Thursday, July 30, 2009


My friend, Darrell Bourque, Poet Laureate of Louisiana, lost his mother two days ago, and I know most certainly that poets and writers in Louisiana grieve for him and his loss, sensitive and gentle man that he is. I wrote about Darrell in a previous blog, and my blog is among many articles that have praised him for his contribution to the Arts in Louisiana, especially the art of poetry. He has taught and affirmed so many aspiring poets, both as a distinguished professor of English and Creative Writing and as Poet Laureate. He still reaches out to me, here at Sewanee, with his poetry and his encouragement for me to continue publishing the small chapbooks of my poetry Border Press has published for several years.

Darrell is the heart of Acadiana, writing in his elegant style about art, music, family and other people of the region in a genuine, deep rooted voice. Reading his poetry is like getting an infusion of grace. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if I include in my blog a wonderful poem he wrote about his mother in his work, THE BLUE BOAT. As I told him in a message of sympathy, no eulogy for his mother by anyone else could surpass this cameo entitled “My Mother’s Memory, Portrait:”

“My Mother’s Memory, Portrait”

With my mother it was always about not forgetting.
Early on she tied me to her. She was dedicated
to the physics and the flowers of memory.
My life under her tutelage would be a simple life.
Not forgetting the lines in the garden was my first lesson
in geometry even though I wouldn’t know that for a long time.
Then there were other lessons of clear and clean effect.
Not forgetting to get to the road for the bus on school mornings.
Not forgetting that meals were for the construction of who we were
to be – not forgetting and just getting up and walking away
when one was full. Not forgetting to make my Easter Duties.
Not forgetting to visit my father’s grave on the windy prairie.
Not forgetting to bring back only what was on the grocery list.
Remembering not to complain of the size of the bags I was given
to walk home with. She put nothing on the list she didn’t have to have.
Remembering that a life cut away from past life is illusion.
Not forgetting to forge a life that was just my own.
To make us remember she used to send us back
to our houses with packs of frozen okra and sacks
of unhusked corn, with purple-hull peas and crates of potatoes,
with seven-steaks and pork roasts, with gumbos and jambalayas.
She tried her best to always be at the table if she could.
One day we remembered her in the peppers and the garlic,
one day in the shallots, in parsleys and green onion tops.
Another day it was flaked coconut in creamed icings,
or in little squares of chocolate as dark and sweet as fear.
Darrell Bourque -

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


This is the second part of a journal kept while sojourning in North Carolina.

Appalachian University. The Turchin Center for the Visual Arts. I went back twice to see the work of Samina Iqbal, a Palestinian artist. The painting I loved was an acrylic rendering of birds, most of them small birds within squares surrounding a round birdcage. The birds looked like blackbirds and some of them had price tags beside them. They were in the cage but not within, and they reminded me of cages in the Iranian bazaar that held exotic birds. I once saw an Anglican clergyman open one and free a small canary. He opened at least three cages before the shopkeeper chased him away. I was walking down 24 Metre St. in Ahwaz. Samina’s other pictures of printed and embroidered patterns were like those covering tables in the textile stalls in Ahwaz. The women were buying material to make their chadors. Birdcages hung above them, but they were empty. I am part of a skein stretched between Iran and North Carolina and am glad that the Iranians’ birdcages hold empty perches… but they are putting humans in cages now.


Boone, North Carolina’s best – Horn of the West. Descending the steps to my seat in the amphitheatre to watch “The Horn of the West,” a drama about the Revolutionary War, I see mountain people hovering in the evening dusk. It begins with loud explosions of simulated gunfire. Daniel Boone soon appears. A black bear is carried across the stage. Cherokees dance wildly, and one jumps through a hoop of fire. The drumbeat from a side stage hypnotizes the audience for a few moments before freedom-seeking characters run across the stage, fleeing from British tyranny. A young girl behind me falls out of her seat, hitting the concrete with a sickening thud. I turn around in my seat and see blood streaking her tender forehead. She whimpers with pain, and her mother carries her up the steep steps to safety. I am chilled. Turning to my friend, I whisper, “Let’s get out of here. They’re killing innocent children.”


