"Carolina Pastorals"

Chapter 1

By estory

Cold winter daylight brightened snow
Spread between shadows of the trees
Like the white pages of an old book
Holding secrets of the Earth.

There is no end to the trembling silence
In the empty branches of the trees.

And yet, one cardinal, like a red spark,
Leaps across the empty, white landscape
Carrying the flame from last year's candlestick
To pass on to the spring.

Author Notes This is the first piece in the new series I have been working on since last summer, a book that will be called Carolina Pastorals. I think this is a good example of what to expect; a more lyrical style, more pastoral romantic, revolving around imagery with a less dense musical element. Somewhat in the vein of Natural Light, so if you liked the poems in that book, you will probably like Carolina Pastorals. This one kind of speaks for itself, I think, a poem about the mysterious movement of change in the seasons of Earth, the idea of life carrying on from one season to the next, somehow. And our own experience being elevated along with it. estory

Chapter 2

By estory

Perfect stillness.
One wouldn't consider disturbing
Unblemished snow.
And yet,

On up ahead,
A field of crocus
Beckons like the pied piper
Calling out his vagabonds.

At the window
You sit sipping tea,
Caught between a good book
And dreaming of gardens.

But little by little
Bulbs, like buried treasure,
Call you out of your shell.

Author Notes This is another free verse poem about spring, very reliant on the images of snow and crocus and legend and the magic of nature to tell the story of winter gradually turning the page and calling us along for the ride out of our place inside at the frost covered window pane. There's a definite movement here from stillness to dance, from contemplation to action. Musically and rhythmically I think it owes a lot to the poetry of Denise Levertov; maybe also in the unveiled persona of the narrator. Hope you all enjoy; it was fun to write. estory

Chapter 3
Vernal Interlude

By estory

The snow melted last night.

I run my hands over you
Until I think of nothing but silk
Embroidered by the Queen of Sheba.

You look at me
Over your shoulder,
Like a gift between lovers
And I pick up your violin
And draw my bow across its strings,
Composing a song of Ladyslippers
And Foxgloves
While you lie beside yourself,
As dawn creeps up the windowpanes.

So passes another night. Another season.
Another year.

Author Notes This is a romantic poem with a sensual feel to it, a moment of seduction set symbolically at the end of winter and the melting of snow; an interlude of love in the seasons of life. I wanted to create a sense of passion in that moment, but also a sense of underlying forces creating that passion and the transient nature of it, as it slips into memory and life and nature march on. I wanted a light, open ended free form feel and plenty of color and shape and sensation in the images for this poem, a bit different than some of the others posted so far for Carolina Pastorals. I think Denise Levertov definitely served as a model for the style and format of this, this is very much in the vein of her poetry. estory

Chapter 4
Spring Suite pt I: Spring Melody

By estory

Spring bursts
Clattering out of the ground
On a windy day in March

Blowing trumpets of tulips
And daffodil clarinets,
Clashing cymbals of forsythia
Or playing a piano of dogwoods

In celebration
Of the resurrection
And the life everlasting

Springing into the light
From the long, cold dark
Winter night
Melting away
Like frost from the windowpanes
On April mornings.

The dream of the spirits
Ends in broad daylight,
Living color.

Out in the garden, frocked flowers
Proclaim the blood of the roses
A gift,
A ransom

And the condemned man
To dance with the iris

Author Notes This poem is the opening segment of a trilogy of pieces within Spring Suite. This is pure, traditional free verse, open ended, free form language, pulsing out in rhythms designed to emulate the energy of the theme. I wanted to create an upbeat piece, full of music and images of instruments and light, as spring emerges like the view from a window as the frost melts in early spring, with all its color, all its promise. There are also not so subtle Christian connotations to this, especially at the end, in the image of the thorned rose and the allusion to the resurrection of Christ, freeing the sinner and bringing him up to dance like the flowers, with joy. estory

Chapter 5
Spring Suite pt II: Magnolia

By estory

A magnolia like a girl in a white dress
Waiting for someone to ask her for a dance.
Returning sun's light quickens her pulse,
Bringing out the beauty in her hands and face
As she holds up all the bouquets of flowers
Given to her by her many admirers.
All the blooming trees seem to swirl across the field
To the rhythm of light and a gentle breeze,
Dressed up for the season of blossom and seed
Passed down like fruit from the tree of life.

Author Notes This is part two of Spring Suite, a bit more narrative, with longer lines set with off rhyme. I like using the more subtle echo effect of off rhyme, where there is a like sound but not a perfect, ringing rhyme. Much of this segment revolves around the image of the girl in the dress at the dance, kind of an abstraction of fertility loosely tied to natural and spiritual forces, through that allusion at the end to the tree of life. I tried to create something of a mysterious energy behind it all, going back through milleniums of generation to the dawn of time. And yet also keep it somewhat in the present, in the moment. Spring is also about this force of fertility and the power behind generation and the creation of new life. estory

Chapter 6
Spring Suite pt III: Royal Iris

By estory

Last year's sacrifice
Becomes this year's lilac.

What was once laid lifeless in the tomb
Now rolls away the bitter stone

And life resumes its place,
Reinventing the royal purple iris.

The royal purple iris
Forgets its sadness,

The long, lonely nights in the garden
And the cross on the hill of Jerusalem.

The first light of dawn
proclaims the joy of Easter morning.

Author Notes This is the last part of Spring Suite, in a more measured, maybe more solemn format, which I think was appropriate for this last segment and its strong spiritual theme. The ties between spring and the death and resurrection of Christ are hard to separate; in spring, we have this powerful image of life surviving death and resurrecting back into the light, back into color, overcoming the sadness and death of winter. Every year we are reminded of this promise of Christ, this great hope that through faith, we can gain a passage through this reinvention of life. So the question becomes: is Christ a symbol of spring, or spring a fulfillment of Christ? I'm with the latter interpretation, meaning that it becomes impossible to separate nature from spiritualism. estory

Chapter 7

By estory

Where Jesus walks the dead rise,
Climbing out of their cold graves
To walk around in the sunshine
And meet all the people they haven't seen in years.
There's your father dressed in his good suit,
Your mother in her wedding dress
Waltzing around in the street,
Free from her Alzheimer's
And your grandfather and grandmother
Bringing you books and cookies.
Old friends share cups of coffee,
Remembering where they left off
While old enemies, no longer arguing,
Play board games and tell jokes
In the barber shop.

Where Jesus walks the fruit trees bloom
All down the street, while robins and blue birds
Rejoice at his coming. The city,
That was once the city
Of millions of dead men
Riding the rails between Sodom and Mamon,
Throws open its windows and proclaims with one voice
All the way up to the spires of its skyscrapers
That God has come back again at last,
Bringing sunlight and starlight
To illuminate the dingy apartments
After all these years of darkness and silence.

