Poem July 2024

Poem July 2024

Cicada Rondeau

They don’t so much sing as plead

In their droning sound stampede.

I hope they find the love they need —

Something more than meet-and-breed.

Can that even be with insects —

To have sensations beyond touch?

Do they know joy as well as sex?

They don’t so much.

                              — Paul Jones

Paul Jones is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of the collection Something Wonderful.

Poem May 2024

Poem May 2024

Beguiled by the Frailties of Those Who Precede Us

Scrub your face with a vengeance.

Brush your teeth till your gums bleed.

Comb your hair into a pompadour, braid it

into cornrows, buzz cut a flattop with side skirts,

spit-paste that cowlick to your forehead.

That’s how it begins, this becoming who you aren’t.

A twitch or tic or two you may inherit, but the face

in the mirror you recognized only once

before you’re beguiled by the frailties of those who

precede you — your wayward Aunt Amelia,

the lying politician, tongue flickering through his false

teeth, the long-legged temptress slyly sipping a latté

at the corner coffee shop, your scapegrace 

one-eyed Uncle Bill — all of them competing

for your attention, all of them wanting you to become

who they believed they were going to be.

Between intention and action, take a deep breath

and welcome the moment you become who you aren’t.

Slap on Uncle Bill’s black eye patch,

stuff those willful curls under Aunt Amelia’s cloche,

pluck your eyebrows, rouge your cheeks, bleach

those teeth whiter than light: then stare deep into

the reflection behind the mirror: who you’ve become

will trouble you, even if you shut your eyes.  

            — Stephen E. Smith

Stephen E. Smith is a retired professor and the author of seven books of poetry and prose. His memoir The Year We Danced is being released this month by Apprentice House Press.

Poem April 2024

Poem April 2024

Penumbra

My father taught me a civil trick.

If you get caught during a rainstorm

at a downtown restaurant, just ask

the bartender if someone left a black umbrella. They will present you with

a cardboard box chock full of them.

It is not a lie: Someone really has left behind each one. You have left many. Part of the loophole is to make sure to give that umbrella to someone who needs it, or at the very least, leave it

in a shady vestibule, on the coat rack next to that sad windbreaker. Otherwise it doesn’t count. Now they could call this all a life hack, but I consider that lacking. The process of inheritance is about so much more than getting what you need.

            — Maura Way

Maura Way’s second collection of poetry, Mummery,
was published in November 2023 by Press 53.

Poem January 2024

Poem January 2024

ADVENTURE

Because she was fast in her way

And he followed her suit,

They launched horizon’s fruitful gaze

To fortify their fruit.

In short parlance, ahead of him,

She was a gushing bride

Until gray moods turned dark to bend

Their rivers for her tide.

They never had one dissension.

He lived his love the same

Beyond single thought’s contention. 

Her body chemistry!

A drinking fountain salutes thirst,

Instant bubble, wet lips.

Then comes what earthly love holds first,

Her muscles fell to slips.

So he slept and woke up alone,

For she was processioned

In Smithfield Manor Nursing Home,

Tenacity, a test.

His eye-lids open every morn.

The bones to him creak rise.

The sun’s obeying crown adorns

Remembrances, her sighs.

— Shelby Stephenson

Shelby Stephenson was North Carolina’s poet laureate from 2014-16. His most recent volume of poetry is Praises.

Poem December 2023

Poem December 2023

Snowbird

The Latin teacher finally did retire. Her balcony now bends toward the sea. She is in a high-rise looking down at birds. Gulls scream and fly north to the next resort. All that’s left now are pigeons on the patio. They scavenge through the purpling decorative cabbage. She hasn’t seen a pelican yet, just the same birds she came here to get away from. They look like feathered cataracts in a kale eyeball. She sees a buried Titan with umbrella pectorals. It struggles to emerge from beneath the sodden November sand, beaten down by so many tenacious dog walkers. He has his eye on her.

              — Maura Way

Maura Way’s second collection of poetry, Mummery, was published by Press 53.

Poem November 2023

Poem November 2023

After Church

When the preacher’s son told me

my aura was part halo, part rainbow,

I saw him see me

saintly. God

appeared instantly and everywhere

that summer:

smiling in the pansies,

reflecting us in the farm pond,

beside us on our bikes,

in the barn fragrant with warm cows,

glinting from the hay chaff,

the slatted light.

God touched us as we touched,

electricity in our fingers,

we were shimmery and dewy,

our skin golden, hair sun-bleached.

Angels sang in our voices.

The moon rose in heaven, love,

heaven in the moon.

— Debra Kaufman

Debra Kaufman’s newest poerty collection, Outwalking the Shadow, is forthcoming from Redhawk Publications.

Poem October 2023

Poem October 2023

Letting Go

Today the trees release their leaves. The wind

a breath that calls the colors down to earth —

wild dance with crimson, gold, and brown

aloft in death, unfurling flaming fields 

and forest floor. If I could hurl myself 

like this into each ending, long for nothing 

sure or safe, but celebrate the letting go, 

 

descend, a woman trusting the fall.

