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.




Wednesday, September 29, 2010

RIPE, from Black Shawl


Dead end.
This dirt road
at daybreak.

One window
burns yellow
as fruit flesh.

The gauze
clutch of spider webs

but not quite
shines. Where is the sun?
Where the woman who lately leaned

over her wash basin,
daring the cold water
splash her eyes shut?

She does
not answer
anyone’s name.

Have her feet
come unstuck
from the kitchen floor

where she stood
most of last
night at her stove

wild berry
juice into

length upon
length of the sweetest
black thread?

(from my BLACK SHAWL, LSU Press, 1992)

I've been cleaning out old computer files and came across my Black Shawl backup poems, among them this poem. I immediately thought of our elderberry bush, with its several bouquets of deep purple berries. Elderberry jelly? Yes, I've made that. Doesn't compare to blackberry, though, which is what I was thinking about when I wrote this.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


An Evening of Southern Poetry
Monday, October 4, 2010 at 7 PM
Wesleyan College, Benson Room
4760 Forsyth Road, Macon, GA 31210
Former North Carolina Poet Laureate and Wesleyan Alumna Kathryn Stripling Byer and current North Carolina Poet Laureate Cathy Smith Bowers, plus Macon native Robert Perry Ivey, will recite original work. This event is sponsored by the Eugenia Dorothy Blount Lamar Lecture Series, dedicated to celebrating Southern culture and recognized as the most important lecture series on Southern history and literature in the United States. Free and open to the public. 478-757-5228

Two Laureates on the Lam
Tuesday, October 5, 2010 at 11:15 AM
Wesleyan College, Porter Auditorium
4760 Forsyth Road, Macon, GA 31210
Enjoy poetry readings by Former North Carolina Poet Laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer and current North Carolina Poet Laureate Cathy Smith Bowers. This event is sponsored by the Eugenia Dorothy Blount Lamar Lecture Series, dedicated to celebrating Southern culture and recognized as the most important lecture series on Southern history and literature in the United States. Free and open to the public. 478-757-5228

Poetry in Music
Tuesday, October 5, 2010 at 7:30 PM
Wesleyan College, Benson Room
4760 Forsyth Road, Macon, GA 31210
Hear the beautiful poetry of Former North Carolina Poet Laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer set to music. This event is sponsored by the Eugenia Dorothy Blount Lamar Lecture Series, dedicated to celebrating Southern culture and recognized as the most important lecture series on Southern history and literature in the United States. Free and open to the public. 478-757-5228

Monday, September 27, 2010

BITTERSWEET by Nancy Dillingham

September is almost gone, and here is the perfect end of month poem from Nancy Dillingham's new book, HOME, just published by March Street Press. More about this book in a few days.


Outside my window
fog blossoms
for the fourth day in a row
each fog foretelling a snow
according to the old folks
who should know

September is a fragile month
suddenly gone golden
Old Summer
blossomed to fruition
bittersweet as the marigold

Grandma said it best
Just when everything gets to growing pretty
the frost comes

---Nancy Dillingham

Saturday, September 18, 2010


I came to know James Brasfield and his wife, fiction writer Charlotte Holmes, many years ago when she taught at Western Carolina University. Jim's collection of modern poetry must have been the most extensive of anyone's and surely the most capacious I had ever seen. I knew he was a poet himself, but it took a few years before I knew just how good he was. His reading at the WCU Literary Festival left me

in a state of profound silence. I knew I had to read more of his work. He obliged by sending me his first manuscript of poetry, later titled Ledger of Crossroads. LSU Press published the collection last year. I'm featuring several of the poems, in hopes you will want to order his book from LSU or from an indie bookstore. I believe you will share my state of attentive silence after reading these poems.

Here's a bit more about Jim.

An LSU Press paperback original

(from LSU Press catalog-www.lsu/lsupress)

In James Brasfield’s Ledger of Crossroads, layered by light and shadow, the crossroads emerge from distinct yet inseparable geographies. Grounded in the sensual world, the poems fuse American and Eastern European landscapes: “the char of silence and beauty, / brick foundations of what was here, dirt roads / cut through pines, rivers and the dust of the dead.” Here are experiences from the American South, of those who believed Jim Crow “the way things . . . had to be,” and from the fallen imperiums of those “who have always / returned to fewer trees and a wall,” whose intimate perceptions provide moments of reprieves: “beyond the faint scent / of almond in the air and heavy clouds / funneling from the earth into snowfall, / the current calmed within that distant / bend of the Vistula.” Here we become the identities of others, their time and place, from the strata of their histories. They enter our lives.

