Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Year Blossoms

You, hope of early spring,

Ablaze upon the lifeless branch,

Bloom forth amidst the snow;

Extinguish the burning cold

And conquer the dark night

With your bright courage!

Raise your sweets to heaven,

Herald of the coming year;

Push back for us the past

With your strong hope,

That we, too, may rise again

And persevere anew.

The TFE has suggested that we light a candle for loved ones we have lost. I offer this poem as my candle in honor of those friends and loved ones whose lives made mine brighter with their sweet lights and whose spirits will always shine on for me, especially Grandma Jo, Donnie, and Uncle Sanford. The poem is both a prayer and an acclamation.

The plum blossom, one of few flowers that blooms in the snow, is a traditional sign of the New Year for the Chinese. The words on this scroll, part of an ancient poem, roughly translate: “The fragrant blossoms bloom, unaware of the cold winter.”

I wish for you a season filled with blossoms and a year of unending joy. Happy New Year and to Auld Lang Syne.

Thanks to the TFE and Dave of Pics and Poems for the inspiration, and to for the image.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Into Egypt

From birth

We are displaced,

On rocky paths,

Seeking asylum

In melancholy landscapes,

Giving up on innocence

And on our thrones;

Our arms are full of myrrh

As we move forward

Into Egypt.

This poem was inspired by the ReadWritePoem picture/prompt. I don't know why it made me think of the flight into Egypt; perhaps it was the season or the homily I heard on Sunday, but here you have it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Beneath the Veil

A Poem for a Winter's Night

December 21 is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, which throughout history has been considered a day of beginnings and endings, of rebirth and reversals. For me, it's my birthday. As a child, having a birthday four days before Christmas wasn't much fun. The day got lost in the bustle of the holiday. As an adult, I've come to love the day as a milestone for which I am grateful. Every year of my life has been enriched by the love of my ever expanding family and friends and my love of the beauty of this earth.

Having said that, I want to say a few words about the poem that follows. Yes, it was inspired by my birthday, and yes, it has some elements of autobiography, but few - very few. One reason for my poetry secret is this poem. I love it. It is one of the few poems I've written of which I wholly approve, and yet, it is the one poem I could never share with my parents. There is too much autobiography in it for them to be able to get past the facts and just enjoy the story.

So, in honor of my father, who would feel so hurt by this, let me tell you the truth behind the tale: I was born on December 21. My father was not at home that night. When I was born, my face was covered by a thin veil of skin commonly called a caul. According to legends, children born with a caul are supposed to have psychic powers.

That's it -- the autobiography behind the poem. The rest is pure fiction set in the Appalachian hills and hollows I so love. I posted it here last year, but as most of you weren't with me then, I post it again in honor of the solstice and my own birthday. I hope you enjoy my secret!

Beneath the Veil

Her father strayed from home again that night,

So neighbors took her mother to give birth

And waited for the errant man to come

And watched the snow that piled upon the earth.

That winter night was shortest of them all,

When caul-born child was laid upon the breast

Of woman filled with sorrow and with woe

For husband gone and child aborn unblessed.

The doctor said there’s nothing for concern,

That babies born with covered heads are fine.

He skinned the child of soft, encircling womb

And cut the cord and tied it off with twine.

A child so born had once been thought a boon

To ships that sailed to lands upon the waves,

And sailors paid a fortune for the skin

That kept them from the depths of watery graves.

But when her father learned that she had borne

A veil that hid a face with dark black eyes,

As black as dirt of coal upon his hands,

He hawked onto the snow and made a sign.

“Protect me from the evil eye,” he said,

“Of babies who can steal your dreams at night

And take the sleep from out your lonesome bed

And fill your waking days with fear and fright.”

“Doc should have let her stay there in her bag

To drink that water where she learnt to swim.

He should have left her to the will o’ God

And left us to enjoy the peace o’ Him.”

Yet as a child is wont to do, she grew,

A strange and somber fairy child, they said,

And every night before she went to sleep,

She turned her mind upon their loathsome bed.

The child brought forth beneath the wintry sky,

The shortest day and evening of the year,

Born safe within a lonely veiled cocoon,

Sent mother all her joy, to father -- fear.

With passing of the years the girl grew fond

Of rambling in the hills to learn the ways

Of women who could cut a willow twig

Or blow out fire or take a wart away.

But as she hunted ginseng root for tea

To make a heart beat strong or heal a wound,

She always thought of him whose thought that day

Was that she was the twig who should be pruned.

Her stature grew in magic and in art;

She bent their use according to her will.

To those in need she gave what help she could,

But unto him who bred her -- only ill.

One day as she was digging by the stream

That ran behind the tipple for the coal,

She felt the hair arise upon her neck

And knew that nearby lurked an evil soul.

