poetry

autumn leaves in florida

I wandered through the forest

Gathering fall-colored leaves.

Shannon, my granddaughter, needed them for show-and-tell.

She lives in Florida and leaves don’t turn

Russet and gold and orange and red down there.

But up in Carolina (what Shannon calls my home) those colors abound.

So my daughter and I gathered the leaves.

When I sent the box,

It was like mailing air.

Those leaves adorned bulletin boards –

North Carolina leaves for Florida children.

–Jenny Munro

pretty please

by: carolyn c. rice

 

he said my hair was
the color of honey.
his lay in soft
shiny-black commas behind
his ears against
the smooth, brown skin of his neck.

I looked into his
dark eyes, a little tilted,
like Pan.
he said, careful
fingers unbuttoning the top two
buttons of my blouse,
may I see?

so polite.
so unassuming.
who could say no?

 

“Pretty Please” first appeared in The Petigru Review.

strawberry pleasures

by: carolyn c. rice


Skin heating

Noon’s caress
Hands busy, leaves
haired, thick springing
Fingers stalk kneading
teasing top ruddy glowing

Mouth filled – flesh,
juice overflowing
Nectarous
Stinging kisses, touched,
releasing perfume –
earthy balm

 

“Strawberry Pleasures” first appeared in Horizons.

 

peacock display

by: carolyn c. rice

 

lift and fan
fluff and smooth
brush brush brush
artlessly proud
humorously vain

red changing to green –
one last preen and
satisfied glance at his
hair in his rearview mirror
before driving away

“Peacock Display” first appeared in Horizons.

lost

by: carolyn c. rice


It’s been too long since I’ve been lost.
I don’t mean the common or mall variety of lost,
though I do that too.
I don’t mean the scary nighttime Oh my God I’m running out of gas kind of lost,
though I do that too.
I don’t even mean the middle of the night in my own house lost.
No, I mean a full of myself lost,
a secret mischief lost,
an I can do anything hide and watch me lost.
Myself, lost and found.

I mean the kind of lost I was in New York City on foot
when I went out the wrong exit of the Museum of Modern Art,
wandered clueless as a cloud, and ran right smack dab into a Shoe Museum.
A SHOE museum!
Fifteenth Century Venetian noblewoman’s shoes,
medieval peasant clogs,
Judy Garland’s Wizard of Oz slipper.
You could have a fit a shoe in my smile.

I drove down to New Orleans for the King Tut exhibit.
I got lost.
Round and round humid, shady streets,
past wrought-iron balconies and bougainvillea,
back and forth on the bridge over Lake Ponchartrain,
until the warm wet air blowing in my car window,
spicy as Cajun sausage,
smelling of mildew, oil refineries, and heated swamp,
became familiar again,
scents of childhood.

I flew to Holland for my sister’s wedding.
After the wedding I took a train to Amsterdam.
I ended up in The Hague.
I met three college students
who took me to the Madurodam,
through village streets no wider than my shoe,
by church steeples no high than my knee,
alongside a solemn procession of altar boys, Lilliputians.

On the island of Hydra in the Saronic Gulf off the cost of Greece,
only a few steeply-climbing streets and one long dusty road.
I got lost anyway.
Flame-blue sky pressing the noonday heat onto the white stone walls.
Houses, their bright-painted windows tight-shuttered,
keeping out the sun and strangers.
I followed a dog
to the fish market.
Bins of squid, lobster, shrimp,
pans of whole anchovies,
pushcart grill, man cooking octopus,
tiny tables filled with men drinking ouzo
who helped me get back to the ship.

My straight-arrow cousin from Texas came to visit me.
I took her to Asheville, and, of course,
I got lost.
She was outraged.
She needed guidebooks, compass, maps,
paper security,
blue and red lines weaving a safety net,
pathfinders to follow down a narrow, hard-paved road.
She was so angry that I let her drive my new car.
She drove it backwards down a freeway entry ramp.

I do use guidebooks to plan my treks,
each historic site safe recorded on my written plan.
But … I turn the wrong way at a corner.
I see an alleyway, a gate, a door.
I find an old woman sitting on her doorstep making lace,
her gnarled fingers moving swift as swallows’ flight.
Her wise old eyes nested in wrinkles watch me watching her.
Spindles, stacks of slender pylons, frame her lap.
Wings of fine threads, secured to a solid body of pins
on a runway of red and blue cloth.
Above, clouds, constellations of lace.

One day soon I will find myself again
wandering
down an unexplored street, driving
along an unknown highway, a sojourner
beneath unfamiliar skies, a striver struggling
up a steep hill and across the wide ocean,
even in and around my own home place, an explorer.
Somewhere in this strange and magical universe,
I will be lost again.

