Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, ed., Books and Culture. / New at patreon.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

At Cullowhee, The Throne of Psyche, Green Toad reading

A reading from The Throne of Psyche
(Mercer University Press)
7:00 p.m. Thursday May 26
The Green Toad Bookstore
198 Main St., Oneonta NY

* * *

Not pink shell azalea but rhododendron...
pink, though!
Picture by my mother, Cullowhee, May 2011.

This poem is one that was requested by a number of people at my recent reading at City Lights in Sylva, North Carolina. I went to high school in Cullowhee, and my mother still lives there. I remember writing this poem outside her house, seated by a wild pink shell azalea, its mound of branches in full bloom, with a few blossoms already dangling by their stames like intrepid ballerinas. In two directions I could see the blue ranges of the mountains. It was one of those moments where the soul appears to stream out of the body and hang, weightless and joyful, in the air.

The boy, the egg--that was a dim memory of a Russian poem that I have now forgotten, all but the boy emerging from the trees with the egg in his hand. My children were present, not close to me but wandering with my mother on the mountain-top.

There is a popular bumper sticker  in North Carolina that reads, If God is not a Tar Heel, why is the sky Carolina blue? That sort of sentiment is one I often heard expressed by elderly people when I was a child--that the mountains are a place closer to God. That thread is here as well. And I did go to school with teens named Prince and Queen.  Rich mountain names...

The poem first appeared on Michael Burch's ambitious site, The Hypertexts.

* * *

At Cullowhee


The Princess trees--the great seed-scattering weeds--
Erect their plum pagodas once again,
And I am rooted on the mountain's crest
As surely as are trillium, pink-shell, phlox
And uvularia--I lift the blades
To tuck the dyed eggs underneath and dream
Of a boy at the forest's edge who brought his gift,
A single egg with deep persimmon dye.
The peepers and the sweet metallic calls
Of birds are telling me--bell note, echo,
Quiver of air, trill, arrow of song--
About this place where names are Prince and Queen
And old folks say God wanders on the ridge.
How else could sky be such a heavenly blue?
Trailing children, watching the Easter hunt,
I now let go of all I ever wished.
I sniff the April ramps and ginger leaves,
I breathe the violets and sweet-smelling clay,
Seeing that my life has come to nothing.
How little I have made that's worth the keep!
My soul, much rinsed, is threadbare, fine as lawn.
And yet, like a child, I still draw near
The sky and rising mists, the hills that are
The mighty ramparts of a mercy seat.

10 comments:

  1. Oh...i understand why this was requested as it is now a favorite of mine.

    Thank you for you very kind comments over in the garden on behalf of my sister. She moves forward, but oh, my...

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  2. zephyr,

    Thanks! I thought maybe it was the home place talking...

    And you are very welcome. I am mightily impressed that she has not died of grief after losing husband and three children. Yet how beautiful it is that human beings get onto their knees and then haul themselves up and walk forward, putting down foot after foot after foot despite the chasms and graves they leave behind. She has great courage, worthy of more praise than a little comment.

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  3. This is just lovely - really speaks to me on many levels. The background to it does make it even more meaningful, thanks, Marly. I've heard a lot about the wild rhododendrons of North Carolina, which reminds me now, I think we even have a book someone gave us - must go find it. The rhodos are in bloom here as well.

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  4. marja-leena,

    So very glad you like it! I am glad that I did the last of my childhood growing up in Cullowhee before all the hollers and coves were for all practical purposes swept away by the modernity of highways and satellite dishes.

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  5. i enjoy how you write your life in poetry and thereby create a fresh, new experience of life for the rest of us.
    I so enjoyed waking to this poem this morning!

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  6. Paul, I don't often write about my life... There are bits of people and places embedded in the novels, and there are occasionally poems, but in general I am addicted to making things up (so joyful! I love the sensation of stories and poems coming to be out of seeming-nothing.)

    But this clearly needed its poem.

    Actually, there is much more of me in "The Throne of Psyche" than in the other two upcoming poetry books. There are poems about family, anyway.

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  7. Missed this somehow. And I'm glad I caught up with it. Not only is the photo with those amazing pink blooms wonderful, but the poem as well. RE: the photo, I especially love that you are clad in brown, against the burgeoning pink of the rhododendron.

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  8. Talking long into the night with my sister on a recent trip back to England, staying in a part of the country where our ancestors lived, I read her this poem.

    I still keep coming back to it. It seems to me it's at those moments when one relinquishes all pride in achievement, gives up hope, almost, that suddenly we get an intimation of what RS Thomas said: 'that there is everything to look forward to.'

    Odd how those moments often seem to come at times when we are most connected to our families, the past and future stretching away from us like that...

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  9. Robbi,

    Thanks! Glad you liked it.

    Lucy,

    Yes, I think that sense of emptying-out and floating in lightness of being is an experience of timelessness and freedom that brings renewal and hope.

    Honored that you read it to your sister, too!

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  10. P. S. Like you mentioning Thomas in that context... I actually almost bought a complete Thomas in Aberystwyth. Then I decided that I couldn't lug it back in my pack. A few days later, Dave Bonta arrived and he bought it!

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.