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.
Ghost Alphabet Authors: Al Maginnes Genre: Poetry Series: White Pine Press Poetry Prize (www.whitepine.org) Volume: 13
Al Maginnes was born in Massachusetts and raised in a number of states, mostly in the southeast. In 1991, he published a chapbook, Outside A Tattoo Booth with Nightshade Press. His first full-length collection, Taking Up Our Daily Tools (St. Andrews College Press, 1997), was nominated for the National Book Award and winner of the Oscar Arnold Young Award for best collection of poetry by a North Carolina poet, and The Light In Our Houses (Pleaides Press, 2000), which was the winner of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Award. His third full length collection, Film History, appeared in 2005 from Word Tech Editions. In 2007 Pudding House Publications published single long poem, Dry Glass Blues, as a chapbook. His poems have appeared in many journals, including Poetry, Shenandoah, The Georgia Review, and Tar River Poetry and have been reproduced on the websites Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. He is on the faculty of Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh NC, where he teaches a variety of composition literature and creative writing courses and runs a reading series. In 1999, he won an Individual Artist’s Grant from the North Carolina Arts Council. He lives in Raleigh with his wife Jamie and their daughter Isabel.
Enough letters have fallen from the theater’s marquee to make the feature’s title unreadable. The patrons will be little help: some are walked from a group home for the handicapped or bused in from the assisted living facility or they are teenagers stoned on X. They are there because tickets are cheap, because light and sound occupy them, not because anyone cares about the story unraveling on the screen. The white space shining between the remaining letters is pages unwritten, titles and plots of films never made. Monk said the notes not played matter as much as the ones that are. So the invented or guessed at titles write themselves in a ghost alphabet, words structured over the frame of whatever letters remain. The couple on the aisle, sharing a bag of rubbery popcorn, don’t remember that they were not married to one another. Content with dark, they won’t notice if a reel repeats or plays out of sequence as sometimes happens. As long as there is sound and motion, there is a story to be made from it. When letters were too plain a task, the monks assigned to copy documents began embellishing their script with drawings, animals curved in the shapes of letters, seraphim blessing the wide margins until decoration began to overwhelm the precise geometries of text just as improvisation might swallow melody. However imperfect their showings, the movies always begin on time, relieving any audience there is of having to make stories from the wide blank that echoes the space between letters and all that finds itself written there.
Because we have made them the intermediaries of the stars and, by extension, the planets,
we endow them with an existence larger  : than the glimmer of one night
or one season, their summer bloom and flicker one constant of our time-fogged span.
We know or believe we know how brief a firefly’s span, since they die
so easily once captured, but the fire hovering green-gold and planetary
in the emptiness between trees might be the same glow that cast its lamps
over a back yard in Alabama forty years ago, glow I ran through the dark to capture.
Each morning the bodies were shriveled and smelled of dead copper, but the hot, burning dimes
of stars always surfaced and were echoed by the weaving ballet of fireflies, more light
than anyone could capture. Now I have learned those lights, like human voices, are signals,
go-betweens for bodies tired of being told they will die, a beckoning
to the oldest orbit bodies know, but I see them exactly as I have always wished to see them,
small, stark missionaries descended to deliver night’s gospel of fire.
Dinkytown For Phil Terman
You could have been one of the few present that afternoon deep in some memory crafted to separate that hour from the blue fog of every other espresso-tarred hour you spent deep in the haze uttered from the poisonous black cigarettes you loved then, huddled above the endless chess battle you fought all that year with Carlos, the two of you matched too evenly for either one to claim victory, the matches themselves pretext for more vigorous jousting over being and existence, over books and the deadly politics of the day, your endless presence permission to lean in the seen-it-all-and-so-what slouch of a regular while you gave less than half an ear to the endless flow of bad folk singers who had begun to replace the bad trios and quartets that had spent seasons mangling the jazz you loved. At least the bad renditions of “Wild Mountain Thyme” and “Tom Dula” didn’t make you swear to catch the train to Chicago next time Miles or Dizzy was appearing there. The power hindsight offers could let you claim that you roused yourself from the mechanics of pawn-to-queen-four the moment the boy blew an asthmatic wheeze on his harmonica and bumped into “Gypsy Davey” or “Man of Constant Sorrow” in a barbed-wire gargle too old for his soft face. By now you’ve told the story so often you can’t recall if it’s invention or memory that something, a quick stroke on the guitar, the voice bending to meet a chord, lifted your head a moment to see who was singing because you’d heard something old, dark, some mystery you’d thought confined to the dust-smoothed grooves of 78’s you bought in pawn shops for pennies, like the Skip James record your ex-wife asked you not to play when she was around, mystery still locked in the long sentences you read and in rooms more shadow than wall, more the notion of a coffeehouse than a coffeehouse, that mystery the single thing in your life you did not have to share, perhaps could not share, a pleasure that did not become dust, powder, something spit ruefully from a mouth no longer willing to taste, the way wine, coffee, cigarettes, even flesh can sour. If