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, May 25, 2011

Brown Heart Beating

Several years ago I had a dream in which our garden was alive, a huge heart beating, the presence underneath it brown and, yes, masculine. I know the earth is supposed to be Mother, but this presence was more like Father. Whatever it was, it was ready to come forth and begin another season. Our small garden is a living presence, and this spring it has gone wild with greens.

Cabbages look like big birds about to fly off!

If I were getting married right now, I'd have a lettuce bouquet!

Bulls blood beets are coming along.

The Green Man oversees it all. Was he the presence I dreamed about, his heart beating underneath the soil, ready for spring?

Whoever he was, I lift a glass of Shiraz to him and to the garden. Salud!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Listening to Home: The Poetry of Lisa Parker

I met Lisa Parker several years back, when I came to Hindman Settlement School to direct the poetry workshop during the summer writing conference. I was the one being directed, though, as I soon realized. Young poets like Lisa, and not so young ones like Steve Holt and Jane Hicks, were doing most of the directing, bringing me their poems day after day in the workshop and convincing me that in the coal country of Kentucky there was a powerful lot of good writing going on. Top on that list was a young poet named Lisa Parker!

Since then, Lisa has won her share of literary awards, been published in national journals, worked in New York and Washington, DC. No matter where she goes, however, she carries her mountain landscape and its voices with her. Not to mention her mountain language. A people's language does seem to rise up from the leafmold, the rocks, and the moss, as Seamus Heaney claimed. The poems I've chosen illuminate that truth.

Lisa's first book, This Gone Place, published last year by Motes Books, received the Weatherford award in poetry.

Backslid North


I am filled with words like drowned bodies.
Just beneath the water’s surface, they bloat
indignantly. I see their watchful eyes -
pine and mud-colored like mine.
I hear the soft gurgle I’ve reduced them to.


Granddaddy told me once,
Don’t get above your raising.
I call him often to practice my self,
to remember that I am all about
holler and giggin, heared tell of and sigodlin.

I am taking steps.
I talk of craving pork rinds.
I drawl hard.
I write this poem out of spite.


I am full of poems that lie
the language right out of me.
I’ve whitewashed my South Appalachian
to an understandable hue, put those regional words
in jars with lace lids and waited, breath held,
for the scholarly nods. That approval
is almost enough to tolerate knowing
that between what I am and what I write,
something is rotting.

Penitence Enough

If I thought it was penitence enough
for turning my back,
for this fraudulence I wear
like a pond film over my skin,
I’d return home,
and lay deep
in that Old Dominion soil.
I’d pull the hollyhocks close,
sprout pennyroyal - pungent mint
and purple bloom - from my teeth,
my eyes full of nothing
but the backs of Blue Ridge steeps,
ears tipped with corn tassels
and calamus root and nothing
but the roll of the Shenandoah,
the ring of a banjo carried down
on mountain wind.
I would stand still and long
as August heat
till the kudzu took me over,
wound itself through me,
anchored me to that land
I can still see under my nails
after months of scrubbing.
I’d press my face to the cool damp
of the cannery walls,
my knees against the porch boards.
I’d open veins and spill
against the sycamore roots,
give myself over,
give myself back,
and lay me down
in that red Virginia clay -
if I thought it would have me.

Body And Earth

for Clyde Whitt

When I was small, I slept
in Granddaddy's arms, my head
against his chest, dozing
to the rhythmic wheezing
my mama called Black Lung.

He muscled his pickaxe and shovel
into the black guts of the mountains
for twenty-five years, stooped ten inches
beneath the safety timbers
that held the earth.

We sit on the porchswing,
whittling twigs into smaller twigs
while Grandma hums "Over In The Gloryland,"
dips old cornshucks into a mason jar of water,
soaking out the dry age, their brittle edges softening.
She bends them, pliant and fresh again with water,
twisting them into bright, yellow dolls.