 

“Lost” first appeared in Earth’s Daughters.

defining box

by: carolyn c. rice

his father painted the nursery walls
pouring the paint back and forth between two containers to mix it,
dreaming of the six spaces on a baseball diamond where a batter,
the coaches, the pitcher, and the catcher stand,
dreaming of him – striding onto the field, ear deep in hysterical adulation,

except that birthdays came and went
unbatted and ungloved, not even a hope of a home run.
on his fourteenth birthday he clamored for
a guitar, a lipstick-red Rickenbacker as seen on TV –
himself the androgynous wild man on the stage,
adored by hundreds and hundreds of screaming girls.

for Christmas his grandmother gave him an acoustic guitar, which
she said was less destructive to the hearing, and at her house,
after all the turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce and pies,
he unearthed an old record player and some records, among them
a few dusty 78 rpms, miraculously unbroken,
that Grandma said had belonged to her father, and he heard

for the first time
the stuttering guitar and melancholy yowls of
Blind Lemon Jefferson performing Black Snake Moan.
next came Robert Johnson playing slip-sliding chords as thin as
a knife blade, his voice sharper than the broken neck of a whiskey bottle.
Son House, Lonnie Johnson – he played them, all of them, over and over.
he had discovered the blues.

he refused to go to college, instead
working temporary jobs here and there, becoming
an inadvertent expert at topiary – trimming and training shrubs into
dryads and dragons, unicorns and umbrellas.
in summer he drove a carriage all over Charleston,
posing on the driver’s seat for tourists.

he took up travelling over the years, naming
the 32 points of the compass in their order,
his guitar his only companion –
chasing the blues while
his parents’ anniversaries and his
grandmother’s funeral were held without him.

he came at last to his end in an old theater, expiring in
one of the small compartments for spectators, and was moved to
an even smaller compartment under the ground –
just big enough for himself, his guitar – and the blues.

 

“Defining Box” first appeared in SCWW’s Quill.

the season

Note: This was written nearly a year ago, shortly after the Sandy Hook school massacre. It’s been a year, but those families and others still feel the loss.—

 

The lights are strung.

The bells are ringing.

The presents – most of them – are wrapped.

Joy brings smiles and laughter, love and caring.

Then – 11 days before Christmas – the season ends.

A bitter, sad, embattled man uses a gun to bring others down.

At the end, 20 little kids and 6 adults became angels.

Christmas – the season – has ended.

Or has it?

Those angels were greeted by Jesus.

He hugged them and consoled them.

He promised he would be there for the families left behind.

He would wipe their tears and reassure them that their loved ones are safe.

Those families will cry on Christmas, but the Babe will be with them.

That tiny infant, who once lay in a manager, will remind them of the

Hope he gives to them and to the angels newly received in Heaven.

— Jenny Munro

she knows them all

Can you believe it? She knows them all.

All of what, you ask.

All of her school teachers, I reply.

Me – I remember the most important ones.

But not my mother – she remembers them all.

And she reels off the names.

They flow with little hesitation from her brain and mouth:

Hattie Earl and Tessie Stanton and Rita Galloway.

Then came Gladys Lucas and Mrs. Edwards and Mrs. Bethea.

They were followed by Ethel Lee.

By the time she reached high school, she talks about one teacher –

Elizabeth Covington, whom she adored,

Miss Covington  taught Latin and life lessons with equal abandon.

And she taught my mother to love education and respect

Those who taught it to others.

Eventually she followed in their footsteps, teaching students

Who still remember her name and lessons.

— Jenny Munro

covered dishes

by Traci Barr

It is said that true Southern hospitality
begins in the kitchen,
where you can find the makings
of a covered dish
or a cast iron skillet filled with corn pone
or a heaping of poke sallet,
poisonous until cooked,
Geechee red peas, sweet tea,
barbecue and Frogmore stew, too;
a little okra or gumbo,
some grits for good measure –
perhaps for a family picnic or a church social,
attended by true Southern gentlemen
and their antebellum lady guests.
 
Is there enough for everyone at mealtime?
Of course there is…
this is the South,
a place that stands apart
more than any other in America,
a place of moonlight and magnolias and manners;
a place of live oaks and Spanish moss;
a place with a history of plantations, Textile League baseball,
bo weevils, King Cotton and cotton mills,
buildings where work was done that mattered to folks;
buildings where cloth was once cranked out by the country mile;
buildings that now provide trendy, loft-style living
for the presumably trendy newcomers
who can afford to occupy them.
 
I am an outsider and take an emic approach to the South itself.
From the many fields of bletted, landrace Carolina Gold;
to the Low Country, flavored with a little Gullah terroir;
to the Upstate’s peach orchards, all sticky and sweet;
the stories of the South are told in its food.
I would go so far as to say that Southern cooking
is the mother cuisine of this country.
But, as I sip that last drop of savory potlikker
left behind in a vessel of braised collard greens,
I sometimes wonder what really goes on down here,
below the Mason-Dixon.
 
Because, while you are taking a bite,
dainty as it is,
of that genteel pimento cheese spread,
which I have spent time making just for you,
you are thanking me and saying,
in the very same breath,
 
“Bless your heart.”
 
And I am not quite sure y’all
are necessarily wishing me well
when you say that to me.

 

verna

by Traci Barr

My grandmother, Verna,
was a true Southern belle,
worried what the neighbors would think,
exquisitely beautiful,
delicate, fragile, willful, vain.
 
