Feed the Dream: The Palmetto Poets' Place

SC POETRY INITIATIVES ON-LINE CHAPBOOK POETRY ANTHOLOGY
2008-9


PREFACE

This is our first web-anthology. I expect it won't be our last. It exists for one basic reason: there are so many poets writing very good poems in South Carolina, and just not enough opportunities for people to read the work and enjoy it.  We are convinced that we are creating a strong and engaged audience through the Poetry Initiative, so much so that this web anthology will introduce readers in one place to a splendid body of work by South Carolina poets. The quality of the poetry does rival the work coming from anywhere for its sophistication, diversity, risk-taking, and beauty. There are gaps. I do not think this represents a comprehensive and exhaustive showing of South Carolina poets by any estimation. After al, not all South Carolina poets enter the Initiative's chapbook contest. This is understandable. Nonetheless, this is a good showing of very good work that deserves attention. 

I was struck by the number of chapbook manuscripts submitted to last year's contest, and I was further struck, as I read through these manuscripts, by the quality of the work being done. I knew that we could only publish a few chapbooks (five this year), and we could only publish another few as on line chapbooks. This left many manuscripts that may have not, as a whole entity been fully formed and without problems, but that contained individual poems of quality-admirable poems, in fact. Tellingly, at least three of my top ten individual poems from all the submissions did not belong to manuscripts that would be published as print chapbooks or as on-line chapbooks. As I re-read the manuscripts I thought, "There is a really good anthology here." 

So here it is. Please take the time to read these poems.I am confident that you will enjoy these works. I regard this as an introduction to an anthology that showcases contemporary South Carolina poetry. I am confident that some of these poets (many of whom have not yet published a first book) will become better known poets, but that is not such an important thing.  What is really important is that these are just fine poems, and we should enjoy them for what they are.


Kwame Dawes
Editor
Columbia, SC,

June 22nd, 2009


Copyright 2009


All rights reserved
No part of this publication may be
reproduced or transmitted in ant form
without permission of the poet whose work
appears in this anthology

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Paul Bowers
Galway Girl

Clinton B. Campbell
Thick with Catsup

Kristi Castro
Novy Svet
In The...


Dawn Chandler
Schenectady Past
Real soldiers test
Echo's of Richard Cory

Richard Crandall
Holy Hill
A Publix in Columbia

Heather Dearmon
plot of sand

Leslie Dennis
Tangled Roots
A New Testament
The Day I Keep

Kwoya Fagin
I Took the Wind Back

Linda Annas Ferguson
Dance of Solitude
Nine Days of Sea

George Floyd
Fallen from Nest

Nichole Gause
In the Green Shade

Donna Levine Gershon
Laundry

Meta Marie Griffin
Exodus
Your Mama

Cassondra Owens Hampton
Adjustment

David Havird
Penelope's Design
Smoking in Bed
From Whitehall to Greenwich

Anna Elizabeth Howard
Chopshop for a Night Out

Ellen E. Hyatt
Speaking of Small Southern Towns

David Ingle
The Fine Art of Improvisation
Sugar

Caroline Berry Klocksiem
My Novel

Michael Lucas
Lament of Bargain Chip
on rocks

Michael Hugh Lythgoe
Low Hanging Fruit
Iberian Honey Robber
Tango De La Luna

Arthur McMaster
Unexpected Telephone Call
Interior Rhymes
Mother's Day

Thomas Malulck
Idea of Happiness

Jonathan Maricle
I Just Wanna Have Something to Do
On a Winter's Walk

Michael Z. Mueller
Upwards of 100

Scott Neely
Everything inside, you find

Susan A. Scheno
Grandparents

Mary Alice Sharp
Facsimile Edition
Bumble bee asleep in morning glory

Michelle R. Simpkins
The Water Park

H. Randolph Spencer
The Season
The History of Painting
Endings

Cassie Premo Steele
Fire Lesson
Cave Lesson
I loved this Landscape into Being

Mary Ann Ruhl Thomas
Echoes of Her Voice
Red Drops on Green Grass for Kevin: 1959- 2001
Uncle Elwood

Nicola Waldron
Bird Leaping
Recipe

Christopher Wilkerson
Prologue
Impasse

Marjory Wentworth
Begin Again
Senility



Paul Bowers


Galway Girl

5.22.08


When a man returns your stare
Like a chop to the throat-

When you walk out and a thousand indifferent gods
Spit on the top of you head-

When the booze fumes seep
From the floorboards' pores,

It's only noon
And you are in Galway.

And she-
A woman, 42,
And chewed
And soggy as peat-
Lives here as well,
And she walks the store aisles
Like the ghost of a shadow of a schoolgirl
Who let herself go
When he left her here.

And he-
Her husband,
Scummy man that he is,
Emptied but stained-
Plods on down through puddles
To the Off License
Where a paper bag apparatus
Helps him breathe aright.

And she-
The daughter whom they bore,
Still loud and in pigtails-
Helps her ma with the groceries
And her da with the dark spots in the carpet
(When he's around),
And she's still just a girl
Because she thinks it's a game,
But you can see it in the doorways,
On her elbows,
In the tide:
She will learn.

P.C. Bryant


Transmission


Yes, we certainly lit a fire
that night,
somewhere near the center
of that island.

And that's when I turned to that buddy of mine
    and said something
like this:

'You know that high-pitched ringing
you sometimes get
inside your skull,
and it just feels like something
from your gut
is trying to scream its way out?'

'Yeah,'
he said,
    'but there's no need to worry
though.
    It's just that good ole soul train of yours,
and it's just passing
right on through you.'

'Yeah man,
that's it!'
    I said,
'and it's that microscopic whistle
that I'm hearing now,
right now,
coming down on me like one of those
monster freighters.
And to tell you the truth,
man,

    now that I can see it coming,
I don't know
if I can...

And then that buddy of mine,
he just turned to me
and said something
like

'damn.'


Clinton B. Campbell


Thick with Catsup

            for Carolyn


Younger than his age this young father worked
the building trade, drove twenty pennies, three
swings per naii, lugged cumbersome kegs up a
Jacob's ladder, one rung at a time. On those
muscle tense days everything weighed heavy.

Nanny watched the children while his young
wife stretched their skimpy food budget. A
time he would later call the macaroni years as
she worked her fiscal magic.

All of her sandwiches were served generous with
love and thick with catsup, their Sunday meat loaf,
sliced thin for weekday lunches, Spam, honey-
glazed Mondays, diced meager with scrambled
eggs and hope each and every Wednesday.

In bed back to back,
the future heavy on his mind,
he worried if he could last
working on houses he doubted
they would ever own
no matter how thin
she sliced and diced.

Kristi Castro


Novy Svet


In Prague, we lived on
Novy Svet.. .means
"new world."
in Praha, in Hradcany, in Mala Strana

it is a mouthful telling someone your address
the harsh bite of "Hradcany" as angled as the castles
the smallness, insignificant feel of lesser town (mala strana)
always making me think "bad" in Spanish but
we are in Czech here, and saying the street where we
lived was always an adventure, the recognition in people's ey
the confused looks of lost wandering foreigners as
they realized we were at home, we were unlocking a
door on this magical, curving, cobbled street



In The...

keep ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
me ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
well w/ way he had me
home at
girl hello luck
back cow boy
leave on
luck back
he me had com pla-
  take
,,,,,,,,,, Ur
,,,,,,,,,, hardly
  //d\ con/neel
  ed West
  flight
  knew (get)
  luck
  unpack
  know
  knee
  man
  make
  comrade
  long luck
  round
  from
  back
  sing
  in vo

Dawn Chandler


Schenectady Past



We lived across the street from History

Under the ground
were relics of Schenectad/s past.

