Tuesday, November 26, 2013


On this rainy cold day in New Iberia, Louisiana, just a few days before Thanksgiving, I sit at my window overlooking the patio with the fat chiminea on it and the backyard strewn with wet leaves and think about blessings—the warmth of central heat and a healthy breakfast reminding me of all good gifts available in this age of post modernity.

Several books about blessings that help me with expressing thanks for plenitude and certainly elevate my evocations of thankfulness lie on the dining room table. One of them is a volume entitled To Bless the Space Between Us by John O'Donohue, an Irishman whose work encompasses blessings for getting married, having children, eating bountiful meals, and other ordinary events. In the book, O'Donohue explains that blessings of things, people, and events is a way of life and can help transform the world. The volume was given to me at Christmas three years ago by my friend, Isabel Anders of Sewanee, who also writes books about blessings, several of which are: Simple Blessings for Sacred Moments, A Book of Blessings for Working Mothers, The Lord's Blessings, and Blessings and Prayers for Married Couples.  

A newer book on the dining table is a compendium entitled Bless This Food, which contains ancient and contemporary graces from around the world—prayers from Native Americans, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Sufis, Jews, Unitarians and others of various faiths. As the author, Adrian Butash, says: "food is the thanks-giving link and universal form of expression for gratitude to the Almighty."

In the introduction to his book, Butash writes briefly about certain cultures and customs centering around blessings and hospitality, and I was fascinated with the section about Chinese dining customs. He describes the Chinese custom of sending dinner invitations in a red envelope—red being the color of festivity—and the spontaneous seating arrangements so that no person is left standing while another person is seated. After the guests finish the meal, the host escorts them all the way to the door because the Chinese believe that "if you escort a man at all, escort him all the way." Included in this notation about Chinese dining is a reference to a Chinese poem, "Inviting Guests," which dates back to AD 273 and gives readers a look at ancient Chinese hospitality that reflects the pleasure of sharing and enjoying life through the "entertainment of guests with warmth and goodwill."

A P.S. to Butash's explication of Chinese blessings that use the vehicle of poetry is the fact that the Chinese express love in their blessings, dealing not with love as we envision it, but with friendship because Chinese poetry is influenced by the Three Teachings of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism: the importance of being unselfish, loyal, and courteous. When I read this passage, I thought of one of Isabel's books entitled The Faces of Friendship in which she speaks of friendships (which aren't confined to the Chinese culture): "A friend is one whose essential beingness, whose presence in the world, has touched ours at some point. And from such points of touching we measure our time, our very lives before and after..."

So, my thanksgivings are not just food blessings but include celebrations of friendship as I think of all the friends who have, as the Chinese say, been "loyal, unselfish, and courteous" to me. However, I'm not sending out any invitations in red envelopes a la Chinese style—Thanksgiving dinner will be a la American style (with some inclusions of Cajun fare) but I do hope to entertain my "guests with warmth and goodwill."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


