I heard Roberta before I actually met her. For the past several years I’ve attended Table Rock Writers, a workshop in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. Also there during the week is a group of musicians, So-La-Ti-Do. Roberta is one of these amazing musicians. Each day they are given a prompt and they write both the lyrics and the music for a song based on the prompt. By Thursday evening we are treated to a concert of this new, original music. Roberta also plays guitar, sings and writes music for the Kentucky women’s trio, Raison D’Etre, and is a member of a drumming circle. It’s no wonder her poems are lyrical.
And I would add storyteller to words that describe Roberta, a reflection of her rural Kentucky roots. Roberta’s poems have the humor or drama, attention to detail, and pacing of a good Southern story. Whether she’s singing, reciting a poem, or just talking with you, her eyes and smile express the joy she seems to always carry in her heart.
From Outposts on the Border of Longing, published by Finishing Line Press, posted with the poet’s permission.
The ranch house was painted pink
when he bought it with the VA loan.
Little outpost in a wilderness
of thick green.
Tangles of tawny wheat grass
buried our chiggered knees.
Green snakes hung from the hickory limb
flicking tongues too near our ears.
Black snakes raced into the wild roses
escaping the angry mower.
Hognose snakes pretended to die
in the middle of the two rut road.
With each new species, Violet screamed.
With each new scream, Rosanne echoed.
I found the machete Daddy brought from the South Pacific
and hacked my way to a vacant shed.
Maybe this was like Africa in the National G’s.
Maybe we were missionaries.
The world came to my mailbox
once a month in a plain brown wrapper.
Golden yellow border surrounding –
as often as not – azure sea or sky.
Snowcapped mountains or Serengeti
A treat for most of the senses.
The eyes of course.
But to touch that lacquered surface
or to smell the Arctic slickness of
the pages demanded a reverence
from our smudge-making
We knew without being told
that children caught defacing
these slim volumes
would surely burn in hell.
We were cursed
with the only navy blue bedroom
I had ever seen.
My friends had pastels, or
at the very least, wallpaper.
“You are lucky to have clothes
on your back,” said my never
sympathetic mother who also
could not see why I might need
photos of my dolls in my wallet.
Once I discovered the map issues,
Canada went up first,
sprawling its great plains between the window
and the top of my Hollywood bed.
Next, Norway’s spoon dipped
over the wall to the right.
The South American continent silenced
the whines from the bunk bed.
My sisters were soon plotting where
they wanted to place the next colorful square
when the Solar System issue came out.
Since I had convinced them that
they were not from around here
anyway, they gladly embraced
their beautifully illustrated homes,
How easy it would be now
to buy glow in the dark
stars at the dollar store
and make that little
dark room the Universe.
But all we had were maps.
So, for a few sweet years,
the world came to us
in pieces like
a patchwork quilt.
Every year the seniors at
Dixie Heights High School
line up their cars
in the front parking lot
after the last graduation practice
for the Senior Lap.
Edgewood Police stop
traffic on US 127
for this rite of passage while
screaming 17 and 18 year olds
rev engines, honk horns and
circle their pageant past
the high school entrance
onto Dixie Highway and back.
Underclassmen sprout out windows
Their arms escape in
tendrils of tribute.
Teachers, too, line up
on the steps to witness
this once-a-year spectacle,
shouting names, hooting,
celebrating the cycle.
One year Justin Beale
called to me from the
backseat of a red four-door,
“Schultz, get in!”
I could leave, I thought.
I could finally go.
It was the first time
that thought became word.
My principal saw my eyes and said,
“Oh, no you don’t.”
The back door opened and
I fell into the howling pack
of seniors laughing so hard
they were hugging their knees.
With a roar we peeled onto
Dixie Highway for one
revolution of the parade,
then back to my fellow teachers.
A new creature crawled out
of that back seat on
Roberta’s answers to my questions ~
I wrote my first poem in the 7th grade when Miss Gosney told us to close our grammar books and notice the beauty of the snow falling outside. I had been writing songs for years—making up tunes to imports and exports so that I could memorize them easily. Making up tunes to poems I found in books—like “The Only Son” in the Mowgli stories of Kipling. But I had never thought of words as the primary mode of expression. Miss Gosney asked to “publish” my snow poem in her notebook which only made me want to write more poetry.
I’d love to have coffee with Natalie Diaz.