A bottle burial ground
A small fortune
A piece of history we were never a part of.

Funny, as soon as we knew it was there It was gone

And now, so are we.


Real soldiers test



Were his "boots on the ground?"
Was he "in country"?
Does he have a "verifiable stressor?"

I'm not talking about the stress of being
packed up and poured out
into a country
that hates you, more than they want you there.

I'm not talking about being in harm's way Every time you go to take a leak.

I'm talking about
"Did you kill anyone"?
"Did anyone try to kill you?"
"Did you see a soldier's skull exposed"?

Or have to shoot a child to save a convoy.

I'm talking about the real soldiers, baby! You know who you are...


Echo's of Richard Cory



He did not leave a suicide note when he killed himself.

Or explain that his wife might be carrying Another man's baby

Or admit that his military career was basically over, because of too many late nights of,
"riding dirty" With Johnny Walker Red and a DUI he could not dismiss.

Instead
he stepped out on to the diving platform, that morning
at 0600 sharp
and barked out the order,

"All Eyes On Me!"

Like the sonic boom that a transformer makes when it is hit directly by the fury of
nature 300 Marines yelled back in unison, "Yes Drill Sergeant!

With all eyes now riveted on him,
He raised a gun to his head and blew his brains out.

No warning was given.
Just his body
floating in the pool with ours now.

As I watched red, slowly mix with green I could only think of one thing, really.

Now I was going to have to come back and repeat this whole damn exercise
all over again

Thanks to this sorry bastard.

Richard Crandall


Holy Hill



Just as you drank on my holy hill,

So all the nations will drink continually;
They will drink and drink
And be as if they had never been.
                       Obadiah, verse 16

You have changed so much
since I was last with you.

Eyes round with need,
even when you smiled,
have since softened into surety.

I can't change you anymore.


A Publix in Columbia


I can't help but think of Allen Ginsberg
As I wander, heart stretching out in every direction until it aches,
In a Publix supermarket on a Saturday night.
I don't think about Walt Whitman tasting all the boysenberries,
But my mind does drift, much like his pointing white fog of beard.

The clerks, mostly male, mostly in their late teens, look at me funny.
Their sagging faces wear a look that lazily demands,
Why come here on a Saturday night if you didn't have to?
I guess they don't appreciate the irony - my being here at all means I don't know.

An apple has fallen among the adjoining pears.
Though my obsessive-compulsive instinct is to tidy things up,
I am touched by how happy the apple looks among all those pears.
So I leave him there, green with fresh, crisp giddiness
To be among the soft yellow pears, who don't seem to mind at all.

My feet shuffle to the register, and in my palm an apple walks with me,
As green and brown and beautiful as a rusted pick-up, or Walt Whitman.
The last sound the Publix hears in my ears is a hard, delicious crunch.

As I drive through the murkiness of night, windows down, head aching,
Soft jazz drifting about me like sweet-smelling clouds
Of weed, I am troubled by the question
Of what to do with this damn apple core,
Sticky and browned.
What should I do, Allen Ginsberg? I say out loud. My silliness offends me.

But as I twirl the apple core between my fingers, and its vexation
Thickens, and grows palpable and heavy in my hand,
My heart leaps with the fleeting emotion of understanding:

So I take one more bite, a bite more like a kiss
Of thanks than a bite, and I hurl the apple core out the window.
Let the apple pass his final moments
Giving some life to the grass. My blood

Sings with the certainty
That that's what that apple had asked me for,
Even from the beginning,
And more than anything.


Heather Dearmon


plot of sand


wet and redolent
with the venerable undertakings of the earth-
i sink my hand deep within you, to recall
the darkness
in which i was formed.

grains tinted red and amber,
like dust scraped from colored glass-
i pull my hand from your warm pith, to savor
your saltiness upon my fingers.

gold-like powder, mixed in the fluid
beneath my tongue-
i swallow you, down,
into my own wet darkness, to sow
your constancy
in my unstable frame.

Leslie Dennis


Tangled Roots



Together we sit
on the side of the road, you and I,
passing a bottle of rye between us
watching the cars drive by -
headlights blazing white
and trailing red - before fading
out of sight.

Each time one passes, it sends a breeze that
breaks the stagnant summer air, stale and
thick like lake water at noon on a hot day.

The road seems to stop in midair. But instead  
it drops, twisting through the trees before
branching off to the interstate.

But from where we sit all we see are treetops
floating like water plants in a pond filmed
with algae, the tangled roots hidden beneath
he surface, pulling us
deeper and deeper until we
drown.


A New Testament


We decide to meet
in the baptismal dressing room
behind the sanctuary.
During a prayer,
we sneak out of the service.

The choir begins to sing
a serenade -
Softly and tenderly
Jesus is calling -
as I swaddle you
in my legs.
You taste of grape juice
and stale wafers
as I take in your body
for the first time.

But through it all
I can't help but think
of Mary, the pain
of birth without
the pleasure of conception.

Or maybe she had felt something:

a shadow on top of her body
or a power entering her as she slept
or a spirit sending beams of light through her
or, if for this one time in human form on Earth
God came.

Jesus is calling,
calling, O sinner,
come home.
The sanctuary grows silent
as we walk back in
separately. I notice,
across the pews,
you watching me
and smiling, and I blush,
knowing what Mary missed
and waiting for the next prayer.


The Day I Keep

Hull, England 2006


\Ne
wake at noon hung over and hungry.
The sun slides through the slats
and washes you yellow, the fair hairs
on your chest like a barely-grown wheat field.
Maybe, I think, one day without rain.

The curry restaurant around the corner has fish and chips, all grease and batter with no
flavor. We eat as we wait for the bus, take-out containers in our laps, a shared drink
between. You reach over and gather my hair, the wind trying to pull each strand from
your grasp. You separate one curl from the rest and wrap it around the bundle, tying a
limp knot just strong enough to hold.

We ride to City Central then walk
to Princes Quay. The air smells
of the river - cold seafood and cigarettes -
while the cool mall beckons with the scent
of lemons and lavender. But we don't go in,
instead we stay outside, breathing in the Number.

The outdoor market radiates colors,
all purples and blues and reds,
through the gray cobblestone streets.
I watch you polish a piece of pottery
between your palms like you're remaking it, rubbing
the lines smooth. I imagine your fingers drowning
then reappearing in the thick mud of clay,
creating beauty for only you to keep.

We go to the Starbucks, you say
you've never been to one before,
so I order for us - tall non-fat, no-whip
white mocha and grande caramel
macchiato. The heat from the cups burns
my hands cold like a hot bath on a summer's day.
You choose the one table without an umbrella,
tempting Zeus to punish us for the day's beauty
with a sudden storm. We sit silent, the coffee
settling in and making us drowsy, longing
for your sheets warm with marijuana and sex.

The day turns dark so we go back to your place and finish
off the bottles of gin and tequila. Your housemates are out
for the night so we leave the bedroom door open, our love
spilling through the rooms like the ocean with the pull of
the undertow and the rough sand underfoot, all submersed
intoxicated pain.

I wake at six, after four hours of sleep. You roll over, say
not yet, and wrap your arm around my thigh, pulling me
against the current of my body. I turn and bury your face
to my neck, singing softly it's true I must be going but I
swear I won't be long.
I hum the rest, rocking you back
slowly, as I finish it: I'm a rover and I'm bound to sail
away, I'm a rover can you love me anyway?


