can’t penetrate between the gray trunks closing around us but which persists in the pale leaves covering the path. Light still leads us on.

Serenely quiet here. No breath of breeze, no quarreling crows, no road noise. The squirrels have hushed their startled rattling up the hickory trees. We can’t see into the cloaked woods; we imagine we’re entirely alone until our last companion calls. A Towhee sings his plaintive two-note motet, his mate answers, and they ferry us along the trail.

Here’s the road crossing, isolated rural lane. Only another mile to our car – a mile through Mr. Byrd’s close-planted white pine woodlot. Shall I describe the pathway leading down into the embrace of those lowering dense-woven needled boughs?

It’s dark!

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Sore Throat

The best light in our rowhouse on St. James Street
is from the tall front windows in the living room.
I wait by the window in my pajamas for Dr. Barol
to ring the doorbell and for his jolly voice.
I’m to sit on the piano bench where he can see best,
his black leather bag beside me, its jaw wide open.
He stands above me in horn-rimmed glasses and bow tie,
shakes down the mercury in his glass thermometer.
He tells me to say AH and says, Open wide.
My tonsils are infected again, he tells my mother.

I want him to convince her to pity me.
Tell her I must stay in bed for a week.
Tell her to be nicer when she talks to me.
Don’t tell my mother that sickness
is what I crave most of all.
I’m sure he can tell. He’s shined a light
in my throat and ears so many times
he must know my trick.
I’m a little girl who believes she can
make herself sick just by being sad.

The nurse at school, Mrs. Marx, knows me well.
She rolls crinkly paper down the padded leather
table so I can rest with her if no one else is there.
She plays the opera music she loves on her radio.
I know she knows my secret, but maybe
she forgives me. From the bottom of my being
I want the gentleness that only sickness gets you.

But it doesn’t really work that way.
My throat is so sore. My mother’s angry
that I’m sick again. She has too much to do.
She makes me Cream of Wheat
with brown sugar. She pours medicine
from a brown bottle into a spoon.
She takes my temperature, gives me baby aspirin,
puts cool washcloths on my forehead, changes
the sheets. She does all that she should do.
I need what I can’t name.

Joan Barasovska
from Orange Tulips, Redhawk Publications, The Catawba Valley Community College Press, Hickory NC, © 2022

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Darkness. It creeps to overtake you whether you mark its arrival or not. Once surrounded, engulfed, overwhelmed, you may imagine that the darkness is all. That there is no way out, that there is nothing other than darkness.

Joan Barasovska’s Orange Tulips, a memoir in narrative verse, is a path into darkness. The world of this girl child opens with joy but already hints of inexplicable sadness; the adult journeys through suffering, doubt, pain, the wrenching temptation of hopelessness. Despair is palpable.

But no life is a single arc. There are many stories and their outcomes are not foreordained. An unexpected door may open into light. The arc of another person entwines with our own and we are touched, changed. As memoir, Joan’s story begs to be read cover to cover, front to back in a single sitting. I am lifted into the promise of light by the possibility of healing and redemption in its final pages. I am finished with the book, but it is not finished with me.

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1963

I’m a merry Girl Scout in green uniform
and felt beret. My troop is walking east across
the Schuylkill River Bridge. It’s an old bridge,
prickly sandstone under our palms.

You can sit on the ledge if you’re brave.
You can stand on the ledge if you’re foolish.
We look between the columns way down ito the water.
How deep is it? Miss Kelly doesn’t know.

What I care about, in one breath, is the impact of a fall.
The magnet of the gray river. The sick.
I don’t ask Miss Kelly why people jump.
She knows about hikes, knots, campfires.
Starting today, I’m the authority on jumping.

Merit badges, saddle shoes, jokes I am famous for.
I am nine, maybe ten.
Now I have a secret so strong it makes me dizzy.
On my honor, for God and my country,
it’s 1963 and I have fallen down.

Joan Barasovska
from Orange Tulips, Redhawk Publications, The Catawba Valley Community College Press, Hickory NC, © 2022

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All Wrong

Done so many things wrong
I don’t know if I can do right.
+++++++++++++ – Tracy Chapman

The built world defeats me.
My apartment, the building
where I answer phones,
the sidewalks I walk on,
have all done great things
to my nothing at all.

If I were in charge
this city would be empty,
wind blowing soot.
Just look at me!
A shandah, disgrace,
such a smart girl,
dropout, breakdown,
breakup, crackup.

I am twenty.
I read long novels.
I walk and walk.
I only feel well
on trains and buses.
I draw odd diagrams
in small books.

I don’t wonder
why I’m done for.