I look at Granddaddy’s fingers, knuckled deep and bent
around his knife, lean against the sagging point of his shoulder
and listen to the steady huff and whistle of his breath – a sound
like mud daubers buzzing,
encased in their tunnels of dried earth.

Fear And A Country Breakfast

Chicken feed
swirls crazy in autumn wind,
buckshot of cornseed and gravel
in my eyes.
Grandma’s feet,
heavy in plastic-soled slippers,
crunch on feed and pebbles.
Her pastel flowered robe
brushes the ground,
swings into a squall of feathers.
My fingers,
nails full of hickory bark
from my desperate tree-clutch,
shove against my eardrums,
against the final snap -
like a maple twig in deep winter.
Grandma yawns her way
to the shed,
white feathers dangling from her hand -
twitching, still clucking insanely,
one finger around the axe handle, two,
one more yawn on the downswing.
After the dull thump of the axe,
the scratching claws
run over feed and gravel,
and where I run,
the spastic death legs
point, propel the blood-
soaked body in a staggering
chase, so close
to dancing, these
intricate circles
toward each other,
and always
Grandma kicks the head
to the cats
before I can see
if the eyes follow me.

First Southern Love, Done Right

First Southern love, when it’s with the raised-right,
still boy enough not to wanna wait,
man enough to do it right,
that’s the kind not suited to backseats.
No vinyl for this sweet zinnia,
no Lynrd Skynrd on the stereo or radio commercials
for A&P and Booth Feed; not when she can have
the sway and sway of a wheatfield
or the quiet of a hayloft. Mountains and valleys
can sneak her into coves of wild fieldgrass,
or overhangs of tulip poplars and sycamores
that blow across her skin and cool the sweat
where it stands.

It’s not about, I’ll call you some time.
It’s about the rounded rock he’ll pull,
smooth and cold from the riverbed, and wrap
in cattail fluff to hold against her
until the bleeding stops.
When it’s right, he won’t sit too close in church
or blush in front of her daddy.
They’ll wait, on slow simmer, until they can put
a valley or two between themselves and everyone,
find sun against their skin,
an audience of bluejays and cardinals,
and a river to swim in when being naked
is the only way to be.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


After working for hours, even days, on an intractable poem, trying to find the words to bring it to an ending that reaches beyond the predictable, I'm glad to walk outside and look down at whatever the season offers.

Mayapple, maybe.

Or a carpet of violets.

Wild geranium at the edge of the garden.

And then I look up at another carpet. A garden of cloud petals. No words needed.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


(Richard Krawiec, poet, novelist, editor/publisher of Jacar Press, and literary activist)

Richard Krawiec writes poems that are an edgy and satisfying marriage of tenderness and well-honed attentiveness to the connections, often fraying, among people and the various places in which they find themselves, both physically and emotionally. How the poems' innermost pulses play out along their surfaces intrigues me, never more so than in Krawiec's new collection, She Hands Me the Razor, whose publication by Press 53 is forthcoming.

If that title takes you somewhat aback, you are not alone. What it calls up is an ambiguous collaboration, but between whom and why? Here is the title poem.

She Hands Me the Razor

when I ask

she hands me the razor

trust or faith I don’t know

where to begin to stroke

upward downward

I press the three whip-thin

blades against her skin

how much pressure

does she need do I want

it is always a matter of finding

another’s boundaries

one’s own limits

I pull slowly

across the arched muscle of her calf

the stretched tightness of her thigh

a few wisps of black hair escape

I press harder feel that catch

which halts my breath in mid exhaust

no rose blooms so I return

to the world of breathing

slower now I scrape off the lather

with mincing strokes reveal

each dimple freckle curve

consider the flesh

like Michelangelo

where to daub stroke edge

how to reveal the many

smooth faces of God

The religious imagery brings the attentive reader up short, that arched muscle of calf signaling more than flesh, all the while staying faithful to flesh and its challenges and mysteries. From the image of "no rose blooms," a rose window of connotations blooms, so that when in the next 5 lines we are asked to consider, along with the poet, Michelangelo's brush stroke as it reveals the face of God, we have been prepared for revelation. So quietly, so subtly that we are not quite sure at the moment where we are. On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Or in the bathroom of man and woman engaged in this intimate act of shaving flesh, knowing the flesh in its dimple, freckle, curve? We inhabit both, of course. That is where the poem leaves us, in the midst of the most searing and mysterious revelation.

