Poem February 2024

Poem February 2024

Onward

Here we are again

on the back porch.

Bluebirds eating mealworms

from the feeder

while the brown-chested

nuthatch takes its time

with the sunflower seeds.

Lili, the pup, is at my feet,

and the sun, my God,

this sun feels so good

on a February afternoon.

There’s coffee and a friend’s

new book of poetry.

Can you hear the saxophone

from the jazz man practicing next door?

A sparrow flies over

lands a foot away

on the edge of the table,

looks at me, as if to say

what more do you want?

    — Steve Cushman

Steve Cushman is the author of three novels, including Portisville, winner of the 2004 Novello Literary Award. His poetry collection, How Birds Fly, won the 2018 Lena Shull Book Award and his latest volume, The Last Time, was published by Unicorn Press in 2023.

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 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

Lines to a Toad in a Rose Garden

You’re all eyes,

even on the back of your head

and warty as a road.

Brown as the ground

beneath roses.

Roses red as song,

pink as a whistle,

yellow as whiskey

and white as wishes.

The air

is all roses

breathing, their petals open

to God and glory and whatever good

comes winging this day.

But Toad is bugging.

He’s good at his job; fast and careful.

On time and off, he sees upward,

past roses to his calling 

and takes it all

in Toad’s time.

— Ruth Moose

Ruth Moose’s most recent book is The Goings on at Glen Arbor Acre.

Poem July 2023

Poem July 2023

Clay Banks

The creek is old and its banks are steep.

Its flow never stops its work of remaking.

Clay like this wants to keep its form

though scoured by the storm-carried silt,

pitted as by earthbound lightning strikes.

Water is turned by jutting granite,

milky quartz, even soft sandstone,

all of it red with rust going green

as first the ferns unroll their fronds

and vines tease the air with soft thorns

the way childhood returns in old age.

 

A friend told me how his mother, who

is now constantly looking for her home,

who can’t recognize him or his sister,

was happy to play ball with his toddler,

with his new puppy. She tossed the ball

against the brick patio wall with a spin.

The dog and child ran with confused joy.

Sometimes they fell over each other.

His mother always caught the ball.

She was the only one who seemed to know

exactly where the ball would bounce.

— Paul Jones

Paul Jones is a professor emeritus at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His latest collection of poetry is called Something Wonderful.

Poem June 2023

Poem June 2023

this I know for sure

We are the breath the skin the muscles the heart the hands the unmeasurable bones whispering across the Atlantic Ocean. We are the bellies of Middle Passage ships. We are the blue door of no return on Goree Island. We are the mornings that broke with our living and our dead fastened together. We are the eyes bearing witness to sharks following our human cargo waiting for the feast of dead or sick bodies tossed overboard. We are the shadows in the back of the eyes of daughters throwing themselves and their babies overboard. Our blood is the red that stole the blue of the ocean. We are scattered bones rising up from the bottom of the Atlantic revealing a pathway marking the route. We are the fruit of those bone trees planted deep in the fertile Atlantic. We carry a DNA of survival, strength, extraordinary will. From forced migration to slave market we are all the links of all the chains of the past and future. Binding spiritual links from the bones in the Atlantic to the bones of slaves in a place like Galveston Texas where ancestral whispers became the wind… Caressing tired bones with a timeless spirit of rebirth and love. The wind heard first. Whispering from the trees, from the ground beneath their feet, whispering…

Freedom

Freedom

Freedom                                                                                   

The wind knew and rattled tiny bones beneath the feathers of birds. The wind knew. Giving voice to the rain falling creating fertile freedom ground. The wind whispered to every butterfly, every insect pollinating from flower to flower. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. Eagles stopped in midair to listen to the wind’s song… Freedom came today. Freedom came today… And because our people are a chosen people we could understand the dance of the trees, the tremble of the water. Hoes stopped striking. Hands stopped picking. Feet stood still. A mighty storm named freedom rained over them. Soaked them clean. Mothers kissed hope into the air above babies’ heads. Grandmothers and grandfathers stretched prayers into a sky that would not bend. Men asked where will this freedom live. Children asked what does this freedom taste like. What does this freedom smell like. What does this freedom sound like.  What does this freedom look like. Mama, tell me what this freedom gonna feel like. We screamed a jubilee into the clouds. We shed the skin of a slave. We shed the rags of a slave into the river. Our freedom skin was a shining brand-new nakedness that outshined the sun. We be clothed in freedom’s gold. On Juneteenth dead bones came alive and flew on the wings of Sankofa birds all the way back to the river where blood is born… All the way back to the womb that never forgets. We are the Juneteenth resurrection… We are the ancient prayers answered. We are the cup overflowing inviting generations to this feast of freedom. 

— Jaki Shelton Green

Poem May 2023

Poem May 2023

Mallard Ducks

It is late afternoon and a pair

of mallard ducks is paddling

the length and breadth of Lake

Katharine, their webbed feet

working beneath the waterline.

The male’s hunter green head

is iridescent in the sun, his bill

the bright yellow of summer

squash. But a female is harder

to see. Her mottled, brunette

feathers blend with the aquatic

vegetation, which will help her

protect the nest she has yet to

build, the eggs she has not yet

lain. Today, however, this hen

seems content to bob for plants

and small fish while swimming

around the lake with her mate,

the two of them silent as rubber

ducks floating in a child’s bath —

or an old married couple eating

their supper on separate trays.

— Terri Kirby Erickson

Terri Kirby Erickson’s seventh book of poetry, Night Talks: New & Selected Poems, will be released in October 2023.

Poem April 2023

Poem April 2023

Farmlife

If I were a farmer now

I would name my hoe Samson

to move the dirt near my cow

 

that moos the meadow for nose

discharges worthy of respect,

some lows with lots of excesses

 

pouring like rain flattery cannot know

so thin and bare when we wag our tails

and say Nature’s cruel enough to please

 

any milker named Grace

or Paul or Brown.

May pings of milk stream

 

into the bucket between knees.

The cow chews her cud

with contentment of a Christian without honor

 

or the noise from the garden my mother tends.

Discretion is the council of remembrance.

Sometimes a tower is by itself a watch.

 

If needs be, grant mercy,

then climb to the top,

a mile from the dirt.

  Shelby Stephenson

Shelby Stephenson was North Carolina’s ninth poet laureate.

Poem March 2023

Poem March 2023

Ice Cream Parlor

The woman has a gold stud through her tongue,

her companion a snarling tiger tattooed on his neck.

They hover over cups of Crazy Vanilla and Chunky

Chocolate as she describes the final scene from an old

Tom Hanks movie in which a single white feather is

lifted on a breeze to float gently through the universe.

“It’s symbolic of death and rebirth,” she says,

and claims the movie’s protagonist is dying

as he sits on a bench pondering his young son’s

passage into tomorrow. The woman with the studded

tongue says the feather’s random motion is evocative

of fate and free will and that we are all reborn

with our final breath, our souls gently ascending.

The man with the tiger tattoo sees it differently:

“Sometimes,” he says, “you’re just full of it.”

And there, in the sumptuous clamor of the ice

cream parlor, you become aware of a cold certainty

that has nothing to do with feathers or movies

or tattoos or tasty confections or the clear blue sky

or the universe about which the stud-tongued woman

is so emphatic on this spring morning when you

are again reminded that for every bright romantic

notion there’s a spiteful truth that will crush it.

  Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith’s Beguiled by the Frailties of Those Who Precede Us will be published this spring by Kelsay Books.