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[poems by Jaki Shelton Green, Joseph Bathanti, Shelby Stephenson]

Perhaps you saw the photograph in last week’s news: Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee at Kabul Airport cradling an infant evacuee in her arms. A few days after the shot was taken, Sgt. Gee was killed by an ISIS-K suicide bomber while she worked at the airport gates. Twelve other American soldiers were killed; one hundred fifty Afghan civilians were killed. The world is full of hate which can only be answered with vengeance and punishment.

One the last day of her life, Sgt. Gee continued her mission to give Afghan women and children hope. She saved their lives. The world is full of hate which can only be answered with love.

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You are part of the human heart. With her beautiful voice and beautiful heart Chanda Branch opened the book launch for Crossing the Rift last Sunday (September 12) in Winston-Salem. Editors Joseph Bathanti and David Potorti shared the vision that led them to create this anthology of North Carolina poets writing on 9/11 and its aftermath. About a hundred of us gathered in the breezeway at Bookmarks on 4th St. to listen, to remember, to witness, to continue to heal.

Among the poems we heard that afternoon are these three by current NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green and former Laureates Joseph Bathanti and Shelby Stephenson. Twenty years: it’s hard to imagine it’s been that long; it’s hard to believe that it has been only twenty. The world changed on 9/11/2001. It’s hard, but if we seek them hard and also work hard to create them we may find some signs of change for the better. What is the answer for hate? Where will we be at the thirtieth anniversary?

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lifting veils

++++ 11 september 2001

++++ ++++ I

it is a bloodstained horizon
whispering laa illaha il-allah
prelude to a balmy evening
that envelops our embrace
we stand reaching across
sands, waters, airs full of blood
in the flash of a distant storm
i see you standing on another shore
torn hijab
billowing towards an unnamed wind
we both wear veils
blood stained
tear stained
enshrouding separate truths

++++ ++++ II

misty morning
teardrops of dust
choke and stain lips
that do not move
will not utter
it is a morning of shores
sea shadows that caress memory
of another time
another veil
another woman needing
reaching
lifting

++++ ++++ III

into your eyes i swam
searching for veils
to lift
to wrap
to pierce
dance with
veils that elude such mornings
veils that stain such lips
veils tearing like music

++++ ++++ IV
it is the covering of spirit
not the body
my hijab your hijab
connecting interweaving crawling snaking binding
into a sky that will not bend

Jaki Shelton Green (ninth and current NC Poet Laureate, since 2018)

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Katy

After the first plane,
Katy phoned her brother.
She was safe, in another building.

They were evacuating. DJ thought
she had said the other building—
the South Tower—crashed into

by United Flight 175 at 9:03,
moments after the line went dead.
That’s all Katy’s mother, my sister,

Marie, could tell me when I called.
All we had to cling to:
a single syllable, separating another

from other, negligible, mere nuance;
but, in this case, the difference
between escape and incineration—

a seam notched for her in the secret ether,
should she stumble into it,
to pass through unharmed.

To cast wider our search,
Marie and I tuned to different networks,
watching for Katy among the fleeing hordes.

They had talked the night before
about what she’d wear to her client meeting:
a brown suit, a black bag; her black hair

was shorter since last I’d seen her.
All day I peered into the TV—punching
the cordless: Katy’s office, home, cell,

office, home, cell, over and over—scanning
faces unraveling diabolically
like smoldering newsreels, smeared

with hallucinatory smoke and ash.
They came in ranks, wave upon wave,
leagued across the avenues:

the diaspora into John’s Apocalypse.
Those still on their feet staggered.
Others lay in the street snarled

in writhing weirs of fire-hose.
The firmament had been napalmed:
orange-plumed, spooling black. Volcanic stench.

Somewhere beyond the screen,
inside that television from which we all, that day,
received, like communion, the new covenant,

for all time, was my niece in her brown suit
and new haircut, her purse—outfitted
for her seventh day in Manhattan,

her fourth day at the World Financial Center,
six days past her twenty-second birthday.
I would spy her, coax her back to us

through the TV’s lurid circuitry
into my living room. Our perfect girl,
my princess—she had lost her shoes—

wandering the skewered heart of the future—
finally arrived, black-hooded, afire,
eerily mute—toward the Upper East side:

a bus, a shared cab with an old man
who befriended her, then barefoot blocks
and blocks to her apartment on 89th Street

where she dialed her parents and announced
with the sacrificial modesty of saints
that she had made it home.

Joseph Bathanti (seventh NC Poet Laureate, 2012-2014)

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September Mourning

O limbo of life—
the wings dapple
mourning,
a twitter in the field,
color in the wind,
a spider on feet of purest gossamer.

Trust goes up in flames.

Girders

change

loved ones,

doors strange to touch,

all the lovely times

sinking

in the face of the steely plumes

breaking apart

brilliances
under the jet, so silver and
beautiful—
gone—

the going on
lifting

dreams

competing for truth

for dear life’s sake

holding the screams

held together by need.

Give me breath.