you could recall which tune he played, it might all return in the odor of the candle guttering on the table next to yours, in the drawl of the waitress telling the man behind the counter of the endless troubles she had with her lover, her prairie-flat accent, the bend of a brow across the room as someone frowned over the cigarette he was lighting, the pattern of whorl and scar in the wood of the table where you sat, pattern endless and embellished as memory, all might return in the recollection of that song though it would vanish within the changing of a chord, the noise of someone’s cough, in whatever happened to remind you. it was late afternoon, when sun made its unwelcome entrance into the room, flattening all it touched and you were a student in philosophy, sucking the marrow from the bones of the G.I. Bill, your wife gone to get a quick divorce on her way to becoming a dancer or marrying a lawyer, and page nineteen of your thesis had been rolled in the carriage of your Underwood for two weeks, frozen in the time you came here to find, time to read the armloads of books you bought during two years of working turns in the steel mill, closer to an earthly vision of hell than fourteen months in Korea or three months healing in a stateside hospital, rooms of fever and infected flesh. The short hours of class, the sprawled-out afternoons and evenings of talk, of large ideas you knew would land you somewhere so far had only led here, to this slow-warming afternoon, the choreography of chess, and now the kid was offstage and Carlos was picking up his bishop like he meant to do real damage this time. You could claim to have seen all along that the kid had it, but you weren’t there for his next performance or the next. You were in your tiny apartment with your books and records, swimming in the slow-moving waves of your thesis, the troubled accumulation of each paragraph letting you trust language a little less, so when you found yourself at a party a few weeks later, dazed from typing all day, trying to put into words all that has for centuries resisted being said, a little wine stunned you, and you dropped into a chair near a circle of singers playing pass-the-guitar, and the kid you’d heard at the coffeehouse was there, cocky, out of place, and when you stood to get more wine, someone told you his name was Bob Dylan, and he’d been a rock and roll piano player or a rodeo clown before ending up here, and watching him, you knew how, a few years later, the Nashville pickers would left their eyebrows when he arrived, these players who could lay down two-and-a-half of the smoothest minutes that ever rolled out of a car radio and who could do it every week, hired now by this mumbling Yankee hippie who arrived without charts or finished songs, just a Canadian guitar player to flash them the chords before a take. You could have been there, but of course you were not. You were two when Bob Dylan got onstage in Dinkytown, nine when he recorded in Nashville, and by the time you got to the party, he’d vanished, his sly exit still on everyone’s lips, and you were watching the stage when he came back in the side door, still possessed of the conjurer’s trick of making your eyes move over here, then back here in time to show you exactly what he wanted you to see, hiding, then half-showing the newly-remembered mystery, the swamps and foggy hollows that were his to summon because the greatest mystery, the subject of all songs, is not what we don’t remember but what we do, and in this life you imagine for yourself, the kid is leaving the stage, and Carlos took the bishop, and your defense is crumbling, the entire game changed by a single move.
What Maps Will Not Show
In a strange town, maps become liars. Landmarks get left out or lie more distant than illustrations show. Roads sprout and bend off the memorized route and by the time you arrive, the courthouse is dark and locked for the night. A woman I know gives directions in terms of what used to be there—Turn right on the road where Jones had the store that burned down—assuming no distance between her history and our own, the way those who survive an event are bound by it and a bit incredulous the same mold has not shaped us all. The lawyer stacking papers, the bailiff locking each door he walks through, the judge, his robe removed, pouring the single drink he permits himself, all remember the man awaiting sentencing who seized an officer’s gun and swung the barrel in a wide arc before pushing it under his chin and pulling the trigger. Seventeen years since then, and they never speak of it, but if their eyes meet in court or they pass in the hall, they nod the casual greeting of those who have known each other too long for rank or ceremony. Last week, the judge saw a man who had paid to have the image of each internal organ tattooed across his torso—heart, lungs, liver. A car accident shattered him and he lost a lung, a kidney, several yards of intestine. His chest, road-mapped by a maze of stitches, healed into a scarred map of what was there no longer. His crime was entering the homes of women he thought he loved and stealing small, unnecessary items. When his sentence was given, he said nothing, only limped from court. A woman whose coffeepot he’d stolen studied his movements, his silence, hoping for some map to explain his actions. If she sat in the judge’s chamber to share his single shot of bourbon or if the judge had come with her for coffee she paid for and could not drink, they would agree the sentence meant nothing. It did not touch him, so it would not touch them. The judge wouldn’t tell her that sometimes law and justice seem like towns miles distant and sparsely populated, invisible on most maps. That morning he had hung up on a reporter who wanted to write another story about the suicide in the courtroom. The single time she spoke to the man, he showed her the inked outlines of his insides and smiled with pride so bashful, she could not keep her fingers from touching the broken skin to feel what fluttered underneath, the muscle of a heart working and untouched.
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.