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, April 30, 2011

Poets OF THE DAY: Vicki Lane & Britt Kaufmann

Vicki Lane is special. A gifted photographer, inventive cook, quilter, blogger....all this and a novelist, too! A novelist whose work often makes me think it's poetry! Life's just not fair. Vicki lives in Madison County, on a farm that she manages with her husband John. She's well-known in mystery writing circles, as well as book clubs and other gatherings of folks who like good writing. She's one of our region's best prose-writers. You'll see that for yourself in the excerpt below from her most recent book, The Day of Small Things. This excerpt is in the voice of Birdie, the main character. I enjoyed this book for many reasons, chief among them Birdie's always believable voice and the haunting use of Cherokee lore and history.

New York Times best-selling author of the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mysteries has this to say about Birdie's book:

"Vicki Lane is one of the best American novelists writing today. In The Day of Small Things, she has once again rendered a lyrical, evocative, and haunting portrait of life in the Appalachians, both past and present. And in Birdie, she has given us a character who will steal your heart and stay with you for a long time to come. I loved this book—The Day of Small Things will definitely make my short list for 2010."

Chapter 2 ~ The Burying Ground

Tuesday, May 1


The hickory walking stick digs little holes in the hard red earth as I make my way along the path that snakes up the tree-covered slope. The black plastic garbage bags hanging over my left arm rustle and swish in time with the huffing sounds of my breath and the steady thump of my footfalls and the lighter tap of the stick. All them different sounds working together . . . they put me in mind of the one-man band in the Fourth of July parade, away back when Luther was yet living. Me and him took Cletus in to Ransom for the rodeo and the parade and law, he had him a time! That boy played one-man band for the rest of the summer, rigged out with an old juice harp and some of my pot lids and a cow bell he took off of old Pet. Golden memories.

This old trail ain’t used but seldom now and it’s growed narrow with the grass and the weeds reaching out into it. Most folks heading up to the top take the road that runs by the river – twice as long but any vehicle at all can Cadillac right up to the end. Hunters comes this way now and again and I reckon deer and such use the trail. Right here it runs along a rusty barb wire fence that borders the upper edge of the old corn field. The field’s going back to the wild too, like so much of these mountains. Where once there was corn growing, thick and tall and green, food for man and beast alike, now there’s young locust and poplar shooting up through the roses and blackberries. It’ll all be forest afore long, though I’ll not live to see it.

I spy the fire pinks in their old place by the leaning gray fence post and it lifts my heart to see them bright faces just a-smiling up at me like always at this time of year. They’re good as a calendar, the wild things are. Humming birds coming back mid-April, raspberries bearing fruit early June, and the fire pinks blooming just afore Decoration Day. Always has been so and I pray it always will.

The trail runs into the old woods now and in the cool shade beneath the new-leafed trees, there’s a world of those little three-leafed flowers, the white and the pink too, making a pretty carpet over the ground. The branch is running bold after last night’s rain and all along its banks, big old clumps of blue and light purple flowers look like lace against the solemn gray rocks. Over beyond the tumbling water, wild iris and larkspur climb the steep slope, reaching back into the trees far as the eye can see.

It is a sight on earth and that’s the truth. I stop and lean on my stick to breathe in the rich woodland smell. There’s some things don’t change, thank the Lord -- that fine loamy smell of the dirt and the clean bite of the branch mint and how the water gurgles and sings as it goes hurrying down to the river. There’s the birds calling out – sounds like one of them’s saying Sweet, sweet, sweet, and there’s the wind stirring the trees -- it’s all the good things of life itself and I pity the city folks who ain’t never been in a mountain cove come May time.


I first met Britt Kaufmann five years ago at the first annual Carolina Mountains Literary Festival. She's a whirlwind of activity--the mother of three children, a gardener, a planner, a web designer, and a poet. Her first chapbook of poems, Belonging, was recently published by Finishing Line Press in Kentucky.

