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Posts Tagged ‘Southern writing’

[with poetry by Alana Dagenhart]

Here, take some with you. You’re not likely to leave my Dad’s presence without hearing these words. It could be a little plastic tub of leftovers from the meal I just brought him and Mom; maybe cookies or a chocolate; a couple of apples – he says he and Mom can’t eat them all. You’ll definitely be carrying the stack of New Yorkers and Sunday funnies he’s been saving. Just try leaving empty handed after visiting my Dad, just try.

Here, take some. How many years before I realized he always has and always will say this? How long have I been trying to analyze why he does? Does anyone ever really understand their father (or their son, for that matter)?

Here, take. It can be too easy to overlook Dad’s deep, even urgent, desire to give. He may seem stubborn and commandeering (just like me, although I prefer “assertive”). He takes charge of every conversation (probably because he literally can’t hear anyone talking but himself; maybe he thinks he’s just filling an awkward lull). Admit it, he acts like a Dad – so let me cut him some slack and open my eyes to the source of his generous essence.

Dad grew up during the Depression in the rural South – just imagine. World War II paid for him to go to Duke. He worked for the same huge company from the time I was four until he retired; he always seemed to be traveling and working at home nights & weekends. Because of Dad’s promotions we moved three times in two years while I was in Junior High (origin of my many quirks, no doubt), but then he declined promotions so my little sister didn’t have to move midway through High School.

Dad saw to it that I graduated from university and med school with no more debt than I could manage. When Linda and I got married and our old boat of a car couldn’t bear the load, Dad towed a trailer from Ohio to North Carolina to meet us after our honeymoon. All these years I can’t recall him spending money on himself, except maybe golf clubs every few decades, but Dad will keep shelling out whatever it takes to maintain the old beach house so all his grandkids can go on enjoying it after he and Mom are gone.

Don’t you want some more? Oh yeah, that’s the other thing Dad says. I hope he can hear me when I reply, “Thanks, Dad, it’s been plenty.”

 

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All the Silver Space

Fire pops and burns blue, Sunday morning
October in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Hiss and hum, the constant roaring –
wood is changing,
solid to light,
before my eyes
like you, Dad
muscle to sacks of dry ice.
We both know.

I walk the mountain top trail
yearning for afternoon heat,
your sun in my bones

Sunset: the inside of a buttercup
empty at the horizon.
The sky fades like a tie-dyed tee-shirt,
from canary to lizard
gravel to irises to ocean.
The underbellies of clouds
are streaked in cotton candy.

Moon again, full and daring
around pine and rock.
Your blue eyes
not saying what we know
to be true. Back

cover first.
I knew to look,
bottom corner,
last page of the book,
your handwriting
small and faint.
You didn’t even want to leave a mark.

Alana Dagenhart

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Alana Dagenhart’s Yellow Leaves is not a narrative time line, it is a lyrical collage of visions and visitations interwoven with the relentless thread of her father’s death. We enter her dreams, intrusive but illuminating; we get to know ancestors imagined and remembered; we are invited to share Alana’s days most mundane and most profound. The thread of family tangles and unspools, knots and releases, and what could be dark, somber, a burden too heavy, becomes another bright morning, all the colors of revelation, a yellow leaf whirled and unsettled finally discovering its place of rest.

All today’s poems are from Yellow Leaves, Alana Dagenhart, Redhawk Publications, Hickory, NC. © 2022

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Yellow Then, Will Fly to Every Eave

The blackest bruise
of our human trauma may
not heal completely through.
Some lingering yellow stays.

But Nature’s first green is gold,
her hardest hue to hold,
and what was yellow once and bold
fades in time in form and folds.

Blue will tend the sky of day,
and black will stay the night,
but yellow always leaves again
when sun is out of sight.

Death’s second self, made up of all
the dark the Earth contains,
snuffs bright yellow out, till
none but veiled despair remains.

Then violence bangs
& cuts us to our knees,
blooded-violet searing pain,
rooted between burning trees,

Coral dies, and chestnuts’ blight,
and green is gone –
all gone to dust and yellow leaves.

Unless a poet writing through the night,
will pen an echo fluttering of light
and yellow the, will fly to every eave
and someone late will read from time-tinged leaves

a verse or tow that speaks to them alone
a shelter of thatched pages, like a home.

Alana Dagenhart

Nature’s first green . . . from Robert Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay; Death’s second self from Shakespeare Sonnet 73.

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What Yellow Light

illuminates the fields of the dead?
What fevered hue burns hot
on the faces of our beloved?

What lime? What straw?

What platinum beam cast triangles
on the oak board floors
of the room they wait
beyond this spectrum?

The Yellow Submarine blaring loud
COMCRUDESLANT command
where sailor scrub-shine metal
and Navy top brass smile big teeth
behind sunglasses?

The neon yellow of the pick-up truck
where my brother and I rode
our backs against the cab
in October, Boone, the Blue Ridge
with our legs under a patchwork quilt?

Th old gold of historic hallways
restored in the color of statesmen?

The palest lemonade sides
of papa’s house, squash in the filed
a buckwheat horse?

The sure blonde of my towheaded little brother?

What frequency has that light?

Is it far from here?

Alana Dagenhart

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POSTSCRIPT: Dad at age 95 says some scary stuff, too. The most anxiety provoking = I have complete confidence in my ability to drive. The ability part is scary enough but the confidence is terrifying.

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2016-10-17a Doughton Park Tree

 

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[with 3 poems by Scott Owens]

Which came first? Separate a few of the living creatures in the photo above and see what you can identify: the distinctive mottled leaf of Saxifrage; beneath it a glimpse of moss, its diminutive creeping green; a big hairy leaf, I should know that one but I don’t. Down in the damp there’s bound to be a little township of bacteria, waterbears, wormy things, arthropods.

And what’s that right in the center? A little stemmed goblet corroded like verdigris growing out of that patch of gray-green flakes (squamules)? Center stage – lichen, probably Cladonia pyxidata. Its tiny cup is pebbled within by extra lichen bits growing there (more squamules!) and some of the rough and powdery appearance may be an obligate lichen-loving fungus taken up residence. So which came first in this little community of many kingdoms and phyla?

Most likely the lichen comes first. It can hold onto bare rock where nothing else lives. It gathers moisture into itself out of the very air and how could a wandering moss spore resist? Anything drifting by may land and latch. Plus that little lichen chemical factory can break down rock so that others may use the minerals. Pretty soon a Saxifrage seed finds just enough earth to sprout and enough wet to grow and wedge its roots further into rock (saxifrage = rock-breaker). Everything discovers what they need; everyone adds to the life of the community.

What gifts may I add to my little community? A bit of cautious optimism and encouragement. An appreciation for all living things (OK, yes, that does extend to human beings, at least I’m trying my best). Appreciation of a good joke and appreciation as well of the folks who tell bad jokes. Curiosity and a sense of wonder. The world’s best recipe for Nutty Fingers.

We all need something but we all bring something. Who knows, maybe what I’ve got is just what you need. When one really gets down to it, all the stuff growing in that photo looks pretty haphazard and messy. Just like a real community. Just like life.