Fred Chappell captures the achievement of these poems in his dustjacket testimonial:

The things they discover, observe, and reveal might cause anyone to flinch. But this poet does not avert his gaze; he sees and endures and at last achieves a dearly bought and perhaps unexpected grace. I admire this collection enormously because I never doubted, always thinking, "Yes, this is how it must have been." Powerful experiences powerfully rendered with an art that seems almost casual. I salute this high, rude accomplishment."

Judging the Worth

another 5AM wake-up call

from the child who has learned

the joy of song before language

he alternates high then low doos then lats

the melody brooklike a wander without refrain

his child's scat lacks the edge of sex

and sorrow adults impose on expression


outside it is all mist and fog

the yellow notes of streetlights

diffuse like brilliant words that have lost

the structure of their argument

I watch a small tornado rise

from the exhaust of my neighbor's car

my son hunches into my chest

it toooowl he says and I agree

it is cold but his breath warms

my shoulder his chest protects my own

he burrows his arms between us

one hand pops free his fingers slide

over his thumb as if testing fabric

the weight and weave judging the worth

of this life he throws his head up laughs

his teeth small and bright as stars

the firmament his face radiates

around us hidden in the dark branches

of the pines and hardwoods birds

chorus a greeting; the cacophony

of their song edges towards clarity

if I can only stand still long enough

to listen

When asked about the structure and craft of his book, Richard says: "I was trying to put together a collection that had a non-lineal narrative of sorts, where there was a progression of themes. The first section deals with relationships, lovers, spouses, parents and children, and what happens when there are disruptions, how people pull apart, come together. In the second section there is a movement out to witness the world, with some of the difficulties found in relationships both magnified and transformed as the poet moves into larger spheres,beyond the family. I'm hoping it works sort of like the way a musician might improvise on a theme. The third section is, hopefully, about attempting to embrace and transcend the life you fall into, to find a place of resolution, grace, mercy.I also hope the collection has an emotional arc, or narrative. Or maybe intertwined emotional threads."

Richard's earlier chapbook, Breakdown: A Father's Journey, was published in 2008 by Main Street Rag Press. About this collection, I commented in a blurb: Richard Krawiec's courageous, unblinking art has created a collection that is both terrifying and beautiful. "I recycle today's images/into language I hope/ will help me endure..." he explains. The poems that he has wrought from this struggle are harrowing, yet tender. They are, finally, nothing less than love poems.

Its title poem appears in this new collection. Harrowing, yes. Courageous, in spades.


like the aftermath of violent tides

piled leaves debris the street

your parents called again

again I told them


what do they wish

to hear from me

that your older brother

armed with a dictionary

ordered you to comply

with his words of assault

younger brother pinned

your arms as he arched and sliced

into your body

father got you

drunk in a hotel room in Mexico

mother bruised

you to silence with egg beaters

hair brushes and wooden spoons

now they enforce silence

with flowers cards claims of love

and the repeated emphasis

on the suffering you cause


by curling on a bed

in the Psychiatric Ward

of the State Hospital

safely hidden

inside a code

of Oz tornadoes

and Bizzaro cartoons

that bring you messages

from the Virgin and her angels

in this world you are always

three years old and killing

your children

watching yourself

be tossed raggedly

down the staircase

you believe in your fault

you can never be

sorry enough

so you construct a grid

of global conspiracy

to make your violators

heroes who saved you

by leaving clues

to what they'd done

the leaves are thick

I tell your mother

and as each one breaks down

the piles seem larger more


we are your mother tells me

having a nice autumn

Several of the book's most powerful and moving poems appear in the last section.

