Thursday, February 12, 2009

To Feel What Might Otherwise Be Lost

To Feel What Might Otherwise Be Lost
Musings for February 5

Linda Annas Ferguson and I share a lot in common. We’re both poets; we’ve both lived in North and South Carolina; we both grew up in a mill village; and we were both scarred by the rites of passage such a childhood seems to entail. In fact, we have both written poems extensively from that experience of a mill village childhood, and we even occasionally discuss the pipe dream of a much larger collection of poems from that perspective by ourselves and other poets ranging from Molly Rice to Ron Rash. After all, if you grew up in the Carolinas prior to the 1970s, chances are your life was touched by the cotton mill industry. Now, the lifestyle created by those mill villages is disappearing, and perhaps some record of it ought to be saved.

One place that record is preserved is in the four books of poems by Ferguson: Bird Missing from One Shoulder (WordTech Editions, 2007); Stepping on Cracks in the Sidewalk (Finishing Line Press, 2006); Last Chance to Be Lost (Kentucky Writers’ Coalition, 2004); and It’s Hard to Hate a Broken Thing (Palanquin Press, University of S.C. Aiken, 2002). This is the important sort of work that Ferguson has done as one of our area’s most active poets, but mill village life is not the only subject she bends her pen to. Equally impressive among her work are the poems that deal with growing up as a girl in the South, with being a woman in the South, with suffering and loss and persistence, with, ultimately, being alive in the world today.

I wrote in a recent review of Ferguson’s latest book, that “Bird Missing from One Shoulder does what most poetry aspires to do, to save what might otherwise be lost, the world not simply as it happens but as it is felt.” Ferguson’s poetry is not just history, not just autobiography, not just perception, but all of that infused with the permanence of emotional impact, with the timeless revelations of how it feels to love, to struggle, to persist, to lose, to grieve, and to ultimately keep going.
On February 10, Ferguson will bring her work to Hickory, back to the county in which she was born. She will read as part of Poetry Hickory at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse, starting at 6:30. It will, undoubtedly, be a cathartic evening for all those who attend, an evening which helps us all better feel what might otherwise be lost.
The poem below is not part of Ferguson’s mill village work, but rather explores another vital subject, dealing with Alzheimer’s. It is taken from Bird Missing from One Shoulder and will soon be reprinted in the anthology Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease

My Mother Doesn’t Know Me

To her, I’m the mild-mannered woman
who cooks her meals.
She is going to leave me a tip
when she finds her purse.

She sits for hours, eyebrow
cocked in a wrinkled study,
as if she can fathom
the distance between us,

saves pieces of thread
in a coffee can,
picked from her afghan all day
while both our lives unravel.

Thanksgiving, she put a hammer
in the oven at 400 degrees,
spent the rest of the day
on the back porch step,

wanting only to leave
this strange house,
silently wringing her hands
as if her body could not contain her.

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