Sunday, May 9, 2021

Being Wise Fourteen

 Our purple iris--gift from Tracey, photo by Janet April 2021

Being Wise Fourteen May 9, 2021

A day for mothers, to thank them.

I’ve mothered three of my own and

a lot of other people’s. Sometimes

it was a problem. They worshiped

me and then they cast me out. Or

they demanded more than I could

give. What helped the most was

learning to read the souls of my

friends and neighbors, not to mention

my children. Some people love to

be understood. Others hate it.

Children are the real test. They let

you know how they come across.

Even animals can do that. Pay

attention to how people respond,

whether they trust you. If you scare

them, they’re probably hiding

something. If they lie, and some

people do, even to themselves, 

they may confess later. Such

defenses can be learned as children.

I myself invented my own archetype

to be and to live out. I wanted to be

Sophia, wise, and a healer. I’d 

serve the Muse, let her live in me

and shape my words. Then Penelope 

to an Odysseus, but Odysseus, too.

An explorer, one who traveled but

always came home. It has surprised

me, the people who remembered

me after years of silence, who 

returned to tell me their stories, 

who helped me when I hadn’t 

cried for help. It means I’m safe.

Some do try to hurt me or control

me, but it never quite works. I’m

going to be myself always, and

that self, that being sees farther

and overlooks what’s not important.

The game in life is to be yourself

and no one else. A challenge

sometimes, but worth the Trouble.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Being Wise Thirteen

 My neighbors back in 1998-9    Demetrius with his father Kenny and his mother Sissy.

Being Wise Thirteen May 2, 2021

Here is this time when I begin 

to feel my age. I’m not getting

stronger but weaker. My doctor

wants me to exercise more, but

I’m not doing it yet. I want to

stay strong, get stronger, stop

losing weight, but I’m finding

that hard to do. I manage my

few chores, my short walks,

my irregular sleep patterns. 

I have a few pains in my 

right foot, in my left shoulder.

I receive interesting emails

and letters. People love me.

My neighbor Harold tells

me I’m an icon in our

neighborhood. He was the

first one to welcome me

in the summer of 1998. I

came to a meeting about the

low-level nuclear dump

planned for Moncure. We

stopped it. Now they want

to do another one. Harold

hugged me those twenty-three

years ago. The child next door,

three years old, Demetrius,

also hugged me–what he could

reach–my legs–and died ten

years later in a car crash. I’m

known more now than ever

before, my name in the paper,

pictures of my books. And we

defeated the coal ash dumping,

though seven million tons of it

is left for us forever. You do

what you can. You hope it’s

enough. There are still things

you can do. Be thankful.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Being Wise Twelve

Katherine Wolfe and Jaki Shelton-Green at Jaki's celebration at Quail Ridge Books, 2018, becoming Poet Laureate

Being Wise Twelve April 25, 2021

For Jaki

My friend Jaki is still there, though

she has a new disguise. It’s in her

smile, her truth, both pointed and

laced with compassion. She opens

the pain of others from slavery

times through her skin, her sorrow.

Her look strikes deep, though I 

miss some words: the mother who

dressed her small son for a trip to

town and never saw him again.

He’d been dressed up to be sold.

The grandfather they wouldn’t

tell her about. She survived as

North Carolina dealt with the

integration of the schools, by

being sent north to a Quaker school

for safety. We came from Illinois

to rent a farmer’s old house. Everyone

we talked to wanted to know where

we stood on the racial question.

When the children of the farmer’s

hands came over to play, the farmer

said, “Don’t do that.” But nobody

knew when Jaki crossed the line

and read me her poems, and I said

we need to publish them. They

weren’t typed. I said I’d type them.

We became friends. My baby Ginia

and her Segun were in the same

daycare in Chapel Hill. Sometimes

I picked up Segun and took him to

Jaki. Brave mother. Her poems

flowed out, defying the rules. 

When i praised T.J. Reddy, in jail

for burning a stable of horses,

which he never did, and called him

a saint, the farmer said we had 

to leave. Terry left, too. The farmer’s

aunt said she’d find me a house,

but, alone with three children, I

didn’t think I could manage. We

moved to Chapel Hill, and so did Jaki

and her young family. In the next issue

of our poetry mag, we had poems by

Jaki and Sherman Shelton. By 1977

I had published her book Dead on

Arrival. Over the years she worked

her way to being known and honored.

