Sunday, September 06, 2009

Appleseeds--- Poetry anthology from Sacred Fools Press

Sacred Fools Press
Johnston, RI

Review by Renee Schwiesow

Anchored by poems honoring Johnny Appleseed, the anthology “Appleseeds,” a Sacred Fools Press book edited by Melissa Guillet, germinates scattered seeds page by page which offer us blossoms of poetry that produce the fruit of Americana.

The compilation weaves its way across our nation with highways of words that speak to the many, varied and honored traditions and cultures that have become part of our nation’s quilt. Our American family is represented in a patchwork of color, much as Michele Sackman posits in “The Quilting Bee.”

These small pieces of cloth pieced and sown onto a white
cotton top

creating memories. . .

Guillet has artfully chosen the pieces needed to fashion this quilt on paper. And a beautiful quilt of talented poets “Appleseeds” is. What remains with me are the people showcased in the lines and stanzas of the work, the people who are at the heart of every American hour. John Flynn takes us back to the North End of Boston in the early 60’s with his “In Praise of Boston Aunts.”

In The European restaurant
Perry Como and Vaughn Monroe
croon out of the jukebox.
Aunts Louise, Etta, and Anna play hopscotch.
I trace them back to Holy Days,
Monsignors and hopeful pews,
Masses in Latin when weddings were easier
to trust.

Lewis Gardner relates another Boston aunt story in the humorous “A Gift from Great-Aunt Prudence.” In the mid-60’s, during a period of “liberated consciousness,” Great-Aunt Prudence innocently makes a purchase of hand-carved hands with their middle-finger upraised:

One night a little old lady –
since this was Boston, a very Bostonian
old lady – brought six of them
to my counter. “Such lovely ring holders,”
she said to me, “just the thing
for my grandnephews this Christmas.”

While aunts and mothers, grandmothers and sisters-in-law star the pages of the book, it is not only the members of biological family that swell our emotions: Sheila Mullen Twyman breaks our heart only as Sheila Mullen Twyman can with her soulful, “On the Fourth Day,” a southern Spiritual sang to the tune of the New Orleans Flood in 2005.

He was always amazed his lips could blow his horn
as sweet and easy as spitting out cherry pits.
He marveled at the way his long fingers
could flutter endlessly, effortlessly
up and down on the valves
redirecting his breath from the lead pipe
through the brass innards and out the flared bell.

But now his lips are cracked, his hands shaky
from too long sitting in putrid waters,
in the heavy, humid air that takes his breath away.
Not like those nights he used to sit for hours
playing through clouds of weed
smelling smoldering tobacco and
spilled bourbon drying on tabletops.
Lord, I been sitting in this tree
like a parrot on a perch for days now. . .
ain’t nobody coming for me?

And through Sheila’s empathic understanding, we take him; we take his plight to the bosom of “family” too.

I cannot end without giving Laura Lee Washburn’s ode, entitled “S & H Green Stamps,” a mention. A must read for those of us whose tongues have not forgotten the bitter taste of the glue that was tolerated happily as the book pages swelled with the stamps and the promise of iron stone dishes or Teflon pans came closer to reality. Yes, those S & H stamps are, too, an oft-remembered part of what makes this land, the land that was made for you and me, America.

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