Welcome to where I am, where my kitchen's always messy, a pot's (or a poet) always about to boil over, a dog is always begging to be fed. Drafts of poems on the counter. Windows filled with leaves. Wind. Clouds moving over the mountains. If you like poetry, books, and music--especially dog howls when a siren unwinds down the hill-- you'll like it here.




Monday, June 30, 2008

Verde for Vicki

When I read Vicki Lane's blog post today (vickilanemysteries.blogspot.com), I recalled a poem I'd read at my alma mater Wesleyan College, in Macon, Ga. I told the graduates that when I was a senior, I'd written a weekly column titled Caustic Cogitations. Some of my comments in those columns disturbed a few faculty members, one of whom wrote to scold me by saying that I would come to regret "my salad days when I was green in judgment." (from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra) I assured the graduates that I did not regret my green days at all and I hoped they never would regret theirs either.
Then I read this poem.

-for the class of 2006, Wesleyan College, May 13, 2006

"Verde, que te quiero verde."
--Federico Garcia Lorca

When the soprano rehearsing
Traviata's impassioned "Sempre Libera"
missed yet another high E-
flat, the conductor looked up from his baton
and challenged, Coraggio, Madam, Coraggio!

What better word
could I offer as you take your leave
of this place that has gathered you
into its sisterhood?

Sometimes I still hear its voices
exhorting me: don't you forget
how you sat on the grass
outside Wortham dorm,
smoking too many cigarettes,

longing to find your way
into that poem you recited in Spanish class,
Lorca's verde viento that blew
through the classroom
like wings roused from slumber.

Forty years later I've come back
to say, simply, always be ready to welcome
the green, all that's verde within you.
Have the courage of your corazón,
have esperanza,

a little French insouciance.
You know what I mean,
flair and attitude, flinging your purple
shawls over your shoulders!
That green wind I wanted

to follow is right here,
today, on the thirteenth of May,
so cup it awhile in your fingers
and listen: your voice,
the breath of it lifting its brave canción.

~ Kathryn Stripling Byer, Class of 1966

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Isabel Zuber

My good friend Isabel Zuber is both poet and novelist. We met 30 years ago at a writers conference led by A.R. Ammons in Critz, Va. A native of Boone, NC, she has lived her adult life in Winston-Salem. Her first novel Salt was published by Picador, and her chapbooks of poems have been published by the NC Writers Network (Annual chapbook award) and Persephone Press. More of her work may be found in the archives of ncarts.org, as well as in several anthologies, the most recent being Southern Appalachian Poets (http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/). The following poem is from her as yet unpublished full-length collection Red Lily.


A last enormous freedom
is to run into the dark,
barely enough day left
to see vague hydrangeas
massed along the drive
and junipers up like spears
against the sky. Bound then

in the dusk with all that
can be there light says is not.
Rush the yard on grass-lashed,
bug-bit legs, turn round
and round till stars collide
with spires, breaking the
huge dinning noise
of all those tiny voices.

Such venture is less, or more,
than brave, for dew’s sweet
or bitter, and there’s always
the lighted doorway and
the sense that if one runs
far and hard enough
there are arms in the darkness also.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Spirits of Place

Two years ago when I was writer-in-residence during fall semester at Appalachian State University, I would stand on my cottage deck and watch the sun go down behind Grandfather Mountain. By then the constant noise of new homes being built on the ridges around me in Blowing Rock had stopped, and I could believe that I was not really standing on a mountainside quickly being turned into a neighborhood of mega-mansions and over the top (sorry about that pun!) development. All through that fall I waited for sundown, the way it lingered over the distant mountains, lingered like a good poem worth remembering for the rest of your life. One evening I took a photograph of it, and just last week, I discovered the roll of film, still undeveloped, in a box of poetry rough drafts.

Karl Jung wrote about synchronicity. Here's my own small bit of testimony to that theory: just a day after the photos came back from CVS, I found on the New York Times online site this ad--

Discover why now is the best timeto purchase property in Western North Carolina.Visit www.GreyRockInvite.com/GuideNYT for your FREE guide to North Carolina Mountain Living.