I only want to be
as useful as a sidewalk,
to hammer one nail straight.

Joan Barasovska
from Orange Tulips, Redhawk Publications, The Catawba Valley Community College Press, Hickory NC, © 2022

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The Day I Walked on Fire

it wasn’t fire
it was gingko leaves
the sun lit them yellow
they were juicy with heat

the day I walked on ginkgo leaves
I imagined they were fire
that my shoes were melting
that my feet were burning

and I felt no pain
on that autumn day
when I burned to be
a holy woman

Joan Barasovska
from Orange Tulips, Redhawk Publications, The Catawba Valley Community College Press, Hickory NC, © 2022

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2017-02-11 Doughton Park Tree

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[with poems by Kimberly O’Connor]

We walk out of the pines and hear it, a throaty chuff and grumble from somewhere across the corn field. A plume of dust and chaff is one clue but the clincher is the field’s gnawed border twelve rows wide, a swath of brittle stalks and husks eaten and spat out. And a scatter of yellow kernels in the weeds.

After we cross the road our trail re-enters the woods but still parallels the field. The combine is laboring well out of sight but its growling swells and fades. Linda and I hike this particular bit of Mountains-to-Sea trail every week and we’ve been wondering why these acres have been standing so long unharvested. Great day for an answer, this Wednesday before Thanksgiving – school’s out! – and the grandkids with us. Hardwoods now. In the leafless shadows we can smell corn dust even when we can’t see the field through the undergrowth. Saul hangs back to talk philosophy and politics with Linda while Amelia skips ahead and dares me to jump over every rock and root.

At our turning-back-to-the-car point, the trail branches north to Grassy Creek and south into the corn field. Machinery noise has receded; I want to see the carnage. We all walk up the red clay bank. Most of the stalks are now stubble but a few have been pushed over, unconsumed. I wander a few rows and pick up dry ears to show Saul and Amelia. Moldy toward the silks, but mostly each ear is clean hard kernels clinging to cob. I put a few nuggets in my pocket. Saul keeps two unshucked ears to carry home for evidence.

Back at the road crossing the uproar reaches its crescendo. We see the top of the cab as it approaches, pulling rows of stalks into its jutting incisors, and then it finishes its row and roars past us. A man and his son sit high in the glassed-in booth! They wave back to us and we watch for a few more minutes as more of the field is mown down.

When we turn back into the woods, Amelia says, “I’m sure glad they weren’t mad at us for taking some of their corn.” Small miracles – and another is that on today’s hike we heard nary a complaint from the kids even when I confessed I’d forgotten to bring the snacks.

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Old Dominion

Remove arteries,
veins, and clotted blood
around heart

was the start of a recipe
for chicken pie in
a 1920’s cookbook

I found and read in the house
of friends we were staying with
in Charlottesville. It was

an heirloom. Their whole house
was antique, old fashioned:
mason jars, strawberries

resting in colanders, milk
in a white porcelain pitcher.
Worn embroidered linen dishcloths.

She canned. He cut wood
for fires in winter but
this was summer. The air

almost tropical, unbreathable.
Azaleas. Wisteria. Roses.
When I breathed in, it hurt.

The house hurt me and
I didn’t know why.
Everything was white.

Clotted blood around heart
I wanted that cookbook.
I almost stole it. I was

a terrible houseguest. I wanted
to go home. I cried beside
the clawfoot bathtub

throughout the afternoon.
I wanted to go home and
I wanted to own that house.

Kimberly O’Connor
from White Lung, Saturnalia Books, Ardmore PA, © 2021

 

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Kimberly O’Connor’s poetry is the surgeon’s dispassionate blade. Lie straight and still and watch the blood well up. Yes there will be pain, yes invasion, yes you are vulnerable, but what is cut from you may offer your best chance to live.

Kimberly O’Connor’s poetry is the surgeon’s passion and point of compassion. Yes there is pain in our world, both of us know it, both feel it, both of us have at times caused the pain. But here is our best chance for hope, for a world where we dig out the pain, find its roots, put it in a place where we can all see it for what it is. Maybe it won’t have to hurt us forever.

In White Lung, Kimberly explores every painful vein and clot of her Southern heritage and upbringing. She doesn’t flinch, although she cries and so do we, her readers. Several of her poems share the same title, The History of My Silence, which proclaims one of the major themes of the book and can be extended to the silence of not just one individual but of our society and culture: by extension, the silence of our history. Not only are the individual poems tense with emotion and meaning, but the poems communicate with each other to weave a personal story, and interconnect to bring their painful, hopeful, glorious epiphanies into masterful wholeness.

