Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Love and Less

Somewhere between Rolling Rocks
and morning light,
between neck and collar bone,
piecemeal tokens of
flowering purple affection,
touched lightly with a morning buzz
and your limp arm over
my wrinkled consciousness.

Somewhere between Sunday morning
and sausage biscuits,
the cashier at Hardee's
with a careful glance,
feigning apathetic eyes
over the rim of her thick glasses,
hands us our tray,
gives away what she really thinks
of missing buttons
and my lipstick collar,
concealing gleanings
of that glaucous night before.

We sit, wondering and knowing
in a window booth,
silently chewing the sobering direction.
Clarity advances
with each church-bell chime
from First Baptist down the street,
like a grandfather clock,
and our seconds together compete
against throbbing temples and
an almost soothing indifference,
telling us our time has been eaten
to tabletop crumbs.

I left you my phone number
and you left me no choice
but to leave you, back turned,
at the steps to your apartment.
Neither one of us knew
where it would go, or end,
from free beer and an invitation.
After a week of turning away,
my memories turn a lighter hue
in compliment with the
blood-shade bruises in the mirror.
You fade to pallid skin in my mind.

in The Broad River Review 35 (Spring 2003) 30.

Monday, April 23, 2007

I Love My Job (Sometimes)

I love my job, but sometimes it can suck the life out of me. I love to teach, but sometimes it is hard to be inspiring when I am faced with the uninspirable. Some teachers say they feel like they are throwing pearls before swine, or that teaching high school students these days is like polishing a turd -- no matter how you try to make it shine, you just get shit on you. Personally, I would like to give more credit to the teenagers of today, but sometimes it is hard. I remember having good teachers and not-so-good teachers, but I always found something in what I had to learn each day to take interest in. If I didn't, that is when I lost touch with what I should be learning, and my grades suffered as a result. Many teenagers today, as I see it, are so used to instant entertainment and instant gratification that they seem to not care about something if it means they have to put forth effort to pay attention. I'm sure some may think it is the teacher's job to be entertaining, but I could wear a clown suit and juggle dictionaries and students would still be unimpressed. For example, I read a poem the other day by James Dickey entitled "Cherrylog Road", about a man who waited in a rusty, kudzu-covered junkyard for his lover to meet him, that I was hoping they'd catch the sexual innuendo in the lines:

I held her and held her and held her
Convoyed at terrific speed
By the stalled, dreaming traffic around us
So the blacksnake, stiff
With inaction, curved back
Into life, and hunted the mouse

Since most of the time their conversations somehow revolved around sex, I was hoping to catch their interest, to give them something they could go, "Aha, I know what he's talking about there (wink, wink)!" Istead, I get the pat answer that I get almost every time, "I don't get it." I didn't even get a Beavis and Butt-head response of, "Uh, Huh, Huh. He said 'stiff'."

Maybe it's just me, that I'm an ineffectual teacher. I want students to use their brain and think about the meanings of stories and poems, but so many times I find all they want is for me to tell them what it means. They don't have the patience, don't care about the discovery, that Eureka moment when a story, a poem becomes their own because they make meaning of it on their own. Well, tomorrow's another day.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Yelling Into the Mouth of a Cave

waiting to arrive
back around
down into the cracks
where the limestone
yawns great gulps
of ancient air underground
previously accustomed
to drops whispering
from mineral tongues
touching kissing
for a thousand years
in darkness crystalline

in Appalachian Journal: A Regional Studies Review 33:3-4 (Spring/Summer 2006) 265.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Stoneman's Raid

It's official. I've been to my first Civil War reenactment. Like many people, I was skeptical at first, wondering if it would be historically accurate and legit or just a bunch of boys running around in confederate uniforms waving the stars and bars, pretending to shoot each other. Instead, I got an informative lesson in the history of my county. Stoneman's raid was a campaign lead by Union Calvary Commander, Major General George Stoneman. In the town of Morganton, NC, where I reside, this raid consisted mainly of burning records at the courthouse and plundering homes for staples, but they did encounter confederate troops, and a skirmish occured. That's about all I know, without offending some stoic Civil War buff with my inaccuracies.