And if you know what that hairy leaf is, please tell me!

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In the Cathedral of Fallen Trees

Each time he thinks something special
will happen, he’ll see the sky resting
on bent backs of trees, he’ll find
the wind hiding in hands of leaves,

he’ll read some secret love scratched
in the skin of a tree just fallen.
Because he found that trees were not
forever, that even trees he knew

grew recklessly towards falling,
he gave in to the wisteria’s plan
to glorify the dead. He sat down
beneath the arches of limbs reaching

over him, felt the light spread
through stained glass windows of leaves,
saw every stump as a silent altar,
each branch a pulpit’s tongue.

He did not expect the hawk to be here.
He had no design to find the meaning
of wild ginger, to see leaves soaked
with slime trails of things just past.

He thought only to listen
to the persistent breathing of tres,
to quiet whispers of leaves in wind,
secrets written in storied rings.

Each time he thinks something special
will happen. He returns with a handful
of dirt, a stone shaped like a bowl,
a small tree once rootbound against a larger.

Scott Owens
from Sky Full of Stars and Dreaming, Red Hawk Publications, © 2021

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I’ve admired Scott Owens for many years, not only as a poet but even more so as a builder of community. Scott’s writing wields its openness, its wonder, its unflinching honesty to invite us to realize we are all part of one human family. As in his poem, Words and What They Say: the hope we have / grows stronger / when we can put it into words. Not only words – in everything else he does Scott is building as well. He teaches, he mentors, he makes opportunities happen for the people around him. Perhaps his poems are a window into why he values people as he does, and why he works so hard to make hope a reality.

Sky Full of Stars and Dreaming is Scott Owens’s sixteenth poetry collection. He is Professor of Poetry at Lenoir Rhyne University, former editor of Wild Goose Poetry Review and Southern Poetry Review, and he owns and operates Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse and Gallery where he coordinates innumerable readings and open mics, including POETRY HICKORY, and enlarges the community of creativity.

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The Possibility of Substance Beyond Reflection

I didn’t see the V of geese fly overhead in the slate gray sky as I sat waiting for a reading in my Prius in front of the Royal Bean Coffee House & Gift Shop in Raleigh, NC.

What I saw was the V of geese presumably flying overhead in the slate gray sky reflected in the slate gray hood of the Honda CRV parked before me in front of the Royal Bean Coffee House & Gift Shop in Raleigh, NC.

And they took a long time to travel such a short distance, up one quarter panel, across one contoured crease, then the broad canvas of the hood’s main body, down the other crease and onto the edge of the opposite quarter panel before

disappearing into the unreflective nothingness beyond, where even they had to question just how real they were or just how real they might have been.

Scott Owens
from Sky Full of Stars and Dreaming, Red Hawk Publications, © 2021

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Sharing a Drink on My 55th Birthday

Sharing a drink on my 55th birthday,
my son, his tongue firmly planted
in his cheek, asks what advice I have
for those not yet as old as I,
and I, having had too much to drink,
miss his humor and tell him
always get up at 5
as if you don’t want to miss
any part of any day you can manage.
Clean up your own mess
and don’t clean up after those who won’t.
Take the long way home,
hoping to see something new,
or something you don’t
want to not see again.
Stay up late, drink in as much
of every day as you can.
Be drunk on life, on love, on trees,
on mountains, on spring,
on rivers that go the way
they know to go,
on words, on art, on dancing,
on poetry, on the newborn
fighting against nonexistence,
on night skies, on dreams, on mere minutes,
on the ocean that stretches beyond
what you ever imagined forever could be.
And when someone asks you
what advice you have, give them,
as you’ve given everyone and everything,
the best of what you have.

Scott Owens
from Sky Full of Stars and Dreaming, Red Hawk Publications, © 2021

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*** Extra Geek Credit — the lichen Cladonia pyxidata is host to the lichenicolous (lives on lichens) fungus Lichenoconium pyxidatae. Such fungi are parasites of their lichen host and mostly specific to a single genus or even to single species of lichen, but although some may be pathogens for the lichen in many cases the relationship is commensal. No harm done. Join the party!

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[poems by Joyce Compton Brown and Billy]

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yep, February 11, this is my day. Sixty-nine years ago my Mom was probably feeling the Niagara rumble from her birthing bed on the umpteenth floor of St. Mary’s. On the American side of the Falls, if you were wondering. Name already picked out – Eugene Wilson the Third – but already in use by Dad and Granddaddy so nickname picked out as well – Billy.

In a few years Mom and Dad moved back down south – Memphis, this time – then over the next ten years to Delaware, Michigan, finally Ohio, but never back to their home state of North Carolina. “Here’s to the land of the Long-Leaf Pine, a summer land where the sun doth shine.” Linda and I moved to NC a week after our wedding – to Durham, Duke Med – and held a place for them here. Just in case.

It’s a good thing. Ten years ago Mom and Dad at last resettled near us, Winston-Salem, where Mom grew up and went to Reynold’s High. They’re right across the street from historic Old Salem. I visited yesterday (secretly hoping there might be cake and candles – Birthday Party #1-of-many). Today I’m expecting Margaret and Bert (4) from Raleigh. Maybe tomorrow Saul (13) and Amelia (6) from across just around the corner. Maybe more cake?

So what do I actually want for my birthday? In Russia I’d have a pie with my name in the crust; in China a longevity noodle that fills the entire bowl (with scallions & bok choy); Hungarians would pull my earlobes (69 times); Jamaicans would dust me with flour.

All those sound awesome, but no, don’t bring presents. I have a walk in the woods with Linda planned. I have Grandkids to wear me out and make me laugh. We have the Blue Ridge with its arms spread to hold us here, not saying much, not needing to. Trees and mountains, family, homeplace – happy birthday to me!

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Looking Across

the fog shuffles
++++ within
++++ ++ the folded mountain

whispers
++++ old stories
++++ ++ of before we were

Joyce Compton Brown
++++ from Standing on the Outcrop, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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I’ve heard Joyce Compton Brown read her poetry at many a gathering and my admiration still grows and grows. There is a treasure of different voices in this collection from Redhawk, Standing on the Outcrop, but they all have in common their deeply felt truth, authentic as hunger and earth. These are rural voices, Southern voices, mountain voices, mostly from the first half of the twentieth century; they are telling urgent stories in danger of being lost if Joyce does not hear them and reveal them to us. Places, history, personal struggle, hard-won triumph — these are Joyce Brown’s specialties and she here treats them well.

 

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Mattie, 1955

Before our families came
++++ there wasn’t much.
They say there were some old forts,
++++ and arrowheads
the men turned up
++++ in the plowing.
We mad collections,
++++ sent them to school
++++ ++++ for the kids to show.

They say these pastures
++++ were good hunting grounds,
And I don’t wonder,
++++ look at this land, these two mountains –
Linville, with its craggy top, Honeycutt
++++ folding on up toward the highlands,
this river, the clearest water.
++++ Any living thing would be drawn
++++ ++++ to this valley.

they say the Catawba and Cherokee fought
++++ over it till we came.
Then they fought us.
++++ It was perfect for these farms.
You can still see,
++++ those big old white houses
from before the land got too divided
++++ and people had to find work.

