Relections on Place was the title of the event Monday night at the Sylva Public Library, celebrating the installation of Western Carolina University's new chancellor, David Belcher. Jerry Wolfe, Ron Rash, and I presented our stories and poems for an appreciative audience, one containing several good friends I've not seen in a long while, including Gayle Woody, Nancy DeSain, Joyce and Allen Moore--and a few facebook friends I'd not met in the flesh! I closed my reading with this poem, first published in Warren Wilson College's Heartstone. The quote from Adrienne Rich I have carried with me for years seems even more appropriate now, as we face the prospect of forgetting so much of our history, including our connection to the land. Adrienne Rich died two days ago, leaving behind a poetic and feminist legacy that has nourished many of our lives.
The tests I need to pass are prescribed by the spirits
of place who understand travel but not amnesia.
from “This Is My Third and Last Address to You” --Adrienne Rich
Almost the age when memory falters,
I fear being made to count backward
by seven’s, to answer to date, year, and
Presidents, as if those numbers and names
matter more in the end than this place
where I stand at the same kitchen window,
observing the same pines set swaying by wind,
reaching upward as I’ll reach, come morning,
my arms to the ceiling, breathing the dark out
of body and spirit, exhaling that old dream
of nothingness: laying my head down to sleep.
Now Rocky Face Ridge catches fire
in the last light and, though I can’t hear it
from where I stand, Cullowhee Creek tumbles into
the Tuckaseegee, always unscrolling beneath me
the names I already know. Snowbird.
Buzzards Roost. Weyahutta. Oconaluftee.
I don’t know how long names can last
if there’s no one to care where they live.
What I saw on the hairpin curve down from
the Chimney Tops, white as snow, I’ve not forgotten.
Phacelia. And how, on the trail leading
up to the summit of Suncota Ridge,
I saw sauntering toward me a young woman
I could have sworn was the reincarnation of
every spring wildflower ever named anywhere.
Closer she comes to me each April,
as if she means more than I have a lifetime
to know. Roundabout her, her white Easter dress
whispers every thing I want to keep living
here in this valley that cups the last swallow of light,
every name I must reach to remember or else
lose them, hillside by hillside, to darkness.