Thursday, October 31, 2013


This should be All Saints Day since south Louisianans moved Halloween from today to yesterday because the weatherman predicted rain would fall this afternoon. Hay la bas, we couldn't miss Halloween! To avoid the bad weather, trick or treaters arrived last night to collect their "enough for a year's supply" of those teeth-rotting goodies: Candy. Now, the devils, witches, ghosts, vampires, ghosts, spider men, and various "haints" have disappeared, some of them having been hauled away in parent-driven golf carts complete with radios.

It's time to honor the faithful departed. After a hectic week of settling in "The Berry" again, I feel the need to contemplate higher matters. "Things" were broken in my home, and we scurried around fixing them in such a huff, you'd have thought house/yard inspectors were chasing us. We've never been Garden of the Month nominees, but, still...And now, the hair police will soon be knocking on my door because during our sojourn on The Mountain at Sewanee, I let my locks grow longer than usual.  Although rain is predicted for the afternoon, I'll probably venture out to take care of the unkempt tresses and resume more hecktivity.

However, this morning I put on Mozart's Piano Concertos 19 and 20, locked the doors, and sat down to re-read Anne Morrow Lindberg's Gift From the Sea for the fifth time. Her meditations on the Zerrissenheit of contemporary women (torn-to-pieces hood) or fragmentation of their lives (even the life of one who's retired!) spoke to my condition of foolishly trying to get everything in order so I could resume living in "The Berry." 

In Lindbergh's chapter entitled "Moon Shell," she writes that mechanical aids "save us time and energy, but they're often the way to dissipate one's time and energy in more purposeless occupation, more accumulations which supposedly simplify life but actually burden it, more possessions which we have not time to use or appreciate, more diversions to fill up the void..." 

Ouchand does a broken fridge/freezer qualify for a "burdensome possession," or did searching for and changing ice in a camp-out ice box for several days prove to be more burdensome? And could we see better in the gloom cast by all those burned-out light bulbs? From whence did the dried-up lizard in the bathtub comeand should I have left him there to join me in my nightly bath?  What about the dust of seven months' standing that threatened to arouse my allergies?  Did the mildew and mold under the carport and eaves qualify as a "feverish pursuit of centrifugal activities which only lead in the end to more fragmentation?"

Perhaps not, but Lindbergh's admonition about taking care of contemplative time resonated with me this morning. I agree with her statement: "one lives like a child or a saint in the immediacy of here and now.  Every day, every act is an island, washed by time and space...and has an island's completion."

So I'll observe All Saints Day prematurely this morning by centering down and acknowledging that too much striving for order hinders a peaceful, grace-filled life. On this day, I'll try to contemplate the spiritual bond between The Church Militant here on earth and the Church Triumphant in heaven by communing with St. Francis, whose statue guards my patio, which I can see from my study window.  I'll also remember Saint Anne Lindbergh on her island in the sky, who reminds us that "we must be still in the axis of a wheel in the midst of [our] activities...not only for [our] own salvation but for the salvation of family life, of society, perhaps even of our civilization."    