GLC Meat Market, Loreauville
During a visit with Darrell and Karen Bourque of Churchpoint, Louisiana recently, we talked about Darrell's newest book of poetry, Megan's Guitar and Other Poems From Acadie. Darrell, former poet laureate of Louisiana, has been researching the place where Joseph "Beausoleil" Broussard, leader of the Acadians who fled to Louisiana during Le Grand Derangement, first settled. Broussard is one of the colorful characters in Darrell's book of poetry, and this auspicious figure is believed to have established a village near Fausse Point, present-day Loreauville, Louisiana, which is a fifteen-minute drive from my home in New Iberia.
My interest was piqued by Darrell's research and fanned by a friend who told us about a place in the small town where grass-fed beef is sold, so we set out one morning last week to explore Loreauville again. The population of the town at the last census doesn't quite reach the 2,000 mark, and 91 percent of the citizens are native-born Louisianians. Many of Loreauville's inhabitants still speak Cajun French, and the hamlet has an appealing Old World quality. Bayou Teche flows along its western edge, and Lake Dauterive, only a few miles away, offers fishing and boating recreation. Fishing and hunting remain the livelihood of many of the citizens, and sugarcane farming is a vital part of the economy.  
The town was once named Dugasville after one of its founding citizens and was later named Picouville after another of its outstanding families. Citizens finally settled on the name Loreauville in honor of Ozaire Loreau who was instrumental in the burgeoning of agriculture and industry in the small town. One of the more notable industries of which Loreauville can boast is Breaux Brothers Boats, a boat manufacturing business that has attracted national and international boat buyers.
For those who hanker after grass-fed beef, the major attraction in Loreauville is a meat market on the town's main street. One of the owners of this market can trace his penchant for raising cattle back to the 18th century when in 1767, Francois Gonsoulin of St. Martin Parish began running a herd of cattle with a brand that is now the ninth oldest registered brand in the U.S. Today, one of his descendants, Dr. Shannon Gonsoulin, and his partner Stuart Gardner of St Landry Parish, raise Beefmaster and Brangus with red and black Angus bulls. The cattle run on 175 acres near Loreauville and 500 acres near Sunset. The growth period of these grass-fed cattle is three times longer than that of corn-fed calves, but the demand for the beef has been steadily increasing due to the meat's nutritional value.  
Gonsoulin, a veterinarian who practices in Breaux Bridge, Morgan City, and New Iberia, researched the nutrition benefits of grass-fed cattle and found that this beef is higher in omega-3 fatty acids which reduce inflammation and help prevent risks of chronic diseases; e.g., heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. The Gonsoulin beef is dry-aged rather than processed in water, and other nutritional benefits of the meat include fat-soluble vitamins like beta carotene, alpha-tocopherol, and water soluble vitamins like riboflavin and thiamin.  
We went, empty-handed, into the GLC Meat Market located in the old Post Office on Main Street in Loreauville and came out with packages of beef, grass-fed lamb, and grass-fed pork underarm. Earline Ransonet, the manager of the meat market, told us that GLS supplies restaurants and large grocery companies in New Orleans and Lafayette. Gonsoulin touts that a pound of raw meat from grass-fed beef won't shrink burgers on the grill and that none of the cattle have been treated with hormones or antibiotics.  They're also raised in a stress-free environment and are humanely treated.
St. Joseph Church, Loreauville
We didn't locate the exact place where Broussard settled the Acadians, or explore All Souls Cemetery in Loreauville where Clifton Chenier, the famous Zydeco musician, is buried, but we did find serendipity in a main street meat market that supplied us with meat enough to provide several weeks of flash frozen, vacuum-packed nutrition. We hope to return for the Wednesday afternoon Farmer's Market held in the same building as the meat market—and sample more of Acadiana's natural foods.

Monday, November 11, 2013


During my time on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee, I've befriended several artistic women who have made notable contributions to the writing and art world and who explore connections between art and spirituality. I've written about Sewaneean Barbara Hughes and her work teaching art to children in Haiti, as well as her work with the women of Tanzania in previous blogs, but today I'm looking at her beautiful new book entitled Enfolded in Silence, subtitled A Story in Art of Healing From Sexual Trauma in Childhood, and am moved to write a few lines about Hughes' personal journey through this painful experience of childhood molestation.

Hughes' long journey from childhood sexual trauma to healing is traced through poetry, prose, and graphic paintings that illustrate the powerlessness and guilt she experienced for years following molestation by a predator. The exalting aspect of this narrative is Hughes' triumph over this trauma and her healing through spiritual grace that returns her to personal wholeness.

In the second section of her book, Hughes shifts the emphasis from personal confession to a helpful plan for survival that includes journaling, praying, 12-Step Recovery, and Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder strategies, but it is through art that she achieves wholeness. The paintings, some of which are accompanied by raw poems that howl with her suffering, tell about her odyssey in passionate images that no candid written confession could achieve. When Hughes began to rethink and re-image her sexuality, she used the medium of art, making collages of positive images of sexuality and putting them in a safe place. She discovered other pictures that connected sex with love and tenderness and placed them where she could view them often.

A special section highlighting recovery from addiction will be helpful to those who attempt to cope with sexual abuse by overeating, overworking, and other forms of addiction. Her work with therapy and 12-step recovery is a testament to the power of 12-step groups — in her case, her involvement in this program gave her time "to mourn the loss of the comfort addiction had given me and to become entirely ready to let it go." Combined with therapy, Hughes began to heal and to emerge from denial, and she confesses to a "long slow struggle," witnessing to a recovery that "feels like a miracle every day."