Where Jesus walks the bridges are full of lost souls
Making their way back from the cemetaries,
Following Him up on a road into the mountains
Above the clouds and thorns
To a place where they find their voice
And sing a song that never seems to end,
So glad at having found themselves again.

Where Jesus walks the sea parts
And gives up the dead it's been hoarding.
Here they come, a great crowd,
Up from under the waves that held them down
And drowned the life out of them,
Walking out onto the bright shore
And breathing fresh air again,
All their debts settled,
All their sins forgiven,
Ready to start over.

Where Jesus walks even the stone statues
Come alive and jump down from their pedestals,
Dancing and singing in the dim cathedral,
Their voices ringing in the solemn halls,
Their faces brightening the sanctuary
Like light from thousands of stained glass windows.

Where Jesus walks the children follow,
Skipping, laughing, holding onto his hands
As he leads them beyond their fears
And their growing pains
Up onto the Mount of Olives
And into the Garden of Gethsemane,
Where He points out the morning star,
While they wait for the sunrise.

Author Notes This is a long poem, but I really enjoyed writing it and I hope if you stay with it, you will really enjoy it. I wanted to create a poem with a Psalm like, praise feel, but in a more personal voice and with contemporary images that make this story of the resurrection from long ago more relevant. I wanted to show what Jesus can do for YOU, where you are in your life, in whatever setting, and how His power can transform your life and bring to life what seems dead. It's a little early for Easter, but never too early for the transformative power of Christ our Lord. estory

Chapter 8
Carolina Sunrise

By estory

Contemplation of a Carolina Sunrise

Suspended in the all encompassing darkness
on a shoreline separating ocean and land
in between the depths of night and edge of day,
the only reference point is the pulse of the lighthouse
and the only sound, the whisper of the sea.
I could be anywhere, or nowhere,
a small, insignificant figure standing here
amid the vastness of space and time.

A flush of light in the sky above the horizon
scattered across the countless grains of sand
along the expanse of this ancient beach
marks the movement of that space and passing of that time.
The indistinct night lifts and a distant cloud
catches the first hint of the rising sun
and glows out of the midnight blue,
a golden spectacle unfolding and spreading
under the last glimmer of the constellations
and that last star, the morning star,
like a timeless promise of hope and life,
the supernatural force of love
that lights the inexplicable mysteries of this world.

The cloud brightens, the sea sparkles,
the sand glitters in a thousand fragments
and this light comes to life
and sweeps across oceans and continents,
shifting the ground under our feet,
undermining what feels so permanent
and irreplaceable, casting doubt
on our ambitions and our sense of purpose
in this unfathomable, immense universe.
And yet, as the first point of light
breaks over this shimmering Atlantic,
we find ourselves the living witness
to this morning extravagance.
It's as if it came for no other reason.

Where is there a monument
worthy of this brilliantly painted scene?
Why is this sun rising like this,
catching the spirit up with the spirited gulls?

I see in a young couple walking the beach
hand in hand, sharing a kiss and an embrace,
hopeful in the joy of the morning,
and the breathing of the waves on the morning shore;
the figures of compassion and love,
a portrait of the image of God
that separates us from everything else in creation,
lifting us above this sea, this sand, that light.

Author Notes This ode was written last fall at Oak Island North Carolina. The full title, Contemplation of a Carolina Sunrise, I couldn't get in the site's space, so I repeated it in the poem space. It's an a style of Out East or August from the end of Natural Light, if you remember those poems, something in the romantic style of Coleridge or Wordsworth. I wanted a subdued, meditative tone, full of the images surrounding the scene and inspiring it, a meditation born of the moment and expanding on it. I hope it proves to be a bit uplifting in these trying times, even though I never anticipated coronavirus last year. But that's life. With God's grace, we will get through it. estory

Chapter 9
The Long Sun

By estory

Years, decades, centuries, milleniums
eons of ages. Threads of sunlight
unroll overhead
spinning hydrogen into helium
helium into argon
argon into oxygen
oxygen into neon and carbon
strands stretching
and unravelling
before the beginning
and after the end
eternally woven
into the Word
after all else passes
through the eye of a needle
into a new earth
a new heaven
unrolling and unrolling
like the fantastic visions of tapestries
oriental rugs, prayer flags
in the light
of the long sun

Author Notes This free verse piece was meant to be a tribute to the artwork of
Anna Arborg and her amazing colored silk thread pieces I got a chance to see at the Raleigh Contemporary Art Museum a couple of years ago. I was very impressed with her Long Sun. So I tried to capture that feeling of waves or threads of sunlight overhead, stretching through the elements born in the sun's nuclear reactions, elements that give us life and mark time. Also I put in this sense of the supernatural connection of the physical to the spiritual, the image of the sun as a symbol for Christ, for the reinvention of the world in another form, the creation of a new earth and a new heaven as described in Revelations. I wanted a free flowing, open ended form, a framework for the articulation of eternity and creation. It was fun to write and I hope you enjoy it. estory

Chapter 10

By estory

Like white, silken banners
unfurling into the amber
orange of sunsets

like cotton ball balloons
rising up, up and away
into roofless skies

Clouds like clipper ships
with all of their sails set
sailing off across oceans
to London, Hong Kong,
Rio de Janeiro

Clouds becoming chrysanthemums
becoming seagulls
becoming kites
becoming windmills

Thunderheads and umbrellas

Clouds like castles
of white, limestone battlements
with crenulated walls
and soaring towers

Clouds like cities of skyscrapers
floating above prairies

like mountains of white, chalk cliffs
and snow capped peaks

into thin air

Author Notes I've noticed that clouds can be tremendous in North Carolina; great mountains or soaring castles of embankments, appearing out of nowhere and disappearing into nothing. So I tried to capture that ephemeral, spiritual feeling of these images in this open ended free verse poem. I wanted this to cast as wide a net as the sky and to be gradually changing, just like the clouds grow and dissipate. And to let imagination soar and sail off from those images across the globe. estory

Chapter 11

By estory

and flowing on
into the overflowing
landscape of waterfalls and lava flows
in the flow of changes

Changes in direction
changes in composition
changes in transubstantiation

In the flows of metamorphic
emerald, amethyst, anthracite
diamonds flowing through solid rock

From the mountain of gold
silicon electromagnetic
currents of datastreams

The flow of information
in the flow of facts
and figures flowing
in the hypothetical
theories of evolution

Evolving into
explanations of the inexplicable
imprecise and transmutable

Particles flowing in waves
flowing through matter and energy

From one state of mind
to the next

Author Notes This is a free form flow of language, a stream of consciousness poem about change, movement in form, movement within form, and a transcendence of forms through energy. It combines a fragmented viewpoint with a stream of motion, an attempt to capture that sense of evolution within nature, and also the evolution from nature into our own evolved platforms of information. A sense of going from one state of mind, to the next. it was fun to play around with the rhythms and sound patterns to create this, and I hope you just enjoy it for what it is. estory

Chapter 12
Land: Pt I, Heritage

By estory

For as far as the eye can see
and as long as a man can walk
these fertile, cleared fields unroll
with ears of wheat and heads of cotton
in crowds beyond what the mind can count.
Abundance accumulated in this land
runs deep into the blood, sweat and tears
of generations rooted down here,
the fortunes of families tied
to the fickle gifts of earth and weather.
Each year, a procession of seasons
marches through endlessly repeating necessities
of ploughing, sowing, tending and reaping
harvests that communities hope for;
beans, corn, tomatoes, potatoes
each in turn, born out of ground and water,
knowledge and muscle passed on
from father to son and mother to daughter.

