Street poetry: Selma at the Crossroads

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Town of Selma, North Carolina Sesquicentennial 1867-2017

 

On May 1, I had the honor of reading a poem I wrote for Selma, North Carolina’s sesquicentennial. Museum volunteers held a brief Founders Day ceremony with a few costumed citizens and refreshments in a pocket park on Anderson Street. There at the podium, with modern trains and traffic in the background, I read this:

Selma at the Crossroads

Weekday morning, Selma stirs

With railcars rumbling from the feed mill.

Gates descend; Amtrak slows into Union Station.

Commuters wait as each train

Rolls out past farmers turning the gray soil.

 

We are Selma at the crossroads

Measuring the past in wars;

From land parcels sold at Civil War’s end

To the blast of munitions at Catch Me Eye

That smashed 900 window panes three miles away.

 

Every fall we march a pageant of what we hold dear

Down Raiford Street, waving at the pretty girls

In their sparkling crowns

Praying our own children grow up and stay here

To raise families, to own homes, to run businesses.

 

We are Selma at the crossroads, between those

Hungry for knowledge and those for food;

Between the hard choice to pay bills or buy medicine.

It takes courage to smash apathy like a glass jar

Of “Selmalaise” from the shelf of the market store.

 

To do more than just pass each other

On Pollock, Anderson or Webb.

To mentor young leaders, to revive our faith,

To reach down to the tangled roots

And aerate the soil with reconciliation.

 

To pull the weeds of despair and doubt,

Prune the dead branches of pessimism

And let new growth have room to flourish.

Don’t just hum that lingering Sunday hymn

Join the choir. Take part in outreach.

 

We are Selma at the crossroads,

Between what was and what we will become,

Between labors ended and labors begun.

Between buildings vacant and those awakening

To red awnings, fresh paint, new lumber, nail gun to shingle.

 

Stand at the cornerstone laid 150 years ago

See the Selma that rises beyond

Linear tracks and street grids

With a vibrancy that moves in panorama

And soars spread-winged like an eagle above.

 

See Selma as if you had to leave her tomorrow

And carry her in your heart.

What would you take?

Would you come back?

We are Selma at the crossroads.

 

Cindy Brookshire

Town of Selma Sesquicentennial

Founders Day, May 1, 2017

 

If you want to see a short video, it’s posted on Facebook here (look in the video section or scroll to May 1, 2017).

As a backstory, I’d been working on the poem several weeks. The only person I showed it to, besides my husband, Curtis, was my pastor, Rev. Jim Melnyk of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Smithfield. Priests are like doctors, they have this cowboy code where they are compelled to tell you stuff straight up. I knew if it fell flat, he’d let me know. And he’s a poet, along with his brother. Father Jim came through. He gave me some good editing points, especially this:

My brother (who is better than I am at this – much better) always tells me I have too many words… I need less to say more. 

Less is more.

I edited the poem, mowing away the overgrown prose, and leaving room for the reader or listener to call up their own images of Selma, not mine. Here’s the earlier version, for comparison. Have a wonderful May, remember “less is more” and take your poetry to the streets!

Selma at the Crossroads (an earlier draft)

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. Psalm 118:22

Weekday morning, Selma stirs

With the rumble of rocking railcars

Leaving the feed mill. Gates descend;

Amtrak blasts and slows into Union Station,

Disembarking travelers. Each train’s freight

Of soybeans or passengers rolls past

Farmers turning the gray soil of North Carolina,

Rotating collards, sweet potatoes, tobacco.

Commuters, compliant at the crossings,

Tap iPhones, sip coffee, bite into a sausage biscuit.

 

We are Selma at a crossroads

Measuring the past in wars; when land parcels

Sold at Civil War’s end and roads were

Packed by wagon dirt and mule-pressed mud.

Seventy-five years ago, a blast of World War II

Munitions leveled the Talton Hotel at Catch Me Eye

And smashed 900 window panes

Of the Selma Cotton Mill three miles away.

We fought to preserve this small town,

So our children would grow up and stay

To raise families, to buy homes, to run businesses.

 

We are Selma at a crossroads

Between those hungry for knowledge

And those for food; between pride in our property

And those so beaten down by low wages,

Long work shifts and doctor bills

They can’t see up from the bottom rung.

 

It takes courage to smash apathy like a glass jar

Of “Selmalaise” from the shelf of the IGA.

To do more than just pass each other

On Raiford, Anderson or Webb.

To mentor young leaders, to revive our faith,

To reach down to the tangled roots

And aerate the soil with racial reconciliation

Pull the weeds of despair and doubt,

Prune the dead branches of pessimism

And let new growth have room to flourish.

Don’t just hum that lingering Sunday hymn

Join the choir. Don’t just wave back

At the pretty girl in her sparkling crown

At the Railroad Days parade.

Make sure every teenager in Selma

Has an opportunity for scholarship.

 

We are Selma at a crossroads

Between what was and what we will become

Between labors ended and labors begun

Between buildings vacant and those

Awakening to red awnings, fresh paint

New lumber, nail gun to shingle.

 

A strong town can’t happen

Without people who care

And understand what others around the state

Know: Place matters more than ever.

Come back to the cornerstone laid 150 years ago

See the Selma that rises beyond

Linear roads and railroad tracks

The vibrancy that moves like a Facebook 360

And soars like a drone above.

