MY NEW AUTHOR'S SITE, KATHRYNSTRIPLINGBYER.COM, THAT I MYSELF SET UP THROUGH WEEBLY.COM, IS NOW UP. I HAD FUN CREATING THIS SITE AND WOULD RECOMMEND WEEBLY.COM TO ANYONE INTERESTED IN SETTING UP A WEBSITE. I INVITE YOU TO VISIT MY NEW SITE TO KEEP UP WITH EVENTS RELATED TO MY NEW BOOK.
MY NC POET LAUREATE BLOG, MY LAUREATE'S LASSO, WILL REMAIN UP AS AN ARCHIVE OF NC POETS, GRADES K-INFINITY! I INVITE YOU TO VISIT WHEN YOU FEEL THE NEED TO READ SOME GOOD POEMS.
Friday, December 31, 2010
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
TO ALL MY BLOG READERS WHO VALUE SOUTHERN LITERATURE, ESPECIALLY POETRY, PLEASE CONSIDER NOMINATING BOOKS PUBLISHED IN 2010 THAT YOU LOVE. HERE'S THE LINK: http://www.sibaweb.com/siba-book-award/nomination-form. Readers may nominate books if they list a SIBA member as their bookstore. SIBA IS THE SOUTHERN INDEPENDENT BOOKSELLERS ALLIANCE. THEY ARE AN IMPORTANT RESOURCE IN A CULTURE THAT IS RAPIDLY MOVING TOWARD CHAIN BOOKSELLERS AND THE INTERNET. PLEASE HELP SUPPORT OUR INDIE BOOKSTORES.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
The is the poem of mine included in the calendar. It first appeared in CLOTHESLINES, edited by Celia Miles and Nancy Dillingham.
She’d dribble the fringe of her shawl
in the river. The quick current rippled the black threads.
They floated as she wished she could.
They wanted to be swept away but she held fast
to what had been woven. Her mother’s shawl.
Now her own. How much longer
to be handed down, this black keepsake?
She d lift out the fringe,
rub it over her face, feel the cold
water run down her cheeks,
down her neck,
into white folds of flesh underneath the dress
worn before her by her kinswomen.
What might she catch in this web
if she let it drift far enough
out of the shallows,
into the dark center
where she could not see the bottom?
How far would she have to wade
until she stepped into
some other world, under the sun-dappled
surface? The river itself was a shawl,
always wrapping itself round the hills,
threaded with golden light,
trailing its castaway leaves.
It could weave her into its weft,
carry her farther than she could imagine--
the sea she could feel surging
inside when she let herself
want what she knew she could not
have, a life she could open
as wide as a closet door onto
garments no woman had worn
before her. Nobody’s life but her own.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
from the hearth.
strewn like rainbows
on the the rug.
drip of snow melt
from the eaves
the tree an emptiness
our lives are full
with gifts just opened,
gathered now into our keeping
for another year
of longing toward the peace
every day's misunderstandings.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
An oldish poem that I remembered today while watching our dogs cavort in the snow.
Inside Christmas Day
by Kathryn Stripling Byer
If Dog is Love,
as the bumper stickers say,
then Love is playing in the snow today,
her long nose white
as whipping cream I'll beat
into sweet snow drifts for pumpkin pie
that's cooling on the countertop.
I watch my Dog's shenanigans,
from my place among the pots and pans.
The turkey's sizzling,
green beans simmering,
cinnamon and clove scent
rising from the potpourri
while all around us,
Dog and me,
this Christmas day
(NC Arts Council website)
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Please order from Old Seventy Creek Press at http://oldseventycreekpress.books.officelive.com/Julia.aspx. This small press is located in Albany, Kentucky.
I polish the utensils
one at a time—
knives, forks, and spoons
from my mother’s kitchen drawer.
Forgotten fork, long-pronged
I didn’t want it put
beside my supper plate.
What difference does it make?
my mother asked through the years,
but I still refused to lift it to my mouth,
sure that it would taint
the taste of the food.
Floral-patterned stainless steel implements,
bought through the decades
at the Roses Five and Dime;
and tarnished silver plate pieces
that were saved from my grandmother’s set
or unearthed when the garden was plowed—
all have waited to be caressed by me.
I finger the years
with a cotton cloth:
clean, rinse, and polish,
till I conjure my inverted image
in the spoons’ embrace.
In my mother’s kitchen
I sit near the wood stove,
shying away from other cold rooms.
Here she bakes biscuits
and boils pinto beans
and dries her hair
at the opened oven door.
