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.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

BACK TO THE MOUNTAINS

Fog in Fairbanks Woods, Sewanee, TN
The heavy fog this morning reminded me why I frequently call Sewanee, TN, my second home, "Grayburg."  During this morning's services at St. Mary, I kept looking out the window overlooking the bluff and countryside beyond for sunlight, but it's now 10 a.m., and the fog still shrouds all signs of spring, including a few blooming dogwood and forsythia scattered about the woods.

The dense fog reminds me of a program I presented to the Fortnightly Club in February — one about the Great Smoky Mountains Park, another setting with a plethora of gray days. The program focused on the part that photography played in establishing the park as a national icon in the southern Appalachians. Western parks, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, were carved from the public domain, but each acre of the Smoky Mountains was held in private lands made up of thousands of small farms and summer homes. A decade-long effort resulted in funds being raised to buy those lands because, originally, the Federal government wasn't going to put up any of the money to acquire property for a park. So the states of North Carolina and Tennessee, composed of ordinary citizens and philanthropists — even school children — began to raise the money.

Their campaign was aided greatly by a group of photographers who supported the cause. During the early 1900's, when photography was in its infancy, professional photographers had to tote large, cumbersome view cameras, fragile glass plate negatives, and wooden tripods into the wilderness to photograph scenery that became the Smoky Mountain National Park. A photographer would set up a shot and wait, sometimes hours, for a moment of light before clicking the shutter to record images in black and white.

The photographers were also avid hikers. They logged thousands of miles carrying tents, bedrolls, food, and fifty pounds of cameras and various equipment on their backs on unfamiliar, rugged ground. They also build trails and measured, mapped, and named most of the land features that would become the Great Smoky Mountains Park. They made thousands of pictures of trees, waterfalls, and mountain peaks in all kinds of weather and created portraits of mountain people working in their homes, on their farms, and with various crafts, leaving a cultural record of the mountain dwellers.

Many of the facilities and restoration of historic buildings in the Great Smoky Mountains Park was done by the CCC's, (an organization to which my father belonged but not in the Smoky Mountain Park), and many of the trails, beautiful stone buildings, and bridges in the park are examples of their work.

However, the photographers were the real movers and shakers in the campaign to establish the park. They campaigned, "through their lenses" to pique the interest of government officials and private donors to acquire 6,000 small farms and large tracts that had to be surveyed, appraised, dickered over, and sometimes condemned in court. Lumber and timber companies with standing inventory required compensation, and some people were given lifetime leases if they were too old or too sick to move. Finally, in the late 1920's the Legislatures of Tennessee and North Carolina donated two million dollars each for land purchases, and by 1928, five million dollars had been raised. Then the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Fund donated five million dollars. The Great Smoky Mountains Park was formally dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt in September, 1940 as he spoke from the Rockefeller Monument at Newfound Gap astride the Tennessee-North Carolina state line.

Ansel Adams, who was famous for photographing Western national parks, once set out for the Great Smokies following WWII and spent only a week in early October, making 47 images, four of which were published and three printed. In the book, Pictures For A Park, How Photographers Saved the Great Smoky Mountains, by Rose Houk, Houk tells the story of Adams complaining about the hazy light in the Appalachians ("Grayburg!"), comparing it to the strong light in California's Sierra Nevada. Adams wrote to a friend that the Smokies were "Okay, but are going to be devilish hard to photograph." A copy of Adams' photo entitled "The Dawn, Autumn Forest" appears in Pictures For A Park, a black and white close-up of a stand of trees, "their luminosity displaying Adams' prowess with light and lens and darkroom technique..."

My favorites among the photographs I viewed in the book by Houk were those of the faces of the mountaineers in the Great Smokies. Many of them are melancholy and weathered, and I wasn't surprised at the expressions on the faces of the mountain folk — the photos were probably taken on a day like today in "Grayburg!"

Photograph of fog by Victoria I. Sullivan

Friday, March 17, 2017

ANNE SIMON'S LATEST: BLOOD OF THE BELIEVERS

A few years ago, when The Honorable Anne Simon decided to write police procedural novels, a series of books with "Blood" in the titles, she launched a career revealing her talent as a writer that equaled her success in the field of law. In this month's publication of the third novel in her series, Blood of the Believers, she continues to showcase her talents as a writer based on her experiences in the legal field. She delivers a rich, well-plotted novel that holds the reader in suspense with two homicide investigations which take place in Acadiana, her adopted home.

