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.




Saturday, February 27, 2010

LADY, by Julia Nunnally Duncan

Julia Nunnally Duncan at our joint reading at Malaprop's Bookstore in December.

Julia Nunnally Duncan is both poet and fiction writer. I "discovered" her years ago when I sat on the reading committee for Appalachian Consortium Press and read her manuscript of stories entitled Blue Ridge Shadows. It was haunting work, and I contacted her about it. (It was later published by Iris Press.) We've been friends ever since. Julia's latest book of poetry An Endless Tapestry (March Street Press) was one of 3 finalists for NC's Roanoke-Chowan Award and received a great review in the 2009 North Carolina Literary Review. She has published several collections of stories and a novel. To learn more about her and her work, go to http://www.topsail-island.info/wordpress/index.php/nc-authors/julia-nunnally-duncan/

Julia sent this poem to me after learning of my blog invitation for work about beloved animals.


The wildlife worker found her
deep in the winter woods,
a front leg clamped by a hunter’s steel trap,
the bone nearly severed,
snow her only sustenance
for the two weeks that she was caught.

He named her Lucky,
and the veterinarian’s record
made before the amputation
listed Lucky as her name.

We had named her Lady
a couple of years earlier
when we found her at the abandoned house,
cowering inside an outside toilet,
her basset hound mother already
dead from a neighbor’s bullet,
her sisters and brothers either killed
or dead from malnutrition.

Lady’s face was malformed—
a face only a master could love,
we would later tease.
At first too weak to hold her head up,
she let her muzzle hit the ground—
every time she tried to lift it.
I braced her head
so that she could drink the water
she had thirsted for.

But after a few weeks of living in a cardboard box
on our front porch,
the shocking mass of roundworms
purged from her puppy guts
and her white gums soon pink with health,
she began to play.
And her speed
as she darted around our steep yard
would shame a greyhound;
her appetite proved phenomenal.
One Thanksgiving after she had filled her belly
with turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes
(her favorite dish),
she lay in the yard to rest,
but still barked at the leftovers
that tantalized her.

That later winter
when she went for a walk in the woods
and didn’t return,
I called the city dog pound
and cried as I described Lady—
black and white basset-beagle mix,
jut-jawed, big brown eyes—
hoping the dogcatcher might have picked her up
and still held her alive,
fearing he might say I’d called too late.
But he had not seen her.

And then after many torturous days
something happened:
a dog was mentioned
in the lost and found section
of our local newspaper.
I called the number and
spoke to a wildlife man
who had found her.

But I have bad news,
he added,
and told me about her lost leg
as if I wouldn’t want her anymore.

Lady lived with us many more years,
as quick a runner as ever,
and died at seventeen and a half
during a hard, cold winter,
when icy mounds of snow
piled around her backyard dog house.

She spent her final days in our basement, though,
near the woodstove.
We wrapped her in a quilt
and tended to her
as we might an elderly parent.
She suffered from incontinence,
had stopped eating—
her jaws locked—
and her eyes,
long past seeing,
had turned a cloudy blue.
It seemed her luck had run out,
or maybe it was a blessing
that the end was near.

When Lady passed,
my husband played a song on our stereo—
In the Arms of the Angels—
music that gave him comfort
and that he wanted to give to Lady
to send her safely away.
But like my mother who doesn’t want to hear
The Old Rugged Cross—
her mother’s favorite hymn
that was played at the funeral,
I have only to detect the first notes of the
Sarah McLachlan song,
and I change the radio channel.

It’s not that music that I want to hear
and remember Lady
as she was on her final night;
but rather I would like to recall
the bright sound from years earlier,
of her baying
at the Thanksgiving scraps,
annoyed that she couldn’t hold
one more bite.

