Monday, June 19, 2017

TO SLEEP, PERCHANCE TO DREAM

There's nothing like a Monday morning after a night of insomnia. If I had a “regular” job, I’d be disturbed knowing I would experience a non-productive day. However, even in my retirement jobs, lack of restorative sleep during “night shifts,” gives me pause. I don’t feel comforted knowing that half of us humans have insomnia at some time during a given year. And the fact that 40% of women in the U.S. experience nocturnal awakenings doesn’t lessen my dismay over lack of sleep.

There’s a lot of information about overcoming insomnia circulating in the world of information today, including threats of health problems if the condition persists.  Counting sheep isn’t one of the cures for sleeplessness, but treatment includes use of drugs, ingesting plant potions such as lavender and chamomile, abstaining from alcohol and caffeine but no permanent “fix” has proven useful for insomniacs.

People are often reluctant to talk about their insomnia because a stock answer from good sleepers is: “You must have a bad conscience.” In the soliloquy by Hamlet in Shakespeare’s drama, Hamlet, Prince Hamlet, who laments his mental and moral anguish in the phrase, “To sleep, perchance to dream,” expresses his longing for dreamless sleep but questions whether he’ll find peace even after death. And sometimes when insomniacs long for a night of peaceful sleep, they wonder if they’ll ever achieve that state where dreams and nightmares won’t interrupt tranquil snoozing.

In 2014 I published a volume of poems entitled Night Offices in which I explored the uses and cures for insomnia, famous characters who have suffered from this malady such as W.C. Fields, Groucho Marx, and Thomas Edison, and wrote that “four vigils of the night you wake/with desolation for a pillow,/phantom crucifixions hover:/monsters that pull your soul from sleep/peer over the edge of a ceiling fan…” and commented that no matter where I closed my eyes, “shadows still played on the ceiling, /memories walked in on crutches/long past their curfew,/ a lightship lowered its anchor in the room…”

Well, that bit of serious deliberation about lack of sleep should awaken insomniacs! Actually, at a book sale showcasing all of my poetry books, I ran out of Night Offices because so many insomniac readers appeared. Anyway, the sun is out, predicted rain hasn’t fallen, and here’s hoping you got a good night’s sleep and didn't get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning!

PS: I know the character above appeared in this blog earlier, but she did change the color of her outfit overnight and her suffering posture doesn't indicate that she consumed chocolate this time.




Saturday, June 10, 2017

“GRANNY WOMEN”

A few months ago, fires ravaged Gatlinburg, TN and parts of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but the little town of Townsend in what natives call the “peaceful side of the park” was spared the destruction. Although we set out for a brief excursion to Maryville, TN, we found more activity in this small town of 500, and the high point was a visit to the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center just at the edge of the Park.

Although many of the exhibits in the Heritage Center focused on the history and culture of the Cherokees in this area of the southern Appalachian foothills, I spent a lot of time viewing the displays that depicted the life of mountain folk in the 19th century, particularly those that showed the hardscrabble life of women during that time.

An exhibit featuring the image of a female mountaineer held a card depicting the woman’s typical day, beginning with bringing in wood, building a fire, milking a cow, feeding chickens, then preparing breakfast before the family got up. The display caused me to question an image of myself as an industrious morning person. The word “mountaineer” denoted a strong man or woman individualist descended from Scots/Irish stock whose roots ran deep in the southern Appalachian soil. According to Mountain Home by Wilma Dykeman and Jim Stokely, the word mountaineer morphed into a catchword for a picturesque, inadequate character who divided his time between the homemade dulcimer and the home run distillery…then changed into the word “hillbilly,” that described a cartoon character quick to become involved in a feud, slow to work, and indifferent to progress. Readers can imagine the tension that resulted between the mountaineer and encroaching curious visitors to the region.

A small display devoted to folk medicine toward the end of the Heritage Center’s exhibits showed a picture of a character who typified the medical practices of the late 1800s and early 1900s: the “granny woman.” Since I’ve published several young adult books about a Cajun folk healer, the information about these women interested me. Granny women were active practitioners in poor rural areas of southern Appalachia and gained important status as midwives. They also practiced herbal medicine probably passed on by the Cherokees who had roamed the area.

A granny woman gained most of her authority as a healer because of her expertise in midwifery. Some of her methods for inducing labor seemed to be a bit extreme to me; e.g., she advocated using drinking water with a spoonful of gunpowder (thar she blows!) and making the expectant mother drink tansy tea. Just before labor commenced, she’d put a knife or ax under the birthing bed to cut the pain of the expectant woman’s childbirth.

Although the granny woman was a superstitious character, she possessed abundant common sense and a gentle touch, and experience had given her valuable survival techniques.  She was also industrious and did not charge for her healing services, often using the term “resting” to indicate those times when she sat down to patch clothes or to shake a jar of raw milk until butter formed. Like the Cajun healers (traiteurs) about whom I’ve written, granny women inherited their healing abilities from their parents and were keen observers and shrewd judges of character.