Britt helps plan the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival ( cmlitfest.com) in her home town of Burnsville, NC, and hosts a women's open-mic reading in Spruce Pine. Her poems and non-fiction have appeared in Western North Carolina Woman, Kakalak 2007, Main Street Rag, Literary Mama, The Mennonite, Elegant Thorn Review, and The Pedestal Magazine. Her website is brittkaufmann.com

March Madness

While bombs drop on Baghdad

hail pounds down on me amid

thunder that is not a convoy of stealth.

I watch without fear, the green screen,

the green flames, the tiny yellow crocus

shut tight, a smaller target for white missiles.

When the rain lets up, coverage and bombs do not.

I itch inside my skin, nauseous at the thought,

so I change channels since I prefer battles on the court.

Buy Nothing Day 2005

(Black Friday)

I live the lesson of my stock:

In the world, not of it,

shun the material for the other life.

A child, my grandfather jumped the fence

from Amish to Mennonite

(still a subset yet set apart).

Now I am grown with children

missing the four part a capella Sundays,

but today I do my grandmas proud.

I cook the picked-clean turkey carcass

with onions, salt, and celery,

boil it long and slow,

crack a bone or two, so

marrow seeps into the stock,

passes down the rich value of blood.

Each generation of this Thanksgiving

meal sustains family.

I add the heart, neck, and innards too

instead of tossing them out.

Those women never threw anything away,

cupboards overflowing with old margarine tubs.

I feel their smiles, short

ones that might not seem to merit praise,

but I know they would be pleased

as I strain broth into old containers

from take-out egg drop soup,

preserve them for the future.


“He’s feeling his mortality,”

My mother said over the line.

I wonder, what texture it could be?

Does he reach out his hand

To finger the shimmer of a wedding veil,

Or hold his hand out flat

To let the summer breeze push sun

Thinned muslin against it?

Will his sweaty palm leave

A forever handprint like the one

My father left on the thigh of my mother’s

New black velvet skirt, before I was born?

Does he clutch tightly,

Bury his fingers in red chenille

Feeling only the tension in his hand?

Maybe his fingers are spread wide,

Like my baby’s, as she reaches,

Too slowly, for the cat as he purrs

Past, feeling only the cool silk tail

Slip under her grasp,

Instead of warm plush fur.

Friday, April 29, 2011


The poems by Debra Kaufman and Susan M. Lefler weave together in all sorts of interesting ways, beyond the obvious. Both deal with family and grief, yes, but beyond that, their voices entwine stylistically and tonally. I'm pleased to feature their new books today and encourage you to order them, keep them side by side, and turn to them especially as night falls. Their poetry waits to offer up its riches in the silence of nightfall. Or the early morning hour when one stands with a cup of coffee looking out at the world, remembering Czeslaw Milosz's prayer from "On Angels":

day draws near
another one
do what you can.

Debra Kaufman has given much to the literary community in her part of North Carolina. A playwright as well as poet, editor, teacher, and enabler of other writers, she embodies what is most admirable in our North Carolina literary scene.

Debra's new book can be found at Jacar Press's website--www.jacarpress.com. Jacar promises to become one of the South's most important small presses.
    • We're Never Ready

      Here we gather,
      motley, at the wake.

      This one hasn’t had her roots
      touched up. That one’s stuffed

      into his best suit coat.
      One has black grease under his fingernails.

      Another teeters on too-high heels
      saying Jesus, Jesus—

      half-prayer, half-curse.
      We gather brassy,

      shabby, befuddled,
      to witness this body—

      yellow rose on blue lapel,
      fresh haircut, no necktie—

      his body without his laugh,
      his breath, the pain.

      Autumnal Equinox

      Sugar maples blaze at sunset;
      leaves swoop and skirt
      the chilling wind like chimney swifts.

      A boy leaps into leaves,
      calls to a neighbor’s Irish red,
      as light falls, a cat’s white shadow,

      on his grandmother’s lap.
      Her hands rest there,
      her grandmother’s hands,

      the same boniness of wrist and knuckle,
      dry fingers nearly flammable in the smoky air.
      She smells ripe pears

      and feels her body drawn
      toward the darkness that rolls in
      earlier each day.

      Heat and light retreat,
      and evening covers everything
      except the boy, whose hair shines

      silky silver light
      as he tosses armfuls of color
      upward, like sparks.