At the Borders

the woman in dancer’s black

stretch top skin-sleek

slacks draws a cigarette from the sea

green box of Newports

she doesn’t have to pace

through this Border’s

where single men

Armenian? Korean? Latino?

a verge of suspects

tic-tac-toe the cafe

simply carrying her iced

and cream-topped coffee

sliding a cigarette from fingers

to mouth is enough

to send heads ducking

to notebooks cell phones

any pretense of purpose

besides loneliness

why do we connect

if not to mountain-mist

the obvious

we are all alone

and dying

Rilke had his panther

sleek and muscular

padding behind steel bars

while men watched from without

now men sit imprisoned

behind wooden chair slats

while she stalks

across the dark interior

into the sunlight

where they no longer belong

Approaching Grace

a woman wearing a towel

shawl over a long dress

stands in the rush of tide

beating a bodhran

her body chants

from foot to foot

the white caps crash her hem

across the flagellant water

a crimson sun rises

above the mast of a shrimp trawler,

burns through the heliotrope haze,

the woman chants, beats, sways

her offered prayers lost

in the guttural glissade

of the sand-crunching waves

the woman I love arches

a sun salutation

her mermaid hair flows

wild tangles in the breeze

like the sea oats that shiver

their seed heads on the crest

of the weed-protected dune

along the porch railings

tourists peep out

tentative as snails

housewives in bathrobes

men in gym shorts and T-shirts

they smile shyly at me

in my paisley boxers

a Japanese mystic

claims the ocean contains

every thought that ever existed

the priestesses of Sangora

baptize with this wisdom

on the coasts of South Africa

I approach grace by watching

the feral curl of white froth,

rising sun, chanting woman

the red infusion of morning light

on my lover’s already glowing face

The poems in When She Hands Me the Razor ferry us through dangerous waters, leaving us finally upon the shore of grace, that infusion of morning light on a loved face. No wonder, after reading through these poems last night, I woke up with these lines from W.H. Auden's In Memory of W. B. Yeats sounding in my head: "In the prison of his days/ Teach the free man how to praise." Krawiec's new collection of poems culminates in praise, which has always been the goal and gift of poetry.

Friday, May 13, 2011



for Nina Bagley

The doves in the empty fields

still mourn my father

though he was no saint

into whose palms

they might have come

gladly to roost

through the long afternoon

of a South Georgia

August, their voices

at last making harmony

out of the daily

descent of the sun,

its grace note shimmering

this side of silence.

August field's edge on my father's farm.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


If we live life passionately, what does that mean? And how do we sustain the passion for the everyday, the mundane, the sprouts pushing up out of the garden soil, the first sip of coffee in the morning, the sheet danced by wind on the clothesline--if we have a clothesline anymore in our backyards?

Can you answer these questions? I invite your responses as I take stock of why I blog, why I write poems, why I do much of anything. I'll feature your responses in a later post. And you can respond however you wish. Poetry would be welcome. Koan? Recipe. Memory. Favorite quote.

(Passion Flower at the edge of the garden)

I've tried to upgrade this blog, same old blog, same old template, and now I don't like the changes, so bear with me. I'm not blogger-literate.

In the meantime, here is a bit of the day scooped out and placed on this computer screen for you.

Black dirt I've watered
and watched.
Thunder across the hills.
Come wind and rain.
But not before I've snatched
the sheets off the line
and the blue jeans
the underwear,
and hustled them back
inside where the pot's
boiling chicken bones
down to a stock
that smells like
my grandmother's house
so many childhoods ago
when I knew nothing,
nothing at all
about how the wind shifts
and leaves us
with what's left....