We did spend time photographing wildflowers along the highway toward Cade’s Cove in the Park but turned back when we saw traffic backed up for miles ahead. We were excited to read in The Appalachian Voice about the launching of a reclamation initiative to restore native plants in the Appalachian Headwaters area that have been destroyed by mining. Workers will be employed to collect seeds and grow native plants, as well as beekeepers who will return pollinators to the area. Although this initiative is concentrated in Virginia and West Virginia, any attempt to restore native plants in the Appalachians is an environmental step forward.

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan

Purple-flowered Raspberry
Wild Hydrangea
Chicory





Saturday, June 3, 2017

HONORING JEAN ZIPP

For years, every Sunday afternoon at 2, o’clock, Gary Entsminger, editor and publisher of Pinyon Publishing, spent several hours on the telephone mentoring his Aunt Jean Zipp in creative writing; later publishing her memoir, Windows: Letters to Ayla, and her poetry in several issues of the Pinyon Review. When Entsminger learned that his Aunt Jean was dying, he continued to encourage her poetry writing, even through the last few weeks of her life, and this month he dedicated Pinyon Review #11 to her, featuring Zipp’s last three poems. This issue of the Review, a journal that celebrates the Arts and Sciences, is a salute to Entsminger’s 94-year old aunt who died in Tucson, Arizona. Jean Zipp had led a multifaceted life as the wife of a serviceman, creating a tactile art gallery for the blind, owning a toy store, working in interior design, and, finally, writing a fascinating memoir. Pinyon Review #11 is a tour de force — by far, the finest issue published by Entsminger and Susan Elliott, artist and co-editor of the Review.

I do not usually tout my own poems that have appeared in the Pinyon Review from time to time,  but I’m especially proud that four of my poems were featured in this handsome issue celebrating Jean Zipp’s life — three lead poems and the end poem written about Zipp’s demise. For the memorial issue, Susan Elliott created a sketch entitled I would like you to keep calling every Sunday at 2, an ink and colored pencil sketch on paper in Zipp’s honor, and Entsminger dedicated a poem entitled "Listening to Liszt and Chopin" to his Aunt Jean, a companion piece for Elliott's sketch.

Pinyon Review #11 showcases a variety of poets and artists, beginning with the cover painting, “By Invitation,” an elegant work of art that gives the reader the impression that he’s looking through a window at a brilliant sunrise or sunset. It was executed by Les Taylor of northern California, a music coach who has found her passion in visual art.

Nine Great Blue Heron images of digital art by Steve Friebert (brother of poet and translator Stuart Friebert ) are scattered throughout this celebratory issue. The first photo of a heron facing a page of poetry looks as if he’s announcing a signal event; in later frames, the great bird (so prevalent in my native Louisiana), is shown fishing and making spectacular liftoffs, then soaring into the beyond.

Friebert’s photographs seem to be a metaphor for Zipp’s take-off into the other world, later emphasized in her poem, “Fine Tuning”:  “If I were to live each day/As if it be my last/I’d have to forfeit custom/Rescind the on and on/Cantata/A petition to Infinity/I sing./ Contingency strikes mocking chords/There is dichotomy/Although they prove me hapless now/I’ll tune them/Presently.”

Robert Lake continues the metaphor in his poem, “Spirit Wings,” then notes that when he finished typing his poem about “A bird/Flying ever so high/Disappears/Within a silver lined cloud,” he observed two doves landing in the persimmon tree outside and thought that Aunt Jean’s spirit was poised to leave the earth. A naturalist, Lake works with glass plate photographic images of Yosemite National Park from the early 20th century.

Many of the poems and photographs focus on the natural world and the ecosystem; e.g. “Solar House Living” by Carla Schwartz “with each new day,/with each new visitor, wonder,/questions,” the voices and images taking readers into sacred places and beyond.

Michael Miller, a poet in western Massachusetts, gives us a brief metaphor of love derived from the natural world in “River:” “Our love is the river/That flows on,/Through darkness, through light,/Over rocks and between them,/Unable to stop.”  Miller has published three volumes of poetry with Pinyon and focuses on brevity of style and understatement in his lyrical phrasings.

Readers are also treated to one of Stuart Friebert’s translations of Elisabeth Schmeidel’s “Mein Clown” (“My Clown”). The translation speaks of the clown as an “escort of my soul…[which] grows quiet too, whenever/love wanders over the graves/pale as a shadow…” Although the poem wasn't intended as a requiem poem for Jean Zipp, it, like many of the poems in Pinyon Review #11, emerges as an expression of the departure of the soul into another realm.

A short story, “Casino Man,” by Neil Harrison, a plethora of notable poets, digital paintings by Jay Friedenberg…this memorial issue for Jean Zipp celebrates her passing with art and song, “singing surrender to a larger life.”

