THIS BLOG IS NO LONGER OPERATIONAL. PLEASE ENJOY WHAT IS HERE, AND DO LEAVE A COMMENT IF YOU WISH. NORTH CAROLINA'S NEW POET LAUREATE IS CATHY SMITH BOWERS. SHE WILL SOON HAVE HER OWN WEBSITE THROUGH THE NORTH CAROLINA ARTS COUNCIL SITE. I WILL BE SHIFTING MY ATTENTION TO HERE, WHERE I AM, (SEE SIDEBAR)USING IT TO DRAW ATTENTION TO WRITERS WHOSE WORK DESERVES ATTENTION. I INVITE YOU TO VISIT ME THERE. For a video of the installation ceremony, please go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xAk6fOzaNE.
Let me introduce Bimjhana Bishwokarma. If you have read my first post on 9/28--"On the Same Poem"--you will know that we met during the luncheon where I read "Mountain Time" and discussed it with the luncheon guests. Bimjhana was among them, and when it came her turn to have me sign my poem, she gave me one of hers and told me a bit about herself. I invited her to stay in touch, which she did. Here is a segment from the email giving some of her family history.
"My dad was a reknowned journalist, writer (esp. poet), and politician (the forefront leader against caste system) in Nepal. He passed away long time ago. I wish I had more time with him. Someone is writing a book on him, and I am getting to know him better than I ever had. i was barely 15 when I lost him. I have been asked to translate his work. Like I told you before, translation is really difficult job. I have lots of my father's books with me, but they are in Nepalese.
My mom is a social worker and journalist in Nepal. You can probably google her. Her name is Mithai Devi Bishwokarma. She visits me often, so next time she is here, I would make sure she meets you. My brother is also one of the top journalists in Nepal. He was working as a stringer in New york for a while and currently is back in Nepal, working as a senior media officer for United Nations. My sister is a graduate in English literature and writes short stories and teaches in high school. My brother-in-law is also a poet.
As for me, I used to write poetry since I was small. I first got published when I was 7 and had a poetry collection at 16. I write articles, memoirs, but mainly poems. i work as a scientist here at Wake Forest University - in regenerative medicine. I have not been actively writing currently. Thus, being there at your recitation was a true satiation for me. i am very very fortunate to have known you."
Here is the poem that Bimjhana handed to me.
Arcane Utopia Vs. Mundane World
Entwined in my own arcane imaginations ..I let my reality go wild on me. Bit by bit... I live up my fake Utopia.... And in a jiffy, mundane world fails me!
This celestial feeling and this cul-de-sac ..I play blindfold with piety and guilt. On every path I cross, there is a snare! I cry out loud in the vicinity of entrapment, Insanity laughs at me offering refuge. I run...run....and run... Away from ...?... don't know what ....! After ...?... don't know what ...!!
And still it seems like I'm in a moratorium. My destiny stands forth like a mirage, And of course insanity lures me! World... or .... Utopia?!? My jurisdiction collapses. ...cold state of indecisiveness!
Here is the poem selected for the 2008 "On the Same Poem" program (see earlier post, below this one). Students, teachers, readers of all ages and interests, if you have any questions or comments about the poem, please send them to me via the "comments" below.
News travels slowly up here in the mountains , our narrow roads twisting for days, maybe years, till we get where we’re going, if we ever do. Even if some lonesome message should make it through Deep Gap or the fastness of Thunderhead, we’re not obliged to believe it’s true, are we? Consider the famous poet, minding her post at the Library of Congress, who shrugged off the question of what we’d be reading at century’s end: “ By the year 2000 nobody will be reading poems.” Thus she prophesied. End of that interview! End of the world as we know it. Yet, how can I fault her despair, doing time as she was in a crumbling Capitol, sirens and gunfire the nights long, the Pentagon’s stockpile of weapons stacked higher and higher. No wonder the books stacked around her began to seem relics. No wonder she dreamed her own bones dug up years later, tagged in a museum somewhere in the Midwest: American Poet--Extinct Species.
Up here in the mountains we know what extinct means. We’ve seen how our breath on a bitter night fades like a ghost from the window glass. We know the wolf’s gone. The panther. We’ve heard the old stories run down, stutter out into silence. Who knows where we’re heading? All roads seem to lead to Millennium, dark roads with drop-offs we can’t plumb. It’s time to be brought up short now with the tale-teller’s Listen: There once lived a woman named Delphia who walked through these hills teaching children to read. She was known as a quilter whose hand never wearied, a mother who raised up two daughters to pass on her words like a strong chain of stitches. Imagine her sitting among us, her quick thimble moving along these lines as if to hear every word striking true as the stab of her needle through calico. While prophets discourse about endings, don’t you think she’d tell us the world as we know it keeps calling us back to beginnings? This labor to make our words matter is what any good quilter teaches. A stitch in time, let’s say. A blind stitch, that grips the edges of what’s left, the ripped scraps and remnants, whatever won’t stop taking shape even though the whole crazy quilt’s falling to pieces.
