A Poem a Day

 

 

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Reading “Poison Ivy” and “Aqua Motion” at the fourth Friday Open Mic at Hula Girl Café in Selma, NC.

Yay! My poem, “Flowers Bruise Too Easily,” and short story, “Saturday Morning Skate,” have been accepted for publication in The Virginia Writers Club Centennial Anthology. Release is targeted for VWC’s annual meeting in November 2017 to kick off the club’s 100th year in 2018. I am so happy!

 

It’s like plucking a ripe tomato I grew to give to a neighbor. Something I nurtured took flight beyond me. My writing and my tomatoes have wings!

Every April, which is National Poetry Month, I like to write a poem a day. I started in 2014, when Katherine Gotthardt led a poetry workshop in historic Manassas, Virginia. I wrote one with Katherine. Then I wrote another. And another! I filled April with poems. I didn’t realize I had them inside me. Now, April has become like poetry-hatching season.

This month, I’m encouraging everyone I know to join me and write a poem a day. In fact, every Thursday this month (April 6, 13, 20 and 27), from 4 to 6 pm I’ll be hosting a “Coffee with a Poet” at Grapes & Grounds, a coffee shop at 135 S Third Street in Smithfield, North Carolina. Hang out with me over coffee or a glass of wine and we’ll write poetry together or just talk about writing. I’ll have lots of poetry templates and writing prompts on hand, thanks to tips from poet John Dutton, a nominee for Prince William Poet Laureate and facilitator for Spilled Ink, an open mic at Jirani Coffeehouse in Manassas, Virginia.

Then, on Friday, April 28 from 7 to 9 pm, come to the fourth Friday Open Mic at Hula Girl Café, 103 S Raiford Street in Selma, North Carolina and sign up to read your poems! This open mic is hosted by Cornerstone Writers, a new writing group in Selma, facilitated by Susanne Pote of Platform Pounce, Hula Girl’s next door neighbor. Come with an appetite — Hula Girl is famous for their applejacks (fried fruit pies). Jennifer serves them with scoops of ice cream and whipped cream on top.

Meanwhile, here’s a poem I wrote last year. I carried wallet-sized copies of it in my purse and handed them out at one of those business after hours that the Smithfield-Selma Chamber of Commerce sponsored. Taking poetry everywhere!

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Drive-thru Poem

As workday morning rises

Cars ring-a-round drive-thru lanes

Of a nearby fast food restaurant.

It doesn’t matter which chain.

 

They would circle Dante’s Inferno

If the poet advertised

Bacon egg and cheese biscuits

On the way down.

 

I’m hungry for a poem

But there’s no window for that.

Not even a pizza poem, vegan verse

Or raisin rhyme.

 

I’m left to bake my own

Jotting it down on the back

Of a Val-u-pak coupon

While waiting at lights for change.

 

I find it weeks later, squirreled

In the glove compartment

Of a 16-year-old Saturn

In need of two new tires.

A gift, like a coupon

That never expires.

 

Cindy Brookshire

I have a Quran in my home

booksThe recent Muslim travel ban, which has no credible national security rationale for it, reminded me of the ignorance and hate against immigrants and refugees that I encountered when I lived in Manassas, Virginia.

I was working the counter at a local government office one day, when an elderly white man came in. I can’t remember what set him off, but he went on a long-winded rant about radical Islamic terrorism, ending with “Read your Quran!” as the bell-jangling door closed behind him.

He didn’t know it, but I have a Quran in my home.

When my first husband, Martin, was senior warden at Trinity Episcopal Church, he visited Manassas Mosque with our rector, Rev. Stuart Schadt. On that visit, Imam Abu Nahidian gave him a copy of the holy book.

I know Martin read it. After his death in 1998 I found his bookmarks and handwritten notes on legal paper throughout its pages. I cherish it because he studied it. And while I didn’t read it at the time, I believe I see it revealed in the people who live its teachings.