Friday, February 26, 2010

KAYLA'S ASHES, by Kathryn Magendie

This piece is by Kathryn Magendie, who may be found at www.tendergraces.blogspot.com. Kat's first novel Tender Graces was published last year. She's a fine writer and a lively, lovely woman. You will enjoy her blog, so please give it a visit. Today is her birthday. Happy Birthday, Kathryn!!!!!


The mahogany box is heavy

and inside you lie in a plain plastic baggie.

Oh! I cry. Oh! You must be released,

for you do not belong inside,

but instead everywhere we walked together

in this mountain cove. I dig,

bits of you lodge into my fingernails,

you are softer and finer than I imagined,

but then what would I ever imagine but

your solid body and soft fur and big brave heart?

I let you drift through my fingers

into the wind that’s come down from

the mountain ridge, and as you drift,

sunlight filters through you so that

I see layers and layers of you

and sun and light and prisms of color

that aren’t really colors at all but memories

of color; the heaviest parts of you

fall to the ground and lie bone-white bone,

but the light of light of you hovers

in the air and dances,

dances and hovers and lingers

before all of you slowly disappears,

dissolves in the cool morning air

in the cove at Killian Knob.

I am awed, then I am alone.

Good old girl. That’s my girl,

that’s my good good old girl.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

WALKING THE DOG, by Charlotte Holmes

(Erland Drowses, photo by Charlotte Holmes)
This post is sent to me via her blog Nightbook (see sidebar) by Charlotte Holmes, a former WCU professor who has lived and taught in Pennsylvania for more years than I want to tally. Charlotte is a brilliant fiction writer (you can look her up!) and this short essay about taking her dog Erland for a walk is a mere taste of her talent. I've come to enjoy her blog very much; I think you will, too.


"It is what it is," I tell the dog tethered to the other end of the black nylon leash wrapped three times around my hand. Erland wags his tail, but his attention is elsewhere. He stares into the middle distance of the neighbor's backyard, where a squirrel he doesn't see darts down the gravel driveway. He puts his nose to the ground and breathes in the smell of leaf mold and mud.

Erland receives much of the junk that floats around inside my head. Sometimes a word leaks out, inadvertently: expedient, photogravure, evolutionary. They are all the same to him--words that do not mean it's time to go out or time for dinner. His tail wags at the sound of my voice, and sometimes, he turns and focuses his large brown eyes on this person at the other end of the leash. I speak freely as we make our way down the back alley, something I would not have done even a few years ago. Now, if anyone sees or hears, I expect they think Bluetooth is my invisible companion. "Not that I care," I tell Erland, who hesitates over something oily mashed into the asphalt, then flicks his tail and trots on.

A narrow charcoal line behind my house, the alley connects to the cross streets drawn in bolder strokes north and south across the map of this small town. In the alley, potholes fill with rain, freeze to circles of ice in winter. Erland and I step lightly around them. He walks ahead, nose to the ground. When he stops to breathe in the scents lodged in the telephone pole, I tug him back on track. When he smells a neighbor approaching a row of plastic cans with a bag of trash, his hackles rise, he barks, and strains against the leash as if he would attack this man whose name I do not know, though I've lived on this street for sixteen years. The man says what nearly all men of a certain type say when barked at by my dog: "Yeah, yeah, I hear ya, buddy, you're a real tough customer, arentcha?"

Erland is small. Erland is a dachshund. Erland has a bark that sometimes startles me when it erupts out of his muscular throat and shatters the room's quiet. Erland stops for a moment, scrutinizing the man banging the lid back down on the trash can, then resumes barking with renewed force, with something like rage. He would bite the man if the man approached, but the man thinks Erland is both cute and ridiculous. "Yeah, yeah," he says again, in a mocking voice, as I pull Erland away.

We walk down behind the deaf woman's house, and past the backyard of the restaurant magnate, where the entire space is a paved terrace with statuary and a plashing fountain. "Nouveau," I tell Erland, but he is too busy to pay attention, sniffing carefully at the low stone wall that must serve as a kind of message board for those who know the world primarily through their sense of smell. He is too short to lift his leg, so he squats at the base of the wall, and takes a long, meditative piss. "Good boy," I say, and he stares up at me, tolerant of my condescending ways. "What she always says," he is possibly thinking.