Monday, October 28, 2013


Civil War ghosts

Every year in October, I return to New Iberia, Louisiana after spending the Spring and Summer months on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee. We always seem to arrive in time to stand on my front porch and get bitten by giant Louisiana swamp mosquitoes while handing out candy for the "trick or treaters" celebrating Halloween.  
When I was a child living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, we celebrated Halloween in a different way from young people today — we either played tricks on the neighbors (e.g., kicking over piles of leaves already raked that hadn't been burned or hiding the covers to garbage cans) or telling ghost stories on my front porch. My father always carved out a gruesome mouth on a pumpkin, and we placed a candle inside so that we had the proper macabre atmosphere for the porch tales, but to tell the truth, I never liked this holiday. I was sensitive to "scare stories" and with good reason. One summer, I had seen what I perceived to be a ghost in my grandparents' attic in Franklinton, Louisiana. In later years, my older brother corroborated this story because he had seen the ghost of my grandfather step out of a mantel clock in my grandparents' bedroom of the same Victorian-style home.
A few years ago, I published a novel entitled Redeemed by Blood that features the appearance of a ghost throughout the book. It is the fictionalized ghost of my great-grandfather and is based on the apparition I thought I glimpsed when I made this foray into my grandmother's attic against her wishes. For Halloween observers who enjoy a ghostly celebration, I'm including the prologue to Redeemed:
"I felt the same icy apprehension that I imagined the small child experienced as she tiptoed up the old pinewood stairs, the staircase rasping in protest at each step she took. I crouched in the cubbyhole of the uncompleted kitchen, a cluttered space adjacent to the landing, fenced off by a folding guard used to prevent children from tumbling down. I had been reading a narrative written by my wife in her inscrutable handwriting, a sketchy account of my entire life reduced to a nine-page booklet, hole-punched and bound with red string. The gray construction paper cover bore the numerals 1733-1916, an insipid title that could have contained the history of anyone, anything. However, it chronicled the Green family history from the time they arrived in Rappahannock River country in Virginia on the ship Macbeth until the year my wife Sarah died. I had told the history of 200 hundred years, which Sarah, the poet and journalist, condensed into an ephemeral tract and hid in the attic of a Victorian mansion in Louisiana belonging to my son Ellis Paul. The book lay on Sarah's secretary alongside my saber, the frayed gray uniform I wore at Shiloh, and a Ku Klux Klan hood, symbol of my awful shame.
"The girl who approached my attic prison appeared to be about nine years old, and her lank hair needed curling. She wore a white pinafore with a lamb embroidered on the bodice and scruffy brown shoes her mother or grandmother should have replaced before the soles came off. The child had a sweet face — a high forehead, creased in a frown, and a sharp nose lifted in pride like her Scots ancestors. I perceived intelligence in her dark eyes, and as she reached the landing, I decided to appear to her. After all, she was Dana, my great-granddaughter who had come into the world the night Sarah died.
"I moved swiftly, knocking the saber that lay on the mahogany secretary to the floor. The child glanced my way, cupped her hands over her dark eyes, and stood immobile on the landing for a moment. I felt the incandescent warmth of my body enveloping her small body for that brief instant. When I released her, she fled down the stairs, silently, rather than screaming out to her Grandmother Nell, who waited at the bottom of the stairs, that she had seen the ghost of her Great-Grandfather Dade Green.
"I sensed that the child feared punishment from her grandmother for exploring forbidden territory more than she feared me. I comforted myself with the thought that the hug I had given her had left an imprint. Perhaps I'd become the cynosure of her life, and she'd be the one who released me from my ghostly state and the memories of indiscretions I had committed during my life on earth. I resumed by task of deciphering my wife's spidery handwriting and the story about my boyhood in Virginia."

A transforming event releases this ghost from his bondage, and perhaps the story doesn't qualify for a real Halloween spin, but you can decide for yourself by ordering a copy of Redeemed by Blood! Order online from or from Border Press, PO Box 3124, Sewanee TN 37375.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


