Wednesday, December 21, 2011

blooms and sings

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, 
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
--Wendell Berry

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

anywhere between

Glimpse the maskless teacher
anywhere between
the riddle of your endless question
and the awkward, lovely
of mystery's obedient

--lks 2011

I put this found poem together from Frederick Franck's book The Zen of Seeing.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

even a sky

Somewhere between
this tag of words
and the place
it's never been

a window frames
what shines like water,
but could be
even a sky.

--lks 2009

This was the first of the found poems I've written using the magnetic poetry kits.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

lullaby redux

Despite the lullaby intention set by my mix of chamomile and valerian I can’t go to sleep. Little mice feet sound larger than I hope they are behind my refrigerator and I remember how my brother’s big black dog chewed through the refrigerator coil while he and his family were away. A friend tells me how when he was hiking the Appalachian Trail mice chewed off a big hunk of his long hair and made themselves a nest, there in the shelter while he slept next to a skunk. The skunk may have slept through it too. My cats don’t seem inclined to do anything about these noises. The other morning the tiny corpse of a mouse lay next to Penelope’s fat gray paws in the kitchen and though it hurt my heart to see the creature’s little pink feet still and lifeless I was glad at its smallness. I’ve moved for now into the bedroom where I don’t usually sleep, the one where most of my books are and where an oil painting of sailboats hangs over the bed. My grandmother painted it when I was a little girl, and one of the boats has my name; another has my mother’s and another my aunt’s. I take a big bottle of lemon Pellegrino water to bed with me as well as the cup of herb tea and a book I stopped reading four months ago. The house settles into the almost-winter night and my lonely heart aches a little for my lost love as I fall at last into slumber.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

This Cloud

This cloud is the head of a bull, ready to move but not moving yet.
This cloud is the comb you found on the bus last week and were afraid to touch. Little points of light fly down from in between its scary little teeth.
This cloud is a pointy jester's shoe with bells on its upturned toes.
This cloud is the anomalous, achy blues song you heard on the radio last Saturday night in the middle of the classic jazz show. It wants to be sleek and pretty but turns inside out like a growl of cumulus trying to make it through another afternoon of atmosphere.
This cloud wants to share the sky with a bird of prey.
This cloud owes the bank a lot of money and is about to burst and fade away, spent from spending.
This cloud is a tiny key that fits a mysterious lock you haven't laid eyes on yet.
This cloud is the wake of an outboard motor boat bouncing across the choppy brown waters of a summer lake after a storm.
This cloud is a flag at half mast.
This cloud is waiting for other clouds so it can say what it needs to say to someone other than an empty sky.
This cloud tastes like the dry sand of uncooked grits hidden in the middle of butter and salt.
This cloud hums an off-key tune about traffic jams and text messages lost in the ether of its soul. It wants to catch up with the randomness of all those mis-sent dots and squiggles but doesn't know where to start looking.
This cloud is a glob of grape jelly spilled on a formica tabletop at Waffle House late at night.
This cloud is an origami crane, carefully crafted from crispest cardstock for good luck.
This cloud is a crimson ribbon unraveling at the edges.
This cloud is a knot of paneled pine shaped like a wizard's lazy eye.
This cloud tastes like a swig of cough syrup, a gulp of bitter licorice that goes down slow and unwilling and hangs around your throat and palate long after its flavor should have faded.
This cloud is a silver thimble with a minuscule dent on one side.
This cloud is a silk scarf caught in sharp winter branches. It changes color along with the light that holds it.
This cloud is a dormant hornet's nest sagging away from the delicate paper cells of its center.
This cloud is trying to tell you a secret, but if you don't learn its language, you'll never figure out what it has to say.
This cloud has a gray jersey hood pulled over its head because of a really bad haircut.
This cloud is an inkwell waiting for a pen nib.
This cloud needs a name but resists being captured by syllabaries and alphabets. It's waiting for someone to come up with another way to remember who it is.
This cloud is tired of compound words and sentences.
I know this cloud's cousin from last winter, when the setting sun played at hiding behind it during January's reluctant snowmelt.
This cloud has your name and speaks like a tree or a mountain. Its voice is deep and strange with an edge of purple in it, like a fire burning painted paper on a cold stone hearth. When it makes an appearance I catch my breath and wonder at the elegant, inimitable grace of its presence. Being around it is almost, but not quite, more than I can bear before I have to look away and do something else with my heart, my soul, my breath, and the mind I have always used for knowing things.