Cockleburs on an old man’s knees—
roses November leaves—

the memory of this place

catches us
off center

loses hold
and holds to nothing,

the world seeming
seamless
days of glory,

a tapestry
of women and men
dawdling
and scuffling their
shoes, eyeing their toes,

knowing there is nothing to say

that might lighten the load
turning around, coming back, onward,
never to finish telling the story

numb in the name
of the fluttering flag
o say can the tattered one
defend the fences fenced around
and in and through this century of all times
the way a baby’s wrapped in a shawl or shirt for the
tucking into the arms
clutching dear life so thin
the stubborn holding on
a giving in

Shelby Stephenson (eighth NC Poet Laureate, 2015-2017)

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Crossing the Rift – North Carolina Poets on 9/11 & Its Aftermath
edited by Joseph Bathanti and David Potorti, © 2021
Press 53, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA

Available from Press 53 and from Bookmarks

Links to the NC Arts Council regarding current and past NC Poets Laureate

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[with 3 poems by Shelby Stephenson]

While I sit with Dad in the hospital we make a checklist of everything we need to do to close up the house. He had a TIA last night – “a little health problem” is how he’ll describe it to the agent at the News & Observer to explain why he’s canceling his subscription. His scans show no stroke. We wait for the doctor to discharge him, then he’ll take it easy (will he?) for a few days while I do laundry and winterize the cottage in Pine Knoll Shores, avoid the Labor Day traffic for the drive back to Winston.

Check lists. Dad already has a dog-eared collection, each one another page on his yellow pad. I create an updated list on my phone while we wait – first entry, “check Dad’s check lists.” When we finally buckle in on Tuesday and tick off the last item we will have accomplished something.

Or so I want to think. The next five hours in the car generate their own list: find accessible bathrooms, some roadside shade for the lunch we packed. Damn, forgot to give Mom a COVID mask at the rest stop. Unload, unpack, raid the freezer for supper. Make sure we’ve sequestered all the medical records for his appointment with his local doctor.

When I shoot a macro of a flower I want that anther tack sharp, but the blur of stem and leaves hinders identification of the species. Hey, I know all these lists I make are just to keep me hopping from one moment’s task to the next but I see the big picture. I read Dad’s echocardiogram and joke that he’s 94 in the body of an 80-year old. I know there’s a check list whose final box is his final breath.

But then flip the page. Another list. At the top: Remember. Let me tell you all the stuff we talked about on that drive home.

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[TIA – transient ischemic attack: a brief episode of decreased brain perfusion
that may herald an impending stroke]

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The Local Falls

When I come home I walk to Middle Creek
through thirty minutes of springtime bushes
to where the Mouth of Buzzard Branch trickles
with water to bridge the bubbly rushes.

Dangling their legs, a few bank-fishermen
mumble to Chub Robin full moon in May,
cigars and cigarettes in roll-your-owns,
eyes on lead-lines for bottom feeders they

bait with grub-worms dug behind the outhouse.
They fish too with fat swamp-worms freed from mud
near head of Cow Mire’s spring, a pudding-souse
Time works into clumps like huge Angus cuds.

All’s quiet: Daddy sets a turtle-hook
and baits it with chicken guts, one motion
as he stabs the stob, slings the cord the brook
settles, waffling under his location.

His hands gather Nature’s complete cunning.
Love allows for fresh food on our table,
His tongue, lips, face, limbs, and actions winning
affection of his wife, my mother, Maytle.

He’s gone; I help turtles cross Sanders Road.
Interstate-40 whizzes loud nearby.
Every waking day’s a different load.
What glory warriors must have wooed with sighs.

Pollution’s out of honor and our shame.
The sunfish’s eyes bloat like old eyes.
They wear bumps like my psoriasis (blame
chemicals on crops – fertilizers).

I bid the owl keep me pitched with tenor
to carry this: run blue-tailed swamp-rabbit?
I hear the beagles yow-yowing: Jake Mills
says those rabbits taste like the swamp run-off.

Shelby Stephenson

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These selections are from more, by Shelby Stephenson; Redhawk Publications, Hickory, North Carolina; © 2020 Shelby Stephenson. Used by permission of publisher.

A new book by Shelby Stephenson in his 82nd year is an anchor to the past and a beacon to the future. His lines settle you down and hold you fast like the mud near Cow’s Mire spring. His lines open your heart to love, death, redemption – to all of life. His lines advocate for the heritage of language and the language of heritage spoken in unflinching truth. There is no sentimentality here. And woven through each poem is the music of his tenor cum baritone – never forget Hank Williams! – and the gentle humor that wraps an arm around your shoulder and lets you know you’re welcome here.

Shelby has been professor, editor, NC Poet Laureate, minstrel, and most of all traveling ambassador of the word. If you’ve met him or heard him, you’ve been encouraged to read more, to write more. During years of submitting to Pembroke Magazine while Shelby was editor, I came to treasure his rejections, hand written on a tiny slip, invariably with a message like “not quite, Bill, but keep trying.”

Shelby Stephenson still lives on his family farm, Paul’s Hill; his family has “owned” it for generations. Shelby always adds those quotation marks. It must be quite a lofty hill because from there Shelby seems to be able to survey and discern all of human nature, as well as animal and earth nature. His poems may nest in the springtime bushes near Middle Creek but they fly over the countryside and lighten all the sky. He reminds me of North Carolina’s second Poet Laureate, James Larkin Pearson (1879-1981), who in his poem Fifty Acres (1937) sees all the world from his home in Boomer, Wilkes County, NC.

I’m just beginning to see a bit myself.

More please, Shelby – more!

 

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Circling Sonnet Number Two

You call it “realistic” that we should stay
where we are, you among your friends for life
and I, here, on Paul’s Hill miles away
from you and the very feel of a knot
sanctimonious ceremonies would
sour tightly sweaty aspersions barren
of Discord and Disdain and just a ton
of regret that we two should let heaven
outstrip all praise for earthly things and fame.
The easy new is not décor but blood
turned jelly in emotions and refrain.
Your reputation may dull those whose load
might turn both sides from love’s scent
if we do not sound out Love’s instrument.