    Susan Lefler has been in several of my workshops, which means I'm by no means objective when it comes to her work. I've watched her grow over the years into a writer who knows her material and can work with it without flinching, asking the tough questions, lowering the windlass at the well, as Seamus Heaney has described the poet's growth. Her first collection, Rendering the Bones, comes fully rendered itself, a mature poet's voice reaching out to us.

    Charlie Hughes has made Wind Publications a treasure trove of some of the best poetry being published in the South. Visit his site--www.windpub.com--to view his catalog. Charlie is a fine poet himself and a longtime supporter of Appalachian and Southern writing.

    Rendering the Bones

    The trouble with grief,
    I think as I boil the bones,
    is that you grow accustomed to it.
    Empty space, where all you have left
    is old dry bones.

    At the rest home where my father lives,
    his neighbors pedal their wheeled chairs like
    little boats along the halls, their eyes empty
    as hooked fish. These old ones know
    dry bones don’t live.

    Against her shriveled breast,
    an old woman clutches her plastic doll,
    touches its cheek and croons to it.
    Her reedy cry follows me down
    the narrow hallways of our loss

    where I hear her again,
    as I stand at my stove,
    clutching my mother’s spoon
    in my hands,
    rendering the bones.

    Analysis of a Perfect Storm

    The eye where the wind lies quiet

    must be round and smooth as silk pajamas

    and very, very still, and those who stand

    in its center must rest in its infinite

    curve as if held in the arms

    of a mother while outside, the wind

    gathers. There must be a pupil

    in that calm eye to watch in all directions

    as winds build toward their dead intent

    and the pressure drops. No holy habitation

    here, no safety net, no freedom for the guest.

    Trapped in a hospital cube, I listen

    with my parents to steel voices

    while one hope after another collapses,

    sucking our breath. Outside, the wind

    picks up again and my father stares transfixed,

    rehearsing escape routes

    even as water rises and the eye

    passes over.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

POETS OF THE DAY: Helen Losse & John Amen

Helen Losse is a Winston-Salem poet, the author of two full length books, Seriously Dangerous (Main Street Rag, 2011) andBetter With Friends (Rank Stranger Press, 2009) and two chapbooks,Gathering the Broken Pieces andPaper Snowflakes. Her recentpoetry publications and acceptances include The Wild Goose Poetry Review, Main Street Rag, Iodine Poetry Review, Blue Fifth Review, The Pedestal Magazine, ken*again, and Literary Trails of the North Carolina Piedmont. Helen’s poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and twice for a Best of the Net award, one of which was a finalist. She is the Poetry Editor for online literary magazine The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.


Songs of War

Perhaps, the adage believed by children is true.

It concerns the way they view the world,

line blasted streets.

The men will die for those who govern,

singing songs of war and trumped-up creeds,

pitting brother against brother, maiming for life.

The sucking babes who cannot cry

have parched throats—throats that swell

amid the rubble. Have those children no homes,

no mothers?

first published in Poets Against the War (February 2003)



—for Troy

The gulf had deepened

among the members of the band,

as quarrelling turned to fury

like any nonsense where

all the M&Ms must be red

or all the nuts come from Brazil.

When spanning the distance between

entities became impossible,

the guitar-playing poet,

who’d said all along, “Bridge:

Ices Before Road” was somehow

funny, signed his song-rights away.

And though it’s not provable,

I’d say, he marched sanely over two brothers’

egos, without looking back.

first published in Right Hand Pointing


John Amen is the author of three collections of poetry: Christening the Dancer (Uccelli Press 2003), More of Me Disappears(Cross-Cultural Communications 2005), and At the Threshold of Alchemy (Presa 2009), and has released two folk/folk rock CDs, All I’ll Never Need and Ridiculous Empire (Cool Midget 2004, 2008). His poetry has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including, most recently, Rattle, The New York Quarterly, The International Poetry Review, Gargoyle, andBlood to Remember. He is also an artist, working primarily with acrylics on canvas. Amen travels widely giving readings, doing musical performances, and conducting workshops. He founded and continues to edit the award-winning literary bimonthly,The Pedestal Magazine (www.thepedestalmagazine.com).