This is the tourist trail into the Carmel of North Carolina. We climb to higher High Country: Banner Elk, Sugar Mountain, Beech Mountain... Traveling through spruce, white pine, and firs we find more California sameness, the temperate climate and places dense with wildflowers – yellow and pink primroses, pink milkweed, the ubiquitous Queen Anne’s Lace, every yard a garden, every garden competing. It is consumer country. Artisans alter their authentic work in wood and metal to create new gimmicks. A silver teapot welded to a copper pole becomes a bird feeder in the backyard of someone who has everything. Fine dining and hot dogs are advertised yards apart. At 5,000 feet, the peak of Beech Mountain becomes a collage of real estate offices. Soon the snow will appear, and ski birds seeking elevation will come. I look at the faces of people sitting at tables in the Banner Elk Cafe, those who start off better than most in life. They eat well, buy well, sell well, play well. Sleek and unwell.


In the Dancing Moon Earthway Bookstore, part of the celestial circuit, the music is hip-hop chanting against the wail of sitar, flute, violent strings. Strangely soothing. On the shelves are titles of so many paths, each book promising liberation of spirit. A tall woman with long brown hair reads to a young girl about six from a book of New Age literature for children in a back corner of the shop. I can’t see the title of the book, but something about the woman’s blank face tells me she’s careless. She is asleep while reading. They feel my intrusion and go up front to the shop owner’s desk, and a few moment’s later I overhear the mother telling the child, “it must be somewhere in the store.” They return to search the children’s nook. She goes away empty-handed and flustered, and I hear her speaking to the owner but she doesn’t leave the shop. I stand before the shelves looking at a biography of Rumi. My eyes are irresistibly drawn upward to the top shelf of the bookcase where I spy a fine black leather wallet, a fat lure on the shelf of spirituality. I take it to the bookstore owner, an aging hippy whose bountiful white beard obscures his facial expression. “Someone lost this,” I say. The woman with long brown hair acknowledges the wallet as her own and smiles a concise smile. Later, the bookstore owner comes back to the corner where I’m still standing, reading the shelves. “Thank you for doing that; it worked out well,” he said to me. “Things usually do,” I replied, puzzled by his effusiveness. Did the woman think the bookstore owner discovered the wallet somewhere in the shop and kept it? When I select and pay for a book of Celtic writings, the bookstore owner thanks me again. He hands me two tiny iridescent pink angels, not as large as a fingertip and small enough to keep in the change pocket of my wallet. I leave the shop in my new role as a celestial being. Guardian angel for a stranger unaware.


A few days ago, I spent six days in the High Country of North Carolina. This is my abbreviated journal of the trip.

Everything is connected. An old Irish proverb says “mountains never meet but people can always encounter each other.” At midnight, I am praying for my daughter’s anxiety and insomnia, whose anxiety and insomnia becomes my own. At dawn, I awaken in a motel room and go to the window. The green firs shiver on the mountaintop. They have been awake all night. The room is empty and silent. At midmorning, I enter a dulcimer shop, and a woman with a fine smile and reddish blond hair, gives me a lesson on a homemade dulcimer made with a tomato can. She is from Crystal Springs, MS, burial ground of my former husband’s grandmother. I tell her about my daughter’s insomnia, and she reveals that she has suffered from it, that she takes medication for her anxiety. Her fine smile disappears. I leave the shop without a walnut dulcimer I wish to buy so I can pretend I am like Rumi and recite poems against the sound of a stringed instrument in the dark… for my daughter and for all who don’t sleep because fear travels in the darkness. After lunch, I go into St. Mary of the Hills chapel and pray, lighting a candle at a prie dieu in a corner commemorating The Holocaust, a time when there was never a night of peaceful sleep. I watch the candle flicker and feel that the problem is solved. At 4:30 p.m. the telephone rings. It is my daughter, sounding relieved and calm. “The doctor prescribed medication,” she said. “This time I won’t resist the medicine. When I told the doctor I hadn’t slept for a year, she said that the loss of sleep for such a long time would make anyone off-center.” The medication was the same as the one that the woman in the dulcimer shop had revealed she was taking. I went to the window and looked at the firs on the mountain top. They were no longer shivering, and the wind had died down. I felt calm and thought about how everything is connected by a universe of hands, connected by a universe of prayers, connected by The One who never sleeps…and is never restless.