Simon explores her adopted home territory using excellent insight and a highly literate style to achieve an authoritative crime novel. Her descriptions of Acadiana resonate with her love of the area that has been her home for over fifty years. A sample of her ability to describe Acadiana in a setting that affects an excellent "lift-off" is featured in the "Prologue" to Blood of the Believers:

"Shaded by a canopy of drooping willow trees, a flat-bottomed bateau plied the shoreline of a narrow bayou leading from the south end of Catahoula Lake. The prow of the wooden boat poked in and out of stands of cypress knees protruding from dark sludge at the water's edge. Sitting on a plank in the stern of the bateau, an old man nudged the tiller to the port and starboard, his gnarled and sun-browned hand controlling their course. An outboard motor purred behind him..."

The story opens when Homicide Detective Ted D'Aquin's ten-year-old son Andre discovers a body while crabbing in Catahoula Lake with his grandfather and proceeds through several homicide investigations, including the murder of a prominent local citizen's eccentric wife who collects dolls

"in varying stages of construction [covering] the surface. Cloth bodies, china heads, and bins of sewing supplies — material, ribbons, and buttons — spilled from the shelves of china cabinets along the walls. The second doll room showed off the finished products, groupings of the most elaborately dressed examples of the collection. Probably fifty little ladies in satin dresses had at hand their imagined needs: miniature tables, chairs, utensils, carriages for their babies..." 

At the latter scene, another body of an unidentified black male is discovered, and Simon is off and running, involving the reader in two investigations by Ted D'Aquin and his partner Lorraine LaSalle, with the assistance of District Attorney Dennis Byrne. The novel features a complex plot involving the two criminal cases; in addition, an ongoing search for D'AQuin's wife, a probation officer who disappears while making a routine visit in the field, provides an intriguing side story. Simon is convincing in her ability to achieve a unified story with the cases at hand, including a surprise finale.

When I read Blood of the Believers, I was mesmerized by Simon's well-paced prose and her facility to create the tension that identifies a superb crime novel — I thought of Ruth Rendell and P.D. James, who have given readers first-rate novels that move us through suspense-filled yarns rich with allusion and clever plots. Simon's familiarity with police procedure and the courtroom serve her well in creating the kind of high excitement Rendell and James achieved in their crime novels.

As another adopted daughter of Acadiana, I appreciate Simon's colorful descriptions of the bayou country that equal her predecessor, James Lee Burke — also, her deft touch in creating unusual personalities and locales of Acadiana; e.g., Brother Noah Norbert of the "Church of the Blessed Believers," one of the characters who enhances the intricate plot.

"At the front of the room, a tall white man wearing an electric blue robe with a white cross emblazoned on the front stood on an elevated platform behind a podium. Like the statue of Christ above Rio, he held his arms spread wide...Stage right, a dozen men and woman with a range of skin tones swayed in a syncopated rhythm as they hummed a dirge....a ten-foot-square banner on the wall behind the podium proclaimed 'Let the Believers Testify to His Glory'..."

Because of the numerous characters who move in and out of this tense novel, a List of Characters is included in the preliminary pages of Blood of the Believers, and several maps assist readers in identifying crime scenes. The arresting cover art was done by New Iberia artist, Nan M. Landry.

Hopefully, this brief review will titillate followers of Simon's "Blood Series" to read the latest compelling novel in which Simon is at her suspenseful best. An absorbing and well-written read by an author who has an unusual way of looking at cases, but respects authenticity. Spellbinding storytelling.

Anne L. Simon was born in the East, educated at Wellesley, Yale and Louisiana State University Law Schools, practiced law with her husband Jerry, raised a family, and became the first female judge in the area. Now retired, she travels, enjoys family near and far, takes long walks with her dog, Petey, and writes.

Published by Border Press Books, P.O. Box 3124, Sewanee, TN 37375 and at Amazon.com.