I see you through the window, still asleep, in the pre-dawn
haze as I get into the cab. In a few hours I will be over the
Atlantic flying back home. In a few weeks I will talk to
you on the Internet for the first of only three times. And in
a few months I will get a CD in the mail with an unsigned
note: Play number five. Our song, our number of days.

Kwoya Fagin


I Took the Wind Back



One day,
My dress flies the way
I flew it as a girl. I've spun it fast, its threads have turned to
gold.
At Lake Lurleen, Water plays
on the strings of my dress, covertly asks if I need love. When I say
yes, wind gusts make figure eights through my legs.
Wind pushes me against a tree, and blows my mind.

He presents a box of scattered he-loves-me petals.

Soon, I feel I know Wind
like the back of my hand.
So we move in together, the wind and I. He sweeps the trash out once a week and before I
know it, I balloon with wind seeds, and soon four airborne wind babies pop from my womb.

I fly them on blue string
And when they get older, I poke them with twigs,
as they bob along.

After the babies,
the Wind gets flighty,
I'm still fat and puffy with air. He's whistling at fresh women.

The wind moves out,
moves in with his cousins. Late one night, he's drunk and rages stones at my upstairs window

When I wake, I hit the ceiling.
I drag the wind's stuff to the window:
leaves he carried home,
his collection of dandelion seeds.
He begs me not to throw down the dandelion seeds, but I do.
They wing off in every direction and
His redneck cousins fly them away.

Next day, the wind floats back- sober now.
Home from the mill, he hovers in the breezeway, looking sorrowful
His babies hang around me, blustering and whining for their daddy.

Linda Annas Ferguson


Dance of Solitude


Dying begins with instinct,
a reflex in the womb,
slight flinch of foot,
a discontented elbow.

Born kicking air
before we can breathe,
we want all the years
we can get of dying,

not knowing how
much time we have
to practice, no
specifics on endings.

The first step we learn
is leaving, trading Edens
for uncertainties, even leaving
love when dancing feels like dying.
 
We all choreograph our separations,
two divided by two makes one-
learn to keep the rhythm, stay in step
even though there is no music.

This is the dance of solitude.
We'll show you our feet
with the sores on the soles, legs
kicking high as they will reach.


Nine Days at Sea


"A poet died today,"
the two-week-old newspaper reports
from beneath lifeless bodies of black bass
as I filet them, stew for the crew,

slide the slippery entrails and eyes to one side,
wash away blood, lay them out by the rail
like corpses on a slab, while others flail and lash,
shaking their small bucket of water and salt.

The poet's name was Barbara,
biology maintaining she was mostly water,
connected to all leaving things by the sea,
by rain and rivers, sweat and saliva.

The ocean and sky have glared at me so long
I feel bodiless. The deep, a communal soup,
watches all my motions, the surge and ebb of me.

Gray backs of dolphin surface
and disappear. Light, slight as a minnow,
dives into the dark of the liquid horizon.


George Floyd


Fallen from Nest


Racing towards rock
bottom with premature
wings, mama's angel
awkwardly flaps. Fighting
against forces that
deviate destiny;
all alone avoiding another
relapse while running away
from centuries of silent
tough talks, drunk
tirades that taper
off like bad smell
from bent butt, half lit
Marlboro circumcised
by yellow foaming
spit. Half ass words
stewing in liquored up liver,
launches from burnt lung.
Loogie descends
into a whirlwind
of emotions, funneling
pain as three dimensional
layers of fear peel away.
G forces swarm, the storm
within signals urgent cries,
urging me, myself, and I
to evacuate. Absence
is sanity. The crash
off straight but narrow
path is comforting.
Fresh footprints near broad
tributary lead to empty
Busch bottle. Baring
not a note, but holding
a hidden message delivered
by bum's breathe.


Nichole Gause


In the Green Shade

   After Romare Bearden's "In the Green Shade"


It's the coolness of green
I want to slip into.
It makes me want
to change my skin
like some chameleon,
like some shape shifter
& become a pair eyes
that watch from the collage
as the woman by the stream
of flowers bends from the waist
like some tired dancer.
We wonder what woman
can afford to bend
like that even for her cleansing.
It makes us want to cry
'Oh, Jesus' and shade
our eyes to see better.
Some desperation
must ebb through her to be so bare, so
transparent among so many eyes
even if we look away
we still bear witness
there can be no secrets
here not with such beauty,
and confusion, and
oneness.


Donna Levine Gershon


Laundry



I learned on my Friendly's uniform in
my mother's cellar- dank,
unfinished, with old machines. Later I
said to her

in polyester Wawa pants, "I
missed out on glamour." I saw
her face begin to cloud. Not one
to hamper me,

she had to let me know sometime-
cold linty concrete floor- what amid
the grime she had learned: how we
sort and are sorted.


Meta Marie Griffin


Exodus


We spiderlings are orphaned
after the first thaw
our patterns were programmed
before our legs were formed
we stall and disperse
and balloon by thousands
we create carpets of silk
covering shrugs and fields
we climb through foliage then drop
over and under limbs our bodies drift
down on the thread arm
that catches the breeze
we crawl on blades of grass
and find direction in a future gust
we scuttle across terrestrial plains
and temperate grasslands
we sun loving silent creatures
investigate open fields
meadows and temperate grasslands
we watch from flowers and trees
in towns divided by highway and river
we create what is delicate
and stronger than steel
we weave empty spaces into design
and collect light from stars
we move in and out of another moment
we ascend and descend
till we disappear then we
shade the spent center
as we're alive and here
we silent creatures spin
another unseen miracle
that sustains us in our place in time.


Your Mama


Your mama woke up
at first light and cooked
biscuits, bacon and gravy
before she trooped
off to the telephone
company where she listened
to everyone's conversations
Your mama knew all about
the preacher's love affairs
and all your cousin's boyfriends.
Your mama wore underwear made
out of potato sacks and created
toys out of corn stalks.

Your mama played all
kinds of songs on the piano
even though she never had a lesson.
She told Grandpaw
he sat around all day
like a big ole turnip
turning up nothing but trouble.

Your Mama beat up your Daddy's
girlfriend and pushed her into the ditch.
Your Mama woke you up
with a switch and said you
shouldn't be messing around with
such trash while your best friend
was in the bathroom listening.

Now your mama forgets what you
said a few minutes ago.
She can't remember to take her pills.
or keep up with the bills.

But even though she doesn't understand
the nightly news, she still gets
the punch line. The gleam
still returns to her eyes.
returns to her blue eyes
during those moments
when she returns to a place
beyond memory.


Cassondra Owens Hampton


Adjustment



If change is necessary
for survival,
then that explains
why after all these years,
the only thing
between us is
time.


David Havird


Penelope's Design


The Nazis, who occupied Crete,
machine-gunned the men of Anoyia
and torched the town.

The widows took up weaving.

Tablecloths, coverlets, shawls
hang for sale from wires,
while women in black swoop down
as if from telephone posts
on summer tourists--hordes,
odds are, of Germans. You get out
of the rented Fiat Panda,
and buzzards throng.

Yet look at this embroidery,
red birds amid green foliage,
by one who plunged through the cloth
as if beak first with her needle,
leaving within the cotton
weave her sensual self,
while another emerged in black wool.

Now she's choosing you,
not because you're you
(or happen to be an American),
but simply because you've stopped.
She'd have you choose her work,
and drachmas will prove that you came.

