The Smartest Man I’ve Ever Known

photo taken by Suzanne Baldwin, age 9

T. Edgar Punch (photo taken by Suzanne Baldwin, age 9)

I visited a friend of mine this past Saturday, whom I had not seen in over 20 years.  We were in high school and at college together.  She lives about an hour and a half west and north of here.  When I left my friend’s house on Saturday, I was feeling nostalgic.  No surprises there.  I took the Hwy 127 exit off of I40 and decided to go home by way of my childhood.  I guess I covered 37 miles of Lincoln County, starting near Vale and ending at the McGuire dam.  I stopped and took photographs along the way.

One of the places I stopped was the house near Vale where my Pappaw Punch lived.  I am writing a poem about what I saw there, how it made me feel.  As I think about him – about all my grandparents, really – it makes me even more embarrassed about the assumptions I find myself making about others.  I, of all people, really should know better.

My mother’s father was a trenchant observer of people; he was wise, and he was gentle.  I loved him and he loved me.  I wish I were more like him.  I wish I had bought him some Moravian cookies in Old Salem when I was in law school at Wake Forest, and taken them to him.  As far as I can recall, that is the only thing he ever asked me to do for him, and I didn’t do it, but he didn’t hold that against me.  He just loved me.  Continue reading

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What we miss …

IMG_0243

photo by Carly Leitner

when we live inside the worlds of our own making…

I am rocked by the thought of all the opportunities I have missed or muddled, simply because I thought I knew what was what.  Earlier today, the godess of irony decided to smack me around a bit, and presented a life lesson that I thought I already knew:  when it comes to people, I really should not assume that I know what is what … or much of anything.

This past week, I took the opportunity elsewhere to rant about racism and bigotry.  Bigotry is the height of stupidity, of course, and I rail against it whenever the opportunity presents itself (up close and personal, when necessary).  However, at the root of that trait which I so despise, there lies “assumption.”  Stereotyping is only possible if you allow yourself to make assumptions about other people.  I could weep when I think about how many times a day I surely do that very thing without even realizing it.

So, today, I went to the farm stand where I like to buy my plants and fresh produce.  The older gentleman who is usually running the cash register was there.  We’ve had a couple of dozen encounters over the course of several planting and growing seasons.  We usually follow the same script.  He talks with what I call a “Lincoln County accent.”  He calls me “young lady,” tells me about the plants I’ve picked out, compliments me on my choices.  I smile and “aw shucks” with him for a spell.  Once, he asked me, as I had my head bowed over the check I was writing, “Who put dem stripes in yore hair?’  I looked up, met his twinkling eyes and answered, “Would you believe me if I said the good Lord?”  He immediately answered, with a smile,  “Yes ma’am.”  I always thought the man was clever, and funny, but I never thought about who he is, much beyond what was revealed by our surface banter.  Today, the script started out the same way, but one comment knocked one of my little worlds out of orbit:  He told me I looked like … Continue reading

Work in Progress: Draft 2

IMG_1396I took another run at it today and here’s where we are:

Six Years of Dreaming
(The average person will spend six years dreaming over the course of his or her lifetime)

Sleep is a timid, undemanding lover who thinks
I am frigid and unyielding. Say it, then.
Or just take me
goddam you.

Habit, on the other hand, finds me quite pliable.
I cannot refuse him. He comes with wine
and music, leisure and temptations
mundane, predictable and irresistible.
I tell him I am tired of him
He cannot get enough of me.

I yearn for a new way
and new light, but the confusion – how
does light fit in to a life
that lives so intensely in the dark?

I wish myself somehow different
– maybe more given to rebellion
maybe less. Whatever I need
to break up
with my secrets.
I am not given
to rebellion as I once was
and so it may be hopeless.
I have spent so much longer
on dreams
than I should have done already,
staying awake for bad dreams
and shoving aside good dreams
for habit. I am
a mess.

Sleep has come to do an intervention
bringing with him
common sense, conventional wisdom
intuition … history. All the self-righteous
and smug know-it-alls.
Naturally, I am repulsed.

Dreams – my children, some I have borne
of gentle sleep and some of rough habit.
It is impossible to tell the legitimate issue
from the bastards because I cannot recall
which suitor I gave solemn promises.

Work in Progress: An Experiment

IMG_1396I want to try something a little different (for me, anyway; and, hopefully, for you too).  It may turn out to be too much like watching sausage get made, and if that is the case, I will abandon the idea, but first let me tell you what prompted it.  During the last few months, I have met people who asked me good questions about writing poetry.  When I get into such conversations, often, I  steer the conversation to the subject of reading poetry.  I’m not much into deconstruction, and certainly not as far as my own work is concerned.  I like talking to other writers and poets about their respective processes, but I don’t know what that sounds like to non-writers.  There is difference and there is sameness in what writers do.  What about readers?  And what about the readers or would-be readers of poetry? I a gree with Kathryn Byer, North Carolina’s Poet Laureate, who said in the interview I conducted of her in the Winter 2006/2007 issue of Main Street Rag,  that if poetry is taught as if it is a problem to be solved, that way of coming to a poem stays with students, and that isn’t a good thing.  I wish everyone could approach reading a poem as if that poem were simply a story to be told, a secret to be whispered, a lover to be held or one which is willing to  hold the reader.  Or, maybe it’s a lit fuse – it could be, you know. Continue reading