National Poetry Month – Lisa Zerkle

Lisa is another founding co-editor of Kakalak, a Journal of Poetry and Art, and I met her when I first submitted. I was then fortunate enough to belong to the same poetry critique group with her for a few years.

Lisa is one of the most down-to-earth, relaxed women I’ve ever met. In all the years I’ve known her, I’ve rarely seen her without this beautiful smile.

Her poetry is just as genuine, conveying much in so few words. She often brings the world of science into her poems, noticing the beauty of the natural world around her. She shows us the tiny details that we might otherwise miss, making her lines and poems richer. And we, too, for having read them.

From Heart of the Light, published by Finishing Line Press, posted with the poet’s permission.

The Night the Moon Landed

I see it now, flung up in the night

the size of a quarter, maybe a nickel.


Those summer evenings we played late

until street lights hummed on,

until constellations of fireflies lit our lawns,

live stars caught in our hands. My friend

Mindy, thin as a twig, the best

runner. We ran in utter yes. Without

a pebble of doubt, we ran

towards that glow at the end of the road.

Not the familiar man’s face

full of dull surprise, but craters

close enough to touch. We knew

it was possible for mankind

to walk on the moon. One small

step at a time. Our flip-flops flapped

and someone laughed – a man, some dad.

You can’t, he said, you couldn’t, you shouldn’t

even try.


We ran one block, maybe two,

our shoes soon heavy as lead-lined boots.

Last I remember, we were breathless

in the dark, the moon bright before us. Fools

for the celestial illusion.


Making Time

Is it soup, the slow

meld of flavor into flavor?

Melt butter you churn

from a cow you milk.

Dice onion you grow

from seed. Simmer.


Or a recipe from Julie Child

longer than her 22 pages

devoted to French bread.

Measure flour by sundial, butter

by tree rings, and salt by the jeweled

gears of an antique Swiss watch.


Patient handcraft might be closer,

a life-size cross stitch of Times Square.

Knitting lace. Inking illuminated

texts. The chink of copper chisel

on Giza’s capstone in the quarry.


Ask the Hittites, the Mayans, Olduvai man

creeping out from the Gorge. Ask the spiders

for centuries of silvered silk. Ask the whales

after they lose their legs. Or the snakes

before they gain them.


Find the steps in stilled liquid.

Arctic ice cores. Ambered pine

sap. In the curve of a river-carved canyon.

Carbon aged into diamond. Or

stalagmites stacked by the steady

drip of minerals.


If I could whip up a batch of lumpy

moments, I’d share this sweet

present with you. Trace

together the singular plunge

of comet through cosmos.


Like a Ship in a Bottle

A ship in a bottle

is a real ship although not

one fit for life at sea.

Unmoored from any harbor,

it sits unmoved

by currents, removed

from news of life outside.


No trades

fresh from foreign shores

or drunken compatriots

to help weather the storms.

No gulls plead

overhead, their cries

dulled by glass walls.


There is only this dust

obscured horizon,

this airless enclosure.

There is only

the bottle, the bottle,


the bottle collecting,

as one might coins

from travels, dust that falls

like parched rain.


And somehow Lisa and I didn’t connect on her answers to my questions! I’ll post them  later.



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National Poetry Month – Kathie Giorgio

I met Kathie just a few years ago when she gave a workshop sponsored by Main Street Rag Publishing. We became friends and she asked me to blurb her book! That was the first time I read her poems and I found them to have a raw, honest quality that I admire. I felt as if she were sitting there  telling these stories.

Kathie lives in Waukesha,Wisconsin and that sense of place influences much of her poetry. She writes about SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and the harshness of Wisconsin winters. She hints at her own vulnerabilities but the reader also hears the presence of Midwest strength and humor.

From True Light Falls in Many Forms, published by Main Street Rag Publishing, posted with the poet’s permission.



During the week that I turn 49

I am surrounded by five frilly girls

4 with L-full names and one odd duck

Callie, Kelly, Lily, Alyssa

And Hunter.

