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.




Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mockingbird, Mockingbird

My friend Jane Wood of Wilson, NC, has just published a book drawing together columns from the Wilson newspaper, where her essays on nature and her dances with it have graced the pages for a number of years. Jane is also a poet, and if you've been following My Laureate's Lasso, you know that she has done pioneer-woman work in bringing poetry to fourth graders in her county. She's been doing it for a coon's age. She's a state treasure, if ever there was one. Here's one of the essays from her WILDING A TAME HEART:0ne naturalist's experiences. You may order the book directly from Jane herself. She opted out of Amazon, preferring to have personal contact with her readers. Here's her address:
10717 Old Bailey Hwy., Wilson NC 27896 (252) 243-6708. The book is $14.95, plus tax ($1.05) and shipping ($2.75) total price $18.75 .

Moonlight and Mockingbirds

by Jane Wood

We're all familiar with the "boss" of our backyard bird kingdom, the mockingbird. Don't we know people with the same obnoxious, gabby, demanding personality? Whew! How tiresome they are! And yet that bird, as those people, does have redeeming graces.

The mocker, like our friends or family members, is so alive, so alert, so attentive to everything and everyone in his world that he cannot be ignored. He is exuberant to the point of stealing the songs of other birds and performing them by imitation, a cappella. I've always heard that imitation is the finest form of flattery. Of course Mr. Mocker just might be trying, in desperation, to be accepted. He isn't alone in his habit of bogus song however; the brown thrasher is also a class act of vocal ersatz. Both birds are long legged, long tailed and long beaked. Both are keenly alive and active and visible during mating season.

The bird that deserves a "Bravo" for exceptional performance is Mr. Mocker. He rivals Pavarotti with his solo concerts. Oh, yes, and he does have a captive audience; what else are we doing in the middle of a moonlit summer night? What other competition, as far as worldly noise, is there? This bird mounts a fence post or low tree branch stage and belts out magnificent arias. Well, maybe they're not original since his repertoire is made up of stolen melodies, but we're living in a world where everything can be explained away as either politically or non-politically correct. So who am I to condemn plagiarism?

Moonlight. Why the appeal? Is it due to legend? Is there really a connection to the energy in the human mind? I think so. I am restless on full moon nights. I have this urge to get out of bed and go into the deep woods behind my house. Yes, I have done that, and it is exhilarating! Once I even coached my grandson to accompany me. At age five he was a bit awed by it all - the nocturnal choir, the shadows, the towering silhouettes… mosquitoes. But I felt a connection with the luminous moonlight all melted down on the forest floor. We stood perfectly still and took in the night sounds around us - awesome! It was a different world!

Remember, we learned in school that in Latin the word for moon is "luna." Picture the lovely pale green luna moth that comes out on summer nights to feed, then disappears at dawn. We also are aware that a derivative of luna is lunatic. Could that apply to those who are drawn into the moon light for a different kind of

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

SPRING CLEANING: A Poem for Chitra Divakaruni

A couple of months ago I received an invitation to submit some poems, each no longer than 32 lines, to an anthology whose theme was "collecting." I collect words, so why not try to write some poems collecting words I like. I stood in the kitchen, thinking about how badly my house, especially the kitchen, need some elbow grease, as my mother used to call it. On the kitchen counter spread my out of control spice collection. Hmmmm. I was also reading Chitra Divakaruni's novels; Mistress of Spices is perhaps her best known, since it was made into a movie. I like them all, but I have to say that Sister of My Heart and
The Vine of Desire is where to begin if you don't know her work. She's also a poet and it was as a poet that I first came to know of her. As I fiddled around with the names of spices, I kept thinking of Chitra, some of the recipes she'd posted on her blog, and so ended up thinking of this as her poem.


for Chitra

I take stock of the spices
I've kept for too long--

coriander and cumin,
that catch-all called curry,

and paprika, accent
that's always the first earthy

syllable, rich as Hungarian
sod swirling into the gulasz.

Masala and tandoori powders
a drooping wife might sniff

to kindle her passion
for waking back up again,

turmeric turning her fingertips
golden, a pinch of it

under her lip
like my grandmother's snuff,

balm for aching wrists
after the grinding of nutmeg

and cinnamon. Cayenne
for cleansing the sinuses.

