Monday, June 29, 2009


A week’s hiatus in blogging seems like a month to me. I’ve been traveling apace around TN, showing my daughter Stephanie and her husband Brad the sights and sounds of my second home state. As a kick-off and with the heat index over 100 degrees, we engaged in a hot time in Bell Buckle, TN, the day following their annual RC-Moon Pie Festival. Twenty thousand people formed a big crowd on the Main Street of Bell Buckle businesses – the only strip of businesses in this small TN town. At this event, the largest moon pie in the world was cut, and we were sorry we hadn’t gone on the actual day of the slicing, but we were happy we hadn’t been part of 20,000 people milling around the antique shops and trying to get a bite to eat at the one restaurant in town, The Bell Buckle Café. The festival featured a king and queen enthroned on the back of an open convertible, similar to those in a Mardi Gras parade in Louisiana. This royalty threw moon pies to the crowd rather than beads. It was a momentous beginning for the vacation before we departed for Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry the following day.

I’ve been resident in TN for three years, and last week I enjoyed my first introduction to the Music Capital of TN. We stayed at the Gaylord Grand Ole Opry Hotel with its 40 acres of indoor gardens, waterfalls, a river that features a Delta flatboat, and a 27,000 sq. ft. fitness center. We had two rooms in the 2881-room hotel and enjoyed shuttle service to downtown Nashville and to the Grand Ole Opry. Several times we lunched at an Irish pub and at a Jack Daniels saloon in the complex but avoided the Godiva chocolatier, as well as the clothing and gift shops scattered throughout the complex.

I’ve never been a big fan of country music and have memories of being a bored teenager spending Sunday afternoons with the boyfriend of the moment listening to Hank Williams and Roy Acuff and lifting my “above it all” nose, denouncing the music as “hillbilly wailing.” At 74, I admit that I became deeply interested in this American phenomenon called country music and was fascinated with lyrics that recall old English ballads. I was surprised to learn that teenage Elvis Presley made his first and only performance at the Grand Ole Opry and was told by one of the managers that he should go home and continue his truck driving career. Presley swore never to return to the Opry and didn’t.

The Tuesday night performance I saw featured two musicians who were inducted as members of the Grand Ole Opry onstage that night, The Montgomery/Gentry duet, one of whom had emerged from a severely dysfunctional family and struggled ten years to reach the pinnacle of his career. Little Jimmy Dickens, who became popular in 1948, also appeared in his famous rhinestone-studded outfit to share his country humor. Dickens, a country music legend began his career crowing like a rooster on an old W.VA radio show and is famous for his unusual ballads (how about “Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed?”).

The magic for Grand Ole Opry performers is the six foot circle of dark oak wood on the Opry stage that is cut from the old Ryman Auditorium stage, former home of the Opry. New members stand on the spot where performers like Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, and Patsy Cline once stood. A radio show since 1925, then sponsored by the National Life and Accident Insurance Company, the Opry was held in a number of homes before it settled in 1943 at the Ryman Auditorium. Ironically, The Ryman was built by a fast-living riverboat captain, Thomas Ryman, who got religion and constructed a huge building to house religious meetings and visiting evangelists! The Opry moved to a multi-million dollar complex in 1974 where we attended a two-hour performance and were enveloped by the sounds of music broadcast on a radio program that is the oldest continuous radio program in the U.S.

The present-day success of star music performers at the Opry reminds me of the success of popular American writers sponsored by media conglomerates and MBA’s who now control the publishing industry. In a book entitled WRITING IN AN AGE OF SILENCE, Sara Paretsky writes: “A star is basically a brand. A brand is… a content provider, whose name on the package guarantees a sale…”However, I have to admit that as I sat in the Opry auditorium, I felt the touch of ghosts of some mighty legends who helped create this phenomenon called “country music,” musicians who were blissfully unaware of marketing that concentrated on “brand,” “package” or “content providers” --with guitar and fiddle, sans electronic equipment, they performed music that expressed quality and individuality – otherwise known as Art.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