She heard his jaunty song before she saw

The man of heart much blacker than the seam;

She hid herself from him among the reeds

And willed him to the depths to meet his dream.

He felt the pull of water and of thirst

And need to wash the coal dirt from his hands,

So down he stooped there on the river’s edge

And looked through swirling water to the sands.

Beneath the water’s twist he seemed to see

A babe within a bubble all encased

That moved beyond the reach of his long arms

But strained toward him for watery embrace.

He stretched his arms to grasp the thing he saw,

Said, “Eyes play tricks on me, I know, this day;

Or clouds have come to shadow out the sun

And hide the things of sense from sight away.”

The sand beneath his feet beside the stream

Began to fall then shift and then to run,

And up from out the reeds his daughter rose,

The one whose face was hidden from the sun.

He saw that face reflected in the pool;

Her eyes there darker than the darkest coal

That stained his mind and filled his evil heart,

The waterchild that sucked at his black soul.

He turned and clawed with hands for purchase there

But pulled away the film of soft, smooth skin,

A shimmer that had covered fine dark hair

And held the heart that he had scorned within.

He fell beneath the eddies of the waves

That washed the black of coal from off his face,

And in a bubbled caul he sailed away

Cradled by the fairy child’s embrace.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

December Moon

The December moon consecrates the night,

A host that shines upon the sleeping earth,

And we, abiding in its precious light,

Are graced by the divinity of birth,

A communion of wind and stars and trees

And meteors that lead across the sky

And waves that rush and curl the foaming seas,

To bless us with earth's sacramental signs.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

finding snow


He is drawn by scented beauty,

And it is among soft roses that he finds her,

Following her sweet song, a melody

Half-remembered from some ancient time

When someone might have loved him.

It carries on the wind, and he, his black heart breaking,

Feels passion’s heat crack the ice that holds him,

So that he spurs his sable steeds through the flowery field

To scoop her up, rending her skirt as he grabs her,

Sending buds and stems flowing behind them

As they streak to the maw of the cave.


It is the sunrise

That she misses most.

These days, it’s bitter dark

As far as she can see.

Through endless days and nights

She’s lost her count of suns missed

Here in the belly of the earth.

When she squints she thinks

She can almost see

Green land, valleys and streams,

But she knows all along

That the horizon is above her

And the moon that hangs

Over sweet smelling fields

Cannot pierce the depths

Of this dark and silent world.


Somewhere again,

The goddess is arrested --

A shriek borne on the wind,

An echo of old fear,

And her mother’s heart

Races faster than her feet

As she crosses the land

To seek her missing child.

What is this fabric caught on thorns?

What marks on this burned path?

Forsaking fields and flowers,

Leaving grain to rot on stems

And grapes to shrink on vines,

She paces her great grief,

Deranged and vanquished

By the darkness where she cannot go,

And we, without her bounty,

Fall into famine, searching for succor

And finding only snow.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Darkness Falls

Darkness falls like Autumn leaves,

Upon the brown and barren hills

And in my heart, I come to grieve

As winds blow cold across the eaves

And branches scratch the windowsill.

While darkness falls like Autumn leaves,

Small creatures seek their burrows deep,

Heralds of the coming chill,

And in my heart, I come to grieve,

For winter moves in like the thieves

That steal the light and sap the will

While darkness falls like Autumn leaves.

The year grows short and I believe

It is with rue my days must fill,

And in my heart, I come to grieve

For all the failures to achieve

And all the hopes gone unfulfilled.

While darkness falls like Autumn leaves,

In my heart, I come to grieve.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


At the crossing

On South Poplar,

An old man lost his life.

By the time I drove across,

Darkness hid the scene.

I saw nothing of eternity,

Only a huddle of people,

Caught in headlights.

The old man was gone,

As if he’d never been.

I wondered as I drove on home

If he had known too late

That this would be his end.

Further out on the mountain,

I had to stop for an old buck

Standing in the road.

Impassive in my headlights,

He gazed at me a long time

Before deciding to turn and leap away.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I've been a little busy!

I hope you'll understand that I haven't been around much lately. This is my newest love, Juliet Catherine. She was an hour old here. Notice that Grammy looks a little haggard - but relieved and so very grateful.

For Juliet

Blessings like velvet
rabbit soft upon my skin
swaddle me in love.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I want to be

the doll I recall,

not the mouldering rag

I’ve become,

afraid of the sun,

rooted to the shelf,

dusty head waving

like a funhouse image,

stitched on smile

twisted back upon itself.

I want to jump

from my careful stance,

prop up my wobbly legs

and dance – or run.

I want to look rot

in the eye and spit.

I want to quit

turning myself inside out

to expose the ragged seams,

to find the means

by which the sawdust pours.

I want more.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ashes and Bone

Ashes and Bone

When I am gone,

Put me to the fire;

Ashes and bone

Are all that I desire

Be left of me.