Tuesday, March 14, 2017

RESURRECTION FERN

Resurrection Fern on tree along Jump Off
Mountain Rd., Sewanee, TN
In the spring before Easter resurrection, the old live oaks in New Iberia, Louisiana begin to show large clumps of fronds unfurling that become green and show signs of new life – the resurrection fern, an epiphyte fern that clings to its host tree branches, comes to life, and to me, it is symbolic of the resurrection of Christ. During dry, winter periods this epiphyte fern becomes a grayish brown and looks as if it has shriveled up and died. However, the plant can lose up to 97 percent of its water content and stay alive. A few rain showers lately have caused the fern to unfurl and transform into the bright green that forms on our old oaks. Some plant experts say that the fern can stay in a dried-out state for 100 years. 
In 2014 when I was writing Between Plants and People, a volume of poetry about the interrelationships between people and the plants around us, I asked Dr. Victoria I. Sullivan, a botanist, to take photographs of the plants I wrote about for the book. At the time, I was spending my half year on The Mountain in Sewanee, Tennessee, and Sewanee was experiencing a gracious plenty of dry weather. When I decided to include a poem about resurrection fern, we searched every habitat on The Mountain and couldn’t find a “model” for the poem. We finally decided to drive some distance to Savannah, Georgia to find this fern that reproduces by spores, not seeds. We knew that Savannah has a plethora of old oaks — also, we were often known for suddenly deciding to embark on a trip just to recover a detail for our writings, or to satisfy a yen for peaches or apples… we were called to live up to our rep for uncovering serendipity on such trips. 
Resurrection Fern on Live Oak, Savannah, GA
We walked through the streets of Savannah and finally found a dried up specimen on a venerable oak in the parking lot of a legal firm where we were chased out by a guard but not before we had taken a few quick snapshots. We then drove back to Sewanee. The trip clocked out as a twelve-hour round trip, and when we had recovered, we were told that a patch of the fern grew on a tree not more than five miles away from Sewanee! It was bright with green life, and the intrepid botanist took a photo. Both the green specimen of the fern at Sewanee and the un-resurrected fern in Savannah appear on a page of Between Plants and People
Resurrection fern doesn’t steal water or nutrients from the old oaks and cypress on which it most often appears, and it has the distinction of having been taken into outer space aboard the Discovery space shuttle so that space travelers aboard could observe this plant at zero gravity. The fern was able to effect resurrection even without gravity and was named the “first fern in space.” 
The resurrection fern is an amazing plant, and when spring rains begin to fall, or at Eastertide, you might want to look upward at topmost tree branches of our ancient oaks to witness an awe-inspiring resurrection. This member of the plant world has withstood many droughts and seeming-deaths but remains alive and healthy. I’d say there’s a message therein! 
Photography by Dr. Victoria I. Sullivan


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

BUTTERWEEDS

After the rain last night, the weatherman predicted a cloudy day, but the sun is shining and my thoughts turn to a cache of gold I saw today in a ditch—butterweeds blooming in a large colony. These robust flowers that belong to the sunflower family had been ignored by the wild and crazy mowers that destroy highway wildflowers, and I'm happy I saw them bloom before I depart for The Mountain in Tennessee. Last week, we brought a cluster of them indoors, and they lasted for a week, a lengthy stay for wildflowers.

The sunflower family produces some of the cheeriest blooms in the plant kingdom. I remember when my friend, Janet Faulk-Gonzales, decided to cultivate a field of sunflowers, designed a special card advertising them as "Radiant Faces," and sold them at the open market in downtown New Iberia, Louisiana for a short spell. As she was the sole caretaker for this agricultural project, she closed her business after farming one season of blooms. She decided that watering and weeding chores were too demanding as a "moonlighting" job.

Although sunflowers enjoy good press, butterweeds are regarded as noxious plants in some states; e.g., Ohio. Such prohibitions don't affect this wildflower's will to endure in other states, and in the early spring, our Louisiana mosquitoes stay busy pollinating them. (By the way, only the male mosquito feeds on nectar.) Also, the blooms of butterweeds are sometimes used in making dyes and are useful as well as beautiful.

Back in the late 70's, my botanist friend, Dr. Victoria Sullivan, who has notebooks filled with unpublished poetry, published a snippet about butterweeds in the Connecticut Fireside Review. This snippet is a better response to sighting a field of golden butterweed than this blog.