This is a banner issue of Pinyon Review, a tribute to an aging poet who continued to contribute until her passing last month. Pinyon Review #11 is available from Pinyon Publishing 23847 V 66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

THE LATEST FROM BORDER PRESS


Border Press has published four new books during the last five months and today announces its latest title, Above the Prairie, by Diane Marquart Moore. The collection of poems is a study of the broad Cajun Prairie in Louisiana and its early inhabitants, from Attakapas and Opelousas tribes to Cajun immigrants. The book includes a section entitled “An Everyday Journal,” ironic, lyrical observations about ordinary life that may resonate with readers who have had similar experiences. The cover of this volume is a photograph of a stunning piece of glasswork rendered by artist Karen Bourque, Church Point, Louisiana, and designed by Martin Romero of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Above the Prairie inspired the author when she viewed a small sign advertising “Prairie des Femme” in NuNu’s Art Collective, Arnaudville, Louisiana.

In October, Moore, who lives part of the year in New Iberia, Louisiana and part of the year in Sewanee, Tennessee, will be reading for a Louisiana Literature class at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette taught by Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, English professor at ULL. Moore will be featured in a session about how landscape influences writers; and her book, A Slow Moving Stream, is required reading for this class.

Additional titles in this year’s publishing list from Border Press:

Into the Silence, released last month, was dubbed a “medical novel” by its author, Dr. John Gibson of Jackson, Mississippi and involves issues of life and death, possession and loss, and the protagonist’s entry into the realm known by the ancients as “The Silence.” A metaphysical novel, rather than a medical one, Into the Silence introduces another of Mississippi’s gifted writers who will be signing books June 16 at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi.

In February, Border Press released Blood of the Believers, a police procedural written by Anne Simon, retired District Judge in New Iberia, Louisiana. This third title in the “Blood Series” is based on two homicide investigations in the Acadiana area of Louisiana and is a suspense-filled yarn featuring a cast of characters straight out of the bayou country. The novel has been recognized as equal to Simon’s success in the field of law and showcases her talents as a competent writer of crime novels. Simon's new book is also for sale at Books Along the Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana.

This year, poet Diane Moore also published Sifting Red Dirt, poems about “personal and cultural identity — family and place …that move the reader through layers of grace and wit… as the poet chronicles her maternal ancestors’ joys, triumphs, and failures...”  (Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, professor of English, at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette).







Two additional titles are planned for the publisher's list this year. Order these recent titles from the Amazon links below or from Border Press, P.O. Box 3124, Sewanee, TN 37375.






Tuesday, May 23, 2017

SEEKING THE HOLY DARK

I finally located my copies of Seek the Holy Dark by Clare Martin after shuffling household goods following my move to Sewanee, Tennessee where I spend six months of every year. I had read through the book once before leaving New Iberia, Louisiana and knew that the poems in this volume were deep explorations of themes of loss and darkness and would require more attention than a cursory reading.  

I was standing in the pulpit at St. Mary’s Convent on The Mountain at Sewanee Sunday delivering a homily and had just commented on an article by The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor that appeared inTime magazine several years ago: “The Rev. Taylor speaks of finding God in darkness and delivered lectures on this theme for the Dubose Lectures here on The Mountain,” I said. “She says that she prays these days to the Holy Spirit which she sees as both the universally divine and the hardest to understand and says her job is to trust its movement…” Although I was focused on the delivery of the homily, what suddenly came to mind was the title of Martin’s latest book Seek the Holy Dark. On Monday, Martin's book turned up. Synchronicity?/!

Seek the Holy Dark is reminiscent of another female poet, Anne Sexton, whose last book was entitled The Awful Rowing Toward God; one in which Sexton confronts the idea of God and is defeated in her quest to adhere to a belief in the Omnipotent. Like Sexton, Martin explores the darkness that accompanies depression, telling her story as an attempt to experience catharsis. She joins the roster of female poets who have sought to legitimize depression by allowing themselves to participate in life, including depressive episodes, to honor those dark nights of the soul and to write mercilessly about the “holy dark.” 

In “Mourning,” Martin writes that “it is simple to relinquish the will to do anything to be a stone within a stone within a stone…over and over, though no cycle rules her, she rebirths herself. Empties her lungs, rises.”  It seems that the poet is letting herself into the darkness and allowing her soul to become intact, “stone within a stone within a stone” so she can move on and experience rebirth… no easy answer to the darkness. 

I don’t think that Martin intended her poetry to be a means of legitimizing depression but to form a link among creativity, spirituality, and her emotional struggles in darkness, seeking transformation and restoration. Her experiences are not neat, self-help examples of welcoming darkness and emerging with superficial answers. In “Dream of Sudden Water,” she speaks of “a harrowing thought/deep on my petrified bones — wash me savior/ we drop through this world/into dark awakening/we, the strong hearted.”