Sometimes poets feel left out. Often when there are panels on Southern Literature, for example, fiction writers are the ones who sit at the table. Few of us poets are asked to participate. And when regional and national reading programs select their books, no poetry makes its way on board. What a loss, especially for readers! Here in North Carolina, however, we have a program, begun five years ago, called "On the Same Poem," in which readers come together to read a selected poem by a renowned poet. Copies of the poem are mailed around the community, posted on bulletin boards, and as the grand finale, the poet appears to read and answer questions from readers.
Before I divulge the brilliant and innovative folks who introduced this program, let me encourage other groups to follow in their lead, including public schools. I'll follow up on this suggestion later, but for now we'll let it percolate a bit in our minds.
(Tony Hoagland, On The Same Poem poet, 2007)
The creators of this program are the Forsyth County Public Library in Winston-Salem and the Salem College Center for Women Writers. This year the Forsyth Piecers and Quilters Guild served as co-sponsors. Modeled on the Together We Read, On the Same Page, and similar programs, this project features poetry, which is usually left out of the nominations for communal reads. The "On The Same Poem" Luncheon and the open Poetry Reading have become staples of National Poetry Month in Forsyth County. On The Same Poem is billed as "the shared experience of reading and discussing a single poem selected for the occasion." As this year's poet, I followed poets Tony Hoagland, Rita Dove, Martin Espada, and Thylias Moss as honored guests.
The "On the Same Poem" luncheon took place at the Forsyth County Central Library on May 1st at 12:00. Gorgeous quilts, provided by the Forsyth County Piecers and Quilters Guild hung from the walls, and a team of women cloggers entertained us. After being introduced by my long-time friend, poet and novelist Isabel Zuber, I read my poem "Mountain Time" and then talked informally with as many people as I could, seated at tables enjoying a brown bag lunch. When lunch was over, I engaged in a question and answer session about the poem and poetry in general. Copies of the poem had been sent in a mass mailing about a month before the event, so everyone had copies. Sharing lunch with as many readers as wanted to show up, then circulating among them and chatting with them about poetry was heavenly. Come to think of it, maybe that is indeed the poet's version of heaven, an eternity full of poetry readers and other poets, including old friends like Maria Ingram, Emily Wilson, and Becky Gould Gibson.
(Some of the quilts on display, courtesy of the Forsyth Piecers and Quilters Guild)
(Candace Brennan, librarian at Forsyth County Public Library, who helps coordinate the On the Same Poem project, with me and poet/novelist Isabel Zuber, former librarian at the Wake Forest Library. This photo was taken by Ginger Hendricks, Director of the Salem College Center for Women Writers, shortly before my reading at Salem College, following the "On the Same Poem" presentation. )
One of the highlights of my afternoon was meeting a young poet from Nepal named Bimjhana Bishwokarma. She had asked me a question about translation during the Q and A, concerned that translation so often misses the mark when it comes to poetry. Her father was a poet who wrote in his native Nepalese, so she was well aware of how difficult, perhaps even impossible, it is to render a poem adequately into another language. I remembered a heated discussion of a Spanish word used in the translation of my poem "Weep-willow," which appeared in the Spanish version of Lee Smith's FAIR AND TENDER LADIES, when I participated in a seminar at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching. The two native Spanish speakers and another participant fluent in Spanish argued for quite a while and never came to agreement over the issue!
In my next posts I will introduce Bimjhana and let you read one of her poems. And I will post my "Mountain Time," in hopes that I will receive more questions and comments about it.