(Two bowls of borscht. )

Saturday, May 7, 2011


Only one week into May, and I'm missing April. Not the busy schedule of National Poetry Month--the literary festivals, the readings, the travel. I'm missing the way that month nudges the green up, everything promising ascendance, if not transcendence. I want April back again, so as we head into the second week of May, dogwoods already done for, redbuds gone, daffodils shriveled, I offer some poems by Andrea Selch, several of them set in April. They are love poems, as spring poems should be, and in their emotional and lyric movement, they remind me of one of my favorite of Robert Frost's line, "Nature's first green is gold"; like that first green, they seem to tremble as they reach out into the sensuous promise of new love. New life. They call back to my ears my first reading of Carol Ann Duffy's Rapture, a book that brilliantly renders the pleasures and uncertainties of falling in love. Andrea's poems are no less passionate and memorable than the more famous ones by Duffy, the UK's first woman Poet Laureate. Their craft and emotional intensity place them among the best love poems being written right now.

Andrea holds an MFA from UNC-Greensboro, and a PhD from Duke University, where she taught creative writing from 1999 until 2003. Her dissertation was a history of poetry on commercial radio in the United States from 1922 until 1945. Her poems have been published in Calyx, Equinox, The Greensboro Review, Oyster Boy Review, Luna, The MacGuffin, and Prairie Schooner. Her poetry chapbook, Succory, was published by Carolina Wren Press in 2000. Her full-length collection of poetry,Startling, was runner-up in the 2003 Turning Point competition and was published by Turning Point Press in October, 2004. [Startling was re-issued by Cockeyed Press in 2009.] Her most recent small collection, Boy Returning Water to the Sea: Koans for Kelly Fearing, was published in 2009 by Cockeyed Press. She is the winner of 2008 Hippo Award from The Monti for her spoken story, "Replacement Child." In 2001, she joined the board of Carolina Wren Press and is now President and Executive Director. She lives in rural Hillsborough, North Carolina, with her partner and their two children.

All of Selch's books may be ordered through the
Carolina Wren Press website or Amazon.

Thinking of Robert Frost’s “To Earthward”

As I remember them, our first attempts

at love were superhuman—how many

waking hours, how few of sleep!

Back then we didn’t bother with a clock,

but let our bodies’ hungers beat out time.

Mere mortals now, we manage

maybe once a week to catch each other

lying down. Yet—I reason—

through such breaks flows love’s finest grain.

Good Friday at Another Academic Conference (2002)

Once, when each new morning brought her only

abstract dread and desperation, she loved

the trips away—the anxious packing, up

until all hours, gathering tiny padlocks,

teabags, nailclippers... and then the plane ride’s

private sadness, the solace of squirreling

so many packets of non-dairy creamer away,

and, later still, the passionate sameness

of the hotel room she couldn’t bring herself

to leave, when the conference finally ended.

Now, her heart unlocked, she hates them—even though

these days she hasn’t half an hour

to steep herself in joy’s real cream and cool,

or nail the final sentence in her speech.

How things came together she couldn’t have known,

but she accepts them, and dies to get back home.

Second Anniversary - At RDU International (1996)

Again along the airport road

the dogwood trees are blossoming.

Between the green pines, this year’s petals

snow and shiver, bringing winter into spring.

And though I know a week from now the clusters

will have flown, I love them all the same,

the same as I love you who’s always

going, going, or gone.

Or, I should say I love you more;

since unlike the flowers you needn’t reappear,

but contrive to do so—Oh and here you are!—

again, almost the same.

Easter Sunday (1987)

It was one of those green days

when there is no sun

or shadow.

At dinner

you were coy—


circling me

like a cat.

Without speaking, we ate,

then scattered.

I went for a walk

and seesawed

in the kiddie park

with strangers

and came back.

You came back

about the same time

and we went for a drive.

On a highway

that was blue-black,

empty, and smooth

as a train track,

we talked the scarred talk

of lonesome ex-lovers,

and the car warmed up.