The shop sold handicrafts, among which was a frog over whose back a stick could be rubbed to make a noise like a frog singing. There were books on a small wooden stand, all by one author, a mountain woman, mother of the shopkeeper. “There are stories of abuse in this one,” she said, handing me a book with a maroon cover, bordered in yellow. “She was afraid to publish it on her basement printing press, at first. But she did it anyway. A reader wrote to my mother thanking her for the truth about abuse. People criticize you for the things you write, but she’s no longer afraid. The reader’s gratitude encouraged her.” She looked questioningly at me. “Yes, I know…cruel criticism can frighten writers. But only for a little while. Two days ago, I thought I’d never write again because an editor who wanted to entertain herself with her own sarcasm said one of my characters had a ‘cheesy’ name. She also described my ending to the book as one like the cartoon character, ‘Scooby Doo.” Her unkindness engendered some name-calling by me. I called her a ‘tickmouth.’ I’m sure mountain people know that ticks have toxic mouths which cause great inflamed places to fester on the body when a person is bitten…sometimes for weeks.” “You recovered quickly,” the shopkeeper said. “Yes, there are more killing bites,” I replied, handing her a card with my name and the titles of some of my books printed on it. “This is my printing press.” I put my hand on the arm of my friend who produces my books, standing next to me, playing with the wooden frog. “You did a good job advertising yourself,” said my friend who had seen me suffering over the toxic tickbite. “Well, yes,” I answered. But imagine how miserable the editor is all the time, carrying around all those toxins in her mouth.” The woman whose mother told mountain stories gave me a blue denim bag bordered by red kerchief material so I could carry her mother’s book in something substantial. “Tell your mother to continue printing her own books and marketing them through you,” I said. “There are those who would eat the soul, but your protection will keep her books free from infection by editors.”


At Blowing Rock, I read the story about two native American lovers, a Chickasaw maiden and a Cherokee brave who wandered into the maiden’s province. When the brave decided to return to his people, he departed from a high rock and traveled through a flume powered by the northwest wind, and the wind swept him back upward into the arms of his beloved. Was it an ancient wind that no longer knew which way to blow?


We were in the Cross Tracks Import Shop, and I was tired of looking at exotic pottery and table placements. When I stepped out of the shop to wait for my friend, I noticed an obese man wearing a yellow t-shirt too tight for his stomach and a baseball cap too young for his age, sitting on a bench by the entrance. I sat down at one end of the bench with a good space between us. “I know this bench is for men waiting for their wives to quit spending their money,” I said. “You can sit a spell,” he answered, as if he really owned the bench. Silence sat in the space between us long enough for me to get up and look into the shop to see if my friend had bought anything. She was still standing, talking to the shop owner because he came from Florida and knew her family. I sat down, remarking to the large man that the town of Blowing Rock looked prosperous. “High end,” he said. “Well, they do call it the ‘High Country,’” I said. He snorted disdainfully. “And if it weren’t for Social Security, none of us would be here. Thank God for Franklin Roosevelt starting it.” The space between us filled with companionable warmth. “I agree wholly with that,” I told him. “It allows me to travel now and then, and I’d better do it while I can.” That’s what he told his wife, he said, and they only lived an hour south of Blowing Rock. I felt like a real peripatetic, compared to him. What would he have said if I had told him I once lived in Iran? I didn’t want to hear him say the word “raghead.” His father had been in the old CCC’s; my father had been in the CCC’s. Thirty dollars a month was the pay, but the money kept both of them from starving to death. We were survivors of survivors. My friend came out with a set of stone coasters to replace the John Deere ones my Sewanee friends make fun of. The man stood up. “Good talking with you,” he said. As we walked away, my friend said, “You’ll talk to anyone!” I looked at her hard. “Talking with ‘anyone’ always makes them 'someone you ought to know,'” I said.