3 are 14

2 are 13

I am surrounded by 10 oblivious breasts

5 sing-song voices

Lacy long hair and

a million expectations.

Their eyes are misty

and mine are too.

I remember this.

Giddy trust.

Absolute faith.

Open hearts.

And an underlying vein of anger at all

that is unfair.

I remember and I wonder.

When did my mist turn pearl

instead of purple and pink and

polka dots with zebra stripes?

Trust? Please.

Faith? Not hardly.

Heart? Still beating.

And an underlying vein of joy that I rarely

admit to.

But I still remember.

And on Wednesday, when I turn 49

I will work at remembering harder.



The air should shatter in riptide cracks

then fall to the parking lot in knives of ice

and murderous winter.


The sun is Winter’s falsehood.


In the truck I put on my sunglasses.

They last on my face for two seconds before

I rip them off and throw them. They ricochet

from the passenger side window and land on my

daughter’s lap. She looks at me.


“Cold,” I say. “Surprised me.”


Where do we see sunglasses?

In ads for Summer.

Blondes on the beach.

Men at cabana bars.


In Wisconsin, we need sunglasses in


The snow robs us blind.

Turns everything x-ray.


I remember buying the sunglasses.

The lady at LensCrafters gushed, “OH! Your

first pair of Chanels?”

I didn’t even know I’d chosen Coco.

It was my first pair of prescription sunglasses.

I corrected my answer, pre-spoken, from

“Uh jest wunted perscripshun’n’they were kwet,”

To “Yes! And aren’t they just DARLING?”

complete with the handhold to the side of my face.


I swear my eyelashes batted new curls

my fingernails ovaled and deep-pinked

and make-up sprouted from my pores.


I bought the sunglasses in summertime.

They are glitterpink, with two back to back

C’s in sparkle on the stems. It’s a neat design.

I didn’t know it meant Coco Chanel. I thought

she was a perfume.


Coco rode my nose all summer, my face

upturned to take in the sun.

simmerheat flowing in a fresh-air automobile.


The sun is Summer’s guarantee.


And now, Coco shivers in my daughter’s lap

as I squint my way down St. Paul Ave.,

driving into a blinding x-ray.

“Hot Coco,” I say. “She needs to be Hot Coco.”

My daughter looks at me.


When I get home, I will bring Coco inside.

She will perch on my nose and we will find

Summer in sad lights.

And a desktop heater.


With the Top Down

(Say Goodbye To SAD Lights!)

Blur of greening trees and marble sky

the brown of the river twining like the chosen

fork in that Frost poem. No frost here.

The sun is a bath of light that

leaves me reeling.




The air is snap-ribbon

glistening in the sudden upshots of



I am driving topless.


In the jungle, animals gather at the

waterhole, dip their heads down, drink

in the wet. Take it in.

Oh, deep Satisfy.


In the car, I gather myself together

after a too-long winter.

Raise my face up, drink

the yellow heat. That drenching light.

Take it in.

Oh yeah, baby.

Deep Satisfy.


Kathie answers my questions ~

I was in the fifth grade. I don’t remember too much about it – I know it had a moon in it. I think it was about being alone.

It would be a cup of coffee in one hand and a glass of white wine in the other. And I would be with Ellen Kort, Wisconsin’s first poet laureate, who passed away two years ago in April. She was a great friend who influenced not only my poetry, but my fiction, as well, and also the way I teach. I miss her dearly.


Kathie’s photo by Ron Wimmer of Wimmer Photography




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National Poetry Month – Dee Stribling

Dee is one of my Mountain Sister Poets. We met four years ago at Table Rock Writers Workshop when we both took the poetry workshop with Joseph Bathanti. There were only four of us in the class and the bond we four women formed– and still have – was immediate, and can only be described as familial. It was as if we always knew each other.

Dee regularly travels to Taos, New Mexico, and the Spirit of that place is found in her poetry. She has a connection with the Native Americans and her own Appalachian ancestry that allows for visions of animal totems and a deep pull to the land – whether that land is in the mountains or on the coast. Many of Dee’s poems read like prayers, one senses a gathering of ancients. Others reflect her zeal for life and I wish you could hear the joy in her voice when she reads them.