Of course she'll stay in black,
however scorching the season.
She'll grasp at the tourists, half of whom
might as well be you
as someone else;
and if that one returned
miraculously home,
would he know her, his wife,
among the anonymous sisters?

Though you could never again
strain uphill to Anoyia
and spot among the pinched widows
the woman whose birds now roost
above your bed at home,
you keep her generous spirit.

And yet those birds overhead
might as well be black,
as night has them appear;
they never sing nor fan
their wings. Beside you your wife,
as if asleep, breathes wordlessly.

You fix your mind on sleep
and dreams, which you never remember.
You're feeling yourself unravel.
You're hunting among loose threads
for that one strand, your code,
which only her voice can break
into song. You stream through green,
where she has posed in red feathers.

"Penelope's Design" appeared in Seneca Review



Smoking in Bed
           
for Elizabeth Spencer


"Whenever I pass a field of artichokes,
I picture Venus beneath it." For me it's fields
of tobacco and Marilyn Monroe,
her nude body discovered... Nude?
Naked, my parents explained. In bed
naked? I was bewildered. My dad at the wheel
of our two-tone green '58 Impala,
my parents and I on our way to Ocean Drive
where Grandmother Rainwater kept a house ... Nearby,
a beach-front novelty store. I bought a toy cigar,
teased out wads of confetti, and stuffed it with leaves
filched from a warehouse en route. (Tobacco auctions
were something to see.) The tip alight with red glitter,
I'd smoke that enormous cigar and savor the secret.
Summers running together, I married a woman
whose family farmed tobacco ... who breathed the fields
distilled, the sweated heat of oven-tight barns,
with Mr. Phil inspecting the wooden barns
where leaves, tied up in hands and hanging from sticks,
turned yellow. In Martha Ingram's account
a peasant unearths with his plow a Venus with arms
and legs and a head "mindless" and "lovely." Posed
on a shelf at the novelty store, inflatable dolls
with corn-silk hair. The bathing suit was red.
Squeeze the tummy and naked breasts pop out.
Plastic telescopes, cherry and lemon and grape,
Popsicle colors--with these I spied on women
captured without any clothes. The idol intact.
I picture my raven-haired mother in deeper
than ever, her latex bathing cap a skull.
She brought it up with her feet, a rose-lipped shell
that came to rest--the conch so stank up the car--
in spikes of weed along the highway home.
Martha's Italian farmer replanted his Venus.
If word got out, they'd designate his fields
a "site." Barely awake, rousted from bed
at 5 for the drive to the beach, I follow
a dark-haired girl--in 1962
we both turn 9--down rows of tobacco--
the top leaves only remain on the plants--
traipsing beside her grandpa. They halt at the pack house.
The leaves are loose now and lying in heaps on burlap.
The ravishing smell of cured tobacco,
the ghost of green fields, gilds the August heat.

"Smoking in Bed" in Yale Review



From Whitehall to Greenwich


Would that be a senior concession?

I picture myself already
in this vacation's snapshots: overexposed.
No, one adult, I repeat. Especially out
in the glare, I look, graybeard that I am,
as if I am morphing into a snowy owl.
Not 60? Not, I mutter,
not for another decade, son,
walking upstairs with my ticket. At Whitehall's

Banqueting House, where every angle
is right, whose allegorical ceiling
merits a look, I make with my thumb and forefinger
a collar of sorts for the now taut but slackening skin,
to keep it from stretching. Amid an escort of cherubs
(dimpled toddlers if not for their wings,
the ball and scepter for teething) is God's Lieutenant
in billowing russet, James the First
divinely rendered by Rubens. That pageant

unfolding aloft, his heir,
amid its Baroque if inaudible brass fanfare,
Charles the First stepped over a sill and bowed
his head to the block. His crown, though gold,
was dross; he reached for another. . . . Turning 50,

one finds oneself away from home,
though nowhere exotic. If you're like me,
an American tourist in London, proceed now

from Whitehall to Westminster Pier,
from there by sightseeing barge
to Greenwich. A climb gets you nearer the stars,
aloof though they are until sundown,
than even Rubens put you near Heaven. Inside

the Royal Observatory,
three of John Harrison's clocks,
while only almost seaworthy,
perform a balancing act
of arcs and springs and rotations. Outside,

I stood with my feet apart, the Prime Meridian,
Longitude Zero, running between my legs,
and set my wristwatch. Nudging the minute hand forward,
I seemed to have climbed from the barge
and boarded a sharp-hulled vessel. Riding the crest,
it promised to teeter come sundown
and when the green swell collapsed into night,
to give its sails to that first easterly breath
which exploded with stars and even still is blowing
the universe out. The other chronometers dancing,

the clock that did find longitude at sea,
H.4 was sitting out the performance,
a silver mollusk whose guts
with their circles of teeth had stopped nibbling.

"From Whitehall to Greenwich" in Sewanee Review.


Anna Elizabeth Howard


Chopshop for a Night Out


I took everything, I unbuilt it.
laid the fingers out on the countertop
smoothed the skin beneath the nails
washed the lungs in alkaline
the liver in coffee
the heart in bleach
polished the red off the bones
until they shone bright silver
and pearlescent in areas of nature
fine tuned misfiring motor controls
tightened the belts
to 28 inches
ground down the scars
built up the scratches
put on a new paint-job
and forgot who all of it was for.


Ellen E. Hyatt  


Speaking of Small Southern Towns



Abandoned shops, flush with the pavement,
stand like the destitute-tattered, faded.
I stand facing a window reflecting
town square fragmented and uncared for.
Soft rain falls, and the past slides down the pane:
    Shopkeepers ready their day
    under a new sun-iridescent before pink.
    Busyness begins. It spills into the street.
    April cues leaflets and pale purple clusters.
    Wisteria. It drops in the air, hangs there,
    and takes over.
When the rain ceases, reality reappears.
Near Roger's Mortuary and the post office,
someone's question. "Excuse me.
Do you know the zip code for this town?
I just moved here and keep forgetting it."
The speaker, a man in his twenties, on a bicycle,
carries a small packet of letters.
I want to point to wisteria's twining
the land. Shouldn't I warn him
to cut it back in August, within four feet
of last year's wood? Entwined vines
will choke their own branches. But
if properly pruned, wisteria's tendrils
could begin a safe climb and cascade
miles and miles of landscape
with magnificence.


David Ingle


The Fine Art of Improvisation*


I was nine, and Midnight
Special was past bed but
Saturdays my sitter came and
she was easy on the eyes, easy

on the rules. At nine a boy can
play the callow line, if he knows
what he's about. I didn't,
but managed, each Saturday

to crawl beside her on the layaway
couch and pray that the schoolyard
boys could see. Onscreen the Allman
Brothers jammed and I, putting on

years, asked how they hit
every note, how every skin and
string could rumble in rhythm with
the others, how precision could

be birthed of chaos. Of course this isn't
what I said at all. She never replied
that the buzz I was hearing was closer
to mayhem than manner, that little

was planned, that in essence the Brothers
were winging it. I listened and shifted
and maybe she thought I missed my
mommy but oh how little she knew

what it was I really missed. As I lolled
I learned how form isn't substance, how
fingers aren't hammers, arms not bows,
how skin binds riot and faces are banners

on which the pulse scripts its struggle.
I'd learn more six weeks later when she,
passing through a green light, was crushed
and smeared by a stolen Chevy and the fugitive

behind its wheel. But this was not in time
to prevent me returning to the schoolyard
and describing for boys as baffled as me
every curve and fold of her foggy terrain:

how her tongue was a hook, how our teeth
clicked, two skulls, and the way her wider
hips ground against my brittle ones, how I
would have more for them next week, or

as soon as I could make it up.