For at least seven years, one of my favorite poets has been Naomi Nye, a woman who lives in San Antonio, Texas and often "speaks to my condition," as the Quakers say. Nye, a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, first inspired my readings of her work with her poems about the Mideast in a book entitled 19 Varieties of Gazelle.
As I lived in Iran for two years during the early 70's, I have an interest in the life and problems of Mideasterners, and Nye's work resonated with me. Her wonderful poetry about her background as an Arab-American and life with her Mideastern family includes a poem highlighting her Palestinian grandmother who lived to be 106. In the introduction to 19 Varieties of Gazelle, Nye writes that she always "tried to remember the abundant humor and resilience and the love of family," and she achieves this goal with poignant reminiscences in this volume, the proceeds of which were donated to Seeds of Peace. Her book inspired me to write one of my books of poetry about Iran entitled The Holy Present and Farda.
Since I'll be returning to Louisiana after spending seven months on The Mountain here at Sewanee, I plan to get a glimpse of this notable poet. She'll be the featured poet at the Festival of Words in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, November 6-9, and I hope to meet her, but I don't know if I'll be able to interact with her since the Festival is crowded with literary occasions: drive-by poetry readings and writing workshops for participants in rural St. Landry, St. Martin, and Lafayette parishes.
Nye will be joined by another one of my favorite poets, Darrell Bourque, whose recent book of poetry, Megan's Guitar and Other Poems from Acadie, has been widely touted in Acadiana and further afield. Darrell, my mentor and friend, is a former Poet Laureate of Louisiana. Other readers/instructors will include Rebecca Henry, Fabienne Kanor, Akeem Martin, and Genaro Ky Ly Smith. Creative Writing workshops in public schools, grocery stores, beauty shops, fast food places, and other unusual venues will be offered at the Festival.
The Festival of Words had its birth in the studio space of Casa Azul Gifts in Grand Coteau under the auspices of Patrice Melnick, a poet and writer living in this small town of 1,000 residents, and the event has attracted over 750 people from throughout the South. It is funded by private donors and has a Kickstarter website named Festival of Words, Louisiana, 2013 where you can pledge support for this event that inspires young and old, "wannabe" and established writers. The deadline for pledging is November 5, only two weeks away, so take time to help kickstart this wonderful literary arts festival. It may be the birthing scene of another Naomi Nye!  

Friday, October 18, 2013


Moss draped live oak in south Louisiana
Yesterday's cold spell reminded me that winter is approaching The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee. Cooler temps signaled the time for me to become a snow bird and head South to my second home in New Iberia, Louisiana, a place affectionately called "The Berry." We leave next week for Teche country and will arrive just in time for the great Halloween Hand-out.
I thought perhaps New Iberians had celebrated all of the city's 2013 festivals — the Sugar Cane Festival, the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce's World Championship Gumbo Cook-off, the annual Art Walk (among the most recent ones), but I'll arrive in time to enjoy a fairly young event in the festival line-up: El Festival Espanol de Nueva Iberia.
The Spanish festival program includes "Running of the Bulls" featuring Dave Robichaux, James Lee Burke's fictional character who lives on the banks of The Bayou Teche in New Iberia, a 5K race, an enactment of the arrival of the Spanish on Bayou Teche, a paella/jambalaya cookoff, a fais-do-do, and guest lectures.
El Festival Espanol was established to honor the founding of Nueva Iberia in 1779 by a band of Malagueños from Malaga Spain who were brought over by Lt. Colonel Don Francisco Bouligny. Bouligny was sent to the Attakapas District of Louisiana to establish a new Spanish town, but soon entered the War of Independence and never returned to the small village to which he had brought his band of Malagueños. However, a statue of Bouligny behind the gazebo in the Plaza of New Iberia honors his efforts to found a Spanish settlement on the Bayou Teche.
Among the first families who struggled to settle Nueva Iberia were Romeros, Villatoros, Miguez, and Seguras, whose descendants remained in the area near New Iberia and Spanish Lake. Many of the Spanish families intermingled with Cajuns, and people often attribute the founding of New Iberia to Cajuns, but the Malagueños are the true founders of "The Berry."
Spanish flag
Several years ago I wrote a young adult novel entitled Flood on the Rio Teche, which is based on the founding of New Iberia by the Malagueños in 1779 during the time of a devastating flood. The hero of this fictional account, Antonio Romero, struggles through flooding of his home site, disease, poisonous snakebites, crop failure, kidnapping, and a family break-up. He and his family befriend nearby Chitimacha tribesmen from Charenton, Louisiana who save their lives many times, and the story ends with an engagement between Antonio and a Cajun girl, Claire. Historical facts are interwoven throughout the novel, and it has been used for supplemental reading in several New Iberia classrooms.

Although this is probably the last festival in New Iberia scheduled for 2013, I've already checked the calendar, and April's schedule for 2014 includes the Cajun Hot Sauce Festival, just before I return to The Mountain. Not to mention the Mardi Gras celebrations in February and March. Laissez le bon temps roulez!   