My Lord, she had cotillions and corsages,
the vapors, gentleman callers,
the whole damn archetypal nine yards.
 
I imagine she bought her groceries
at the local Piggly Wiggly.
There wasn’t a Whole Foods to shop in –
not back then.
 
When I was little,
I called her long distance every Sunday,
just to hear her sweet Southern drawl.
I had a long list of favorite words
that I would ask her to repeat.
And then I, a budding cook, would beg her to tell me,
for probably the hundredth time,
the story of how hushpuppies got their name.
“Hush, puppy,” she would say, over and over again,
as she described how those little balls of fried cornmeal
were tossed to quell the yapping of hungry Confederate dogs.
 
Ever the paragon of Southern manners,
she always patiently obliged me.
 
Grandma often drank too much
and during the summertime,
when I would visit her in Kentucky,
a universe away from my home at the Jersey shore,
she would creep into the guest room at night where I slept,
wake me and tell me
I was the most beautiful little girl
in the whole wide world,
stroking my hair and slurring her words.
 
Of course,
because she was drunk,
and believing I was, in fact, the ugliest little girl
in the whole wide world,
I did not buy it for a single minute –
the evidence was so distinctly in my favor.
 
Grandma was very radiant and a touch crazy
and her vanity eventually got the best of her.
She faded and slipped further and further away,
refusing to allow even me, her favorite, to see her
when she became completely disfigured by illness.
But in my mind she remained
a true Southern belle to the very end.
 

she survived

“No! No! No!”

The voice sliced through her head –

A scream from a woman

Hearing her husband was dead.

She couldn’t go to the woman or help her

Because she was trying to absorb her own news

Her husband also lay dead – and he was the driver.

Tommy, that vital, fun-loving man, lived no more.

She took the news stoically,

Hiding her tears as a secret.

She was alone.

Friends gathered to support her –

Clean the house, cook food, call the children, help make arrangements.

Nobody could really help. It was so final.

Her husband was dead. Twenty-six years of marriage lay cold and still.

She was alone.

No – that wasn’t true.

She still had her children, a son and a daughter.

They arrived home and did their best to support her.

Their need for an anchor gave her life a new balance.

She got on with living. She cried, mostly alone.

She grieved. Her mind roared with anger, diving to the depths of despair.

Tommy was so young and he had so much to live for.

But she cared for her elderly mother, gaining purpose in life.

She taught, continuing to mold young minds.

The laughter came back. Tommy was still part of her life.

He lived through her thoughts and in family stories and pictures.

Grace was strong and not really alone.  Life was different, but it could be good.

She survived.

stained glass

The windows glow as the sun streams through.

The soft beauty of lapis lazuli, aventurine, emerald and amber

Sets my soul at peace.

Arches and diamonds adorn the stained glass windows

That send their colors across my mind,

Easing my fears and worries.

I look from the windows to the simple cross and the glowing candles

And know that I am home.

–Jenny Munro

 

 

Stained glass window
Stained glass window

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the typist

Tap, tap, tap.

That’s the sound I associate with my mother.

Her fingers flew over the typewriter, clicking the keys with authority.

She typed letters, short and long.

This typing professor handled manuscripts and reports and minutes, always minutes.

Concentrating, with her tongue caught between her teeth,

She set the margins just right.

While she could wield an eraser with vigor, it seldom was necessary.

She typed fast, but she also typed accurately.

Those clicking keys lulled me to sleep, made me curious, inspired me to work.

Yes – my mother could click those keys.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

– Jenny Munro

psalm of pain and hope

Oh Lord, why has thou forsaken me?

Oh my God, please hear my cry of pain and rescue me.

The talons of the wild beasts tear at my body as the pain grows

And never ceases.

I have not defiled your name or your temples.

I have done good in thy sight.

But you have left me. You do not hear my cries.

Is my pain a punishment for my deeds or my thoughts?

What do I do to reach you?

As I huddle under a blanket, nursing my pain, I hear the song of birds

And see the colors of the trees. I seek cool water to quench my thirst ere I faint.

Oh Lord, I feel thy spirit enfolding me as with a warm blanket.

God, thou has not forsaken me. Thou hast given me strength to endure until I come into your kingdom.

– Jenny Munro

Note: My mother is fighting severe and continuous pain as she ages. This is dedicated to her.

autumn

Autumn by Jenny Munro
Autumn by Jenny Munro

Autumn is a melancholy season

Or so the poets say.

I don’t agree.

It’s not a sad and somber time.

Fall is a gush of vivid color – red, yellow, orange and gold

Along with the differing hues of the evergreens that make their home

In my mountains – the pine, spruce, hemlock and rhododendron.

No, autumn isn’t the season of dying and death.

It’s a time when the trees and earth sink into sleep, their long winter’s nap.

That sleep strengthens the world; the seasons change and the earth awakes.

Rebirth surges with the vibrant new life, the fresh tenderness, of spring.

Autumn isn’t melancholy; it’s part of the dance of life.

– Jenny Munro