From Appalachian Picture Book, published by Finishing Line Press, posted with the poet’s permission.

Attic Window

What to see behind the door

dark shadows flow on forest floor.


Cedars bend in winter’s wind

footsteps vanish as they begin.


Snow arrives swirling round

branches move without a sound.


Like ivory keys they wait in place

their music silenced without a trace.


Little child with grandma’s touch

opens the door to see so much


But only a single sagebrush cane

clings to frozen windowpane.


White bear moves as cedars fall

she-wolf sends out a plaintive call


For innocence to come and play

outside on this snow-darkened day.


They step outside, grandma and child

while animals circle slow and wild.


Yellow eyes glint with frozen light

snow blanket muffles sounds and fright.


Winter wind blows cold and free

building drifts so no one can see


Old woman, child, and spirit friends,

have visited and vanished, once again.



The black panther ran between

the shed and chicken coop.

One fluid motion two feet down

and two up moving in one strong

stride, low to the ground.

Things too small to be food

were unaware of her dark form passing

overhead. She moved past so quick

I almost had no idea what I’d just seen.

But the crows knew and fell silent.

Hounds in their pens made no sound.

She took the breath away

from every one of us.

She ran down and then up a ridge.

Somehow she simply disappeared,

leaving only silence waiting

to find air.



“I’m gonna show you how to DRIVE.

How to slam it down through the gears,

taking that Hurst shifter where it wants

to go an’ where you ain’t never been.

Just like when I ran ‘shine for my Uncle.

He filled up that trunk tank and then put

me and two cinder blocks in the front so

the Law couldn’t tell anything was

pushin’ that back end down too low.”


The white Barracuda sat shining.

Just washed, water beads rolling down

the side, sliding over chrome trim,

catching on a port-o-wall before landing

on Level Cross dirt. Home of Gods; a

family dynasty carried on from Lee

to Richard, to insanely beautiful

trophies and lavender fur toilet seats.


The driver’s side door opened.

“Put it in first, then rev it up and pop the clutch.

All at once, do it.” I did. I floored it and laid

rubber all the way through second gear

into third. Holding her sideways into a turn

we slid onto a dirt road. Heaven.


The road dust turned the white car brown

while the intake sucked pure country air into

the turbocharged big block Hemi slamming

it and gas through eight chambered pistons

until that throaty sexy sound poured out

of the most beautiful glass pack mufflers

ever heard in Randolph county.


I was DRIVING. I was braking into turns

like you do when you hold the left brake

on a tractor to spin it round. I spun that

Barracuda into donut after donut and my

uncle had the biggest shit-faced grin

I’d ever seen when he said, “damn girl

you can DRIVE!”


My first poem – the first one I can remember writing was as a freshman in high school – I’d been stuffing my head full of Alan Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Stephen Spender. I still have it and find it passionate but incomprehensible (I’m sure it made sense to my raging teenage brain…)

Who would I lift a shot of darn good bourbon to? Maya Angelou, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Lord Byron, and each one of my beloved poet clan.


Dee’s photo by Dea Zullo

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National Poetry Month – Diana Pinckney

When I started getting serious about writing poetry, there were three poets I thought of as the Grand Ladies of Charlotte Poets. I was in awe of their work, their presence, and how they supported the writing community. Diana Pinckney was one of them. (Irene Blair Honeycutt was another). When I gathered all my books to organize what is now referred to as a poetry quilt, I noticed I bought my first Diana Pinckney book, White Linen, in 1999. I’ve been a fan for a long time.

Reading Diana’s collections is like a mini workshop. One of the greatest take-aways is not being fearful. Diana is a beautiful, elegant, graceful Southern woman, but that in no way means a lack of strength. That strength is evident in her poems – in the topics she writes about, how she approaches them, by the language she uses. There’s also the fun, imaginative side as she creates a delightful, soulful world with mermaids in Green Daughters.

From White Linen, published by Nightshade Press, posted with the poet’s permission.

Polio Summer

In June we played statues and lay on the damp grass

the way we fell, the way friends wilted

and dropped that summer.

