Christal Ann Rice Cooper

Christal Ann Rice Cooper
Chris on July 3, 2017

Monday, July 24, 2017

The DNA of Grief in "torn from the ear of night" by jimmie margaret gilliam

Chris Rice Cooper 


*The images in this specific piece are granted copyright privilege by:  Public Domain, CCSAL, GNU Free Documentation Licenses, Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law, or given copyright privilege by the copyright holder which is identified beneath the individual photo.

Jimmie Margaret Gilliam’s Torn From the Ear of Night:
Marked With Grief

On December 27, 2016 White Pine Press 
whitepine.org) published Torn From the Ear of Night by Jimmie Margaret Gilliam (https://
/jimmie.gilliam.9); edited by Paula Paradise                   (https://
search); the introduction “Love Made Me” by Debora Ott (https://www.facebook.
com/debora.ott.9); and cover art Moonlight on the Mountain by Mary Taglieri (https://
The process of tearing an ear of corn from the field similar to that of childbirth – the farmer is the doctor, the ear of corn the baby, and the stalk the mother.  The stalk goes through the trauma of childbirth but unlike the human childbirth the stalk never receives her young back and therefore endures a grief – which will not end until she is once again pregnant with her next ear of corn, only to endure the same grief all over again.   
There are numerous themes in Torn From the Ear of Night; self awareness, sexual awareness, homosexuality; domestic violence; shame; guilt; finding one’s identity as a poet; but the theme that is the focus of this blog post is how grief like DNA is passed through five generations of Gilliam’s family, or five generations of ears of corn.  

In the prose poem “The Word Photo” Gilliam writes of her family members that are detailed in an old photograph, taken within weeks of great grandmother Emma Halford’s death.  In the photo Gilliam’s grandmother Lucy is a baby in her mother Emma’s arms surrounded by Emma’s husband Joe, and Lucy’s siblings Johnson, Annie, Minnie, and Leah.  

Little Lucy sits on her mother’s lap.  Emma’s long hand keeps her within the circle of her right arm and hand.  The child’s arms are crossed.  Her oval eyes turn up at the edges; they are shaped like teardrops.  The small girl’s gaze is reflective – outside the space framed in the pictures – as if she knows within weeks her mother will be dead.
    
  
It is through teardrop-shaped eyes that the poet Gilliam wrote all of these poems – detailing the sorrows and the joys of life and death, specifically with baby Lucy at the loss of a mother she cannot even remember, but can forever feel.



       She will die in the night holding little Lucy in her arms.  The child hears the death rattle, cries for Mama the next morning when she wakes alone.

       In “Torn From the Ear of Night” Lucy is the orphan who doesn’t remember her mother’s passing or her father’s cries but will forever carry a mark of sorrow:


The bruise on her childhood’s heart
Turns purple in the dawning hour.
      
In “A Time Before Sorrow” Gilliam identifies with Lucy by claiming to have the same mark of sorrow: 



(What a girl was came clear in the throat of purple/blue iris.)

In “Beloved Daughter” Joe writes to his daughter Lucy where it is revealed that death did not stop at his precious wife but continued; taking his young son Johnson who was killed by a train; his daughter Leah who died in an asylum. Joe pleads with his daughter Lucy to come to his aid.

Dearest Lucy, come, please come as soon as you can.  Peace continues to elude your daddy.

In the tale The Forgotten Ear, an Arikara woman is gathering corn from the field.  When she thought she gathered all the ears of corn she started to walk away only to hear a child weeping: “Oh do not leave me!  Do not go away without me!” She searches the field for more ears but can not find any and walks away only to hear the child weeping:  "Oh, do not leave me! Do not go away without me!"
       At last, in one corner of the field, hidden under the leaves of the stalks, she found one little ear of corn and collected it, adding it to her other ears of corn. 
       Gilliam is that forgotten ear of corn, except she is left abandoned in the field.

In the poem “A Girl Blue as a Bluefish” Gilliam details her own birth and how close she came to death:
      
Dr. Hensley delivers the baby
A girl blue as a bluefish
The umbilical cord wrapped around her neck
How can I tell them their child is . . .
Nurse Baumgartner’s quick movements tops
His pronouncement
She repeats all the procedures
Clears the passages, nose and throat
Whacks the buttocks
Breaths into the stubborn lungs.