Note: The next four reflections will be published in a successive blog.

Monday, July 20, 2009


I’ve always been an advocate of “synchronicity,” even before the publication of James Redfield’s THE CELESTINE PROPHECY. Happenings occur, and then trigger other happenings of a similar nature, and these synchronized events take place without any organization on our part –the process belongs among the mysteries – and miracles – of the universe. Yesterday, I delivered a sermon at St. Mary’s about the miracles and healings of Christ in the Gospel of Mark, and I ventured the opinion that people in the ancient world seemed more ready to believe in synchronistic happenings that revealed God’s power than we are today. I didn’t know that a few hours later, my own belief in healings would be challenged.

At noon yesterday, I talked on the telephone with an old friend in New Iberia who supervises an office manager, now dying of cancer, and she gave me a rather hopeless report about this medical case. In short, the doctors have removed the port that delivered medication for the cancer and now believe that the woman won’t recover. The story touched me deeply, and I began to think about the phrases that I had used in the sermon…”we, by our baptismal covenant, also have an earthly ministry bound up with the frail and feeble of body, mind, and soul…” “All of Christ’s healings show us that disease of soul or body is substandard living and I believe He meant to bring all of the people he touched back to full humanity…” “The Gospel is like a mirror where we’re not merely reflected, we’re also exposed…as people of prayer and healing…or not”…and, finally, “to be in solidarity with those who suffer also means to speak with and perhaps for them…to share in and express the healing power of his love through touch, through empathy, through cogent prayer…and in our co-inherence, our sharing in a broken world’s suffering, we become carriers of our Lord’s healing grace…”

I delivered a lot of words with help from the Holy Spirit, the Anglican mystic Evelyn Underhill, and Louis Evely, but I hadn’t a notion that a few hours later, I’d receive this call about a dying woman in New Iberia. The miraculous part of this story is that I related the plight of the woman in New Iberia to my friend Vickie, and she happened to mention it in an e-mail requesting vitamins to a doctor who is a nutritionist and medical doctor practicing in a western state. ‘Turns out that the doctor has put aside a manuscript he was writing about heart disease and has been devoting all of his time to research about natural healing of cancer! He sent Vickie a plethora of information about the research being done and today, if the woman agrees to be treated, my friend has promised that she’ll raise funds to provide natural treatment for one of those “frail and feeble of body” of whom I spoke in yesterday’s sermon.

This morning as I read the e-mails being passed back and forth regarding the dying woman and the possible treatment, all the words in my sermon reverberated in my mind, especially those words: “to be in solidarity with those who suffer also means to speak with and for them…” It’s moving to experience happenings that reveal God’s power and to realize that you’ve proclaimed “The Word” as deacons are supposed to do, and then seen the words come alive. Challenge that mystery if you will, but I prefer to hope…and to be a “carrier.”

Note: The painting is another one rendered by my brother Paul.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Although the Sewanee Writers Conference is in full swing right now, and we’re getting our annual fix of readings from noted authors and poets, yesterday we took time out for a visit with Joshua (Bubba) Murrell and Brenda Lowry. This duet, sometimes billed as B&B On the Rock and sometimes as Blue Merlot, are creative artists in the music field and perform in two music realms – Gospel and Blues/Jazz. They make an annual pilgrimage to Nashville to attend a show of music equipment and, on the way, veer off route to visit with us at Sewanee.