I was appalled and angry, immediately composing an email I would send to these people telling them that we did not want them sending people down here to do even more damage to our slopes, our water, our quality of life. They could jolly well stay in New York, in Atlanta, in L.A., stay in the places they had already made uninhabitable.

But I've never sent the email. How stop the juggernaut of development that by now has completely overtaken places like Blowing Rock and Boone with one pathetic email? But then, how to respond to it? With a poem? How could a poem or a story possibly matter? Not to mention a letter to the editor.

I've been reading Barry Lopez for several years; he writes that when our interior landscapes are not in harmony with our exterior ones, our lives lack imagination and joy, and consequently, we become dangers to ourselves and the places in which we live. He suggests that story and song, language itself, can help us re-stabilize our sense of balance by helping us name the things we love, assuming that we have not forgotten what those things are.

So, I have been mulling over the importance of names and the way they root us to the places in which we live. The following poem, written for Heartstone journal at Warren Wilson College, begins with a favorite quote from Adrienne Rich.

Last Light

The tests I need to pass are prescribed by the spirits
of place who understand travel but not amnesia.

from “This Is My Third and Last Address to You” --Adrienne Rich


Almost the age when memory falters,
I fear being made to count backward
by seven’s, to answer to date, year, and
Presidents, as if those numbers and names
matter more in the end than this place
where I stand at the same kitchen window,
observing the same pines set swaying by wind,
reaching upward as I’ll reach, come morning,
my arms to the ceiling, breathing the dark out
of body and spirit, exhaling that old dream
of nothingness: laying my head down to sleep.


Now Rocky Face Ridge catches fire
in the last light and, though I can’t hear it
from where I stand, Cullowhee Creek tumbles into
the Tuckaseegee, always unscrolling beneath me
the names I already know. Snowbird.
Buzzards Roost. Weyahutta. Oconaluftee.

. 3.

I don’t know how long names can last
if there’s no one to care where they live.
What I saw on the hairpin curve down from
the Chimney Tops, white as snow, I’ve not forgotten.
Phacelia. And how, on the trail leading
up to the summit of Suncota Ridge,
I saw sauntering toward me a young woman
I could have sworn was the reincarnation of
every spring wildflower ever named anywhere.


Closer she comes to me each April,
as if she means more than I have a lifetime
to know. Roundabout her, her white Easter dress
whispers every thing I want to keep living
here in this valley that cups the last swallow of light,
every name I must reach to remember or else
lose them, hillside by hillside, to darkness.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

River Song

We live close to the Tuckasegee river; I pass it every day as I walk or drive down our hill, and when our daughter was a little girl, we would sit by it, listen to it, and sometimes throw sticks into it and watch them sail away. This short poem first appeared years ago in a small publication called Blink, begun by Robert West, a poet and teacher from Asheville.


Fighting the river
upstream to the source,
are you deadsure
you want to behold
it, the uvula thrumming
the song that comes out
of the river’s mouth?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday, Monday

Monday, Monday, Can't stop that day, the Mama's and the Papa's sang years ago when I was a senior in college. So, here it is Monday again, and after a week away, I have blueberries to pick, cabbages to harvest, not to mention chard. But the rabbits--or some other critters--have eaten my sunflower sprouts and nibbled my basil, which is unforgivable. The raspberries are coming in. Lots to do.
And here comes the sun over the pines! And now I remember some words from Mary Oliver's West Wind: "And the speck of my heart, in my shed of flesh and bone, began to sing out, the way the sun would sing if the sun could sing, if light had a mouth and a tongue, if the sky had a throat, if god wasn't just an idea but shoulders and a spine, gathered from everywhere, even the most distant planets, blazing up."

from West Wind, Houghton Mifflin, 1997

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Home Again

I've been away for a week with my family in SW Georgia, for my uncle's funeral. The drive down in summer always makes me think again about how strong the call of home is. And the drive back to the mountains sings home to me just as strongly as heading south does. This is a poem I began years ago on one of those summer drives home to the farm where I was raised.