In poem after poem, Martin explores her captivity in depression, and at the end of Seek the Holy Dark, she speaks to the human condition with a vision that duplicates the ideas of John Moriarty in Nostos: “If nature can handle the destruction and reconstruction of a caterpillar into a butterfly, why shouldn’t I surrender and trust that it can handle what is happening to me?” Martin's version: “Beloved dead and living/voices surround me/a word/a handwritten note/subatomic change/of being/even spittle spurs/butterfly/to typhoon/to newborn star.”

Seek the Holy Dark is an Intense confessional of a gifted woman who sometimes crosses into the surreal, drawing poems from the depths of herself and seeking transformation while embracing the holy dark. A courageous contribution to the canon of feminist poetry.

Clare L. Martin, a native of south Louisiana, is author of Eating the Heart First, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Dzan Books’ Best of the Web, Best New Poets, and Sundress Publication’s Best of the Net.. She is founding publisher and editor of MockingHeart Review. Seek the Holy Dark is available on amazon.com and through Yellow Flag Press, 2275 Bascom Ave. #702, Campbell CA 95008.


  

Saturday, May 20, 2017

“GOOD FOR THE STOMACH?”

This past week, I celebrated my 82nd birthday and received a gracious plenty of gifts, calls, well wishes, and cards, among which was a box of forbidden food — a box of chocolate caramel candy — forbidden because it’s on a long list of foods to which I am allergic. I ate four of the pieces and promptly became ill. When my youngest daughter Elizabeth called from California, I told her the truth about her gift.

“However,” I added, “the box said, ‘made with sea salt,’ and that sounded healthy enough to me.”

“You got it past the chocolate police?” she asked. She was referring to my friend Vickie who knows about my reactions to this “food of the gods” and tries to monitor my consumption of it. “But I know how you can talk yourself into something being healthy,” Elizabeth said. “I can just walk into Trader Joe’s and see all the fresh food and feel like I’m healthy.”

When I visited my chiropractor the day after I suffered the chocolate reaction, Amy shared with me that she would buy a sack of Heath bars to distribute at Halloween and by the time “trick or treaters” showed up, the sack would be empty. A highly disciplined and healthy person, she surprised me with her chocoholic confession.

Chocolate has some positive qualities for people who aren’t allergic to it, but naysayers downplay reports that cocoa can help reduce the risk of heart disease and provide calcium, magnesium and antioxidant phenols for those who consume this food. I remember that chocolate bars were widely distributed to soldiers during WWII, but back home in the U.S., it was a rationed item, and we were lucky to get a bag of Hershey “kisses” once a year. At that time, when I got sick from eating a few “kisses,” I was accused of overeating. I was fifty years old before I learned that humans could be allergic to this sweet.  

The ancient Aztecs believed that cacao seeds had aphrodisiac qualities and were a gift of the god Quetzalcoatl; they also believed that other gods had condemned this god for sharing chocolate with humans. The only chocolate for which I have no appetite is one served in Mexico called “mole.” During a three-week visit to Oaxaca City, Mexico one summer, I sampled mole (chocolate served in chili-based sauces) at the south end of Oaxaca’s Mercado 20 de November. Ugh! No danger of my agreeing with Jose de Acosta, a Spanish Jesuit missionary who lived in Mexico in the 16th century and wrote that mole was “good for the stomach.” 


Of course, Ogden Nash wrote that “Candy is dandy/but liquor is quicker,” but that verse needs a bit of modifying because no alcoholic beverage can equal the warm rush that comes when you take a bite of something like an expensive milk chocolate truffle. I might add that the cacao beans actually were fermented and regarded as an alcoholic beverage in 1400 BC, so I guess Nash wasn’t that far off course after all…


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

DESERT PLANTS


This week I've been reading D. H. Lawrence's Mornings in Mexico for the umpteenth time, and I woke up thinking of the desert. I've written many desert poems but I keep thinking of making a trip to California this year (for another umpteenth time) to visit my youngest daughter who lives in Palmdale, California where desert blooms have surpassed themselves due to the much-needed rain recently. Poppies bloomed profusely, and I longed to visit the poppy center near Lancaster, California where I've seen only one show of the beautiful plant. Back in the 70's when I lived in the desert of southern Khuzestan, Iran, I saw a glorious show of poppies — yellow and red blooms that made up for the otherwise monotonous tan landscape.

This morning, I looked through a small black notebook that holds my mother's postcards from a trip West in 1946 and a book with a wood cover I rescued from "Discards" at the Iberia Parish Library in New Iberia, Louisiana entitled Plants of Sun and Sand.  Here I am on The Mountain, supposedly counting my blessings for being in a cool spot at an enviable elevation, and I'm pining for the desert! "Go figure," as the young say.

One of the cards my mother bought along the route to California — through Arizona and New Mexico — is particularly appealing to me. It's entitled "A Smoke Tree on the Desert" and is a painting executed by an anonymous person who lived near Tucson, Arizona. The card is made of linen and has space for a one-cent stamp (!), possesses some "antique" worth, and I once used it as inspiration for poems in Postcards From Diddy-Wah-Diddy. Today, I look at these cards to remind me that although I was dubbed "the luxury-loving girl" by my father when we made the long trip across Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California, living like gypsies, it remains one of my strongest memories of landscape and travel. When I need inspiration for writing, I retrieve the little black notebook containing the card travelogue, and my senses are assailed by the smell of mesquite, creosote, and sage...