The North Carolina Poetry Society awards its annual Brockman-Campbell Award to the best volume published by a North Carolina writer in the preceding year. Kimberly O’Connor and White Lung are the winner for 2022. Kimberly is a NC native who lives in Golden, Colorado and has over 20 years of experience teaching and working with writers ages eight to adult. This is her first book.

[More information about the Brockman-Campbell Award, White Lung, and another poem by Kimberly O’Connor, available here: ]

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Portrait of a Lady

her father an electrician her mother
a hairdresser (it’s not that simple)
(you want her to be nice
and quiet) she’s a girl reading
in her tiny bedroom in the trailer
she does not say a word

you don’t want to read the word
n_____ but there it is her mother
says it her father says it the trailer
echoes with its two-syllable
thud & poison you can read
(here) where she wrote it in her diary a nice

(straight white) girl straight hair straight A’s nice
and quiet (like you want) says not a word
sits in the beauty shop reading
spinning a chair while her mother
cuts hair (she imagines she is special)
they drive the dirt road to the trailer

they move out of the trailer
build a house (big wood nice)
when her father wins a sweepstakes
they look at the letter repeating the words
over and over (it’s true) her mother
gives her the letter to read

there it is in red
(one hundred thousand dollars) the trailer
becomes a memory her mother
moves the shop to the new nice
spare room the ladies get shampoo & styles words
hum white nose white ladies scissors

swish you can see it (it’s simple)
a whit girl grows up in the South its red
& pink mimosas dripping scent the words
they say there taking root trailing
tendrils in even nice
girls’ minds (everyone says them even mothers)

Kimberly O’Connor
from White Lung, Saturnalia Books, Ardmore PA, © 2021

 

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Untitled (By the End)

By the end, we won’t remember what
happened when. We’ll remember hardly
any of it. The only thing that makes it

bearable is all the blossoming. The trees
turn white, then green. What unfolds
for me unfolds secondhandedly.

While they’re injecting the midazolam,
I am watching little girls in black
leotards play tag. Or it takes longer

than I think and we are already driving
home for dinner. But let’s go back
to before that. There was a murder.

It was violent. It was not an accident.
A young woman died and a young man
went to prison. Elsewhere, unrelated,

I want to be a poet. I fall in love with
someone. He becomes a lawyer.
We become a mother and a father.

We move to Denver. My husband meets
the young man in prison. He’s no longer
young. He becomes a kind of friend.

Of course this takes years. I learn things
like in supermax, the inmates are required
by law to have access to one hour

of sunlight per day. On death row,
the light though a skylight counts.
The men can’t touch their families

or each other. The day before their
executions, their mothers cannot hug
their sons good-bye. No one cares about this.

Why should they? Their victims’ parents
didn’t get to hug their children before—
yes. That is correct. So what’s wrong

with me? My husband sends his client books.
Should I say his name? He likes
vampire books. Mysteries. Thrillers.

When my husband calls him with the news
that the last appeal has been denied,
Clayton says Have a good weekend

when they hang up the phone. My husband
flies to Oklahoma City. I wait.
Amelia’s dance class is in a church.

I sit in the sanctuary and imagine
I am holding Clayton’s hand.
I am ridiculous. But my hand feels

warm for a minute. My husband calls
and he is weeping. Or he is furious.
He’s not dead yet, he says.

They kicked us out. They closed
the curtain and they made us leave.
It’s the end of April; everything’s in bloom.

It snows, then the sun comes back.
By summer, we should feel better.
By autumn, we might forget.

Our garden grows. We harvest. I walk
through the alley carrying vegetables.
When I get home and dump out the cucumbers,

I’m filled suddenly with joy. I pirouette
around the kitchen and imagine Clayton
is dancing with me, his spirit, anyway.

I think he is. I wish for it. I imagine
his victim’s mother wishing deeply
for my death, and I don’t blame her for it.

Kimberly O’Connor
from White Lung, Saturnalia Books, Ardmore PA, © 2021

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2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems from Quiet Diamonds
Bob Wickless, Susan Craig, Bill Griffin]

O narrow track, how I have missed you! O wee well trodden way, favorite mile, little path through pasture and wood that my right knee has refused to let me walk for all these weeks, I am so glad to see you again. Last visit you had all but shed your autumn yellows, not to mention cardinalflower reds and pastel meadowbeauties. Now here you are blowing snow across my path.

The season has arrived of whites and browns, feathers and fluff, crowns and rounds – seeds! Hello little calico aster whose name I just learned last summer; now your stems are strung with new stars so fine. Hello crownbeard; petals fallen, you lift your regal head. And hello snowy boneset and thoroughwort; one puff of breeze is all it takes to loft your feathered promises across the meadow.