Like Mr. Nahidian. When his mosque grew into a new location at an industrial park near I66, it was spray-painted with graffiti numerous times. In 2014, when it happened again and a glass door was also broken, he welcomed Unity in the Community, an outreach group of which I was a member, to come and talk about ways we could counter these hate crimes with education.

Or like Taalibah Hassan, the chair of Unity, who welcomed us to Dar Al Noor Islamic Community Center on Hoadly Road in Manassas for numerous community events, including the showing of a film about the rise and fall of Islamic culture in (now) Spain. I went there with a fellow writer, Adelaida Lower, a native of Morocco, who was working on The Red Ribbon, a novel set in 1491 Spain. I admit, I was anxious about the unfamiliar customs at the center – walking through a door separate from men, leaving our shoes in a cubby, covering our heads with scarves – until, once inside, we encountered the familiar – a Girl Scout troop selling cookies in the foyer. After the film discussion, we were invited to prayer and a shared meal of kebabs, pastry pies, vegetables, figs. Delicious!

Or like Afzal Nasiri and his wife, Marie Khalili. I met Al through the Prince William Chamber of Commerce. He hired me to help edit an English translation of Marie’s book, Memoirs of Khalilullah Khalili, An Afghan Philosopher Poet: A Conversation with his Daughter.

khaliliI sat typing on a notebook computer with Al – a former editor of the Kabul Times – while he translated from Persian. I was fascinated at how Marie’s father, an eyewitness to eight decades of Afghan history and the reign of four kings, from British rule to Soviet coup, could end up sitting in a lawn chair in New Jersey, talking into a tape recorder as she interviewed him about his life. He was once ambassador and secretary to King Zahir Shah. He authored 70 works of poetry, fiction, histories and Sufi studies. He had even been unjustly thrown into an Afghan prison at one point. In his words:

“It was evening and darkness fell. I picked up a few pieces of coal and wrote a poem on the wall of the prison cell … In the morning … as soon as [the guard’s] eyes fell on the wall he said, ‘Are you trying to have me killed? … Your right to write has been taken away. The investigators will come and I will be in trouble!’ He wiped my poetry from the wall and cleaned it, despite my pleas to leave it there. ‘It’s only a poem,’ I said.”

As a writer, I couldn’t think of anything worse than being confined without the means to write, and censored by a government. I learned Khalili died in exile and was buried in Pakistan, near the tomb of Pashtu poet Rahman Baba. In 2012, Marie’s father’s remains were finally returned to Afghan soil and re-interred in a place of honor near Kabul University.

In 2017, I am living in eastern North Carolina. Now the rants about radical Islamic terrorism are coming from another elderly white man in highest government office. His words, ringing in the House Chamber at the center of the U.S. Capitol, are as sharp as the spray-painted words and broken glass that confronted the children of Manassas Mosque that summer day. He protests he’s not talking about American citizens like Mr. Nahidian or Taalibah or Al or Marie, but his words stir up hate and fear, all the same.

The Rev. Laurie Brock, in a Lenten meditation on her popular blog, Dirty Sexy Ministry (because faith is…), suggests that we consider experiencing other faith traditions as part of our journey toward Easter this year:

The religious literacy of most people in this country is limited. Lent is a wonderful time to experience and learn about other faith traditions. Visit a synagogue or mosque. Attend another Christian denomination. Read the holy writings of other faith traditions. For a great primer on this, explore Stephen Prothero’s Religious Literacy. Further, offer yourself to experience other faith traditions not to feel superior about our own traditions, but to see the truth in their expression of God.”

One such opportunity is an open house hosted by the Islamic Association of Raleigh on Saturday, March 11. The event is 11 am to 4 pm and includes tours of the Mosque, lunch, and a keynote address by Imam Abu Taleb, PhD. The location is 808 Atwater Street in Raleigh.

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If I don’t attend the open house, I have another opportunity – to hear Nida Allam speak. She’s the newly elected Third Vice Chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, and has been vocal about politicians who use the rhetoric that attaches Muslim to ISIL, which only feeds into the narrative of us vs. them. Nida will be the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Democratic Women of Johnston County/Democratic Men of Johnston County, on Thursday, March 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 218 S. Second St., Smithfield, NC. The group is collecting donations to Harbor, Inc. Use this link www.harborshelter.org/donate to see what items are needed.