* Previously published in The Chattahoochee Review.


Sugar


For him the world was sugar,
and the men and women in it
sugar, and the children, especially,
sugar, and the business and the travel
and conventions and bowl games
and country club and Sundays
on the lake, sugar, and the stooping
and fitting and sizing and correction,
sugar, and the wife who sometimes
would not leave her bed, sugar,
and the way winter turns in the Shoals,
steely, ice pellets stinging the scalp,
sugar, and all the blacktop spinning
to Memphis, Jackson, Tupelo, Oxford,
Vicksburg, Natchez, New Orleans,
another Jackson and riding the Trace
back home, all sugar, and the headlines
and broadcasts and set of encyclopedias
bound in red faux leather, the whole damned
world-view from A to Z, an abecedarian
of dolor and rapine, sugar, and the way
Nat King Cole sang to him, as if for only
him, and how Nat took a beating live
and onstage in Alabama, his home,
rapidly less his with each fist-fall, each
welt reminding him from whence he came,
and how he was just as much nigger
as Nat, even that, sugar; and needless
to say the tucking away of his five
children at night, clustered in their
several beds, the shades open onto
the long, green downslope of his
prosperity, and the woods and river beyond,
and the moon on the bridge, obviously, sugar,
even when the children awoke shaking
and wailing, having mistaken the barge-horns
for the signal of imminent Russian attack,
that too, sugar, for they found their prince
and protector in his weakling arms;
and his sister who died too young,
a casualty of what they could not cure,
and the way he remembered her fifty years
later, sweetly, as if he'd opened a door
onto a sunny dormitory where she,
sophomore, was rooming with Dinah Shore,
who always smelled of sugar;
and though for a time when he worked
his days and slept his nights he realized
dimly that his cut-off cousins,
those who had been left behind when
his father and grandfather made their
momentous crossing, those severed
relations were he feared, being gassed
and shot at the bottom of fresh-dug
trenches, then too, and perhaps especially
then, sugar, when a hint of it was needed
the most; and later for forgetting this
stain of carnage, waking my brother
and me from deep sleeps and trundling us
through the shrouded Alabama night
for ice cream at the only late-night
place in town, and saying as he nudged
us awake, sugar, let's go for a ride.

Caroline Berry Klocksiem


My Novel


1/
Most of all, the blanks in the sky. The setting is trees
who fly from wide birds. The river pulls the sky to his throat.

2/
The boxer's wife at the mall, being fitted for wigs. We all
watched him get smacked, he put his hand

on a brown lady's back in the wrong way,
& then all the things he slurred about later.

3/
The hunched-over couple with separate beds,
stealing shopping carts from Food City.
The woman grumbles even as she sleeps.

4/
The little town in mountains, which flickers like fish among rocks.

5/
Least of all, his heart is caught in the bend of her elbow,
the way the cat licks & what bright, rough sounds she makes.

6/
The connection between masculine rationality and contempt
for women? The hero has the hugest nipples.

7/
The baker at dawn who paces, eats his fingers.
His wife smells, still somewhere in the house.

Michael Lucas


Lament of a Bargain Chip


The Citadel at number seventeen
on Ly Nam De Street is near a bridge:
its use prolongs the French Charade.
The room is large and not so sterile,
and ceiling fans do their whirling bit
to cut the Asian heat.
Gleaming metal tables under heaps,
mine cold against the back.
I lay a silent scrap of war;
the mortician joys in my fixed eyes.
His hand is quick and deft,
a Y-shaped scoring,
shoulders down to pubic bone.
He pulls the flaps apart,
and saws through bony cage.
I feel a twinge of regret,
his hands surround my heart.
He lifts lungs and liver,
and kidneys easily;
struggles to break free
intestines and stomach.
My brain will soon be placed
in a jar of formaldehyde;
the raping of my soul complete.
No redemption,
no retribution,
only lingering depravity.


on rocks


rocks are alone
even when
snuggled against
other rocks
rocks are hard-core
but give in
to torrid winds
to water trains
and hammer strikes
rocks are cool
until coldness comes
or when lazing
in the sun
rocks aren't awed
by other rocks
or people and dogs
that pee on them
rocks are tight-lipped
most of the time
think I'm a rock

Michael Hugh Lythgoe


Low Hanging Fruit



Not far from the Supermercado lived
A lady loved by many who once controlled
Memos to the world, telegraphs & accounts.
Recently she passed from our wireless world.

This morning is not for mourning. Her caregiver
Survives to read the skies; Cuban bread is toasting.
She sees love lose the moon to art deco on SoBe.
Miriam's sun rises for Adele in the east, warming

Biscayne Bay, warming stiff limbs, the counter at dawn.
The Cuban warms the bread pressed flat on the grill,
& Cuban coffee steams. The regulars talk; speech
Is Spanglish. The sound of absence sputters into strong,

Sweet cafecitos. Poinsettias adorn altars as travelers
Move over waters, part art deco waves, seeking shelter
In a world crowded with refugees. Before there were
Cables & emails there was hope. Now hope sounds--

Erupting in the hiss of the expresso machine. Remember
Adele laughing over her mother lighting Catholic candles,
Saying a prayer in Hebrew--and calling her bookie.
No Gulfstream, no dog track, no Jai-Alai, nor Hialeah.

We are the gamblers, betting our lives on the hereafter:
The antique dealer, the veterinarian, the nurse, the visitor,
The cop stopping for carry-out, the old Haitian woman
With her grandson shamelessly lifting low-hanging

Avocados, or mangoes rolled off lawns into the alley.
There is longing in the eyes along the counter,
The faces of the regulars breaking bread each morning,
A faithful ritual, sharing shots of sweet, black, Cuban

Coffee--as the canvas is painted by the sun's pigments,
Shining like the pearl lip of the queen conch's shell.
An island family stares out to sea, beyond the sea wall
To a safe somewhere. Grieving comes & goes riding swells.


Iberian Honey Robber


Near Valencia: a kind of cat burglar
Rappelling on vines--hangs over
A cliff-face to reach a buzzing hive
In a crevice smoking from his torch.

It seems to be a combat of equals alive
In ancient rock art. The bees are larger
Than life, painted in ochre, attackers
Flying out of the Cave of the Spider.

The honey robber steals the sticky
Gold, the thick sweetness, loading
Heavy combs in a hide bucket.
He is a daring aerialist-thief

Working naked save for a penis sheath,
Drawn as in aboriginal art; ceremonial
Combat, dancing, tribal rituals
Enacted below--where his woman

Celebrates like queen of the hive,
Waiting to taste the sweet pillage of her
Drone's honey load. Spirits hover
In a painting of a robber on a rope ladder.


Tango De La Luna


No one has written the book of the moon.
            This night I am invited to look up
        As Marie asks: Is that a full moon?
It is. A full-figured, pale, womanly moon.

A romantic might have called the alabaster orb
A woman with child. D. H. Lawrence did.
Swollen moon, Hunter's Moon, but not golden.
Yet, the woman confessed her obsession.