Bubba and Brenda live in New Iberia, Louisiana and have been performing together for at least ten years. Bubba composes on the piano and performs on guitar, slide guitar, bass, and what he calls “funky/skanky” organ. He was awarded a Grammy for engineering and producing music, and Brenda is the vocalist with Blue Merlot who can belt out a mean “Memphis Blues,” and “Rock My Baby Jesus” (the latter for which she wrote music and lyrics). They’ve won an award as “The Best Blues Band in Acadiana” (2008) and achieved top honors in the Louisiana Blues Challenge in 2002.

Although I love to hear this talented duet perform, I particularly enjoy watching them give rein to the play impulse when they’re talking non-stop. Often, when they’re sitting, talking in our living room here at Sewanee or in New Iberia, one of them will suddenly say a phrase that could lend itself to musical lyrics and toss it to the other who responds in a split second to the word play. Usually, they discard the word play as just that – word play – but sometimes the phrase becomes part of a song that they later perform. Their latest CD with a Blue Merlot label centers on Hurricane Katrina and the devastating effects of that storm. Blue Merlot performs what Brenda and Bubba have labeled “Gumbo Funk” – a combination of music styles in songs like “Blue Tarp City,” “Wall of Water,” and “Floating Around New Orleans.”

Brenda represents Luna Guitars (an all-female guitar company), writes the lyrics for many of the duet’s songs, plays 12-string guitar, and is the main vocalist for Women at the Well and Blue Merlot. Bubba received his Grammy in 2008 for his work on Terrance Semien’s Live! Worldwide CD in the Best Zydeco or Cajun Album category. Both Brenda and Bubba perform with the Sweet Tones, B&B on the Rock, and the South Louisiana Blues Revue.

For several years, Bubba and Brenda had a studio in the apartment attached to my carport in New Iberia, Louisiana and did a lot of composing/recording there before they began to garner awards for their bayou blues and Gospel renditions. Oddly enough, their studio was so well-insulated, I never experienced music “booms” in my home next door to them. On several occasions, I brought them along as the performing musicians at retreats I directed in Pineville, Louisiana and Memphis, Tennessee, and in addition to their “noodling” in the background while I delivered meditations, their renditions of Gospel songs were especially inspiring.

Bubba and Brenda label their music “distinctly Louisiana” and bring forth in me nostalgia for the Teche country each time they visit with us on The Mountain. As I said earlier, the best part of a visit with this duet is the fun of watching them throw out lines that may later form the lyrics for a new song. They inspire creativity in any artist – musician, poet, and painter – and show us how to delight in creative play.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


During summers on The Mountain here in TN, I long for water -- the world of rivers, lakes, and bayous that course through my life when I’m in Louisiana. Louisiana is a land of big water. The Mississippi River, “Father of Waters,” becomes a half mile wide as it flows through the state, and early settlers made homes along its banks, as well as on rivers, bayous and streams that provided them with food, transportation and livelihood.

My father’s paternal Grandfather Samuel came down from Iowa and settled on the banks of Lake Arthur, Louisiana, actually buying the entire town through a land company he and my Great Uncle owned. The Mermentau River widens at Lake Arthur, flows into Grand Lake, and then through marshes to the Gulf of Mexico. The many lakes and bayous in Cameron and Calcasieu parishes provide a great habitat for ducks and geese. It's a hunters’ paradise, but as a child, the sport that Lake Arthur offered me and my siblings was fishing.

While pining for water the other day, I came across a photo (above) of me and my brother Paul after we had spent a day on the water and caught a small string of catfish. We had been pole fishing and were standing on the wharf leading from my grandfather’s house to Lake Arthur. Two scruffier kids you haven’t seen, but we appear to be happy fishermen. My brother grins broadly, and I seem to be fascinated with the large can of worms I’m holding. The catch looks like blue catfish, but I can remember catching a few yellow ones in the lake, along with gaspergou, choupique, even a gar that my grandmother cut up and rolled into garfish balls and fried (boulettes de poisson arme’). In later years, I whined enough to be noticed and was taken out in a Joe boat one night when the men in the family ran trotlines, string lines with live bait attached to the hook (minnows, smaller fish) to lure huge catfish.