One of the newsletters I receive online comes to me from The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, and I was recently dismayed to read an editorial by Michael Sartisky, editor of “Louisiana Cultural Vistas.” The article was entitled “A Dirge for Culture” and informed readers about budget cuts that would slash the state appropriation for the Louisiana Endowment Humanities to absolute zero! The programs of this association keep alive the Arts and highlight the history and culture of my home state, sponsoring such programs as “Museums on Main Street,” a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution; “Prime Time” programs that target at-risk children and parents; “Relic” programs in inner cities and rural areas that have enrolled a thousand adults in public libraries to read and engage in learning that provides greater enlightenment; “Teacher Institutes for Advanced Study” which graduate 250 teachers who teach 30,000 students annually; grants for cultural festivals such as the Louisiana Festival for the Book, the Tennessee Williams literary festival in New Orleans; a national radio documentary called “American Routes,” which carries music to 125 cities, and many more cultural projects that have contributed to the culture and education in Louisiana which would become moribund if proposed budget cuts are enacted.

In such an oil-rich state, this seems one of the most insensitive slashes the present administration in Louisiana has proposed. Other programs in the realm of Arts and Culture that I hope the governor leaves intact are those presented by Darrell Bourque, the Poet Laureate of Louisiana. Darrell Bourque is one of the nation’s finest poets (and I continually wonder why the Sewanee Writers Conference has not invited him to teach and read here on The Mountain. His poetic voice is also cogent enough to warrant the position of Poet Laureate of the U.S.). Darrell lectures, teaches, holds readings for the public and in schools, and continues to write his poems about deepest Louisiana in both English and French.

Back in the 80’s, I was privileged to introduce Darrell Bourque and Jeanne Bernard (another fine poet who now lives in Paris, France) at a poetry reading sponsored by the Iberia Parish Library in New Iberia, Louisiana. I introduced them with words of qualification from Emily Dickinson: “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry,” adding that listeners would experience that kind of sensation when they heard both poets’ read from their work. That night it was clear to me and to the audience that these two performers were two rich voices who could speak to the condition of those who sought good poetry in Acadiana.

Later, in 1989, I scheduled a Creative Writing course taught by Darrell and was inspired to write two journals filled with poetry, a play, and a short story during one semester. Darrell became a friend and mentor, and when BLUE BOAT appeared in 2004, I knew that he had produced a wonderful volume of profound poetry. I hear from Darrell sporadically and am always glad to read his gentle, true lines. I’m taking the liberty of quoting an excerpt from one of his poems in BLUE BOAT entitled “La Toussaint:”

"…my father came to me through the clouds.
I asked the old monosyllabist how it was up there
in his heaven.
“The good thing,” he said, “is that you don’t have to speak.
Something within you, large before it ever shapes itself
as a simple yes or no, is sufficient here.
The bad thing is that everything is tending toward something else.
It is like living in the air.”

In an article written by Susan Larson in “The Times Picayune” last year, Darrell said that he spoke best in his poetry and was trying to get at what we respond to, in a simple way, “a true way, and you get closer and closer to that, the more you make art.”

My hope and prayer is that Darrell will remain Louisiana’s poet laureate for many years and will be able to give us more and more of his true art. Darrell is the author of BURNT WATER SUITE, PLAINSONGS, THE DOORS BETWEEN US, and a special volume entitled WHERE LAND MEETS SKY, a volume issued by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Art Museum, highlighting his poetry from PLAINSONGS along with Elemore Morgan, Jr.’s paintings and drawings. He gives presentations in language studies; bi-lingualism in Louisiana, poetic forms, poetry and landscape, Cajun and Creole cultures, and Teaching Poetry in the Classroom. He is Professor Emeritus of English at ULL in Lafayette, Louisiana, has deep roots in Sunset, Louisiana, and lives in the house in which he grew up. Darrell's poetic voice is both mystical and true as he showcases the Louisiana landscape and culture. His wife, Karen, to whom he dedicates THE BLUE BOAT, is an artist.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Thirty years ago when the Islamic Revolution erupted in Iran, I had been back in the States four years following a two-year sojourn in Iran. At the time of the capture of American hostages, I remembered Yeats’ words: “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” After pondering the situation awhile, I conceived the idea for my book, IRAN: IN A PERSIAN MARKET. The book was a collection of vignettes gleaned from columns by that name which I wrote and sent back to be published in The Daily Iberian in New Iberia, Louisiana. They were chronicles of an American expatriate family’s experiences in this mideastern country.