This is a rich narrative of a personal transformation that Hughes decided to share with all women who have survived childhood sexual trauma, and the book is only one of the ways in which she supports individuals who have been abused in this way. She writes that those who have been abused seem to find their way to her, and she also leads workshops, retreats, and support groups using art for women survivors of sexual abuse in her studio, Rahamim Retreat and Clay House, and for churches and other centers of healing. In addition, she does spiritual direction using art and touts it as a "powerful force for healing in the world."

Hughes has taught art and spirituality at the Episcopal Seminary, University of the South, in Sewanee, Tennessee for many years and teaches in Tanzania when the opportunity arises. She has exhibited her sculptures and paintings throughout the U.S., and her Cathedral Nativity is the official crèche of the Washington National Cathedral. She is married to The Rev. Bob Hughes, an Episcopal priest and retired professor of theology at the Episcopal Seminary, University of South, who has authored the definitive book on the Holy Spirit entitled Beloved Dust.

Enfolded in Silence is a tragic story, but it is a redemptive one that inspires victims who have suffered childhood sexual trauma and those who work toward the goal of healing abused women throughout the world.

Enfolded in Silence includes a cogent foreword written by Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, professor of English and Women's Studies at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, Louisiana

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

Friday, November 8, 2013


This morning I thought of Marcel Proust and how the smell of madeleines and tea evoked memories of things past in the narrator of Remembrance of Things Past when I picked up a bar of sandalwood soap made by Appalachian Naturals that I had bought in Asheville, North Carolina — memories of visits to that wonderful mountain city flooded my mind. The soap was just one reminder of the many traditional techniques used in Appalachian families to craft homemade goods, and it opened a treasure box of memories about western North Carolina, one of my favorite places to play and to buy homemade soaps and jellies, original mountain art, and, of course, books.

As a book lover, I appreciate a bookstore that I consider the finest in the Appalachian area — Malaprop's Bookstore and Cafe in downtown Asheville. This hangout for poets and writers is touted as the best place to buy poetry in western North Carolina and has garnered many awards in the book selling field: 2000 Bookseller of the Year, Member of the Mountain Express Hall of Fame and other kudos that have brought visitors from throughout the country to its doors. The store features a cafe, a book club, weekly readings by area and national poets and writers, the best of southern literature, and welcomes all who have serious literary interests. We always spend at least an hour in Malaprop's when we visit Asheville during the spring and summer months while sojourning at Sewanee.

Not far away in Dupont State Recreational Forest, many scenes from The Hunger Games were shot in the dense forests and of rivers that course through this area, including beautiful falls like Bridal Veil Falls, High Falls, and Hooker Falls. Moviemakers also shot scenes in nearby Asheville, and visitors can now take advantage of a Hunger Games four-day itinerary, looping from Charlotte to Asheville, viewing film locations and sites mentioned in the novel by Suzanne Collins.

I always like to veer over to Hendersonville and Flatrock to the Flatrock Playhouse to see Broadway quality entertainment and to satisfy my envee for viewing authors' homes by visiting Connemara, the home of Carl Sandburg, American poet and historian. Sandburg spent the last 22 years of his writing life in the 10,000-book library of the home, while Mrs. Sandburg spent her days raising prize-winning goats. National Historic Site workers still keep a few goats in a barn on the property, sponsor daily tours, and sometimes stage summer productions in the amphitheater of Connemara.

I've visited the Thomas Wolfe memorial in Asheville at least four times and usually rent a room in the Renaissance Hotel overlooking the old yellow boarding home that housed Wolfe's mother's guests, sometimes getting up in the night to look down at it and envision the famous writer living there. I've written many poems about writers' residences, and Wolfe's residence always inspires a few verses. Here's one that appears in In A Convent Garden, my latest book of poetry from which I'll be reading on November 16 at A&E Gallery in New Iberia, Louisiana:


Looking down at the yellow house,
I hope that some of Wolfe's poetry
will rise to my occasion,
drift through the dozen windows
fronting the walk,
but it is dark inside,
the only light that ever shone out
to the conflicted world
were the eyes in his massive head
bright as the yellow paint
on the house of his childhood,
the frame of his imagination.

Nine rocking chairs stand empty,
no audience on the gallery,
and his sleeping porch faces the street,
reminders of tormented nights
when he moved from room to room,
forced by his mother's commerce:
an old boarding house
I have toured four times.

Each time I want his ghost
to give me a stone, a leaf, a door,
symbols in the torrent of words
wafting up three chimneys
and down the long walk,
echoes of his stories
landing in empty places,
emptier than the one from which he sprang.