In my early childhood
before the luxury
of a finished bathroom,
I took my baths at the wood stove:
buckets full of cold water,
kettles full of hot
that steamed as she poured them
into a galvanized tub,
the water cooling too soon
in the shadows of a winter evening.
It seems I am always drawn back
to this embrace of heat;
and as the pine wood hisses
and embers glow,
frost lacing the windows early tonight,
I sit at the wood stove,
close my eyes,
In some woman’s Ford—
I can’t remember exactly whose—
I slouched in the hot back seat
and nibbled warm Swiss cheese from a grocery bag—
too hungry to wait for dinner.
My mother and the driver sat up front talking
while the radio blared Volare.
forty-five years later—
when I hear that song,
I taste the waxy blandness of Swiss cheese
and feel the heat of a summer day.
I am a child again,
set apart in a stifling back seat,
impatient to get home,
bored with the unintelligible
talk of women.
The Appaloosa gelding at the roadside stable,
where a tourist could get a trail ride for two dollars,
was too weary to care where the trail guide led us
and too bored to buck when I nudged with my heels
its bony sides.
I thought to canter would be impressive
to the acne-scarred boy who led us into the woods
on his buckskin mare.
But he never noticed my posting,
or the new black boots I wore,
or the riding crop I’d gotten at Sears—
my English style so wrong for my Western mount.
The guide wanted only to get us back
to the dusty gravel parking lot,
where my father and mother waited,
impatient to drive on to Cherokee.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
118 pages, $14
Stephen E. Smith was born in Easton, Maryland, in 1946. After graduating from Elon College, he attended the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he received his MFA in 1971. His poems, stories, columns, and reviews have appeared in many periodicals and anthologies. He is the author of seven previous books of poetry and prose and is the recipient the Poetry Northwest Young Poet's Prize, the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Prize for poetry, and four North Carolina Press awards. He lives in Southern Pines, North Carolina and contributes columns, reviews, and features toThe Pilot and PineStraw magazine.
Whatever There Was To Say
A sky the pallor of hands folded in a casket
You are driving south on Church Street this November
afternoon, and as you approach a railway crossing,
you notice a family, or what you believe
to be a family, walking the road—a man, a woman,
a boy, and a small girl, who is maybe eight.
The girl wears a blue print dress and is barefoot
in this late chill. And because the sky is the gray
of your grandmother’s hands, you recall how that
old woman embraced you years ago as you sat in the
Avalon Theatre watching the movie news, the face
of a shivering child, a girl about the age of this
small girl, waiting beside a death camp railway.
Your grandmother put her arms around you there in
the darkness and you were embarrassed, felt awkward:
an old woman clinging to you, a child of eight,
in a crowded theatre. But your grandmother is a long
time dead and you have come to understand that shoeless
children are, these days, simply shoeless children:
you’ve seen so many and so much worse.
Yet there is something about this family,
this child, her straight yellow hair cut
at such a ragged angle, the thin face, eyes set
deep in shadow. And her brother in a green cap,
her father, tight-waisted in blue trousers,
the mother in a heavy, white-flecked overcoat.
They carry plastic bags filled with aluminum cans
gathered from the roadsides and ditches. And haven’t
you seen these very faces in photographs of Jews,
Gypsies, Poles, eyes blank with resignation, fatigue,
awaiting the gas chamber, clutching their belongings—
as if those few scraps of cloth could be of some value
where they were going? You wonder about this family,
wonder if the future of this small girl is as clear
as the past in photographs. Wonder how these church
steeples dare to rise straight into the smoky skies
of this most terrible of centuries. How neatly they
weave themselves among the bare branches of oak and
sycamore! And haven’t you finally come to understand
that whatever there was to say cannot be said?
Which is probably what your grandmother was telling
you in the darkness of that long ago matinee
when she held you hard against her as you watched
that child shivering beside the death camp railway.
Remember how you tried to pull away and how she held
on tight, as if that simple, desperate gesture
might make any difference in such a world?
The Poet’s Photograph
When I see a poet’s photograph with the name
of the photographer printed below in tiny letters,
why do I believe that the poet and the photographer
were once lovers? It is a ridiculous assumption.
Maybe the poet paid to have his photograph taken,
though I know this is seldom the case, or perhaps
the photographer was a faithful admirer of poets
and poetry, pleased to have been included in some
discreet yet significant way. And why when the poet’s
wife snapped the shutter, do I believe they haven’t
been lovers in decades, a more likely assumption?