At your house,

my lips pressed you down

by the mouth; the bed

was rumpled, cool.

You said, “Don’t think,”

but I didn’t mind

thinking about it—

it was fevered and trembly,

like traveling unfamiliar territory,

yellow as no sun ever was.

Then you slept

curled fetal

and I went next door

to make sense of things.

And after this poem,

I can only remember I dreamt

of making a huge pot of white rice

and Monday dawned


but filled with the noise

of a thousand birds.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I've known Scott Owens for years. We first met while I was at UNC-Greensboro doing a week-long residency for the MFA Writing Program. Since then he has devoted his time and energy not only to his own poetry but also to that of others in our region. As editor, blogger, and author of a regular column on poets and poetry, he serves as an example of what a poet fully engaged in his community can offer us. Go to Musings to read his blog posts; go to his books to read his poetry.

Author of 7 collections of poetry and over 800 poems published in journals and anthologies, Scott is editor of Wild Goose Poetry Review, Vice President of the Poetry Council of North Carolina, and recipient of awards from the Pushcart Prize Anthology, the Academy of American Poets, the NC Writers' Network, the NC Poetry Society, and the Poetry Society of SC. He holds an MFA from UNC Greensboro and currently teaches at Catawba Valley Community College. He grew up on farms and in mill villages around Greenwood, SC. His new book, Something Knows the Moment, will be published in August by Main Street Rag. I've selected several of my favorites from the manuscript to share with you.

The Dream of St. Francis

It started with the hungry look of stars,

wind a trembling lip, earth

a field of mouths closing on air.

For all I gave I thought that God

would show me the way, give me the means

to make my life a sacrifice.

He gave me nothing but pierced hands,

a dream of the world in need.

All I had left was myself.

I gave my hands to doves, shadow wings

incapable of flight.

I gave my arms to the deep needing

of thorns, feet to blistering sand,

ankles to holes in the ground,

knees to trees crouched in water.

A pair of crows carried my eyes away.

Wrens made nests of my hair.

I gave my tongue to the bleating of sheep,

my ears to bats. A possum wore my scalp

like a helmet. Rats settled in the back

of my skull. I left the skin of my arms

for snakes to inhabit, the rest for deer,

rabbits, raccoons, worms.

The smallest insects drank from the cup of my heart.

Reaching the pond I lay down beside it,

satisfied, unafraid, waiting

for what remained to turn to dust

and ash, for rain to empty this prison

of skin, feed the earth’s menu of roots,

castings, runoff to another day.

Why Angels Are Always Fat

He took all my pretty ones with him

the ones with tight bellies, long

streaming hair, faces thin as blades,

the ones who had fallen in love

with themselves, and had reason to do so.

He left me only these soft and silent

mounds of flesh, these uninspired,

these bodies needing wings twice

the size you’ve imagined.

He took all my hungry ones with him,

the ones who ate meat, drank fire,

howled at the moon. He left me

not with shepherds but sheep

fattening on clouds, their wrinkled bodies

growing chins instead of desire.

When I clapped my hands the pretty ones

came slow, always touching themselves

below the waist, lingering to see how

first one, then another thing felt against them.

He never clapped at all, just made his body

like silver, a mirror they’d follow anywhere.

Of course I had to let him go.

That was no way to run a heaven,

everyone looking at him,

myself no longer the center of thought.

But now when I clap, no one comes

at all, not that I wish they would.

Those he left stuff themselves

on dumplings and cream, their bodies

turning to clouds heavy with rain.

Sometimes when he leaves his lights on

I watch them from my high chair.

I like to see the shapes they make

with each other, see their bodies burn

with forbidden fire, see what they remember,

see my face reflected there.

Now Hiring Holy Angels

Title from a sign on Highway 16 Near Denver, NC

Job Title: Messenger.

Full-time position. No education required.

Duties may include intervention,

retribution, passing through silent rooms,

guarding trees and true believers,

unlocking gates, moving the dead.