----© Laura Sorrells 2011
all rights reserved

I've been experiencing a sort of stasis when it comes to writing poetry the past few months, maybe longer. My energy hasn't been particularly available, I guess. This past Monday I was at a meeting of the Writing Club at the school where I teach, and the students, including three of mine, wrote poems with great enthusiasm and dispatch.  I became determined to write some sort of poem too. The assignment the club sponsor had given the students felt too abstract for me so I used an old idea I once borrowed from somewhere (I can't recall exactly where) to write this.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

a poem by Jane Hirshfield

Unnameable Heart

The cricket who
kept me company three days
has fallen silent,
I don't know where.

There are so many
lives of which I know nothing.
Even my own. It moves now
through my fingers toward yours
and I know nothing
I can say that will name its heart.

A boat drifts far out
on the river below the mountains,
and below it
the fish, the great fish
that the one in the boat has come for,
swims in the shadows.

Perhaps the cricket is there, inside the fish.
Stranger things have happened.
I have looked everywhere else
for my lost companion.

From here, the shadow looks small,
but to the fish it is huge.
Range after range of mountains,
and still the old painters
found a place
where two could walk together, side by side.

--Jane Hirshfield

Sunday, December 4, 2011

a gesture of never

Some blue, irresistible lantern
insists we descend
into a gesture of Never.
A prodigal tug of small
but sensuous grace
stretches intently:
a new and beneficent rumor,
a companionship, a fete,
an orange flower
growing on the ancient roof.

--lks 2011

This found poem came from The Gardener's Bed-Book by Richardson Wright.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

something hidden

A strange circle of
momentum swells in
this fruitful
gray breath.
Overnight, a cathedral
Something hidden
reaches me:
an arrow,
praising string.

--lks 2011
some rights reserved

This found poem was pulled forth from Rilke's Duino Elegies, the A. Poulin translation.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

this slow stream

Surrounded by change,
listen for a flower
of fire
remember to trust
the secret color
this slow stream

--lks 2011

This is from the haiku magnets.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


A fervent, tender wind lifts
the wheel of itself
above the daily body
of everything.
The luminous phrase
the fox hums in her willingness
travels straight into the
ghost of my woodpile heart.
Emptiness, tiger, honeycomb, puddle:
nothing is not you,
unstoppable and attentive,
the lord of gorgeous
little weeds
and ant language.
Everywhere, I hear
the porcelain music
your light unfolds.

lks October 2011

This is another found poem, this one taken from Mary Oliver's New and Selected Poems: Volume Two.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


A radical acoustics of truth
rises in innocent clarity.
The delicious gate of desire
reveals an apophatic weather
of unexpected peace.
At last, I learn
the visceral work
of exquisite silence.

The moon is made of salt,
not sugar.

©Laura Sorrells 2011
some rights reserved

This latest found poem, such as it is, came together from the pages of Sara Maitland's A Book of Silence.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


God is my secret; he knows I'm his girl. You don't
know what he's like. Sometimes he licks my face
like a cat lapping cream. I almost caught him once,
but he disappeared down the bole of an oak.
I know he loves me because he gives me presents.
I found a bottle cap once, Red Fox Root Beer,
on the path I take through the aspens. You've never
seen it in a store, have you? A sign clear as candy.
And a bar of soap by a bend in the river, scented
with Rome apples and never used. I bathed with it
for a month, my evening prayer, till it was gone:
God wants his gifts used. The suds down my leg
like apple blossoms on a branch in the dark.
You say he's not real? As soon tell a mother
the child's not real that suckles at her breast.
I stayed with him all night when he had a fever,
fed him shards of ice to keep him alive, and when
I had no water, I cooled him with my own spit
till I couldn't swallow. Who are you to judge?
Come out and you might see something--foxfire
from the root of a fallen cedar--he's mine.