The detective whispers to the nun,

seven girl scouts held hostage in a library.

Poodles are snarling in the boxwood maze.

I spent the morning sharpening knives, filing

family photographs, tried on my grandfather’s wingtips.

I am still channeling, sweetheart.


This is the second time I have

swallowed my tongue during a meditation.

If you were here, I would show you my teeth.

Yellow stain on the confession gown.

An owl beating its wings in the belfry.

The composer shreds his tablature.

Fire in the wheat. The farmer signs the contract.


A faint ticking sound in the tunnel;

again my guts on the rotisserie of blame.

Our ambition

is what the minotaur really wants.

My love, somehow you are always

two or three steps ahead of me, so well

you wield the plane, hammer, balance.


The jester is squatting by the hydrant.

He brings old news to the gateway of awe.

There is a crack in the chandelier.

I’m made of fairy tales, thorns, grapes as ripe as justice.

Must there always be an interpreter?

I hereby attest to

the malevolence of the atom.


Ironweed spreads.

Azalea, crimson dragon, snorting in its trench.

I forget, are the clocks racing or lagging?

What story unfolds behind the opaque window?

Who is inside, patching meaning

onto the holey rags of illusion?

Performing communion in the television glow?

Gorging to keep cruel hours at bay?


I denied my roots a dozen times. A pro

gave me a valentine and wished me well.

The renderer stepped away from his churn.

A process of elimination began.

Surgeons. Stickmen whistling in the rain.

Your children turning over our birdbaths.

So many hawks frozen in the pines.

In the end, everything seems like theater.

In a Room

for Mary



your mother

with her magnolia voice

thanked me for the pineapple,

said she could almost

hear the ukuleles.


Years from now,

waiting in some apricot room

as my bones collapse,

I feel the shadow encroaching,

sweet but stern age arrived.


Simply your profile

as you sit in the eggplant dusk

on the edge of the bed.

That I could somehow touch

your future lives with my love.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

POETs OF THE DAY: Ruth Moose and Jeff Davis

Ruth Moose has taught creative writing at UNC-Chapel Hill since l996. She received a McDowell Colony Fellowship and most recently, in 2008, a Chapman Fellowship for teaching. Ruth is the author of two books of short stories, The Wreath Ribbon Quilt (St. Andrews Press) and Dreaming in Color (August House) as well as five other poetry collections. TEA and other assorted poems is a follow up to her extremely successful book The Librarian and other poems, published in 2009 by Main Street Rag. Her poems and stories have appeared in Atlantic Monthly, Redbook, Prairie Schooner, Yankee, The Nation,Christian Science Monitor among other places. Her stories have been published in England, Holland, South Africa, and Denmark.


soft gray

numb, dumb thumbs

poking from brown leaves

uncurling like baby's fingers

unfurling plumes of green

biology. My class drew

the life cycle of a fern.

At fifteen

what did I know of wonder?


My mother

arms loaded

with their scrolled

petals magenta, fuschia, purple

bent in a vase doily laced table

cradle stroked them

staked their heavy heads

cool as taffeta

button buds


green thumbs

white vase flaring

out like a trumpet

her hand, her hands

now twisted like welks.

Jeff Davis and I were in graduate school together back in the '60s, sitting in the same poetry workshop in the graduate writing program at UNC-Greensboro. Jeff hosts and produces Wordplay, a program featuring poets and other writers. It now airs at 6:00 p.m Sundays via www.AshevilleFM.org. A catalog of shows is at www.naturespoetry.blogspot.com. A chapbook, Transits of Venus, appeared in 1005 and Natures in 2006.

The Cotyledon


Two lovers lie

together, like two


inside the finished seed

bound asleep

to the root

the long tunnels

& subway


that end nowhere:

a door

through which each day

drop by drop

a river seeps from the rock

and rises

through their

flesh into morning.

The Bridge

The syntax of a magnolia

unravels in the dream

each flower passes into

a trajectory

through forms

a long bridge

leads from the earth

through these limbs

all built

by the eye of the seed

turned in the root's spiral

from veil to


a bridge cast

from the ash of

the flower


dead charred

petals channel the air.