Monday, October 14, 2013


When I exited a Sunday afternoon reading at a unique art gallery on The Mountain, and a man with deep blue eyes, wearing a baseball cap, bowed gallantly, kissed my hand, and invited me to read at a literary event in the Fall of 2014, my response to the invitation was a resounding “yes.”

Yesterday, I attended a reading by local authors of the Autumn Assembly of Authors at IONA Art Sanctuary.  I had been invited by my friend, the Rev. Francis Walter, who read from his novel, Goldilocks and the Three Bears at Mobile Bay. Following this amusing reading, I was re-introduced to Edward Carlos, a sculptor and artist I met the first year I moved to Sewanee, Tennessee, shortly after he opened his Art Sanctuary. I had been deeply impressed by his religious and spiritual art, some of which reflected visionary events that he experienced during four visits to Iona, a small island off the western coast of Scotland.

On this particular Sunday afternoon, three writers performed at the reading: my friend Francis who read from his unpublished manuscript, David Bowman who read from his book, Sewanee in Stone, and Lynn Cimino Hurt who read from her unpublished manuscript of poetry. The reading was one among a slate of Fall readings and art exhibits sponsored by Carlos, who was called to “offer a place for writers and artists to share their creative work with each other and the community, and the emphasis is to source creativity and spirituality,” Carlos says. I might add that many Sewanee writers and artists produce rich creative work that isn't read at the annual Sewanee Writers Conference, which features mostly national luminaries, so Carlos provides an outstanding service for less-recognized literary and artistic figures.
The IONA Art Sanctuary sits atop a hill off Garnertown Road and overlooks a field of dried sedge grass and seven acres of lake and woods. The building is situated on a N-S, E-W axis and offers art lovers a view of colorful sunsets as they exit the 70’x64’ building. The interior of the sanctuary follows the design of a nave with a Celtic cross shape. A 20' high gate stands in the center of the field of sedge grass and symbolizes an entrance between the physical world and the spiritual world. It reminded me of a similar gate at Rip Winkle Gardens on Jefferson Island near my home of New Iberia, Louisiana. Above the entrance on the IONA veranda the sculpt of an angel hovers, part of a scene about the Nativity, which is further carried out inside with a life-sized “Creation Nativity.”
At the reading, before Carlos introduced the first writer, he pointed out a vertical 19 l/2' x 10’ piece of art behind the improvised stage, a complex photographic work by Carlos’s son, Adam Carlos, that depicts an earth mother figure superimposed over images of a forest and a lake. Entitled “Lost Love," it contains 260 separate but overlapping 16”x20” black and white photos..  It is a stunning backdrop to reading performances, and Carlos explained that the building ceiling was constructed to accommodate this piece of art.

When I’m in New Iberia part of the year, I often read some of my poetry at Paul Schexnayder’s Art Gallery and am scheduled to read at this gallery with the new Louisiana poet laureate in November. I know that combining art exhibits and literary performances in one event results in an afternoon or evening of interesting entertainment, so I understand the efficacy of holding the Autumn Assembly of Authors at IONA, a highly creative venue.
Carlos has also sponsored the exhibits of many talented art students and area artists at IONA Art Sanctuary. The year that he retired from his position as chair of the Fine Arts Department and director of the university gallery at the University of the South, staff, community members, retired faculty members, and students helped install his two-month long exhibit, “Creation: Aurora Borealis” at the university gallery. My architect friend, Sarah Boykin, a graduate of Sewanee who now teaches at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, spearheaded a drive to raise funds to provide for a new gallery in the Nabit Art Building, which was named the Edward Carlos Gallery of Art.  Although Carlos lives on campus with his wife, Sarah, and a flock of dogs, he spends his meditative moments at the IONA Art Sanctuary. 
I look forward to seeing my blue-eyed host and to reading my poetry next Fall during the Autumn Assembly of Authors at IONA Art Sanctuary, another "thin" place of inspiration and beauty on The Mountain.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


I know it’s Fall on The Mountain at Sewanee when I sit on the front porch and hear acorns popping on the roof. Their noise breaks through a dense silence peculiar to cooler days, and I think that if the squirrels took better aim, I’d have a few knots on my head because they throw the gnawed shells from the rooftop, then scurry back into the oaks, turning their backsides and swishing their tails at me.