And yes, I will read my Quran.

I was inspired to write this after reading Barbara Presnell’s “Muslims who have changed my life” in the Lexington Dispatch.

http://www.the-dispatch.com/entertainment/20170216/barbara-presnell-muslims-who-have-changed-my-life

Popular columnist shares humor, honesty over coffee

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Barry Saunders reads from his second book, “…And the Horse You Rode in on, Saunders!” Event organized by Mountaintop Productions Public Relations, Smithfield.

National Novel Writing Month, and our final write-in, ended with a great plot twist on Tuesday, Nov. 29.

 

Writers Gary Ridout, Evelyn Wool, Hope Dougherty and I were finishing our labors at Grapes & Grounds coffee shop in Smithfield, N.C., when in walked award-winning Raleigh News & Observer columnist Barry Saunders!

Saunders was there to discuss his book, …And the Horse You Rode in On, Saunders! The book is a compilation of his columns from 1995-2005.

We joined the gathering crowd and listened as Saunders spun stories and shared the humor and honesty of 23 years of toiling in newsrooms. The biggest surprise? He loves it when people criticize his columns. If he’s not being challenged, he doesn’t think he’s doing his job. He knows he has a tough audience to please, and works hard not to be predictable.

I started reading Saunders when I moved to Pine Level two years ago. His columns were a window on my new environs, where some locals called me “Miss Cindy” or “Suge” while others were taking a raised-fist stand on HB2, voting rights, eminent domain. All his subjects were relevant in my little corner.

The Saunders column that cemented my subscription to the N&O was “Writing Salvaged My Life,” (February 8, 2015). His subject was Shelby Stephenson, who grew up on a farm in Benson and was, at the time, being installed as North Carolina Poet Laureate. After reading an earlier column (Saunders: “If it weren’t for my danged deadline, I’d still gladly be listening to Shelby Stephenson’s stories.”) I drove to Raleigh to witness the installation myself. I can’t tell you how thrilling it was to stand under the state capitol dome, in a chamber filled with educators and literary hall of famers and see a humble writer so honored.

Saunders wrote: “Stephenson said he sometimes reads publicly, often with other noted Tar Heel poets as Jaki Shelton Green. ‘She’s always getting on me for writing about possums,’ he said, laughing at the gentle rebukes. ‘I’ve written two books about possums. We ate so many of them growing up that I try to give back to the possum community.’”

He also quoted Stephenson: “Creativity is in each of us. It’s not something just a few people have.”

Saunders made me realize how accessible Stephenson is. So I asked the laureate to speak to our writers group in Selma, which he did. Stephenson also traveled to my former hometown of Manassas, Virginia, where he participated in a poetry event, “In the Company of Laureates,” at the Hylton Performing Arts Center that involved five state poets laureate and others, which a fellow writer, June Forte, arranged in October 2015.

Tuesday night, Saunders shared with the gathering at Grapes & Grounds about growing up in Rockingham, N.C. and his college days at Morehouse. His first newspaper job at The Atlanta Constitution, was writing obituaries. He said he learned the hard way, that spelling names correctly is vital, “because some people only get their name in the paper twice, when they are born and when they die.” He is still haunted by a hurriedly typed “Rhett” that should have been “Ray.”

Saunders shared that in 23 years of writing columns, he’s had to apologize and “eat crow” about 10 times. He said people respect you when you admit your mistake. And his favorite columns are the ones that produce positive action, like helping an ex-felon find a job or a teenager getting much-needed shoes. His worst column? Well, the title of his book is the tail end of a curse one reader hurled at him after publication of a particularly trouble-stirring one. Saunders joyfully admits his book would make a great holiday gift for friends and enemies alike.

Copies of Saunders’ signed book are available at Grapes & Grounds, located next door to the Howell Theatre at 135 South Third Street in Smithfield, N.C.