James Brasfield has twice been a Senior Fulbright Fellow to Ukraine and has received fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. He is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize, the American Association for Ukrainian Studies Prize in Translation, and the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. He is the cotranslator of The Selected Poems of Oleh Lysheha.


Every day came, the char of silence and beauty,

brick foundations of what was here, dirt roads

cut through pines, rivers and the dust of the dead,

bone silt and a song, bird cries, the freight train

through the county, crops and cows, chickens wandering

a patch of yard, wind through sun-silvered leaves,

the clay baked hard, undulating in August, farmers

in a field, weathered wooden sheds, isolated.

Every day came, a hound in the yard.

Call it circumstances, the way we thought things

had to be, rough and polished stones on a creek bank.

We had no choice but to believe, sincere and alone

and the black faces, their eyes lowered

in our homes on Broad Street. We did not sympathize.

It was almost normal. Call it circumstance,

the alarm and nature of sidelong glances,

the way we thought things had to be,

God's will, our history and we wanted it quiet.

It was always dark. You get used to anything, we said

with eyes lowered. It was almost perfect here,

mist and wildflowers, the charred cross

in a field. It was almost normal, a quiet stream

and a gravel road. Every day came.

It was dark and no one could see.


Through the colonnades of oak

arched over the cold road, I drive through rain

filtered through the moss cathedral—

the outbound sun, distant at the crossing,

night, a large cloud, fills the air.

I remember my last spring here,

the air warm with the coming of another season.

Nothing was in the field, then a tent appeared

and a cross nailed to a sign. There

I witnessed the Pentecostal fire.

Fifty chairs circled a low stage

and two poles held the canvas high.

Four bare bulbs lit that tabernacle.

With a tambourine, Lurleen, our go-between,

beat out a rhythm on her thigh.

"Pray for me, I pray for you," she chanted,

while the organist moved from chord

to chord, holding each a long time.

The small clamor of hands clapping

was meant to stir the air in hell.

But who heard the wind rising

through sycamores, shifting the paunches

of the flaps, or past the hymns, the field,

miles away the serene code

of successive beats upon the tracks. . . .

Yet what I remember most about Waynesboro,

governed still by its white grandees,

is an old woman, black, standing alone

on a hillside, watching from scrub grass,

waiting as the last passenger

run between Savannah and Atlanta

approached town, not to stop here,

never having stopped here, its whistle

like salvation blaring only nearer

before it was gone. Forever for me

she stands there, facing that train

as now on this road the dark, inbound

stillness trails the long freight of light.

She stands there, like the eternal

white sun over a tin-roofed shack.

Mechanical blades beat time, sweeping

rain from the glass. She is here—

borne up motionless above the crossties,

a place in mind, through the moonless night.



Nor it nor no remembrance what it was.

—Shakespeare, Sonnet 5

Such weight, Little Vienna,

snow falling across Europe, villages

lost to avalanche. People who return

say the streets are clean in Deutschland—

on the walks, a mere light dusting

from the newly fallen. Here

in the crosswinds, streets

and walks are buried in ice.

Wherever they are, Little Vienna,

shovels wait shivering.

Last night, who spread the path

of ashes on the walk? Some new tenant

not knowing what else to do

with a cigar box of ashes, handed down,

found far back in the wardrobe?—

the new tenant happy after a night

of polka and a waltz, losing his feet

with his new wife, arm

in arm, and saying later, "Well,

there's this from yesterday?” . . .

Oh last night with stars scattered

across the blackest night—

ice giving way from the balconies . . .

The winter potatoes I peeled were stones

softening, deeply bruised.

Today, I'm nearly out of bread. Granules

of white mold brighten the heel of the brown loaf.

How those wisps of clouds closed in on the stars—

that sky now, a pale cotton curtain

about to fall from its string.