They say it had a name,
++++ Conasaga, an Indian word
for beautiful valley.
++++ That may just be talk.
But we use the name
++++ for our cookbook, and the kids use it
for their school yearbooks.
++++ They like the way it sounds.

Joyce Compton Brown
++++ from Standing on the Outcrop, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

 

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Stroke

Afterwards he was free
to speak a new language,
come back to tell them all.

They strained to understand
to interpret his assertions
to feel his newfound power.

He told them how
he’d hated factory saws
the whine of lathe and blade

Told them how
the smoldering glow
held by tight-closed lips

kept him from
trying to tell
what they didn’t

want to hear.
How he’d loved
his fingers shuffling

guitar strings
that flatpick style
speaking its own sad voice

milking the cow
in his own sweet barn
before everybody else was up

They couldn’t see
the fiery tongue
above his head.

They couldn’t feel
the pyretic fury
in his mind.

But now he was
at center, felt the
glow from lips of fire,

felt the heat
in seething brain,
felt the gift

of flaming tongue,
watched them all
leaning inward.

Joyce Compton Brown
++++ from Standing on the Outcrop, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

 

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I’ll close my Birth Day post with a poem I wrote almost 20 years ago. Oldest son, first grandson, I was always the good boy. Never got into trouble (or at least never got caught). High school class pres. Early admissions, graduations with honors. Married my high school honey and we’re still best buds.

(Although when we were college Juniors and told my parents we wanted to get married, my Mom said, “Oh thank goodness, I’m so glad you didn’t decide to run off and live in a commune!” I guess maybe my hair was a little on the long side that year.)

Being the eternal good boy might become a burden – especially when one knows full well that one is not nearly as good as everyone makes out. (But anyway I prefer, Linda too, the silence of a forest to the company of people – no dang commune for this good boy.)

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Good Boy Turns 50
++++ “I ain’t no physicist, but I knows what matters.” – Popeye

How did he earn this golden sobriquet
first christened by Nana for the merest trait
of being born the first grandchild, the grinning gay
toddler who could do no wrong? And wait,
how did he keep it all through the sixties when
pick up your toys and set the table gave way
to a ponytail and poems by Ho Chi Minh
(though there was no doubt he’d still bring home the A)?
Forever the glass-half-full sort of guy,
in marriage, too, he hefts vows more abundant
than Old Fred’s prescription, “Don’t leave and don’t die” –
the grace of wanting to want what she may want.
++++ So let’s give him what he needs in the next fifty
++++ if he ever discovers what that might be.

Bill Griffin
++++ first appeared in Pinesong, annual anthology of the NC Poetry Society;
++++ ++++ first place in the “formal poetry” category, 2004
++++ collected in Crossing the River, Main Street Rag Publishing, © 2017

 

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[with poems by Augusta Wray]

1932, Charlotte, North Carolina – the Great Depression has all but silenced the constant rumble of railcars from Atlanta to D.C. through this hub of the South. Most of the cotton mills are shuttered but Ben Gossett, president of Chadwick-Hoskins, has an idea. He asks President Herbert Hoover for help. Mill workers will weave cloth from 50,000 bales of cotton sitting in idled factories and sew it into clothing for the needy. Slowly the Queen City will again stir to life.

That same year, 1932, The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra was founded. More songs were recorded in Charlotte than in Nashville (and just 4 years later Bill Monroe would make his first recording in a closed Charlotte warehouse). Seeking a different kind of music, six poets gathered that spring in the home of Edna Wilcox Talley to begin a venture dedicated to expanding the appreciation of poetry in their state. The North Carolina Poetry Society would begin to admit members whose skills “measured up.” Over the next few years they would hold monthly workshops and an annual banquet, with a prominent writer as speaker, begin publication of a regional literary journal, and slowly expand their reach from Charlotte to the entirety of the state and beyond.

One of these Charter Members was August Wray. She had lived in Charlotte since her marriage in 1902. She attended every meeting of the NCPS through the 1950’s. Her poems would appear in The North Carolina Poetry Review, Journal of American Poetry, and many other publications, especially the poetry column of The Charlotte Observer, edited by Andrew Hewitt. She won many poetry honors and prizes in the 1930’s and 1940’s. And in 1959 she would publish a full length collection, Engravings on Sand, edited by Dorothy Edwards Summerrow.

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Trees at Night

Ink spots upon a midnight sky – fantastic,
+++ sinister and dark –
At night, trees take on fearsome shapes
+++ with no detail of leaf or bark
To add to grace of swaying limb where
+++ branches curve and intertwine,
No carven foliage of jade – all monotone
+++ in black design,

Carbon pictures, weird and ghostly, of night
+++ Dragons crouched to spring,
Warily silent and foreboding, menacing,
+++ like a wounded thing –
Smoky masses, deeply shadowed, with outlines blurred
+++ that mystify –
Trees clutch the heart in night’s dark silence
+++ silhouetted against the sky.

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand, Poets Press, Charlotte NC, © 1959

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Last week I received Engravings on Sand in the mail. Bibliophile Carmela Dodd discovered it at a flea market and upon reading its inscription by Augusta Wray to “Mrs. Charles Evans,” Carmela felt that the book deserved a home with the North Carolina Poetry Society. Thank you, Carmela! What an amazing artifact and memorial during the Society’s 90th anniversary year.

Dorothy Edwards Summerrow, who edited the collection, writes this to begin her foreward: When, at Augusta Wray’s request, I was given the pleasure of compiling and editing “Engravings on Sand,” there was turned over to me a large suitcase literally bulging with poetry manuscript. Dorothy describes excitement but also dismay at selecting the best work of one of North Carolina’s finest poets . . . because I must of necessity select for public inspection, only a small fraction of the prodigious output of her private heart.

In 1959 Augusta Wray was 83 years old. She had been widowed four years earlier. She and her husband had no children nor other close family; she told Dorothy, “My poems are my children.” Dorothy describes the treasure before her: When I opened the suitcase entrusted to me, the sparkle of the poems made the dark, rainy afternoon brilliant with the fire of many gems.

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Release

In the dark and tranquil stillness of the night
When quietude has simulated peace,
When joy is born without the aid of light
And sorrows softly fade away and cease,
When weary eyes are drifting into sleep
That carries them afar from day’s dull care,
When dreams appear invitingly to seep
Through all perplexities and leave them bare –
Then does the spirit take command and things
Become unreal and float away like foam;
The soul is loosed and on unweary wings
takes leave of what was once its mortal home.
++ The soul and body separate, go free,
++ When sleep, or death, gives them their liberty.

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand

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Nocturne in Silver

Silver shadows in somber silence
Wrap folds around the tranquil night,
Silver rain from a silver moon
Pours its radiance through silver light.

Sleeping leaves from moon-drenched branches
Drip silver pendants edged with pearl,
Flowers with their petals closing
Gleam with silver as the furl.

Cobwebs, silver-strewn with dewdrops,
Chiming tone when brushed by moth wings,
Are silken harps, tht quivering, make
Plaintive music from silver strings.