In “The Wounded Girl” the speaker of the poem Gilliam as a little girl has to face the death of her childhood on behalf of her abusive and mentally unstable mother.

My head is sore and swollen
(from knocking it against the wall)
a penance I gladly pay
try to enter your dull stare
the lost brown of your eyes.  Mother

              you don’t love me
              you don’t understand me
              your daddy doesn’t love me
              he doesn’t understand me
              you don’t love me

I want to understand my mother
Her whirling mind/her head divided
But I die every time she looks up from the sewing machine
Fastens those words on me.

         In “The Gun Scene” the speaker of the poem has a memory of witnessing domestic violence between her parents.

In her anguish she pulled me to her.  She pressed her face into my small body and poured her grief into me filling the tiny quivering cups at the ends of all my nerves.

Her mother tells her small daughter to go get the gun and the daughter obeys, thinking that her mother is going to shoot her father. 

The realization of her failure to shoot him spread over her like goosebumps before a faint – she turned the gun on me to wipe me out in one trigger.

What stopped her – all I know is some nights alone at that place between fall and winter I see the August sounds of katydids frozen and I hear silence louder than the discharge of a gun

All I know is inside me, terror – everything stopped.

Sometimes I don’t even know if this story is true – it might could be a fantasy.  But I can smell terror – a metallic smell – a gun in my face, small black moon/full/looking me in the eye. 

Lucy’s son and Gilliam’s father, Noland mourns the loss of his wife of 56 years in “My Father Says Farewell to His Wife.”


Later you tell me
he bends to her body
kisses her
first on her forehead
then on her mouth
he presses his lips
into the hollow of her neck
loses his head in her bosom
then he howls

wild with amputation.

 In “Graveside Sequel” the mark of sorrow is passed though five generations:  Emily, Joe, Lucy, Noland’s wife, Gilliam, and her two daughters Jill and Jenny.

mountain iris/ purple batons
you hand to me
I pass on to Jill and Jenny.

In “Graveside” the speaker of the poem describes the grief that has been passed from her buried mother to herself.  At first it appears the grief is due to the loss of her mother; but at closer inspection the grief is due to the fact that the mother still lives on inside the daughter, a grief she does not want to inherit.

I am your poet, Mother
Though my words do not grace your ears
I am bone of your bone
You stand in my frame
Bone catches in my throat
Of this grief.

       In “Fall, Raking Leaves” a love poem dedicated to Gilliam’s wife Geri, the speaker of the poem finds goodness out of grief, which is the ability of the living to choose what not to repeat or repeat of the dead.

the dead remind us where
not to hurry to go
we are the only body
that they have
      
In “A Time Before Sorrow” Gilliam describes her first memory as a one-year old infant, staring at her reflection from the three mirrors, which she describes as Wings, attached to her mother’s dresser.


      In “Graveside”, her dead mother holds the same mirrors, demanding her daughter which identity she should partake.  It is through this grief that Gilliam finds her voice as a poet, and the strength of exhibiting triumph out of grief:


Your death still takes my legs away, Mother
But I will walk on air/ my will
Away from the mirror you hold for me
Deep in the earth.



*Jimmie Margaret Gilliam (08/07/1935 – 09/24/2015) was a co-editor of Earth's Daughters from 1975 to1986. She was Professor Emerita at ECC, she taught English Literature on the College's City Campus from 1971 to 1995. She was co-author of the poetry volume The Rime & Roar of Revolution (as Jimmie Canfield, with Bob Dickens, 1975) and author of the poem/novel Ain't No Bears Out Tonight (as Jimmie Gilliam Canfield, 1984) and Pieces of Bread (as Jimmie Canfield Gilliam, 1987), which was on the Academy of American Poets 1987 Fall Reading List. Her work was featured in Writers At Work, an anthology published by Just Buffalo in 1995 and used in the Buffalo public schools. She has given readings and workshops all over WNY, in Albuquerque, NM, and in her hometown of Asheville, NC. Her poems have appeared in a variety of publications, including the "Poetry Page" of The Buffalo News, Earth's Daughters, The Asheville Poetry Review, Eve Magazine, The July Press, and Black Mountain Review.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Illustrated Short Story For Families by Tree-climbing Extraordinaire Naomi Waggener Rice