In the introduction to IRAN: IN A PERSIAN MARKET, I wrote about watching television one day in 1979 and suddenly seeing angry fists waving in the air on the streets of Tehran, and when I turned on my television set yesterday, I thought I was experiencing a déjà vu. Riots had erupted in Tehran because Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won the election for the office of the Supreme Leader of Iran. Protesters who had voted for the rival for this office, Hussein Moussavi, were rioting in the streets, screaming about election fraud, and officers in the Revolutionary Guard were beating people, attempting to quell the riots. The landscape was torched, a man was killed by the police, and many protesters were injured before the Ayatollah Khaemini, who is the last word on this election, decided to have a recount to calm the protesters. Today, we await word that perhaps there was a mistake in the vote counting, but I doubt that any changes will be made as the Ayatollah Khaemini supports Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As I’ve already said, the scenes that flash across the screen of the television every day this week are eerily reminiscent of the revolution and riots in Tehran 30 years ago.

Coincidentally, this week I should get the proofs for a book of poetry I wrote last year about Iran entitled FARDA, one of two collections in a single volume entitled THE HOLY PRESENT and FARDA. A poem from FARDA that hints at the change in the character of Iran after the Iranian Revolution:


Persepolis, ruin of the ancient East,
the stones of your palace

gleam like highly polished mirrors
reflecting delicate faces of a vainglorious past;

My children and I stand on this stone of long continuances
of Achaemenian emperors, Darius, Xerxes,

disgraced at the hands of Alexander the Great
who ascended the stone staircase

leading to your country’s dreams;
beyond the wall of date palms

set fire to the State of the free,
the wealth of social accord,

destroying that final bloom
of imperial eastern civilization,

its art now reduced to building missiles,
its architecture to flimsy tents in hot wind,

ghazals about lost battles drifting
across cloudy mirrors.

THE HOLY PRESENT and FARDA will be available from or The Border Press, P.O. Box 3124, Sewanee, TN 37375.

Monday, June 15, 2009


A session at the recent silent retreat held for Associates of St. Mary’s Convent here at Sewanee featured a Power Point presentation about work done by several of the Sisters of St. Mary and a team at an orphanage in Port au Prince, Haiti in November, 2008. Their mission was to help improve conditions at an orphanage for sick and dying children and to deliver and install a water purifying system there. We saw slides of the orphanage and the primitive roads winding through a poorer section of Port au Prince, pictures of the wonderful water purification system that will cleanse the contaminated water of waterborne diseases such as bacteria, protozoa that cause diarrhea, hepatitis A and E, typhoid fever and other illnesses that bring about the demise of 1 in 5 children before the age of five. These children are helpless to change the conditions in this country that is recognized as the poorest country in the western hemisphere and one of the most dysfunctional countries in the world.

The most arresting part of the presentation was devoted to the children to whom the Sisters and the team ministered – some children were smiling, others were expressionless, deformed, and physically and emotionally retarded. However, we did glimpse some plump bodies and smiling faces of those who had recovered their health. All were captured on film…and in paintings rendered by Barbara Hughes, an artist from Sewanee who is also a professor of Art at the Sewanee Theological seminary and who was one of the missioners. One portrait featured a child who is dying of AIDS and blind in one eye – a picture so poignant it would wrench the heart of the most obdurate. Barbara will display the rest of the paintings in a later exhibit, and I anticipate a large response to the portraits. Slides of the children finger painting with Barbara, and their delightful spontaneous expressions, made us feel that inroads are being made into the lives of these sick and dying children. The finger painting picture was a scene of reciprocal happiness.