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand

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The seasons . . . love . . . death . . . these are the themes of most of Augusta Wray’s collected poems. She is steeped in Carolina culture and climes. In this final poem I’ve chosen, though, I hear an understated voice of longing and regret. Perhaps she refers here to her childlessness, but perhaps she is opening herself, and her readers, to discovering beauty in the reality that is her life – who cares what it may have seemed to some to lack?

Flowering Plum

In loveliness she stands,
Blonde beauty rare,
With white and fragile hands
Folded in prayer.

Of bridal purity,
A perfumed veil
Hides with security
A body frail.

The season waits for her,
She blooms each year
When winds softly murmur:
“Spring is now here.”

Feathered choristers sing
Blithely and loud,
Sheltered beneath the wing
Of petaled cloud..

Lonely she stand apart,
No fruit she bears.
Such beauty serves the heart.
Barren? . . . Who cares?

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand

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Dorothy Edwards Summerrow was a renowned Carolina poet herself, winner in 1957 of the Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry. She also noted in the foreward: In Silver Echoes, the poetry anthology published in the spring of 1959 by the North Carolina Federation and edited and compiled by this editor, more of [Augusta Wray’s] poetry is included that that of any other writer in the state.

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History of the North Carolina Poetry Society

Charlotte / Mecklenburg historical timeline

Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry

2015-06-15Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3, no, 4 poems by Paul Jones]

Oh well . . . life goes on . . .

No it doesn’t! Who ever said that? At least not on and on and on. And the problem is not growing old, the problem is everyone around me is growing older.

I’m biased and I know it – too many all-nighters in the ICU knowing my patients will never wake up, will never breathe again without that machine. Why choose to prolong those hours? Too many weekly visits to the nursing home, my patients who will never again chew, swallow, recognize, understand, smile. Why choose to prolong those days?

Still, when you are breathing and smiling there’s a huge hurdle to leap before you’re willing to talk about how you want your body treated when you can’t breathe or smile. Easy to put off making that living will when you’re in the midst of living; too late when you’re in the midst of dying.

Last year I spent a few weeks helping Dad update his and Mom’s will and estate. Gather up mounds of papers, talk things over, scratch heads, and then the final step: spending a morning with their attorney to nail it all down tight. Just because most politicians are attorneys does not imply the converse, that most attorneys are self-infatuated power-lusting villains. Not at all. Dad’s attorney, Ms. S., treated us like family. Like she was the cousin who knows a whole lot more than we do but who can explain it in a way anyone can understand.

To describe two hours with an attorney as a pleasure? Well, yes indeed.

As a family doctor I never found it easy to talk to my patients and their families about death. Necessary, yes; essential, yes; never easy. Perhaps it’s the taboo that if you name something you give it power over you. But a last will and testament is all about death. If you’re not going to die, don’t bother making a will.

Ms. S. talked with us for two hours about death, straight up, matter of fact. I learned a lot about what Dad and Mom want for their own final days and for a legacy to their children. I learned that Dad, in the right place and time, is willing and even anxious to talk about his death. We left the office smiling, arm in arm (figuratively as well as occasionally literally, 95-year old knees and all).

Of course, Dad still vows he’s going to live to a hundred. At least he’s got one helluva estate plan.

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Seventy Three

When in time frost found me, leaves were gone yellow
or fallen or few on branches or fallow
fields. Limbs were empty choir lofts. Youth’s bright birds sang
then left before the cold November must bring.
I found myself in twilight, the glow on snow
or rime on those brown stems or white wisps of breath
– how many more before death plants me below? –
But here I can see further, here my life’s breadth
forms a vista. Here where flames once leapt, grey ash
is heaped, warm still from what past fires I’ve known.
Still all this going is not completely gone.
Something of those late bird songs will stay, will last.
What we see in age makes all we love more strong,
knowing what we love we leave before too long.

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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I’ve always been a bit in awe of Paul Jones’s poetic gifts. Envious even. Not only because he can make rhyme so damn modern but even more for his capacious breadth and depth. What an imaginative reach! I’m not reprinting To a Tuber here but read it and you will become convinced that the potato is within all the vegetable kingdom most elegant, elevated, and worthy of praise.

So I knew before I ordered my copy of Paul’s new book Something Wonderful that it would be, and it is. The sly wit is there, waiting to pounce, but also heartfelt longing and wry uncompromising looks into personal finitude. You don’t really discover why the cover is covered with 19th century illustrations of bats until page 80 and the title poem. Take the time, make the trip. It’s worth it.

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Ireland Seen from a Porch Swing in Hickory, NC
+++ — for Adrian Rice

Ireland is a country without porches.
What they call a porch is just an entry.
No one sits there watching for neighbors
walking by with their electric torches.
Their voices, soft as blossoms, gently
fill humid summer nights with rumors.

Over there, secrets are shared in the pubs.
From unsteady high stools, the stories, tinged
with irony, rise easily as smoke.
New worlds are created by old words spoken.
even the weightiest tales take on wings,
if only whispered above the hubbub.

But here, the slow news is told by moonlight
in the lazy tease of an August night.
Too often tea, iced and sweet, is the drink
that greets the blink of stars through the dark
as our voices wander, each twang distinct,
in the dog-starred nights and the torpid days.

It’s ghosts that bind us across our weathers,
that tie the lilt and slur of daily sagas
told inside and out, in bars and open air,
to some episodic common drama.
They appear here and there, vivid and stark,
in talk that reweaves their spells in the dark.

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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Still Waters

I am still, waiting
for the one moment
that old Eastern sages
say gives absurdity
an absolute clarity,
the moment multiple
bald monks chant to induce.
They say the Way is
like water. It will work
its wonders at due time,
the way water always
breaks up rocks, turns them
into sand, but will not
be transformed itself.
Being water, it’s
already what it needs to be.
Winter and ice
merely redefine water.
Wind, when it works, only works
on the surface of water.
When fire meets water,
water is sent to heaven
but fire just becomes ash.
Water like saints returns
to perform its steady work.
Sleet, snow, rain or hail –
even fog – are water’s
temporary bodies.
In time, water will be
all part of one huge sea.
Water will save us all
in time. In time, they say.
In the meantime, be water
as best you can be. Me?
I am still waiting
for all waters to become
still, to run deep, and
clear a few things up.

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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Saint of the Trees

What is the proper sacrifice
To please our Lord, the Saint of Trees?
I asked the ferns for their advice:
What is the proper sacrifice?

“Lie here and dream of paradise,
Sink into the soil like the leaves.
That is the proper sacrifice
To please our Lord, the Saint of Trees.”

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

 

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2014-07-13 Doughton Park Tree

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North Carolina Poets for Christmas

Sam Ragan ++++++++.+.+. (1915-1996)
Carol Bessent Hayman ++.+ (1927-2017)
Reynolds Price ++           ++.(1933-2011)
Anthony S. Abbott ++++……. (1935-2020)

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Winter Watch

In those winter fields
Where only the dead grass
Hides the movement of mice
And the loping fox long away
From hunters, horn and dog,
Walking and watching wind bend
Bare branches at the wood’s edge.
This then is the beginning,
The walk and the waiting,
Winter is a time of waiting,
The pause, the slowed feet,
The watching, the waiting.