My grandmother’s kitchen always smelled of seafood – fish, shrimp, crabs – and I remember this short fat woman, weighing perhaps 250 pounds, seated on a wooden stool at a single sink, cleaning seafood most of the morning. During the 40’s and 50’s, Grandmother offered lodging to boarders in the German style house my Great Grandfather built, and when we visited, the long oak table in the dining room sometimes held three kinds of seafood (including garfish balls), a pork roast, fresh pole beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, biscuits, cornbread, German potato salad, slaw, iced tea and beer (no dessert). At least six boarders who worked on oil rigs nearby joined us at a dinner topped off with French roast coffee made by my grandfather in a white enamel French coffee pot and poured into small white cups, then diluted with heavy cream and sugar for the children.

My grandmother, a Vincent, insisted that she was not of Acadian descent, but her ancestors were among those exiled from Port Royale, Nova Scotia during the Grand Derangement, and she was clearly Cajun French. My grandfather Marquart’s German ancestors came to the U.S. from Alsace-Lorraine, and he was every inch the German patriarch, sitting down at the table with all plates in front of him so that he could fill them with the portions he thought were hearty enough, then passing them around to adults first. If a child reached across the table for the butter instead of asking that it be passed, he rapped the offender sharply on the knuckles with a table knife. Both grandparents believed in setting a good table and eating heartily, but my grandmother descended from a long line of stout people and was severely overweight, while my short, slim grandfather was always hitching up his khakis. Sometimes, my grandmother would coax me to sleep with her, and I was afraid she’d roll over in her sleep, particularly after a heavy meal, and suffocate me.

Anyway, my early fishing interludes in Lake Arthur led to more advanced fishing with a fly rod on the Bogue Chitto River near Franklinton, Louisiana and, later, to white perch fishing while week-ending on a Louisiana lake near Toledo Bend where we had acquired a camp during the 70’s. While living in Iran in the mid 70’s, I wasn’t allowed to fish, and I was appalled when I saw fishermen catching catfish, similar to the beautiful blue catfish we caught in Lake Arthur, in the River Karun near Ahwaz and throwing them back into the water because Iranians don’t eat fish with skin.

My fishing ceased during the late 80’s because I never seemed to have leisure time to get out on the water, but in recent years I’ve enjoyed a few days of pier fishing on Silver Lake in central Florida. Now, while I sojourn here on The Mountain at Sewanee for the summer, I long to see lakes and fresh water rivers, even murky bayous – long stretches of peaceful water with fish occasionally breaking the surface and daring me to take up an old and satisfying hobby.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


The raucous sound of crows cawing in the backyard reminds me of how many poems I’ve written about these dark birds, most of the poems not-so-dark in content. Crows have always fascinated and comforted me, and I’m among a minority of crow lovers since these creatures are regarded as nuisances in many places throughout the world. Next month, crow hunting season in the U.S. begins and doesn’t close until the end of March. There isn’t even a bag limit on these birds if they’re found “about to commit depredations upon ornamental trees, agricultural crops, livestock, etc.” However, hunters who kill these creatures can’t sell their kill! The laws don’t say anything about the four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie, and I guess those who kill crows could eat them if they were so disposed – my father once shot one in the backyard of his home in Franklinton, Louisiana, and my mother, at his bizarre request, baked it in a pie… of which I didn’t partake, I hasten to add.

Crows are canny and score high on their I.Q. tests, rating at the top of the bird scale in intelligence; e.g., they’re said to have the skill to drop nuts with hard shells on streets through which heavy traffic runs, waiting for cars to crush the nuts open. The birds stand alongside pedestrians and when the stoplight halts traffic, they strut out to pick up their cracked nuts.