By July, our mothers had pulled the shades –

no movies, no Kick the Can.

Bats and balls in closets, pools closed.

Come to Kentucky, my aunt invited. I traveled


alone in my berth,

sitting up to watch three states

blink through the night. Flatlands faded

into morning where Aunt Jennette waited

on the wooden platform. Ash and cinders left behind,

I raced dogs across a lawn so fresh it stained

my sandals. Afternoons, the pony pulled the cart,


stopping to let us rake

blackberries from their thorny nests.

Once we visited Man O’ War; the champion

clomped slowly out of his stall. Sway-backed

and dull-coated, he lit the eyes of the trainer

who told of Derby days, the world screaming

the stallion on, his chestnut legs churning


toward blue streamers they hung around his neck.

Each week a long shiny car, its fenders

sprouting wings, took us to town to buy legless dolls

that hid other dolls under their skirts

made by mountain women selling quilts

with designs like the stars they lived so near.

The stars I ran under those summer evenings,

legs and lungs pumping,

my bare feet crushing clover

that must have been thick with four leaves.

I hardly thought of friends

I would see in September, those blond twins

at school that everyone would now

be able to tell apart.


From Green Daughters, published by Lorimer Press, posted with the poet’s permission.

Little Girl on the Shore

“Red is the color of magic in every country.” ~ W.B. Yeats

bye bye ocean and conk

in your curly shell   bye


pretty lady who

swims like my Barbie without


a suit     my brother says I

just dog paddle     I like the red


cap the lady twirls sometimes

sitting on a rock


in the inlet     she splashed across

to my drip castle where Daddy


fished     she said I could swim if

I wore her red cap     my


brother laughed about

the water lady and told


Mommy I was making stuff

up again     the lady who smells


like rain and shells is my secret

friend     Mommy doesn’t like


fish tails and makes Daddy

leave them on the beach     the lady


has the most

beautiful tail ever with water


sparkles grown-ups can’t

see     actually they don’t


see lots of things.


From Alchemy, published by Main Street Rag Publishing, posted with the poet’s permission.

Blue Heat

Winter was not done with us

the year the furnace burned out.

My father shoveled and stoked,

hauled no telling how many lumps of coal

to the living room hearth, blue heat

circling us like a happy family.


When he said, We can’t afford

a new furnace, my mother’s glare singed

the air for days. Curled under blankets,

Grandmother’s quilts, any wool thing,

we took comfort from the dark sun

of my father’s voice as he read to us


by the fire and my mother’s refusal to huddle

or bundle. The ashes grew, gray mounds

consuming the cinders of a long damp March,

Mother promising, You’ll be warmer tomorrow,


as if she could dig spring from the earth

the way her hands had worked the soil

in late fall, planting white marble bulbs

soon to torch purple and yellow

on the table. Though nothing changed

the weather in that house.


From The Beast and The Innocent, published by Futurecycle Press, posted with the poet’s permission.

Gray Wolf to Dog

I passed you, cousin, chained

by your dry bowl, when I trotted my starved

body to the edge of town. Down

on the banks of the river, nothing leapt

from shallow rocks,

no fat heads with soft eyes, not one


flapping silver tail to move mine. Nothing

but light and shade shimmering

in September’s heat. Not one cloud

pulled the red fish here. Not one drop

for the creek bed. No salmon

and only berries for the bear. You, dog,

never rolled in the dark


snows of tundra, never knew

the secrets of cedars. You, who whined

for scraps and dodged their sticks,

are free. And when they come home

with the crimson sun,

their pockets and pails empty,


they will find strings of fur, curls

of white tinged with pink at the end

of a chain. Because of you, I live

another day to follow the wood’s

scented trails, to run

under the shadow of the owl.


‘Polio Summer’ was previously published in Cream City Review; ‘Blue Heat’ was previously published in Sow’s Ear Poetry Review; ‘Gray Wolf to Dog’ was previously published in Thin Air

 Diana’s answers to my questions~

I really don’t know how old I was when I wrote my first poem, but I do remember writing songs and making up songs and dance routines as an early age. I was a child of the 40’s and 50’s and spent many an afternoon in theaters, watching musicals.