Already the path's covered as under a field

of crushed apples. Bags of ash wouldn't make

a foothold here where winter, as long

as snow falls, lasts a lifetime,

and not to remember the star lodged

in the branches, a crow now to light a limb,

and as it happens suddenly, those flocks

take flight. The gaps between them

are like those places where we hope to see

any star beneath moving clouds.

Does the old man hear those wings?—

in each hand a long poplar branch,

the knife-chipped tips probing

the furrowed millimeters of rippled ice—

or does the man leaning against the building

at the corner of Tolstoy Street?

He sings lightly to himself, staring

beyond the tin roofs, heavy with snow,

over the heraldic crests on the faded plaster

of your cracked facades, Little Vienna—

or bundled in black, returning to the village,

does the old woman under a scarf, sliding her feet

like a wind-up doll about to stop?

She leans into the knot end of a rope—

two bags of potatoes on a little wooden sled.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

WAKE: poems after 9/11

(UA Flight 175 crashing into the Twin Towers)

Here are a few poems from my chapbook Wake, published by Spring Street Editions in 2002. It's available online, signed by the author, from City Lights books at www.citylightsnc.com.


I knew no one who perished.

For that I am grateful.

My nephew had moved from the city a year ago.

My friends lived or worked blocks away from Ground Zero.

One watched from her office the small bodies leaping.

Another stepped onto the street as the second plane circled.

Out of the subway another climbed into a sky of glass falling.

The scrolls of their e-mails continued for days.

Again and again I try not to imagine myself onto either plane,

the continent stretching before me,

out there on the edge of it, sun just beginning to rise.

Seat belts off.

Scent of fresh coffee, the rattle of carts...

Here nothing flies into my windows but birds.

They have lain in my daughter’s palms,

pressed to her chest for the warmth of her beating heart,

until their broken-necked bodies grew cold,

and she looked up at me, as if asking, What now?

And I answered, Now go wash your hands.

Ruth and Juliana McCourt were passengers on Flight 175.


for Susan Lefler

and the memory of Ruth and Juliana McCourt


Your image of angels attending the ruins

fails to move me.

I try to imagine their presence,

but over and over the plane burrows

into the tower of steel and glass,

bodies of flesh and blood,

the newsreel eternally rolling,

the morning indelibly sunny and crisp.


So much God talk these days

I am almost afraid to ask, Where

was He? Too busy pouring the wine

for a new round of martyrs? Inspecting the sheen

on his solid gold cobblestones? Meanwhile

the plane gleamed in His holy firmament,

held, like the sparrows of old, in the palm of His hand,

in its cockpit, the young men who prayed

to be gathered up into the silk tents of Paradise.


What more to say?

That tonight I am wary of angels

unfurling their wings like the flags I see brandished

from buildings and vehicles,

pasted like band-aids on freshly washed chrome.

That I ask of a poem only this:

Give me dust unto dust.

Let the pulse of it be nothing less than

their requiem, even as they enter into

the sky shining off those sheer towers.


Held tight

in her mother’s arms,

she hears it,

blood beat

she once slept beneath

before ever

her mother had

whispered her name.



the jig

of it still

on my tongue.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


John York's splendid new book, Naming the Constellations: New Poems, has just been published by Spring Street Editions, in collaboration with Ash Creek Press in Portland, Oregon. York's daughter Rachel painted the cover image for the chapbook, and Fred Chappell, Mark Smith-Soto, and Al Maginnes provided testimonials.

A native North Carolinian, John has served his home state well as both public school teacher and poet. He has received the Teacher of the Year award from the NC English Teachers Association as well as the Poet Laureate Award from the NC Poetry Society. He has published his work in two previous chapbooks, as well as in numerous journals. I've featured him several times in blog posts both on Here, Where I Am and My Laureate's Lasso.

These poems by John Thomas York recall to vivid life a mode of existence that has well nigh disappeared. His pliant lyricism is born from a deep love of country things, country people, and the country itself in the widest meaning of that term. It is a country the poet says he did not return to, "for the land lives in me, the kingdom come." That's true--and what a grand kingdom it is!

--------Fred Chappell

York was born in Winston-Salem in 1953 and grew up on a dairy farm in Yadkin County. He was educated at Appalachian State, Wake Forest, Duke, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he earned an MFA in Creative Writing. He has also been a Mellon Fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as a recipient of fellowships from the Council for Basic Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities. For over thirty years he has taught English in the public schools. In 2003 he was named Teacher of the Year by NCETA. John York and his wife, Jane McKinney York, teach at Penn-Griffin School for the Arts, in High Point, a magnet school in the Guilford County system.