I’d release all claim to expectation, 

breathe the air of possibility, 

find beginnings everywhere. 

I’d settle down to loamy earth long enough

to nourish life that waits, growing still

in the summons from a savage world.

      — Pat Riviere-Seel

Pat Riviere-Seel’s latest collection, When There Were Horses, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing Company.

Poem September 2023

Poem September 2023

Heaven

Take me to a place where thoughts taste like sounds

Where faith feels and passion runs

Where touch can swim and energy flow

Where reasons don’t demand, season’s blossom and suns rise

Where water walks and life don’t pass you by, but instead waits patiently

Where people’s attention spans decades

Allow me to be more, so much more

Where my words are more than food for thought, but rather thoughts that provide food

Where I can be more than a poet

And what I say more than words

Where what I do is more than actions

Where revolution is daily and change is voluntary

Where red lights don’t stop traffic, but instead influence all to go respectfully

Creating infinite synergy

Take me to a place where we all prosper normally

Growing hereditarily, moving toward unity

Soon to be so much more than just inspiring

I want to breathe change and walk freedom

To sing strength and run like the wind

Where I can bleed passion and birth ideas that grow to be the future

Where suits are more than clothes or court cases

But represent a race of people all created equal

Where color is no boundary, where money no discriminating factor

Where like actors we are all just waiting to receive our academy award

Their time in the lime light, but this spectrum touches all of us leaving out no one

That light too bright to be held captive

I want to be there where the stairs lead upward and onward and life never ends

Where goodness and peace transcend and everyone is your friend

It’s too bad the only way to get there is at this life’s end

Heaven

  Josephus III

Poem August 2023

Poem August 2023

Washington as Count Dracula

Tryon Place, 1791

Washington comes in. He is wearing

black velvet with gold buckles at the knee

and foot,

a sword with finely wrought

steel hilt, in scabbard

of white leather,

a cocked hat with a cockade and a feather,

also black. His powdered hair

is gathered in a black silk bag.

His hands in gloves of yellow

clasp extended hands.

Above his head medallions

of King and Queen

flicker beneath dripping wicks, the little flames

in circles on the chandeliers

surrounded by bits of glass, like worlds

in the sky, the telescopes of astronomers.

The crystals like Newton’s prisms split

the flames, blue, yellow, red, violet.

As in the “The Masque of the Red Death”

the dance goes on in rooms, where colors

glint from rubies in women’s ears.

He bows deeply, his corneas

refract ideas: science

dances from tiaras, bracelets, rings.

The battle of Alamance

was lost. The Regulators’

defeat had finished the rebellion,

or so Tryon thought.

Washington’s eyes grow red.

He leads the minuet.

        — Paul Baker Newman

Almanac July 2023

Almanac July 2023

July is a recipe for pie.

As the birds blurt out their morning devotions, your mantra is singular and succinct: blueberries. Even the word feels ripe and juicy. You snag a sunhat, load up on water, gather the vessels for the great summer harvest.

Before the heat consumes the day, you step into the balmy morning, bright-eyed and unwavering. The walk to the woody temple is more than a core memory. You know it in your bones. As the robin chants his ancient hymn, you whistle along:

Blue-ber-ries, ber-ries, ber-ries, blue-ber-ries . . . 

At last, you stand before the altar of the sun-loving shrubs, awestruck. Clusters of plump berries nearly drip from sweeping branches. The ripe ones tumble at your touch.

You find your rhythm: three for the basket; one for the tongue. You’ll need six cups for pie. Seventy berries per cup.

One for the basket, three for the tongue. The pop of sweetness fuels you. Pie is nice, but fresh berries are the best berries. Just ask the whistling robin.

As the air becomes syrup, you reach for one last cluster, coaxing a final palmful with purple-stained fingers. One, two, three for the tongue.

On the trek back, belly and baskets brimming, you are one with the great summer harvest. The horizon holds visions of sugar and lemon and lattice crust. Yet nothing could be sweeter than this sun-drenched moment, the salt on your skin, fresh blueberries on the tongue.

 

Like a Charm

Black-eyed Susan is blooming. Jewelweed, too. And, did you see that brilliant flash of yellow?

At last, it’s nesting season for the American goldfinch. Where the thistle grows wild and thick, female finches line their nests with — that’s right — fluffy white thistle down.

These late-season breeders undulate through the air as they fly, foraging for thistle and grass seeds in wide-open meadows. Spotting one is a delight. But should you ever see a flock of them (they’re gregarious year-round), consider yourself charmed. A congregation of goldfinches, after all, is called a charm.

 

Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.    — Wendell Berry

 

In the Garden

Snap beans and melons and snakes! Oh, my.

The summer garden is brimming with goodness and — if you’re lucky — perhaps a resident garter snake. Harmless to humans (although they may bite in self-defense), these carnivorous wonders feast on slugs, cucumber beetles and other garden pests. They’re not here for the Silver Queen or Cherokee Purples. 

This time of year, female garters may be eating for two. Or, rather, a wriggling knot of live young. Learn how to identify these slithering allies should you peel back the vines to a surprise garden party. Don’t forget your stripes!  PS