--Robert Thomas

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

smoke's brother

Bring home
the animal grace
your spirit needs,
the brilliant thread
of smoke’s warm red brother.

lks 10/11/11

Something quick from the haiku magnets. I keep coming back to that koan about the red thread.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Turning

This rich and hungry silence is what I have instead of what I had. The peak of the mountain wants to be more to me than it has been. It doesn’t seem so much a peak as part of something’s body, the body of God perhaps. I keep thinking I want to investigate this thinness that feels thrust upon me, this pruning, this narrowing down and paring away. Of course in some ways it is a richness too. It has spaces where things happen that don’t have a name yet. I will doubtless give them names, probably compound words like webtime or portalhunger or twilightsight.  Poplarsoul. Bearsong. As October begins I feel a turning. It always seems the most liminal of months to me, though I know months are a construct, like time. Its crepuscular denouement moves me and whispers to me. But now it’s just gotten started and the edge of fall is still warm. Its shoulder is just covered with a limning of leafshawl. It smells like loamy earth just turning cold at night. A little bit like rosemary drying into winter, crisp and full of itself but ready to be quiet and still soon. Mixing it up with thyme and fading sage next to the fallen bluebird house by the road.

Saturday’s winds were high and frisky. My mother disliked wind and sometimes I don’t like walking in it but mostly it comforts me when it gets together with the trees. My old gray cat used to play with the wind when it blew across the deck. It took me a couple of times seeing it to get that that’s what he was doing. He’d twirl and dance, trying to catch it in his paws like yarn or thread. I feel a little more alive in strong fall winds. A little more aware of the edge of things, of the delicacy of them and of how they sing when they break, like glass or the creaking throat of a bent branch.

Crickets have long since replaced the cicadas of summer. They’re shyer with their song. Last month a cicada got stuck in the glass door and clacked and buzzed much of the night. I tried to find it to set it free but I never could. The color of cicada song is a brassy goldenrod and that of crickets is auburn. I hear my own thoughts in how the crickets move their legs and wings. I hope to do that still when they stop, or maybe what I hear will lead me into some other way of knowing. Some other lingua franca, not sound but something else, like signing or the raised tininess of Braille. Just as tricky to learn perhaps. It will take me awhile to get it. Maybe I never really will; maybe my gestures and how I see the tug of shapes will always need refining. That threshold place is not new to me and I am comfortable with it. Its iterations shift shape like the colors of the horse in the Wizard of Oz but its soul is somehow familiar ground, a gentle pocosin of soft wet earth and hidden birds that fly up suddenly into sky, miraculous, wild, and free. 

©Laura Sorrells 2011
all rights reserved

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Hidden Field

Some nameless sweetness
thumps into the palette
of my reverent heart.
Everything abides
in an extravagant,
strange apotheosis
of wonder, courting
the solitary, affirming the
heady purity
of starwort and whippoorwhill,
of sphagnum moss
and spider body.
Listen again:
a chorus of nothing
saturates the hidden field
where clouds invent breezes
and thundercolor births
its mysterious stories.

© Laura Sorrells 2011
all rights reserved

This is another found poem culled from words in the text of Hannah Hinchman's book on nature journaling, A Trail Through Leaves: Journal as a Path to Place. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

a poem by Margaret Gibson

Fox Fire at the Changing Tree

The burning that must
have been coming from me--

these are lines I'm stealing
from someone else's poem, just after

I've resolved not to lie, not to steal
to live in my evergreen

integrity as long as I can manage it
I'm much like these foxes

gathered on a night whose stars
might be flakes of snow

They have their burning torches
to lift and bear

down the road, fully camouflaged
once they've put on the stolen forms

of pious pilgrims
The bare, spreading tree above them

is fit for owls to inhabit
when a savory hunger makes them take

deadly aim
on any small rustle in the dry leaves

That's their true nature
however haunting their melancholy cries

But the foxes--for the love of me
(and it's exactly that)