I’ve never seen a murder of crows (the name given to a group of congregating crows), but I have seen them gathered in cemeteries and near carrion and have identified them as ravens, rather than crows. Like Robert Frost, crows symbolize hopefulness to me. In his “Dust of Snow,” he wrote: “The way a crow/Shook down on me/The dust of snow/From a hemlock tree/Has given my heart/ a change of mood/And saved some part/Of a day I had rued.”

When I lived in Iran, the sight of huge ravens parading through the gardens of the Shah Abbas Hotel in Isfahan made me feel less homesick and diminished the waves of cultural shock I felt during my first year in Iran. They were large, bold creatures that almost sat down at the outdoor tables with us, hovering nearby as we enjoyed an afternoon drink of Tuborg beer in the gardens. They were waiting, perhaps, for the snack that accompanied the Tuborg – the meat of pistachios we accidentally dropped while cracking them open.

A recent poem I wrote about crows:


every place I’ve lived
they’ve taunted me,

“my territory,” they caw,
zooming back and forth

from front yard to back,
landing in the hemlock,

screaming like jealous women
finding their lovers in new nests.

Hunching shoulders and spreading wing,
they inflate their size,

dare me to take over
the landlocked wood of oak and poplar,

indignant trees I really don’t wish to claim,
my deepest longings for river, lake

ocean, any rushing stream.

Every time I step outdoors
they start up,

thinking they’ve frightened me,
caused me to depart The Mountain,

not knowing how much
they comfort me with their harsh cries,

their sheen of confidence
bringing me messages

about life in the other world,
death in this world,

consoling or terrifying news,
their disclaimer: they’re only messengers.

How many poems I’ve written for crows
and yet they never stop to read them,

so careless of my admiration
for the way they speak back to the world,

all of which is their base territory,
a global field of play.

Sometimes I see them attacking raptors
like that one, the black marauder diving now

into outstretched branches of the hemlock,
a suspect creature, ruthlessly gurgling

to its prey, an owl lost in daylight.

And yet I love their dissonance,
throaty sounds echoing

remorselessly through treetops.

I know they aren’t wholly unkind or dishonorable
as they bring food to their feeble, aged parents,

opening blood-soaked beaks to proclaim
a Gospel of love and filial piety.

Note: The picture above is taken from the cover of one of my chapbooks, a painting done by my brother Paul.

Friday, July 10, 2009


It’s difficult for me to let a year pass without putting together a chapbook of poetry, and next week, Border Press will publish another volume of my poetry that includes two collections. One collection includes poems about general topics; the other contains poetry about Iran. When the news about Iran’s botched presidential election was broadcast, I felt compelled to ready a book I had written last year entitled FARDA, poems about my sojourn in this mid-eastern country, 1973-75, before the Shahanshah was deposed.

In June I wrote a blog and mentioned the chapbook, publishing one poem about Persepolis, one of Iran’s historic ruins. Today, I’ll include a poem from THE HOLY PRESENT at the conclusion of this blog. Some of the poems in THE HOLY PRESENT appeared in previous blogs; other unpublished ones cover a period ranging from the 1970’s to the present and include poems about family, friends, life in Tennessee, musings about the human psyche, etc.

The cover of this chapbook is, again, a copy of an oil painting done by my brother Paul and is designed by my grandson Martin. Paul’s mystical painting aptly expresses the concept of THE HOLY PRESENT and was rendered before he developed glaucoma and became unable to see well enough to paint. I’m glad I have some of the art he produced when he could see the progress of his renderings of landscapes and seascapes – and the imaginary ones that emerged from memories and fantasies. He lives in his favorite place, California, at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by redwood forests.

Paul began drawing when he was a young boy and also painted pictures to illustrate the stories my father ALWAYS told at bedtime, the varying adventures of a stuffed bear named Jimmy Bear. He actually put together a cardboard book with the Jimmy Bear drawings, but his first creation has been lost during the years following the death of my mother and father. I have more poems to share and a few more of Paul’s paintings that I hope to use on the covers of books before I exhaust his store of art.