Author Notes This poem is the first of a four poem sequence called Land; and it is meant as a homage to farmers and their special place in our society and culture. There's is a simple yet all important life, rooted in tradition, faith, perseverance and hope, and I tried to bring these things out in the poems. Technically I think they are also a homage to the poetry of Seamus Heaney, who was such a strong influence on me especially in those formative years when I was in college learning the craft. I hear much of Lough Neagh Sequence and At a Potato Digging in these poems. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. estory

Chapter 13
Land: Pt. 2; Groundwork

By estory

You have to be born onto it, your father
needs to show you how to work it,
where to start the plough and when to turn,
angling the furrows one next to another
in these long lines scouring the open acres,
opening up the sand, soil and clay.
Where to scatter the precious seeds,
how to read its slopes and banks for drainage,
what to look for in the clouds and stars,
when to sow and when to reap,
bringing in the promise and bounty of the season.
Hopefully, in the end, a crop to gather
and a living to made out of it.
A full barn and a lit farmhouse
by Thanksgiving.

This sacrament,
almost as sacred as the bread and wine,
binds them together and yokes them on
through birth, marriage, work and death
to a time honored way of life.
Picking the cotton. Shucking the corn.
Pulling onions and potatoes.
Year after year, the work goes on and on.

Author Notes This poem, the second of four in this little series entitled Land, is another that harkens back to my roots as a poet and the strong influence that Seamus Heaney had on shaping my aesthetic ideas about language and poetry. Technically it is along the lines of an ode, a narrative articulation of an admiration for a way of life. I wanted a conversational, contemporary language that would relate well to a broad, contemporary audience, with subtle intimations of music and rhythm undulating through it. Those who enjoy these might take a look into my port and go through my first book of poetry, Word Games, and read Strawberry Fields, Driftings, Wood Work and Renoir Impressions that were my first attempts along these lines of imitating what Heaney was doing at the time. It takes time to find one's own voice and develop one's own set of poetic conventions. Over the years, I think I grew into a more American style, with more American images, and an American sense of language. But the obvious impact of Heaney's work is there. Anyone interested in reading Seamus Heaney's work should check out Poems: 1965-1975, an anthology of his first four books, Death of a Naturalist, Door into the Dark, Wintering Out, and North. In it are his strongest pieces, I feel. But also check out Field Work and his great contemporary sonnet series, Glanmore Sonnets. estory

Chapter 14
Land Pt. 3; Testament

By estory

This old house of white clapboards
with its tin roof, arched windows and gables,
its long porch laid out with columns and rockers
overlooking the promise of its fields
stands as the birthright and inheritance
of these hopeful sons and daughters.
This is their land, clear cut and ploughed
by hand, for centuries, through generations
prospering out of diligence and perseverance,
a certain satisfaction in the abundance
and the sharing of a harvest.

A plain, simple church spire
bears testament to their faith.
Here is where they prayed for rain,
thanked God for the blessings of sunshine,
asked for deliverance from drought and hail.
This is where they knelt at the altar
and then stood up and sang,
holding hands in the light.
Here is where they bore witness
to wedding vows, baptized their children,
buried their dead.

Author Notes This is part 3 of my four part poem, Land, delayed for a couple of weeks because of computer trouble. I wanted to articulate something of the faith of farmers, through the hard work, marriage, birth, death; the struggles of life. I wanted to portray that faith as simple, yet grounded, steadfast through it all, something carrying them through the struggles of life into an understanding of the greater sense of family and spirit and country. I wanted a simple, stripped down, down home language to articulate that. I hope you enjoy it, for those who have been waiting patiently for it, and that you will stay tuned for part 4 which will probably posted next weekend. estory

Chapter 15
Land pt. 4; Requiem

By estory

Life goes on. With spring and the first full moon
after the equinox, comes the ploughing again,
and then the planting. What goes back to the Earth,
ashes to ashes, dust to dust,
gives itself up to the endlessness of the seasons,
the rich ground and those that carry on
working the land to earn a living.
Generation after generation,
fathers have become sons and grandsons.
There is not much time to spare for mourning.

Those farmers who worked these fields
with their scythes and ploughs and tractors
are memorialized in the tobacco,
the corn and the sweet potato.

Author Notes This the final part of my four part series, Land. In this section, the individual is lost in the communal, the sense of self pales in the wider scheme of things, and we have to humbly take our place in the Earth from which we came. But there is also a peace in it. A peace of those fields, those beautiful plants still growing, and the new generations taking the place of the old. There is a resurrection in it. A transfiguration. This is what I wanted to articulate in this last part of the poem. estory

Chapter 16
Pottery pt. 1: Handcraft

By estory

They play something of God sitting at the wheel,
these potters. The deft touch of their hands
and the steady rhythm of their feet on the pedal
seems to work some kind of arcane magic
on the red stained clay of this mother Earth,
molding and working the breath of life
into these creatures, until they take on
something of the fantastic and animate.
They spin off the wheel, a parade of figures
contorting themselves into our humble servants:
an upraised arm twisted into a handle,
a curved lip forming the mouth of a spout,
jug heads with pinched faces
and these vases, like dancers
caught listening to a strange music.

Author Notes Pottery is one of those things North Carolina is famous for and my trip to Seagrove to see the potters served as the inspiration for this piece of the landscape here. I wanted to capture something of the mysterious magic of imagination coming to life, of the creative process. Again, this is in the conversational style of Land, with a simplified language meant to stay close to the heartbeat of folklore and folk culture, the language of the people. The images are the real stars of this. I wanted them to stand out against the simplified background. estory

Chapter 17
Pottery pt. 2: Earthenware

By estory

The cold clay cut from the leavened riverbank
and the living water working into it
through the marvelous imagination of these fingers
transforms the insipid shapelessness
into plates, cups, mugs, pitchers
posing with style, hands on their hips,
spinning in time or taking flight.
All these things standing across the kitchen shelf
every morning, all the things that wait on you
at table, ingrained with an etiquette,
a genteel manner, stylishly offering
cookies and cream, butter and chocolate,
rise and take their places around us,
adorned with the emblems of their service:
ears of wheat, turkeys, wildflowers and bees,
loves of bread and fishes, hands clasped in prayer.