Eighty percent of Haitians live under the poverty line, and 54% live in abject poverty. The country is in the middle of the hurricane belt and has undergone flooding, earthquakes, and many natural disasters which contribute to the poverty of its citizens. Fifty-five percent of Haitians are illiterate, and 30-40% of the country’s budget is comprised of foreign aid provided by the U.S. and other countries. Haitians were a part of the cultural mix in my native state of Louisiana in the 19th century when a major emigration of refugees from the Haitian Revolution of 1804 occurred, most of these Haitians settling in New Orleans. These “free people of color” added to the Creoles of color community then living in New Orleans, and expanded the community of those who speak French. Several Haitians are mentioned in my Young Adult book, FLOOD ON THE RIO TECHE, about the Spanish settlement of New Iberia.

Sisters of St. Mary continue to recruit funds and people to form the next mission to Haiti in either December or March. My Bishop in western Louisiana, the Rt. Rev. Bruce MacPherson, has been a strong supporter of this project and helps make possible the water purification systems and technicians for the trips to Port au Prince. This week, during the silent retreat, he sent word that he is supporting, in advance, the work of the next trip. The Sisters of St. Mary and I have him on our list of “Saints in Mission.” If you’re interested in the project, please e-mail me at

The satellite picture of Haiti is from the following website:

Friday, June 12, 2009

ENMEGAHBOWH –“Fiery zeal and gentle humility…”

When the Sisters of St. Mary’s Convent at Sewanee tell you to do something, they frame it in the form of a kindly request that you don’t dare refuse to comply with, not from fear of wrath but from fear of displeasing a wonderful group of Anglican nuns. Last night when we began a retreat for Associates of St. Mary’s (a group of which I’m a member) at St. Mary’s Conference Center on the bluff, I knew a” request” was coming when Sr. Elizabeth caught my eye after Evening Prayer and stepped across the aisle to ask if “I’d do some things” for the priest who would be celebrating at The Table the following morning.

Such ambiguous language and the glint in Sr. Elizabeth’s eye made me suspicious that I was being touched for a challenge. I was asked to read the Gospel from Luke 6 and to serve as deacon of The Table – fair enough – but, then I was asked to read from LESSER FEASTS AND FASTS, in lieu of a sermon, as is often customary on weekdays. When I opened the book Sr. Elizabeth so readily supplied and spied the word “Enmegahbowh” in the first sentence, I knew why she had given me an impish smile before scurrying off to make other assignments.

How was this name pronounced? I had never seen it among the entries in LESSER FEASTS AND FASTS. I consulted the professor of drama from Sewanee, Marcia Cook, who was attending the retreat. Marcia, a long-time associate of St. Mary’s, is also an advocate for correct pronunciations. She studied the word for several moments and hesitated to give an official pronunciation of this Native American name. “Just look confident when you read the name and say it authoritatively but quickly,” she advised.

When I stumble on unfamiliar names that I must read aloud in public, I had rather prepare an entire sermon than botch those names. I suffered restlessness at bed time last night because of Enmegahbowh, our first native American Episcopal priest who worked among the Ojibwa Indians of Minnesota. I kept telling myself that deacons are the eyes, ears, VOICE, arms, hands, feet, and heart of Christ when we serve in the world and no one, except Enmegahbowh, who is with the Great Spirit now, would know about a mispronunciation. I lulled myself to sleep chanting “Enmegahbowh, Enmegahbowh.”

Imagine my consternation when the officiating priest this morning preceded me with a prayer for Enmegahbowh and pronounced his name in a way that wouldn’t match my bungled interpretation. After all that chanting, tossing, and turning! I decided to let my voice drop off at the end of the name and like a good deacon imitated the priest’s pronunciation. However, I resisted a strong impulse to raise my hands in the air to signify I had received the Holy Spirit and was beginning to speak in an unknown tongue.

My only consolation is that if I had lost control and put on such a show (I, who have to invoke the Holy Spirit several times before I stand up to preach in order to calm my anxieties about interpreting the Word) no one would have complained or corrected me – it’s a silent retreat!

Since I’ve mentioned my struggle with Enmegahbowh, I’m compelled to share a few salient facts about this valiant missionary who was born to high position in his tribe as he had been set apart to become a Medicine Man in youth. His name means “the man who stands by his people,” and after the Ojibwa native Americans were moved to White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, Enmegahbowh labored among them, inspired and encouraged the ordination of many Episcopal deacons. He lived to be 95 years old and during his lifetime helped deter numerous massacres, sometimes suffering through wrongful imprisonment.

