Friday, November 8, 2013

MEMORIES OF A CITY PAST...

This morning I thought of Marcel Proust and how the smell of madeleines and tea evoked memories of things past in the narrator of Remembrance of Things Past when I picked up a bar of sandalwood soap made by Appalachian Naturals that I had bought in Asheville, North Carolina — memories of visits to that wonderful mountain city flooded my mind. The soap was just one reminder of the many traditional techniques used in Appalachian families to craft homemade goods, and it opened a treasure box of memories about western North Carolina, one of my favorite places to play and to buy homemade soaps and jellies, original mountain art, and, of course, books.

As a book lover, I appreciate a bookstore that I consider the finest in the Appalachian area — Malaprop's Bookstore and Cafe in downtown Asheville. This hangout for poets and writers is touted as the best place to buy poetry in western North Carolina and has garnered many awards in the book selling field: 2000 Bookseller of the Year, Member of the Mountain Express Hall of Fame and other kudos that have brought visitors from throughout the country to its doors. The store features a cafe, a book club, weekly readings by area and national poets and writers, the best of southern literature, and welcomes all who have serious literary interests. We always spend at least an hour in Malaprop's when we visit Asheville during the spring and summer months while sojourning at Sewanee.

Not far away in Dupont State Recreational Forest, many scenes from The Hunger Games were shot in the dense forests and of rivers that course through this area, including beautiful falls like Bridal Veil Falls, High Falls, and Hooker Falls. Moviemakers also shot scenes in nearby Asheville, and visitors can now take advantage of a Hunger Games four-day itinerary, looping from Charlotte to Asheville, viewing film locations and sites mentioned in the novel by Suzanne Collins.

I always like to veer over to Hendersonville and Flatrock to the Flatrock Playhouse to see Broadway quality entertainment and to satisfy my envee for viewing authors' homes by visiting Connemara, the home of Carl Sandburg, American poet and historian. Sandburg spent the last 22 years of his writing life in the 10,000-book library of the home, while Mrs. Sandburg spent her days raising prize-winning goats. National Historic Site workers still keep a few goats in a barn on the property, sponsor daily tours, and sometimes stage summer productions in the amphitheater of Connemara.

I've visited the Thomas Wolfe memorial in Asheville at least four times and usually rent a room in the Renaissance Hotel overlooking the old yellow boarding home that housed Wolfe's mother's guests, sometimes getting up in the night to look down at it and envision the famous writer living there. I've written many poems about writers' residences, and Wolfe's residence always inspires a few verses. Here's one that appears in In A Convent Garden, my latest book of poetry from which I'll be reading on November 16 at A&E Gallery in New Iberia, Louisiana:

DIXIELAND AGAIN

Looking down at the yellow house,
I hope that some of Wolfe's poetry
will rise to my occasion,
drift through the dozen windows
fronting the walk,
but it is dark inside,
the only light that ever shone out
to the conflicted world
were the eyes in his massive head
bright as the yellow paint
on the house of his childhood,
the frame of his imagination.

Nine rocking chairs stand empty,
no audience on the gallery,
and his sleeping porch faces the street,
reminders of tormented nights
when he moved from room to room,
forced by his mother's commerce:
an old boarding house
I have toured four times.

Each time I want his ghost
to give me a stone, a leaf, a door,
symbols in the torrent of words
wafting up three chimneys
and down the long walk,
echoes of his stories
landing in empty places,
emptier than the one from which he sprang.

At midnight I again look down
at the orange glow of the porch light,
wondering why someone
placed the beacon there,
telling him he could come home again...

too late.
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