Shelby Stephenson

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For Robert Frost

When you came to Memorial Hall to read,
Your black coat made your white shirt muss your hair,
As if you were standing outside in wind.
In a speech class I presented a “there”
in “Birches,” letting music in your lines
Lead the way of conversation in rhyme.

I did not try to imitate you, as ome would.
That crackle down in your throat, the doting
Tone seeking for you that turn in your woods,
When you paused, said someting about the road
You took that made for you the difference.
You reminded me of Luke the Drifter,

One of my childhood heroes who brought me
To songs and music, along with sermons
That wadded the pulpit at my Rehobeth
Primitive Baptist Church, yes, the come-ons,
A Brother, never a Sister, lining
Off a hymn for me in perfect timing.

I had never been to a poetry
Reading, by the way, would not have been there
Except for Charlie Whitfield who barged in
My dorm room in Lewis, saying, “Shelby,
You want to see a cadaver?” (Charlie
Was studying hard for medical school.)

I was silent; my mind flashed to Rehobeth,
Mortality, death, promises, and grace,
While there beside a long scalpel she lay,
Uncovered, more naked that a fish, scaled.
I said, “Charlie, let’s get out of this place.”
We arrived at The Hall; I sat blank-faced.

A few years later I failed the law; my
Memory never did lose your presence.
I bought easements, rights-of-way, for towers
Around New Hampshire, saw birches bending,
And boulders sunning, plus those rambling walls,
And I could hear you leading me, always.

Shelby Stephenson

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Sam Barbee]

Life is not a waltz but sometimes it’s a samba. There are no numbered footprints painted on the floor; you can’t count the meter and the next step is never prescribed. The syncopation will throw you off, take you by surprise. And there are always more percussionists than anyone counted on.

As I kid I’d flip through the albums beneath my Dad’s phonograph. Found it – between George Szell and Peter and the Wolf I always came back to Getz and Gilberto. I knew who Stan was but it was decades before I learned the other names: Jobim, João and Astrud. To weave and shimmer through life, offbeat and upbeat, who could desire more?

At 18 my life rolled and rocked so allegro I doubt I even noticed it was passing. At 38 maybe I convinced myself life really was a waltz, laid out just so, I-lead-you-follow, all outcomes preordained. So here we go now, 68, and how many times have we knocked over the music stand or the band arrived drunk? And just who upped the damn tempo? How many morning coffee melodies will be interrupted by a crisis of (not quite 98) parents? Wolf, spit out that duck! Who made me director of this cacophany?

Settle. Close eyes, sway with me. Night is falling in Corcovado.

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Soft Spots in the Stream

My son wants stories
at bedtime of when I was his age –
how I loved blue jays and feared shadows.
Back then,
+++++ my sense of adventure
required the black mud bottom
of Burnt Mill Creek: stones, bream schools,
turtle beds. As frogs plunged in reeds,

my dad motioned open-handed
as I pleaded to stay close:
++++++++++ Trust the day.
He marched, under the gauze of Spanish moss,
fearless of water snakes. Water over my knees,
he taught me creek walking, how to balance
up slick banks with willow spindles and cypress knees.
I emerged, baptized with solutions.

+++++++++++++++ Once home,
he lacked answers,
those waning days when things unraveled,
when he often clenched his fist.
He bogged down with questions,
brooding in his recliner:
++++++++++ Keep with it,
the best he could offer.

Now, I escort my son
off to sleep, with his unresolved
problems and prayers, and at times I shrug,
unable to help him add things up.
But in his murky waters,
I part the surface, and
search with him for
soft spots in the stream.

Sam Barbee

Jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum

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That Rain We Needed: good title for July. Good collection for any season of life, this book by Sam Barbee from Press 53. These poems are a complete lifetime’s memoir: adopted childhood, young parent’s uncertainties, long married life with its waltzes & sambas. There is often a hint in the background of dissonance, but Sam Barbee has had a full and joyful life and he blesses us with it through his recollections and close observations.

Into every life a little rain must fall – let’s certainly hope so, before the herb garden is plumb dried up!

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The Color of Things

A trace of your image escapes
from darkness. Between
sundown and REM, you visit me:

nightgown drooped on the bedpost,
that marvelous thud of lace
on the hardwood floor, toes burrowing

beside me beneath the blanket’s down.
You, so often sequestered in the study
with cigarettes and Russian Tea,

travel the immaculate distance
mapped in memory, plotted only with love’s
intuition. I inventory lines in your face,

validations of the pattern that makes you up.
You remind me, It’s not the shape of things,
but their color.

Sam Barbee

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Red Planet

We speed to the shore’s horizon
and I am certain
there must be more to us
as we leave the aura of tiny wars.
Our calling lies closer to the sun,
on a world where love and longing fuse,

not into white-hot anguish but
into a peaceful absolute.
When I love you, black sky’s discord
brightens washed with stars, disorder calmed.
Sun, close enough to evaporate doubt,
warms our beach where we fight no theory.,

do not cling to construed arguments.
Content, we absorb sparkles in sandwash,
white foam abandoned on the beach
by ancient crests. Here we will wait,
shoulder to shoulder, wrapped
in laughter, poised for radiance.

