Sunday, April 6, 2014


Several years ago, I went to a poetry workshop led by Barbara Ras at the Sandy Creek Nature Center. We sat around a big table, discussing simple poetry, a beginner's fare.  At the time Barbara was an editor at the Georgia Review.

She brought with her a botany paperback text and went around the table tearing off pages and handing them out for poetic inspiration.  She took requests, so I requested the anemone and it was there -- in black and white. 

 Anemones grow from small tubers, and resemble impatiens, in fact the flowers are almost identical, but when looking directly at the anemone plant, all the blooms seem to be reaching outward, with all the flowers on one side of the mound - thus their common names ‘widow's tears’ or ‘mother's tears.’  This is the poem that came from that day with Barbara Ras.  I think the same poem could be written about impatiens or even the smiling pansies.        


                Windflower, wee Anemone,
                your petals hang in symmetry.
                Your leaves surround, complacent green,       
                protect each purple miniature scene.
                The dew forms droplets there,
                they glisten where
                the sun begins.
                It wins.


 The Nature Center

nature center

That wasn’t the only poem I thought about that day, however, because the ambiance of the nature center was not welcoming to thoughts of flowers.

It haunted me.  The room was filled with all kinds of life, from bugs to snakes to stuffed things.
 -- a little creepy       -- no anemones 

nature center

I kept thinking about that room, mossy rocks, spiders and snakes, damp walls and a small waterfall, caterpillars, beetles, frogs, all those things in nature that are slimy or scary -- all in one room!  

This is the poem I wrote about the center, a fun piece, because I had to find interesting  words to create the atmosphere of the room and I needed a friend to go with me. I guess there are several ways to call the muse. I think I was finally done editing this spoof on nature somewhere in the first decade of this century.  I'm just guessing 2003.

                    Sandy Creek  
The ambiance is, oh, so wrong   
        but here you are,
                so come along.

No bright colors, soft breeze      
        sweet scent or honey bees
               no butterflies or birdsong.

This wild-life center captures fright
        displays the real   
                the dark    
                       the bite.

You might expect some flowers,   
        golden fuzzy centers,
                pure white petals
                         curving closely toward you,
                  ivy climbing,
                         lilies floating,   
                pansies smiling,
but there are no flowers here,
        just ugly bugs and centipedes   
               -- and roly-polies.

Worms that crawl along the wall,
black water bubbling over all,              
a homemade rocky waterfall,
incessant surging down the wall.         

      Upon the shelves we found ourselves
     some moss and mold, small rocks to hold,
  large algoid stinky fish-filled tank        
       where minnows hold the highest rank,
         tough carapace, red polka-dot bugs,
              curved house for snails,           
      mock puffed up slugs.

 Ugh!  Toad blinks and mouse winks,
      bullfrogs on pitted logs, 
          spider lace claiming space
                          walking sticks and beetle clicks.     

 Rodents, lizards, slithery snakes,     
       they've robbed the streams, 
   the woods, 
              the lakes.

The ambiance is, oh, so wrong,       
but here you are,   
                            so come along.                           

---and from Barbara Ras's book Bite Every Sorrow, this exquisite poem which you will find yourself wanting to read more than once.

You Can't Have It All
by Barbara Ras and with her kind permission.

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam's twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man's legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who'll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can't bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can't count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother's,
it will always whisper, you can't have it all,
but there is this.

-- from her first book of poetry, Bite Every Sorrow, Published by the Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1998. I treasure my copy.  She signed it
"With gladness to share poetry and nature at Sandy Creek.”

Barbara Ras was the winner of the 1997 Walt Whitman Award for that collection of poetry.  The judge for the award was C. K. Williams.  In his citation, Williams said, "Barbara Ras's poems are informed by a metaphysically erudite and whimsical intelligence...her verbal expertise
and lucidity are as bright and surprising as her knowledge of the world is profound.  This is a splendid book, morally serious, poetically authentic, spiritually discerning."

Bite Every Sorrow was subsequently awarded the Kate Tufts Discovery
Award. In 1999, Ras was named Georgia Poet of the Year.  Since then she has published The Last Skin 2010, which was preceded by One Hidden Stuff 2006, and in 1994, Costa Rica: A Traveler's Literary Companion.  In 2009 she was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship.  She is now the editor of Trinity University Press in San Antonio, Texas.

In order not to infringe on copyright laws I looked for Barbara at Trinity University and on Facebook, and when she sent her kind pernission for me to use the poem, I decided it was worth all the work on the post just to reconnect with her and feel comfortable using her work.  Read it again, please, just once more,  and even if you don't like poetry, the richness of the language in this poem will help you to understand why others do.

My daughter Amy planted this lovely impatiens bed for me in May, 2013.
She died on October 22, 2013.

          Do you have in mind a poem that moves you as this poem moves me? 
 (Try Kay Ryan)
  If you do have one or find one, please share it.  

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