I've just returned from a lovely dedication, though I prefer to call it a celebration, at the Albert Carlton-Cashiers Community Library [http://www.fontanalib.org/cashiers/aboutCashiers.htm}, where two long-time friends, Dr. Barbara Carlton and Deen Day Sanders, were honored for establishing a Friendship Garden off the main reading room of the library. Cashiers is just over the mountain from Cullowhee, but the road is one winding spiral after another, so I gave myself plenty of time to get there by noon, when the celebration was to begin. I'd been asked to present a reading-- after the garden dedication-- by Barbara Carlton's daughter, Julie McClelland, and I came prepared with several poems I hoped the audience would like. The crowd was large and enthusiastic. Cashiers has a lively group of readers who have supported their library over the years. I met many of them when I drove over to lead a discussion of Lee Smith's ON AGATE HILL, our Together We Read selection last fall. We had enjoyed the evening together, and to make the discussion even more interesting, one of the attendees had been in school with Lee at Hollins! I was glad to be back today, in a library so obviously loved and used by its community. The Albert Carlton-Cashiers Community Library opened its doors in the summer of 1994. The Cashiers community had started a community based all volunteer library in the 1980's called Johannson Memorial Library, but felt that the area needed a full service library with trained staff so began a campaign to bring a branch library to Cashiers. Through county and regional negotiations and fundraising a beautiful native stone post and beam library was constructed. The family of Albert Carlton was the primary private contributor and a major force in bringing a branch of the Jackson County Library and Fontana Regional Library system to the area.
(Friends of the Library President Sandy Bayley welcomes us to the Friendship Garden, with the honorees sitting beside her.)
(Barbara Carlton and Deen Day Sanders chat together before the Dedication begins.)
(Julie McClelland and her son talking with the honorees.)
(Interior of the library--full of light. The design of this facility makes me want to settle down with a book and spend the rest of my life there!)
(What a gorgeous spread of edibles! And there was another like it on the opposite side of the meeting room. Note the artwork on the wall. The Cashiers library keeps artwork by members of its community on display throughout the year.)
Before we could indulge our appetites at the two reception tables, we had to hear some poetry. Or rather, I had to read some, which I was more than pleased to do for such a receptive group of listeners. I began with "Nature's Trail, " which I had written for the dedication of the Bernice Campbell Stripling Nature Trail in my hometown of Camilla, Georgia, four years ago. And how could I not read "Beginning At the Bottom," written for last year's North Carolina Library Association conference? "Last Light," first published in Warren Wilson College's HEARTSTONE journal and reprinted in the NC Humanities Council's CONVERSATIONS, introduced the theme of language and our sense of place, how language can help us preserve the places we love, a topic very much on the minds of many of us in the mountains these days. Finally, to get us all ready for the feast that awaited, I closed with my laureate poem, "Piece of Cake." Now, about that feast--shrimp (and not tiny ones, either) with cocktail sauce, cheese in many forms and presentations, what looked like hushpuppies but tasted like a luscious cross between corn pudding and cheese custard. And that's only the beginning. You'll have to use your imagination to complete the menu.
(Here I am on stage, after my reading, with head librarian Sarah Skrobis.)
As Sandy Bayley declared in her Welcome, libraries are not luxuries, they are NECESSITIES. I would add that they are the heart of our communities. May poetry always flourish within them!
The new VERVE is out, with a well-written piece on Western North Carolina women poets, by Jess McCuan. Four of them are the cover girls: Cathy Smith Bowers, Glenis Redmond, Pat Riviere Seel, and Emoke B'racz. I couldn't make it over to Hendersonville for the photo shoot, alas. My daughter Corinna served as poet's photographer for me. Cathy, Glenis, and Pat have been featured already on our ncarts.org website. Emoke will be coming up soon.
Here's how the article begins:
"Western North Carolina claims its share of famous writers. Thomas Wolfe, Charles Frazier and Carl Sandburg are among the most well known (though Sandburg was born in Illinois and only moved to Flat Rock late in life). For years, few on the list of nationally known WNC authors were women and even fewer were female poets. North Carolina governors have appointed state poet laureates since 1935, and for 70 years they chose men—many of whom lived or taught in the Piedmont or on the coast. In its 24 years of operation, Black Mountain College attracted important avant-garde poets like Charles Olson, Robert Creeley and Denise Levertov, but none were from the area and few stayed after the school shut down in 1957."
To find out what happened to the literary scene here in the mountains, go to vervemag.com and read the rest of the essay. Take a look at the rest of the magazine, too. Maybe you'll want to have your own copy of it.
MEMO TO TEACHERS: THE POEMS FEATURED IN THIS POST WOULD MAKE WONDERFUL ASSIGNMENTS. I'D BE WILLING TO BET YOU'D GET SOME GOOD STUDENT WRITING IN RESPONSE TO THEM. SEND YOUR STUDENTS TO THIS BLOG AND ENCOURAGE THEM TO LEAVE SOME COMMENTS FOR ME. YOU CAN LEAVE SOME, TOO!
