Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Late Years Twenty-Two

Baba Summer: Part One published Feb. 16, 2019. Books received March 26, 2019. E-book, $9.77; $22.30 paper. $26 with signed copy by mail in U.S., check to PO Box 253, Moncure, NC 27559. 

The Late Years Twenty-Two March 31, 2019

Our story, our history lives.
The taiga, the deep forest, your
rodina, place of birth, yet lives. 
You took me there, to the north
of the Mezha District in 1992,
August, twenty-seven years ago.
Your friends toasted me, danced
with me, and got me tipsy. I took
this photo of the Black River way
below us. They asked if I were
afraid of bears, and I said no. I was
surrounded by affection and laughter.
Now this Baba Summer book
travels back to Russia, to your wife
and son, who were there, too, that day.
They forgive me for loving you. 
They let me publish your letters.
All those little messages between
the lines. You kept telling me of
your new books: Declaration of 
Love and Russian Field. When we
stopped beside the road, I picked
a small purple knapweed bloom,
and you threw your arms wide and
told me, “I want to give my whole
soul in my writing.” I knew then,
that first day together, that I
couldn’t help loving you. The larger
world will learn of my love. There
are times in a lifetime when you 
can only say yes.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Blackbird Flying by Sheila Nickerson: Commentary

Commentary on Sheila Nickerson’s Blackbird Flying (2019), Fuze Publishing, Ashland, Oregon. 178 pp, ISBN: 978-0-9998089-6-2. Paper: $14.99.

Blackbird Flying is a myth. Symbols in a narrative. Sheila Nickerson sees the crowds of red-winged blackbirds when young, and the birds continue to return winters to this South Carolina Low Country. Among birds, they cope unusually well when their territory no long affords forage or the swampy salt water where they like to build their nests. They move on, and as a species, they are polygamous–can have many mates. They lay eggs and raise young two or three times a year. In multiple ways they are survivors.
She likens them to her family, who left Ireland during the potato famine of the middle 1800s and settled in New York City, became wealthy entrepreneurs, Funk and Wagnall dictionaries, for example, but fell into weakness, alcoholism, and in the case of the women, often lost their memories..
When hard times came again, they migrated again. They kept moving west, and she and her husband Martin ended up in Juneau, Alaska. 
Through the years, the family visited their South Carolina home on Lady Island, part of the Intracoastal Waterway near Beaufort, and Sheila returns there to see the birds, to plot her way forward and to think about the early naturalists, John White [1540?-1606?], Governor of the lost Roanoke Colony; John Lawson [?-1711] who came to early Charleston and would write A New Voyage to Carolina, and Mark Catesby [c. 1683-1749] who landed in Williamsburg, VA, and made drawings of both birds and the plants in their lives (The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands). These men recorded in words and paintings the bird life, the other creatures, and even some words from the indigenous people’s languages. Some traces of their pioneer works survive, but all those men were lost, killed, or prevented by the situation in England from returning to the new world that fascinated them. They become her guides in her mission to learn “the world’s name and the name of the world to come “ [p. 25]
Yet, even with the risk of being killed by the indigenous people or lost in myriad other ways, they kept going back into the unknown. They come out of their past to represent Nickerson’s future. Feeling alone now, the oldest in her maternal family, her mother and brother, gone; her son alienated, she would travel into her future. She asks where do those lost ones go? Where do their memories go? She visits mediums who bring back the voices of the dead, but she isn’t sure she will meet her lost ones where she is going. She’s fascinated by the phenomena of the Fata Morgana, when visions appear out of the past because of a trick of the light, like seeing The Flying Dutchman on the horizon in Alaska. Like the red-winged blackbird, she’ll take her chance, as she goes into the immensity of the universe, not certain that any traces of her or her story will be left.
She gives us one myth for the end of our lives, but there is no certainty here, and little hope. There is only courage to keep flying forward. She doesn’t talk about all the books she has written or all the people who have read and loved her books. On certain websites you will find more about her and her books. She lived in Alaska twenty-seven years and was one of their Poet Laureates. She taught poetry to children, to university students, and to prisoners. She also wrote of the Alaskan wilderness. There will be seeds left, Sheila, on the world wide web and in the minds and hearts of the living.

Judy Hogan

You may order from or Amazon or independent bookstores.

Comments for the Blackbird Flying:

Nickerson watches and records, searching not only for birds, but also for apparitions and enlightenment, for a deeper understanding of life’s twists and turns, its disappointments and betrayals. The shiny bits she collects gleam and shine. The breadth of her attention and knowledge is dazzling.–Geraldine Connolly, poet. Aileron and Hand of the Wind.

Seeking the territory of home and love, Nickerson follows historical guides, observes the birds, and explores the shifting nature of memory itself. From the disappearance of the Roanoke colony to string theory to slavery to Louisa May Alcott, the reader is privy to thought-provoking perspectives on life, death, and the importance of truly inhabiting every moment.
–Lana Hechtman Ayers, editor, MoonPath Press; author, Time Flash; Another Me.