Sam Barbee

all selections from That Rain We Needed, Sam Barbee, Press 53, Winston-Salem, NC, © 2016

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Green Heron, Butorides virescens

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2014-06-30a Doughton Park Tree

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[with 4 poems by Richard Allen Taylor]

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

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

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

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The Train to Redemption

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

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

Richard Allen Taylor

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

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

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Angel of Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Allen Taylor

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Blue Ridge Mountains

The possibilities were infinite.
When God made this place

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

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

contemporary design, mountains
sprigged with tallest pine,

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

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

afternoon reflected green
from the nearest slopes,

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

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

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

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

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

breath in the trees, before
the voices in the meadow

or the click of heels
against flagstone walks,

before dry leaves scratched
across the porch, God

did his best work in silence.
He assigned Mother Nature

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

pitting one continent against another,
subcontracting certain details

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

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

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

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

Richard Allen Taylor

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Cello in Moonlight

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

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

Richard Allen Taylor

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

Header art by Linda French Griffin

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[with 3 poems by Maureen Ryan Griffin]

At the National Zoo in DC the Maned Wolves are sniffing them out – crunch; the Red River Hogs have dug up their entire enclosure to welcome them; the Big Cats just couldn’t care less about them; the River Otters bat them like shuttlecocks a few times, then crunch; the Keepers are busy calculating how much less protein to allot each daily feed because of all the crunching of them.

Here in Elkin an army of little workmen fill the trees, each holding in his middle arms and forward arms a tiny leaf blower set on max. Their women can’t resist that sound. Cedar waxwings can’t resist coming down from the heights where they usually hang out to nab nymphs climbing up the oak trees. Yellow-billed cuckoos are planning three broods this summer after checking out the buffet.

In 10th grade Mrs. Schilling made sure we learned the major orders – Lepidoptera, Diptera, Hymenoptera, etc., not least Hemiptera, the True Bugs (you’d better not call a Coleoptera a “bug”). Stink Bugs, you guys are old news after this year’s Hemiptera (suborder Homoptera) emergence — Magicicada septendecim Brood X, The Great Eastern Brood, magical indeed, to you we doff our hats. Second thought I’ll keep mine on.

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Ten Thousand Cicadas Can’t Be Wrong

Summer sings sweet songs for her supper,
but her golden slippers aren’t for sale – no unless
you happen upon some celestial bargain basement
of goodly delights. There, nearly hidden under
last year’s turquoise silk sky, raspberries ripen, rampant,
as the mourning dove’s plum notes whirr, winged
into basil-drenched dreams. All this, and watermelon, too,
and fireflies, and the daylilies from your mother’s
last garden, double-headed. Just don’t forget
there are chiggers, and mosquitoes, of course, and that heat
everyone speaks of, muggy, tasting of
mildewed shower shoes, sounding for all the world like
kudzu unfurling in Jackson, Mississippi, where Janis Joplin
might have sung supper songs of her own. I don’t know.
I’ve never been there. I do know freedom’s not
just another word for nothin’ left to lose, and that you’ll never
find that bargain basement, no matter how long you look.
Listen, ten thousand cicadas can’t be wrong.
Anybody knows larvae never lie, not as long as
persimmons pucker and peaches procrastinate.
Lollygag in your hammock if you must, whenever
the tomatoes lean, but remember
that the persnickety bookie of guilt and doubt
is keeping score. You can’t hide but you can
run. You can steal the chiggers right out from under
the blackberries. You can rob from the raspberries
in bruised homage to the summer afternoon
the two most beautiful words in the English language,
according to Henry James, whose afternoons
are elsewhere now. Tu connais Uncle Death?
No worries. Aunt Morning will waltz willfully
wanton beyond noon, yea, and onward, well past dusk,
in Sister Summer’s silver slippers, the ones
deep in her closet that she seldom thinks to wear.

Maureen Ryan Griffin

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Could there be a more perfect moment to re-read Maureen Ryan Griffin’s book Ten Thousand Cicadas Can’t Be Wrong? Her poetry is often about the changing seasons, the changes in our lives, the mile markers and wrong turns and new pathways discovered in the process. Nature and human nature interwoven, the book is rich and broad-ranging; I’d add even more selections from the Ten Thousand but when the sun comes out the little leaf-blowers rev up and soon I can’t hear myself think.

[Rather than 10 to the 4th we’re dealing with 10 to the 13th = tens of trillions. But they are nice and crunchy.]

Maureen (no kin to this writer) is best known as “midwife to dreams” for the many writers she has instructed, encouraged, and inspired through the years. Visit her website WORDPLAY and learn more about “spinning words into gold” through her contributions to the award-winning CHARLOTTE READERS PODCAST.

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I’d like to think it isn’t greed

impelling us
to gather
far beyond need, whatever
our predilection –
++++++ blackberries
++++++ buckeyes
++++++ daylilies
++++++ fireflies
++++++ olive shells
++++++ sand dollars
++++++ stones –
++++++++++++ rather,
the feel of familiar
texture, convexity,
the comfort
of a particular weight
cradled in a palm.
Who knows
what it is that sings
as we fill
+++ baskets to overflowing
with our own peculiar harvests.
We feel the lure
+++ cull just one more
as if it were important to
keep this bit of fruit
from what we think of
as waste, to save
another shell from being
shattered by the sea,
to make ourselves a home among
the things of this world.

Maureen Ryan Griffin

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When the Leaves Are in the Water

When my brother and I walked
through these woods, he pointed out
subtleties of bark and branches,
read growth rings, spoke of drought
and rainy years. Said I look

like Mother. What I love
about trees: they endure
the seasons. I yearn
to be sweet gum, sugar maple.
My brother named me

ironwood, divined my rusting
heart, too hard to yield
forgiveness. Would we agree on oak,
my gallnuts early griefs
painstakingly transformed?