Another member of the Smithfield workshop was Teresa McLamb Blackmon. I had met Teresa a three years ago while conducting a seminar at the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching. When I took a look at her poetry, I knew she was the real thing. She was able to bring small town and Eastern North Carolina rural life into full sensory life in a way that reminded me a lot of Shelby Stephenson.(www.shelbystephenson.com) And why not? She grew up where Shelby now lives--in the small town of Benson, North Carolina, where her father was a farmer and rodeo stock contractor and her mother a 3rd grade teacher. Teresa is a Media/Technology Coordinator in Johnston County. Earlier in her career, she taught high school English and Yearbook Journalism. She graduated from NCSU in 1984 with a MA in English and is an avid Wolfpack fan. Teresa lives on a farm near Benson with her husband and their four-legged babies, including dogs, miniature donkeys, horses, Brahma bulls, goats, and sheep. Her writing is an attempt to capture those people and places around Johnston County who shaped her life and her drive to create poetry. She has had poems published in Absinthe and in various local newspapers and community publications.
I could never forget the climb as tedious as Jack and the Beanstalk’s journey, into the pickup truck where Daddy waited, brimmed hat bent down, blue eyes watching, reaching without arms for me and the morning’s route. We slipped through town, partners with the yellow thief, to rob the dew and set the day afoot. “One quart for the Lamberts,” he’d say, “and two for Old Man Webb.” They slept, unaware that a child had come to bring the milk, warm in its glass cocoon, and a father watched, knowing that the empty bottles left, like sentinels in the night, would come back to him; tiny hands would bring them.
It was not the jump that scared me, kept me stone-still, frozen in sun. I knew the air was safe though quick With slick hands supple. I could bear the bounce, could look up and know I would find water.
It was the landing, not sure that the plunge would take me to the bottom and up again with breath to spare. It was the falling into something bigger than me, something that would surround me like loose clothing I could not stretch to fit.
Would mid-air strand me like a dead letter sent with good intentions, lose me in clouds and storm me away? Would I scatter in heat and cheat the wetness, not diving at all but lingering like a petticoat of steam over children submerged in cool water?
That fear schooled me, swam me like circling bubbles in the bathtub drain, me so afraid of leaving the board, I’d bob up an down like impatient bait, watching myself in the blue mirror, seeing a stranger I knew so well.
ONE WEEK BEFORE
Grandma lies dying, sucking breath like sun in snow, leaving paths behind. Her eyes doze in sockets closed from light: an eclipse. We watch her twitch in bed and hear her groans; they rattle and wheeze while we stand above her like prison guards. Her chains smolder and spit fire. They dazzle us with a strange pageantry—she is breaking loose.
I do not know mules like Grandpa did, the gee-whinney, the swish tune of fanning tail, the shake of ears at flies and green leaf flowers tickling.
Grandpa closed his eyes back to that land down beyond the fishing pond, the sand slipping under tow-bagged sleds he made with cola caps, the mule, head down, plodding back rows level.
Back to that fertile soil, sweat and sweeping gardens on backyard plots, an old straw hat set to tilt the sun, and mule muscles pulling and stretching a day’s work, when hours played in shadow, passing in the quiet.
“Were they really stubborn?” “’Bout like children. You had to know how to handle them.”
This might be the year of leaving, this time when nothing has the leisure of waiting. Tree branches bare, a little fox scurries for fish perished on the dam. The moon, perched on sky smooth as tabletops, sits like an empty cup to be filled. Dusk brings the smell of earth, as farmers return to fallow fields, pull up the fruits of vine, swiftly yanking roots and stems as if the planting had been a mistake. I live in this picture, a shadow near the bottom, hovering like the catfish in winter mud, just because the moment tempts beyond reason. I write my life in small letters near the time that frames it all.
READY TO TELL
I try to tell the story word for word, play by play, sit here straight-back chair and keyboard, fingers waiting for moves like two at a checkerboard. All the characters are backstage: Dixie and Bob, Mama, AnnieMae, Aunt Grace; they are ready and nervous not a bit about their debut, knowing this production was inevitable. Many wait in the wings, for their calling. I’ve cast this scene a thousand times. The stage is set, all props within reach, like something a magician might pull from a tall black hat. The woman in the back row sits uncomfortably; she is afraid it will be her story too, as if there ever is but one story of a life. There is no curtain for there never was a need for hiding, as if long lengths of cloth could separate the view, the seen from the unseen. The lights are down and I am ready, to step out, take my place at the center.