Sam Ragan
from Collected Poems of Sam Ragan, St. Andrews Press, Laurinburg NC, © Sam Ragan 1990

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Nativity

If, when a tree falls in a forest green
There is no one to hear, is it not true
The tree still sounds its ancient shattering
Of silence as its heart is rent in two?

If no one notices the calendar,
Or decorates, or shouts a glad refrain
is Christmas lost? Will that make Christmas less
Or nullify the birthday of a King?

Deep in the secret places of each heart,
Like groves of forests, quietly aware,
we reach the coming of the Gift within
And each alone must find that He is here.

Carol Bessent Hayman
from Images and Echoes of Beaufort-By-The-Sea, © 1993 Carol Bessent Hayman

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A Christmas Night

It was a cold night
And there was ice on the road,
Our car started to slide
As it moved up the small hill,
And the headlights caught the old man
In a thin jacket
Pushing a cart filled with sticks.
There were some bundles and a package
Piled on top, and the old man
Grinned and waved at us
As he pushed the cart
Into the yard of the ligglt house
Where a single light shone.
The tires gripped the road
And we drove on into the darkness,
But suddenly it was warm.

Sam Ragan
from Collected Poems of Sam Ragan, St. Andrews Press, Laurinburg NC, © Sam Ragan 1990

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A Heron, A Deer – A Single Day

A dull tin noon and, struck down on us
From the crest of pines, a heron – the one
That’s brought me each winter solstice
For twenty-six years now whatever code

I’ve earned for the past year, need for the next:
Vast as a stork in a child’s old reader
And fierce in the head as a demon deputed
To pluck out human eyes in vengeance,
Bolt them down hot.
++++++++++++++++ Yet our two faces
Broaden – eased, assured once more
Of witness at least: our names a precise
Address still known to Guidance Central.

Midnight mist and roaring cold,
We roll toward home from Christmas-eve dinner;
And there in the glen, frozen at the verge,
A six-point buck, young in eye
And grace of joint but flat-eternal
In steady witness. We slow to spare him –
Or think to spare a soulless thing.

He spares us. Sustaining our glare
A long instant of still composure,
His eyes consume whatever we show.
Then in a solemn choice to leave,
He melts a huge body, graceful as girls,
Through two strands ov vicious barbed-wire

We pass unscathed, drive in silence
A last slow mile, then both laugh sudden
At the sight of home. Seen, well-seen
But spared to pass.

Reynolds Price
collect in Word and Witness: 100 Years of North Carolina Poetry, Carolina Academic Press, © North Carolina Poetry Society 1999

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The New Magi

It is dusk. The sun has tipped backward
behind the old town hall. Inside the patterned
windows of the church, candles not to candles
until it seems the world is only light
and festive voices singing, “Silent Night.”

Out of the dark the siren wails, once,
twice, a third time, and grinding ears
disturb the “all is bright,” while somewhere
in another town a black man in a stocking cap
folds quilts around himself to stop the night.

Out of the dark the siren wails ans somewhere
in another town a woman flushes yesterday’s news
from under the rest room door and a red-haired girl
with shrouded eyes holds out her hand
to strangers walking through the station’s

swinging doors. Where is the star that calls you,
black man? Where is the star that seeks you,
woman? Where is the star that lifts you, shrouded
girl? Walk to us, now, over the battered highways.
Walk to us slowly over the rutted roads.

Walk to the siren’s wail, and the grunting sound
of fire in the night. Throw open the church’s door.
Walk with your papers and your quilts and the sorrow
in your eyes, bringing your gifts past the carpet
of our candles to the manger’s straw. Kneel and turn

And bid us follow with our light up the long aisle
out, out into the grace of the beckoning night.

Anthony S. Abbott
from New & Selected Poems, 1989-2009, Lorimer Press, Davidson NC, © Anthony S. Abbott 2009

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In a Bus Station on Christmas Eve

There are still travelers
Even at this late hour.
A radio is playing “Joy To the World.”
They sit and stare,
Clutching packages
Wraped as they are wrapped,
With some of the corners torn

Sam Ragan
from Collected Poems of Sam Ragan, St. Andrews Press, Laurinburg NC, © Sam Ragan 1990

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Sam Ragan served as NC Poet Laureate from 1982 until his death in 1996. He had a long career in journalism at various publications and from 1969 to 1996 was owner, publisher, and editor of The Pilot in Southern Pines, NC. Sam received about every possible NC literary award, including the North Carolina Award in Fine Arts, the Roanoke-Chowan, Parker and Morrison Awards; the North Caroliniana Society Award; and has been inducted into the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame and North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.

Carol Bessent Hayman was the first Poet Laureate of Carteret County and the city of Beaufort, NC. She was a 50-year member of the National League of American Pen Women, served as Southeast editor for their national publication, The Pen Woman, and was a member of the National Board. She was a member of the founding board of N.C. Writers Network, taught many workshops, and published hundreds of poems and five books of poetry.

Reynolds Price, a native of Macon, NC, taught literature at Duke University for 53 years and was James B. Duke Professor of English. In 1962, his novel A Long and Happy Life received the William Faulkner Award. He went on to publish fiction, poetry, essays, and plays and is equally known as the venerated educator of generations of Duke students. For the last third of his life he was confined to a wheelchair due to paralysis resulting from complications of a spinal tumor; his memoir A Whole New Life: An Illness and a Healing has been an inspiration to thousands.

Tony Abbott was a beloved professor of modern drama and American literature at Davidson University (NC). He touched many lives with his deep compassion and spiritual seeking, not only the lives of his students but of everyone who knew him, worked with him, read with him, read his work. His first book of poems, The Girl in the Yellow Raincoat, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He went on to write three novels, four books of literary criticism, and eight volumes of poetry, his last, Dark Side of North, published posthumously in 2021 by Press 53. His tenure on the Board of Directors of the NC Poetry Society has left an influence of creativity, collegiality, and craft that continues today.

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[with 3 poems from When There Were Horses]

Once upon a time there was a little boy . . . . a frisson of anticipation: the four-year old’s attention is now riveted on Pappy. What mischief will the boy in the story create, what adventure awaits, what danger?

When my grandson used to ask me to tell him a story it was a gift to both of us. Often the stories sprouted spontaneously from our pretending and play, their main characters usually some of his favorite companions like Mousey and Blue Rat. What joy and entertainment when you engage with the characters in a narrative! Even more so if you identify with the characters – their plight, their seeking, their discoveries strike a resonant chord in your own heart. You live a little richer and fuller through them.

But what if you are them?! What if you are the little boy in the story unfolding? What if a door opens and you enter the story and it becomes an extension of your own? The gift the teller gives you in that moment can’t be measured.

So many of the poems in Pat Riviere-Seel’s new book, When There Were Horses, open that door for me. I enter the lines. Not only do I engage, not only identify, but I become a part of the narrative. The resonance moves me to reflect on my own arc, my own plight and seeking. How does that happen?