So, an encore for Enmegahbowh, priest and missionary… but I think I should insist that Sr. Elizabeth pray an Anglican rosary and recite his name 100 times for not warning me of difficult names to come!

Monday, June 8, 2009


Two years ago, when I finally convinced myself that a blog was the best substitute for a column I once wrote for “The Daily Iberian” entitled “Cherchez la femme,” ( and which a not-so-well meaning friend dubbed “Diane’s rantings”), I began writing “A Wordsworth.” According to the mandates of Google, I’m only allowed a select list of friends to whom I can send the “rantings,” but this past year, I discovered my blog site is being visited 200 times a month by readers from 14 different countries. For me, that’s a satisfactory audience, and I really enjoy spinning a few stories about humdrum and not-so-humdrum subjects each week.

Yesterday, when I settled down to reading the Sunday edition of the “New York Times,” I turned to the section, “Style,” and found a long article about bloggers entitled “When Blogs Fall In An Empty Forest” by Douglas Quenqua. A few statements that predict the demise of the blog indicated that since 2002, 133 million blogs have been launched, but of those blogs, only 7.4 million have been updated in the last four months. The rest have been abandoned. “Here we go,” I thought, “I’m on my way to obsolescence again.” I’m already hopelessly old-fashioned in that I believe books are to be written, put in printed form on paper, bound, held in two hands, and read – on planes and trains, in beds, while relaxing on sofas and chairs, etc. However, I’m supposed to be up-to-date, squinting at the Internet screen, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, until I’ve finished the computerized edition of WAR AND PEACE, and my tired 74 year old eyes tell me that I should hasten to an optician to get new glasses.

Then, I’m further behind the times because I love news print and get small jolts of euphoria when I hold the crisp sheets of newspapers like “The New York Times” in my ink-smudged hands while I lie on the sofa in the living room, now and then resting my eyes by looking out the windows overlooking my wooded backyard. I thought I had advanced myself enough by taking on bloggery, but there are new platforms out there, Mr. Quenqua informs me – Facebook, MySpace, and now Twitter.

To make matters worse, I’m so old-fashioned as to write poetry with a ballpoint pen in a small black moleskin notebook -- the kind that Ernest Hemingway once used, although the use of it hasn’t impressed the publishing world that I’m the breakthrough writer of the century, yet. As the young folks say, “whatever!” Now mind you, I do appreciate having at least one new technology in my writing room, so don’t think that I’m debunking blogs now that I’ve learned how to use one, I just want to enjoy this process for at least a few years and hope Google doesn’t discontinue offering this service. I ’m not egotistical enough to think that my blog should attract the attention of “Blogwatch,” of “Wall Street Journal” fame, but I’m fiercely protective of my list of readers who send me e-mails about its content and like what I share with them. This is enough to keep me fascinated with what I call the “audience immediacy” of blogging. So far, I’ve amassed 177 “columns,” and I really don’t intend to give in to any more pressures of the contemporary publishing world to develop another technology.

So I blog on, knowing I’m a small post in the big world of electronic publishing, but I feel confident that I’ll surpass the joked about “blogs have an audience of one,” and am happy with the small allowance of readers on the select list that Google allows and the anonymous 200 per month other followers. What greater support for a writer than the comments of someone on my list who wrote the other day: “You have helped me see many things through new eyes, re-introduced me to familiar subjects that had slipped to the peripheral… and shared insights into nature, religion, words, and heartfelt musings…thank you.”

Always, writing expands the joy of co-creation, and no writer is smug enough to say that an audience isn’t needed. I’m writing this for all those unsung writers who aspire to reach the greatest number of readers, to tell you that perhaps one remark from your small circle of followers may provide enough fodder for you to continue your commitment to this wonderful process. Pencil, manual typewriter, computer, blog, twitter, whatever you use, write on!

P.S. Susan, I guess you could dub this another “rant.”