"Silly, huh?" I ask, but there at the other end of the leash, he's distracted again, nose already lifted in the air in pursuit of a new scent. He paws the ground half-heartedly, then pulls me along with him, searching for its source.


(Photo of Rosie, Helen's much-loved current cat)

Helen Losse lives in Winston-Salem, where she is an editor for the online poetry 'zine The DEAD MULE (www. deadmule.com). The February issue is well worth visiting! Helen has published her poetry widely both in journals and in book form. The link to her website/blog follows her poem. For more about Helen and her work, please go to My Laureate's Lass0, http://ncpoetlaureate.blogspot.com/2009/04/better-with-friends-by-helen-losse.html.

What Others May Know, What We Knew

—for Chester

On the day we kissed Chettie goodbye,

we didn’t stay to watch him “go.”

We put “cat things” away

in the attic over the car port:

litter box, dishes, carrier, out of sight.

We threw away milk jug rings,

our boy cat’s pictures of Bill Elliot’s car.

We kept the yards of curling ribbon,

for we knew another day would come.

Others may know what I mean:

To celebrate memory, enlarge life,

enjoy fur touching the skin.

Helen Losse

--for her response to my prompt, Helen will receive a copy of my Coming to Rest.

Helens website: Windows Toward the World-- http://helenl.wordpress.com/

Her mail signature:
"Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows." – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

SOPHIE, by Lisa Parker

I met Lisa Parker the first year I taught at Hindman Settlement School. Right away I knew that she was "the real thing," a poet who plumbed her place (the Virginia mountains) and her place in it with passion and intuitive skill. Lisa is also a photographer who's had a show in NYC. She was living there during the 9/11 attacks and immediately went to help, being trained in triage. Her first collection will be published soon by Motes Books.

She sent this message via facebook:

I loved your prompt on your blog today and wanted to share with you a poem about my little feral rescue cat, Sophie, who touched me like no other animal I've ever owned. She was living in a storm drain on the govt site where I work and was rescued by a friend when she realized she was pregnant. Four month after my friend rescued her, I took Sophie and one of her kittens, Leo, home with me. She died suddenly after only a year with me and I found myself just utterly devastated. I ended up writing this poem about her and found it more cathartic than anything else I'd ever written. I wanted to share it with you but it was honestly too much of a downer to put on your blog! So I thought I'd send it to you here. I'll send the poem in a separate email as I think it would be too big here. I love your blog, by the way! I read it at work when I have the chance and it's a beautiful reprieve from the world of discontent that overwhelms me some days. It's a beautiful little light in my day, so I thank you for that. xoxo - Lisa"

We buried you by half-moon light
in cool October air that steamed
around Dad’s shoulders as he dug
the mulch, dirt and clay, the odd
rock and gnarled root. I dug the last
few inches, still in work shoes, still
in shock to know you lay stiff and quiet
in the passenger seat of my car, wrapped
in a blanket Eric put you in, seatbelted in
as we drove I-95 to Mom and Dad’s house
in the country, a ride I remember only
for the few exit signs I saw without
the blur of tears when my body
forced deep, gasping breaths that slowed
the sobs to a stop, if only for a moment,
if only for that knee-jerk self-preservation
that comes out of nowhere.

We buried you in a garden planted by Dad
who met me at the car that night
with a crushing hug and a Yeah, sweetie,
life sucks sometimes, words I knew
were all he could offer outside the shovel
and fencepost digger I already saw propped
against his boat in the garage.

We buried you in a garden spot they picked
for its loveliness and with a promise
to plant some unique, beautiful flower
over you. Mom, who had never met you,
cried for the loss of anything
that would ruin me so thoroughly
and she whispered toward
your blanketed body as Dad lowered you in,
Thank you for bringing her such joy
and for gentling her the way you did.