Arriving at the creek bank,
I let silt run through my fingers,
minute bits of pebble
with unseen roughness.
I wasn’t looking when my hands

turned into hers. I plunge them
into cold creek water.
I once thought
forgiving her was clean,
balsam on a wound

to make it heal. It’s more
like washing hands
before a meal. I have to do it
over and over: forgiveness
to the third power. I feel

it’s time, but loss spirals
deeper each succeeding
season. What will I be without
my holy anger – stripped bare
like the skeleton of a tree,

my stipule scars, my leaf
scars showing. Trees are born
to nakedness – I’m not ready.
My brother told me
the Cherokee believe

it’s a time of great power
when the leaves are in the water.
I fling in handfuls of
hard memories, watch the current
carry them away.

Maureen Ryan Griffin
all selections from Ten Thousand Cicadas Can’t Be Wrong, New and Selected Poems, Main Street Rag Publishing, © 2014 Maureen Ryan Griffin

Magicicada

Brood X

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IMG_6432

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photo by Saul Griffin

[with 3 poems by Becky Gould Gibson]

Amelia’s Papa Jimmy brought the bunnies to playschool yesterday. Four of them had fallen from a nest destroyed as he cleared a field two weeks ago. No mother in sight.

When we heard he’d bought bunny milk at Tractor Supply and was feeding them four drops every two hours we first thought, Is he raising them for the dogs? Not to eat, to teach. He trains young beagles to hunt; maybe they need to learn the smell of rabbits?

But no, not at all, it’s just that Jimmy can’t leave helpless young to die. Tractor Supply will mix up formula for any small critter you may have need of. He used a dropper until they learned to suck from a nipple. Two weeks later they’re hopping, eating tasty greens.

Yesterday each four- and five-year old got to hear the bunnies’ story, touch their soft ears and heads. Today Jimmy will release them at the edge of the woods, restored to bunny-ness, preserved for no other purpose than themselves.

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Stand of Birches

The woods are wet this morning – rain yesterday
or the day before, maybe – such a sense of quiet,
all the damp peace of it, mostly trees to be with,
birches especially, minimalists in chic black and white,
raw silk with horizontal markings like wounds
slashed across white paper, dashes, staples, lines
of ghostly scansion, every beat, every syllable
of wood and glade accented, no scales or hierarchies
scored in their bark, rather universal emphasis,
as if everything mattered – this tiny white-headed
flower, this ant on some errand, even the mosquito
buzzing my ankles, these low-growing grasses,
branch with its bark pulled back, underbelly softening,
chartreuse mosses – though brief, briefly important.

Becky Gould Gibson

photo by Saul Griffin

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These poems by Becky Gould Gibson are from her book Heading Home, the winner of the inaugural Lena Shull Book Contest in 2013. The poetry is strongly rooted in family and place but also richly steeped in literary tradition and history. I keep coming back to Stand of Birches for its eloquent, even spiritual expression of the deepest premise of Ecology: not utilitarian, not exploitative, not derivative or charismatic or anthropocentric – each living thing in all its interconnectedness is of value in and for itself.

Yes, yes, OK, OK, even mosquitoes.

In 2012 the Poetry Council of North Carolina elected to dissolve its organization and merge its residual funds with the North Carolina Poetry Society. Since 1949 PCNC had promoted the craft of poetry in the state with its annual contests; now in collaboration with NCPS it established an endowment to sponsor the annual Lena Shull Book Contest for an unpublished full length manuscript by a North Carolina writer, named for founder and first president of PCNC. Becky Gould Gibson was the first Lena Shull winner.

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Scuppernongs
+++ Immortal life will be given . . .
+++ The Lord of harvest gathers us, / Sheaves of the dead –
++++++++++++++++++++++ for Bill

When death lifts its edge a little,
as in the first movement of Mahler’s C minor symphony,
you wonder will you be ready.
We finish a bowl of scuppernongs from the market,
wild bronze from childhood,
delighting in the bite, thick skin between our teeth,
touch tongue-tip to tongue-tip.
You taught my tongue to talk back.
I recall all those summers,
you in another county, nearly a decade before we would meet.

Now, come with me.
We’re together, then. It’s a languid afternoon in late August.
I’m eight. You’re ten.
As for death, I still think I can talk my way out of it.
Follow me across the un-mowed yard,
weeds tickling our legs,
to the scuppernong bush at the edge of Mr. Marcus’s field.
For you, death is no fiction.
At six, made to duck under your desk at school,
wear a dog tag, so someone could identify your body.
No bucket. We stuff ourselves madly.
Know what happens if you swallow a seed? We laugh.

No, love. It is not my own death I worry about, but yours –
will I ever be ready for it?
To be alone as I was that distant August,
memory plucking the fruit of you, scuppernong ripe in my mouth.

Becky Gould Gibson

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Lines to Yeats on the Anniversary of His Death
++++ January 28, 1939
++++ for Alice

To a soul just fledged, still damp, in a nest
Of paper, flimsy bits of Plato, Paul,
Shelley, Wordsworth, Tennyson, all the rest
Who believed (or even half-believed) soul
Could soar above the earth (earth a mere cast
Of heaven), spirit somehow separable
From flesh, you came, William (my dear Willie)
With your poems of pure song, heart’s own music.

No wonder it entered my veins, my pulse
Learned to tick your rhythms. No matter you
Warned not to pleasure soul at the expense
Of body, who could even listen to
Such warning with such a beat, sound and sense
So perfectly married, as if to show
A manmade thing could become immortal,
Gold bird on a gold limb sing out its soul.

You made me more impatient than ever
To conceive such a poem of my own.
Your artless art merely fed the fever,
Yet every line fell stillborn from my pen.
Blood had become a colorless liquor
Nourished on symbols. Life had to happen,
And it did. Not a woman but a child,
Rather a child’s birth. It was a girl-child

Split me apart. No way to staunch the flood
(Nothing’s sole or whole that has not been rent)
Of blunt necessity. You had your Maud.
I had my Alice. She caught me up, lent
Me her knowledge. She, no man or bird-god,
Made loins shudder, roused me from those years spent
In abstraction, taught me bone, bowel, breath,
Body’s mortal work. She taught me my death.