Let me tell you about growing up in a small town, about barning tobacco and going to Sunday school. We could walk the whole of Main Street and never meet a stranger. Tobacco worms wiggled through our fingers. We could go to Miss Johnny Green’s little store in “colored town,” buy candy cigarettes and later real ones, and know she’d never tell. We made sand castles at Carolina Beach and cried when the week was over at Camp Don Lee. We played spin the bottle and took our kisses in “Miss” Louise Godwin’s living room closet. We ate cherry pies we honestly believed “Miss” Lily made from scratch. We lost Mary Lynn to a train and Danny to pond water. We played Rook and cruised Charlie’s Carousel in a Caprice Estate Station Wagon. We believed that Wilhelmenia Utley was a witch and that Debbie Dale Peacock had all the answers to our questions about sex.
I will tell you all about these lives we’ve lived right in front of your very eyes, if you will listen: you will know us every one.
If you might be thinking that I was suffering from poetry overload, after my visit to N. Johnston High School (previous post), not to worry! In the evening, I led a round-table poetry workshop at the Smithfield Public Library, sponsored by the Johnston County Arts Council, organized and overseen by the indefatigable Jessica Meadows, with over a dozen in attendance, including two young elementary school students. This time I asked the group to riff on “I remember,” and some wonderful work came bubbling to the surface. I'd like to feature James Weston's poems from that session, beginning with his remembering poem. My next post will feature the work of another workshop participant, Teresa Blackmon, who lives in Benson.
"Pickling Memo & Dado"
I remember Memo’s ancient apron and the smell of canning pickles Memo was as big as her house and sent Terror through my tiny bones With her reptile glare down So far down on me. So I would sneak out of the kitchen To Dado’s smile and his cigar-scented hands and he would trundle us both off and Out to the Dodge Charger with the fading paint Out to the farm with the eternally calm cows Chewing their way through the universe Out from the chill of Memo’s sour smiles Out until I was big enough to understand How woman and man orbit, collide and somehow change Forever back into their original form. Thank you Memo. (Dear reader: Memo was my great-grandmother and Dado my great-grandfather. Both were born, lived and died in Nebraska.)
I later emailed James about some of his work, and here is his response:
"I've noodled with Tiny Boat, and like it a bit better. Changling is so short that I wonder if it's maybe the kernel of something wider. I've also included my first stab at a paradelle, Sweet Pepper and Our Words on the Water, and also what came of your "I remember..." idea, Pickling Memo & Dado."
James Weston lives with his wife Nicole and their newborn son, Jérôme Nael, in Johnston County, NC. He is an NC-born, NY-raised guy who's favorite response to "What do you do for a living?" is one from a Woodstock hippie: breathe! Aside from persistent respiration, he enjoys Chinese martial arts, Quantum Touch healing, grubbing in the garden and letting words arrange themselves around unspeakable things. He makes his living by helping people overcome their chronic pain and health problems, and some headhunting on the side. Go figure.
OK, here's the "noodling" of the I Remember springboard poem. What do you think? Teachers and students---what's gained by this revision? Anything lost?
Pickling Memo & Dado
I remember Memo's ancient apron
and the smell of canning pickles
Memo was as big as her house and sent
Terror through my tiny bones
With her reptile glare down
So far down on me.
So I would sneak out of the kitchen
To Dado's smile and his cigar-scented hands
and he would trundle us both off and
Out to the Dodge Charger with the fading paint
Out to the farm with the eternally calm cows
Chewing their way through the universe
Out from the chill of Memo's sour smiles
Out until I was big enough to understand
How woman and man orbit, collide and somehow change
Forever back into their original form.
Thank you Memo.
HERE ARE A FEW MORE POEMS BY JAMES WESTON:
The tiny boat seems to wait
for the feel of your rough hands
for morning sun to warm the deck
and for the first urge to move
It never really sleeps
more of a sussurring loll-about,
gently moored and content
in the endless lick from one wave
that whispers it’s arriving
only to change shape
and bring fresh tidings
Of the world inside this one
the waking dreamer in you
This is what weaves through every belly
Every leaf and stone,
Escapes the grey lips of the dying
and into the waiting sky
Sing it always shouts
with unreasonable joy
The same joy that lands
in your harbor
as you step aboard the tiny boat. -------------------------------
A cloud waited at the end of the street I thought it waited for me to spell the word, my first name
the name of one who remembered big things in little hands hidden sweets and summer bruises
Instead it just wound around the breeze waiting until I had forgotten pausing until we both became a changeling chasing nothing.
It might be a child in the window
Maybe how the sun carved a cloud
Yes, it could be
A place to rest eyes too long open.