We return to the stage where musicians
Are making love to their guitars, fingering
Strings, frets; acoustic squeaks linger
In the air--before a poem by Neruda ascends,

Sent aloft by human breath through parted lips--
A lyrical tune, tones from an open, empty heart--
Cave-notes from a guitar's mouth, singing. Wolf
Moon hears Piazzola's composition, dancing

        To the tango, Verano Porteno,
Longing for union: slide, dip, passion-turn.
Portia, a dark lady wearing a mango shawl,
        Offers up her poems with jasmine,

Or hibiscus scents, speaking of her bosom
As challenging as arms-full-of-plums
Spilling, her double moons rising--a ritual
        Of feminine hands lacing, patting,

Lessening her breasts, wrapping her
        Tightly in a kimono with a black obi
Sash--to match her skin--cacooned
        By Japanese women--Geishas--
            Admiring her Junoesque silks.

Arthur McMaster


Unexpected Telephone Call


When the phone rang and he learned his dad was dead
my father and I walked through the wet April woods
behind our house before supper, stepping

past stands of pale white birch gathered
into tight, stoic families, now and again one
leaning over onto the others, exhausted
by whatever work it had been given to do, ashen
beside the showy dogwoods, the dark grinning berries.

Waiting for us back at the house, my mother stood
looking out the long, rectangular window
that framed her - over father's persistently mown lawn -

looking for something not identifiable by name,
peering across the now darkening street
into an identical window, past another mute woman,
into a similar room, at boys wrestling for attention.


Interior Rhymes


I wrote two randy poems last night,
while eating artichoke hearts from the fridge,
chased with a glass or two of ruby Shiraz.

The first was a tempting little sonnet
with feminine endings.
Her lines were tight and finely tapered,
her thesis cooking au naturel.

The more aggressive was a seven-stanzaic
free verse number.
I had foolishly laid him on top of the other,
radically enjambed.

I should never have left them alone
on their own. I take the blame.

This morning: colorful bits of ink
stain my desk;
parentheses lie nearby, unused.

Alas, in my basket - tout nu -
here's a healthy little Haiku.
You hold him to the artificial light,
his metered breath pluperfect.


Mothers' Day



The child they often talked of having
sent no card again this year.

They cover his absence
with the perfect pitch of stillness.

Her fancy wraps and calico dresses
hang theatrically in the spare room.

The couple finds time to volunteer.
There is no mess to pick up.

The child with his father's fingers,
deft as partial truth,

does not learn his Liszt;
she takes no first communion.

The long, careful inventions
the couple make

are stored in boxes of second guesses,
light as undeveloped film.

Thomas Maluck


Idea of Happiness


A used necklace box
in which he keeps a strand
of my hair, darker then
and easier to contain. How many
would he like to keep?
Do the fibers grow in place, struggle
against their collectors' value,
or sleep and hope to awaken
on the head of a grayer,
wiser generation?

Jonathan Maricle


I Just Wanna Have Something To Do

                 They're generating steam heat
                 Pulsating to the back beat...
                 They're all revved up and ready to go.


Last night we drank, too much.
And we slamdanced, sloppy
to Joey Ramone and the Clash
in your kitchen            All Night Becky.

And you asked me to stay, smiling
over the rim of a thin cup
that you had been gently biting
and prodding at            All Night Becky.

But I was too drunk, and someone,
deciding my luck was too good,
dragged me away, to sleep it off,
in my car            All Night Becky.

And waking up dry-mouthed today,
there's a new car in your driveway,
and I have a feeling he might
just stay here again, all night, Becky.


On a Winter's Walk


Grass ripples as a rowboat passes, the oarsman
laterning for something he will never find;
the lake lies muddied with lonely death.
Grey silt looms through the water,
swelled by a bloated corpse surfacing,
searching for sun. Soft snow stipples the body
and a token swan slides into frame
craining its neck over the broken relic,
then lowers its golden beak, nudging the body
underneath the wooden dock. I search for a glimpse,
I can't see him, he is gone before I have the chance.
The winged creature recedes, aloof,
Sheltering in the tall grasses.
Me too.

Michael Z. Mueller


Upwards of 100


It's this heat trapped in my jeans
and melting through my shirt
that makes me this way-
that makes me still.

Nothing to do but melt the ice
cubes across my forehead
lick the insides of the tray
and watch the ceiling fan,
like they do in movies,
huffing heat
around the room.

Scott Neely


Everything inside, you find


Everything inside, you find.

Your hand slips              between my ribs.

There have been others
but you are the first.

Susan A. Scheno


Grandparents
For Nanny and Grandpa


She was French-Canadian: Marie Page.
He was full blown Irish: Walter Joseph O'Brien.
She was Old Battleaxe.
He was Chief.
She was less than five feet
and wore size four and a half shoe.
He was big framed and tall.
She worked at the Union Bag.
He worked for the Hudson Falls Coal Company.
She prepared his noonday meal.
He took afternoon naps in the parlor.
She slept in bird's eye maple;
He slept in a rosewood four poster,
stationed across the hall.
She kept her best lace slip
and holy water vile
wrapped and ready
in her top dresser drawer.
He stored his Ballantine Ale
in the icebox.
She smoked Lucky Strikes;
he preferred his Camels.
She bore three children
in a dining room bed.
In summer's heat, he swore
while painting front porch spindles,
leaving white finger prints on the glass.
She made red flannel nightgowns
and feed sack shorts.
He went for car rides to Argyle,
mooing at cows in patched pastures.
She explained why my mother was not in France,
He wept for his first born daughter: his McClaughklin baby.
She left their house for the last time with I love you, Walter.
He was found in his pajamas, on Cherry Avenue,
asking, Please can you take me home?

Mary Alicia Sharp


Facsimile Edition


Pages white as a corpse laid out on white
marble slab under florescent light middle of
atomic blast, White Sands, New Mexico,
desert, high noon. Thin, skim milk, bottom of
yogurt cup, fat free, plain, a reflection, an echo
of former self, first edition. Ink, type won't
bite, stick, paper won't allow, and black, less
than, a sort of gray runs over pages, looking
through refrigerator ice to shadow worn words.

The air of assignment, of reading for grades
only, Xeroxing, busy work, repetition, the
punishment, the substitute teacher has imposed,
the book the Tas TA Copy, a thousand, two,
three. How many generations removed from
papyrus, sheep skin, illuminated MS, has it
come? What was meant? Put down, raised up,
the voice, sanded, un-edged, rawed, no prime
coat, no sealer, no coated stock. We see
through a glass lightly, not face to face.


Bumble bee asleep in morning glory



Whoever dreamed blue this blue? Not the musical ache, the raised seventh, sky, sky, as if nothing else but sky, here, around us, up, down, a love letter sealed, held back. Black (bee) and blue (flower), but no bruise, no hurt, stinger in scabbard, buzz on mute, Georgia O'Keefe somewhere else, sleep never enough, here enough, trumpet still, mouth gold, mouth that calling in silence. Air said these couldn't fly, bumble bees; they flew, found here, found now-the don't-blink, don't-miss-it, here-and-now. Now-drew the blinds, pulled the shades, closed their hexagonal, head-sized eyes to the dazzle of the flaming fall, all the other colors-red, bronze, orange- that warn and cry cold through fire, singeing the border, summer drying as it has to to prove it ever existed, the heavy petal of decline, regret, light falling too soon, masque scheduled too late, the round throat erasing all corners-dreaded purpose-territory, sex, survival, species-here veiled, something else driving the word this morning.


Michelle R. Simpkins


The Water Park


Weeks after the flu, I run into a holy-ghost-filled-fire-baptized
evangelist named Lona Lee in the Bi Lo:

All I wanted, I say to her, was the crevice of my purple couch,
to tuck myself thin as a letter into the fold.

