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Last night I heard two great poets read at Poetry Hickory.

First Dannye Romine Powell read from her new book, A Necklace of Bees.   Dannye is a soft but confident reader.  In her subject matter, she is brave.  She wore a lovely shawl for which, I gather, she is famous.  (see review by Kathryn Stripling Byer)

Next Chuck Sullivan read from his new book Zen Matchbook.  The book is his seventh.   Chuch is an energetic Renaissance Man, a Catholic with attitude. One of the blurbs on his book from Father Daniel Berrigan.

I was afforded (thanks to Poet Scott Owens, organizer of Poetry Hickory) the opportunity to be one of three “open mike” readers that follow the invited poets.  I used this opportunity to read poems in accordance with the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. The poems I read are all from my chapbook, Gathering the Broken Pieces, (available from FootHills Publishing).

**

Fear’s End

Shortly after midnight, Martin’s sleep was
broken.  Lifting the receiver, bone-tired:
Listen, nigger.

Alone, though his wife
slept beside him, fear drove him
from their bed.  The night was filled
with unbearable silence.

Struggling, pacing nervously,
moving from hall to kitchen,

putting the kettle on the stove
by instinct, walking back and forth,
softly, so as not to wake
the baby, trying to sort
muddled thoughts, to drive away spasms
of godless panic.

Hot coffee cools quickly.

He sat alone at that kitchen table,
eyes downcast, hands clasped.

Grace still amazes.

**

Martyred At the Lorraine

I can see Martin.
On that balcony.

Hosea.  Jesse.  Martin.  Ralph.

But you will say,
my mind is playing tricks.

That was the night before,
right?  Before
he gave that speech
to those garbage men,

going to Mason’s Chapel in pouring rain,
tired as he was.

Sure he would march.
But who would guess,
his final speech

would come in Memphis?

The baritone softly hums “Precious Lord,”
and he smiles.

Wrong again.
That was the day

it happened.

I can see Martin.
At that Negro motel.

He throws out his chest,
waves his hand as he speaks,

guffaws
into the nip of an April twilight,
perhaps picturing his “four little children”:

a robust man, he tells
of what he sees atop the mountain—

in the land beyond,

in the view.

“Oh! . . . ”

The bullet pierced its intended,
and Ralph gently cradled
Martin’s dying head.  Who, now,
will choose redemption,

suffering—to implement the dream?

I see Martin carried.
From the Lorraine.

A widening pool of still-warm blood
turns brown.

**

Listen

A soldier keeping watch in the darkness prays for light
yet sees only the firing of rockets.  A native woman—
holding, comforting a child—is stifling her muffled
cries to Allah.  And surely, each heart speaks.
But who will hear God’s answer,
alone in the Iraqi night?

**

The Refuge

I stopped for water by an ancient tree,
smoldering in a war-torn land.

Seated, she peered—flesh soiled—
with blackened eyes through sunken sockets.

Our fears mingled in stagnant air.
Because it was afternoon,

a fierce downpour of welcome rain
coated the fire-damaged trunk, limbs

that failed to serve as shelter
but left hair, clothing

pasted immodestly to the body
and me shivering.  Walking away,

she nuzzled her infant to her breast
and an older baby to her starving frame.

Sunset followed:
predictable—like that day’s river of mud.

**

Martin Luther King Jr.  opposed three evils:  Racism, poverty, and war.

Our minds are always active. We analyze, reflect, daydream, or dream. There is not a moment during the day or night when we are not thinking. You might say our thinking is “unceasing.” Sometimes we wish that we could stop thinking for a while; that would save us from many worries, guilt feelings, and fears. Our ability to think is our greatest gift, but it is also the source of our greatest pain. Do we have to become victims of our unceasing thoughts? No, we can convert our unceasing thinking into unceasing prayer by making our inner monologue into a continuing dialogue with our God, who is the source of all love.

Let’s break out of our isolation and realize that Someone who dwells in the center of our beings wants to listen with love to all that occupies and preoccupies our minds.

**

Emphasis mine

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