If you’d like to meet with other local writers, the Johnston County Writers Group meets the second Thursday of the month at 6:30 pm at the Selma Public Library, 301 N. Pollock Street in Selma. Our next meeting is Dec. 8, 2016.

Preparing to Vote

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I love voting. There’s something about walking into a polling place and showing my voter registration card, reciting my name and address and then going into a private space to cast my vote that is life affirming. Yes, I have this freedom. Yes, I have this voice. Yes, as a woman, I have this right. Yes, I am proud to be an American.

Of course, I’m old enough to be nostalgic for the time when I pulled a huge lever to shut the half-curtains of a voting booth. I loved clicking down the little metal levers in secret and then yanking the big lever again to cast my vote and exit. Modern touchscreens just don’t offer the same satisfying tactile and sensory experience. In my current voting precinct, I write on a paper ballot and feed it into a machine. Thankfully, I get an “I voted” sticker. I remember when budget cuts prevented Prince William County, Virginia from providing stickers. I don’t think they’ll ever do that again.

http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/politics/I-Voted-Now-Give-Me-My-Sticker-106603794.html

I love voting so much I worked as an election official for several years in Manassas, Virginia. That was fun because I was able to participate on the inside and see what goes on within precincts. The work was tedious and the hours long, but I loved standing outside in the dark and shouting, “Hear ye, hear ye, the polls are now open.” I loved waiting on people and asking even the most familiar faces, like the city mayor, or my next door neighbor of several decades, to state their names and addresses.

I was amazed at how much stuff people carry around in their wallets and purses – stale cough drops, outdated car insurance cards, dried out ink pens, etc., tumbling out while they searched for their IDs or voter registration cards. I always thought it would be a useful community service to offer a table near the exit where people could dump out and toss or shred the accumulation. It would be a timely Election Day piggyback, like offering flu shots at church coffee hours,  or reminding people to change their smoke alarm batteries when they set their clocks an hour forward or back with Daylight Savings Time.

By the time the polls would close, I’d been there so long, my feet ached and I was slightly punchy. That’s when we would pull together as a team to report totals, get our documentation organized, initialed and sealed, pack away the equipment and clean up. Ironically, we’d be the last to know who won because we were closeted away from all the news coverage.

This Election Day is important, not just because 2016 is a Presidential Election. In this General Election, I will be voting for 39 local, state, and federal candidates, from school board members to the US Senate. There are also two items on the referendum. In my little town of less than 2,000 people and one stoplight, these are on the ballot:

  • President and Vice President of the United States
  • US Senate
  • US House of Representatives
  • NC Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General
  • NC Auditor, Treasurer, Secretary of State and Superintendent of Public Instruction
  • NC Commissioners of Agriculture, Insurance and Labor
  • NC State Senate and House of Representatives
  • NC Supreme Court Associate Justice, Court of Appeals and District Court Judges
  • County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education
  • Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor
  • Two Referendum items

Getting to know these candidates and issues is taking some work – going to candidate forums, looking up candidate websites and Facebook pages, and listening to long-time residents to get their insights. I attended a church breakfast before the Selma Railroad Days festival and was able to meet several candidates, too. I’m helping our church outreach committee register voters and offer rides to the polls, both for early voting and on Election Day.

So this month, in the last 30 days before the election, I’d like to encourage everyone to learn as much as possible about the candidates and the issues. Volunteer and get involved.

Most of all, vote on November 8, 2016.

 

My Guest Post on Southern Writers’ Suite T is March 4

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Join me Friday, March 4, when I’ll be a guest on Suite T, the blog for Southern Writers’ Magazine.

My topic is “How to start a writers group and help it thrive.” I’ll be happy to respond to your comments on the magazine’s blog, Facebook page or Twitter.

In 2011, I helped found Write by the Rails, the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. In 2015, the chapter sponsored “In the Company of Laureates” at the Hylton Performing Arts Center. A 2016 project is the Windy Knolls Writers Workshop in Nokesville in October.

