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Monday, April 26, 2010

MAGPIE TALES 11: SILVER-TIPPED CANE


In the early 70's I attended a literary convention in Atlanta where this incident took place. The man at the center of the poem was a more or less respected conservative critic and scholar. The black cane for Mag 11 looks just like the one I remember he carried.


Literary Conventions

He stood in the hotel room doorway,
Atlanta, post-civil rights,
a contingent of scholars
and editors schmoozing in one smoky
room on the 25th floor,
I the lone female sitting apart in the corner,
my plastic cup half-full of bourbon,
my cigarette burning its way down to filter,

and jabbed his black silver-tipped cane
toward the window where lights swarmed.
Out there, he said, cane swung at threats
cresting round us, I know they'll be waiting.
But I'm ready. Lifted his waistcoat
to show us the gun nestled under
his armpit. Laughed. Tipped his cowboy hat
to me, leaned down to wipe dirt from
his boots, and drawled, Have a good night.


25 comments:

willow said...

Wait...don't tell me...he was from Texas. Scary. Was he supposed to be an editor or a scholar? You probably needed a refill of your bourbon after that.

christine said...

Omgosh, frightening... were you scared?
Strange man!

Christine

Brian Miller said...

wow. he was quite the character wasnt he...sounds like a critic you dont want to mess with. whew!

Suz said...

Goodness...!
a creepy experience

Catalyst said...

That so reminded me of a long gone friend I met during my days in Mexico. He didn't swagger quite as much as your guy but he definitely was a poseur. Great poem, Kathryn. I think I'm going to have to print that one out and save it.

Star said...

Oo-er he was some scary dude, was he not. Were you shaky afterwards. That picture certainly brought back memories in your life, didn't it!
Star

sheri... said...

wow, what a character! this was a good read, just remember to stand clear of that dreadful cane next time, will you??

Tumblewords: said...

Fascinating. Somehow the fancy stick doesn't seem in character with the boots and cowboy hat. A strange event, for sure!

joanny said...

Interesting experience -- I hope you did not let him ruffle your feathers or at least give him the satisfaction of showing it, here years later makes a good magpie tale.. One scary Texan.

Joanny

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Hi Willow, he was both editor and scholar and fervent anti-civil rights, anti-liberal part of the old school agrarian literary movement out of Vanderbilt. He had the Texas boots/hat since he lived/taught there but he had the plantation master mentality, thus the fancy cane. "They" were of course the hordes of black males the civil-rights movement had unleashed. White southern male paranoia. Terrifying.
Yes, Christine, I was frightened and sorry I was there. I felt compromised. He was creepy, too, on a level beyond southern paranoia.

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Catalyst, he was a poseur in many ways, adopting the rancher/slave master pose. The times, post civil rights-Martin Luther King, brought out the worst in him. He was going to show those uppity folks at the upper echelons of the Modern Language convention what he thought by showing his his attitude toward a newly enfranchised black population out there in the streets.

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Star, he was one scary dude, you are right. He gave a whole other interpretation to Southern Gentleman, one I've never forgotten. This memory has brought backsome important issues I've yet to write about. And Sheri,yes, trying to stand clear of that cane is a fabulous metaphor for being a Southern woman writer in that room (ambience) where everyone was very nice but a bit patronizing. I'm still trying to find my way out of there.

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Tumblewords, he was dressed to the nines, very nice clothes. He had taken on the role of wealthy rancher/plantation owner and the cane was part of it. All the other profs were dressed in casual suits and looked like ...well, literature professors.
And yet he had written some good essays on Southern writers--Flanner O'Conner, Faulkner, et. al.

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Joany, I just stared. There was silence in the room after he left. I'd heard earlier about what a character he was. I don't think he's still alive, but if he is, I'm sure he's all for carrying concealed weapons into Starbucks to ward off the encroaching hordes of anyone who doesn't look him him.

Charlotte said...

The poem speaks for itself, Kay--so much compressed into those lines. I like what's coming under your magnifying glass these days. Love, C.

Lyn said...

Well done! They don't make them like your cowboy anymore, do they?..thank goodness!!

Jennifer said...

Wow and didn't you capture him so excellently for posterity! What a snapshot you create Kathryn.

I expect the next snapshot was you swallowing a big gulp of bourbon.

Jingle said...

awesome,
you painted a vivid image..
;)

mine is up,

Peter Goulding said...

Love the way the start of the second verse jolts you back to this rather sinister subject. Cresting is a great word!

Kaye Barley said...

I love this!
Unfortunately - I know this man. Perhaps not the individual who is in your poem, but certainly a group of men he is representative of. I lived in Atlanta for 30 years and spent 12 of those working for an "old guard" corporation in downtown where these men were the financial, cultural backbone. After a divorce, I started working as a hostess (as a second job) in one of these old guard private clubs - oh my, the stories . . . .

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Kaye, I think this man is representative of a powerful sub-group of folks, a group I find scary indeed.

Jennifer, you have just given me poem #2 for this Scary Dude Series!
Jingle, I'll check your blog.

Oh my, I'm way behind, having been away for several days.

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Peter, I'm glad the structure/syntax of this came through, the holding back till the jolt of return. And I really wanted cresting, the wave of change about to tumble over all of us.
Thank you for your response. I think more poems await me on this subject.

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Hi Lyn, unfortunately, I think they do still make them like this dude. Just look at the news out of Arizona...
And if you go to TX, you'll see them, as well. I had a close encounter with one in a restaurant on our last trip out to see our daughter. And no bourbon to gulp that time!

Helen said...

WOW! You made, in not very many words, that night come to life for me! Great!

The Bug said...

This poem is a window into a scary world. I wish his kind had gone away over time, but apparently we're not ready to let go of our prejudices & paranoia yet...