Poem June 2024

Poem June 2024

Feature Photograph: Courtesy Tufts Archives

To Donald Ross

(On receiving a picture of this famous

golf architect studying a 6-foot putt)

Brave Donald, in your suit of brown,

I see you studying your putt,

And well I know you’ll run it down;

It is a splendid picture, but

For all the woes you’ve worked for me,

Deep in a bunker you should be.

I smile to see your kindly eye;

’Tis good to see your figure fair;

Six feet away, I’ll say you lie,

And know your second put your there;

They took your picture on the green —

A pit had made a merrier scene.

I should have laughed to see you caught,

Your niblick tightly clutched in hand,

Standing where I so oft have fought

To battle with the stubborn sand;

It would have pleased me more to see

Your ball where mine so oft must be.

Yet, Donald, if perchance the day

Shall come to me when I can brag

That I, like you, have learned to play

My second shots up to the flag,

If I reach any green in two

I’ll have my picture made for you.

    — Edgar A. Guest

(Edgar A. Guest, 1881-1959, was known as the People’s Poet.
He wrote this poem for the testimonial dinner honoring Donald Ross at the Pinehurst County Club on March 20, 1930.)

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 March 2024

Poem March 2024

Julian

In christening gown and bonnet,

he is white and stoic as the moon,

unflinching as the sun burns

through yellow puffs of pine

pollen gathered at his crown

while I pour onto his forehead

from a tiny blue Chinese rice cup

holy water blessed

by John Paul II himself

and say, “I baptize you, Julian Joseph,

in the name of the Father, and of the Son,

and of the Holy Spirit.”

Nor does he stir when the monarchs

and swallowtails,

in ecclesiastical vestments,

lift from the purple brushes

of the butterfly bush

and light upon him.

    — Joseph Bathanti

Joseph Bathanti was the North Carolina poet laureate from 2012-2014. He will be inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in October.

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.