It's entitled "Wildflower":

Butterweeds decorate the ditch,
temptresses in the springtime,
yellow dresses waving
in the warm April sun,
hiding their sweet nectar,
anxious to give some bee a tumble.

In Tennessee, I've mistaken a field of rapeseed for butterweed, but the former belongs to another family of flowers cultivated and used for Canola oil. The sight of a sheet of the rapeseed in bloom is as pleasing a vision as the butterweed, so I'll have the opportunity to see another field of gold soon.

P.S. Happy International Women's Day. Enjoy your day off! You can see I'm honoring the suggestion to refrain from labor today by creating a shorter blog.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

SIFTING RED DIRT

This week, I received the first copies of Sifting Red Dirt, my poetic offering for the year 2017. The cover, as usual, is a photograph of the unique glass work of Karen Bourque, a glass artist in Church Point, Louisiana. When I look at the beautiful glass pieces Karen renders to be photographed for the book covers of my poetry, I feel especially blessed to have her artwork in my home and on the book covers.

In the "Author's Note" of Sifting Red Dirt, I speak of the influence Karen has had on my work, and Border Press felt that the best introduction to this volume would be through the note about Karen's art being so compatible with my books:

"Last year I published a book of poetry featuring my Cajun ancestors about whom I had no knowledge until I reached my forties, and after the book, A Slow Moving Stream, appeared and I gave several readings, my maternal ancestors began to rival those paternal ancestors for inclusion in a book. They appeared in old photographs I had put away, in dreams, and in cogent memories...So I went to Mississippi where my great grandmother, Dora Runnels Greenlaw, was born and photographed a red hill near Brandon, Mississippi, then sent it to Karen Bourque of Church Point, Louisiana, who has rendered many of the wonderful glass pieces for covers of my books of poetry. Almost immediately, I was assailed with doubts about writing a book about them and announced I was finished before I began.

However, when I returned to Louisiana from my spring/summer stay in Sewanee, Tennessee and met for dinner with Karen and her husband, Darrell, former poet laureate of Louisiana, Karen gifted me with Brown Cotton, Red Hills, a wonderful glass piece. Karen gently placed her feet at my back, along with those deceased family members who had appeared in my dreams, and I began writing Sifting Red Dirt. Although it is among 46 books I could not have written without the support of Dr. Victoria I. Sullivan, owner of Border Press, during the last ten years Karen has become an intuitive co-creator in my work. Her glass pieces hang in my home in New Iberia, Louisiana and in the cottage at Sewanee, Tennessee, and one of the poems in Sifting Red Dirt is about her work."

Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, professor of English, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, best describes the poems in Sifting Red Dirt on the back cover as "resist[ing] an easy nostalgia but instead drill down to the core of feeling and memory...the poetry "taking us to the sources of personal and cultural identity — family and place..." Also, Dr. Darrell Bourque endorses the volume with a comment about the poems concerning "our mostly buried lives that shape us and define us in ways that are hardly explicable...Diane's story would not have been complete without those memories rising into language..."

Karen is working on another glass piece to illustrate one poem I've written about Prairie des femmes, Louisiana that will be among photographs of two or three glass pieces she created for my book covers. The photos will be featured alongside several of my poems in the fall/winter issue of Pinyon Review.

One of Karen Bourque's glass pieces is permanently exhibited in the Ernest J. Gaines Center, an international center for scholarship about the work of Gaines at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette; another was featured at the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and many hang in homes and churches throughout Acadiana. Her notes about the photographs of glass work on the covers of my books of poetry have appeared in several volumes and could be classified as "prose poems."

   

Monday, February 20, 2017

FACES OF INNOCENTS

Great Grandmother Diane with
Lilian
In my lexicon, If one picture is worth a thousand words, pictures of children are worth tens of thousands of words. At a birthday party for my six-year-old great-grandson Alex this past weekend, we were able to record the faces of my three great-grandchildren and took endless shots of them, not just to commemorate the occasion but to make those little faces available to me when I return to Sewanee, Tennessee next month.