Author Notes I had some fun here making these serving plates and pitchers, these mugs and butter dishes come to life, imagining them as magical servants with personalities and character worked up through the magic of the potters. And these hand made items do have character, so much more so than anything you can buy at Amazon or Walmart. It's these artisans who give the world a soul. Support small business! estory

Chapter 18
Pottery pt. 3: Glazed Magic

By estory

The last step is the time in the kiln
where heat born of poplar and pine
hardens and burnishes
these pliable, clay born bodies
through this blazing temple of artistry.
For days on end the fire cures
until the crackled glaze begins to gleam
and tints of copper, tin and iron
flush the dull pots with living color,
revealing at last their true character.
Now they glisten, glow and shine
like fancy on a kitchen table,
instruments of magic handed down
from sorcerer to apprentice,
conjured by skill and tradition.
In the kitchen cupboards and closets
they whisper and pantomime the earth's secrets.

Author Notes This is the last part of my Pottery series and once again it's firmly in that Seamus Heaney style of Thatcher or Diviner, a conversational style and tone that I really feel is so important in contemporary poetry to appeal to the reader. There's also a use of action and process to dictate the rhythm and musical elements that I found so fascinating in Heaney's work, a new framework for making music in language that I enjoy exploring. I wanted to give these created objects a sense of the magical, imbued with the spirit of their creators and taking on a life of their own. estory

Chapter 19
Threads pt. 1: Spinning Wheels

By estory

Cottonfields stitched into dress shirts,
Gowns and skirts spun from the lilies

Through the patience of seamstresses
Bent at their needles and thimbles

Embroidering what could only be imagined
Out of peacock feathers

And the wings of butterflies,
Divining a spirit

In the shuttle work of looms.
Dreams of spinning wheels.

Author Notes This is part one of my next series of poems honoring the cloth mills of North Carolina; Threads. Once a thriving industry here, the mills have been abandoned for cheaper production in southeast Asia, leaving a legacy of decline but a proud heritage. I wanted in this part to capture something of the imagination in the craft, an imagination that takes raw materials like cotton and silk and transforms them through spinning wheels and looms into the very clothes on our backs. Of course we all wear our personalities on our sleeves and there is an element of display here, hence the allusions to fields of lilies and birds, butterflies. But I wanted to keep this impressionistic, abstract, with a light, airy feel. estory

Chapter 20
Threads pt. 2: Fading Figures

By estory

Empty mills
in the empty mill towns
fading from memory,
like the figures fading
from the cross stitching of samplers

Their once proud workers
wandering off
and leaving their houses to the rivers

A lifetime
left behind
in the records of bankrupt companies

Memories of weddings and baptisms
seem worn into the dresses
hanging in the closets

While the train whistle hangs in the air
as the train passes the station,
on its way somewhere.

Author Notes I want to dedicate this piece to my coworker Diane Jones who worked in the fabric mills for most of her life here in North Carolina. I wanted this to be a tribute to those worked in this once proud industry, now fading from the map. I wanted to capture the sense of lives lost in the bankruptcy shuffle, of memories built up in houses and towns now left empty, of those towns being left behind in the train ride of progress. It really hangs on the use of the imagery more than anything else. estory

Chapter 21
Threads pt. 3: Lost Arts

By estory

Embroidery and needlepoint
imagined by a mother's fingers
on their journey across fabric,
seems and cuffs
folded like love
into the very clothes on our backs.

A forgotten language
from some spinning wheel
or shuttle loom
shuttling for days on end
through autumn and winter
weaving those rainbow threads
into these heart felt, hand made
hand me downs.

Who slept under this blanket?
Whose hands filled these mittens
on those cold, winter mornings?

And who sat up long into the night
working on them?

Author Notes This is the last part of my series on clothes making, and I wanted it to capture something of the love mothers put into making things like sweaters and scarves, for their husbands and children. I wanted this to be a homage to the countless hours of patient tedious work at those looms and spinning wheels, those needlepoint and crochet projects, that all of us seem to take for granted. In the end, its a poem about love. estory

Chapter 22
Blalock House

By estory

What can this old house tell us of the past,
Lives lived here through simple joys and tragedy
Once lighting these rooms or shadowing the staves
Lying under the oak tree in that field?
Who were those who formed such a lively cast
On this porch, when fateful days of history
Swept them away and forced them to be brave,
Charging battle lines where their fate was sealed?
When their Civil War was over at last
And their faces committed to memory,
Something unsettled still hangs on the graves
Festering in us, standing here aghast
At the host still haunting our destiny:
The pale ghosts of confederates and slaves.

Author Notes This sonnet is in the Celtic Rose format that I came up with several years ago; an abcd abcd abc abc rhyme scheme that I really like for its subtlety. The conversational style is heavily influenced by sonnets of Yeats: Upon a House Shaken by the Land Agitation, No Second Troy, and The Fascination with What's Difficult. The subject matter is a bit unusual for a sonnet. This is about the dark history of the south, that still haunts this part of the country. The tension between those who want to honor their ancestors who died fighting for the confederacy, and those descended from the slaves for whom its a symbol of pain. There are no easy answers here. Maybe there never will be an answer, I don't know. estory

Chapter 23

By estory

Down south, summer swells into a burden,
its heat gathering into thunderstorms
hanging over the sandhills. Sunshine
weighs on the boughs of trees, like bronze.

Lilies and hollyhocks wilt in the garden,
giving up the ghost of the promise of spring.
Only the vines still shoot and hang on now,
choking loblollies and oaks with their merciless thorns.

A hot, dry sun rides up to the top of the sky,
baking the clay to the hardness of brick.
Cornstalks die into brittle straw,
kicking around with the dust and sticks.

Shadowless sunshine seems heavier and heavier
with each step that you take across the field,
until you give up what you set out for
and turn back for the shade of the trees.

Author Notes Living down south gives you a different experience of summer. The weight of it. The relentlessness of it. I wanted to create a poem that speaks of the ability of summer to wear away the promise and hope of spring, just as adversity sometimes wears away our hope and promise of life. It is a pastoral poem in an off rhyme quatrain format, kind of more traditional than some of the pieces I normally do. estory

Chapter 24
Outer Banks pt.1: Bodie Island

By estory

The ancient sea breaks on the land
in waves that whisper over the sand

Echoing your mother's sacred breathing
and taking you back to the beginning

Before you were born.
Cradled in the womb

Water pulses with a heartbeat
underneath the dreams of sleep.

Larger than life,
the first glimmer of light

Out beyond the edge of horizon
like a window drawn open

Where children running in fresh air
after drifting clouds and stars

Give hope to the spirit in the form,
like the bright moon rising over the ocean.