Becky Gould Gibson

three poems from Heading Home, Winner of the 2013 Lena Shull Book Contest, Main Street Rag Publishing Company, © 2014 Becky Gould Gibson

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2016-05-08a Doughton Park Tree

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[poems by Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry, Rose Fyleman, David Radavich]

an offering from Craig Kittner . . .

Piute Creek
– Gary Snyder –

One granite ridge
A tree, would be enough
Or even a rock, a small creek,
A bark shred in a pool.
Hill beyond hill, folded and twisted
Tough trees crammed
In thin stone fractures
A huge moon on it all, is too much.
The mind wanders. A million
Summers, night air still and the rocks
Warm. Sky over endless mountains.
All the junk that goes with being human
Drops away, hard rock wavers
Even the heavy present seems to fail
This bubble of a heart.
Words and books
Like a small creek off a high ledge
Gone in the dry air.

A clear, attentive mind
Has no meaning but that
Which sees is truly seen.
No one loves rock, yet we are here.
Night chills. A flick
In the moonlight
Slips into Juniper shadow:
Back there unseen
Cold proud eyes
Of Cougar or Coyote
Watch me rise and go.

Piute Creek” by Gary Snyder from Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems. Copyright © 2009 by Gary Snyder

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an offering from Alana Dagenhart . . .

The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, 1836

Poet, will you put the parts back together? The seed, the roots, the petals that have been thrashed and trampled? The bits that once meshed and fit now distracted and ignored? The air we can’t taste, the sunlight we can’t breathe, the stone beneath our feet, the water in our hair? Who will put us back together and put us into the places where we belong, all together?

Several friends have offered poems that speak to them about our Earth and which offer to gather us all in together to celebrate Earth Day! I’m posting their offerings April 21, 22, and 23. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you notice? What do you feel?

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an offering from both Lynda Rush-Myers and Kitsey Burns Harrison . . .

The Peace of Wild Things
– Wendell Berry –

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems (North Point Press), © 1985

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an offering from Kitsey Burns Harrison . . .

Mice
– Rose Fyleman –

I think mice
are rather nice;
Their tails are long,
their faces small;
They haven’t any
chins at all.
Their ears are pink,
their teeth are white,
They run about
the house at night;
They nibble things
they shouldn’t touch,
and, no one seems
to like them much,
but, I think mice
are rather nice.

Mice” by Rose Fyleman (1887-1957)

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Roundleaf Yellow Violet; Viola rotundifolia; Mountains-to-Sea Trail above Brinegar Cabin

an offering from David Radavich, his poem . . .

Enough

Rare is better:
The price soars
when you lack
what you need.

A poem carries
everything
in your pocket
like a mind.

Love can be
stored in a cell
whose DNA
heartens life.

Music is soul
saving, the simplest
math and finding
one solution.

O earth that is
rare and good,
sing to the unclean
with your seas.

“Enough” by David Radavich, originally appeared in Iodine Poetry Journal

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[original artwork by Linda French Griffin (c) 2021]

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Earth Day artwork by Linda French Griffin

[with poems by Dorianne Laux and Tony Hoagland]

The sensual man conforms thoughts to things; the poet conforms things to his thoughts. The one esteems nature as rooted and fast; the other, as fluid, and impresses his being theron.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, 1836

April 22, 1970 – the entire student body of Aurora High School is milling around outdoors in the Ohio springtime. In the front parking log five or six big black coffins are set up like grim milestones. The coffins bear epitaphs like “Clean Water” and “Beautiful Land” – the administration has granted the Student Council’s request to have an assembly to celebrate the first Earth Day.

I am taking photos for Borealis, the yearbook; my girl friend Linda French is assistant editor. She is vastly more the environmental activist than I. Our little farm town / bedroom community is forty miles from Cleveland and the where the Cuyahoga River crosses our local golf course it’s an insubstantial creek. The year before, though, the Cuyahoga River where it enters Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland caught fire and burned, and not for the first time. No big deal – oil slicks and pollution mean progress, full employment. Forget about it.

Maybe we all would have forgotten, except Time Magazine published articles about the burning river and then in December National Geographic featured it on the cover – “Our Ecological Crisis.” Congress had established the Environmental Protection Agency in January 1970; by spring even we kids in sleepy Aurora must be worrying how much longer we’ll have clean water and beautiful land.

Earth Day 1970

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A couple of years ago Linda and I took a road trip to northeastern Ohio to visit all the old haunts. The high school has additions and facilities we can’t even figure out. The golf course is now a reclaimed and replanted nature preserve with walking trails. There’s lots of new development in Aurora but there are still cow pastures and horses.

We also paid our first visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Designated a National Recreation Area in 1974, the same year we got married and moved to North Carolina, it became a National Park in 2000. Between Akron and Cleveland it comprises more than 33,000 acres following the river and the old Ohio & Erie Canal and reaching all the way into metropolitan Garfield Heights – the nation’s largest urban park. Even outside the Park the Cuyahoga is cleaned up, restored, back in the business of fish and wildlife and recreation instead of oil slicks. In 1970 if you fell into the river it meant an immediate trip the ER; now you just climb back up on your paddle board.

Without catching on fire.

Earth Day 1970

Earth Day 1970

 

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These two poems are collected in The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas, © 2013.