Some heavy lifting.

Must have own halo and be willing to relocate,

possess excellent customer service skills,

bedside manner and flair for the dramatic.

Experience with flaming swords a plus.

White robe provided. Prefer blondes

or redheads with long, curly hair.

Fat babies need not apply.

Send name, photo, previous addresses,

age, religion, exact weight,

relevant experience, personal references

and driver’s license number for criminal background

check. All applicants will be tested

for drugs, narcissism, and insatiable lust.

Salary: None. Benefits to die for.


It starts with your hand floating on water,

your feet leaving no wet spots on the floor.

She was surprised to find how easily she stayed

on top, feeling weightless even on the thin skin

of lake. When she stood up she had to be careful

not to be seen. It’s not walking on water exactly

but floating just above the surface of everything.

Waking in the middle of the night you walk

to the mirror and find your entire face

dilated. The past has become a single dream,

more than enough to keep you from sleep.

Already her body yearns for earth,

her feet linger over roots, her hands

try to fly away like leaves, her mouth

leans to kiss every flower she sees.

One day you think you see yourself

disappearing in sunlight, your body scattered

like dust. You move quickly towards shadows.

The strange hair in your back begins to feel

like a feather, your feet curl like talons.

Reaching out to the people she loves

she feels nothing but the light around them.

She no longer knows the imperfections of face,

hand, breast. When she tries to speak

she finds her mouth can only make music.

If she could shed this skin, her body

would burst into flight, her wings cut the sky

like sharp limbs tossed erratic in wind.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

POETS OF THE DAY: Ingrid Wendt & Katherine Soniat

One last Poet of the Day to welcome the Month of May.

Ingrid Wendt and Katherine Soniat seem at first glance to have little in common. The former lives in Oregon, the latter in Black Mountain, North Carolina. I've never met Ingrid except via facebook; Katherine--or Bonnie, as I now think of her--and I read together at last year's Asheville Wordfest, and I have just blurbed her fine new book, The Swing Girl, due from LSU Press very soon. Ok, that's one thing they both have in common, forthcoming books. Ingrid's Evensong will be out in August from Truman State University Press. Bonnie's will make its appearance shortly thereafter. If not before. Something in their use of imagery in poems like "Sanctuary" and "Seeking" suggests they are kinswomen under the skin, and that most capacious of sensory organs seems to guide much of their work as poets.

Ingrid Wendt is the author of five full-length books of poems, one chapbook, two anthologies, a book-length teaching guide, numerous articles and reviews, and more than 200 individual poems in such magazines and anthologies as Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Antioch Review, Northwest Review, Ms., and No More Masks! An Anthology of 20th Century American Women Poets. Among her many honors, she was the "Featured Poet" in the Spring/​Summer 2009 issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review.


As flocks of birds from the depths of the field rise
in unison, arc and wheel and dip
with no one bird in the lead
and settle again into land

As fish in their silent schools flash
silver together:
pivot and pivot again on the same
invisible axis

When the music begins and we, in our separate
sections, stop
that inner, ever-
present mental chatter and join

Together in song, again I forget
that in the last election
the second
soprano next to me almost certainly voted wrong

That in tomorrow’s headlines the next
suicide bomber will take away more
lives than any one
heart can mourn. That in the next

Town a friend lies dying, that global
warming tomorrow will give us
yet one more
extinction. Here,

Flood waters rising will threaten
no one.
Tenderness rises
and is not scorned or shunned.

Anger on the horizon crashes and rolls,
breaks without mercy
over our heads and no
harm is done.

What is sacred space if not this shelter of song?
What is prayer if not these measures
in which the heart
can pour itself out, out, out, and the notes

Will catch it, help bear it along? Moments in which
each wounded and fragmented self
abides again in the wonder of wholeness.
Here. In this place. This home.