Author Notes I've always been fascinated by how the sound of waves on the shore seems to echo that sound of a mother's breathing we hear in the womb. Perhaps that's why the sea has such a peaceful feel to it for us, why it is perceived as such a sublime place. I created this in a couplet form with loose slightly off rhyme to try and emulate that rhythm of waves coming in on the beach. Bodie Island is one of the barrier islands in the outer banks of North Carolina. This is the first of four parts exploring this region of the state and the experience of the sea and shore in our society and culture. estory

Chapter 25
Outer Banks pt.2: Venus

By estory

Venus was born here,
stepping out of the sea
and into the air,
an embodied beauty

Imitating art
with perfections of limb,
curves of hips and breast,
smoothness of form

Giving shape to the hand
grasping an hourglass.
A backward look.
The stuff of myth and legend.

Author Notes How many times have we seen that beautiful woman coming out of the water at the beach and fallen in love? But what exactly is in that moment of seduction? What came first, the dream of the hand, or the figure filling it? What is it that we are falling in love with? There is so much going on in that moment, underneath the surface. But I wanted to capture the mysteriousness of it all, the undercurrent of forces that are beyond us, moving us in the life we are living. The form is roughly hewn quatrains in a subtle off rhyme, with subtle echoing effects. estory

Chapter 26
Outer Banks pt.3: Driftwood

By estory

As the waves roll back
what's left behind is the sand,
the crumbled pieces of life
run out of the hourglass.
If each piece were a moment,
centuries and eons would be lying here
across these dunes and embankments,
scattered with the lost trinkets
of civilizations long gone.

How long have we been standing here?
The tide has gone out and come back,
the timeless moon orchestrating it
wheeled around again from east to west
and still we cannot make sense of it,
this puzzle of time and space.

All we know is that we were born
into this, that we must carry on
walking these miles of beach
between land and ocean,
until the ocean claims us.
And then what of all this?

Empty shells and bone white ribs
left behind in the flotsam and jetsam
while the current stirs the waves
on distant, undiscovered islands.

Author Notes This is kind of like an ode in a free verse style. A narrative of the contemplation of the meaning of life inspired by watching the passing of time on the shore. There is this great sense of time and timelessness I think, at the shore. We seem to shrink in the immensity of the elements here. estory

Chapter 27
Outer Banks pt.4: Voyages

By estory

Emerald Isle, Rodanthe, Hattaras and Topsail
lay furled on this side of the Atlantic,
on the edge of something wild and immense.
Across that expanse of open ocean
an unexplored continent out there
glimmers faintly in the distance:
a silhouette of Lisbon maybe,
or the Canary Islands,
the Isle of Skye
and beyond: Morocco, the mysterious shore
of Africa, with its lost trails to Fez
and Marakesh, the fabled bazaars
of Timbuktu. And there they might tell you
rumors of coastlines of ivory
and tales of cities of diamonds and gold
if you will brave the journey.

Who can tell if you will ever return?

Author Notes This poem is born of those times spent standing on the edge of the Atlantic, whether on Long Island or here on the Outer Banks, looking out across that vast open space and wondering what lies on the opposite shore. It is a poem of adventure, of imagination, and relies heavily on the images conjured by these fabled names most of us know only from the names on maps: Lisbon, the Canary Islands, Fez, Marakesh, and Timbuktu. If you let your imagination run wild, who knows where it might lead you. estory

Chapter 28
The Music of September

By estory

September's music is a restlessness
whispering through the leaves,
an intimation of autumn
in the first glimpse of yellow
among the tired green foliage of summer
worn out by the poplars.

The winds of change reaching us
tell of honeycrisp apples and cider
from somewhere up in the mountains,
sourwood honey in golden jars
gleaned from wild thyme and heather.
The sweet smell of cut grass
as you walk past the barn
at twilight.

Early starlight.
A full harvest moon
hanging over a field of ripened corn.
Haybales half rolled across the hay fields.
Chrysanthemums bursting from a window box.

The music of September is the music
in the wind a sailboat rides on a fetch
from a long tack out past the outer banks
for the last time this season.
A beach littered with cast off shells
left to the mournful gulls.
The empty windows of the haunted summer houses.

The music of September fades
like a harmonica and an old guitar fading away
around a campfire half way into the foothills
after the last of the summer sunsets,
when the stars of Pegasus
take wing with the swans.

Author Notes This is a pastoral romantic poem on my favorite time of year. It's in a loose ode type of style, with some echoing off rhyme scattered here and there like leaves falling here and there in the beginning of autumn. I wanted a poem of images celebrating this time between seasons, summer and fall, when the sunsets creep up earlier and earlier and the stars come out sooner and sooner, the harvest is starting but not yet in full swing and the last of the summer camping trips and sailing trips are still a possibility. It is to me, a magical time and I wanted a magical feel to it. But in the end, it is really just a simple homage to the things I love about the beginning of fall. estory

Chapter 29

By estory

These mysteries carved in the depths of heaven
seem to step from their hieroglyphs
like Greco Roman myths
or the Tales of Sheherazade,
ringing in the distance
on the harp strings of angels
tuned to the tuning fork
of Vega, the desert jewel:

Hercules high overhead
wrestling his shield
from the shell of Cancer
and the mouth of the lion;

Orion pursuing Artemis
with the dog star at his heels
while Saggitarius lets fly the arrow
into the heart of the scorpion.

The virgin bearing the ear of wheat,
the flight of the swan,
the scales of justice,
the golden fleece

Echo across the halls of Zeus.
Perseus holds the head of the gorgon
and Andromeda on the flying horse,
escaping the Kraken

For the heights of Olympos,
where Taurus carries away Europa
and the Gemini offer each for the other
at the feast of Poseidon

Beyond the horizon.
The good shepherd,
Aquarius bringing the water of life,
the fishes leaping from the water jar

back into the sea.
Capricorn rising.
Forgotten kings and queens.
The seven sisters...

Author Notes On a starry night the pictures drawn in the stars seem to come to life from the ancient times. While one sits there, the flying horse, Hercules, Perseus and Andromeda fly overhead and carry one off into the tales of Sheherezade, and the world in which we live seems to fade into the depths of time of space. This is the effect I wanted to create in this simple poem. Hope you enjoy. estory

Chapter 30
Chasing the Moon

By estory

Chasing the moon is like chasing fireflies.
Cattails. Little nuggets of gold
lost in the mountain streams,
pieces of fairy gold strung in the branches
at the onset of autumn.

Chasing the moon is like remembering dreams.
Bits of a love song heard through loud weather,
glimpses of heaven between cumulus clouds
and unfinished symphonies.
Holding the snow.

The moon is always one step beyond us.
And that's just the way we like it.