On cool Fall days, birdsong almost disappears, the hum of insects dies down, and I hear only the squawk of crows piercing the silence. However, some sound carries farther in the still air, and the cries of children playing in the distance reach me, a poignant noise that rises, then dies away, as if they’re at recess and then it’s over and they’re back at their desks. Yellow and brown leaves, like old memories, rustle and fall in the yard, and my thoughts turn away from the world, moving inward as the season begins. Fall time is remembering time…
Every Fall when I hear the sound of children breaking through the stillness on The Mountain, I think of my firstborn, Stephanie, going off to school for the first time. When she was six, back in the 60’s, school commenced in September instead of early August as it does now, and we had a faux Fall on the day I walked her to the small school a few blocks from our home in New Iberia, Louisiana. She was frightened… and I was anxious. I don’t know whose heart raced the fastest, but when she and her best friend, Johnna Kay, a neighbor’s daughter, entered the first grade classroom at the same moment, both girls looked at each other and burst into tears.
“You have to let them go,” Johnna Kay’s mother said, clutching my arm.
I gave Stephanie a wan smile. “I’ll meet you outside at 3,” I told my sad-faced child.” More tears, and the teacher signaled for us to leave our sobbing children to the mercies of the public school system.
It was a cool day, and after lunch I sat on the patio for awhile, listening to the children’s cries in the distance. The shrill voices sounded like separation anxiety to me, and I began writing a poem: “I delight in my child/who presses the small leaf of me/into the branch of her larger perceptions; /I delight in my child/when my false possessions possess/all but one capricious movement/tipping in barefoot daring/through the splinter of my ways./This one with the burnt corn hair,/the first robin song of each morning,/making calculated pecks at my cheek,/urging me to reduce this world/to a tiny merry go round for her hands,/whines the carefully taught noise of my name/in impish assumption of reckoning./I delight in my child/as she presses the small leaf of me/into the branch of her larger trust/and I crackle with the dry anxiety/of mother love.”
At 2, I went indoors to shut out the sound of the children’s voices and called my spouse. “We must buy Stephanie a bicycle,” I said in my no-opposition-allowed voice. “Today. Right now. Before school lets out.”
“What? It isn’t even time for her birthday, and Christmas is almost four months away. I’m at work, you know,” he said.
“I don’t care if a new well is about to blow,” I said. He was a reservoir engineer with a major oil company and had an office job, so the allusion to bringing in a well at a field site was an exaggeration reflecting my agitated state. “She needs something to make her feel better. I left her crying at school. I’ll get a taxi and go after the bike alone if you won’t leave work.” I hung up.
Fifteen minutes later, he arrived and we drove to LaBauve’s Bicycle Shop a few blocks from our neighborhood. Another fifteen minutes passed before we loaded an aqua-colored bicycle with a luggage carrier, a basket and bell on its handlebars, and rolled it into the garage, closing the doors against the curious eyes of the neighbor across the street.
At 3 sharp, I met Stephanie and Johnna Kay in front of the school, and Stephanie ran into my arms. “Do I have to go back?” she asked. “I already know how to color in the lines, can say by heart poems from A Child’s Garden of Verse, and all they do at recess is jump rope and sing something called “Pizza Pizza Polly-ola.”
“Yes,” I said. “You have to go back. You should know a little more than how to color within the lines and how to say nursery rhymes, and every girl should learn how to jump rope. But…” I stopped and smiled at her. “We have a surprise for you.”
She looked at me sullenly and followed me home, dragging her new green backpack on the pavement. I felt anxious, wondering if a bicycle would make up for the hours we’d spend away from each other, but not once had I felt foolish about the impulsive purchase or regretted that I was giving her Christmas in September. When I pulled up the garage door to reveal the surprise, Stephanie’s smile told me that I’d made a good choice – the bicycle was going to ease the pangs of separation.
“Oh!” she said. “I’m glad I went to school.”
The tone of Stephanie’s first week at school got lighter and lighter, and I learned not to sit on the patio where I could hear the children’s voices. Stephanie’s resistance to school lessened, and her adaptation amazed me. However, I knew that she kept the vision of that bicycle in her mind until the bell for school to let out rang and she could race home to ride her bike. That year, we learned to endure the pain of severing the long cord that had held us in a pre-school bond, and I attribute our maturation to an aqua-colored bicycle bought on impulse.
Now, on Fall days when cool weather approaches, and I hear the clear voices of children in the distance, I can’t help wondering if there are first graders among the voices who feel as much separation anxiety as I did on Stephanie’s first day at school. I hope not. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Margaret Simon, one of my New Iberia, Louisiana friends, has chosen an apt title for a slender book of finely-crafted poems published by Border Press. The poems accompany the drawings of John Gibson, her father, who used a technical pen to execute arresting pictures in the tradition of pen and ink pointillism art.
Following a church service at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in New Iberia, Louisiana last year, Margaret told me that she had reviewed a collection of her father’s Christmas cards she had received through the years and conceived the idea of deepening her connection with her father by writing poems to express the religious verses he used to accompany the Christmas card drawings. The result is Illuminate, a book in which each poem is a “harmony creating a vision of love,” as Margaret writes in the first poem she conceived about her father’s art. The poem was an exercise she completed during a writing project retreat with former Louisiana poet laureate Darrell Bourque.
The cover of Illuminate by John Gibson features a drawing derived from a photograph he took of a small church in Salzburg following an all-night snowfall. The drawing became the basis for the first Christmas card he “illuminated.” Eleven drawings in Illuminate reflect Gibson’s passion to capture spiritual mysteries in art using the technique of pen and ink pointillism. He does not use lines, and most of the picture elements are created with small dots made by a technical pen with a 0.05-mm point – images of angels, wise men, Mary, and a manger scene that inspired Margaret to write a poem entitled “The Pointillist.”
Margaret’s poems show her command of the writing craft in the range of poetry forms she uses to deliver the message derived from her father’s ink drawings, about which he says: “it is the darkest dark that reveals the brightest light. So it seems also in life.” I was drawn to a sonnet about trees entitled “Dance of the Trees” that is a tribute to Margaret’s father and resonates with rich sound and rhythm:

Dance of the Trees
Look at trees, think of God who came to bring us love.

I watch you watching trees,
I watch you watching those trees
outside your window in the loft.

If you could walk on the roof,
if you could walk out on that roof and touch them—
you could feel their hearts beating,
their hearts beating out the rhythm of the wind.

I watch you drawing the trees.
I watch you drawing those trees
in perfect chiaroscuro, shading just so,
just so they come alive and dance.

The trees dance in the moonlight
when you draw them.
When you draw them, God’s hand moves.
God’s hand is moving.

Illuminate is a small volume, but it radiates with light and inspiration, with religious and nature themes. It’s a unique Christmas gift that celebrates the passion and faith of two family members who teamed up to create an artistic gem.
Margaret Gibson Simon teaches gifted students in Iberia Parish, has published poems in the journal, The Aurorean, and wrote a chapter about teaching poetry to young children for Women on Poetry published by McFarland and Co., Inc. She’s also the author of a young readers’ novel, Blessen, published in April, 2012 by Border Press. Margaret has a Masters degree in Gifted Education and certification by the National Boards for Professional Teaching Standards. She lives on the Bayou Teche with her husband Jeff in New Iberia, Louisiana.
John Gibson retired from medicine in 1997 and has been doing pen and ink pointillism for many years. He has displayed his work in galleries in the Jackson, Mississippi metropolitan area since 2001 and received second place in the 2012 Annual Cedars Juried Art Exhibition. He credits the “environment within which he lives for providing him with creations of nature such as trees and foliage and the magical effects of light and shadow as subject for his ink drawings.” He lives with his wife Dot on a lake in Madison County, Mississippi.

Order Illuminate online or from Border Press, PO Box 3124, Sewanee TN 37375.