I have given some thought to different poets and I keep coming back to Elizabeth Bishop. And it might be prudent if I lifted a cup of coffee with her since she had bouts of alcoholism. But she was well-known to be reserved, shy, so it might be more enlightening and, not to mention, fun to lift a glass of wine with her. Whatever, I have so many questions to ask her about her amazing and wonderful poems. Not when she wrote or how she wrote, but questions about certain of my favorite poems.

Diana’s photo by Gay Pender


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National Poetry Month – Jonathan Rice

Jonathan is one of the first local poets I met almost twenty years ago, at the same Cathy Smith Bowers reading where I also met Karon Luddy. We’ve stayed in touch and remained good friends since. We were part of the same critique group for several years, eventually drifting on to other things. Jonathan’s ‘other thing’ was to start a poetry journal, Iodine Poetry Journal. For seventeen years Jonathan published poets from all over the world, and many of the journal’s covers were his original paintings.

Reading Jonathan’s poems, one feels like you’re walking alongside him as he turns every day, mundane happenings and events into something new, while he says, ‘Hey look at this!’ Through his poetry he elevates the blue-collar worker, makes political commentary with humorous or philosophical undertones, and reminds us of the beauty we’re missing if we don’t spend time out in nature.

From Killing Time, published by Main Street Rag Publishing, posted with the poet’s permission.


The orange diamond-shaped sign

reads “Litter Pickup.”


Guys in orange jumpsuits

with “Inmate” on their backs


drag orange trash bags

down the side of the road.


Two deputies in orange

vests over uniforms


carry shotguns as they walk

with the inmates and scrutinize


the garbage they pick up in their

selective search for litter.


I like how the orange makes all things

appear equal.


Cardboard Drum

Young man at the curb

by the grocery store

squats to play a cardboard box,


taps out rhythms

with his nimble hands

hopes for spare change,

maybe a dollar or two.


His audience slows down

for the traffic light.

A driver waves a buck.


He darts between cars,

grabs his money,

thanks the man loudly

and returns to his spot.


There is praise in his voice,

promise in his cadence,

the beat of his cardboard drum.


Morning Walk

Mallards glide

through the woods,

almost unnoticed

as I walk the trail,


it’s almost spring

but winter’s chill

lingers through

the morning fog


that will lift by

noon. A fallen

branch lies like an

overturned canoe


at a bend in the trail

where a rabbit sits

motionless. I slow

my walk so I don’t


startle him and I

wonder what it

would be like

to be that small


in a forest, how

it would all seem

so endless to explore

the ever-changing



every tree limb that

fell, every new plant

that sprang up,


the forest clutter,

the sun and shadows,

rivulets and rain puddles,

every morning


a patch of something new.


‘Morning Walk’ was previously published in Dead Mule School of Southern Literature

Jonathan’s answers to my questions ~

I’m not sure how old I was when I wrote my first poem. My mom used to read me poems by Robert Louis Stevenson when I was a kid, so I probably attempted to write something like he would. But I became more focused on writing poetry when I was around 12 or 13 in the seventh grade and I’m sure it was probably about my love for a girl who lived down the block from me. Who would I like to drink with? That’s a tough one. Carl Sandburg immediately came to mind. I thought of others, but I’ll stick with Sandburg.

Jonathan co-hosts two monthly poetry readings and open mics. The Third Friday Reading Series at The Third Place in Charlotte, 7:00, with M. Scott Douglass – who will be featured later this month. And the Waterbean Poetry Night at the Mic at Waterbean Coffee in Huntersville, the 4th Wednesday at 7:00, with Leslie Rupracht – who was featured here a day ago.

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National Poetry Month – Mary Oliver

[20080106 (LA/R10) — SHARED: Poet Mary Oliver, near her home on Cape Cod, has put together a book of photographs by her late partner, Molly Malone Cook. — PHOTOGRAPHER: Josh Reynolds††For The Times

No, I don’t know Mary Oliver personally, and unlike Patricia Smith, I’ve never heard Mary Oliver read in person. But I love her poetry. So since I asked all the guest poets whom they would want to raise a glass and share a conversation with, I’m adding one of mine.