Author Notes This is a free verse poem about reaching for what seems just beyond us; dreams, riches, heaven itself, beautiful moments of masterpieces. Holding on to what cannot be held onto. And how wonderful those feelings are. Just looking up at the moon or the stars and feeling that they will always be one step beyond you, out in the wild blue yonder. Something to strive for. estory

Chapter 31

By estory

A guitar of rosewood and Appalachian spruce,
the steady footwork of an old fashioned base
and the light lilt of that cradled fiddle
brings this back country music to life.
Tight stitched picking, like hand threaded lace,
weaves figures of boys and girls together into pairs
in time to the quick step on the sawdust
where everyone has left their chairs
to watch the light of fireflies and moonshine
lift the roof. The love they sing
will have played itself out,
gone good or bad by morning,
but the sweet smell of bluegrass
lingers on long after the stars have set.

Author Notes This is a celebration of a moment, a night of music and dancing, in a country place. Romance that might have only been a momentary spark, but still a moment of beauty and joy none the less. There's an element of the romantic in that ethereal, ephemeral moment, and I have always considered myself a great fan of the romantic in poetry. I wanted a simple, conversational language, but also an intricately woven language here, with interlocking imagery like lacework. A density to the patterns much like the density of the tight stitched picking in bluegrass music. Raleigh has been the home of the bluegrass festival now for some time, and this will be the one odd year in the string, when the event goes virtual. Somehow it just won't be the same without the Krueger Brothers, Rhianna Givens, Chatham Rabbits, and the Steep Canyon Rangers up on the stage. estory

Chapter 32
Yates' Mill

By estory

Up on the pond
the old mill wheel
turns in the stream
turning back time

Until the old wagons
along the road
come back to life

Hauling in this year's
shucked corn, barley,
sweet oats, alfalfa
and winter wheat

To crack and grind
between running stone
and bed stone

Coaxing the grain
from the chaff
like manna
from the grass

As cornmeal,
flour and bran
fill the lugged sacks
with dreams of bread

Rising in the oven
on winter mornings
when light frost
covers the stubble
of the reaped fields.

Ages of fasts,
the breaking of fasts,
times of dearth
and rich harvests
wheel through our histories
like the waterwheel itself

Still turning the stones.
Filling our emptiness.
Easing our consciousness.

Author Notes Yates' Mill, in southwest Wake county, North Carolina, was the inspiration for this piece about grinding grain and making the bread that sustains us, and is also a big part of our culture. I wanted to create a feel of the waterwheel going around in its steady rhythm by shortening the lines and giving them a regular feel, with a touch of rhyme thrown in now and again. As you watch the waterwheel going around and around, you find yourself turning back time, and connecting with the ancestors who had to make their bread just as you need it. You find yourself more connected to that natural world than you might think. estory

Chapter 33
Falls Lake

By estory

Trees absolved by last year's rain
Wait patiently for judgement day.

A breeze comes in gentle whispers,
Reciting the evening vespers.

Humble butterfly angels
Kneel and say their prayers.

All that is left is Earth, water and air.
Nothing can trouble us anymore.

In the end, the trees let go of their leaves.
One by one, they rest in peace.

Author Notes This is a short poem in near rhyme couplets. There is no rhyme, but close enough sound associations to approximate it, creating something of a more subtle effect. I like subtlety. The images are classic romantic pastoral, the images of the sublimity of nature, symbolizing the sublimity of the spirit. There is peace, there is grace, in nature. That is an idea right from Coleridge, Wordsworth and the classic romantics. I still love that poetry and I had fun coming up with this little piece. I hope you enjoy it too. estory

Chapter 34

By estory

Prestigious, impressive; these are words
Coming to mind when you visit Biltmore:
French gothic wrought in stone, iron and slate
Orchestrated to lord it over you;
Perched on the parapets, gargoyles like birds
Frown upon you as you approach the doors
While inside, royal standards of estate
Proclaim a history, a parvenu.
The Vanderbilts walked here in their suits and furs,
Their footsteps echo on the marble floors
And these portraits bear their vaunted faces.
In this docile stillness our spirit stirs
And we pace the porch longing for the moors,
The wild mountains, and their open spaces.

Author Notes I'm dedicating this Celtic rose sonnet to Gloria, whose sonnets I have enjoyed for many years now, and anyone else who loves this beautiful form. Biltmore is an estate in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, just outside Asheville, built by Cornelius Jr. Vanderbilt after he had been diagnosed with a respiratory illness and advised to live in the fresh air of the mountains. It was built in a French Gothic style, deliberately embellished to impress and intimidate, to create the impression that this is a house owned by a family as royal as any in Europe. They actually scoured Europe to purchase many of the decorations and furniture to give it that air of aristocracy. The landscape was designed by Frederick Olmstead, most famous for designing Central Park in New York. It's a magnificent place, but what struck me so much was this air of ascendency that one longs to escape from, and you end up walking the back porch of the house to look at the horizon of wild mountains to get away from the frowning portraits and stuffy decor. I wanted to capture the longing for escape in the poem. The Celtic rose format is an abcd abcd abc abc rhyme scheme that I came up with myself. A bit different, and more subtle. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed my trip there. estory

Chapter 35
Glen Ellis

By estory

Down into the glen
the path winds between stone cliffs
on either side of the stream.
The woods are dark;
gnarled and weather beaten oaks
seem weighted by the burdens of their leaves.
Sharp stones, roots, thorns and thistles
drag on my stumbling feet.
Still the path descends.

In this dark place,
the hardness that's gathered in my heart
seems like the hardness of these grim, old stones.
The twisted faces, the frozen figures
wrestling in the overhanging rock
bring to mind unresolved confrontations,
persistent doubts, nagging fears
wrestling in the rock of my soul.
I seem to walk over lost chances,
broken promises, disappointments
with every uncertain step I take
over the dead leaves scattered on the ground.
Still the path descends.

In the depths there is a clearing,
a light illuminating a sacred space
where the water in the stream,
come down from some wild, mountain place,
rushes over and over these falls
clean as raindrops that fell from heaven,
in some mysterious absolution of the spirit.

I stand and listen, and in the listening
and watching that endless stream
wearing away the sharpness of the stones
and carrying away the old, dead leaves,
I find myself stripped clean and born again
as if in the living crystal tumult of the pool
bubbling up from this Baptismal font
in a moment of epiphany grace,
granted by the maker of these falls.

And there, at the end of the cascade,
where the white tumult dies away,
the water calms and stills again
mirroring the open expanse of the sky.
I see myself emerging in it,
a new man, washed clean by the Spirit
embodied in this stream, like the clouds on high
rising above my head and into the light.