Friday, June 5, 2009


Last Sunday when we breakfasted at St. Mary’s Convent, Sewanee, following 8 a.m. services, Fr. David Kearley, who had celebrated at the Eucharist, sat down next to me, and we began to trade stories about our backgrounds. Fr. Kearley is retired, like most clergy here on The Mt., and is the quintessential southern gentleman. He began to tell me about growing up in Mobile, AL and working in a bookstore as a teen-ager. At a book-signing during that time, he met Harnett T. Kane, the author of approximately 32 books about my native state. However, David confessed that he couldn’t remember the names of the books that had been displayed at the signing. I told him about a copy of THE BAYOUS OF LOUISIANA I happen to have with me, one of the few volumes from my Louisiana collection in New Iberia that I brought along for my sojourn on The Mt. I promised to loan it to him because I always like to promote bayou country.

Harnett T. Kane is one of those “undersung” authors of Louisiana topics who knew his state well and chronicled the landscape, the people, and the culture better than any Louisiana author I’ve read. I’ve used his books when researching information to create background for several of the YA books of fiction I’ve written about Louisiana. His writing has often been criticized as it does not resemble the spare journalistic prose of contemporary newswriters, but I think that he is unsurpassed for description, concrete detail, and for conveying the voices of people who live in “a place apart…bounded on one side by the Gulf, on the other three sides by men as different from him as are their territories from his…” (taken from THE BAYOUS OF LOUISIANA).

Perhaps Kane’s most famous book was LOUISIANA HAYRIDE: The American Rehearsal for Dictatorship, 1928-1940, an unsympathetic account of Huey Long’s rise to power in Louisiana and an expose of corruption in the state. One of my favorite Kane books is DEEP DELTA COUNTRY, advertised for $88 on… a volume too rich for my pocketbook! Kane died in 1984 at the age of 73 and had suffered from Alzheimer’s for seventeen years, but he had been prolific since the beginning of his career when he worked for “The New Orleans Item” while attending Tulane. He worked as a reporter for this newspaper for several years and also wrote for “The New York Times,” “The Reader’s Digest,” “National Geographic,” and “The Saturday Review of Literature.”

My mother once met Kane at a women’s gathering, I think it was a social involving the women parishioners of St. James Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and she described him as “arrogant and rude” because he snapped at one of the women oozing flattery about his books. However, her description didn’t daunt me in later years when I began to consult his works to “beef up” the background I used in books of fiction about the state.

Every time I read THE BAYOUS OF LOUISIANA, I experience an attack of rampant nostalgia, particularly when I read the chapter in “Part III. Garden of Eden,” entitled “The Opulent Teche” and turn to a photograph with the caption: “The Teche is the most handsomely endowed of the bayous.” Here is one of the sentences describing the place where I live part of the year, an example of that so-called overdone prose Kane penned: “The Teche country gives the impression that it has labored and fought and conquered, with great reward, during a crowded morning; now, in the deepening light of the day, it remains among its trees, and remembers, and reminisces of other times…”

Photo of a Louisiana bayou by Dr. Victoria I. Sullivan

Thursday, June 4, 2009


A few years ago, I read an article about one of my favorite poets, Naomi Nye (author of NINETEEN VARIETIES OF GAZELLE POEMS OF THE MIDDLE EAST). The article, written by Robert Hirschfield in “The Progressive” magazine, mentions that Nye, who is American-born but of Palestinian descent, writes poetry that reflects a deep listening quality. He also talks about Nye’s admiration for Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s Nobel Prize winner, and he quotes Ebadi: “When countries are in conflict, political conflict, it is more important than ever to share culture, to share literature.”

Nye’s postscript to this remark is simple counsel: “Read Rumi…poetry humanizes us in a way that news or even religion has a harder time doing…” I’ve read and re-read those lines many times, and a short time ago, inspired by Nye's comments, I wrote a volume of poetry about my sojourn in Iran during the 70’s. I had written two other books about my two-year experience there, but this was the first collection of poetry about this mideastern country that I had composed.

Next month, Border Press will issue a new chapbook of poetry entitled THE HOLY PRESENT and FARDA, two collections in one volume; the latter one being the book of poetry about Iran. Again, the cover of the book is a painting rendered by my brother Paul and designed by my grandson Martin. The painting above is by Oscar Ortiz and is actually the cover of my first book, IRAN: IN A PERSIAN MARKET (now out of print).