There is a bare patch below my house beneath the powerline. There is an empty bag in my pocket. You won’t mind, prodigal wingstem, goldenrod, ironweed, if I catch a bit of your seedstuff and carry it home to a new bed? You won’t run short of provender when goldfinches and sparrows come to call. You won’t ever hear me, like some others, name you weeds.

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Prayer in Spring

beginning with a line from Seneca

Not hoping without doubt,
Not doubting without hope,
We enter the slow country
Of change, clad in the garment
Thread through the loom of change,
Woven in green doubt
Though woven in hopes

Greener than any hopes are:
May the clothes of the world
Still fit, in the eye’s mind
And in the mind’s eye, may
Our vision still clear
As the iced eye of the river
Cataracts, loosens, the view

In the breeze of the green flag
That is not failure, in one light
That will melt the white flag
Of surrender – Lord, we had not
Given up though the air had said
Surrender, through the vines, trees
Were all blasted with failure,

Though no light shone
Through the fabric of sky
But one pale and unaccomplished,
Wan, washed out as our vision,
Faded divinity, in the blank
Washed out country called snow,
A world neglected, blue

Now, Lord, even as the sky

Bob Wickless (Reidsville, NC)
from Quiet Diamonds 2022, The Orchard Street Press, Gates Mill OH

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Today in Elkin this blowing snow is windborne seeds of last summer’s asters, but inches of the cold frozen sort are accumulating in northeastern Ohio around Lake Erie. Snow belt – that’s where Linda and I met, dated, and graduated from the high school we walked to through slush & drifts. Call off school for a “snow day” in Ohio? Bah! The last time we visited Portage County was for Linda’s birthday six years ago. The old Aurora Country Club had been converted to a nature preserve – how many species of goldenrod filled those reclaimed fairways? The Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area had since 2000 become a National Park; we still talk about the canal trail, every ten meters another chipmunk to chirp and run across our feet.

Northeastern Ohio lives fondly in our hearts. Just up Chillicothe Road from the Cuyahoga and our old school is the village of Gates Mills and The Orchard Street Press, another font of fondness. OSP editor Jack Kristofco published my chapbook Riverstory : Treestory in 2018, so I most certainly love him, but even more I love the anthology his press produces every year, Quiet Diamonds. This year’s collection is deep and various and moving. The poems can be personal and at the same time universal. I find myself leafing back and forth through the book reading each one several times, in a different sequence, discovering new moods with each passage. So many I would love to feature on this page, wonderfulness from poets all over the US, but here I continue my focus on us Southerners.

Check in with The Orchard Street Press in January for their 2023 contest.

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Looking for the Banded Sphinx

++++++ I’d seen clutched last night to the railing
its wings of veined mahogany like a master craftsman’s
the way my brother’s finest tables
were inlaid in gold and amber

++++++ yet, only the marsh hawk waits
atop the same wooden rail outside the same glass door
its wing-shoulders brownish-gray
as any familiar relative

++++++ and even its flight, when it senses
the small breeze of my arrival, appears
blasé as a loping dog

++++++++++ Last night, the next-door young couples
played guitar as midnight lapsed into new year
sang Jolene in a lusty chorus
that rose and fell like the distant sea pulled
by a stranger’s violin

++++++ I ask my husband about the banded moth
Gone, he says, at first light
without a hint of nuance
++++++ the same way wonder disappears, the way
dust becomes fugitive

++++++++++ My eyes trace mid-morning’s
pale pentimento of moon
while at the edge of marsh a stalking ibis
is osmosed in plumes of fog
where sun glints cold creek
++++++ and we find no reason to speak
as the hawk melds like another riddle into winter’s
moss-draped bones

Susan Craig (Columbia, SC)
from Quiet Diamonds 2022, The Orchard Street Press, Gates Mill OH

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We Never Give Up Hoping

Morning frozen hard. Pour
++++boiling water
into the birdbath;
++++ they will come
to drink when I have gone.

++++ God of holy ice, holy
++++++++ steam,
++++ give my children
++++++++ water
++++ that all my hoping
++++++++ can’t.

Sound of wings, splash
++++ diminishing;
find the world again
++++ iced over.
Fill the kettle. Holy water.

Bill Griffin (Elkin, NC)
from Quiet Diamonds 2022, The Orchard Street Press, Gates Mill OH

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EARLY SNOW: ASTERACEAE

Stare across any random autumn afternoon and soon you’ll notice the jig and curtsey of little airborne tufts. Catch one and see if there isn’t a tiny hard seed hanging from that feathery wisp. The early snowflake you’re holding is a member of family Asteraceae.