Published in GSU Review

On the Nature of Touch

My daughter's cat in the morning, before he'll eat,
needs to be picked up and petted, cradled (as I used to
carry my daughter) on one hip from pantry to counter
and back to the dish of food that was fresh the first
time he sniffed it, but not good enough.

This cat can be roaming all night, returning ravenous.
This cat can be let outside at first light and stand, moon-
patient, at the door, in rain, until we rise again. His fur
can be six soggy layers of needles and moss on the floor of the Oregon
coast range and still the Salmon Supreme we spoon into his dish
holds that scrupulous tongue only an instant before his voice
stalks our slippers, our wonder again at such
hunger for touch that goes beyond all bodily need.

So we stroke him between the ears, stirring up the same food.
And we rub his nose just over the spot where the whiskers sprout,
run our hands repeatedly down the long rapids of his spine
until dander and fur rise like spume, drift in the imperceptible
breath of the furnace, saying Good cat, Good Pillow, Eat.

And my daughter, who hardly could wait to be out on her own,
phones from her student apartment once, maybe twice a day, to ask for my
stroganoff recipe, or if vinegar will, in the absence of cleanser,
clean a greasy sink. She reads me the funnies.
Will I give her a ride to the store? Each day, this

delicate sniffing the ground called home; the words we speak
a ritual independent of meaning: thin fingers sifting the rich
humus of memory: bright
splashes of hair dye she left behind
on the downstairs hall carpet, each color a different
year of her life: stones scattered by Gretel to find the way back.
There is no returning to where she has been. How can I
not cradle her; each time she calls, one more blessed

delay on the long, slow road from touching each of us took
for granted those years I held her in my arms at least once a day
and she held me in a gaze that knew nothing but trust: water
disappearing through cracks in my fingers I myself tried, as a child,
over and over to cup and drink clear in my small, close hands.

Published in Ms. magazine

Katherine Soniat's fifth collection of poems, The Swing Girl, is forthcoming from Louisiana State University Press and a sixth collection, A Raft, A Boat, A Bridge,will be published by Dream Horse Press in 2012. Other publications include The Fire Setters (on-line Chapbook Series, WebDelSol), Alluvial (Bucknell UP). A Shared Life (Iowa UP) won the Iowa Prize and a Virginia Prize for Poetry, selected by Mary Oliver; Cracking Eggs (University Presses of Florida). Notes of Departure received the Camden Poetry Prize (Walt Whitman Center for the Arts and Humanities) and was selected by Sonia Sanchez. A chapbook, Winter Toys, was published by Green Tower Press.


Prayer smoke that curls

Ash on the altar

Sand garden to rake

Hands that press skyward the rockface to climb.

What man makes in the sun

What he's made of the Earth.

The animals we are is a law stuck in nature.

Visages savaged by beadcarving, bloodcut,

And maskrutÑmaps of how we got this far.

In a lit circle, drums lead us to trance

To stare at the navel.

That's not what a monkey watches in the green leaves.

The mind goes up like a kite. In the air we drift,

Enchanted by such a grand station. Hands extended,

We seek piously, fervently

as a tank's roving gun

That stops on the man by the town fountain. One good

Kill among many. Another body to trash while the living

Take to the streets, each faced with learning, back to the wall,

Mouths floodlit and railing.


I heard you call my name years after

we parted. Summer in the mountains,

I looked up from weeding and saw only

a crow. That said, your dying began,

stopped, and commenced again. The year spent,

black boat with its red sail set in motion.

It was quiet the day I heard you,

nobody there but that solitary bird.

Some years start in black and white,

and by October scarlet enters in.

Leaf and sky were the shades I learned

with you. Now I keep a place in the pines

for the sun to slip through.

Why did we settle, uneasy, rock-heavy,

but not of rock?

At dawn, deer snort outside the bedroom window,

and half asleep I say, Oh hush, as if to a child.

Brain filled with morning air, my metabolizing

old organ awakes to scold again, demanding

even of these deer.