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.


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.

VISIT MY NEW BLOG, MOUNTAIN WOMAN, WHERE YOU WILL FIND UPDATES ON WHAT'S HAPPENING IN MY KITCHEN, IN THE ENVIRONMENT, IN MY IMAGINATION, IN MY GARDEN, AND AMONG MY MOUNTAIN WOMEN FRIENDS.




Wednesday, December 22, 2010

THE GIFT OF POETRY FOR THE HOLIDAYS: Stephen E. Smith's A SHORT REPORT ON THE FIRE AT WOOLWORTHS

My friend Stephen Smith has published his Selected New and Old Poems, titled A Short Report on the Fire at Woolworths, with Main Street Rag Press in Charlotte, NC. I'm happy to hear about this new book; Stephen is a poet whose work I've admired over the years. He's also been a mainstay of our state's literary community. Here are several poems from the book.
I'm hoping you'll want to order this one after you come to the end of this blog post!

ISBN: 978-1-59948-257-6
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.








Loose Talk


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?













Cleaning Pools



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.



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