Dorianne Laux has taught creative writing at NC State University and elsewhere. Her most recent book among many is Only as the Day Is Long: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 2019).

Tony Hoagland (1953-2018) was born in Fort Bragg, NC, and taught at the University of Houston and Warren Wilson College. His many books of poetry include Unincorporated Personas in the Late Honda Dynasty (Graywolf Press, 2005)

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Life is Beautiful

+++++++++ and remote, and useful,
if only to itself. Take the fly, angel
of the ordinary house, laying its bright
eggs on the trash, pressing each jewel out
delicately along a crust of buttered toast.
Bagged, the whole mess travels to the nearest
dump where other flies have gathered, singing
over stained newsprint and reeking
fruit. Rapt on air they execute an intricate
ballet above the clashing pirouettes
of heavy machinery. They hum with life.
While inside rumpled sacks pure white
maggots writhe and spiral from a rip,
a tear-shaped hole that drools and drips
a living froth onto the buried earth.
The warm days pass, gulls scree and pitch,
rats manage the crevices, feral cats abandon
their litters for a morsel of torn fur, stranded
dogs roam open fields, sniff the fragrant edges,
a tossed lacework of bones and shredded flesh.
And the maggots tumble at the center, ripening,
husks membrane-thin, embryos darkening
and shifting within, wings curled and wet,
the open air pungent and ready to receive them
in their fecund iridescence. And so, of our homely hosts,
a bag of jewels is born again into the world. Come, lost
children of the sun-drenched kitchen, your parents
soundly sleep along the windowsill, content,
wings at rest, nestled in against the warm glass.
Everywhere the good life oozes from the useless
waste we make when we create – our streets teem
with human young, rafts of pigeons streaming
over squirrel-burdened trees. If there is
a purpose, maybe there are too many of us
to see it, though we can, from a distance,
hear the dull thrum of generation’s industry,
feel its fleshly wheel churn the fire inside us, pushing
the world forward toward its ragged edge, rushing
like a swollen river into multitude and rank disorder.
Such abundance. We are gorged, engorging, and gorgeous.

Dorianne Laux
from Smoke, BOA Editions Ltd., © 2000 Dorianne Laux

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Wild

In late August when the streams dry up
and the high meadows turn parched and blond,

bears are squeezed out of the mountains
down into the valley of condos and housing developments.

All residents are therefore prohibited
from putting their garbage out early.

The penalty for disobedience will be
bears: large black furry fellows

drinking from you sprinkler system,
rolling your trashcans down your lawn,

bashing through the screen door of the back porch to get their
first real taste of a spaghetti dinner,

while the family hides in the garage
and the wife dials 1-800-BEARS on her cell phone,

a number she just made up
in a burst of creative hysteria.

Isn’t that the way it goes?
Wildness enters your life and asks

that you invent a way to meet it,
and you run in the opposite direction

as the bears saunter down Main Street
sending station wagons crashing into fire hydrants,

getting the police department to phone
for tranquilizer guns,

the dart going by accident into the
neck of the unpopular police chief,

who is carried into early retirement
in an ambulance crowned with flashing red lights,

as the bears inherit the earth
full of water and humans and garbage,

which looks to them like paradise.

Tony Hoagland
from Unincorporated Personas in the Late Honda Dynasty, Graywolf Press, © 2005 Tony Hoagland.

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Liverwort, Marchantia species; Liverworts are primitive nonvascular plants, perhaps the most primitive true plants still in existence.

Isn’t life beautiful? Not always pretty but always beautiful. Often messy, invariably smelly, predictably unpredictable, unexpectedly weird, but always beautiful. Scrunch down low enough to notice; don’t let it bite you (much); take off your anthropocentric glasses; what did I tell you – beautiful!

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[original artwork by Linda French Griffin (c) 2021]

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Poetry Formatting in WordPress

Are you frustrated when you try to re-create complex line formatting in a WordPress post?

Sure, you can right / left / center justify a paragraph, and you can “add indent” to a paragraph, but unless you open the hood and get grease on your hands writing HTML, you can’t add tabs or spaces to a line to get it to look like this:

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The damselfly hovers,
+++ lays her eggs
++++++ in the sky
+++++++++ of pond,

her abdomen
+++ a slender J
++++++ pierces
+++++++++ the mirror.

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Instead after you save your draft and preview the screen here’s how it looks:

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The damselfly hovers,
lays her eggs
in the sky
of pond,

her abdomen
a slender J
pierces
the mirror.

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How pedestrian. How constipated.

Here’s my fix: clunky but effective. Tell me your fix if it’s better!

1 – ADD CHARACTERS TO THE SPACES OR TABS YOU WANT TO INSERT INTO THE LINE:

The damselfly hovers,
+++ lays her eggs
++++++ in the sky
+++++++++ of pond,

her abdomen
+++ a slender J
++++++ pierces
+++++++++ the mirror.

Here I’m using THREE +’s for each tab grouping; use more, fewer, any character you like.
I am also adding a [SPACE] after each grouping of +’s to make it easier to highlight them later.

2 – ONE AT A TIME, HIGHLIGHT EACH GROUPING OF +’S YOU WANT TO TRANSFORM

3 – CHANGE THE FONT COLOR TO “WHITE”

Click the small down arrow next to the A for Font and select the White square

Note – if your blog uses a background color OTHER than white, then instead of white you need to change the font color to your background color!

4 – CONTINUE FOR EACH GROUPING . . .
++++++++ SAVE DRAFT . . .
++++++++++++++++ PREVIEW . . .
++++++++++++++++++++++++ VOILA!

You can speckle random text all over the screen using this technique.