Here’s a “minimalist” poem from THE HOLY PRESENT:


Warrior sparrow beaks the web of a spider,
a net that holds dead caterpillars,

attempts to puncture the impenetrable
cocoon of dead prey and, daunted, flies away,

wing rising, seeking repositories of food
available through ruptures in loose skeins

of those who don’t protect their holdings,
who resist the spinning to risk all.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


Just south of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park lies Bryson City, North Carolina, population 1411, a small village in the Appalachians not far from hardwood forests and the white waters of Nantahala River. During the Fourth of July week-end, we visited this town and spent three restful days at West Oak Inn, enjoying 80 degrees temps in the daytime and 62 degree temps in the evening. Bryson City is located in Swain County, which includes over 40% of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is near Fontana Lake, a site that boasts the highest dam east of the Rocky Mountains.

I visited Bryson City in 1983 when it was just a small hamlet with a declining economy and stayed at the Fryemont Inn, now a major hospitality center in town. In 1983, Bryson was a dry (no liquor) town in a dry county, and during my recent visit I was surprised to see wine lists in restaurants and alcohol being sold in local stores. According to a clerk in the Smoky Mountain General Store, the conversion of the town from “dry” to “wet” didn’t alter the economy so much as the coming together of many entities to form the Great Smoky Mountain Railway which began running excursions to attract visitors to Bryson City. Today, over 200,000 passengers enjoy rides through beautiful scenery along the Tuckaseigee River, crossing over the Fontana Lake Trestle and into the Nantahala River Gorge.

I’ve been a train lover since childhood (when I coveted my older brother Paul’s train one Christmas), and I revel in the progress being made to restore some of our railways in the U.S. The American Heritage Railways purchased the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad in 1999, and the railroad schedules nearly 1,000 excursions yearly: Mystery Theatre Dining excursions, a wine-tasting train ride and Gourmet Dinner trips. For children, the railway features railfests like “Peanuts, the Great Pumpkin Patch Express.”

I visited the Smoky Mountain Trains Museum, which featured 7,000 model trains and one model train layout that spanned 21’ x 45’. The museum showcases models of trains from the earliest days of rail transportation to the present day, and the sleek replicas of trains made the small electric express I display every Christmas look like "The Little Engine That Could." The museum was a bit of unexpected serendipity for our week-end adventure in the North Carolina mountains.

The museum model trains evoked a bit of nostalgia in me as I remembered the last train ride I made during the 70’s when I traveled on the Iranian Railway from Ahwaz, Iran in the desert to Shimiran at the foot of the Elburz Mountains in Tehran. It was a precipitous ride on narrow rails overlooking deep gorges not unlike the Nantahala Gorge, which is framed by high cliffs that keep the gorge shadowed most of the day. During the Iranian train ride, we stopped at Qum at daybreak and watched women shrouded in chadors fill their water jugs at a small well near the train stop before we went into the dining car and ate a breakfast of crisp nahn, orange marmalade, and tea. The overnight train ride occurred on Friday, the Muslim Sabbath, and I was surprised to see Iranian men consuming many bottles of Tuborg beer during the trip.

I didn’t schedule a train ride on the Great Smoky Mountain railway, but I hope to return to Bryson City for a mystery dinner train ride in the near future. My one book purchase during the Bryson City adventure was a volume entitled TOURIST TRAINS GUIDEBOOK, a guide to railroad museums and places where trains run throughout the U.S. In case any of you train hobbyists are interested, the book describes 453 excursion trains, trolley rides, rail museums, and historical depots across the U.S. For those who once aspired to be train engineers, some places allow aspirants to operate a locomotive.

From my chapbook MORE CROWS, here’s one of my train poems:


Midnight train shrieks,
a warning signal,

the whistle of velocity
moving toward that final destination,

and in cold darkness, an old redcap
announces this place...

too far from home.