And what of the photograph of the poet reading,
lean body bent over the lectern, his left hand
grasping air, his face drawn with intensity,
how is it I know he went home with the photographer,
an attractive widow whose dead husband was
a kindly but obscure botanist who toppled one
spring morning into a variety of pinkish day lily
which bore his name, that after the cocktail party
she invited the poet to see her collection of rare
paraphernalia and that they tossed back a couple
of bourbons and tumbled straight away into the sack
where the poet recited Donne’s “Love’s Progresse”
and kissed gently her plump toes?
I’m sure it was raining that October night,
a warm panging on the tin roof, the lingering
scent of cinnamon air freshener, a blue neon light
flashing from the bar across the street, and that
in the morning they were both embarrassed, the poet
taking his leave somewhat awkwardly, and that he
never thought of the widow again until he opened a
letter forwarded to him in Greece where he was
languishing sans inspiration: Came across this
photograph—can it be so many years?—and thought
you might like it. I am married now to a botanist,
a kindly man who cannot make love because of recurrent
atrial fibrillation. Will you be reading in this area soon?
And the poet studied the photograph of someone
who seemed a stranger and thought: the perfect
likeness for my next book.
An article in this morning’s Observer,
like other articles I’ve chance to read
on the life of Jane Mansfield,
notes that she was decapitated
when the car in which she was riding
crashed into a truck north of New Orleans.
This is what everyone who recalls
the buxom blonde remembers immediately—
like the neighbor who can tell you
that Walt Whitman was a homosexual
or that Catherine the Great
was a nymphomaniac who practiced bestiality.
The publicity photograph which
accompanies this article is not true to fact
or life: Mansfield is a brunette, smiling
a thick-lipped Monroe smile and thrusting
her breasts into the camera lens.
What would she have us believe—lover,
innocent, earthmother? In a faded tintype,
Whitman has gathered children about him.
He is affectionate, tender, ingenuous,
passionate, but certainly unaware of the
prurient obsessions which will one day
distort his finest lines. And who is
to say for sure that Catherine the Great
had a thousand lovers and left a poor
aroused pony dangling from the palace ceiling?
I wonder about the bewildered
man who came across a headless Jane Mansfield
on a highway north of New Orleans.
Did he recall the yellowing issue of Playboy
that lay creased beneath his mattress?
Could he see, if only for an instant, her nude
body arching, nipples erect, lips pursed?
Did he wonder: Is this twitching flesh
the very same? Did he ever find
the simple words to speak a simple truth?
To my father
That summer you hired out to clean swimming pools
up and down Delmarva in your Willys truck,
the back end clanking with pumps and pipes,
cans of HTH, diatomaceous earth and alum,
and hauled me along to skim from the chlorined
waters hopeless, deluded toads and the clotted
bodies of insects.
I was ten that summer but can remember
how the surface of each pool was a surprise,
the water still clear or gone cloudy,
the blue bottoms flecked with algae
and the shimmering coins I retrieved for baloney
sandwiches and sodas at the Royal Oak Grocery.
You’d place a hand on my shoulder and say,
“Dive deep and get us that lunch money.”
Do you recall the August afternoon at the Talbot
County Country Club, the thirty-six filter bags
we pulled and laundered, the steel rings so tight
our fingers bled? It was a five-hour job
and when the bags and screens were back in place,
you dropped a pipe wrench clanging to the bottom.
It was five more hours in the high beams
and neither of us spoke till the filter
lid was clamped and screwed down tight.
Then we leaned against the truck and shared
a warm soda. Sheet lightning streaked
over the Chesapeake, and I began to notice
how after each flash, I went momentarily blind.
“It’s strange,” you said, finally, and without
my having spoken a word, “how quickly the pupil
closes to the light and how complete the darkness is.
It must be like dying.”
Tonight I watch a storm gather over Carolina,
the lightning so intense the billowing undersides
of clouds are illumined from horizon to horizon,
each flash stealing me into shadow. Perhaps,
as you said, it is like death, this sudden light
and inevitable darkness. Or perhaps it is the
purest grace. It says what fathers and sons
mostly cannot say: It is the quick chill of a hand
on my shoulder, it’s like plunging deep
into the pure, blue waters of the rich.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Eliza may be ordered from Main Street Rag Press.
