A few weeks ago a poet and good friend of Gracious Roots, Ashley Crout and I had an opportunity to sit down over an always-astounding (how about that for alliteration?) cup of coffee at Greenville South Carolina's Coffee Underground. We both laughed at our deeply Southern upbringings and fought off tears as we swapped stories of childhood trauma that could only happen in the South. We solved complex world problems quickly and concisely (at least in our minds), and Ashley read some of her new writings. Ashley told me that she wanted to honor the Arts throughout the Southern Highlands. I thought it was fitting for Ashley, a published poet with an MFA from Hunter College in NYC, to take the lead.
With each article placed on GraciousRoots, we aim to go better and brighter than the last, sharing new ideas, fresh experiences, and unheard voices. The evolving artists in the Southern Highlands region whose work we’ll be exploring give us insight into our homeland. They offer an artist’s eye for exceptional and unusual beauty here. They seem to feel it more keenly, like conduits of spirit, channeling their emotions into physical being, into experiences that delight us. And frighten us a little too. Lord, we’re all glorious freaks…
Here are a few of Ashley’s poems. Take a look.
Creative Arts Director
CHRISTMAS LIGHTS IF YOU’RE OUT TO SUMMON GOD
Somehow I’ve landed myself again in a tiny repetitive subdivision
in a nothing Southern town. Nothing in it for the soul is what
I’m saying. Well, yes, I know it’s the good women and bad dogs
within it. I never stop being glad about the within it. But the outer
houses are always vinyl-sided and beige because beige doesn’t clash
with color. Beige doesn’t make any sound but maybe a hum
that means you’ve comforted yourself enough to sleep the night.
The lawns are always lawns because yards mean yard dogs
and their disallowed howling. The droning loveliness is always
money, and money means enough. When that winter Christian
holiday hits, the people line the perfectly perpendicular edges
of their bank-loaned homes with clear but white lights that mimic
a snowfall that would shut the usually heat-singed town down
for days of frozen fear of the random cruelties of nature –tires
uncontrollable on the ice-black roads. And then the prayers for a thaw
and a return to driving in a pattern from retail to restaurant chain.
I’m forgetting to mention the wreaths that insert a perfect circle
into each weather-sealed window, tied with a synthetic red bow
and lit with a single light like a candle but not fire at all, at all,
that burning. Subdivisors, I drive past you and fast as you blend
into your own unremarkable version of perfect peace and pray
to your one and only God the same for pretty floating snow
that doesn’t stick you anymore deeper in to your stuck glory.
I turn down the roads in disrepair lined with loved but unlovely
clapboard shacks decked with the garish bloated colored bulbs
and plastic lit-up baby Jesus heads the dwellers got on Walmart
markdown at last season’s end because they wanted to celebrate
loud and long next year. God, give me ten overpopulated off-tune
“Silent Night” singing mangers in every yard run on power no one
within the orange blue green red drafty houses can afford because
that’s what a gift is – more than you’ve ever been given and with you
in it. I mean the house. I mean the holy. The God I know hears
the sound and the absence of sound, the one and the loud thousand
lights. All of it is prayer in the brief unlonely joy of celebration
for the unknown and unknowable, for the bliss and burden of this,
this mercy hurt of birth and death, then birth again.
Years after my grandmother had forgotten
her name – lost all recognition
of the faces that spoke it,
became a house uninhabited
by who and what once she loved –
one memory remained.
On any drive through the erased
landscapes of her childhood,
she would watch the overgrown roadsides
and say: I hate, how I hate, that old kudzu,
contorting her mouth
as if it were a taste, a distaste.
Only one thread of life remained.
How the bold encroaching vines of kudzu
overtook her yard all of every year –
draped a weight that bent the tree limbs,
smothered the grasses underneath,
blocked the necessary sun
from every other life.
No method of murder she premeditated
would end it – not enraged extraction
of every root, not poison, not fire,
not yelled threats of biblical proportion.
No repeated police intervention
would deter her counterattacks.
Not even when every other green
breathing thing in her neighborhood
became a casualty of this dark mission,
burned to death in its bed.
The kudzu always resurrected itself
like the heads of the hydra – two new smiling vines
for each one she severed at the neck.
Her mind’s disease resembled this.
It killed the who she was
while the what of her body
spread and spread its thoughtless perpetual cells.