There must be a better way (short of learning to write code), but I haven’t found it!

Here’s the entire poem, which appeared in a slightly different version in my chapbook RIVERSTORY : TREESTORY published by the Orchard Street Press, © 2018

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Light

The damselfly hovers,
+++ lays her eggs
++++++ in the sky
+++++++++ of pond,

her abdomen
+++ a slender J
++++++ pierces
+++++++++ the mirror.

+++ Once.
+++ Again.
+++ One egg.
+++ Another.

Light as a morning
+++ kiss, light
++++++ as the voice

that ripples
+++ between
++++++ these lines,

+++ airy, watchful,

let no hungry trout
+++ swirl, lunge,
++++++ swallow
+++++++++ their maker.

+++ One.
+++ Another.
+++ Again.
+++ And tomorrow

these words become
+++ creatures
++++++ with silver wings

+++++++++ that rise
++++++++++++ into light.

 

from RIVERSTORY : TREESTORY, The Orchard Street Press, © 2018 Bill Griffin

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[with 3 poems by Diana Pinckney]

No hesitation. Out the back door she takes my hand and we hike down through the woods, steep switching trail, slick moss rocks, sliding on last fall’s leaves. Big brother is not with us today; she is the explorer. I wonder if she’ll hold back at the wash but she hops rocks across the rivulet and even runs ahead of me along Dutchman Creek. Threading the briers, skirting mud, twigs in her hair – she is all go today.

When we reach our destination, the shallow pools that linger from winter floods and may be dry by August, I hesitate. Not so many months ago she would make me check the playroom floor for millipedes, back away from pillbugs on the porch steps, want to be carried to the car.

I squat in a squishy place beside the water and show her clumps of clear jelly. Most of the eggs have hatched, some larvae still in their shivery globes, many tadpoles swimming free. With one finger I push algae aside so she can see them wriggle. Instantly her fingers are in the water, too. Tickling the tiny black wigglers. Oblivious to muck and slime. Pappy, can we come back here tomorrow?

This is what I would wish for her at five and all her life – to be innocent and yet be bold. To face the new and the scary and not look away. To discover, to wonder. And to remember the immense power of NO! bursting from her body, now when her brother thwarts her playful imaginings and always when the world conspires to steal that innocence from her.

And, for as long as I’m able, I wish for her to still want me to carry her.

 

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Who is completely innocent and who is entirely beast? Diana Pinckney’s poems are subtle like a rustle in the night but lucid, windows breathing light and fragrance into the world. Her language and lines are effortlessly elegant. Her poems seem to arrive from all the points of the compass to create community: persona poems in which the reader comes to inhabit a new being; poems of family, loss, commemoration, revelation; ekphrastic poems that uncover hidden truth in painting, sculpture, representation.

And woven throughout her book, The Beast and the Innocent, lurks the wolf: tyrant predator, misunderstood victim; purity and profane. Who is the threat and who the threatened? Aren’t we all only doing what it takes to survive?

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Ghost Wolves, for My Grandchildren

You may see one in a zoo
***** and ask, does he howl
********** and I may say, what would

he howl about? What, you ask, does a wild
***** wolf sound like? What could I answer? Wind
********** when it rises from the deepest

canyon to the tops of spruce
***** or the fog’s blue surge, the drift
********** above dying embers. Smoke alone

moves toward the stars in a world
***** where nothing is heard and only the moon
********** knows then the last tree falls.

Emptiness that whispers
***** after the wilderness
********** has forgotten what it longs for.

from The Beast and the Innocent, Diana Pinckney, FutureCycle Press, © 2015

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My Brother Sings
after Raymond Carver’s “What the Doctor Said”

He sings when the dogwoods are blooming as I drive
him and his wife along the highway from Asheville,
away from a hospital where we waited in the doctor’s office,
sitting in gray chairs, joking about my allergy

to their six cats, ow I can’t sleep in their house
and still breathe. I watched my brother move
his fingers over swollen knuckles that he used to
crack when I was little just to tease. There to hear

the results of the lung biopsy, now we know.
Traveling through Blue Ridge mountains, we see
dogwoods, redbuds, cherry trees heavy
with April’s abundance. When my brother

begins the song, his wife in the back seat on her cell
interrupts, Dabney, will you please stop singing
while I’m telling Sis you have cancer. Oh, sorry, he says.
He glances at me while petals drift with us

down the mountain. Our laughter’s almost soundless.

from The Beast and the Innocent, Diana Pinckney, FutureCycle Press, © 2015

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The Beast and The Innocent

Of course, dogs and cats go to heaven,
my mother announce from her deathbed.
Welcomed into heaven, my childhood cat
will groom Grandmother’s canary, feathers the same
yellow as the black cat’s eyes, the bird

he ate when I was seven. In paradise
pointers lap at duck ponds while cockatiels
screech and perch on each dog’s white- or black-
spotted back. Heaven’s way is,

as we have heard, the lion lying down
with the lamb. A place where Christians kindle
the eight candles of Hanukkah, Muslims unfurl
prayer rugs for Hindi, and the roped Tibetan prayer

flags flutter good fortune for the Chinese.
The wine and wafer bless a round wooden table, a feast
celebrated with unleavened and leavened,
mango and oyster, babel unlimited. And the spaniel
that killed my brother’s rabbits will lie

on the wide-bladed grass of my youth, all manner
of four- and two-legged creatures leaping
over him, some stroking the red-and-white silk
of his fur for pure pleasure, for the grace.

from The Beast and the Innocent, Diana Pinckney, FutureCycle Press, © 2015

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Doughton Park Tree 2021-03-23

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