Except for Cardinal flower (Bellflower family, Campanulaceae) and Meadowbeauties (Meadow Beauty family, Melastomataceae), all the flowers mentioned in my homage above are members of the Composite family (Asteraceae). This is the largest family of flowering plants in North America and vies for the world title with Orchidaceae. Besides typical species like asters, sunflowers, black-eyed susans, and coneflowers, Asteraceae includes less obvious suspects like Joe-Pye Weed, goldenrod, ragweed.

Study a daisy: you figure you’re seeing one standard flower, right? A ring of petals around the edge (corolla), eye in the center. Basic taxonomy of flowers depends on the configuration of their reproductive apparatus – flowers. But a daisy is a Composite – each “petal” is 3 or more fused petals from a complete individual Ray flower; each spot in the eye is an individual Disc flower with its own minuscule petals, pistil, and stamen, ready to make a seed. (And if that’s not already confusing, some Composites have only Ray flowers, no Disc (Dandelion), and some have only Disc flowers with no Rays (Fireweed).)

So what about this early snow, then? Ah, sepal and pappus . . .

In most flowers, sepals are the layer, just outside the petals, that make up the protective bud cloak. After the bud opens, the ring of sepals is called the calyx. In Composites, each “flower” actually multiple little florets all clumped together with zero elbow room, the calyx is diminished to almost nothing: the pappus, sometimes visible only with a microscope where it’s fixed to the seed. Except . . . those members of Asteraceae whose pappus is a bristle, hair, tendril, feather. For wind dispersal, but also for wonder and delight. When a breeze puffs the boneset or fireweed or lowly dandelion, one might imagine the pasture will soon be knee deep.

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Doughton Park Tree 2021-02-23

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[with 3 poems by Diana Pinkney]

Oh, I couldn’t possibly eat all that. Thank Heavens I haven’t heard Mom utter those words for quite a while now. For the fifty years prior I believe we heard that phrase with each plate set before her. Some impulse ingrained in the 30’s in the genteel South? A mantra for all the new college girls in the 40’s? How, we would ask ourselves behind her back, could someone forever twig slender so fear gaining a pound?

This week at the doctor’s office I watch the nurse enter Mom’s vitals in the computer to make sure she hasn’t lost a pound. Dad admits he hates to nag her to eat her breakfast – too engaged with the paper or too forgetful to take a bite? Yesterday I cooked them both lunch – calm down, it was just 10 minutes in the skillet from Trader Joe’s – and served the plates. It’s no trick, really, just sit across the table from Mom for long enough and she will finally finish what you’ve given her. Don’t forget the milk! The doctor says you need more fluids.

Grandmother, Dad’s Mom, had her own mantra for us grandkids in the 50’s and 60’s: Children are starving in Europe. Yes, swear to God, she actually said that more than once. Chubby me was more than happy to clean his plate, but one breakfast I recall her disapproval. I had scooped up the last Cheerio but there was still milk in the bowl overlying its substratum of teaspoons of sugar. That evening I washed down my cornbread with a big gulp of sudden sickening sweetness Grandmother had rescued from that bowl.

Now I’m clearing the table while Mom stares at the last of her milk, a layer of ice melt above the 2%. In a few minutes, though, as I stand at the sink rinsing, she walks in carrying the empty. I have to say it. Good job, Mom!

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Super Cuts, Six Months after My Daughter’s Death

The stylist snips, snips my hair, shorter
and shorter. As she works, we talk.

You have children, she asks. Yes,
I answer. Do you? Oh, I have two girls.

How about you? Three, I say, my voice
tight, clipped as the gray strands covering

the floor. My daughter’s hair was long
and red, until it was blonde. She loved

the sun. A little less on the sides, please.
Why didn’t I say I have two children, sons,

and that would have been that. Except that
will never be that. I will always have three

children. Do they live here, she asks?
The sons do. My daughter lives nowhere

and everywhere. It’s good, she says, you
have a girl, too. Yes, I answer, it is good.

Diana Pinckney
from Hummingbirds & Wine, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte, NC, © 2022

❦ ❦ ❦

How impossible to bear, losing a child to death. How much more impossible to write about it. Diana Pinckney in Hummingbirds and Wine overcomes the paralysis of grief, but not as chronicle or biography or personal therapy. Although she confesses I live / behind a veil, these poems are the bridge that leads her and us beyond the Valei of Teeris. These lines are twisting tracks that connect past and present, parent and child, and that connect poet and reader.

On the tree of suffering there is a twig of joy that grows up from dark earth. The root of happiness is the same / as perhaps, both descendants / / of hap – hazard or chance. Diana’s poetry is not rationalization, not sentimentality, not desperate. These are poems that share one moment, then another and another, along the path she has had to walk and which we can now walk together.