Sheila Nickerson’s book is as comfortable and brisk as wearing an old shirt on a a cool day. True, lyrical, and expansive, her essays migrate across subjects that are tangled like the weave of a bird’s nest. Birders will love this collection. Readers who can’t tell a robin from a raptor will, too. Because the bird at the center is the heart we all share.

–Christopher Cokinos, Bodies of the Holocene: Essays and The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of the Shooting Stars.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Late Years Twenty

Sunrise at Jordan Lake March 16, 2019 by Doc Ellen, DVM


The Late Years Twenty March 17, 2019

Normally I see the sun rise when
the cloud cover permits. The sky
can be red and pink as far as the eye
can see. Never exactly the same sky, 
yet never before had I seen cloud
feathers–huge wings of delicate white 
all over the sky, and when they
faded, the sun: molten gold. I’ll
write about those I told myself:
cloud feathers and molten gold.
These years I take days one at a
time. The practical problems
often wait too long. I’ve run
out of egg cartons. I can’t think
what to make for dinner. When
I have a list of things to do?
What shall I do first? The hens
are flying out of their run even
though I clipped their wings.
Now a possum has been sighted.
They haven’t been near the
hens for years, but they do kill
them. I’ll ask my son to help.
It’s why he’s here, but I still
hate to ask. I will. When I
ignore my aging body’s limits, 
it signals me loud and clear:
slow down. Even so, it heals.
I go on, more deliberately, paying
attention, calming myself with

tea and memory: I’m still me.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Late Years Nineteen

New Year's Day 2019 by Doc. Ellen from Jordan Lake Dam

The Late Years Nineteen  March 11, 2019

For Jaki

I was your first publisher. In 1973, 
in March, as you reminded me, you
brought me a grocery bag full of
poems–all hand-written–and I said
I’d type them. I worried about you
coming alone across that farmer’s
land to the old house he’d rented to 
Yankees. My baby was a year old,
and you, at twenty, had two small
children. I had a poetry magazine
and was doing open readings in
Chapel Hill. North Carolina was
undergoing school desegregation.
Everyone we met wanted to know,
and was determined to find out,
where we stood on the racial question.
Black writers weren’t getting
published in North Carolina, nor were
outsiders–poets who were different,
who weren’t in the dominant clique. 
In 1976 I began Carolina Wren Press
and began to publish all these
overlooked poets. Your husband 
Sherman and I had visited the
The Department of Public Instruction
and walked into a secret meeting 
of the clique poets. They were 
assigning Poets in the Schools jobs. 
I knew those people. I had already
published them in my magazine
Hyperion. I’d never before felt such
hatred simply by walking into a room.
In 1977 I published your Dead on
Arrival. It was heralded by Lance
Jeffers, who predicted your greatness.
Back in 1973 you seemed so young,
so fragile, so brave. When you left,
I saw across that farmer’s fields
a small white dogwood blooming, also
fragile, also brave. Now you’re
the state’s poetry queen: the first
African American Poet Laureate. 
You came to my Poetry class,
listened to their poems, suggested
revisions, read us some of yours.
Back then your challenges to our
racist society were clothed in 
symbols: “The Moon is a rapist...”
Now you speak your truth with no
holding back. Again I feel your
fragility, your insistent courage
like a flame in a landscape still full

of tinder. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Late Years Eighteen

Peas, beets, onions a few years ago. How I yearn for them.

The Late Years Eighteen  March 3, 2019

I did slow down, reconcile myself 
to doing less, expecting less. Then
spring begins: peepers, rain, daffodils
under the heavy growth of weeds
and last year’s stalks. One helper
cleared out the flower garden weeds.
I open the box of seeds. Sugar snap 
peas–a big envelope; Early Wonder
Tall Top beets–a small envelope. They 
should have been in the ground in 
February. Though my helpers cleared
the garden weeds, and I added wood 
ashes, those rows still need compost
and feathermeal. Then turning the
soil. Meantime some hens learned
to fly out onto a fig limb and down
into the garden. They’ll scratch up 
the seeds. They go through the
hole in the fence into the backyard
where I’ll have zinnias and cosmos.
My helpers say they’ll cut off the
fig limb, but will they mend the 
fence? I have the wire and the
tools. Maybe I can. The ground
in the garden is uneven, but if I
fall on the earth, it is soft, and
I don’t hurt myself. They don’t
want me to fall, but they have
other things they want to do. I
feel the urgency. I’ve been farming
in a small way, and it got into
my blood. The seed packets are
waiting. It will save money and
give us healthy food–organic and
fresh. I can make borsch and later
spaghetti sauce and minestrone.
Relying on oneself to overcome
difficulties is one dilemma. Relying
on others keeps me awake. Still, let 

me see what I can do.