Monday, January 16, 2012


St. Francis oversees grass at our address.
Sometimes the light on gray, fog-ridden days of winter in Louisiana equal those early spring days in "Grayburg," the name I coined for Sewanee, my other home on The Mountain in middle Tennessee. In Louisiana, the slate colored sky hangs above my window overlooking the backyard, and for awhile, I looked out at dreary bare earth under the oaks–a wide patch of brown where grass struggled to grow even during warmer months.

The scene has been transformed. We planted perennial rye grass, which my father called “winter grass.” It was a simple procedure in which we sprinkled seed after raking the dirt, then applied a thin layer of topsoil and watered the soil. Almost overnight, the seeds germinated and grass began to poke through, a miracle of green that makes my heart lift when I sit down to write at my desk overlooking the yard. I know that by the time I leave in mid-March, the beautiful dense field will have begun to fade, but for now, the sea of bright green challenges any gray day to depress me. It’s a morning blessing that could be perennial, as the label on the seed package indicates.

When I was about eleven, my father moved us into a new stucco house in Franklinton, Louisiana where the yard stretched over two lots in a sparsely-populated subdivision. We had just returned from the famous Diddy Wah Diddy trip, which was an odyssey to California in a blue Ford coupe that pulled a gray utility trailer filled with our earthly goods. We were to become gypsies, my father said, and somewhere in that California desert was the place of his dreams where we would encamp forever. When this small-town boy from Lake Arthur, Louisiana encountered L.A. traffic, (even in the 40’s!), he turned around in the middle of the city and began driving east toward Franklinton. When we arrived at the house with the barren yard in Franklinton, I thought we had reached paradise, and after he planted the “winter grass,” I felt some hope that we would be a secure family again. By that time, my mother’s and father’s “compass needles had run awry,” (as I fictionalized in my latest novel, Redeemed By Blood) and no sea of green would ever balance them again.
Patio and new grass and yes Saints can move.

Today, the house in Franklinton has been pushed up, the bare earth is dusty and unfertile on the two lots, and the Roman Catholic Church behind the property has claimed the ground. I hardly ever visit this scene because it evokes sad memories of the days of the light green grass of security. This is the first winter I’ve dared to plant the “winter grass,” and in my seventh decade, it represents a measure of “settling in” for me. A stone statue of St. Francis holding a bird and “The Book,” a rust-colored chimenea, and a lone bromeliad with red blossoms overlook the expanse of green. The scene outside my window isn’t a lush garden or any more than a block of concrete painted red, bordered by winter grass, but it’s enough of life outdoors to give me a feeling of peace.

I’ve written several poems about the patio in the winter before the green grass appeared, one of which appears in Alchemy, my last volume of poetry. The poem, entitled “November Evening,” appears below:


The new pot-bellied chimenea,
an oven with big navel,

stands erect in a light rain
pelting the red floor of the patio,

pinyon logs glowing hospitality,
burning away anxiety

and bringing comfort in an old blaze --
memories rising in the curl of smoke.
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