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Sea Turtles

Loggerhead, Leatherback, Ridley or Green, they all drag
themselves onto a beach. Alone under the same moon
on different shores, in their struggle to lay eggs.
Volunteers like Elizabeth spent hours at dawn

searching for the side, clawed tracks, uncovering
and moving the eggs to sand dunes, staking orange
mesh over the nest. Protection, maybe, she said,
from dogs, crabs, lots of things. Oh, my girl, I couldn’t

protect you, holed up in your house in the company
of bottles. Still, in your best years, you waited weeks
for dozens of thin-shelled eggs to split as the tiny feet
tore an opening, and under nodding sea oats, started

their spill up and out. Each one, no bigger than a silver dollar,
struggling to climb into moonlight, and down to the sea’s white foam.

Diana Pinckney
from Hummingbirds & Wine, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte, NC, © 2022

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Beach Walker

I can still see her stretching in the hazy sun
each morning, strolling the surf, breathing salt

and the musky scent of creatures curled inside
shells – whelks, clams, conchs – once alive.

She so many miles from y city home.
So many Hey Mom’s when I’d lift the phone.

How is it that a heart so loved could weaken
through the days and weeks, and I never knew.

A heart that beat with the rhythm of the sea
and one bright morning would fail her and me.

Diana Pinckney
from Hummingbirds & Wine, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte, NC, © 2022

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[with 4 poems by Doug Stuber]

“Look at that one, Mom, a Rainbow Unicorn Skeleton.”

“Oh my, and all the spiders!”

We’re driving through residential Ardmore in Winston-Salem, just the two of us. An outing! On our way to the pharmacy and yes, we’ll pick up a prescription for Dad, but this is one time we made him stay home. Dad’s 96th birthday is Thursday and this is Mom’s chance to pick out a card, maybe a few goodies. And see all the Halloween decorations.

It’s rare that I have Mom all to myself. At her doctor’s appointments Dad tags along, and well he should since Mom’s memory is failing and he needs to tattle on her. The grocery store, the dry cleaners, Trader Joe’s, those are all on Dad’s agenda; usually Mom stays home with the CNA. As Mom ages she’s become more withdrawn, much more passive, but get her one on one and she’ll tell you what she thinks. So here she is riding shotgun, laughing at the yard art, game to grab her cane when we arrive at the store.

While I head to the pharmacist window I leave Mom in the Birthday Card aisle – we have five family birthdays in the next four weeks. When I return, maybe 15 minutes later, she hasn’t picked anything out. I point to a couple that seem likely. She can’t quite decide. That’s OK. I find one with dogs on it that seems right for Dad, get her approval, find some for Allison, Margaret, the Josh’s, subtly nudge her to pick one each. When we finally have our five it’s on to snack selection. I tell her if she’s not sure what Dad would like just get stuff she likes (see how that works?). When we’ve finally paid and returned to the car, I have her put Dad’s chocolates & nuts etc. into the gift bag we bought. Once she’s looked each item over she finally says, “I can’t believe you could pick all that out.” Shoot, Mom, I was wanting you to think YOU picked everything out.

Sadness is just one story we can tell ourselves. I could hold onto Mom’s bewilderment and indecision, nothing like the Mom that raised me. Or I could buckle her in as we laugh, thinking about Dad’s face when he sees his pile of loot. And I could prepare a big build up for the drive home, remind her to look out her window at the Rainbow Unicorn Skeleton, both of us enjoying it again for the first time.

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Hikaru

One cherry blossom detaches, falls, a single unit
allowing fruit its space, starting its new journey: island
to reflecting pond, orchard to cottage yard, daughter to
love, enhanced by the wind, if even for only six seconds.
Transformed to long-boned genius, long-yearning adult,
considerate friend, purple-green plaid from soft pink,
tan suede boots from five-petalled bloom. Hikaru, as they
say in Japan, hits the town running, arms crossed, cradling
herself like the war-torn victims of Vietnam, but not
worn or torn, she flings enthusiastic youth toward
outstretched limbs. She captures her beginning and future
simultaneously, shedding one form, embracing another,
sweating humid Spring, still awkward in this skin.
Descending unannounced, she moves among mere mortals
spreading joy, quietly demanding obedience, offering all
in exchange for all. Most cannot accept, choose an
easier, less complicated path; but those brave strong souls
born from deep roots, blessed metamorphosed
being who join Miss Cherry soon realize, if for one day,
week, or lifetime, their lives will never be the same

Doug Stuber
from Chronic Observer, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown KY, © 2019

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Doug Stuber is a crabby pessimistic lyrical idealist. Doug is a sharp-eyed sharp-tongued teary-eyed lover. Humankind, Doug Stuber as chronic observer constantly notices, has royally fucked up and Doug is more than ready to rub our noses in it. Human individuals, Doug reveals over and over in his poetry, are beautiful in their brokenness and he must open his heart. Poetry is silk on the breeze: at first we flinch and claw but with each turn we draw closer together, are drawn, maybe to cocoon or maybe to struggle forth with spread wings and open eyes.