By morning, I sat on the porchsteps
picking the caked mud out of my shoes
with the end of a small hickory stick.
Dad watched me from the dining room window
and after a long while, came and draped
his flannel shirt over my shoulders, a quick pat
to my head and a heavy sigh
before he said, It’s chilly out here;
good in the sun, though.

FULL MOON, by Vicki Lane

The first person to respond to my request for pet-related comments was Vicki Lane. Her poem for her dogs, who at the time this was written stayed in the basement, made my hair stand on end! "Electric with excitement"....oh yes, I know that dance. Two of our dogs did the electric dance this morning and woke me up! No full moon outside, though. Just morning beckoning with car sounds and neighbor dogs barking.

And doesn't the full moon make US want to dance with excitement? Vicki captures that "ancient longing" beautifully. Go to my sidebar to find the link to her wonderful blog, www.vickilanemysteries.blogspot.com.

For her memorable response, Vicki will receive a copy of my chapbook WAKE.

Full Moon ~ 4:30 AM

In the basement, dogs are restless -
Soft whining, imploring,
Door scratching, demanding,

Surfacing from sleep and warm blankets, I rise,
Push my feet into slippers and stiffly descend steep stairs.
The dogs dance, electric with excitement
As I fumble with the door.

Outside the setting moon illumines fields, woods, hills ...
Bright as night.
My heart swells; unseen fur rises and with it an ancient longing...

To run ... to hunt beneath the moon ...
Paws wet in the dew-crisp grass ...
To see forever...

Tomorrow my good friend Lisa Parker will be up, with a poem she feared was too much of a downer to post as a comment. It's about what Vicki, and several others of us who have beloved animals, have written about already--losing a pet we love. Fabulous poem. Drop back by to read it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

ALL THE DOGS OF OUR LIVES (or Cats or.....)

I've had such good comments on my dog posts that I'd like to keep them coming, so I'm trying out an idea I've been stirring around awhile in my head, or rather the stock pot in my head. (I almost wrote "stock poet"! )

Three years ago when I visited Iron Station Elementary School, I stood before a lunchroom full of K through second graders, seated on the floor, chirping like little birds until the teachers made them hush so that I could being my "presentation." But what in Dog's name was it going to be! I was terrified. Please, Dog, throw me a lifeline, and He did. Ask them about their pets! So I did. What are their names? Up shot the hands. We spent quite a few minutes naming our dogs and cats and then I read a poem, which one I now can't remember. I took some of their pets' names and began riffing a little poem on them, which seemed to delight the children. Then the 30 minutes was up! As they filed out, many of them wanted to touch the cowboy boots I was wearing, a gift from my friend doris davenport. Of course I let them, although the teachers were trying to hurry them out as quickly as possible before the 3-5 graders arrived.

So, since we have been talking about our dogs, I'm going to invite you to compose a comment/essay/poem, whatever form it takes, about one of your animals. Furred, feathered, scaled. You name it.

And then I will pick one or two I especially like, share them in a post, and send the writers a copy of one of my books---or a poem I've written especially for the occasion.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


(This post is for Vicki Lane and her blessed dogs. )

DOG IS LOVE--yes, we've all seen this bumper sticker. But sometimes there's too much love on the sofa. Where are YOU gonna sit?

Ace of Dogs and Big Bro don't look at all ready to abandon their snoozes. Maybe the title of this photo should be DOG IS SLOB. But don't they look peaceful and, well, adorable?

And here is Ace of Dogs, looking seductive. Maybe he's in his Lord Krishna mood? He hasn't a flute of course, but just look at those eyes. Can you think of any young maiden who wouldn't follow him? He is definitely in his God mode. I swear he seems to be trying to sing to me at times, especially when he wants a treat or to jump in bed and place his head atop mine.