The New Orleans Years
ISBN: 978-1-59948-259-0, ~80 pages, $14
About the Author
Dede Wilson is the author of three books of poems: Glass, Sea of Small Fears, and One Nightstand, a collection of light verse in forms followed by a primer to poetic form. Four poems from Eliza: The New Orleans Years were published in Nimrod as finalists for the Pablo Neruda Prize, and the poem "Yellow Fever," published as "Hydra," was nominated for a Pushcart. Her poems have appeared in Carolina Quarterly, Spoon River Poetry Review, Poet Lore, New Orleans Poetry Review, Poem, Cream City Review, Tar River Poetry, Iodine Poetry Journal, Flyway, Southern Poetry Review, Cave Wall, South Carolina Poetry Review, Asheville Poetry Review, The Lyric, Light, and many other journals. She has published short stories, essays, and a family memoir, Fourth Child, Second Daughter. Dede is a former travel editor of the Dallas Times Herald. A native of Louisiana, she has lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, since 1967. She and her husband have two grown sons.
Caleb Alexander Parker, who had journeyed south from Sterling, Massachusetts, lived in New Orleans.
As the story begins, Eliza -- who has married an English sea captain -- is on board a packet ship nearing the port of New Orleans. It is late summer, 1837.
The smells are thicker than any in England:
coffee, sausages, sugared pecans. Flesh
too ripe, too perfumed. My own captain
unwashed. And me in sun-stained threads!
On the levee, a leper is begging.
Someone flips him a picayune. Enough,
I pray, for a dip of soup. I stumble
on rocks and cobbles, pitch through the streets.
Beg for my sisters. I saw Louise, I did,
peering back at me from a carriage.
That small bleached face. I cried to her, I ran…
my captain grabbed my sleeve. The sky is ringing
with heat and mosquitoes. I'm weak-kneed…trying
to breathe…Ah! Scents of camphor and sassafras…
that sweet reek of whisky reeling from doors.
The Vieux Carre. I sway against a wall.
He leads me by the wrist to a filthy street,
through a door, down an oily hall.
In the French Market
I walk as fast as I can, threading the stalls.
Acorn squash, late potatoes weigh my basket,
anything to roast on the grate. Yams. Cushaw.
He's here. I finger a sprig of sassafras.
That man…called Caleb. I am unreeling
beneath the surface, so deep I cannot breathe.
I grip my shawl. I'll leave. Yes. A girl glides by
with macaroons and nougat, oranges, candied
pecans. He sidles beside, drops a silver
into the marchande's hand, bows to me with figues
celestes, sweet figs from heaven. Anyone can
see. I do not turn. I stand. I eat. I feast.
ISBN: 978-1-932842-40-1 (paperback edition)
Publisher: Star Cloud Press
Year of Publication: 2010
Format: Cloth Edition or Paperback
Page Count: 126 (paperback)
"Joseph Bathanti is a strong, eloquent voice in American poetry. His poems emanate from deep within himself and his culture, a world of rich ethnic ties and associations. I love the luminous details that he uncovers, again and again, like holy mysteries. His poems, which often deal — overtly and covertly — with religious themes, are restorative. These are, indeed, poems of restoration. Bathanti returns often to the well of memory, and he draws a fresh, sweet water from those depths."
—Jay Parini, The Art of Subtraction: New and Selected Poems and Benjamin's Crossing
"I am enraptured by the poems in Restoring Sacred Art, Joseph Bathanti's volume of love/hate poems about growing up and contending with the physicality of Pittsburgh, that unforgettable city. The language is rich, metropolitan, and accomplished, resounding with the poet's deep memories of friendship, family, neighborhood, school agonies, old cars, Catholicism, games, fights, binges, discoveries, hard jobs, affections, memories of a place and time. The stories and lines are artfully constructed, building to the moving conclusion of the book, when the poet returns annually to visit his people and remember the city. He never stops saying goodbye."
—Paul Zimmer, Crossing to Sunlight Revisited: New and Selected Poems and Trains In the Distance
We ease the statue out of the Chrysler trunk.
Stiff as a mob hit, she smiles,
her tattered robe della robia,
the nimbus studded with a star tiara.
In her arms, the smirking Christ-
child is lean and grim, in one hand
a ball with a cross planted in it,
the other held up like a boy scout's pledge.
I grab his mother in a headlock.
Philip takes the feet;
and we shuffle down Liberty Avenue:
Saturday night, the bars' glass-brick
windows lit with neon Iron City Light beer signs,
one Italian joint after another,
the spars of Saint Joseph's Cathedral shooting off
into the sky like wild onions.
We set her down for a minute at the foot
of Phil's studio and light cigarettes.
Four flights, fifteen steps each, straight up.
She stands there on the sidewalk,
holding the baby, gazing at Saint Joe's,
The Catholic Store, Mineo's Pizza,
the halogens twirling off across
the Bloomfield Bridge toward the Bishop's house.