Author Notes Glen Ellis is a triple waterfall near Highland, North Carolina, in the Blue Ridge mountains. Waterfalls have always been among my favorite places, places where you can sit and just listen to the peace of nature and let it carry away all your anxieties. It's not a stretch of the imagination to see why they are so sacred to people all around the world. They are places of energy of the Spirit, places of renewal and places that connect us to the fresh, wild nature of this world. I wanted to use this ode form to articulate a journey of self renewal through quiet contemplation of the nature scene. Very much in the pastoral romantic sensibility. estory

Chapter 36
Country Roads

By estory

Country roads take you far away
off of the well worn, beaten track
up into the simple places, the forgotten mountains,
the mountain farms in the middle of nowhere.
Out here, long stretches of untrekked woods
brushed with the wild honey, amber and burgundy
distilled out of clean air, earth and water
seem broken only by ragged cornfields,
open pastures, Christmas tree farms
set out in parcels hedged with split rail fences
from a by-gone era. Lonely farmhouses and old barns
clear your head and slow you down
into the trails of horses and buggies.
A roadside stand of pumpkins,
gingergold apples and jars of blackberry jam
begs you to stop and savor the moment:
wine colored leaves and the smell of pine,
echoes of blue jays playing in the groves,
the mysterious summits of the mountains
rising like altars around you;
the gleam of a waterfall
across fields of trifoil and rhododendron.
Unbridled horses celebrating up on the pasture beyond
complete an old, haunting spell cast
last century. You no longer even want to remember
who you were before you came out here,
or the way back out of this place.

Author Notes Driving along on country roads in the autumn is one of my favorite things to do. On a frosty October or November morning, with a good cup of coffee and some good music, you head out into the mountains and along those old, winding roads the spell cast by those lonely farmhouses, those old barns, the rustic farmstands with their wild honey and apple cider and pumpkins clears your head of all the raveled up knots of tensions gathered in the world of today. I've always wanted to try and capture a portrait of that moment of escape in a poem, and here I tried to use this ode format and a natural conversational tone, sprinkled with little echoing rhyme effects here and there, to do it. It was fun to write, and I hope you enjoy it. estory

Chapter 37
Appalachian Elegy, part one

By estory

High County Psalm

Appalachian mountains roll across the horizon
like a recitation of the psalms,
bearing you up into stillness and peace,
into something of the eternal,
the sacred and mysterious,
a place formed by the hand of God
before mankind plotted and quarried
this rare Earth we were given.

Up here, on the bare rock ledges and stony summits,
we see the land rolling out in ridges and valleys
like the waves in a wave tormented sea,
and we have to marvel at how that almighty hand
sculpted this stuff of the Earth's foundations,
basalt and granite hardened in creations dawn,
through the ancient collision of continents.

This very ground under our feet,
lying for milleniums beneath the sea,
buckled up into the sky, they say,
at the coming together of Africa and North America.
Then scalpels of rain and wind, gravity itself,
chiseled and cut, ground and smoothed down
rough outlines into this magnificent terrain.

Crouching mountain lions, perched eagles, sleeping bears,
the old bones of grandfathers and grandmothers
with their tired faces turned up to the stars,
lying down into their final resting places.

The sculptures of God for us to contemplate
in some giant, wild sculpture garden,
on an old, rock chimney of a summit.

Author Notes This is the first part of the six segments that will make up Appalachian Elegy, my homage, in pastoral romantic ode form, to the mountains of Eastern North America that I have loved since my childhood. I've been all through them from the White Mountains in New Hampshire, through the Green Mountains of Vermont, the Adirondacks, the Catskills, the Poconos, and down the Blue Ridge through western Virginia and North Carolina. There is something about the timelessness, the peace, the stillness at the tops of these ancient mountains. Something of the mysteries of creation, the connection with the God that made them, that you feel up on those old bald summits. I hope you enjoy these Appalachian moments as much as I did. estory

Chapter 38
Appalachian Elegy, part two

By estory

Richland Balsam

From these heights, you can see everything.
The richness of these forests and wild rivers
spreading out all around you
like a tablecloth spread over the table of God.
You can hear the music of a thousand waterfalls,
lulling the roaming elk and bear to sleep.
You can watch the waking of the rhododendron.
You can count the crowns of balsam until you lose count.
On this knife edge ridge line,
you can trace a continental divide
and watch streams flowing east into the wide Atlantic,
streams flowing west into the mighty Mississippi.
You can jump from peak to peak to peak
over the undulating landscape
echoing the footsteps of giants
long since turned to stone.
You can spread your arms and rise
over the valleys blooming with mountain laurel,
above the very curve of the Earth,
until you're like an eagle in the sky.

Author Notes What I wanted to capture in this second part of Appalachian Elegy is the inspiration of the mountains, the celebration of the feeling of being lifted up, close to God, up there with the eagles. You can drink it all in up here; the sounds of the thousands of waterfalls, the endless trunks and crowns of the mountain trees, the wild life, the passions of the spring flowers. Richland Balsam is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway, about a mile high, Not far from Asheville, North Carolina. I first visited it in 1987 and always liked the sound of the name. So here it is as the title of part two of my Appalachian Elegy. estory

Chapter 39
Appalachian Elegy pt 3

By estory

The Mountain's Heart

Standing still on this summit
you can feel the mountain's heart
underneath your feet,
beating in metamorphic rock.

A pulse of amethyst,
opal and emerald
crystalizes the rhythms
buried in the outcrops

resonating in our bones.
We align ourselves
like the magnetized needle
locked to the pole

and sunk like a lodestone
through the axle of this world
down into the bedrock.
The heart of this world.

Author Notes I wanted to create a poem celebrating the magical, mystical connection we feel to the Earth, the mountains, the planet we live on and walk across and marvel at. I wanted to use a short meter, short lines, with regular pulses of 't' 'd' and 'k' sounds to give a soft rhyme, to emulate a heartbeat. The images are all of magnetized compass needles, lodestones, bedrock, and crystals, to try and create a sense of the mystical forces working under the surface of the things we see, to the things we feel. Hope you enjoy. estory

Chapter 40
Appalachian Elegy, pt. 4

By estory


This is the end of the road. This is Skyland:
the highest point the land aspires to
in its long, arduous climb up to heaven
and maybe what's beyond it. Up here,
above the wrinkled world of man made patches
and roads like seams unravelling
across a patch work quilt, light rises over shadow
in a vast expanse escaping the brackets
within north, south, east and west.
Look up and you can see all of the stars,
mountain gardens in between rock and cloud,
holding out a promise of peace and bliss
somewhere over the crisscrossed valleys.
It makes one think of all the time we've wasted
meandering around down there,
lost in the woods, trying to get somewhere.

