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Monday, June 5, 2017

Kathryn Stripling Byer, RIP


In 2009, I happened to read about a submission call in Kathryn Stripling Byer's blog, "Here Where I Am." 

Kay was North Carolina's fifth poet laureate. The first woman to hold the position. 

With encouragement from Kay, I submitted a piece I had posted in Meanderings and Muses and the piece was accepted. 

There's nothing like seeing your work published for the first time. And I have Kay Byer to thank, which I did. Many times. 

To then find out she herself would be one of the Western North Carolina women writers included in the anthology made the happiness that much sweeter. 

Through the years, I found Kay to be one of the most generous people I'd ever encountered. Yesterday I learned that she was in hospice care.  This evening I learned that she has left us, and I'm wondering if she realized just how many people she helped with her poetry, and her generosity, along the way. I hope so.






Last Light by Kay Stripling Byer
from DESCENT

The tests I need to pass are prescribed by the spirits
of place who understand travel but not amnesia.
from “This Is My Third and Last Address to You” --Adrienne Rich

1.
Almost the age when memory falters,
I fear being made to count backward
by seven’s, to answer to date, year, and
Presidents, as if those numbers and names
matter more in the end than this place
where I stand at the same kitchen window,
observing the same pines set swaying by wind,
reaching upward as I’ll reach, come morning,
my arms to the ceiling, breathing the dark out
of body and spirit, exhaling that old dream
of nothingness: laying my head down to sleep.

2.
Now Rocky Face Ridge catches fire
in the last light and, though I can’t hear it
from where I stand, Cullowhee Creek tumbles into
the Tuckaseegee, always unscrolling beneath me
the names I already know. Snowbird.
Buzzards Roost. Weyahutta. Oconaluftee.

3.
I don’t know how long names can last
if there’s no one to care where they live.
What I saw on the hairpin curve down from
the Chimney Tops, white as snow, I’ve not forgotten.
Phacelia. And how, on the trail leading
up to the summit of Suncota Ridge,
I saw sauntering toward me a young woman
I could have sworn was the reincarnation of
every spring wildflower ever named anywhere.

4.
Closer she comes to me each April,
as if she means more than I have a lifetim
to know. Roundabout her, her white Easter dress
whispers every thing I want to keep living
here in this valley that cups the last swallow of light,
every name I must reach to remember or else
lose them, hillside by hillside, to darkness.


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