I side with Clark Holtzman in his comment about Doug Stuber’s book: All the poems of Chronic Observer engage the world we are given, natural or political, fair or foul, as the given it is. Buy this book, read it. You’ll see what it means.

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The Mangrove Blues

The sun sinks.
A pumping heron
Chases dreams into the night,
Resting momentarily
In a life of constant motion.

The wind shakes.
Trees stretch out,
Anticipating winter.
Orange floods
Mangrove and the pines.

The cold turns.
Clouds gather
Over murky surroundings,
Drifting slowly inland
To dump a fresh-new load.

The tears run.
A skipping child
Delivers momentary reprieve.
Gloom infests
The evening of a lonely-hearted man.

Doug Stuber
from Chronic Observer, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown KY, © 2019

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Rules

It took this long to hide my penchant: Rhymes.
Another reading forces inner looks.
Where is Ed and his heroic Elegy for us?
What happened when we traded love of lines
For time cards, bosses, corporate crooks?

Here’s what happened: life became a chore,
There is not time left to rage creating.
Competitive suburban gardening ins a bust.
What there is left is not elating
Except the love of soul-mates through this door.

The Eagle’s Nest is now a restaurant:
You get a 15-dollar turkey plate up there.
But is a fourth Reich rising from the rust,
Or are we evil, just nonchalant?
Oklahoma City fades like sunset air:

The only lasting image is your own.
One veto and the fascists will shut us down.
One thousand points of veto from the upper crust
Without a batted eyelash from this clown.
What further outrage can we condone?

As long as TV says it is OK
Our lives submit to the worst human rages.
Just when we’ve farmed this place to dust
Some half-assed savior might come our way
Passing manna to those left: food of the ages.

Doug Stuber
from Chronic Observer, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown KY, © 2019

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[Given the approaching season, I just have to include this final poem of Doug’s.]

KC and the Thanksgiving Prayer

I gave a thanksgiving prayer to a new family I met near Asheville. I got twigs and built a triangle (the three goddesses: corn, squash, and beans) and a square (the four directions: North – Winter and cleansing, East: Spring and beginnings, South: Summer and warmth, West: Fall and remembrances). the triangle sits above the square, because it is the goddesses who feed us: corn, squash, and beans.

You start in the square facing West and, while turning right for each new direction, say:

We salute you for your wind and fresh new sky
We salute your wonderful people and cleansing snow
We greet the day with dreams to labor by
We salute your sun and love and fun and go

To green mountains, cold river by the leaves
Of Rhododendron bushes, tall black trees.
A new friend of mine now believes,
Captured by spirits she feels and doesn’t have to see.

Doug Stuber
from Chronic Observer, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown KY, © 2019

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2016-01-30 Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Alan Michael Parker]

When grandson Bert walks the lakeside trail at Yates Mill in Raleigh with his Dad & Mom, they are ever alert for evidence of the Swamp Monster. Those unexplained bubbles in the pond? Could be Swamp Monster breathing. The sudden galoomp that startles us, abrupt pivot, but all we see are receding ripples? Yep, SM. A patch of pond lily that speckles and ripples the surface? Bert explains to me, instructor to pupil – that’s Swamp Monster’s ridged, scaley back.

At age five Bert teeters on the delicious cusp between credulity and manly savvy. He knows there’s not really a Swamp Monster, but he still craves more of those tingly shivers that rise like dark forms from dark water, birthed by lingering maybe’s. And who’s to say that Swamp Monster is not the wisest of teachers? Step One and Step Two along the Naturalist Way are Pay Attention; Ask Questions. No question is ever too silly; all questions are worthy. Like this one – Does Swamp Monster have pets?

Maybe those two turtles jostling among the pickerel weed. Maybe the northern watersnake camouflaged beside the minnow-filled mill pond. And what in the world is this thing? Glommed around a root in the water, a gelatinous hive, a lurking snotball! And there’s another, and another. Yuck, Swamp Monster!