On a trip to the Davis Mountains near Alpine, Texas, I became enchanted with the sight of various desert plants, especially the ocotillo with its long branching whips, a plant reputed to make the best honey in Arizona. According to Plants of Sun and Sand by Stanford Stevens, published by the Print Room, Governor's Corner, Tucson, Arizona (the book I rescued from "Discards"), the cowboys used to pluck the scarlet blossoms at tips of the ocotillo branches in the spring and taste them as they rode by the plant. At one time the stalks were used in the building of walls and ceilings and can still be found in older homes in the Southwest. The plant was also used to build fences.

My favorite southwestern plant is the cottonwood tree that grows along riverbeds. It's related to Aspen and Poplar trees and, like them, showers the ground beneath with cottony seeds in the spring.

"Passing smoke trees in a desert wash,
downy bushes near a railroad track
going there and everywhere
past balanced cocks, stone houses,
dry gulches, windmills churning to match
the rhythm of our wheels...

by day, the sky an implacable blue,
scudding clouds overlooking eucalyptus
and not a breath of rain,
only the fiery silence of drought..."

I wrote this excerpt from an impassioned poem about the runaway trip of my parents "to least inhabited regions hidden in the desert broom on the shadow side of a mountain..."





Saturday, May 13, 2017

ESPRIT DE FEMME

This morning, the fog on The Mountain blanketed trees, homes, and roads with an impenetrable curtain that could have caused feelings of morning gloom at Sewanee, Tennessee. However, when I went into the dining room for breakfast, I looked up at the windows facing our backyard and saw the latest glasswork of Karen Bourque that I brought back with me last week. A piece of purple colored glass with a hawk winging its way in the background cut through the somber world outside, and I decided to unveil this piece before it appears on the cover of my latest book, Above the Prairie, forthcoming through Border Press in June. There's no other word for Karen's new work — it's stunning!

Karen and I've been working together on covers for my books of poetry during the last decade, and have the kind of synchronicity that births an almost instant process: Border Press publisher, Vickie Sullivan, and I meet for lunch with Karen and her husband, Darrell Bourque, former Louisiana poet laureate, and before we fill our plates, I perceive an idea for a book of poetry, along with the title — presto. I tell Karen about the idea, sometimes sending her a photograph or the first poem, and before I can produce a dozen poems, she has begun work on one of her beautiful pieces. In today's slang about synchronicity, she "gets it."

In another life, Karen was a lab technologist, a working mother, and wife, but when she retired, she began to dedicate her talents to glasswork, and her pieces have appeared in churches, spiritual centers, the Ernest Gaines Center at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, at the Louisiana Book Festival, and other cultural institutions and homes throughout Acadiana. She never advertises her work because the word is out about her brilliant talent. As soon as she completes a commission, and even before she completes a glass piece, someone else is at the door to her studio, seeking her artwork.

I know that my book isn't published yet, but this morning when I looked up at the soaring hawk above the Louisiana prairie in prisms of glass, my spirit lifted, and I was compelled to share this stunning glass piece with readers. I'm always as excited about my book covers as I am about the poetry within and hope you'll look for what's coming next...

P.S. At the risk of sounding like a Grandmother braggart: After Karen produces a photo of the glass piece, it is sent to Martin Romero, my grandson in Louisiana, who makes a handsome design around the glass piece for the cover.


Friday, May 12, 2017

INTO THE SILENCE

Border Press has produced many "first novels," and its latest, Into the Silence by John Gibson, is among the press's growing list of excellent fiction writers who base their work in southern locales. Gibson, a physician who spent over thirty years on the faculty of an academic medical center in Mississippi, sometimes speaks of his novel as a "medical novel," but I think that Into the Silence could be called a "metaphysical novel" and reveals that Gibson, an Episcopalian, has spent a lifetime of study about esoteric religions, including his own Anglican church roots.

Gibson gives the reader a substantive view of a state that has produced some of the finest writers in the U.S. One of his characters, a farmer, provides readers with well-crafted passages about "connecting with something that's bigger than the soil, bigger than the ground you're working on...Some people say it's people who make history. But I think it's the land — it's the land and the rivers that make all the difference...take the Mississippi Delta, for instance: just by being there the Delta enticed man to dig in its soil, to cut and shape the land to suit man's needs...by just choosing to live in the Delta instead of the hills, man was shaping himself, his culture, his politics, his ability to earn and spend money..."