Coastal Plain

The only clouds
forming are crow clouds,

the only shade, oaks
bound together in a tangle of oak

limbs that signal the wind
coming, if there is any wind

stroking the flat
fields, the flat

swatch of corn.
Far as anyone’s eye can see, corn’s

dying under the sky
that repeats itself either as sky

or as water
that won’t remain water

for long on the highway: its shimmer
is merely the shimmer

of one more illusion that yields
to our crossing as we ourselves yield

to our lives, to the roots
of our landscape. Pull up the roots

and what do we see but the night
soil of dream, the night

soil of what we callhome.
Home that calls

and calls
and calls.

from Coming to Rest, LSU Press, 2006

Sunday, June 15, 2008

On Father's Day

When Kelly Flew Over
---for Kelly Wingate and his special passenger, C. M. Stripling

When Kelly flew over the farm
with our father,
we waved. In the clear morning,
we knew that soon he would be part
of what he loved, his land,
the field he had chosen
as resting place. When Kelly let loose

his bodacious white message
of smoke, we cheered!
We knew our father was home again,
settling himself into stubble and roots,
getting eternally comfortable
inside the dirt he loved. Good dirt
that got us through hard times,
that held firm and gave forth.
So sleep well, my father, and grow
up a good stand of anything you want

to grow. We will keep growing
you, memory by memory,
always remembering Kelly's bright
yellow plane overhead,
making our hearts swell with sheer
joy at knowing that you, too,
were having fun, taking that last
ride, then floating to earth
in your own sweet time,
the field underneath you waiting
to welcome you home.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Early Morning in June

Sometimes during these hot June days, I wake up at first light and walk out to the garden. There I can watch the sun coming up over the pine trees while I sip my coffee, still barefoot, still in my bathrobe. The dogs are frisky in early morning, the birds beginning to tune up. The garden looks refreshed after a good watering the night before.

I can remember being a young girl waking up before dawn and looking out my bedroom window where the huge oak trees would be coming back, beginning to take shape, and in the distance a dog barking. Anything seemed possible then, the day waiting like quivering promise just at the edge of my sight.

A few weeks ago I led a poetry workshop at Lake Logan, where the Women Writers Retreat was held, sponsored by Western North Carolina Woman magazine (wnc-woman.com). In our first session I began with my usual free-write, a riff on "I Remember." Here is what I hastily scribbled into my notebook
I remember light at the top of the chimney where swallows lived, light through the cracks of the barn's roof,t he window blinds, the top of my head where the comic books showed the lightbulb coming on and voila! there it is--- the light, the luz , the lazy way looking up on a hot day can make me feel dizzy , the sun bearing down and then later the moon coming up with its pail of cool golden water.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dog is Love

We have five "rescue dogs," or as I sometimes call them, refugee dogs. Our most recent, Ace, was rescued from the Haywood County Shelter (just hours before he was to be euthanized) by my friend, the poet Mary Adams (see her link below). Mary has become an advocate for homeless animals, housing quite a few of them at her own home until she can find families for them. It's important to support such groups, like our local Animal Relief Fund, and to make sure that our shelters are run properly, with care for the animals kept there, many of whom have been mistreated. Ace is a wonderful dog, loving and intelligent. And drop-dead gorgeous. Why would anyone have wanted to abandon him?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Summer Trees

I grew up among many trees and in the hot weather of a south Georgia summer, I sat under them and daydreamed, or in the evening I would walk the fields and look at them. The cattle would huddle under them to escape the heat, and their tree shadows would lengthen as the day itself lengthened. These trees are standing in a field behind the farmhouse where I grew up. To lose a tree to lightning was like a death in the family, as far as my father was concerned.

Independent Bookstores

When my last book, Coming to Rest, was published, I was invited to read at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, NC, my favorite bookstore anywhere. My good friend Joyce Moore is owner and manager; we go way, way back to student days at UNC-Greensboro, where Joyce was editor of the undergraduate literary magazine, Coraddi. A few years later she and her husband moved to their farm outside Cullowhee, because Allen had taken a job in the biology dept. at Western Carolina University. Their presence has enriched my life beyond the telling, and City Lights has enriched our community in ways that deserve more than one blog to describe. Our independent booksellers are always struggling to stay afloat, especially these days when the economy is weak. Go to City Lights' webpage--listed below in my links, and to the website for the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance--www.sibaweb.com--to see what our indie bookstores are doing these days. Then go buy a book, preferably a book of poetry, from them.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Conservation Trust for North Carolina

On May 4th I attended the annual CTNC picnic outside Hillsborough.
After our lunch, I read a few poems to the group and answered some questions about wolves, poetry, and how important language, especially the names of cherished places, is to conservation.

