Since my plans to travel this weekend had only recently changed and I had not signed up to read, I went to the reading for the 2017 Writing from Inlandia today to listen to other local writers and not to read myself. However, just as the last scheduled reader was preparing to read, I was urged to follow her at the podium.
I shared three of the five poems I have in this new anthology:
Rest in the Grove
Two Hollows on a Hill
At Last a Black Lily
“Birdie, birdie, birdie, / calls the cardinal,” I chirped out as I began “Standing Ground,” which features the territorial calls of a cardinal perched above a hanging carcass. My mother loved cardinals. She would have hated this poem. “Why write about such a gruesome scene?” she would have said, but she was not there. She and my father were interred at Hickory Grove Cemetery just two weeks ago. My mother passed early in January and my father less than a year earlier.
I struggled to lift my eyes to face the audience. Maintaining periodic eye contact while reading is a part of my daily routine. I’m a teacher. But I found myself desperately struggling to maintain composure as I thought of my parents.
As I read the dedication, “for Benjamin Mileham Stone,” I felt my voice begin to waver. I came close to crying, but made it through the poem. “Rest in the Grove.”
I hadn’t introduced the poem, but after a deep breath at its end, I shared about the recent loss of my parents, feeling a need to explain my quavering. The compassionate faces I saw in the audience, many who I have known for years now, steadied my nerves and voice as I read through the four stanzas of “At Last a Black Lily,” which reflects on the death of a raven from the West Nile virus. Rest and beauty came for the bird in my poem as courage and peace came for me. I am grateful for the community of writers I’ve come to know through the programs of the Inlandia Institute.