For me it is the startle
of being served such beauty here
How the slack cheeks pull the eyes
and white as wet bone
No other place than here,
Forget the forgetting with all this
Light coming down
I am still for you, and home’s closer
Sweet pepper and our words on the water
I trust in God while they build a peaceful fence I trust in God while they build a peaceful fence This is a fine play, your need to mend This is a fine play, your need to mend This God I play while they mend your Trust is a fine peaceful need to fence
Sweet pepper and our words on the water Sweet pepper and our words on the water I bite you with my lip as we turn I bite you with my lip as we turn As I pepper you with my words, our lips water We bite on the sweet and turn
Baby wants to drink into a bottle but not now Baby wants to drink into a bottle but not now He clings to her and I wrestle it with my mind He clings to her and I wrestle it with my mind Her mind clings but not to bottle my baby He wants a wrestle with it and into my now
You baby, I trust while I bite and wrestle your words And they play her a fine sweet turn, my mind clings to this fence It wants to pepper our lips with peaceful water We turn into God
Back in April, I spent a day in Johnston County, as part of the county arts council's Visiting Artist Series. Jessica Meadows, Johnston County Art Council’s able director, picked me up in Wilson (see previous posts), and drove me to N. Johnston County High School, where I spent well over an hour talking with students about poetry and giving them a writing assignment that yielded some terrific poems. Jessica herself graduated from North Johnston High and knew a lot of the faculty there, including Ms. Sonya Kiser, in whose classroom the workshop was held. On the drive over from Wilson, where I'd read at the Wilson County Library the night before, Jessica told me about her plans for encouraging the arts in her home county. Efficient, friendly, and smart, that's how I pegged Jessica. I didn't know she'd also cozied up to some pretty fishy characters in her past! (You can go to o to Jessica's blog for her take on my visit: http://blogs.wncn.info/jcarts/2008/04/23/my-day-with-the-nc-poet-laureate/)
(Jessica and Friend)
One of Jessica's council members videotaped the session, and a portion of that can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6FWWxmoAS4. In the photo I've included, I look rather severe, but I didn't feel that way at all. I was watching the students write, probably wondering how much longer to give them before I called "Time's Up!"
The tried and true springboard I used was “That Time,” and I often hand out Simon Ortiz’s poem, by that same title, to introduce the session. This time I began with a poem of my own, about being their age, looking in my mirror and worrying over my image while down the road some serious racial conflict was taking place. Here is a selection of poems from the class, ending with one by Ms. Kiser, whose room was the scene of our poetic adventures. These poems might be good ones to use in English/writing classes to show what other students are writing. If you have comments, please leave them in "comments" section at the end of this post.
I hear the roar that will change my life, And catch a glimpse of a silver metallic beauty in the edge of my peripheral.
A familiar face in a hooded coat, Wheeling in the only dream I ever wanted.
Stunned and astonished, being the least of my worries, Smiles tenfold embrace my weakness.
I see a green sign, with words bold in black, Be careful my son, you’re precious to us all.
That time 12 years ago when I watched The Miss America pageant, just hoping That I could be her up there one day. The sparkle that shined in her eyes The beautiful shimmering dress that Lit up the stage. It was that time when I knew that I wanted to be somebody But who, I wasn’t quite sure. I would Dress up, play pageant, wear crowns but It was just never like the “Miss America” I still could see in what little I could remember Of my childhood memories. I want to be Miss America, I want to run in the Olympics, I want to make a difference And I want that time that I realize who I really am.
That time seemed ages ago Although it wasn’t Standing, waiting, should I go. Have I missed it?
That moment didn’t last long The span which was No more than a second or two I have missed it.
That place I should have been Trusting instinct over thought Knowing that I missed it I can’t turn around.
That time my parents drove me to school And escorted me for the first time Up the wooden steps of the gray trailer Into the room filled with unfamiliar faces.
A tall, dark-haired woman greeted me With her reassuring face and kind eyes And showed me to the little table I was to share with three other children.
Around me was so much sadness But in front of me a cute little owl Looked up at me pleading to be colored With the little crayons in the basket.
My parents hugged me through teary eyes Gave me a kiss and said “Good-bye.”
The trucks were washed and polished. The flowers had been picked up. The dress and tux were matching. Everything was ready for it to come.
The precision of time was a must. The date could not be late. The family was ready for the arrival. The arrival of the night to come.
He reached the house at the moment That he had been told be there. There she stood in the dress That her father had paid many a buck.
Flash! Flash! Flash! Went the cameras The first the night would bring. For neither knew what to come. The adventure had just begun.
They met their friends to eat. For this was a rare special treat. Everyone was getting along. The excitement was yet to come.
That time I heard the phone ring at One o’clock in the morning.