We have made a discovery, life forms creepy enough to serve as pet to any self-respecting Swamp Monster: fresh water bryozoans. That mucusy ball, almost as big as a Jack-o-Lantern, is a clonal colony of tiny filter-feeding invertebrates. Occupying their own Phylum, for goodness sake! Each tiny individual everts a ring of tiny tentacles with cilia that waft food particles down toward its tiny mouth. If there’s danger, it pulls them back in and down pops the lid. In some colonies there are specialized individuals that can sting. Some species are able to creep around (although at only a couple of centimeters a day, they’re not about to engulf us)! Nice Bryo . . . Sit! . . . Stay!

All of this is just to say – whenever you’re hiking through prime Swamp Monster habitat, it is always important to pay attention.

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Breakfast
++++ It’s not just sentimental, no, no, no…

Once there was a blueberry
in a bowl of granola.
The bowl was Melamine, the table was pine,
the kitchen was linoleum and metal and oak,
and the house was brick and cedar and aluminum,
and the roofing material in the shingles
was fire-rated Class A, don’t worry.
There were trees: hawthorns and one river birch.
There were azaleas and a Lindlley’s Butterfly Bush.
The sky was 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen,
with a trace of argon gas, and ice in crystals.
Space was an almost perfect vacuum,
with a few hydrogen atoms per cubic meter.

Maybe the blueberry and one hydrogen atom
were cousins, cosmically and/or metaphysically.
The spoon that held up the blueberry
was aluminum, the shine a little worn,
and the blueberry was violet in a gradient,
a tad puckered, still with a bit of stem.

Today, class, let’s all be astronauts.
We’ll begin with breakfast, and then
we’ll search the universe for tenderness,
which I suspect – so long,
my blueberry, adieu
may be the last perfect thing.

Alan Michael Parker
from The Age of Discovery, Tupelo Press, © 2020.

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These poems by Alan Michael Parker dance on the knife-edge of joy. Oh yes, my warm Companion, we may slip and often we may bleed, but just for a minute let’s join that puffy red cloud drunk on sunset. Let’s confess our secret angry names (“asshole,” you say?). Let’s discover the microeconomics of love, the birth of the cool, the future of love. Isn’t this, after all, the Age of Discovery?

Who’s to say that the highest life form is not a colony of clonal bryozoans? Can you or I wave our little ciliated arms over our heads and expect sustenance to waft into what might pass for a mouth? On the other hand, you and I are blessed with cheeks able to detect the tender kiss of the cosmos, and hearts with the capacity of affection for tender bryozoans. Let’s join Alan Michael Parker on the journey: Dear Reader, I know you’re dying / That’s sad. Me too. // How about we wait here together?

The epigraph to Breakfast is from “Try a Little Tenderness,” covered by Otis Redding in 1966, backed by Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Psalm is after Yehuda Amichai’s “Jewish Travel: Change is God and Death is His Prophet.”

 

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Ornithology

When a bird flew into my window
and made a hard and soft death sound,

I found her in the dirt below
and I fixed a cardboard nest for her
and fed her from an eyedropper
what the Internet suggested,
and I named her Young Self,

and when a bird flew into my living room
and frantically bumped at every corner above,
I named her Old self,

and because height and light are
humankind’s spiritual aspiration,
I wished my hands were birds.

Luckily, it was evening,
the outside version of my sorrow:

the swallows flocked and flew
to sleep somewhere, presumably,
and every swallow was like a minute,

so I watched and tried to count, which is what I do,
despite so much of each day
happening to me,

and I fed my Young Self more sugar water
while my Old Self
beat in a corner to get out.

Alan Michael Parker
from The Age of Discovery, Tupelo Press, © 2020.

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Psalm

If there are grave stones, may there be
shy stones, kind stone, mad stones,
scared stones, thoughtful stones,
and may we have a choice;

and if there are hummingbirds, may there be
humming walks and humming naps,
humming minutes between
the minutes that hum in anger,
a humming table and chair by the fire,
and a warm and humming towel to wrap us in.

If there are thunder clouds, may there be
whisper clouds and echo clouds,
clouds the rustling of linens,
giggling clouds scampering,
and clouds to call a child home;

if there are heavy sighs, may there be
sighs that float or sink or rise,
and sighs that drift away,
and sighs to take from us our sighs;

and may the weeping willow,
the weeping redbud,
and the weeping cherry
weave of their weeping an evening gown;

and when we come to the end of days,
may we come to a beginning;
and if there is a time keeper,
may there be a time giver,
and if there is a guard house,
may the house be safe unguarded,

and if there is an ocean view, may we see
what the ocean sees,
the little boats of our bodies
nudged into the tide.

Alan Michael Parker
from The Age of Discovery, Tupelo Press, © 2020.

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