 

See Selma as if you had to leave her

Tomorrow and carry her in your heart.

What would you take?

The music from The Rudy?

An ice cold milkshake from Creech Drug?

I would take this: Sunrise service

At Greenwood and the way my heart beats

Under my hand when I rise

To say the Pledge of Allegiance

At a town council meeting.

The laughter coming from the barbershop

While swapping stories

Relay races at the Boys & Girls Club

Welcoming the stranger to town at the visitor center.

We are Selma at the crossroads.

 

Cindy Brookshire

Town of Selma’s Founders Day

May 1, 2017

 

 

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

Bathtub Books

0103171248_resizedThese days, I reduce, reuse and recycle books.

I reduce by avoiding Amazon.com. If I can’t find a book I want at a local independently-owned bookstore, I think twice about the purchase.

I reuse by giving away autographed books by local authors as auction items or door prizes at fundraisers. I borrow and return books in good shape to The Little Free Library in Pine Level, the Selma Public Library, the Harrison Center for Active Aging in Selma, and HealthQuest Fitness Center in Smithfield.

I recycle by sharing books with others in the book bucket at church.

But I have a confession to make. On occasion, I rip up paperback fiction, page by page, as I read and soak in the bathtub.

These are dog-eared paperbacks bought for 25 cents at yard sales.

I rationalize the books are going to get wet anyway. And no one is going to miss the millionth copy of a book by an author with a monopoly on an entire shelf in Books-a-Million in Goldsboro. You know, branded names who dominate endcaps, have promotional tent cards on Joe Muggs tables, and make the New York Times bestseller list before a single new volume is on the shelf. In a three-second glance at cover design, title, name, it’s an impulse buy. The author is cents-on-the-dollar richer, a million times over. The rest feeds the corporate machine of agents, publishers, marketers. The story is just another harpoon dragged along with the whale. The “buy” is all. By ripping up yardsale paperbacks, I’m not destroying a work of art – it’s just paper and color – the equivalent of a “paint and sip” painting.

Or so I rationalize. My latest bathtub book is by a male romance writer who bristles at the label. He insists he’s a fiction writer. No matter. He is creeping up into the Barbara Cartland (1 billion), Danielle Steel (800 million) and Nora Roberts (400 million) sales club with his 105 million books sold. The book is about a widow and her dog. I’m a remarried widow. I have a dog. That’s why I picked it up. But this widow exhibits none of the crazy tornado family rollercoaster behavior I went through 18 years ago. The auto mechanic friend who loves her, the crazy rich guy who tries to woo her – even the loyal dog – are all cardboard stick characters, and the plot is a half-hearted “stranger comes to town.” A typical online review is “wasn’t a huge fan of this one, but I am looking forward to his next novel.” Huh? But I paid a quarter for this one! I know I will forget this paperback as soon as I drain the tub and discard the last page.

I admit my compulsion in ripping up paperback fiction is rooted in jealousy. “I can write better than this,” I think. But then, I haven’t. And which one of us is in a little tub in Pine Level, and which of us owns a mansion built to his specifications lakeside with who knows how many bathrooms with soaking tubs?

Oh well. This prolific male romance writer is cranking out two more books at this moment. He has the opportunity to make many more sales. Women in soaking tubs have made him so. His books pop forward on chain bookstore shelves like store brand tomato sauce cans neatly stacked at Town Market. I put one in my cart this week, and next week, there will be another.

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.

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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

Romance and Hope at a book club meeting in Pine Level

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As a writer, you’d think I consume book after book, like a chain smoker igniting one cigarette with the stub of another.

Not so. Much of my reading time is spent on digital and print news – The Washington Post, the News & Observer, the Smithfield Herald and the Selma and Pine Level News. How can I resist headlines like this one:

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Participating in the book club through St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Smithfield, North Carolina, forces me to read books.

This book club gathers once every two months, in member homes, after the eight o’clock morning service. We laugh, we talk, we eat brunch and drink coffee. We discuss the book du jour, from The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins to A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg. In the process, we share our lives with each other. The selection of the next read is by vote. Some books are challenging. Some are popular. Most are books I wouldn’t have picked up on my own, which almost makes it seem like a blind date with a book.

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On Feb. 14, it’s my turn to host the book club. Since it is Valentine’s Day, we voted to read the romance Irish Encounter by Hope Toler Dougherty.

Hope is a local writer, and I invited her to join us for the discussion of her work. She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, but I met her through the Johnston County Writers Group, which meets Feb. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Selma Public Library.

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Hope is a librarian in the town of Princeton, which is so small, the public library is housed in, and amplified by, the media center at the local high school. I have visited this library numerous times and have thoroughly enjoyed hearing presentations by other local writers, such as Alice J. Wisler, Cindy K. Green and Ellen Edwards Kennedy.

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I’ve also attended two of Hope’s presentations. One was the launch for her book, Mars with Venus Rising, which takes place in the town of Mars, Pennsylvania. The second was a craft talk, about things like using the software Scrivener to organize your manuscripts. Writing is hard work, and often a thankless endeavor. Editing, publishing and marketing your books is even tougher. Hope has worked hard to get two books published, and is currently working on a third and fourth manuscript.

I’m hoping the Valentine’s Day meeting of the book club will bring us all a good time, with lots of laughter, as we discuss Hope’s work.

I wonder what book we will read next?