Chris Rice Cooper 

Guest Blogger Naomi Wagg- ener Rice:
Illustrated Short Story:  Mom, the WildRice Kids & Python Dennis Play Hide & Seek

       Once upon a time there was Mom and her three children:  5-year old Sean, 3-year old Abby, 1-year old Ethan, and their pet python snake Dennis.
One morning Sean watched Abby remove the bricks and the lid from Dennis’s cage.
Sean told Mom what Abby did but Mom didn’t make the connection because she was too busy getting the kids into the car to make a shopping trip to buy mice for Dennis’s breakfast.
When they arrived back home to feed Dennis, he was missing!  
They looked everywhere, under and inside everything but never found him. Mom tried laying a snake trap with live bait, but that didn’t work. Dennis had eaten the week before; so he wasn’t particularly starving.     
     Exactly one month later Mom washed bedding that Sean threw up on last night but forgot to put the lid down; so the
washer filled up for the rinse then sat there, never draining.  Mom noticed that the lid was open and closed it.  She opened it after it finished the spin cycle but the clothes were still very wet.  
She was about to take care of the wet clothes when she heard Ethan cry.  She ran to take care of Ethan.
       Mom came back and saw that Dennis was squished between the drum and the outer part of the washing machine.  Mom screamed because she thought Dennis was dead.   She had unknowingly killed him in the spin cycle!  But then she noticed that Dennis moved and she felt much better.
Mom asked Sean to hold Dennis so she could find tools that would help them get Dennis out. 
Sean yelled, “Mom! Dennis is going back in and he’s too strong.  I can’t hold him anymore!”  
Mom yelled in a  panic:  “Sean and Abby go wake up Grandma!  She needs to feed you two and Ethan while I deal with Dennis!”
Grandma Waggener spent the night and was tickled to have two excited, energetic kids waking her up with their yells:  “"Grandma, we need your help! Mommy found Dennis and he's stuck in the washing machine!"
Mom wasn’t about to lose Dennis again!  She gently pulled his head back out.  Dennis was mad and tried to constrict Mom!  Mom didn’t let go and gently pulled and wriggled his body scale by scale until Mom got him out! 
Mom and the Wild RiceKids are so glad to have Dennis back.  And
Dennis is glad to have some water and mice in his belly after a month of absence.
And Mom, the Wild Rice Kids, and Dennis lived happily ever after.




*Naomi has been working in the education and therapeutic  fields since 2002. She has worked for the Lovaas Institute to administer ABA therapy for autistic children, Arbor Quest (a tree climbing non-profit that brings disabled children into the canopy), and Tree Climbing USA. She has been a chiropractic assistant at Five Points Chiropractic in Athens, GA for six years and is a leading master instructor with WildRice Adventures (http://wildriceadventures.com).

Naomi has been climbing trees with rope since 1997 and delights in sharing her love of the outdoors and fascination of treetop canopy with others. She is married to her outdoorsy husband Jody and they have three active kids (soon to be four) and an energetic Labrador retriever. They currently reside in Watkinsville, Georgia.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Poet Rita Sims Quillen "The Scarred Woman Once Walked Here" . . . .

Christal Cooper

“The Scarred Woman Walked Here Once”
in The Mad Farmer’s Wife
by Rita Sims Quillen

You cannot call it healing
just scarring.
A woman walked here once.

excerpt, “Traveling Through”


       The life of The Mad Farmer’s Wife by Rita Sims Quillen (Texas Review Press (http://www.texas
press.org)  is one of loneliness, isolation, depression, invalidation; until the very end, where she finds triumph.  


The Mad Farmer’s Wife (MFW) is lonely and feels useless in this world of farming – where most of the day the only things she has to keep her company are herself; animals; landscape; her children (whenever they are around); crops; and the Mad Farmer (MF), her husband.


Herself
Numerous lines from the first poem of this collection “Traveling Through” describe the state of the MFW’s mind and spirit.   

Careless footfalls as she tries to walk off the pain
of knowing that love isn’t enough

Nothing is enough, there is no good enough

The MFW finds parts of herself to keep her company but the writer in her fails to meet her expectations.