Author Notes Skyland is a look out and recreation stop along the Skyline Drive in Virginia. Every since I first came across that name, I have fallen in love with it, and the sense of uplifted landscape, of rising up from Earth to Sky, that the name conjures. I thought it would be a fitting title for part 4 of my Appalachian Elegy, an ode on the celebration of the mountains that take us up out of the world and above its trials and tribulations, its conflicts and conundrums. I wanted to create a movement from shadow to light, a sense of moving up out of the wrinkled landscape into the uninhibited expanse of the sky and all its possibilities. estory

Chapter 41
Appalachian Elegy pt. 5

By estory

Tincture of scarlet,
effervecense of gold,
distillations of amber,
purple and burgundy

Lace delicately
these leaf membrane love letters
the maples and oaks
write to the mountains...

Author Notes This is just a simple, pastoral romantic poem about the beauty of autumn in the mountains, in simple unrhymed quatrains with a soft meter and colorful images of the autumn leaves. My love letter to the Appalachians, maybe. One more poem in this series is coming, probably next week; Mountain Chapel, long promised to some of the readers here and my favorite of the whole series. estory

Chapter 42
Appalachian Elegy, pt. 6

By estory

At the summit,
this mountain chapel
fills with light,
like Noah's Ark,
as clear as the mountain air,
as clean as the water.

The faithful come up
from the hidden valleys,
breathing in the incense
of Appalachian spruce,
raising their voices
until they echo across the ridges.

Sunday mornings,
the world seems far away
and the voice of the Good Shepherd
speaks of peace and forgiveness.

All around the clearing,
wild Rhododendron
in a white blaze of transfiguration,
reveals the glory of the resurrection.

Author Notes This is the last part of my Appalachian Elegy. I wanted it to be an uplifting piece, full of images of song and blooming flower, a wide open sky and clear mountain streams. An image of peace and forgiveness, of transfiguration and resurrection. It's in a simple style, in a simple, clear language. I hope it serves as a good conclusion to this series on the mountains, a place you find at the end of your climb, close to heaven, within ear shot of God. I'm dedicating this one to Royowen, who has done so many religious pieces here on Fanstory over the years. estory

Chapter 43

By estory

This morning there's a coat of frost
sketched on the windowpanes,
snowflakes in flight
drawn during the night,
the first sign of Winter's elf
caught at his handiwork
as the last of the golden leaves
tremble up in the branches of the poplars,
like the last of a golden autumn
still clinging to the calendar.

The year has been good to us.
We've gathered apples and sweet potatoes
into the pantry, filled the icebox
with fresh cider and bottles of wine
conjured from the blessings of good weather
and piedmont vines and mountain orchards.
A fresh turkey taken in a meadow
Up on our heights, roasts in the oven.
There's beans and cranberries, pumpkins and onions
gathered from the surrounding farms.
The baked pies are waiting on the shelf.

We're ready to share our blessings now.
The logs are burning in the old fireplace,
warming every corner of the room.
The table is heaped with plates and glasses,
the silverware is all laid out,
the armchairs set around it,
waiting for family and friends
gathering back from all the far flung places
to the place they still call home.

The year has been good to us.
We thank God for more than our daily bread,
our cups that run over
into the hands of friend and neighbor.
The Lord is kind and good
and we must not forget that this is His food,
this bounteous Earth, a garden of His making,
and our lives, another chance to enjoy it.

Author Notes This is a poem celebrating one of my favorite holidays, Thanksgiving, and reminding us what we are celebrating, the blessings of God in health, food and family and friends. I wanted to sketch this scene on a frosty November morning when the dinner is getting ready, the chairs are waiting for the guests, the fire is roaring and the everyone is coming home from far flung places to be together again. Maybe in the time of the pandemic, it is more important than ever to be thankful for what we have, and what we will have to enjoy, when all this is over. Carolina Pastorals is coming to an end, and I hope to post the last two poems, The Old Stone House and Christmas, in the next two weeks. Thanks for reading and enjoying estory

Chapter 44
The Old Stone House

By estory

The old stone house seems gathered from the ground
as much as it was fitted by hand,
standing there in its clearing, half alive.
It has roots. Foundations. Its rough field stones,
greened and greyed and browned
through the natural cure of the good earth
and worn smooth by its wind and rain,
lends something of a gift of the land
claimed in the wild dreams
of these settlers and homesteaders.

If you look into the hand hewn windows,
you will see their ingenious spinning wheels,
looms, clocks, guns, candles and cradles,
the altar of a fireplace where they gathered
around kindling and old, iron pots
steaming with fresh herbs and venison.

You can almost see them in their hand made chairs
arranged around the plain slab of a table,
saying their prayers. You can almost hear their voices
talking of weather, chores, sick relatives.
A day spent scrambling after a six point buck
or a turkey glimpsed somewhere up in the bracken.
Bible verses read by the children.

These rooms are empty now, those people
long gone to the stones inscribed with their names
out back. But this house and its ghosts
seem imbedded in us, a cornerstone,
a monument of our ancestors, their perseverence,
and the faith that carried them across oceans and wilderness.
In this world ever widening around us
that seems to have no discernable end,
it's good to know where we came from.

Author Notes This is a poem celebrating the faith, the courage, and the perseverance of the settlers who came across the Atlantic to begin building this country. I love history, I have been to many places like Old Bethpage Village on Long Island, and Edenton and Bath, Wilmington here in NC, and always found them fascinating, the old rooms haunted by the spirits who worked so hard to make a better life in a new world. I wanted to bring those spirits to life in the poem. estory

Chapter 45

By estory

On a cold, snowy, December evening
the sheep from the surrounding pastures
seem to stand around the old, wooden church
in the middle of the green, pine woods.
Its windows are lit by candlelight
as the congregation sings 'Silent Night.'

If you look inside, you see children
playing Mary and Josef, the shepherds,
the wise men, standing around a cradle
placed before an altar
covered with Poinsettias.
A Christmas tree lit by strings of white lights
brightens the darkness,
and you hear a voice saying:

'I bring you tidings of great joy,
which shall be for all people,
for unto you is born this day
a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'

The snow falls silently
like manna from heaven,
transforming the world.
All is calm. All is bright.
Above your head, the stars glitter
like a choir of angels.

Author Notes This is the last poem of Carolina Pastorals. I wanted to end the book with that image of the angels in the glittering stars on Christmas Eve, over the old church singing Silent Night. More than anything, I wanted to capture that uplifting feeling I have always felt on all those Christmas Eve services I have attended over the decades; cold, clear nights in New York, when the stars seemed to echo the choir of angels on that first Christmas Eve 2,000 years ago. The tree my father and uncle would decorate with strings of white lights next to the altar, and the old Christmas carols that I still love to hear, that seem to capture the sublimity of Christmas. O Little Town of Bethlehem, We Three Kings, and Hark the Herald Angels Sing. I hope you enjoyed the book, to all who supported it over the course of the year, along with the prose of Intersections, I give my thanks. Next year I will outline the two books I will post in 2021; Apocolypse on the poetry side, and Memories of This World in prose. Till then, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and hope all of you stay well and have a blessed holiday season. estory

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