The kid doesn't like it: the thrum
and noise, the lights. He's lived
all his life in a church.
We hoist them again and begin the climb,
pausing at each landing to rest, and crack at Mary:
You've got to lose some weight.
Too many cannolis.
When are you going to start exercising?
We offer her a smoke.
At the top, we wrestle her inside.
Phil turns on the light.
The baby has lost those two fingers;
only the thumb remains,
jutting out of the fist like a hitchhiker's.
He wants down. In the full light,
Mary is wan, tired, the smile thinning.
She has trouble holding her son.
Her eyes are wet; her lips quiver.
This is not unusual, my friend tells me,
gesturing about his workroom
where other virgin mothers,
nicked and beat-up, missing limbs and noses,
hold tightly to their squirming children,
trying to hush them, their tears
like gravel hitting the linoleum.
Singled from the queue filing
through airport security,
my 90 year old father is fully cooperative,
even amiable; not even surprised, it seems,
that fate has tapped him on the shoulder
to answer for something he is innocent of.
Two uniformed buxom matrons,
coiled hair and black patent leather
Sam Browns, heart-shaped
silver badges, ask him
if he’s accepted anything from strangers
since he’s entered the terminal.
He assures them he never accepts things from strangers.
They study him as if his affability
is part of the ploy, a filament
wired to the bomb he’ll trigger.
They prod over him an electric wand,
slip him out of his overcoat, shake his cane.
He smiles and calls them young lady.
He’s ordered to remove his shoes,
a pair of white Addidas,
not a scuff upon them; and his hat,
an old brown fedora they flip over
and over and empty of its nothingness,
before patting him down like a convict,
armpits and crotch, sliding
their hands up and down his arms and legs,
each skeletal ridge and knob
as if by magic he might divide
and reveal the vault of Armageddon.
Suddenly my father is terrible as Isaiah.
Yet he remains smiling, even as they strip him,
tottering naked on bare yellow feet,
white hair smoking off his chest,
millwright’s legs tungsten blue,
from him emanating an audible tick.
Then they peel him out of his skin,
jackknife him open:
sprung, mis-spliced wires,
capped sockets, taped frays –
the mysterious circuitry of detonation.
Still they don’t find what they’re searching for,
and he can’t remember
where he’s hidden it.
Driving a girl whose father loathed me,
son of an Italian who labored on the open hearth,
I crossed in a borrowed green Comet
the PA line into Wheeling.
Eighteen was legal in West Virginia:
Marlboros and three-two beer at the Hilltop
on a street with whorehouses and a Jesuit college.
She was sixteen, a minor –
the true miners secreted in black sulphurous pockets
whispering beneath the tavern floor we sat upon.
The jukebox was loud and country;
it was easy to ignore the charge being laced under us.
My girl was drunk and singing along – Loretta Lynn,
Tammy Wynette – though she didn’t know the words,
the way folks mouth like speaking in tongues
when the spirit lays hold of them.
A smudge on her cheek,
second-hand coat, her blonde hair shone white –
in that light,
aged into a coal miner’s wife
or a steel worker’s
like my mother.
When the 4 to12 shift from Wheeling Pittsburgh
dragged in, I smelled asbestos
and baked ore, the vaporous green sizzle
of my father’s work fatigues.
I wanted to tell her all about her father;
I’d rip him to pieces, that bastard.
My dad was a brave man,
He climbed boom cranes with nothing but a span of leather
fastening him above the smokestacks
streaming twelve stories of fire into the firmament.
But I had no vocabulary to render his mythic toil.
I knew more about her dad:
his suits and office in downtown Pittsburgh,
his perfect diction and college education.
We hung around till Last Call,
then kissed against the fender until the lot emptied
and the Hilltop’s neon shingle sputtered out.
The Comet wouldn’t start.
I turned it over and over until I killed the battery,
till I couldn’t get a peep out of the horn
or the lights to flicker.
The mighty Ohio beat by.
Whelped in Pittsburgh,
it loops north, in defiance of gravity,
abruptly slices west, southering
into the fang of northern West Virginia
that impales the border
of Ohio and Pennsylvania –
like the long jagged neck of a busted bottle.
That’s where we stood clinging to each other,
stranded along the omniscient river –
where I still like to think of us –
before those miners, like escaped Purgatorians,
burst black and smoldering
through the bottom of our lives,
and she started to cry,
anticipating her father’s patrician wrath.
I thought of who I could call –
knowing there was only one man on earth
who would rise out of his exhausted sleep
at the sound of my voice,
like Lazarus, and come running.