Here is a foretaste of my new chapbook, the last poem that appears in FARDA:


Sa’Di retired on the hill of Pahandez,
orator, poet, pilgrim to Mecca,

twice smashing idols in temples there,
not unlike His Holiness Christ in Jerusalem,

and not unlike St. Francis
he fed the poor, birds, and animals,

yet, was adored by Shiraz princes.
His mausoleum destroyed and built again,

a compound, underneath flowing
spring water as pure as his moral counsel,

pumped to the surface for his rose garden.
Sa’Di, an Isaiah of Persia,

chiding the kings to show justice and equity,
spoke with the heart of a deacon,

serve humankind, he exhorted,
protect the weak and oppressed,

penning 1300 pages of ethical verse,
moral excellence,

studied by Indian and Turkish monarchs,
proclaiming in intrepid lyric,

if we are unaffected by the afflictions of others,
we are not worthy to be called human.

As I write this, a news alert from "The Washington Post" informs me that President Obama, now in Cairo, says that "America and Islam share common principles of justice, progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings." Shades of Sa'Di?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


For forty years, my Grandfather Paul Greenlaw, owned and operated a firm called Motor Sales and Service, a Ford truck and car enterprise, beginning with the advent of Henry Ford’s Model A and ending in the period following WWII when he was too ill to continue with the Ford franchise. I guess that cars are “in my blood” as I’ve always liked them, especially classic cars – and particularly Fords of the 1939 – 1947 vintage. As I’ve mentioned in a former blog, in 1946 our family traveled to Diddy Wah Diddy (California) in a 1941 sky blue Ford coupe, complete with waterbags on the hood for driving through the desert and with enough room to accommodate six people – two adults and four children, not to mention a cocker spaniel that lay at my feet the entire trip. When I look at pictures of that coupe online, I wonder how we all fit in, but photos of the back seat reveal a lot of space under that rear hump on the back of the coupe.

My father sold the coupe in 1949 when the style of the Ford became square, and none of us ever liked the ’49 car as much as the old hump-backed coupe. Nowadays, I could purchase a replica of the ’41 coupe for approximately $38,000, but I don’t love the car THAT much and will just have to live on the memory of it by attending movies such as “Walker” starring a red ’41 Ford coupe. Those wide whitewall tires take me back because my brother Paul and I, as teen-agers, once spent a lot of time scrubbing them white before we were allowed to use the car for double dates in Franklinton, Louisiana.

As far as I can tell, from stories told by my mother, my grandfather sold more Ford autos when the Model A was introduced. It’s reputed to have had streamlined Lincoln-like styling and a four cylinder engine, with prices beginning at $460. Nearly 5,000,000 of this model were sold until the production of it ceased in 1932. A dozen years later, I discovered an old gramophone in my grandfather’s attic and spent hours listening to a thick-bodied record of “Henry’s Made A Lady Out of Lizzie,” the promotion song for the wonderful Model A.

When business at Motors Sales and Service waned during WWII, I can remember going down to the office with my grandmother every afternoon around 3 p.m. -- after we had a nap and when we had bathed and dressed properly for “town.” In the office, I was allowed to run tapes on the sale of non-existent cars, write letters on the company stationery, and roam around in the shop attached to what we called “The Garage.” The aroma of oil and gasoline are still pleasing to me and are redolent of a family business that finally failed due to the hiatus in WWII car production.

Today, I feel relieved that Ford has avoided the bankruptcy of GM by mortgaging its assets to borrow 25 billion dollars and stay afloat. It’s the sole automaker to survive the economic downturn without government help and remains the healthiest Detroit automaker. I wish them continued health – although I have to admit, I drive a sky blue hybrid Honda! Below are the last two verses of a snippet about cars from a poem entitled “Classic Car Show” in my chapbook SOARING:

“The motors are noisy,
vrooming loudly,

overlaying everything,
the engine messaging,

Don’t stop until you reach central Texas,
climb above Buchanan Dam again,

retrace your childhood,
not regressing but recapturing innocence,

and perhaps that’s what classic cars are:
recapturing innocence.