Since moving to North Carolina in 2014, I’ve become an active member of the Johnston County Writers Group, which meets the second Thursday of the month at 6:30 pm at the Selma Public Library in Selma. Led by facilitator Gary Ridout, the group has hosted such guest speakers as former Piedmont Laureate Carrie Knowles and current North Carolina Poet Laureate Shelby Stephenson.

I am also a member of the North Carolina Writers’ Network.

Please check out my post on Suite T in the morning!

Cindy Brookshire
https://twitter.com/CindyBrookshire
https://www.facebook.com/cindy.brookshire
Pine Level, NC

De-hoarding Project Update: Halfway Through

Six weeks ago I started my summer project, working on the 12 bins of memorabilia and 17 scrapbooks that are purposely cluttering my living room in Pine Level so I will deal with them. I am pleased to report I am down to about half that – five piles of stuff, one for each decade, including one big pre-1980s pile.
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Now comes the next layer – giving myself permission to photograph, scan and dump. I want to do this quickly; otherwise, I’ll be swallowed up in a self-made tomb to dead people. Two thoughts, about history and time, will put this in perspective:

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Image courtesy of French Wikipedia

First, history. The Inquisition, which lasted 600 years, and in which people were burned at the stake for heresy, is significant. My dad’s (or mom’s) high school yearbooks are not. (Although I will contact the museums/libraries in their hometowns to see if I can donate them – I know the RELIC center in Manassas is accepting yearbook donations, and has volunteers scanning them for archives.)

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What I do want to save is the photo of my dad, Roy, as a young man in Nyssa, Oregon, before he went off to fight in World War II, and the photo of him with his flight crew.

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Second, time. My life is meant to be lived and experienced, and I have things to write about. I have a lunch date with one writer scheduled, and the critique group in Goldsboro is giving me feedback on Chapters 3 and 4 of my book. If I set that aside to sit in a shut-up house among piles of things, that’s not living. When my friend Kathy visited she told me, she doesn’t have any scrapbooks, not even for her wedding. Instead she has a whole family of wonderful experiences that keep happening, like the day trip she and I took to St. Andrews in Laurinburg, and the time we shared.

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Kathy at St. Andrews in Laurinburg

So today I am giving myself permission to stop – stop hoarding, stop being the family caretaker of stuff. I’ll give the final result of my summer project the fourth week of September, when autumn begins.

My question for you is, if a natural disaster or eviction threatened the place you call home, and you had to get up and leave right now, what could you carry with you? What would you choose?

Manassas commends Write by the Rails

Congratulations to Write by the Rails, the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club, which received a commendation Monday night at the Manassas City Council meeting. You can read the commendation here: WBTRLFLCommendation08102015

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The chapter’s most recent hands-on project has been working with the Prince William Library Foundation to bring 10 Little Free Libraries to the city.

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The first of Write by the Rails’ Little Free Libraries was installed this past weekend at The NEW School in the Old Post Office Building in historic downtown Manassas. Photos courtesy of Victor Rook (www.VictorRook.com).

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Write by the Rails will be participating in several upcoming events including Fall for the Book, Sept. 27-Oct. 3 (events in Manassas TBA). Here is a photo of Write by the Rails volunteers at last year’s Fall for the Book event, Haute Cuisine at the Hylton.

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Write by the Rails is also helping to plan the “In the Company of Laureates” event at the Hylton Performing Arts Center on Oct. 11, 2015, along with the Poetry Society of Virginia.

In the Company of Laureates

In the Company of Laureates

In the Company of Laureates will bring together more than 20 current and past Poets Laureate from Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia in celebration of American poetry at the Hylton Center for the Performing Arts on October 11 from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Hylton Center is located at 10960 George Mason Circle on George Mason University’s Science and Technology Campus, Manassas, Virginia.

Meet and mingle with award-winning Laureates and other regional poets and enthusiasts. Workshops, panel discussions, open mics, book signings and more. A teen program and activities are also scheduled throughout the afternoon. The event is free and open to the public.

For additional information, visit the In the Company of Laureates event website at: http://www.writebytherails.org/in-the-company-of-laureates/