Now she’s our state’s poet laureate.

And even when we meet virtually, 

the love of old friends is there. I’m

not forgotten, and she is treasured

by people everywhere. I say, “I’ll

be eighty-four next month, and I’m

still mischievous, and Jaki laughs.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Being Wise Eleven

                         Garden peas a few years ago in my garden.

Being Wise Eleven April 18, 2021

Green, green, green! The iris

are blooming, white and purple.

I planted them too close together,

but they bloomed anyway, defying

horticulture laws and behavior.

The grass, too, is that brilliant

green, that open rebellion. Don’t

tell me it’s not spring. My cells

know. Who says there aren’t

miracles. It’s April, isn’t it?

Green time.The flowers, the

birds, every leaf, every blade

of grass. The bees foretell it:

pollen and honey have arrived. 

You can’t go back now. Even

your old loves have resurrected

themselves, and the new ones

grown bolder. Green is here 

and there and everywhere.


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Being Wise Ten

 Being Wise Ten April 11, 2021

For Marie Hammond

In Memory of Sam Hammond, August 22, 1947–February 25, 2021

Oh, Sam! I miss you! You gave yourself 

so freely. You egged me on to do a book

with my grandmother’s diary, and then

you helped. You made sure I had omitted

no lines of possible research on what their

life was like in the China of 1910, and who

exactly they all were, these people they

mention. You even found some answers

for me. Five different families learned

about Grace, A China Diary: 1910-1916

and wrote to me of their relatives, friends

of Grace and Harvey. Grace had bipolar

disease, not understood well in 1910, but

the missionary doctors were wiser than

those in Oklahoma when they returned

home. I came to understand Grace better

–my goal for doing the book. I remember

how you and Marie celebrated with me.

Other times you were there when we

shared dinner. I loved to make you

laugh. It was so easy. I saved up

outrageous stories out of my own life.

Once you joined a small writing class

I was teaching. I had a young black

student, new to writing. I could tell

you approved of how I worked with

him. I always believed my students

could write well and better. And they

did. You left us in February. But for

me, you’re still here, part of my life

and thought. A model of a loving man 

in an increasingly distraught world.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Being Wise Nine

The cover of my new Baba Summer Book Two, painting image by Nikolai Smirnov, Kostroma, Russia "The First Snow"

Being Wise Nine Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021

Resurrection! In a cold house.

Resurrection ferns by the Haw River.

I am almost eighty-four and still

alive. The frost killed the hydrangea’s

new leaves, but the daylily leaves

are erect as usual. Did the peach

blossoms survive? I can’t tell through

the kitchen window. The hens are

hunkered down, their feathers

fluffed for warmth. A cold sun

brightens behind the curtains.

The poem begins before I’m fully

awake. I put on my jacket and

spread a blanket over my legs

and feet. Easter morning. I

celebrate with a new poem

while the Earth’s resurrection

continues unabated. Two lamps

in a dark house. One human

being awake and alive. No

telling how much longer I

have to inhabit this body, be

this person, bundle myself up

in wool and my favorite

blanket, drink hot tea, and be

grateful for another day of

life and love.


Sunday, March 28, 2021

Being Wise Eight

 Photo of peach blossoms outside my kitchen window 

                    by Janet Wyatt March 2021

Being Wise Eight March 28, 2021

When I yield, admit it’s time

to wash the dishes, and I

stare out the kitchen window,

peach blossoms cluster

themselves in my view. Drudgery

disappears. Can that many

peaches crowd those slender

stems? Will some fall that

others may be pollinated and

grow fat and pink? Will bugs

gnaw and chew before my

eyes or will some come safe

to the window harbor? Will

the unruly grape vines climb

over the chicken run and feed

the hens below them? Will I

be able to reach up and harvest

the volunteer peach, the impetuous

grapes? Possibly apples and

pears may still bear. Oh, the

work to reclaim my orchard. 

So many broken limbs, unpicked

fruit, vine tangles. And the figs.

Will they survive? We plan a

garden. So far onions and

replanted peas. Next beets.

Later cukes and beans. Tomatoes

and sweet peppers. Meantime

the bees are busy among the

nascent peaches. Oh, please

live. Please make fruit 

we can all eat.