Sis, she says, this flu rose from the very pits of hell. It was so
bad if someone had come in and taken all my money, all
my clothes, every valuable I had labored for,
I would have just watched them go.

I lean on my grocery cart and imagine uniformed men
methodically removing the golden calves of my own life
the pendant I never purchased a chain for
the skinny jeans that are identical to a friend's
the Alexander Julian bed I sunk every last dime of an income tax refund in, only to sleep there for what seemed an eternity alone. (I had opportunities, but, girl, I wanted a husband.)

The blessing, Lona Lee says, triumphant, is the 5 pounds I have
permanently lost.

A wave of nausea nearly floats me off my feet. I lost eleven
pounds, I say, in the space of a week.

I dreamed, she says (not to be outdone), I dreamed in
Technicolor, in HDTV. I dreamed about when we first moved
to Edgefield, how thick the plums were on Slade Row, how we
gathered a whole harvest of blackberries in the skirts of our
dresses and how my sister Toot made cobblers
with crusts as thick as biscuits but sweet-Bless Jesus!-
sparkling with sugar. I don't know when I've last had a
blackberry cobbler.

I dreamed of water, I say. Lona Lee backs up.
Sometimes now-post flu turned pneumonia-I cannot stop
myself from talking.
So I continue: Usually, if I dream of water, it's some old great-
aunty or uncle, or a neighbor of my mother. I see their faces as
they peer across a clear body of water. That morning after I
always call my mother and tell her to prepare. Put her best
black dress in the cleaners.

I'm dead on the money

H. Randolph Spencer


The Season


In mid-June we catch the fever, the urge
to sail your clumsy catboat. Overturned all winter,
she is as afraid to swim as some hibernating bear.
Her mooring lines lie coiled underneath,
badly crimped. Sharp barnacles, bleached white as chalk,
are as large as knuckles on her keel
From a single season in the salt. They flake away
under our stiff, iron-bristled brushes and broad blades.

You and I probe with chisels for her open seams. They grudgingly
take the lathered strings of caulk, one at a time, until the loose-
wicked rope balks and wedges tightly between each plank and
beam. A last coat of lead paint dries. Anchored in the tide, the
wooden bottom slowly swells, seals off. Watertight now, we bail
her dry, stow our gear,
set sail.

These summers I cross the James with friends on a flimsy
sailfish, its silvered mast rising above the deck, scarcely
visible ashore over the Earth's curve. We tack toward the
Isle of Wight County's abandoned lighthouse, looping our
bow rope over its ladder's lowest rung. Poised there on
stilts, brackish water eddying between her stiff legs, rust
consumes everything in sight.

Inside-barefoot-we have to fairly tiptoe
among the shards of glass and seagull droppings.
From that vantage point I can see upriver toward Jamestown.
only the grain-holed fleet--retired freighters-
sits in mothballs just beyond our view.
Climbing up, peering through the prismed lens,
I still catch a glimpse of our home,
hardly a speck, appearing and disappearing
between the passing swells.

With every re-crossing we clear the nu mbered channel marking
Oddly raked, red-and white, the buoys rock and tumble about. At
night their fog bells, carried across the water,
break the barriers of our sound.


The History of Painting


Two paintings are all that remain of your own,
your imagined lifetime of art, reduced in the end to
so little. You installed your first son

like a flower forced indoors, to bloom
into a prodigy. Barely seven, I was gathering my
brushes, my rectified turpentine, two

canvasses tucked underarm, covering
them with rare earth pigments and linseed oils. They
were perfect exercises, flattering

copies of masterworks from art books, folios
stacked in a corner among plaster casts, palettes
and easels, filling the cramped studio.

A few times I think your life gathered too much dust.
What replaced what? Was there some redemption in
living through your children's lives to outlast

your own dreams? Is that unfair? How often is a son
an artifice born of our own making. I lean
back and stare silently at this one

painting. I think how you arranged the lighting
from the north, took out the photograph of your grandson,
the curled tube of blue, scrubbing

it into the background. Then the face, laughing,
toned down. This portrait, your grandson's face
looking back at me, was never finished, half

completed to return to later: tracings
done hurriedly of a mouth, a nose, brows, eyes
with their white glint of reflected grace.

So much is here, the ochre chalk outline, even now,
I can smear with my finger. The boy's grown, his painting becomes
our shared figuration-his our safe ground.


Endings


Returning home in the car, I tell you
something offhand, an aside, something
to disentangle our thoughts.
1 relate how a Mexican priest I met
in New Orleans hawked wooden flowers,
their shaved curlicues shaped into violets,
irises, and wood roses. I had brought
back three or four, and a watercolor
of a jazz ensemble. It is raining.
At the church the flowers
arranged on my mother's casket
had been fresh. Alive. They are spoiled now
like rain-wet newspaper. Unreadable.
Riding by, I see how they have torn away the town,
the Coca-Cola plant is gone, the old hospital,
mother's high school. What survives us?
[ can think only of last night, the woman
at the funeral home, standing there,
looking into the coffin, saying:
"There must be some mistake,
this is not the face. This is not the face."

Cassie Premo Steele


Fire Lesson


Fire rises when all else falls away.
So light is loss, so simple burn.

Smoke rises, too, the sign of what is
going, the promise of return.

The sky is the place our minds go to look
for nothingness, but even then great clouds come in.

I have learned to greet absence as an opportunity.
To see the violence of constant win.

Still I dream of one thing I cannot lose.
An end to hardness, and nothing more to choose.


Cave Lesson


You ask me to join you in your cave, and I do.

I sit down on the damp floor and we watch the dark walls
dripping with yellow light from the candle.

You are like that light,
I tell you.

See how you affect everything around you.

You do not believe me.

It takes time.

I breathe out.  I let go of my impatience,
even though I know candles do eventually burn out.

I must let you take your time.  

 

I Loved This Landscape into Being


It was the house of my husband
once, but women gathered together
It was the house of my husband
once, but women gathered together
they were hard like a marriage,
took work. Angela planted
crepe myrtle in front of the
bedroom, said to learn to keep
some things in the dark.
My mother-in-law cut back
briars around the foundation,
said get rid of what has hurt you,
this is a place to be safe.
We put in the rose of Sharon
for Laura, who was seven.
Now she is grown and the bush
is a tree as big as the house.
My husband laid sod and cut
the trees-you know how men are-
they need space for their balls.
But then he gave me a rocking
bench big enough for the whole
family to sit in and watch leaves fall.
We put in another rose of Sharon,
this time lavender, when my daughter
was born. Later my mother gave me
Saint Francis holding a bird,
and the birds like to sit on his head,
round and shorn. They have planted
their gardens, too, the birds:
yellow evening primrose,
sunflower, chokecherry tree,
morning glories and millet and beans.
I loved this landscape
into being, and when I die,
I will return here in dreams.
Yes, I received help, and yes,
I could not have done it alone.
But never under estimate
the power of a woman who decides
to claim the earth as her own



What I Want to Tell You about the Rain
                  for my niece


There will be seasons of longing as the earth, your mouth, your mind
cry out for water.  Faith, in this time, shimmers and disappears.

Suddenly it will come.  Your tongue, out the car window, will greet it.
You will gulp it, be greedy, forget all your fears.

And then you grow weary, miss the bees and the birds
and the wide wave of sunlight.  All is puddles.

This is the thing about rain that I want to tell you: It will come.  It will go.
The sooner you learn this, the better.  I should know.