Gesundheit! my grandmother,
framed on the wall by my pantry

exclaims! Dump them
simply because expiration

dates say so? Gourmet
magazine sneering "Off with their

lids, down the drain"?
I won't do it. Just let me

stay here a little while longer,
inhaling their presence. Their names.

This painting by Cindy Davis, one of her Twenty Somethings, captures some of the imagery in Chitra's work. I love the way Cindy works with trees and their roots. I soon will have a house full of her paintings.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Trying to Get Back Home

It's been a week since I've been back home in the mountains. Getting here wasn't, shall we say, a walk in the garden. An hour from Cullowhee, I had a flat tire. I was listening hard to Sugarland on my cd player and then noticed another sound, something coming from the right side of the car, definitely not an accompaniment to Jennifer Nettles singing "Down in Mississippi and Up to No Good." Smell of hot rubber. Whoa. I pulled off at Grover's food store in Wiley, GA, opened the door fearfully, and there it was. A flat front tire. Nothing to do but go inside the store, where the only inhabitant, the woman who kept the cash register, was out back having a smoke. Man, I wanted one. NEEDED one. My nerves were shot about as bad as my front tire.

She came back inside and told me to call Wiley Tire, which I did, after she kindly opened the phone book to their ad. The really nice woman on the line said she'd send someone out in just a few minutes. So, yes, I bought a pack of cigarettes (lord, they cost a lot more than they used to!) and the woman holding down the store and I stood outside having a cigarette. (Who knows how many it had been for her already that day. It was the first one I'd had in about 30 years, so it went to my head real fast.) Twenty minutes later, a cute young man drove up and put my spare on, after which I followed him about two miles down the highway to Wiley Tire, and within half an hour, and one more cigarette, later, I was back on the road. But no more Sugarland this time. I kept the window down and listened to the road noise.

In Clayton, traffic was backed up, all of us having to merge left because of a huge smash-up between an SUV and a pick-up. I was stuck in the right hand lane but was so relieved to have my wheels again that I didn't get upset about it. I even looked up at the school bus on my left and waved back to a little boy who looked like he was gonna grow up to be a real hell-raiser.

I was so exhausted and wrung out by the time I pulled up in our driveway, to the greeting of five happy dogs, that I didn't even walk out to the garden. I let that wait till the next morning.

First thing I saw, with extreme gratitude, was the laurel just beyond the garden.

Then when I looked up, there was the sky, with sun just beginning to hit the treeline.

And the garden! Just look at the lettuce. My daughter's guinea pig will be happy--and lucky--to get some of this.

The broccoli's not bad either.

And there at the edge of the garden, our first peony bud. I gave thanks to the Peony Goddess for bringing me back home safely.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Jekyll Island has been my mother's favorite retreat for years. I promised her shortly after my father died that the two of us would go there to spend a restful time looking at the Atlantic wash the shores like lacework my grandmother crocheted to make doilies she placed on the backs of chairs and sofas.

Jekyll Island, being beautiful, has drawn the attention of developers, those for whom greed turns everything desirable into nothing more than a commodity. The island is being bull-dozed and transformed into rows of condominiums. The Republican legislature gave the developers their blessing, until they heard the outrage from their constituents. So-called progress has been slowed, but development is a juggernaut, sure to win in the end if enough people don't stand in its way, refusing to be moved.

My mother and I stayed at one of the first motels built years ago on the island, The Buccaneer, as it was then called. We had a second floor balcony from which to watch the clouds move, the palm trees sway, the Atlantic swell. The fishing boats floated on the horizon. At night we could see their lights far out at the edge of the world.

No matter what happens to the island, the clouds will continue their journey across the sky, the wind will blow as fiercely as always, whe surf will thunder onto the sand. As for us, who knows? Will we have the endurance to keep fighting for the places we love?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


For the past week I've been in SW Georgia visiting my family. My brother Charles has been doing a great job, along with our family's longtime employee Bennie Jackson, cleaning up brush, planting wildflowers, and planning walking trails around the farm where I grew up. He took me on a drive around the pine stands and pastures near the house, and as I looked again at the familiar scenery, I remembered how important "the home place" has been to generations of farm families.

Here is the house and pump-house, seen through the May greenery. When my grandparents' home place burned down years ago, we all wept for its loss, even though nobody had been living there for several years. Still, we knew our memories lived there. They still do. Many of my poems have grown out of those memories.

Trees have been like guiding spirits to me all my life, especially the ones I wandered through as I grew up.