My grandmothers’ voice at the other end Stricken with fear she screamed “My house is on fire.”
I stood motionless – Time stood still.
My parents broke my hypnosis – my trance- as they pushed me out the door.
As we grow closer, I could see the Gray clouds of smoke consuming the night Sky, leaving no star in sight.
Did not know what to think.
Sirens drowned out my ability of comprehension.
My mind took me back to all the memories – Eating banana popsicles on the tailgate Of his yellow 73 toyota pick-up, playing dress-up in her Enchanted closet filled with princes And white stallions, camping under The blanket canopy tied to the bedposts That reached as high as Jack’s beanstalk, The famous fried bologna sandwich and fast fries, A meal fit for a king – Then, a nudge from someone trying to steal a glance - a nudge – back to reality – Tears flood from my eyes Frantic, I search for them – Praying, I ask God for Granny And Papa to be okay. Peace filled me. My eyes opened – There before me stood my Grandparents and my childhood Walking hand in hand.
That time when I was going to go on my first date I sat there and wondered if I could ever be her best mate. I thought and thought about what should be done And finally came up with the attitude to just have fun That for me was the best call Because for her, she didn’t expect anything at all Thought everything we did was all from my head I felt that I was doing everything that she had said Nothing ever came from that time we spent together But for me it is something that I will remember forever For me I wish that the spark could have simmered But for her it was just some guy she met in late December.
That time was just a Short Second that seemed To last an eternity-
Eight 'o clock in the morning, "I'm late for school" I screamed When Mama came around the corner And I just knew.
But I denied it when she leaned down and told me. I shook, I screamed, I cried, My heart was breaking.
That time, that morning, My Hero. My Best Friend. My Daddy. Was gone.
That time That I fussed over my hair dryer, My frizzed , Curled hair. That I cried and complained, Looked forward to times I knew would come. That time I ignored her face, Her eyes, Her feelings not spoken. But blurred. And I complained of what was to come, Not seeing what was there. That time When all I cared about was me. Me, me, my friends, my life, my parent’s divorce, Me. And forgot everything else. Her loss, her separation, her pain. That time, That she mentioned she had gone to a doctor. Pills. Depression. That time, That maturity let me see hind sighted blindness. And that time, When I realized the divorce was more, Than me leaving my friends, Me leaving my house, My past, And was more about her ending her marriage, Her alone, Her alone with a blinded daughter. But I’m here now. I see now. That time has ended. Is over.
That time I sat crying in my dorm room Believing the world was over because he had broken up with me I opened the card – removed it form the beige envelope written in a familiar but awkward hand The card was Care Bears, but with a twist The hand-drawn grenade being dropped form the blue bear on the puffy cloud Onto the head of the stick figure labeled with the ex-boyfriend’s name
And the words… the words written inside Specifics unremembered now, but the semtiment – “I’ve got your back” Was more than I’d ever thought Meant more than I’d known then – Means even more now – That silent solidarity The blood-tie unbroken The love – louder than any gesture before or since – the card from my brother
My invitation to visit Wilson came from Deborah Webb of the Wilson County Public Library. She and children's librarian Rebecca Tighe made me feel welcome as soon as I arrived in Wilson, after I'd been taken to the Whitehead Inn by three friendly Wilson women, Mary Roberson, Faye Boykin, and Patsy Ferrell, who had met me at the RDU airport. Ms. Katherine Barnes with the local poetry society took me to dinner with some of her other society friends (along with Deborah and Rebecca) at the elegant Legacy restaurant in nearby Elm City, where we engaged in a little collaborative poetry writing, along with a lot of good conversation.
When I took a tour of the library later in the day, there was more ArtPark, a spring display of frogs, flowers, and bright green grass! And poetry, of course. Ah, Jane Wood and her fourth graders have been here, I said.
The Wilson County Library is a beautifully renovated building, and the staff working there are obviously proud of it. The public library is the heartbeat of a community. I felt that more than ever when my daughter was young and we spent so many pleasant hours in the children's section. Our regular visits to Story Hour were highlights of our weeks.
The public library in my hometown of Camilla, Ga. seemed a magical place when I was growing up, though, or maybe because, the building was old and the scent of ancient wood and books was everywhere. I could never conceive of the books existing without hands reaching out to open them.
When it came time for my reading that evening, I decided to begin with a poem about that first library where I spent so much time. I had written it for the NC Library Association's annual convention in Hickory last October, at the request of Frannie Ashburn, Director, Center for the Book, in the State Library Department. Frannie is one of my favorite people!