His work has appeared in many regional journals, including Greensboro Review: He won that magazine's Literary Award for Poetry in 1985. He has previously published two chapbooks, Picking Out (Nebo Poetry Press, 1982) and Johnny's Cosmology (The Hummingbird Press of Winston-Salem, 1994).

Naming the Constellations is the third book published by Spring Street Editions, of Sylva, NC, in association with Ash Creek Press, of Portland, Oregon. Spring Street has also published chapbooks by Kathryn Stripling Byer and Mary Adams.

(John York, NC Teacher of the Year, at the NC English Teachers Banquet in Winston-Salem)

To order the chapbook, please contact City Lights Bookstore of Sylva:


Or you may order directly from the author:

John T. York, 804 Westover Terrace, Greensboro, NC 27408

We at Spring Street Editions do not use amazon.com, preferring to work instead with Indie bookstores at indiebound.com.

Price is $12, plus $2.00 postage.

Visit us on facebook.

Here are three poems from John's new book.


One morning, I walked down

the ditch between young corn and shining gravel,

cool white sand

lovely to my uncalloused feet.

I shuffled toward the giant trees hanging

over the road,

walked right into a shower of music,

as strange as the melodies picked up by radio

telescopes--music from the stars.

I couldn’t see any aliens,

but I knew their hymn—how wide the sky

was my rough translation,

or maybe the visitors

were merely chirping, laughing at a dirty

blond boy: a wingless creature,

how slowly and quietly he moves.

I could tell they were the true rulers of the universe,

making radiant the worm,

the grasshopper, the morning glory--

the singers’ babel a blessing,

telling everything to grow.


My father quit the farm

one piece at a time:

Kate, the old mule, gone one day,

no word of her destination,

then the cows, thirty-five Holsteins,

sold to a man who didn’t know their names,

the tractors, the tall John Deere,

the Ford, John’s little buddy,

the wagon rolling on slick tires,

a yellow cultivator splotched by rust,

the antique seed drill,

iron-spoked wheels higher than my head,

a disk harrow, a bull-tongued plow,

the tobacco sleds waiting for summer,

the mowing machine whose teeth

chattered through the alfalfa on the hottest days

and the raking machine that churned

hay into orderly rows,

the manure spreader, orange wagon

splattered black, blades clotted thick,

the two-seated tobacco planter,

its twin trays, belts, and hoses,

the sprinklers, the muddy pump like half

a tractor, the irrigation pipes.

I would come home from school

and the landscape would be changed

in a subtle way

I refused to understand,

the pastures, too quiet, the growing

vacancy in the machinery shed.

One cold Saturday,

my father out for a long haul,

my sister helping my mother pack,

I wandered about the farm,

down to the bridge, along the creek,

the pasture fence, the red boundary flags,

up to the highest hill, where I could look

over the farm and see Mt. Nebo in the distance.

I was looking for a missing piece,

the edges invisible but sharp:

the wind passed through me, as if

I were a wood stove, left there by the road,

the door left open, the wind

lowing over a rusty pipe.

Teaching Time

Jack must’ve climbed a corn stalk--for by the time I heard rumor

of school starting, the rows marched up the hill and the leaders

hid their tassel tops in a cloud’s belly. I would’ve laughed

at gravity and followed Jack, but then Claude Jester came

running from the tobacco barn, just as the wind blew

a wrinkled piece of tin over his head: the thunder

boomed and that was the end of summer: Mom

said, “Soon we’ll need to buy you some green

jeans and new shirts, Johnny,” and I worried

that my friends would have forgotten my

name, it had been so long since May.

That rainy afternoon, Mama let me

play with a clock she used for

teaching time. I spun the

blue minute hand around

the red hours, I dreamed

through the years, until

I had a wife and three

daughters. When the

girls were little, we

liked to go to the

science museum,

and there we

dropped pennies

into a slot that

sent the coins

circling in a big

yellow funnel,

we watched

them gain


the years

speeding up,

each penny

finishing in

a blur, a

rising whir,

and then