Above you can just make out the old enclosure where my father would "work on" the cattle, as he described it, branding and inoculating them.

My father loved to fish at this pond, which he stocked with catfish and brim. Water birds will sometimes come to spend awhile here. While he was still alive, my father could catch a glimpse of them from the house.

The trees and sky reflected on the surface make the pond a waterscape for the imagination. I could spend hours just sitting pondside watching, until the mosquitoes arrived! And the no-see'ums. And the gnats.

Our farm has always been a beautiful place, but thanks to my brother's and Bennie's hard work and vision, it will be a place where those who care about the land will be able to come for a first-hand look at how farmland can be managed for both beauty and sustainability.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Blue Ridge Book and Author Showcase

(With Jane Jaudon Ferrer and Glenda Beall, two of Netwest's indispensable movers and shakers!)

Yesterday was a great day for authors and readers in western North Carolina. The Blue Ridge Book and Author Showcase, after months of planning and preparations, happened! And what a happening it was. After heavy storms the days before, the morning arrived blessedly free of churning clouds, and by the time we arrived in Hendersonville, on the campus of Blue Ridge Community College, the day looked as if it might actually turn out to be a sunny one.

Inside the Technical Education and Development Center, Volunteers were ready to help participants and visitors at every turn. There were tee shirts for sale, lots of books on the display table, and the faces of writers I knew, like Vicki Lane, Gary Carden, Susan Reinhardt. And--- many more faces of those I didn't. Jeff Biggers, for example, whose presentation wowed listeners. I broke in line afterward to ask him how to get in touch with him in the future. Hey, just go to jeffbiggers.com

I sat dutifully at my author's table, which I shared with my friend and sister poet Marita Garin, enjoying conversation with passing readers, teachers and other writers, but I did steal away to take a few photos.

(Photo by Glenda Beall)

The morning visitors were enthusiastic, none more so than Glenda Beall, NETWEST's program coordinator, who rode over with us for the event.

Almost directly across from my book table sat Laura Hope-Gill, whose new book, The Soul Tree, will be published in a few week.s

Nearby I found my friends George and Elizabeth Ellison, with a new book on display, High Vistas: An Anthology of Nature Writing from Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains (Vol. 1). This book too features Elizabeth's illustrations. The cover is beautiful. George is speaking to me in the photo below.

Booksales were handled by none other than Malaprop's, with owner and manager Emoke B'racz in fine form for the day.

I visited Keith Flynn's poetry presentation briefly before heading to another concurrent session, Sheila Kay Adams' program on Mountain story-telling and ballads.

Sheila Kay lays a good story on us!

Afterward, with admirers from the audience.

In the afternoon I gave my reading and answered questions, after which I said hello to old friend and former UNCG MFA classmate, Robert Morgan, who was honorary Chairman of the festival.

(Photo by Glenda Beall)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Going a' Maying

Now that National Poetry Month is over, I can relax a little bit from posting new books by NC Poets nearly every single day on My Laureate's Lasso.

Now that my laptop seems to have died, I can't pull up the photos I'd planned to post today--Mayapple, trillium, wild geranium, purple iris with two yellow show-offs in the middle. Sounds like a poem, so here's your assignment for today, which in our mountains will be a rainy one. Write a poem using wildflowers in it, as many wildflowers as you want. Sure, you can sneak in an iris or two, an azalea, and you can even plant a cabbage head, some broccoli, kale, spinach, some good brown wet soil. Just because it's no long National Poetry Month doesn't mean you can't write a poem! Or read one.

Looks like I'll be posting less, being laptop-less, but who knows? I have my husband's big Dell to work on, which I'm doing now. And I have a few poems up my sleeve, too. Here's one by my friend Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin, from her chapbook Patriate.

Cross-Quarter Day
Something stirring, deep. Day
dawns a minute early, spilling
yellow light across the field, sparking
fires in frost-crystals on fallow rows.
Next to a grizzled nanny, two new lives
quiver on cold new legs, blink east:

                  What’s this?

The seed stirs. The woodchuck turns
in her dreams. All these women
to-ing and fro-ing between worlds,
Persephone, Brigid, Demeter,
lifting up candles, calling out
to one another, it’s enough

                  to wake the dead.

Crocus opens slow cobalt eyes.

says the sap sleeping in the sarvis tree.
Not yet.