The audience gave me a rousing reception, with lots of good questions afterward. Yes, Jane was there, and the lively ladies who gathered me up at the airport, too. I decided that the best place for a poetry reading is a library, remembering other special readings around the state, a few of which I will tell you about later.
Here is the poem I wrote about my hometown library, dedicated to Frannie and to the memory of Dana Edge (see the post of 9/5/08)
BEGINNING AT THE BOTTOM
“...the bottom of the backwoods...” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, describing my home county in the 1950’s
for Frannie Ashburn and Dana Edge
My small-town backwater library, behind the bank, across from the post office, floats to the surface of right now,
daylight drifting through window shades onto the wooden floor, golden light, let’s call it, because to say sepia places
it into a scrapbook, and this story still lives inside the folds of my mind’s aging labyrinth, its infinite pages bound
fast in their signatures, spines named and numbered, its nooks where I hid myself, lifting a book to my nostrils,
as if I could sniff out a good story, just like my grandfather’s bird-dogs flushed quail from the underbrush. Sometimes
I heard whispers rise from a neighboring bookshelf, a telephone ringing, the bookmobile laboring home from the backwoods
and always the light bulbs in every lamp humming like bees round a sweet pool of soda spilled onto the pavement.
To that hive of bookshelves, I journey again and again, letting go of my one life to enter the stories of others,
still hungry for words and the way they can bring me back home to my senses, the way they reach out to the world.
If you have a poem or reminiscence about your first library--or your current one---please send it along, by leaving a response below.
This is a photo of Dana Edge, a woman I admired tremendously and with whom I lost contact during the months of her terminal illness this spring. (This photo shows Dana's sense of humor as Western Carolina University's Reference Librarian and Consultant to the School of Business. Its title: Dana Shocked! I love it.) I'll make no excuses. Yes, I was busy with poetry/travel commitments, but I could have made time to get in touch, at least by email. To visit. Now it's too late. And a woman who gave the label "librarian" special meaning is gone without my having told her how much I valued her friendship and regard for my work. Dana cared about poetry, the environment, politics, travel. She bought my books and she made comments about my work. How rare is that? As a librarian she took her job seriously. She was efficient and passionate (the two are not mutually exclusive), and she cared about literature. I had never officially met her until the day she came up to me in Western Carolina University's Hunter Library to tell me that she liked an op-ed I'd written for the Asheville Citizen-Times shortly before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, one that had been posted on the library bulletin board. Yesterday Hunter Library held a "Celebration of Dana Edge," a reception with good food, good friends, and displays of Dana's photos, posters, various brochures she had put together for the library and other mementoes from her time in our library. In them one could see a woman involved in life in its many unfoldings.
Here is the announcement from WCU. If you wish to honor a woman you most likely don't even know, by a contribution to The Hope Chest or the Canary Coalition, that would be wonderful. The Canary Coalition is a local environmental organization fighting to save what we have here in Jackson County and WNC, by the way.
Dana Merrill Edge, Reference Librarian, Liaison to the College of Business , and Assistant Professor at Hunter Library, died Sunday morning, August 24, after a brief illness. Dana came to Western in January, 1995, leaving behind a successful business career managing resorts at the Grand Canyon, Napa Valley , and Death Valley . Academic librarianship was a second career for Dana, and we were lucky she chose WCU, where projects she took on benefited from her intelligence and high standards. Quick wit and an elegant demeanor marked all of her endeavors here. Dana loved her time in Cullowhee and the many friends she made here. We will all miss her!
Dana’s family asks that memorial gifts be made to Hope Chest – A Women’s Cancer Center , P.O. Box 16948, Asheville , NC 28816, or to The Canary Coalition, P.O. Box 653, Sylva , NC 28779.
Dana's obituary in the Asheville Citizen Times: http://obituaries.citizen-times.com/obituaries/obit.php?id=56409
Here is the video that WLOS ran last weekend. The piece with Dana is called "Outrunning Time." She appears toward the end of the video. (It's less than 10 minutes long.): http://www.wlos.com/shared/newsroom/absolute_le/wlos_index.shtml
(Passion Flower in our garden)
PART 2, coming up, The Wilson County Public Library
I've lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina since 1968, though I'm a native of SW Georgia. My paternal grandmother was born in the Blue Ridge, and I grew up wanting to live here. Where I am.
I've published five collections of poetry, the most recent 4 being with LSU Press, and have published poetry in magazines ranging from The Atlantic Monthly to Appalachian Heritage. But I also hike, bang pots and pans around in my kitchen, and love several dogs who leave fur all over my carpets. I write poetry because it's my way of singing back to the world both within and without.