“Like my father and grandfather before me, I paint/these walls to the light of a torch usually held/by an apprentice, my son. Today, I wedge the torch/in a crevice as my boy crosses his hands over his chest/in the grave he shares with his mother. I tried to keep/them strong through the winter, with meat from the hunt/and fire from the hearth. It was not enough. Now, I find/a blank surface I reach with the thin bone of a wolf’s leg/I dip into my paint, charcoal ground into powder”—By Richard Allen Taylor
By Claire Bateman
GREENVILLE South Carolina—(Hubris)—November 2023—Poet Richard Allen Taylor, of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Armed and Luminous (Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2016). Born but not raised in Charlotte, Taylor grew up in a nomadic Army family that eventually returned to North Carolina. After graduating from UNC Chapel Hill in 1969, he entered the business world and held many jobs, but always got asked to edit the company newsletter regardless of his other responsibilities. He dabbled in poetry briefly in his 20s and 30s, but was in his 50s when he “got serious” about the genre, publishing his first collection of poems at age 57. After retirement, Taylor earned an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. By then, he had co-founded Kakalak, a journal of poetry and art, and served as review editor of The Main Street Rag. His poems, articles, and reviews have appeared in Rattle, Comstock Review, The Pedestal, Iodine Poetry Journal, Wild Goose Poetry Review, Asheville Poetry Review, Litmosphere, Gyroscope Review, and South Carolina Review, among other publications. Taylor has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net Award. His fourth poetry collection, Letters to Karen Carpenter and Other Poems, is forthcoming from Main Street Rag. His poems tend to be more narrative than lyrical; he likes to take ordinary events and situations and elevate them to something memorable or extraordinary. He admires poets who write a poem every day, but he has hot and cold streaks, and rationalizes the non-writing periods as “switching over to analytical functions” or “mulling.” On the whole, he is an anachronistic, happy, and well-balanced avoider of social media and says he would rather crawl through broken glass than spend time on Facebook or Twitter.
Blue Ridge Mountains
The possibilities were infinite.
When God made this place
He could have made it flat
or barren or covered with ice
or submerged in a hot soup
of gases, but he chose this
contemporary design, mountains
sprigged with tallest pine,
oak, maple and poplar,
cloud-catching peaks and spines
that radiate into folds. He
let there be light, and the bright
afternoon reflected green
from the nearest slopes,
now blue-gray from a distant arc,
Mt. Mitchell under siege
from a flotilla of clouds,
It was quiet here when God created
the vacuum, before He created air
and water to carry sound.
He threw stones and ice,
enough to squeeze the earth
into a ball. Before this windy
breath in the trees, before
the voices in the meadow
or the click of heels
against flagstone walks,
before dry leaves scratched
across the porch, God
did his best work in silence.
He assigned Mother Nature
to manage construction.
She pushed to get the work done,
pitting one continent against another
subcontracting certain details
to volcanism and erosion, giving the piece
a mixed-media look. I stand on rock
born deep in the earth, spewed
to the surface, sparkled with mica.
The dinosaurs have left, and our turn
at the controls has just begun, our time
a thin sheet in the layers of time,
but already, we have begun the undoing.
Note: “Blue Ridge Mountains” first appeared in the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.
Still Life with Marsh and Seagulls
It’s still here, the brown sage, patchy ponds so shallow
the low tide exposes gray plough mud. It’s still here,
not a wisp of wind. Rare to find us both, the marsh
and me, so calm. I can see the tree line across the water.
Houses—both grand and small—squat in the distance.
The water tower pokes its signal-emitting spire
into a low cloud. The island faces the ocean on a line
that a crow would fly to The Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica.
But I’m looking the opposite way, toward Raleigh
and Toronto. When I sweep my arm from left to right,
I trace an arc between high-rise condos that hold down
corners of this picture like tall paperweights on the edges
of a sailor’s unrolled chart. Now the wind huffs the grasses
into motion. A scatter of seagulls, too disorganized to be
a flock, flaps over the waterway, out of sight. A still life
no longer, the marsh would say if it could speak,
Don’t worry, I’m still here. Early morning, two cars crawl
north on the causeway, toward the bridge. A runner in black
T-shirt jogs on the shoulder. Everything is still here.
Yet, nothing is still, here.
The Cave Painter
After viewing a photo of one of more than 600 cave paintings discovered in the Grotte de Lascaux near Montignac, France, dating back to the Upper Paleolithic (50,000 to 12,000 years ago)
Like my father and grandfather before me, I paint
these walls to the light of a torch usually held
by an apprentice, my son. Today, I wedge the torch
in a crevice as my boy crosses his hands over his chest
in the grave he shares with his mother. I tried to keep
them strong through the winter, with meat from the hunt
and fire from the hearth. It was not enough. Now, I find
a blank surface I reach with the thin bone of a wolf’s leg
I dip into my paint, charcoal ground into powder
between stone pestle and bowl-shaped abalone shell,
mixed with a little water. Today, black. Tomorrow,
ochre—red rock, or yellow when I can find it—crushed
and blended with as much spit as I can spare. Here,
I render the image of a bull, horns thrusting toward
a mustard-colored forest in the afterlife, a place sung
into being by our shamans. They say each new beast
speaks to the gods, a prayer for plentiful game, full
bellies. I have my doubts about gods, about afterlife.
But even if my prayers are undeliverable, I paint
for my son, my wife, for the life they had and may
have again, if hope has any chance of living.
While Waiting for Plastic Surgery, I Wonder Why People Get Tattoos
Here to get two unsightly moles removed, I try to grasp why
some people want things added to their skin. What’s the rationale?
Is it anything like the difference between vandalism and art,
invasion and invitation, weed and flower? Perhaps history
explains the allure of body ink. To fit in with the tribe, honor
tradition, or depart from it. To strike fear into enemies’ hearts,
declare one’s alliances, express love, loyalty, or faith.
My friend has several—each a symbol of personal significance.
The stylized star on her wrist reminds her to stay on course,
follow the true north of her purpose. Red thread on one ankle
an ancient emblem of connection with friends, family, humanity.
The other ankle’s yin and yang mirrors her need for balance.
On the back of her neck, the EKG line represents artistic goals
since, to achieve them, she must follow her heart. She cannot
see this jagged line or the blue butterfly in the middle of her back,
but she knows where and what they are as surely as she knows
where her heart is.
My moles will be analyzed, and, if benign, forgotten. In case
anyone asks, I have no objection to cremation of my body entire
or in specially selected slices.
Not all tattoos are as noble as those my friend wears. But most
remain with hosts until all that remains are the hosts’ remains.
The owner of the purple-inked arm that declared I’ll Love You
Forever, Sally may move on to Mary, or Wendy, or Louise, or all
three, but the skin is endeared to Sally even when the human
canvas regrets volunteering in the first place.
After my successful nose job, I sleep fitfully, dream of being
gagged and strapped to a chair. I moan, struggle to escape
while my tormentor, a tattoo artist who resembles Christopher
Lloyd in Back to the Future, opens a catalog of intricate designs,
threatens, you must choose, or I will choose for you. He turns pages.
Hearts, crosses, eagles, rainbows, dragonflies, dragons. He stops
at the chicken.