I planned this outing with my whole family, but my wife didn't want to take our newborn son where loud cannons and muzzle loading rifle fire would scare him, so I took my four-year-old daughter. It was difficult explaining what we were going to see, but she got the idea. "Like the Dollywood shows where they pretend on stage, but it's outside?" She asked for confirmation. We didn't go for the full day's festivities, where they demonstrate how to cook over a campfire or how to pitch a Civil-War era tent, but got there just in time to watch the main show. The audience congregated on a hill overlooking farmland and pasture of the historic Bellevue Plantation. Men in blue uniforms emerged from a grove of trees and met some men in gray uniforms, and the shooting ensued. My daughter wasn't too impressed until a large cannon was wheeled onto the battlefield pulled by two horses. Before I could even warn her, she had her fingers in her ears. Boom!! Black powder smoke billowed in the breeze. "Who is the good guys and who are the bad guys?" A classic question she asks whenever we watch a movie together. I told her as diplomatically as I could that there wasn't a good or bad side, but that people from North Carolina would probably be in gray uniforms. Then I got to thinking, I wasn't sure which side I would be on. I definitely would not be pro-slavery, so donning a gray uniform would be out of the question. Most mountain farmers were too poor to afford slaves, anyway. However, I wouldn't want some Union battalion of troops ransacking my house and property for food and valuables, either. Did they have conscientious objectors back then? I wondered.

The outing wasn't complete without a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which my daughter ate like it was cotton candy. The only thing she didn't like about our father/daughter outing was that they didn't have a pink and purple horse with sparkles. I imagined Major General George Stoneman charging on his pink and purple sparkly horse. I told her I agreed. That would definitely have brought new meaning to the term "shock and awe!"

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Zen of Gardening

It’s that time of year to start preparing my garden for planting. When I was growing up, a garden was my mother’s way to get me out of the house. Gardening is still one of my favorite activities to do outside, something I also hope to pass on to my children. I’ve always wanted one of those monster gardens that you see in people’s yards, a half acre and pristinely kept with rows of every garden staple imaginable – corn, tomatoes, squash, okra, and beans. The first year my wife and I had a house with a yard I tried that, but found with a newborn daughter to take care of at the same time the task was too much, especially with the virulent weeds that seem to spring from nowhere. Then I came to realize that those folks that planted the half-acre garden were retired, thus explains the extra time they have to take care of them.
Before my daughter was old enough to walk, I had her out in the garden. I would let her pick cherry tomatoes and gnaw on them with her little half-grown front teeth. Last year I let her plant her own garden and pick the seeds at the hardware store. She chose yellow and red sunflowers and tomatoes. This year, at my wife’s request, I have scaled down my garden further to one patch of ground about 12 feet by 12 feet behind the woodshed, so that my time will not be divided between gardening and our newborn son. My daughter and I are sharing the spot, and have decided to plant nothing but tomatoes – the usual steak and cherry tomatoes, but also some heirloom varieties (one of them grows yellow with green stripes and another turns deep purple when ripe).
There are those moments when parents wonder if anything they are doing to raise their children is working. Then there are those Zen moments, when out of the blue your child does something right without being asked or given instructions. I brought my daughter outside today to help me pull weeds. I expected her to maybe pull a few weeds or scratch around with her red plastic toy rake. Instead, she began loading her little Radio Flyer wheel barrow up with piles of weeds I had previously pulled. “Where do I dump these, Daddy?” She asked. I pointed down to the edge of the woods, and from there she did the rest all herself. Occasionally she would say to me, “This is hard work,” as she hauled off another pile of weeds, but the smile on her face as she did it just filled me with more joy than if I had grown a whole produce market on my own.
Maybe one day she will think I’m old-fashioned, and my taste in music is out of date, and she will want to do everything opposite of what I taught her. But perhaps some things will stick, like the joy of getting your hands dirty, creating life from dirt, or just the enjoyment of doing something with her dad. As long as she likes tomatoes, maybe some things will remain.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007



After the wave of pain
rushes through your veins
and out your heavy hands
it is replaced by a feeling
more formal than
black suits and ties
or eulogies in cold blue skies
dirt as stiff as your heart’s
stubborn beat that questions
each day since century’s last week

Walking down
the stillness of the ground
and the air, the road skirting around
the bare-limbed hills
disregards the line of cars
or the growing field of granite stones
rows of mossy weathered scars

Time leads us by
the still hours when we remember
as frozen plastic flowers
become faded, outlived
recollect nothing of the sun’s glow
but only the visiting chill
of those who won’t let go

in The Broad River Review 35 (Spring 2003) 29.