I believe she would have much to teach me about quieting the noise and ‘to do’ in my head, how to go beyond observing and really seeing.

I don’t see that visit ever happening.

So instead I will take her with me out to my deck – in her books of poetry – and begin to listen. Here is Mary Oliver reading one of my favorites, Wild Geese.

And as I type this, wild geese are honking their way across the night sky.



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National Poetry Month – Leslie M. Rupracht

In all the years I’ve known Leslie, this is probably the expression I most often see. She has an almost zen-like calmness about her. When we see and greet each other with a hug, there’s an immediate sense of peace. Yet she has this deep, expressive passion for the causes she cares about – the environment, politics, women’s rights – and her poetry covers all of that. And of course she’s passionate about the people she loves. Oh, and her rescue pit bull, Leeloo.

Her collection, Splintered Memories, is a moving tribute to her mom, but also the love between her parents. In Leslie’s own remembering, she reminds us of the importance of memories, and the fragility of memory itself. There is a longing for the mom who is no longer there, even before her mother passes away.

From Splintered Memories, published by Main Street Rag Publishing, posted with the poet’s permission.

 Going Away

She told him:

I’m a little crazy

an attempt to justify earlier

actions she couldn’t explain


It made him weepy

and gnawed at him that she

might actually believe

it was true


He assured her:

You’re not crazy, Honey

but she had no recollection of context

nor cause to appreciate his gesture


She calmly resumed her mission

of planning, piling, gathering and sorting

odd objects to pack in her purse, and

when full, requested her suitcase


Honey, we’re not going anywhere

he told her – yet again – stifling frustration

behind patience and a gentle but firm tone

when she challenged him


She looked at him as if he was crazy –

Of course they were going somewhere, maybe

to Queens, maybe Holbrook, the places of her

past lives, or maybe that place in her mind


where everything made perfect sense

and she walked on her own in gardens

of fertile soil that unearthed only

logical blooms.


Splintered Wood

“Two-hundred boards,”

Mom always emphasized –

“I pulled old rusty nails, by hand, from

two-hundred boards!”


The boards were red, splintered, heavy,

seventy-eight years weather-worn –

once siding on the 1898 hay barn,


destined by Dad’s design to be

repurposed as interior paneling

and kitchen cupboard doors

in the house that Dad built.


I helped,”

Mom reminded all who’d listen –

I pulled the nails from

two-hundred boards.”


Life Sentence

When the anti-gods of ailing

were doling out disease,

what made them choose

to give you so many?


You never deserved your lot.

Your list is long, but on it,

no cancer – you always said


I don’t do cancer. But maybe

a short course of breast cancer,

or something experts could

catch in time to cure . . . maybe

it would be worth the pain, hair


loss and fear just to know

that the demon – not you –

would soon pass.


But your curses are chronic,

progressive and unremitting.

I’d swiftly give up my left tit

to see you whole again.


This isn’t noble on my part,

it’s sheer selfishness.

I want my mother back.


Leslie’s answers to my questions ~

I’ve probably cast out of memory the earliest efforts, but two poems come to mind. One was about counting raindrops; the other was a haiku about a woven basket, which my mother wrote out in calligraphy on a construction paper basket I wove in class. I recall she volunteered to do that for all the kids in my class, and everyone’s haiku were displayed for parent/teacher night. I was ten or eleven years old, and don’t remember which poem was first.

That’s a tough question given all the greats who have left us, and the amazing poets still working hard at their craft today. At this moment, I’m inclined to say Okla Elliott, who just passed away unexpectedly on March 19. Ten years my junior, he had me in awe of his brilliance. I’d just like to hug him one more time, thank him for his contributions to the literary world, his brain engaging Facebook posts, his wit, and for passionately caring about the betterment of humanity. And, I’d say a proper goodbye with glass raised to a poet friend gone too soon.

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