I found this poem today while sitting in the WNC Retinal Associates Office (yearly routine check-up), titled THE BLESSING OF THE OLD WOMAN, THE TULIP, AND THE DOG, by Alicia Ostriker, from her new book of poetry, The Book of Seventy. (University of Pittsburgh Press) Here's the last stanza.

To be blessed
said the dog
is to have a pinch
of God
inside you
and all the other dogs
can smell it

Our four dogs are blessed many times over and they sure smell like it!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Nothing is more magical than snow falling, especially in late evening as night settles in and the snowlight begins to glow in the sky, covering everything with what seems like a glass bowl. I love the way the world looks outside my doors.

I do not love the cleanup afterward, though. We were lucky that several large limbs missed our car and that the one blocking our driveway was removable by us. We went without power for a couple of days two weeks ago, and while that was fun for a little while, I was glad when the lights came back on. This latest snow on Friday was delicate, falling like sifted flour, and my husband was able to clear the road fairly quickly next morning. The light coming through the lacework of branches Saturday dawn was beautiful.

So, here's to snow, in moderate amounts! And now, how about spring? To hell with the groundhog saying in groundhogese that we've 6 more weeks of winter. Or maybe he didn't say that at all. It's in how you interpret things, after all. Who knows what a groundhog thinks, if if he/she even thinks at all.

Sorry, didn't mean to diss groundhogs! I like the one that lives down the hill from us and hope that he has a long and happy life, away from the wheels of drunk students and other assorted maniacs who take the curve too fast.

Spring will come when it gets good and ready. The wind cutting through my wool scarf this morning made me hope it was getting ready! Here's a poem for the first shoot of green pushing up through the cold sod. I wrote it for Cathy Smith Bowers, our new Poet Laureate, after she visited me in Sylva last month.

(I've long been fascinated by how certain words "feel" in our mouths. Green, in this instance. And verde, how does it differ from our Anglo-Saxon green? It's more of a dance. Our "green" is a keening, a longing, maybe because of the long Nordic winters?? I also wanted to try to express how each poem wakes us up, makes us see again. )

Winter Noon

Sylva, North Carolina


Verde, que te quiero verde....

(Green, how I want you green.. .)

‘ Federico Garcia-Lorca

for Cathy

We’ve seen how stems snap,

the leaves fall,

the rain soaks,

how ice weaves its blanket

around weeds and garden.

Now we raise our glasses

to what we see over the rooftops

of downtown: gray mountains waiting

beneath scales of cloud

like the ones we know fall

from our eyes

when we see

how each poem comes alive

in the midst of our cold times,

a small hook

that yearns through the mute

sod, our throats

tight with keening its

coming forth, the tip

of our tongues

against bedrock.

Monday, February 15, 2010


The second annual Nazim Hikmet Poetry festival competition is now open. The closing date is Feb. 19, so begin to think about the poems you wish to submit. For more information about the Festival, please visit nazimhikmetpoetryfestival.org.

The second annual Nâzım Hikmet Poetry Festival will be held on Sunday, April 18, 2010 in Cary, North Carolina. As we bring together poets and poetry lovers, participation of area poets will be an essential part of this Festival. Interested poets are invited to submit their poems by Friday, February 19, 2010. The selected poems will be published on-line at the Festival web site as well as in the Festival Chapbook, and the poets will be invited to read their winning poems and introduce their poetry at the Festival. Each finalist will receive an award of $100. Last year's winning poems can be found at the festival web site.The 2009 festival chapbook is available at Amazon.com.


Deadline: Entries received by Friday, February 19, 2010 will be considered for selection.

Submission Requirements:

(*) All entries MUST be submitted via www.nazimhikmetpoetryfestival.org

(*) All poems submitted to the Festival must be unpublished, original works.

(*) Each poet can submit up to three poems.

(*) The poems should be in English.

(*) The selected poems will be published on-line at the Festival web site as well as in the Festival Chapbookl. By submitting their poems, the poets grant NHPF all rights to publish the poems at these venues.