Gibson knows his region, as well as the politics of hospital administration and swiftly propels the reader into a story set in the emergency room of a bustling hospital where readers meet Dr. Todd Sutherland and his patient, Anna Chadwick, who suffers from Ebstein's Anomaly, a ventricular dysfunction. It's Christmas Eve and Sutherland is standing in for another physician; the woman is beautiful and charming, and the scene seems primed for an unlikely romance. However, beneath the surface of Sutherland's obvious attraction to Chadwick, lie questions related to life and death that take the reader into issues far deeper than the introduction of a romance. Sutherland becomes a frequent visitor at the bedside of Chadwick, and ultimately she undergoes a surgery. When she enters into a coma, Sutherland begins sitting with her, and during the vigil at her bedside, he undergoes a dark night of the soul, pondering where her soul must be as it relates to the difference between life and death. As the story progresses, he is accused of shutting off her respirator and endures an ethics trial.

Sutherland, in a state of grief, wrecks his car in New Orleans and ends up in Ochsner's Hospital where he experiences a state of consciousness near death and begins to probe the condition of his soul: "I moved through the walls and out in the open air and even more quickly rushed through a kind of tunnel and out an opening at the other end. While I came out of the tunnel, I could see a bright light. When I moved toward the light, a figure came into view..." The man is identified as Parmenides, an ancient healer who heals by prophecy and informs Sutherland that since he is a healer, he needs to learn to go "into the silence." Sutherland begins a study of Parmenides with a New Orleans professor who suggests that the physician put himself in a trance called Orphic Shamanism to contact the Divine for the purpose of healing.

Gibson's knowledge of Greek literature, Christianity, shamanism, meditation practices, philosophy, and metaphysics is extensive, and he interweaves these subjects into a suspenseful storyline without becoming didactic. Characters emerge from his medical background showing his adeptness at creating authentic personalities, and his extensive knowledge of healing — ancient and contemporary forms — strongly suggest the quality of care this compassionate, well-intentioned professional practiced during his career as a physician and teacher.

Gibson also rendered the pen and ink cover image of Into the Silence that is one of many works of art he has created and exhibited in Jackson, Mississippi as part of his lifework. Several years ago, he provided the pen and ink pointillism drawings in Illuminate, a book of poetry by his daughter Margaret Simon that communicates the beauty and mystery of the manifestation of God in the world. He also received an award in the 2012 Annual Cedars Juried Art Exhibition.

A Renaissance man actively working in retirement, Gibson is another author who joins Mississippi's impressive gallery of writers and artists.

Order from Border Press, P. O. Box 3124, Sewanee, TN 37375 or amazon.com

Monday, May 8, 2017

RESTORING THE PRAIRIE

At entrance crediting Drs. Charles Allen and
Malcolm Vidrine with establishment

Although I'm a native Louisianian, I had never visited Eunice, Louisiana until last week when I descended from The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee, where I reside in the spring and summer months, to Cajun country for a week. My mission was to further explore prairie Louisiana and gather inspiration for a book of poetry I'm writing entitled Above the Prairie. This forthcoming book contains a section about the Cajun Prairie, an area once called "the Garden of Louisiana."

In Eunice, we toured the Cajun Music Hall of Fame Museum and the Eunice Depot Museum, the latter of which held the full cowboy uniform of "Boo" Ledoux on the lower level, a tonsillectomy chair (!) and an ancient department store cash register from Wright's Department Store in the lobby area, but our mission concerned environment rather than artifacts, and we were directed to a prairie restoration project on a ten-acre plot within the city of Eunice.

Member of the mint family
In 1988, ecologists collected seeds from prairie remnants along railroad rights of way and stored them dry until they were planted within the plot of the restoration project. Sod was also rescued from remnants in danger of being destroyed by hand digging and were propagated in containers from both cuttings and seeds. The seeds were distributed by hand by individual collectors, and this resulted in the production of a heterogeneous matrix of prairie plants. Harrowing worked the seeds into the soil, and plants in containers and sods were transplanted. The process has been described in depth by Malcolm F. Vidrine, author of The Cajun Prairie: A Natural History and a prime mover in the project who also established a Prairie Garden Project in the yard of his home — another model for restoration efforts in southwest Louisiana.

Baptisia, wild indigo

We visited the small Eunice site where a diversity of perennial prairie plants have been established, astonished that a swatch of prairie vegetation had been restored within the limits of a city. Vidrine declares that by 2010, the Cajun Prairie Restoration Project had become successful; it was carried out by members of the Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society who removed the non-native tallow trees that threatened the site, transplanted prairie plants, paved a trail, and now maintain a parking lot and a covered metal shelter at the site. The restoration site has become a classroom for ecologists and has also become a model for other projects pertaining to the restoration of prairies with native plants in natural settings.

Tripsacum, a grass ancestor of corn
As I included several poems about the flowers and grasses of the Cajun Prairie in Above the Prairie, the discovery of this project involving the tallgrass prairie in southwest Louisiana was a bit of serendipity for me. Less than 100 acres of a 2.5 million acre wilderness remain in narrow strips that are identified as critically imperiled by the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program, and I was excited to see this work by restoration ecologists.

