The darkness around us is deep. –William Stafford  

Wavering light on shorelines, a coming murmuration. Those never arrived- at unsleeping places in dreams without beginnings. Cliffhanger endings. Bodyparts in boxes buried under layers of October leaves lost somewhere on a country road. What happens in sleep feels at first like the luxury of nothingness and then midnight fear simmers in simple desolation. Insomnia remembers. Advanced withdrawals. Unwanted overpowerings. Convenient amnesia. Heartbeat. Tick Tock. Birds in the attic strike old clichés. In backseats, subways, basements, graveyards the interlopers return. They creep around corners in after-hours classrooms, rough touch down there then run. Their tattoos ooze liquid shame into my forever after. Somebody moans, zombies in the hall. Undead, they wander the night in me.

The night in me, too.


Sometimes courage comes in a circle of women willing to look darkness in the eye.  There are words and lines in this poem that came out of a recent retreat read-back process. This experiment, along with the recent explosion of women writing “ME TOO” on their Facebook pages led me look at the innumerable invisible marks so many of us (including me) wear inside our skin.



BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse


“…a confusion plain and nice…” Coffee in the Afternoon, by Alberto Rios

“Flying planes can be dangerous.” Noam Chomsky

I love a nice confusion:


The challenge of ambiguity,

the chance to open my mind,

trying new

routes to under


new ears,

new eyes.

This is


way I learn.

It’s the way I

often think,

seeing contradictions,

the other sides,

the re

flections and de



A good confusion is like a star-burst in my head,

stopping me



a bit.

Then the swirling and tugging and pushing and pulling

begin to reveal the new views,

the old thinking


and the resolution: a resolution of balance, or,

if not


at least a

place for it all.


I delight when that happens. My brain likes being stirred and shaken, punched and kneaded.

I love puns, even the groaners, because they propel me into new language, new ideas, and the world gets richer, the crusts and heels of my thinking crackle and soften.


I love a nice confusion:



when other people are involved

and we


to see into each other’s worlds and into our own.

I always learn;

I always hurt just



(sometimes more) in the process.


I can be

in great pain,

but even


a nice

confusion leaves me knowing more, feeling more, hungry


more understanding.

My loafing brain wakes




is con-


I feel its tentacles touching me,



to one place or another,


all of the Confusion Places.


I really don’t want

to go.

Often I’m afraid. I resist.

I’m threatened

because my old self won’t



there will have to be a new one, but


not a



that confusion storm teases and beckons, and

I do best


I embrace it.

My molded

mind reshapes


and that, my friends,

is a

NICE confusion.



“Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” Noam Chomsky


Bev Hartford


So Close, Yet So Far



What if you knew you’d be the last

to touch someone? ~ “If You Knew”, Ellen Bass


Several times a week I drive past the Grace Chapel of the Korean United Methodist Church. I see the stone that marks the spot where Korean graduate student Won-Joon Yoon was shot down by white supremacist, Benjamin Smith. Won- Joon was Smith’s final victim before he took his own life in 1999. The marker is only about ten feet from the front door of Grace Chapel, so close to being safely inside. So close to living beyond his twenty-six years-of-age. So close to finishing grad school. So close to life. So close to death.

I’m thinking of those liminal spaces between here and there, between yes and no, between life and death. So close to the dragon’s spume as Ellen Bass calls it in her amazing poem, “If You Knew”. We are all, each of us, every moment of every hour, a breath away from death, always in that liminal space, one breath away from that breath being our last.

As I watched both my parents’ transition out of this world, I saw a breath, then not a breath. Not one more breath. Smooth, peaceful and so very quiet. Was it like that from their perspective? I really hope so.

I’m wondering what we do with each of those bright and shining moments that are not our last? Make the most of them? Probably not. Take them for granted? Most likely. I think it would take too much energy to live like each moment was our last. I think I can manage being in the moment though. I can manage to slow down, be kinder, be more patient with people as Bass suggests. I don’t believe thresholds are meant to keep us stuck, caught in a web of choices. I believe they are meant to move us forward, to prepare us gently, intentionally for the next step in our journey, determine that needed first right step for our next adventure.

I’m reminded that we are just one decision or action away from being here or not here, by my friend, Nancy Comiskey who said after her twenty-four-year old daughter was killed in an accident caused by a driver who was high, she tearfully suggested that if only Kate hadn’t been able to find her hairbrush that morning, or had overslept, she might still be alive.

Who knows when we will be the last to touch someone before they die? Who will be the last to touch me before I die? I’m wondering who touched Won-Joon Yoon before he breathed his last. Was it a friend with a casual hand on his shoulder? Was it a paramedic trying to stop the flow of blood from his wound? Did he feel that touch? I hope he felt kindness right up to the very end. I went to his memorial service at the MAC. The place was packed. His father spoke so proudly, so lovingly. He spoke without hate. Didn’t want hate to be his son’s legacy. Won-Joon Yoon was loved. I hope he knew that.

Rebekah Spivey for The Poplar Grove Muse


Then the Drive Home: A Pantoum

We never talk much
No heart to heart or idle chat
Did you remember your pills?
When is your homework due?

No heart to heart or idle chat
We let the landscape speak
When is your homework due?
Fields of umber and ochre wave by

We let the landscape speak
Forests also beginning to sleep
Alongside fields of umber and ochre
The hills here show off their curve and crest

Forests begin to sleep in red and orange
Lone barn, grain silo, bible verse
The hills curving and cresting as we wind south
Pumpkins, mums, cornstalk

Lone barn, grain silo, Bible verse
I point to an odd sign
Pumpkins, mums, cornstalks
I might get a word or a nod

I point to the sign: repent
We never talk much
Now I get a word, a smile
Did you remember to take your pills?

~Amy for the PGM

On Enchantment (after “Enchantment” by Jim Grabski)


We find our enchantments
as we can,
when and where they come to us,
drinking deep
and long, as long as we can.

Perhaps in a far-off garden
of the mind or of the heart.

Where a crane raises its graceful neck,
a red crown, into an apricot sky,
lifts its stark leggy grace above
the soil and sorrow of earth,
a soaring banner of luck and longevity
for an ailing world.

Where the slow, steady support
of the turtle is a stepping stone
for the blue-plumed crane
to cross water, ascend air,
transcend even these exotic
enticing garden pleasures.

In the old tales, enchantment
may reveal inner truth,
hidden beauty, the golden
currency of a single soul.
A hag is not only enchantress,
but young beauty shrouded
in wrinkled skin and tattered robe.
The fair unknown rises
above seeming humble birth
unmasked by dint of kindness,
brushing off the toilsome dirt
of pigsty and horse stall.

My love would will you or charm you
from this sickbed,
paint you into an earthly garden
of radiant health, of shining
fortune and sunlit groves,
shimmering water, air that hums
with creatures of every hue.

Be enchanted.
Be transformed.
Be well.

Mary Peckham for The Poplar Grove Muse
This poem was written for an Ekphrasis event held at The Venue on September 10, 2017. Eight artists were asked to contribute a visual piece, and eight poets were invited to select one and write to it. Jim Grabski painted this unworldly piece to console and encourage his beloved wife when she was very ill and in a lot of pain, which spoke to me as much as the beauty of the painting did.