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.
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.
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.