As I've often said, one photograph is worth a thousand words, and I'm including a few photographs that my botanist friend Vickie Sullivan snapped while we were walking the short concrete trail amidst this place of natural beauty.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

MORE CARDINALS

Fog shrouded The Mountain yesterday just after daybreak, and in the midst of heavy mist, a brilliant cardinal appeared in the herb garden by our back door. We have placed a bird bath in the yard, but our visitor sought food rather than a morning bath (not that he needed one). Hunched over one of our plants, his posture appeared to be that of an old man, but his familiar "chip" sounded youthful and threatening.

I knew that if he were mating, another cardinal intruder might become a victim of some dive bombing and combat activity. If this cardinal had engaged in combat and chased an intruder away, his victory song would have been unmistakably joyful. I've read that if a cardinal is placed in front of a mirror, he perceives his reflection as an intruder and may spend hours trying to get rid of his image. During my winters in New Iberia, Louisiana, I enjoyed a cardinal visitor who, seeing his reflection in my window, sat on the sill outside my study for weeks. Little did I know that he was in defense mode, protecting his territory against another male cardinal that might be seeking a mate. I thought he was befriending me!

I think that my yard cardinals live in a thicket near our drive and consort with their neighbors, a thrasher family. They probably share meals of unwanted insects and seeds from weeds. The thrashers graze brazenly in my front yard, especially after heavy rains like the ones we've been experiencing.

Although most people regard cardinals as bearers of good fortune, humans are forbidden, by law, to keep a cardinal as a pet. I've read that the male cardinal shows his affection for the female by feeding her, beak to beak, to express his love, but I've never been a witness to this courting activity.

Cardinals are among the most difficult birds to photograph, particularly in a dense morning fog, but I'm sorry I didn't try to snap one of the bird that landed in our herb garden yesterday morning. If I hadn't been due to attend Morning Prayer and Eucharist at St. Mary's at 7 a.m., I would've  staged a stake-out. Later, in the afternoon, I did do a one-hour stake-out, and one flew over the front porch daring us to catch him in flight as he disappeared into the woods.

I'm among those who believe that cardinals bring messages of blessing. They also symbolize power and wealth. My daughter Stephanie and I believe that they represent a deceased loved one who has returned for a visit. In our case, it's my mother Dorothy (who loved red) who's telling us she'll always be with us, assuring us that we can handle any difficult problem and that we'll have everlasting vitality. At 82, that's a message I want to hear her "chip."


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

FIRST AND LAST STORIES

A few years ago, I reviewed a book of poetry entitled Floating Heart by Stuart Friebert, a writer whose work has been published in numerous literary journals, including Pinyon Review, an independent press in Montrose, Colorado. Friebert responded to the review by sending me copies of several books featuring his translations of books by the German poet Karl Krolow, and we corresponded sporadically about the books that are included in a series entitled the Field Translation Series, founded by Friebert at Oberlin College in Ohio. This week, Friebert made another appearance on the publisher's list of Pinyon Review with First and Last Words: Memoir and Stories, a stellar collection of literature about German-Jewish characters and Friebert's sojourn in Germany as one of the first exchange students following WWII, as well as memorable short stories from Friebert's wry pen.

In the Prologue to this volume, Friebert at once captures the reader's interest with a commentary about how Nazi-German infected German classical language, citing Victor Klemperer's Language of the Third Reich, in which Klemperer notes the word "Umbruch," a beautiful poetic word before the Nazis perverted it, which had to do with "turning the earth over to plant anew but was diabolically redeployed to mean a glorification of being rooted in the soil of the Fatherland..." Although Friebert claims he never became a linguist, he fell under the spell of German poets, particularly Rilke, and was inspired to study German abroad by Professor Doberheim who was a refugee from Darmstadt where Friebert was sent as an exchange student. Friebert later studied with Martin Joos who advised him that the only salvation for Germany was if Jews returned (Friebert's heritage) ... "to the language, the literature, to the land as well. That in and of itself would be a miracle...whatever you do, read German, teach it if you can, and above all live it."

When Friebert crosses the ocean on the Queen Mary, he experiences a "rogue wave" that injures a priest who has become a companion to him and Ellie Klarner, a fellow student in the exchange program. The ship lands in Rotterdam to seek medical help, a place described by bitter crew members as a city where citizens had been shown no mercy by invading Germans. Friebert becomes more aware of Third Reich corruptions after he meets victims of WWII when he reaches his destination at the Technische Hochschule or the "TH" where he has been sent to study. After leaving Germany, he faces a career decision, pondering whether to help ferret out former Nazis, or to stabilize the new democratic Germany, or to apply for a Foreign Service job. Instead, he returns to his studies, completes his B.A. at Wisconsin State University, takes an M.A. and a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in German Language and Literature, and later teaches at Mt. Holyoke College and Harvard, settling at Oberlin College where he taught German, founded and directed Oberlin's Creative Writing Program, The Field Translation Series and Oberlin College Press — all unfolding as a unified career path, which he had pondered following his year abroad.

