I introduce Irene today because this evening she’ll be honored at a literary festival she founded 25 years ago. That’s how I first heard of Irene, became aware of her love of poetry and her keen intuition about the literary world. Irene brought Anne Lamott to Charlotte before Anne Lamott was Anne. Lamott. Irene always seemed to know whose star was about to rise; she’d capture them and bring them to her festival at Central Piedmont Community College. Students and non-students were not only introduced to leading poets and writers, we heard their voices. We heard how poetry was supposed to sound.
Irene writes with that same sensitivity and awareness. Whether she’s writing about wolf tracks or her brothers’ deaths, Irene’s poetry reflects her deep connection to the world around her. It takes a certain willingness and ability to quiet oneself to see and absorb the sacred in everything, and Irene has mastered that. Her newest collection, Beneath the Bamboo Sky, was recently released through Main Street Rag Publishing.
From Waiting for the Trout to Speak, published by Novello Festival Press, posted with the poet’s permission.
Mama’s in the kitchen frying mullet
and boiling grits for supper. I’m sitting
on the sofa leaning into the lamp light,
embroidering by myself for the first time.
Mama pressed the wooden hoops
into place so there’s not a wrinkle anywhere.
I like the way the cloth fits tight as a toy drum.
Every now and then the silver thimble slips
off my finger when I try to push the needle
through the linen. I take tiny stitches,
small as ants. I’m embroidering a red flower
with yellow seeds at the center.
If it’s done right, Mama says when I finish
this piece she’ll let me work on a blue bird.
I’ve seen the pattern.
He’s singing on a tree limb,
so I’ll get to use lots of pretty threads.
I want her to be happy.
The neighbors say Mama’s work is the best.
When I grow up I’ll have scarves and pillow
cases just like the ones she makes for them
with pink roses climbing over the corners
and lace around the edges that looks like snow
Waiting for the Trout to Speak
A stone glints
like a fisheye
caught by the sun.
with the memory
of water, the sound
of it falling off boulders
and swirling around slabs
of granite, sliding off flat
rocks into hollow
beckoning pools. It’s
I keep fishing for
one that swims so deep
I can never cast far enough,
even in dreams.
I’ve glimpsed it sinking
behind my father’s gaze
when I stare at the photograph
of me on his knee
when I was two. The palm tree
at our backs seems to wave
good-bye . . . the way it did
when hurricanes swept
through in September
rushing my toy boats down the gutter.
Memory lost so far back
I can’t even recall when
the conversations stopped
in our house.
A swift current swallows
those shy attempts at words
my father sometimes made
on the screened porch after supper,
the smoke from his Lucky Strike
trailing off into the smouldering dark.
This summer I framed a snapshot
I took of him the year before he died.
He looks content there –
sitting in the row boat
shrouded in silence
beside the lily pads
waiting for the trout to speak.
From Before the Light Changes, published by Main Street Rag, posted with the poet’s permission.
The Absence That We Tend
is not the same as loss.
A separate room within our hearts,
like space between the stars –
not hollow emptiness –
this absence that expands.
When Cinderella wept
upon her mother’s grave,
the twig she’d planted there
flowered into a tree.
We cradle absence as
the darkness holds the moon
in place –
even when it’s hidden.
Eavesdropping at the Newsstand
Standing in an aisle
enjoying the luxury of browsing
through poetry books,
I’m distracted by a man’s
voice in the opposite aisle.
Trying not to be obvious,
I glance over the rack
and see his face glowering
at the child.
“Come on. If I get you that book,
it’s the last thing you get today.”
Then the faint murmur of the little
girl who wants the book.
He persists: “OK, if you get that book,
we’re not going to Toys R Us.
do you understand?”
By this time I’m frozen by the stacks,
pretending to read,
saddened that he’s pushing a toy,
instead of a book.
He turns to a woman.
She heads for the exit, but returns.
“He’s right,” she says.
“No Toys R Us if you buy the book.
Let’s go to Toys R Us.”
“No,” the voice almost a whisper.
“OK. Your decision,” he says.
“Put the book back. We’re going to Toys R Us.”
At this point I’m thinking: If she puts the book
back, I’ll offer to buy it for her . . .
“I want the book,” the little voice clearer now.
“OK,” the woman says, “Get the book
and let’s go home.”
I can see her now – the child in dreadlocks –
handing the book to the cashier.
Irene’s answer to my questions ~
- My brothers always kidded me about keeping a writing tablet on top of the china closet; I’d often interrupt play time and say, “I’ve got to go write something down.”
I don’t remember that; but I do remember writing on pastel colored tablets in my bamboo hut in the woods behind our house when I was a child. And I remember when I had my first poem published! Perhaps in 4th grade. Two little poems were published in the elementary school newspaper at Annie R. Morgan in Jacksonville Fl. I was so thrilled to see them in print. One was about money growing on trees! In the other poem, I was wondering about whether people lived on the moon and whether I would ever see them. Funny now how that triggers a memory of a dream I had in my adult life. I dreamed I was one of the citizens chosen for the first “passenger” flight to Mars – the sky and the clouds were so vivid in this dream.
2. I used to choose dead poets for questions like this one. At the moment, however, I’d choose to be sipping wine and eating cheese straws by a fireplace with Linda Pastan. I have followed and admired her poetry through the years, and the few times I’ve met her I’ve learned something valuable about the nature of poetry. She is so grounded and easy to be with that I’d feel very comfortable in the pleasure of her company.