Classic cars, a sheen so bright,
road dust a sacrilege,

rain an impiety,
evangelizing so well

the mission of adventure,
advertising leave it all behind,

just go and find
the soul complete…

in a V-8 engine.

Monday, June 1, 2009


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, transportation in the Tennessee hills and hollows was limited, and people walked or traveled by horse and wagon to church on Sundays. Because churches had to be built within a short distance from a cluster of homes, many of the worship centers sprang up in isolated spots in coves, hollows, and wooded areas. Episcopal missions and tiny churches burgeoned in middle Tennessee, and one of them is a small chapel approximately 30 minutes’ drive from Sewanee, tucked away on Ladds Cove and Kirby Tate Road with an address of Battle Creek, TN, a place reminiscent of a Civil War bivouac.

When we descend the Mountain toward Jasper and Kimball on Interstate 24E, we always encounter 18 wheelers and other vehicles whizzing down and causing me to have tachycardia, so I’m glad to get off the highway and explore some quieter road and calm down. In the three years we’ve been up here, we’ve passed the Martin Springs exit numerous times, wondering what serendipity lay down that road. Saturday, we set out, purposefully, to explore the region. On the recommendation of several friends, we sought an old mission, St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church, served by one of our friends at St. Mary’s of Sewanee, The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz, who specializes in small church ministry and who was formerly Executive Director of the Center for Ministry in Small Churches.

Of course, we went in the wrong direction and had to double back on a road marked “Dead End,” (but which did not dead end at the small stone building that is St. John the Baptist Church). After we descended deeper into dense woods, we came upon a small clearing and there stood the chapel, resplendent with a typically Anglican, bright red door. The church is surrounded by a white picket fence, and is made completely of river stone, or creek stone, as we spied huge boulders of the same type of rock in the creek running alongside the road. St. John the Baptist isn’t far from Poor Hollow Farm where a hay baling operation is located, but we saw few residences along the way. Three huge white dogs ran out to greet us – strange furry creatures that looked like hybrids of huskies, German shepherds, and Labrador retrievers. When they greeted us, stretched to full length on hind legs, one of them was almost my height and nearly toppled me with his vigorous welcome.

Parishioners in this small church keep their saints huddled around them -- the front yard of St. John the Baptist is filled with tombstones and serves as the cemetery. We surmised that a huge rock standing in the yard was awaiting carving of the church’s name; otherwise, no signage welcomes visitors. Against the bright red door, a stone had been placed, and the dogs circled us as we gingerly removed the stone and went into a rather gloomy interior. Ten pews comprised the seating arrangements, and I estimated that a crowd of 50 might fit on a good Sunday. There were two altars – one against the wall, signifying the days when a priest celebrated with his back to the congregation, and one in front of that relic that allowed for priest and server to move around behind it to celebrate the Eucharist.

The cathedral ceiling of the church creates an illusion of space, and the huge, hand- hewn rafters appear to be very sturdy, having weathered 75 years. Only one service is held on Sundays at 10 a.m., with The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz officiating, often after she has celebrated at St. Mary’s of Sewanee. Susanna is also a professor of Contextual Education and Field Education at the School of Theology, Sewanee, does workshops in music, visioning and goal setting, marketing, and in understanding the context of the small church in the Diocese of East Tennessee – and the larger Anglican fold, which includes the British Isles.

Susanna preaches on Tuesdays, a weekday when we usually attend the Eucharist at St. Mary’s and is the priest I’ve described as a woman with long auburn braids who wears bright colors and rings on every finger. She has given several pithy sermons about “love” and defines the love Christ speaks of as loyalty and commitment and not the “Valentine heart thing but a love committed to living the kind of life Christ lived.” She’s the perfect priest for St. John the Baptist and speaks extemporaneously most of the time – looking down at the open Bible, shutting her eyes and musing, then opening them and saying, “hmm,” letting the Spirit direct her spontaneous thoughts. She’s in Exeter working on a dissertation about small churches in England right now, and we miss her.

If you’re a rambler and frequently explore old structures, St. John the Baptist is a unique small church you might like to visit. The big white dogs are biddable, and the door is always accessible. Just roll away the stone and go inside for a little resurrection and renewal meditation.