Mary Ann Ruhl Thomas


Echoes of Her Voice



Although Aunt Ida led nieces and nephews
through woods, pointing out lady slippers,
jack-in-the-pulpits, plucking raspberries
from their tiny tree-like bushes.

She cackled like a Halloween witch
in her black mask and pointy hat,
a 250-pound nighttime drama queen,
scaring children and adults, too.

Once we stopped to see her.
While she took me downstairs to view old pictures
and her paintings, her husband Uncle Mel
told my husband she was having
an affair with the 38 year-old next door
neighbor. Bob scratched his head,
wondered how that could be.

She told family tales: she's asked
Aunt Cora why she and Uncle John
had only one child.
Aunt Cora said her husband
chewed tobacco in the house
but spit it out the window.*

When little my son David loved to sleep
in her front porch. Maybe he heard
the echo of her voice: truth telling,
tale telling. He had good dreams there.

*metaphor for incomplete sex.


Red Drops on Green Grass for Kevin: 1959- 2001



Your Dad said on the phone
you were killed. Passive tense,
as if your hand had not pulled
the trigger, as if you had not gotten
out of the car to shoot yourself
on the Natchez Trace, leaving no mess
behind, only sprinklings of color.

You were the last we'd think it of,
the oldest of my brother's eight,
the one whose name now
we cannot say aloud.
Whatever compelled you to leave
your daughter, the son who adored you so?
Did the wind roar over your dark secret,
the woods whisper for you to go
where we could not find you?

Did despair lift
once you made your plan
to escape the midnight in your heart,
anguish that ate your life?
Did you ponder the exact place
where you'd park the car
and imagine how the clouds
would shift as you lay on the grass
after the shot echoed among the trees?

Today Aunt Florence told me
she dreamed they found
your head in the back seat
in one piece, not shattered
like the people you left behind.


Uncle Elwood



He grew up with his hands in dirt
f rom the time the sun first knocked
at the sky near Burton until it left.
He emerged from the root cellar
veined with potatoes and squash
and left for college with the Methodist
Hymnal singing in his head.
He studied veins and the heart
of the matter in medical school.
Though he practiced medicine
in the city he kept visiting
country relatives, passing out
$20 bills to those whose lives
were still connected to the cellar.

His wedded Christian Dior Mary
objected when he said he wanted
to be buried near Burton.
"Elwood," she exclaimed, "I don't know
anybody in that cemetery."


Nicola Waldron


Bird Leaping


The face of my mother
under the red umbrella
behind the house -

the downcast, whitish face
of sorrow.

"So now you can relive this part,"
she says:
"brother and sister --"

each footfall a moment given to one,
so taken from another-
the walk between azaleas down green lanes.

At the lake, "Come with me,"
pleads my son: "Stay close."
I kiss him. Then I push them off.


Recipe


Here is what they took
and measured in a cup:
blood, amnion; sugar, salt.

After they pricked me, held me down,
here is what they pulled
from me: my Life.

Christopher Wilkerson


Prologue


Yesterday, I fell
into holy water.
Along the ground,
The water smoothed everywhere.

I tripped and was baptized
and I couldn't see but blue in all things,
everywhere, yes, and white air
full of godlings far above,
above the surface of this tiny pool
where I fell
but did not so much fall
as filter down and through,
becoming.

Such an aftermath,
my own ripples incarnate
here, in sudden lake or river,
themselves the wake of
three days' storming.

Something tore the sky
and the heavens fell out,
drenching, silent pounding, flooding
into the dirt, under the skin,
into the bone.

I dreamed this rain. I woke up wet.
It took me back.


Impasse


Here is a scar of blasted hills, rain-wash gullies-
once forested, now a dull gleam, a stand of bones.
Dead tissue that remembers flames.

The bones rattle in wind that will not be still, not
here. Whatever spirits know these hills circle back
swiftly, stir the blanket of leaves,

fallen fossils, in a moment's respect, then on
currents of chill air disperse. All around in the
desiccated sea of dark mulch,

of leaves browned and blackened and long dead, great black corpses
that were once, perhaps, tall pines or firs, even oaks,
lie as grounded vessels, their seas

windblown dry. Here, what was solid melts into the
earth beneath the rustling waves in what could have been
a simple lifetime. The only

green, the mold and fungus that is the earth reaching
out to receive the fallen. The dark, rotting shapes
could be serpents, seen from distance,

held fast, locked in ever-moment of rearing head
or twisting body. They number in the thousands.
Their empty husks form a chain-work

shackling these hills, great irons that echo of life
as they trap the flow of moments: fixed, eternal,
frozen between breaths, immortal

autumn caught a heartbeat just past equinox, an
anguish that once was real but no longer-sustained
forever now. Ghosts in the winds

that howl through these downs no longer have ears to hear.
I cannot say how long I have rested, braced on
this felled trunk, against the shifting

wind. I've slipped into a smaller world, the lines and
pebbles brushed into relief under my feet. In
the lee of this dead giant, through

the blacks and reds and dull browns that carpet this land,
a quick vision of blue-grey offers subtle hints
of stone. And when I look, now they

appear: tens of thousands of broken bits of rock,
smaller than thumbnails, shards united under the
surface of the dead, and I see

there is a path paved through the length of hill and ridge,
ravine and gully. The frail road curves beyond the
rim of my seeing. The spirits

breathe, the breeze stirs the leaves across this gravel trail.
Silent wonder: who paved this path no one ever
walked?

Marjory Wentworth


Begin Again


Come through the doorway
without anger and your multitude of masks.
Look into the mirror on the wall
at the bottom of the stairs. Discover
desire, the way it felt before you came
here; before you smelled the sea.
Remove everything but
the future, where flowers are strewn
across a bed. No secrets.
Begin again. Tell me about
the courage to bloom, the way
wood shines in your house,
where you rise each day and plan
ways to fill the hours. It is like building
a boat of bruised days made from twisted hands.
Still, the scent of the garden buried in snow
reminds me of the suffering
you will not speak of, anywhere.


Senility


Sometimes my grandmother stayed
silent for hours. Alone
at her window she watched wind
tearing at the dead dried leaves,
until they smothered the ground.
But she used to talk non-stop.
Fluent in six languages,
her favorite thing was singing
Christmas carols in German
all year long. Why wait for winter
she asked in March, I could be
dead by the 4th of July?
She wasn't gone by summer,
but her fine mind seemed to be
unraveling. She didn't
notice a thing, when she went
into a world where trees were
catching fire and flying
across the sky of her room
filled with odorless horses
refusing to eat when trains
and steamships passed in the halls.
Someone kept slashing her clothes
with a machete. She claimed
there was a Mexican man
hiding all day in the closet
who only came out at night.
Hells Bells, that is what happens
when a woman is left on
her own, she'd say with a smile.
According to her, the fetus
in my belly wasn't a baby.
Babies come in small parts.
I should go to the hospital
to pick up one part at a time.
The head was first, of course.
It's the size of a baseball,
although when women give birth
It's usually a litter
of puppies, or if she's lucky -
one full grown black cat that comes
already named something cute.
While she was explaining this
fascinating method of
childbirth, she sat on the edge
of her bed, surrounded by
pink blankets, chewing the frayed
corner of the TV changer,
which she often mistook for
a Hershey's chocolate bar.
I sat in a chair beside
the window and listened.
One hand in hers, the other
holding my swollen belly,
watching the autumn leaves
falling, falling, falling

 
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