How does poetry do that stuff? Mmmm, mystery and magic. Art and invitation. I admit I don’t actually know the details or specifics of many of Pat’s narratives but even so I have come to feel a part of them. When I get past asking, “What does she mean by that?” and just enter the flow of how she is creating meaning, then her poems crack open new earth. There, beneath the mud of daily routine, behind the obfuscation of some constant ringing little voice in my head, something waits. Waiting to sprout and bloom. Waiting to sing a new song. Waiting and wanting to peel back all that separates us from each other, and from our inner self. Something is beneath the surface, waiting to break our heart, and to heal it.

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From the Almanac of Broken Things

I choose this earth that breaks
my heart again and again,

the woods for the way trees
bend, fall, and return to dirt.

I choose the sand dollar, the nautilus
that in brokenness finds new creation.

I choose the favorite doll that no longer cries,
loved into silence, into rags.

I choose the memory of a stranger’s touch
that lifted my face above water. Because

I did not drown, I choose morning,
the gauzy-gray dawn that returns.

I choose the once-wild Palomino
whose beauty can never be tamed.

I choose light from long dead stars
that illuminates without heat.

I choose March with its promise of spring,
the warm days that tease, the blizzard

that insulates and warms the bulbs, the seeds,
all that lies beneath the surface, waiting.

Pat Riviere-Seel
inspired by Linda Pastan’s poem The Almanac of Last Things

 

 

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What the Moon Knows

She knows shadow, how to
slip behind clouds. She’s perfected
the art of disappearing. She knows
how to empty herself into the sky,
whisper light into darkness.
She knows the power of silence,
how to keep secrets, even as men
leave footprints in the dust, try to claim her.
Waxing and waning, she summons
the tides. Whole and holy symbol,
she remains perfect truth, tranquility.
Friend and muse, she knows the hearts
of lovers and lunatics. She knows
she is not the only one that fills the sky,
but the sky is her only home.

Pat Riviere-Seel

 

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Enough

Ahead, I see her watching me, pity
or compassion, hard to tell
from this distance. I want to ask her,
my future self, what she knows
and when she knew it. I want to know
whose laughter fills her hours? Does she
still dance? Still run? What does she know
of grace? These days I know so little.

But she’s still faithful, the self I look back
to see at dawn, a quarter century ago,
running out Colbert Creek road between
woods and murmur of the South Toe River, two-lane
Highway 80 South, past Mount Mitchell Golf Course,
down macadam that turns into gravel, clatter across
the low water bridge, out Rock Creek Road,
before she turns toward her dusty driveway,
past grape vines, the garden where the black cat
waits to walk her home. She’s the one who
declared, I am enough. She’s kept her promise.
But now, knowledge brings scraps
falling from bone that offers proof
something happened here in this lost country –
three deaths, one new love.

Pat Riviere-Seel
all selections from When There Were Horses, © 2021 Pat Riviere-Seel, Main Street Rag Publishing, Charlotte NC

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FULL DISCLOSURE: Pat Riviere-Seel is my cousin. Third cousin one generation removed is how I think we figured it. Pat and I first met twenty years ago at a North Carolina Poetry Society meeting at Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines. During a break we were sharing casually about what we’d been doing lately and she mentioned her recent family reunion in Lewisville, NC.

“We met at an old Methodist Church in Lewisville where my Great-Great-Grandfather is buried.”

“No way, we had a family reunion in Lewisville a few years ago and we met at a church, might be the same one, where my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather is buried. His name was J.N.S. Daub.’

“Uh, hmm, mine is named Daub, too. Reverend Daub.”

“I’ve got a photo of the headstone at home. I’ll send you a copy.”

Sure enough, one and the same Daub. That was my maternal Great-Grandmother’s maiden name. Three Daub sisters married three McBride brothers. So Pat and my Mom are third cousins (although separated in age by more than a generation).

All those years, something beneath the surface, waiting.

– – – B

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2020-11-03a Doughton Park Tree

 

 

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[with 3 poems by Melinda Thomsen]

How about you cream the butter and sugar while I chop the pecans? At 93 Mom does not need to be wielding the big chef’s knife. Last week I bought vanilla, nuts, butter, and a couple of new cookie sheets at Harris Teeter while shopping with Dad. This morning I pre-measured the sugar and flour into ziplocks before I left the house. This afternoon Mom woke up early from her nap, so excited to be baking cookies for Thanksgiving.

Whenever we visited Nana while I was growing up, we kids (and Dad, too) couldn’t wait to visit the little village of tins that would have sprung up like magic on her kitchen counter. Homemade fudge, humdingers, Moravian Christmas cookies. And there were always, there had to be, nutty fingers. When I got married she bequeathed me the recipe and that’s how I labeled the index card – Nana’s Nutty Fingers.

Nana’s only daughter – my Mom – hasn’t made nutty fingers since any of us can remember. Last night I printed a copy of the recipe and scribbled out my fraction calculations to double it. When I walk into Mom’s kitchen today, though, she already has the recipe laid out on the counter.

The original – centered on page 53 of What’s Cooking?, compiled by the Winston-Salem Woman’s Club in 1948, “Pecan Fingers” contributed by Ellen Cooke, alias Nana. It’s identical to the recipe we’ve used all these years as long as you realize that 4X sugar means granulated.

O Baby, in about an hour their home is smelling good, and all the laughs and stories we share during the making are even more delicious. Good job, Mom, high five. Dad pronounces these the best nutty fingers he’s ever tasted and the powdered sugar down his sweater affirms. When granddaughter Claire arrives from Maine for Thanksgiving, there just might be a couple left for her.

Maybe.

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Sweet Potato Casserole

One poet says she waits to hear what
the words are trying to say. Meanwhile,

a documentary shows fifty pounds of yams,
gathered in one plastic basket, heaved up

to a migrant from Chihuahua, standing
in a school bus. The bus trudges through

the turned fields of North Carolina, a taxi
with an open top and wooden slats for sides

reaping filled baskets. Another poet hopes
the best wind finds me ready to wrestle it

to the page. As farm workers examine
and measure, sweet potatoes lift skyward.

Thousands of roots piled up in moving crates,
all hand gathered, are waiting for words.

Gently but quickly, these men harvest,
and I keep searching for nouns so small

but will swell in the mind to voice the labor
and sweat of my Thanksgiving dinner.

A friend tells me, if you think one person
can’t make a change, you’ve never been in bed

with a mosquito. Advice swirls like gnats
while I peel yams, whose discarded skins,

the width of fingers, almost rise as hands
to choke my verbs. Still, I dot mashed sweet

potatoes with mini marshmallows before
placing the heavy pan in a 375 degree oven.

Melinda Thomsen

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Melinda Thomsen’s book Armature lives in the personal moments that create each day of our lives. The title refers to the skeletal framework a sculptor uses to support her clay model. She adds form and matter to shape the work into three dimensions. The book’s framework includes descriptions of four castings of Degas’ Dancer Looking at the Sole of Her Right Foot; the poems throughout add shape and form through their close observation and grounded presence within the many places they dwell.