There is nothing here she can save
even with her pen.

excerpt, “Traveling Through”

Words are no help on a farm.
How sad to be good at something unnecessary.

excerpt, “A Woman Born To Farming”


Animals
In the “Chimney Sweep Mother” the MFW and a bird’s mother have something in common –living children without access to them.

Each year
she nests in my daughter’s bedroom.
Each year, more cruel than nature,
I carry the nest away.


In “The Mad Farmer’s Wife Delivers the Foal’ the MFW identifies with the mare who delivers the stillborn foal – because both have lost their children – the mare to death the MFW to distance.

It is the turning I remember
She only raised her head again, stared
at what could never be
then looked away.


    
   In “The Grey Fox” the MFW comes face to face with a part of herself that cannot be denied – that of the wounded animal caught between two worlds.


flashing beauty against the blinding snow
limping along the fence inside the yard,
the artificial boundary between
the world and the wild.



The climax of the poem is the silent but profound,  spiritual commun-

ication the MFW and the gray fox participate in.

regal and ramrod straight
he sat down and stared intently
at me through the window


The gray fox has chosen the MFW to be his witness of his own violent death.



already a ghost,
my memory his only heir
before coyotes delivered his fate.


The MFW recognizes the serious responsibility of being an heir to a magnificent being, and as a result she is now full of purpose and meaning.

What an honor to be sought
by what’s broken
to be called to testify
for one on trial for his life.


Landscape
       In “What’s Important In A Graveside Photo -1989” the MFW describes the landscape as barren, full of broom sedge, and “deadly thistles/ that smelled like judgment.”


In “Four Women in Front of a Sod House” she describes the landscape “where wind doesn’t condemn” and where “clouds can’t scold.”
In “I Woke Up Late” the landscape (rises/ and falls like a heartbeat across the pasture.)

      
There are other landscapes that are mentioned in this poetry collection in the form of the persona poem where the mountains speak in “What The Mountains Say;” where the creek speaks in “What The Creek Says;” and the rocks speak in “What The Rock Says.”





The Mad Farmer
In “Calving” she describes the bloody wrestling match that the humorous MF and cow, who is giving birth, participate in.

The Mad Farmer untied the cow
then did a quick sidestep like Fred Astaire
when she tried her best to kill him.


In “He Tells Her A Love Poem” the MFW tries to understand her husband but cannot which leads to resentment and anger.

You are the why
in every sore muscle and bloody blister
the root of every tangle
every strike of an ax
every shovel full of dirt
turned in search of the key
to your heart’s puzzle.


In “The Mad Farmer Dances” the MFW recognizes the sacrifices her husband has made on her behalf and his willingness to die for her but it still is not enough "not the same as saying she’s happy."



Children  
       In “When the Children Come Home” the MFW and the MF can never fully celebrate their homecoming:

we don’t kill the fated calf
but we do cook both ham and turkey,
casseroles and pies and fruit,
table groaning under the sacrament
borne of blood and absence
every visit prodigal in its intensity
but not really:
Because they aren’t staying.



Crops
In “A Woman Born To Farming” the MFW has a bounty of fruit; but even this bounty makes her feel void.

She gathers raspberries and blackberries,
the stains’ temporary tattoo
her only recognition for her work.


The poem “A Poet’s Vegetable Epiphany” is the Mad Farmer’s Wife’s validation as a poet:  she  sees the crops as part of a poem and herself as the poet; thus her sanity and peace are reclaimed.  

as if the garden was created by a poet
someone who knew
we need things to gather and eat
the juice dripping off our pens.


       In “The Mad Farmer Dances” the MFW finds stability and refuge in her memory: 

No, what holds her is memory
that blows by
like the starlings in the summer’s quiet,
quick and brief but color so vivid:     




The last poem “October Dusk” the MFW views her husband not as someone who is embittered, wasting time, or one who has lost his competence – but her equal lover and co-inheritor of the earth:


He sits quietly by me
memories of the day’s work
swift moving color shared
like fall leaves in the yard.

The potatoes from the garden
lie scattered in the grass.
Tomorrow we will sort them
and store them for winter.

His hand rests on my neck
as he slowly stands.
He offers the other dirty hand
to help me up.

Our eyes meet in the fading light
We go inside
surrendering to night-
the smell of earth still strong.