Alex the party boy
On days when fog hangs over the day and gray feelings reflect the weather, I bring up photographs of Alex, Kate, and Lillian (the twins) and am uplifted. After making several road trips this past week, today I almost succumbed to gray, weary feelings, but I brought up the photos on my cell phone and was grateful that when I looked at those innocent faces I felt hopeful. I was also grateful for the devotion of the children's grandmothers because the Romero offspring are fortunate to have grandmothers who travel from southeastern and southwestern Louisiana to provide loving, extended family almost every other week, an experience my daughters hardly ever enjoyed.

I said that pictures of children are worth tens of thousands of words, so here are the photos that
Daddy Martin with Kate
should evoke a smile or two from readers...or are they just products of inordinate great-grandmotherly pride?  A footnote to the photos: The twins are on the cusp of becoming one-year-old. Lillian walks and Kate talks, and if you stand outside the door of their nursery, you can hear them talking to one another in twin language. Their favorite subject: When are we going to eat? I thought I interpreted a question Lillian asked Kate this weekend: Who's that old lady with white hair that keeps reciting nursery rhymes to us? 

 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

MY KIND OF MARDI GRAS

Karen & Darrell's house
It's that time of year again — Mardi Gras in French Louisiana. If readers want the full Monty about this celebration, a foray into Lyle Saxon's Old Louisiana provides an extensive account of this season preceding Lent. Saxon, one of the brightest raconteurs of his day, lived most of his life in New Orleans and devoted the first six chapters of Old Louisiana to Mardi Gras, explaining that the very name New Orleans "brings to mind a Mardi Gras pageant moving through the streets at night: crowds of masqueraders, rearing horses, great decorated floats glowing with color and glittering gold-leaf. Aboard the swaying cars are centaurs, mermaids, satyrs, gods and men, illuminated by flaring torches carried by strutting negroes robed in red..." Saxon sat on a balcony in front of the St. Charles Hotel during Mardi Gras, 1946, and described the first Mardi Gras to occur after WWII over a national radio broadcasting chain. Readers could say that he was talking about Mardi Gras while dying; a few days after his broadcast, he was hospitalized with cancer and died.

Darrell, Diane, Karen
For the tourist, New Orleans is the place to be during Mardi Gras activities, but, of course, Cajun Country has its own Carnival balls, parades, and private celebrations. At my age, I prefer the latter, especially when it takes place in the home of the Bourques in Church Point, Louisiana. Like Saxon, Darrell Bourque, the former poet laureate of Louisiana and his wife Karen, a glass artist, have an abiding interest in "living well." When we get together with them, the atmosphere is charged with the energy of two accomplished artists — books are stacked on desks, in bookcases everywhere; regional art fills every room in their home and studio. The studio is an old shotgun style house the Bourques renovated to resemble a Creole cottage, complete with heavily-battened blue shutters, facing the cobbled New Orleans style courtyard. A new addition is a wrought iron fence enclosing the cottage that adds to the Creole ambience.  Each time we visit the studio, I discover glass pieces I've viewed before, but see them as new, in every corner. I find different displays of their grandson William's paintings, perhaps a new poem lying on the tall table where the two artists create both glass work and poems — everything is viewed as new. I tease my friends about my becoming a permanent guest holed up in their studio to write.

Thursday, a Mardi Gras centerpiece decorated the dining table where we dined and talked for two hours. The food! Darrell cooks a magnifique pork roast with homemade sauce of roasted peppers and onions; Karen, a sweet potato casserole, fresh asparagus salad with homemade dressing, and Darrell always insists that we have nahn, which he knows I learned to love while living in Iran. "This is our Mardi Gras," Darrell said, and we toasted our long friendship as a way to celebrate that which is fun-filled and gracious in our lives. No loud fanfare, parades, costumed folks, no dancing in the hall — just lots of talk and doubling-over laughter.

Vickie @ Mardi Gras table
We got up from the festive table and went outdoors, where I usually insist on taking photographs so we can reminisce when we return to Sewanee for the spring/summer season. Four or five shots of us are required for me to look decent, linked with these two handsome artists, and Thursday we posed in front of one of Darrell's prize camellia bushes. Darrell, a consummate gardener, also raises grapefruit, lemons, and oranges and usually has a bumper crop of ginger but the last freeze destroyed these beautiful plants. His white camellias would rival the prize camellias in the gardens of Jefferson and Avery Islands, Louisiana.