Armature, © 2021 Melinda Thomsen, Hermit Feathers Press, Clemmons, North Carolina

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Old Tractor Equipment

Their armature emerges from
a forging of farm equipment:
rasps, chains, gears, and pipes.

Metal tractor parts fashioned
a horse whose neck
and ligaments are strong

enough to face the wind
with a mane of almost twenty
flat files billowing in the breeze.

We all move this way, right?
After years of pulling it
together in cut and paste jobs

of bad or non choices,
even if our hearts resemble
rusted tractor ball bearings,

we construct and forge ourselves
from a hodgepodge of muzzles
and flanks in to running mares,

stalky goats, or bold stallions.
Walk over to us, and see our
sprocket nut nostrils flare.

Look at these haunches
made of 20th century shovels
and lawnmower parts.

A trip of goats and a pigpen
of swine have propane
tank bellies, pulley hooks

for horns, and porcine
snouts are marked
by stainless steel forks.

Nearby, bric-a-brac horses
cast galloping shadows
as we roam and graze.

Melinda Thomsen

[Melinda notes: Jonathan Bowling is a sculptor based in Greenville, NC. His field of sculptures is on the corner of Dickinson and Atlantic Avenues.]

 

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Whirligig Park in Wilson, NC

I come from a nearby
town whose herons
sport feathers of golf club

handles and clipper beaks
flash shadows on the walls.
But here, looking up at all

these odd parts forged
into metal marionettes
with no strings or motor,

I see thy leave it to wind.
A cloud-laden morning
moves in and fifty feet

above, a front propeller
turns and two farmers
quickly cut a metal log.

Their saw’s teeth drag across
the tree as if their first stroke,
and behind them, a dog sits

whose tail wags at each cut.
It seems the earth begs us
to twirl, even if our spirits

have been sapped to rust,
even if our most dead
selves dwell in squeaking.

Melinda Thomsen

[Besides Wilson’s Whirligig Park, Vollis Simpson’s kinetic art is also on permanent display at the North Carolina Museum of Art.]

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Postscript: My children and their kids have always called my Mom Grandmommy. My brother’s three girls, however, know their grandmother as Nana. Of course. The nutty finger legacy lives on.

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2016-10-17b Doughton Park Tree

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Hepatica

[poems from Kakalak 2021 by Beth Copeland, Danielle Ann Verwers, Don Ball]

How cool would it be if your friends got together and wrote a book for you? Friends you hadn’t seen in a while, like maybe two years. Friends you’ve swapped a few stories with and suddenly here they are sharing new stories. Friends who at this very moment are just now becoming your friends.

How cool? Very cool.

Kakalak 2021 arrived last week and here are my friends! I’ve read the book through and gone back to re-read my favorites over and over again; the Carolinas have suddenly become cozy and personable and at once broad and expansive. Heart-expanding! Among the poets and visual artists in the book I see so many people I’ve met before at a literary gathering, read with at an open mic, served with on a board or committee. And then there are all the people whose books I’ve read or whose names I’ve seen and now the many more names I’ve not heard before but am learning. Names becoming friends. Somehow they’ve all come together to write a book for me. And for you.

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Fog

Morning fog erases the mountain and trees.
No, not an erasure but unseen.

+++ Not an erasure but unseen.
+++ The mountain, the laurel still green.

Unlike the mountain and laurel still green,
the dearly departed lie beneath white sheets.

+++ The deer depart beneath white sheets
+++ of fog, stepping into a forgotten dream

of fog slipping into a forgotten dream
the ghost mountain dreams.

+++ The ghost mountain dreams.
+++ Crows fly to pines on mascara wings.

Crows fly to pines on mascara wings,
mourning. Fog erases the mountain, the trees.

Beth Copeland

 

Ptera

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In between reflecting on the poems and enjoying the art, I flip to the back of the book for the bios. The array of people’s publishing kudos is, of course, impressive, but personal glimpses also shine through (which, true confession, is what I’m really looking for in a bio):
Dean of Arts & Sciences at Isothermal Community College . . . Kathy Ackerman
interior designer . . . Melanie T. Aves
proud member of The Poet Fools . . . Don Ball
retired librarian . . . Richard Band
academic therapist . . . Joan Barasovska
feels a good day mellows blissfully with . . . creating art . . . Christina Baumis
poems featured on a transit bus . . . Michael Beadle
beginning poet . . . Gay Boswell (an awesome beginning here, a devastating poem)
eats dark chocolate daily . . . Cheryl Boyer
loves roots music . . . Joyce Compton Brown
marriage and family therapist . . . Bill Caldwell
sings in several church choirs . . . Joy Colter
masterfully overbooks non-existent free time . . . Julie Ann Cook
creates “convoluted notions” . . . Caren Stuart
passionate about reading aloud to children . . . Jennifer Weiss
collects library cards . . . Danielle Ann Verwers
and more, and more . . . . . . . .

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Two Sparrows for a Penny

+++ I.
If an airport is anything, it must be purgatory. And positioned
here in this terminal is benevolent holding space to store heavy
baggage as I watch my status, wait for take-off. A hollow metal
locker contains all my small treasures as I perch near walls of
windows. Iron flocks drift into the cumulous blue.

+++ II.
Milton, the bishop not the poet, believed humans would soar
in time. Brethren mocked his vision, convinced all schematics
to be sketched were drafted, nothing new under the sun to be
invented. Still, Milton knew his offspring inherited aviation
faith in their DNA, their eyes fixed on the heavens, their irises
bright with flight. Before fruition, typhoid took him. He missed
it when his sons fulfilled the prophecy, when his boys flew
with sparrows.

+++ III.
No one sings about two sparrows for a penny. Instead, we praise
our own ascent after a shell of flesh is molted. I’ll fly away, Oh Glory!
When I die let them sing the blues. Play a minor key for the birds
who crashed, feathers intact. Sing about birds who caught
tender gaze of God. Yes, let them sing of paradise lost.

+++ IV.
Close your eyes. Imagine you are a cloud drifting in the sky.
Light and free. No—imagine you possess hollow bones, you
are all sparrow. And now you flap your feathered wings but
your sternum is lead heavy. And you are falling towards the
ground at the speed of—no imagine you are light, warm and
bright. Imagine beams emit from your eyes, your chest, your
feathers, your beak. You radiate. No—I take it back. Imagine
you are a vapor, here today and gone tomorrow. Yes, imagine
you are a cloud.

Danielle Ann Verwers

 

Two

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Somehow they’ve all come together to write me a book . . .

Well, not somehow come together – they’ve arrived here by intention. This book for me (and for you) was born of diligent labor and evolved quite intentionally. Enabled by the founders, sustained by editors and publishers through the years, the Kakalak vision perseveres and flourishes – a regional anthology created of and for people connected to North & South Carolina. This year’s Editors have sprinkled their selections with an especially effervescent cloud of pixie dust: they have created magical groupings of poems, 2 or 3 or more with complementary theme, style, subject. And the Art Editor has added a swish more magic by partnering the groupings with art that amplifies the verse.