(*) After the festival, the chapbook will be available for purchase at amazon.com. The proceeds from the chapbook sales will be used to support future festivals.

(*) The poets will retain copyrights of their poems.

Selection & Notification

(*) Submitted poems will be evaluated anonymously.

(*) The contact information provided by the poets will not be disclosed to other individuals or organizations.

(*) The poets will be notified of their poem’s status by March 22, 2010.


John Balaban, Professor of English, Poet-in-Residence, NC State University

Kathryn Stripling Byer, 2005-2009 NC Poet Laureate

Greg Dawes, Professor, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, NC State University

Joseph Donahue, Senior Lecturing Fellow, Department of English, Duke University

Jackie Shelton Green, Piedmont Laureate

Hatice Örün Öztürk (ATA-NC Representative), Associate Professor, Department of ECE, NC State University


This event is organized by the American Turkish Association of North Carolina (www.ata-nc.org )

Organizing committee: Buket Aydemir, Pelin Balı, Erdag Göknar, Mehmet Öztürk, and Birgül Tuzlalı

Contact: contact@nazimhikmetpoetryfestival.org

Saturday, February 13, 2010


(My brother's dog J.J. trying to figure out what's going on! )

OK, he can always sniff around in this strange white stuff.

(Here's my mother, on left, and her good friend Ann Noble who now lives with her. Yesterday was Ann's birthday. Snow was her surprise birthday gift!)

These are photos my brother took with his fancy phone! When was the last time we had snow in the deep South?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Seeing Old Friends Again in Raleigh!

I'm just back from Raleigh where I placed the NC Poet Laureate laurel wreath on Cathy Smith Bowers' lovely head. I presented her with a bottle of wine with our names on it and read a poem I'd written for her. What a fabulous day it was! Here are some video highlights:
( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xAk6fOzaNE)

And I got to see so many old and dear friends, as well as new ones I've found through being Laureate.

The photo above shows me and my friend Lou Green, a brilliant poet and visual artist whose work I admire beyond words. She lives in Davidson. I featured her latest chapbook on my laureate blog a while back and plan to re-run it on this one.

I'll be posting about my time in Raleigh, with some photos and observations. Come back a little later for that!

Now to get ready for more snow!

Sunday, February 7, 2010


When the days are cold, better yet snowy, I enjoy making stock. I watched my grandmother make it when I was a child, the chicken bones, or pork or beef, dropped into a large cast iron poet and set to boiling on her gas stove. She would add an onion sometimes, or some other leftover uncooked vegetable, and soon the house would be filled with the odor of broth, animal, vegetable, and goodness knows, maybe a little mineral thrown in for good measure. Good stock, as she called it. And that's what I had sprung from, too, she reminded me.

Stock is a word I grew up with, then, and it meant many things. My father called his cattle stock, sometimes all the growing things on his farm, and he was always "taking stock," making endless calculations and lists in his notebooks about crops, finances, and who knows what else.
His handwriting was always indecipherable to the rest of us.

I make stock from every bone and vegetable I can. I lift the gnawed bones from my husband's plate of ribs at Chili's, hiding them in my handbag as my grandmother used to do.

I wrap chicken bones from my brother's plate at O'Malley's Pub. And I never let any portion of a turkey or spiral ham go to waste. Thanksgiving begins my heavy-duty stock-making time. And stock-taking time. My birthday falls around Thanksgiving, and hitting Medicare age this past year set me to thinking hard about my mortality.

It's this time of year, though, that prods me to stir the stock-pot of my life, "the work of winter," as Adrienne Rich has called it. Everything goes into the pot, all the moods, the fears, the meanness, the dibs and dabs of joy, hope, love. This year I've been stirring the emotions swirling about aging parents, how to keep stability and strength throughout their inevitable decline.