Please consider joining the Conservation Trust; you'll be helping our state preserve its natural resources.

Here is one of the poems I read after lunch. It first appeared in Storysouth.com.


I bait my lines
with the scent of old planks
rotting over the muddy Flint
River where drowsy snakes
coil in the rushes and lightning
bugs fizzle like spirits
of nightcrawlers nibbled
by minnows. No catch
in my throat but this aching
to wade into lazy black water
and stand all night long
in its leavetaking, calling
the fish home to Mama.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Cabbage Sistah's

I've had cabbage on my mind today. Six beautiful heads are waiting for me out in the garden, and I wish I could mail one of them to my friend doris davenport, a poet, essayist, and teacher who now resides in Albany, Georgia, where she teaches at Albany State University. When we discovered we shared a passion for cabbage, we began calling each other Cabbage Sistah. Look for doris's book of poetry, Madness Like Morning Glories, from LSU Press. Yes, I have some morning glories in the garden, too, but right now cabbage is what I want!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Here (a poem)

The best introduction to my blog is a poem. I wrote this one a few years back for an anthology of Appalachian writing on the theme of "home."

Here (poem)

From the southernmost reaches of night,

I have come here to stand at this window. Here I can see

winter trees linedancing on the horizon and glimpse over traffic

the bolt of the gray Tuckasegee

unrolling its sackcloth.

No ashes, just a rusty gate I jimmied

open at evensong

onto an arcade of pecan trees,

rows merging into the unseen, the underside,

through which I’ve followed a black shawl of trails

to their jump-offs where sky always waits

like an ocean in which I hear voices call:

deep in an iron skillet, sizzle of okra dropped

into hot oil, and the sound of an old woman sighing

as she sets the table. She tells me her name

is no longer one lone woman’s name but a chorus

of names: Willa Mae, Alma, Ivy Rowe, Annie Lee,

and, from the attic where she’d waited

throughout my girlhood

for me to sing flesh again onto her bones,

my mute grandmother, trailing me

into the wilds of the Blue Ridge where she had been born,

taking root in the lexicon of wildflowers

blooming on Deep Gap, Kanati, and Siler’s Bald.

No wonder, leaving my father’s black fields,

where the dirt smelled of duty and death

and the sunset burned all the way down to its roots

and let wildfire leap over

the ditches and burn up the sky,

I arrived, not a moment too soon, at the junction

of Thomas Divide and Kanati Fork,

air ripe with bear scat and leafmold.

Or was it because of the windows where every night I watched

the skyfield on fire dying out, cloud by cloud,

into darkness that I came

to this place where sky huddles over the Balsams

and lingers awhile every morning

as mist lifting off the weeds clasping the edges of Cullowhee

Creek? Over thirty years I’ve watched the way

light begins here. It still wakes me up. Lets me be.

Here. Where I am.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Everybody knows the story about the poet--yes, of course, she has to be a poet---trying to climb the rockface, while beneath her is a hungry tiger and above her on the summit a hungry bear, let's say a black bear because I'm here in the Blue Ridge. No bear around here is hungry enough to eat anybody, much less a poet, but this is a story, and the teller gets to tell it the way she wants. She even gets to put a tiger in it, even though there are no longer any tigers on our mountain trails. No lions, either. Our poor poet can go neither up nor down, but as she stares straight ahead at the rock, the lichens, the little roots poking out trying to gain their own footing, she notices a patch of wild strawberries growing from a crevice. One particular strawberry calls to her, the most enticing, succulent strawberry she has ever beheld. She forgets the ravenous beasts above and below her and reaches for the strawberry, places it in her mouth, and tastes its sweetness all the way down to her quivering toes, doing their best to keep her balanced for just a while longer.
Strawberry by strawberry, we move through our days, and if we are poets who hang out in the kitchen a lot, as I do, we look forward to this time of year because of----yes, strawberries. This morning I have been preparing strawberries for freezing and jam-making, and I've placed several in my mouth to savor. Why should I resist? The lions, tigers, and bears never go away.
This strawberry I'm reaching for is all I've got. And right now it's enough.