And then . . . and then the real magic. The shiver. The heart to heart. I read these lines and something shifts inside me. I see with another’s eyes. I feel the depth of another’s struggle. God almighty, this is the place and this is the thing I need and this is certainly the time. When have we ever before needed it so much, this connection? Here we find it: connection with each other; connection with our small place on this planet; connection with our self.

Thank you, friends, for writing this book for me.

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Wish
Park View Hospital, Rocky Mount, NC

I am supposed to kiss my grandfather,
stroke-frozen in his high-racked hospital bed,
but he is angry at us and crying,
half-realizing the difference.
I stand by my brother and close my eyes.

About the same,
my mother says to someone in the hall,
and he’s about the same,
she whispers later on the bedside phone,
nodding to the wall.

But I am changed
by the hospital light, cold-yellow and dry,
by the white carts gliding through plastered corridors,
rattling over steel plates, swallowed by the swinging doors,
and voices that start up and quit—voices
suffocated by the secret-keeping walls.

This is it — I am thinking —
God almighty, this is the place.

Outside we are walking, our breath released.
The summer evening is blade-green and black.
The parking lot is full but quiet.
Crickets call behind looming elms,
and the moon booms out into the open sky.

Look, points my mother, The first star.
Make a wish.

The rows of hospital rooms are burning and hanging;
my brother is bending over the hint of a penny;
Grandfather, I am kissing you goodbye.

Don Ball

Currituck

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Kakalak 2021
Copyright © Moonshine Review Press, Harrisburg, North Carolina, 2021

Editors & Contest Judges:
+++ Kimberlyn Blum-Hyclak
+++ David E. Poston
+++ Richard Allen Taylor

Executive Editor and Publisher (and Art Editor)
+++ Anne M. Kaylor

[You might imagine how difficult it was to select just a few poems from many, many new favorites in this book!

Today’s art were among the entries I submitted but which were not published in Kakalak 2013, 2018, 2020, 2021. You’ll have to buy a copy of your book to see Incisors, selected for this year’s issue! — Bill Griffin.]

Order your copy of Kakalak 2021.

Explore past issues of Kakalak published by Main Street Rag.

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Delivery

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2020-03-07 Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Susan M. Lefler]

Forty-four years ago this month, Linda delivered our son Josh after an epic display of Lamaze prowess. We had celebrated Thanksgiving with friends; we suspect the sweet potato pie induced labor. We lived in Durham, NC, and her parents and mine plus all our family lived in Ohio, five hundred miles away. Ooh, how they wanted to get their hands on that baby boy. First grandchild on both sides, Linda and I both the oldest sibs.

I was just weeks away from my last day of med school at Duke. Benevolent powers granted me Christmas off and my Dad, as I recall, bought the tickets with a plane change in Pittsburgh. If you notice that current day lavatories have baby stations it’s probably because so many callers contacted the authorities after being grossed out by us changing poopy diapers on the main concourse.

We finally cinched ourselves in for the last leg. The flight attendant noticed us – curly brown locks, rosy cheeks, has anyone ever been so young? – and remarked, “You must be brother and sister!”

Then she saw the tiny well-blanketed bundle nuzzling Linda’s breast. “Ahhh,” she said, “I guess not.”
. . . . .

Yesterday Linda and I got our COVID boosters at Walgreens. There was a moderate queue (Yay, Surry County, y’all go get them shots, OK?!). Waiting, masked, yawn, plenty long enough for Linda to forge friendship with the white-haired woman ahead of us and share a few chuckles. We were last in line when the pharmacist stuck her head out the door of the procedure room and called, “Griffins!”

I asked if we should come in together. She looked us over – hiking boots, matching gray pony tails, has anyone ever been together so long? – and said, “Yeah, if you really are together and it’s not just a coincidence that you both have the same last name.” The pharmacist never cracked a smile but I think she looked pleased when, after our needle jabs, Linda said she wished she could hug her.

Define long. In 1985 Linda and I figured we’d been “going together” longer than we hadn’t. In 1995 we calculated we’d lived in North Carolina half our lives. Are there any family stories we haven’t already told each other twice? Is it still likely a stranger would think we’re brother and sister?

When I look at Linda I see her father. When she speaks I hear her mother. What does a stranger see when they look at you? Your history is a cipher. Your thoughts inscrutable. Your desires a swirling mist. The most that stranger can know about you is how you respond to the next person in line. How you react to the person that hurts you.

 

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Midwinter Garden

While I stir the soup, my husband digs.
He’s building me a garden in the center
of the barren yard. He marks out paths
with careful edges, makes them long
and straight. Already he plans walls, a gate.

Mind you, nothing grows yet.

While he digs and scatters time
like seeds, he dreams the blooms
full as we were at the start
when gardens grew from us, opening
like Fuji mums released from the confines
of their nets. He leaves the center blank
for a fountain, for the pond, a waterfall . . .
he dreams big and works to prove
that we can look at frozen ground and see
the cold tight seed begin to break,
greening toward spring.

In case spring should come late
leaving the garden t its frozen fate,
I stir the soup.

Susan M. Lefler
all selections from Rendering the Bones, Wind Publications, © 2011 by Susan M. Lefler

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Susan Lefler is a native North Carolinian who lives in Brevard and has authored a photographic history of that area published by Arcadia Press. The three sections of her poetry collection Rendering the Bones delicately weave family heritage into a journey of moods, observations, trials – the longing we all have to find our way home. In the final section she cares for her parents as they decline through their last days. If we are to live in this world, we must all join her struggle through grief to discover meaning. To see, even in frozen ground, the cold tight seed begin to break.

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Moon Stick

I want a counting stick to count the moon,
one notch at a time to mark, one thousand
and eight moons since my father’s birth,
five wards, depending how you count,
each month rolled into years, each year
into the next until we couldn’t tell
that time had passed, but we could see
his energy sigh out of him, and I leaned in
to ask old Cowboy Death, astride his big-assed
horse with the sag in the middle like a nag
too worn for use: how wide is dying?
Or is it dry and thin? Is it round
like the blood moon that lifts
above the mountain, or narrow as a bone
and hard to penetrate?

I want to ask if he keeps company with those
he’s taken out, or do new prospects
occupy his time? I want to ask
how many moons he plans to let go by
until he takes my father up, slings
him over the back of that old horse,
and heads away, letting the last moon
slide behind the mountain as he goes.

Susan Lefler

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About Ashes

Ash Wednesday in the church, I listen
to the ancient words of dust and grief
punctuated with the hiss
of oxygen. Words crunch in my mouth
like little bones.

Slow bodies move forward
to the rail, kneel, submit
to ashes marked on skin, remembering
the palm green fronds, the bloom, the fire
that brought them here.

At home, I shovel ashes from the hearth
until I fill a scuttle full, the very one
my grandfather used to load coal
from the towering pile
next to the chickenyard, piece
by piece to keep the grate alive.

I load the remnants of dead trees
into a heap and haul them to the yard.
I’ll feed the lilacs with them.
They like ashes.

When the shovel lifts
for the last time, one spark
smolders still, telling the tale
once more of who we were,
of who we long to be, of what it means
to come awake, and waking
see.

Susan M. Lefler

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2014-06-30a Doughton Park Tree

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