At midnight I again look down
at the orange glow of the porch light,
wondering why someone
placed the beacon there,
telling him he could come home again...

too late.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


While I never write about Louisiana politics in my blogs, I admit that I'm often tempted to express an opinion when I return to New Iberia, Louisiana following my sojourn in Sewanee, Tennessee. After all, several of our governors have been infamous figures in the State's history, and you can feel the heat of its politics when you cross the State line—a heat that is as steamy as the prevailing Louisiana weather. After riding on the well-kept highways in Tennessee, I couldn't help remarking about the present administration's lack of interest in the State's infrastructure when we bumped off I-10 onto the rutted roads leading into south Louisiana.
My political comment this morning is general in context, since I abhor political arguments of any kind: televised, radioed, or otherwise. I just have to say that the beliefs of the infamous populist governor, Huey Long, and benefits given to the impoverished in the State during his regime, seem to have totally disappeared. Also, as we traveled the corduroy roads into Acadiana, I thought about Long's vision concerning better roads for the State. Approximately 300 miles of paved roads existed when this controversial governor took office and when his term ended, 1,583 miles of paved road had been built. I won't belabor Long's ideal of "Share the Wealth," except to say that this little slogan has been completely lost, perhaps swept away and deposited in the Atchafalaya Basin. I hasten to add that I'm aware of the negative aspects of Long's regime and that he stands out as a prime example of the old maxim: "power tends to corrupt—absolute power corrupts absolutely." But enough said about someone who set out to serve the best interests of the state in which I was born and lost his way on the "Louisiana Hayride. " 
My thoughts about the latter figure in the State's political history caused me to dust off a few books in my Louisiana library where I found a volume published in 2000 about the first ladies of Louisiana. I was curious about Huey Long's first lady and wondered how she managed life with the "Kingfish."
First Ladies of Louisiana, presented by the Baton Rouge and River Parishes Committee of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Louisiana, contains a brief chapter on Rose McConnell Long. I didn't glean any information concerning Rose's methods of handling her bombastic husband, but after reading the chapter I envisioned her as a woman who embodied the old adage about "catching more flies with honey."
A native of Indiana, born to Peer McConnell, a church builder, and Sallie Billiu McConnell who had lived on Abbey Plantation in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, Rose met Huey Long in 1911 when he worked as a salesman, peddling Cottolene, a type of shortening used in cake baking. Huey judged a cake baking contest sponsored by his company and awarded Rose first place for her white layer cake in which she used part butter and part Cottolene shortening. Impressed by Huey's wit and mental acuity, Rose fell in love with him, and her feelings were reciprocated by the overwhelmed Huey. However, the couple courted two years before marrying in Memphis, Tennessee.
In 1915, when Huey opened his first office in Winnfield, Louisiana, Rose became his secretary. Huey's first desk was a wooden crate which Rose covered with fabric, and when he ran for Railroad Commissioner three years later, Rose ran his campaign, using her mother's home in Shreveport as campaign headquarters. She hired children in the neighborhood to stuff envelopes and sent her brothers into rural Louisiana to set up campaign posters.
However, after starting a family, Rose became less active in Huey's campaigns because she felt that politics shouldn't interfere with her offspring's health and well-being. By contemporary standards, she'd be considered "square," as she taught her children to revere American history and old-fashioned ideals, including respect for their colorful father.
Rose often referred to Huey as "the smartest man I ever knew." An unassuming woman, she embraced domesticity and continued to bake the famous cake that first attracted her husband's interest. She also liked to fish with a cane pole and frequently pursued this outdoor hobby at her camp on Cross Lake.
Because her name was Rose and she had an affinity for the color, she often wore rose colored clothing and used the color when decorating or cooking. The seven-minute frosting for her famous white layer cake received a few drops of red food coloring to achieve a rose color, and the recipe for this cake and frosting is included in the vignette about this beloved First Lady of Louisiana.

The vignette about Rose Long is among the many stories about the wives of Louisiana governors and their roles in the State's history featured in First Ladies of Louisiana. The book concludes with a vignette about Alice Foster, wife of former Governor Murphy J. Foster II and a talented First Lady who took on projects dealing with Breast Cancer Awareness, Shots for Tots, Louisiana Chapter of the Leukemia Society, and the Governor's Litter Eradication Program. She also spearheaded the establishment of the Louisiana Governor's Mansion Foundation, serving as president of its executive board.