When Friebert sent me volumes of Karl Krolow's poetry, he offered his opinion about writing the kind of poetry that impassions readers — the notion that learning another language and translating the poetry of that language results in successful poetry in a writer's native language and voice. His fifteen volumes of poems and thirteen volumes of translations bear out this advice. First and Last Words is a living legacy that recounts the past without surrendering to an easy sentimentality, and is one of those timeless volumes that showcases a master of language and lends credence to an international audience.

Readers will enjoy three fulsome sections, including miscellaneous short stories and memoir stories, my favorites being a fish tale entitled "Some Lunkers," and "July 14-15/1998," a story about Friebert's father's death following rehab from a broken hip. In the story, Friebert discovers that his father had scrawled poems written by the poet Miroslav Holub in a prescription notebook. Friebert had sent his father translations of Miroslav's poems, and the poem that moved his father the most was "Autumn," regarding the end of life. "But next year/The larches will try/to make the land full of larches again/and larches will try/to make the land full of larks/And thrushes will try/to make all the trees sing,/and goldfinches will try/to make all grass golden/and burying beetles/with their creaky love will try/to make all the corpses/rise from the dead."

Friebert has created a tour de force volume, writing from a well of memories and nostalgic thought that will perturb some and delight others in a range of subjects and characters with sharp bits of philosophy couched between the lines: "The best science is often the simplest way through the maze of possibilities. The key, of course, as it often is in most of life's exigencies, is being able to formulate the decisive question at the outset of your investigations..."

Order from Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403. Also on amazon.com.



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Sewanee Yarn Bombers

One of the unique groups here at Sewanee meets at Mooney's to knit yarn art. This month, the knitters added their art to an installation for the Mountain Goat Trail that was created by school and neighborhood groups — a colorful exhibit on a three-mile stretch of the Trail that featured decorated walking sticks, God's eyes, google-eyed frogs, pom-pom trees, birds, granny squares, a tree sweater, hanging shoes...totems of art for viewing by the Sewanee community that opened on April 1. The project was planned by Patrick Dean of the Mountain Goat Trail Alliance and Christi Teasley, Grundy Area Arts Council.


My friend Victoria Sullivan, fascinated with the whimsical art of the knitters and crocheters, snapped photos as she made her daily walk on the Trail and shared it with me as I seldom get out walking in the early morning. 
As a believer in the adage, "One Picture is Worth A Thousand Words," this blog will give readers a view of the craftsmanship that exists here on The Mountain, and actually, in most counties of Tennessee. Unfortunately, thieves took away more than half of the installation on April 9, and local police are still looking for the robbers.  














Sunday, April 9, 2017

FLORIDA WILDLIFE

Sandhill Cranes dancing together on Silver Lake

Last evening I sat on the porch of the Sullivan house overlooking Silver Lake here in central Florida watching silver-streaked waves sparkle as they were buffeted by a slight wind, and I overheard a strange trumpeting noise. I looked up and saw two sandhill cranes, their long bills outstretched as they talked to one another in low pitched harmony on a walk at the edge of the lake. They seemed to have some strange kind of disconnect from their environment and deserved a photograph by Vickie Sullivan who often snaps photos for this blog (see the intriguing photo above). The two cranes on the beach are actually of concern to lovers of wildlife but aren't among 5,000 of an endangered species in the U.S. — yet. The oldest of these elegant birds in the U.S. is 36 years, and I assume it is still performing his dance with his mate (although he may have experienced the loss of the one with which he mated for life).

Cranes with two babies on
Moody Lake shore
When we went indoors and mentioned the birds to Vickie's mother Inez, who is in her late 90's, she said one word: "family," and I was told that the cranes have a family close by.  Baby cranes follow their parents around for nine months before they're declared an adult. If you look closely at the picture on the left, you can just discern two little ones loping beside their mother.

The crane twosome at Silver Lake were enjoying an evening stroll, perhaps foraging for berries, insects, or snails… and are also prone to eating reptiles – lizards, snakes, and the like. However, they, in turn, can be devoured by crocodiles and alligators that, fortunately, don't inhabit Silver Lake. If disturbed, their defense against such predators is to hiss, jump in the air, and kick at their attackers. I watched the couple stride on the beach for a few moments, wondering how old the cranes were. To me, their slow bobbing walk, with legs bent backwards at the knees in contrast to human legs, resembled that of elderly humans, but they carried themselves with unusual grace.

Each time I visit the "lake house" in Florida, I get a glimpse of wildlife new to me, particularly bird
Nancy Sullivan relaxing on porch
life, and I call for the photographer to record a scene to add to the memories of Florida lake country. Porch sitting is a pastime in this part of the world, and I've been part of it for the 39 years I've visited here. Several tall rockers, a wood swing, and an overhead fan attest to this relaxed southern way of life. The Sullivan porch has been occupied most of our week-long visit where we've been catapulted into the midst of this long-legged wildlife and have experienced our own "disconnect" from concentrated thinking for a spell.