Let me have

Fair wind to sift me

Through the trees;

Grey amidst the green

Is what I long to be.

Find me in the field,

A rustle of the grass,

Or hollow in the hills;

Beside the garden path,

I’ll sing among the reeds.

Put me to the fire,

Share me with the day;

Let my spark inspire

New green among the grey

From all that’s left of me.

Monday, October 26, 2009

memento mori

The following poem is written as part of the TFE Poetry Bus Tour, a Monday poetry challenge that this week is a response to Krzystof Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims (of Hiroshima).

The challenge was to write as we listened to the music without knowing anything about the piece. In the spirit of the challenge, I did not even look at the title of the composition as I wrote the following poem, which I think has a strange synchronicity with the inspiration for the music:

Memento Mori

Moving, moving,


We’re in, we’re in,

We can’t get out;

We’re held too long

Inside the song.

Hidden passage,

Many doors,

Stairs to nowhere,

Many floors,

Boarded windows

To the world,

Hiding, dodging

In a whirl;

Sliding slowly

Down the wall,

Head in hands,

We hear the call

To take up arms

Or else we fall.

The train we’re on,

The train is gone.

Looking back,

Grey and black,

Crowds of people

On the track.

Doors not opened.

Empty chairs.

Empty rooms

Inviting stares;

All is loss.

Lost is all.

We’re going,

We are gone.

Friday, October 23, 2009



it is enough

that the sun

streaks silver

as it crosses

leaden skies,


that trembling leaves

let go their bonds

and sail

before they fall.


I think


it is enough

that the heart


over and over

of its own accord

before it finds

its rest.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sylvia Rising

Sylvia Rising

History on her rosy northern skin

had traced with pain the crossed, fine

lines of vain attempts and vanished

tears, of long endured days and years and deaths

that marked her like a line of graves

waiting for the art within her charge.

Through too few years she bore the charge

of creation; from her fragile bones and skin,

and from her mingling with that grave

poetic man, the mixture of her own fine

poet’s blood with mud made life from death

and dreams that from her heart would vanish

only as the storied, vanished

bird that falls beneath the charge

of purifying fire and defies its death

to leave the self and rise within new skin,

all loss and pain ground down to fine

thin ash that blows across the useless grave.

With art unconquered by the grave

attained, she spins the words of never vanished

heart; beyond the veil of night on strong, fine

winds, she sends her poet’s charge:

Be fire that frees these words of their fine skin

and burns them to the ashes of a death

that is a rising up, the death of death.

With spirit breath, she mocks the wished-for grave,

and putting on a pure new feathered skin,

soars forth upon the wings of her vanished,

but unvanquished heart, from which the charge

of beating with too fine

a beat – hoping with too fine

a hope to find the pall of death

no longer is her calling or her charge.

Her spirit heart takes flight beyond the grave,

bearing through the cast of this dark night the vanished

hopes and dreams of verse and skin,

delivering the poet’s charge beyond the grave,

to mingle with us in a living fire and vanish

from her death into this fine new skin.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

the land of me

The Land of Me

I wish I were the red balloon
Of a hurdy gurdy man
Whose little monkey set me free
To sail across the land

To places that I’ve never been
And times I’ll never see;
I’d float beyond this Isle of Man
And to the Land of Me.

A stranger to this foreign shore
Where one can think all day
About the things she wants to know
And what she wants to play,

My red heart would then swell with joy
To very nearly pop
As I pull my own strings along
And never, ever stop.

I’d float just where I want to go
Without a hand to hold
And sail away on fresher air
Than I ever breathed of old.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Word of the Lord

Do you remember the day

we ran like conspirators

when young men in white shirts

came calling?

I laughed when you said

we were hiding from

the Word of the Lord

and rocked the baby in my arms

so she wouldn’t give us away

with a cry.

I remember that day

as I stand like a lone penitent

while you call upon

young men in white shirts.

I remember that day as I fall upon

the Word of the Lord

and rock myself like a baby,

trying very hard not to give way

to my tears.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Consider the Lilies

Consider now the lilies of the field

And then consider, too, the field itself,

The coarse high grasses wet with rain that catch

Against my calves as I pace the path to the pond.

Consider, too, the dark filled pond, the just passed rain,

The smooth-slipped rocks that line the muddy banks,

The slippery mud that sucks at toes

Of shiny frogs that jump and plop at my approach.

They neither reap nor sow, these lilies nor this field.

These frogs that hop at my approach, kings of this small pool,

They neither reap nor sow. The floating moon,

Only floating, shines up on me as light from some

Unseen deep new world. I must consider then the moon,

This same, riding gently on the ripples of the startled frogs

And glittering jewel-like on the rain stained grass.

I must consider then and hold this moon, this night, this field,

These lilies closed in prayer, these creatures deep.