No Hail Rex and his royal court, no bursts of music, little parades of glittering floats, or the unrealness of a Mardi Gras scene... but the realness of a good time enjoyed by all. We came away feeling well-cared for following our celebration in the prairie country of St. Landry parish, a region of Louisiana I've learned to love after viewing it through the eyes of these elegant south Louisiana artists.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

FLORIDA FISHING

Grandson Martin, Jacob,
and Vickie (l. to r.)
While visiting in the home of Vickie Sullivan's 97-year old mother in central Florida recently, Vickie's sister came over with two old photographs of me and my grandson Martin in hand. The photos probably dated back to 33 years ago, and one photo showed me holding a large bass I had caught; the other photograph showed my grandson Martin, Mary Ruth's oldest son Jacob, and Vickie holding a nice string of fish they had caught in canals on the Latt Maxcy Corporation Ranch. I couldn't believe that the large bass I held was my catch of the day, but there I was, wearing large-frame glasses popular back in the day, smiling over the fish that was stretched to full length in a snapshot that Mary Ruth had discovered among her memorabilia.

Fishing was once among my favorite recreations, and I felt a jolt about my aging process when I looked at the photo. My blissful expression and that of my grandson in the photographs also jolted me into a consciousness of how recent photos of me show a lot of white hair and a certain worried look on my face. I was in my forties when we made this fishing jaunt, and I was enchanted with the landscape of central Florida — the grassy pastureland savannas with scattered clumps of saw palmetto, hammocks of live oaks trailing moss, and orange groves scattered among many glistening lakes. My nostalgia and memories of the past make it a happy time among hospitable people.

Me with bass
At the time of the photo-taking, an abundance of bass, bream, and catfish filled the canals on the ranch with overflowing high water from the nearby Kissimmee River. Every cast that day had brought in a fish; however, I never returned to this bountiful fishing spot and later confined my fishing to casts from a pier that Vickie's mother built on the beach of her lakefront home. For a long spell, she fed the fish in Silver Lake daily, and on one occasion, I caught 23 bream, ceasing my fishing only when dusk came... and I began to think about having to clean the catch!

In my forthcoming book of poetry, Sifting Red Dirt (see cover below), I included a prose poem about fishing expeditions entitled Big Creek:

They called it “floating the river,” one paddling, the other casting his way into eddies all day, pulling close to shadowy pools, perch beds where blue gills and sun perch darted for multi-colored flies thrown into their hunger. One summer, they allowed me along, and I was given a fly rod and shown how to crack the whip, two flies attached. When I felt the hard pull of two blue gills, plump, dark blue bodies tugging at the lures and breaking the surface of the water I knew why they went out on the river. Most days the sun was so hot they had to come to a hiatus under overhanging oaks every few hours to open a can of beer and say a few words to each other, but the less words, the better, the overwhelming silence a relief from talk required for the unending necessity of hands at work, making a living. The Bogue Chitto, Choctaw for “Big Creek,” was then clear water, and when we stopped under the bridge by The Tavern to replenish the beer, I could see the gravel bottom of the river, breathe in the desultory air, feel a part of that silence that had been broken only by the whiz of the line and a small snap as the line hit the water. They were both on their way to becoming alcoholics, and floating the river soon became something less spiritual, less recreation, and more drinking in the shade of the watchful oaks. I knew the only peace either of them felt was on that river, and I did not go with them often but when I did, I wasn’t afraid, even in sudden summer thunderstorms when we had to pull up on the banks and sit until the white flashes and rumbling stopped. I was only afraid of water moccasins dropping into the boat, preferring to be at the outer edges of the perch pools. Sometimes when the sun became unbearable, the paddler would start the motor of an old outboard and stir the heavy air, riding the current for a few minutes, the breeze pushing us on to another pool. Years later, I would understand the meditative quality of those trips, no thoughts persisting, just concentration on the line flying into the dark pools searching for hungry perch, a hypnotic gesture, not caring what anyone thought, not wanting to hear anyone else’s problems, not moaning about life not being intact, but feeling the soul’s bliss, heart contracting with joy in the simple goodness of floating the river.