And that insistent voice that taunts me, now that I am moving into my Post-Laureate phase, as I call it, asking What about MY work, will I be able to let it grow, will I be able to keep my poetry vital through my own inevitable decline? Why isn't my work more widely noticed? Why did such and such magazine reject my poems? Isn't my work any good anymore? Or am I just another little old lady poet, stirring her stockpot, going gray, more and more addled, hardly worthy of notice?

Well, that's all part of taking stock, I suppose. And meantime I'm sorting through old letters, old drafts, old clothes, and millions, no kidding, of old recipes. Not to mention old dreams that keep coming back about where to find what and how to get where and what to wear! What to keep, what to let go.

So I like the image of the stockpot. I can put just about anything into it and know that something worth tasting will eventually settle, even if it has a taste of heat or a taste of salty grief or sour disappointment. (Just call me the "stock-poet." I like that better than any of the other designations attached to me as a writer.)

What to keep, what to let go. Maybe that's the work of winter that Adrienne Rich means.
In the kitchen, I know what to keep. The stock pot waits. And I've a new pile of bones from the turkey breast I roasted over the coals in my wood stove two days ago when the power went out yet again. Let me tell you, this is the best-tasting turkey I've ever had, and I know the stock will live up to its origins. Good stock. Where I come from.

Saturday, February 6, 2010



Snow on the mountains.
Where did the wind go? I stand with my shawl
wrapped around me and listen.

Snow on the mountains.
The holly-pip red as a blood blister,
thorns reaching out to me.

Snow on the mountains.
Don't beg me to come back inside
lest I catch my death.

Snow on the mountains.
The river a hard road to travel.
My feet slide on ice cobble.

Snow on the mountains.
Gone south, I will say when you shout
from the riverbank.

Snow on the mountains.
Against my ear you held a conch shell once,
ask What do you hear?

So much snow on the mountains,
I hitched up my dress and ran home.
How could I tell you then,

hearing snow on the mountains
refuse to melt, that after so long,
a woman's soul searching

through snow on the mountains
will sink, out of breath, in the silence
of nothing more, nothing less.

From Black Shawl, LSU Press, written in response to an ancient Welsh poem, composed between the 9th and 12th centuries, in which the line "Snow On the Mountains" is repeated throughout.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Hello, a quickie post to encourage you to go to my friend Nina Bagley's blog. She's a poet, book artist, jeweler, etc., etc. It's a lovely site. Just go browse around for a little while. http://ornamental.typepad.com/ornamental/

Busy with taxes and garden today. More later. K.


(Dusk as seen from Penelope's window in Portland, Oregon)

I've been rummaging through the boxes of old class hand-outs, letters, drafts, and lord knows all sorts of other stuff I've saved over the years. It's depressing how much clutter we writers accumulate, most of which we will never really use but which we keep thinking we might. If I could live several lifetimes I might get around to taking this quote or that article or this rough draft and making something of it. But I know I won't. Still, it's hard to let go of some things. Like this poem I found by John Haines, one I used a long time ago in a class. It spoke to the way I've been feeling lately in the midst of this winter weather, watching the birds outside, wondering how the animals get through the long winter nights.


at dusk

from the island in the river,

and it's not too cold,

I'll wait for the moon

to rise,

then take wing and glide

to meet him.

We will not speak,

but hooded against the frost

soar above

the alder flats, searching

with tawny eyes.

And then we'll sit

in the shadowy spruce and

pick the bones

of careless mice,

while the long moon drifts

toward Asia

and the river mutters

in its icy bed.

And when morning climbs

the limbs

we'll part without a sound,

fulfilled, floating

homeward as

the cold world awakens.

(John Haines)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I've just learned that my post on Lee's Fair and Tender Ladies (previous post below) has been chosen one of the top three on redroom.com: http://www.redroom.com/blog/well-red/red-rooms-favorite-novels! If you follow the link you will be able to read the others selected. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"Now Ivy, this is how spring tastes. This is the taste of spring."