I must consider what I did not sow and wonder if even Solomon

Could know what it is I reap from this array, what it is I reap

From this deep new world, this bright and shining deep new day.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

autumn haiku

autumn’s distinction

reigns sovereign in subtraction

nectar gone to seed

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

lost haiku

I lost a haiku.
Somewhere on the way to work,
It flew from the car.

Somewhere on the way to work,

Between the dashboard and the zigzag lines,

I dropped a haiku from my mind.

I said it to myself and to the air

And to a clutch of crows

Astretch the power lines,

But somewhere on the way to work

Between the dashboard and the clutch of crows

Sitting on the power lines

Like exclamations on the sky,

I dropped a haiku from my mind.

I searched for it along the power lines

Between the dashboard and the hanging leaves

Bowing with the morning trees,

But somewhere on the way to work

Between the dashboard and the hanging leaves

Bending with the trees

Like supplicants to sunrise,

I dropped a haiku from my mind.

I hoped to find it caught among the boughs

Between the dashboard and the hills of green

Climbing to the rising sun,

But somewhere on the way to work

Between the dashboard and the climbing hills

Escorting me through morning

Like ushers garbed in green,

I dropped the haiku from my mind.

I sought for it among the climbing hills

Between the dashboard and the parking lot

Swallowing my car

Like an open mouth,

But somewhere on the way to work

Between the dashboard and the workday world

Waiting to devour my life

Like an eater of rhymes,

I dropped a haiku from my mind.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

going home

You can’t go home again, Thomas,

You can't go home again.

Too many things are at end, Thomas,

Too many days and too many nights,

Too many hills we’ve had to climb

And too many times descend.

We’ve too many stories lived and told

Then placed up on the shelves;

Crossed too many windows and too many doors

To go back where we were before --

You can go home again, my love,

You can, of course you can!

The apple tree’s grown bigger now,

With branches spread for reading;

The berries bear the scars of birds,

And grapes boast in their swinging.

The childhood circled magic ring

Stands open as it did;

The little house where we first met

And yet,

Too much has fled our grasp, Thomas,

Too many things have gone.

Too many days and too many nights,

Too many lives and too many doors

Are ashes of what went before.

You can't go home again, Thomas,

For all your words can say.

No matter that it breaks our hearts,

That life has passed away.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Leaving Dreams

These nights, rising softly from my solid bed,

I leave you to your even rise and fall

and pillowed burrowing in dreams

to follow the moon’s long reach

that gleams along the grass and mutes

the nighttime feel of cool dew crushing underfoot.

In the moongold glow, small creatures

sleek as seals swim across the dampened field,

startled from their peace by one that steals into their world.

They run, these families of skittish mice,

to hide among the garden vines, deciding

here or there to test a bite, and leaving ruined fruit

as if it has no use to them at all.

These nights, when I trade my solid bed

and the solid rise and fall of breath for cloudless skies,

I push into the moonshine meadow light, stealing

to the edges of the woods, searching

here and there for fruits to test,

and discarding pillowed dreams

as if they have no use to me at all.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My Name is West Virginia

When I asked my three-years old grandson if he knew my name, he answered without hesitation: “West Virginia.”

“No,” I said. “Grammy’s name is Karen.”

West Virginia,” he said with a smile. “You are West Virginia.”

I am dirt road hollers

and creeks without bridges,

glowing piles of coal

and coal black, lumbering bears.

I am Black-eyed Susans

and sticky, silky Milkweed,

swelling and bursting

in Autumn scented air.

I am whispered family secrets,

kisses beneath windows,

blanket-covered porch swings

and promises made there.

I am born of revolutions

and wars against my brothers;

I am apple faced women

and men who try and dare.

I am pinto bean weekdays

with iron skillet cornbread;

I am fried chicken Sundays

and sweet'ning if you choose.

I am Onward, Christian Soldiers,

on prayer meeting Wednesdays,

embossed zippered Bibles

and patent leather shoes.

I am Mother Jones marches,

the passing of the torches,

and American dreams

that somehow do come true.

I’m the boys from the coal mines

and the girls who learned to write lines.

I am West Virginia -

a majestic mountain Muse.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


seduced by the summer
and crying of the crows

i take the only path

that has been left for me --

a journey not my own

through the textures and feel

of this unbalanced home

Friday, August 21, 2009

ivy vines

Long tendrils pry into the cracks

Between the stones to plant their flags

In conquered ground,

So every year about this time,

I war against the ivy vines

I planted here.

And as I pull the clinging green

Encroachment from the wall, I think

Of good intent

That goes astray and trespass

That overtakes the peace and

Vanquishes the heart.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

speckled promise

within the ivy

shadowing my garden wall,

as if appointed

by some keeper’s unseen hand,

a hidden, speckled thing,

light as rain,

heavy as a promise,

silently reminding me

that sweetest songs

are often those unheard