On the first day of Spring, I can't think of a better novel to think about than Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies. Ivy Rowe, the young girl who begins this epistolary novel, matures into a woman who lives through love, loss, and many springs that her father taught her how to taste and feel. Ivy inhabits her place with, as one reviewer described it, the avidity of a child. At the end, an old woman facing down the bulldozers, she retains the vitality that has made her life resonate with our own.
This is a short piece I wrote for redroom.com.


Granny Younger came to visit me last night. Stepped right out of Lee Smith’s Oral History and sat down for a spell, trying to make me listen again to her stories out of the hollers and hills of Lee’s mountains and mine. I lay awake with her in the dark, knowing I couldn’t make her leave. Being a granny-woman, she does what she wants. She knows how to birth a baby, tend a wound, tell if a man is cheating on you, or if he needs a woman. The woman he finds, face lit by wood fire, wild as a gypsy from some old mountain ballad, well, that’s the beginning of the story.

Granny Younger also knows how to stand up to the bulldozers turning our mountains into golf courses.

She didn’t know about bulldozers, of course, back when she was wandering the trails in Smith’s novel. She could prophesy, though, and she could have looked into the next century and seen what was going to happen, seen the mountaintop removal destroying the lifeblood of her hills.

What she did see  was “blood on the moon,” as she called it, the start of a family tragedy that haunts, literally, the descendants of one Almarine Cantrell, a young man whose story she has followed since he was a boy. When she finds him as a young man sitting by the creek, in the sally grass, for the first time in her life she fails to see what lies ahead.
I stole that sally grass from Granny Younger. Put it into a poem one cold January morning while I was working on the collection that became Wildwood Flower. Maybe that’s why she was messing with my mind last night, but I don’t think so. I don’t think she ever minded that I took a smidgeon of her story to kickass a stuck poem back into life again. Especially one about an old woman singing through the night to her granddaughter who listens and remembers. No, Granny Younger came to haunt me because I’d forgotten how mountain women ought to fight for what they love and need.

Like Ivy Rowe. She’s the character who begins Smith’s Fair and Tender Ladies by writing letters and spends the rest of the novel writing her life onto its pages. After I’d finished my poem, thanks to Granny Younger’s intervention, I sent it to Lee, who was just beginning a new novel.

“We’re writing about the same thing,” she wrote back by return mail, “ only my character doesn’t sing through the night, she writes letters! “

I didn’t get to meet Ivy Rowe till Fair and Tender Ladies was published. There in the front of the novel was my poem “Weep-Willow. “ That’s not the reason why it’s my favorite novel, though. I love the voice of Ivy, love how she writes her way through joy and loss, and into old age where, on her beloved mountain, she stands down the bulldozers coming to force her out of her home.

I love Ivy for loving so hard, despite the long nights, the sad stories, old songs that flit like ghosts through the coves. Granny Younger brought Ivy with her last night, you see. And Ivy curled up on the sally grass in my poem. She rested her eyes on the mountains beyond my house, just as her daddy liked to do in Virginia, the man who eloped with her mother clinging to him on the back of his horse, riding all night through the dark woods with a pine knot flaring. Ivy meant for me to know that I should do the same, to rest and to ride hard. To stand in the road barring entry, if need be, to what threatened what I love.

Two mountain women came together last night to tell me that. Xanax couldn’t make them go away. Finally at three a.m. I got up, walked to the kitchen, found some leftover wine in a bottle. I walked to the door and looked out at the dark. I could hear some drunk frat boy driving his car too fast around the curve below my house. Soon the little frogs down below in the pasture would begin singing. The green shoots would sprout overnight from the naked limbs. I could hear Ivy’s daddy telling me, as he told her in this novel I carry inside me like my own story, to slow down, to taste the green that rises again and again from the sod: “Now Ivy, this is how spring tastes. This is the taste of spring. “

(Vernal Equinox 2009, from my front yard)