I can't see why
I shouldn't want to to touch them, stroke them

I might just rub the ruddy silk
of their coats against my cheek

And often have, you tell me bluntly
That friction, however

slight, sufficient to make me
spit fire, gnash my teeth

and lunge for the soft parts of your body
lifting my chin moments after

to say hotly I didn't mean to
I didn't sense it coming

As if I were the innocent one
blindsided, bloodied

--Margaret Gibson

Monday, September 5, 2011

blue wingbeats

The alphabet of the unfathomable
spells out its blue
wingbeats of grace,
a tapestry of yes
inside the healing
of foxglove, the unassailable
of rosemary.
A ladder of yes
spreads across
the ponderous deep
Aldebaran sky.

--©L.K. Sorrells 2011

This is another found poem, this one culled from the pages of Hannah Hinchman's amazing book A Trail Through Leaves: Journaling as a Path to Place.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

the color you see

Imagine this empty glass
Approach the color
you see
Open every piece
of dream
the raw world sings

--lks august 2011

(I am becoming an apologist for the haiku poetry magnets. It seems to be about the best I can do right now.)

Monday, August 22, 2011


Across the seeded green
of somewhere new and lucky
the language of feathers and drums
feasts and gathers,
a laugh of wind and nest,
blue and easy
in a celebration
of winged

--for dd, August 2011

Sunday, August 21, 2011

one from R.S. Thomas

But the silence in the mind
is when we live best, within
listening distance of the silence
we call God. This is the deep
calling to deep of the psalm-
writer, the bottomless ocean. 
We launch the armada 
of our thoughts on, never arriving.

It is a presence, then, 
whose margins are our margins; 
that calls us out over our
own fathoms. What to do
but draw a little nearer to
such ubiquity by remaining still?

--R.S. Thomas

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Capture and Witness

from May 2008

I want to write something today about how animals call us back into the moment, how they summon me away from my drifting thoughts, my errant mind. How birds retrieve me from my sorrow, my worry, my preoccupation with time and things. They do this when they fly over a marshy north Georgia meadow, a tag of crimson brightness on dark wingspan in the gray late afternoon, and when they haul their spindly heronlegs and arching necks up over that same still brackish water and out to the edge of the woods. It’s always been this way. A friend reminded me recently of how this works, of how fast the mindfulness of being with creatures can come upon us if we let it, if we’re open to it. I thought about how immediate this could be for me as a child, how eager I always was for the experience of smelling my horse’s warm sweaty hide when I rode her or went to feed her. For the joy of seeing the raised flare of whitetail over deerhaunch, springing through high pasture grass. For the starlike spread of a possum’s pink paws on the wood of our porch, stealing cat food, and for the dry wheathusk of a kingsnake’s recently shed skin at the base of my favorite tree. The other day I went to a gathering of strangers to hear them play their flutes, and I began my time with them by hunkering in the grass with a fat bumpy toad and its big eyes, shuttered beads of black and bronze shimmering in the heat. The toad hopped about in the weeds for a bit while I tried to photograph it. Then I stood a ways off from it and let it abide under the tassel of something green. I got down on my belly and noticed the pulse of its creamy amphibial throat, the ridges and curves of its back and neck, the shapes of its nostrils. I thanked it for letting me see it so close and I took my pictures. That moment, a small one of felicity and sweetness, laid out a template of calm attention and inner peace that spent the rest of the afternoon with me.

Lately, on a website I belong to that features independent artists and photographers, I notice that when people compliment each other on their photographs they often say “nice capture.” While I appreciate their sincerity and encouragement, something about this language bumps up against me in a way that seems kind of goofy but which I understand. For me taking pictures is less about “taking” per se and more about watching, honoring, noticing, and being. The picture will come if it’s meant to. And sometimes, even when it seems meant to come and it does come, perhaps it isn’t meant to stay, I learned recently. Not that long ago, one late April afternoon during spring break, I was walking around up on Fort Mountain, about an hour north of where I live. The mountain was just starting to green up. It’s a sacred Native site and I won’t say much more than that about it other than to make mention of the long gray tumble of stone that spreads across the mountainface and the place’s aura of hauntedness, of the slightly melancholy sweet spiritpresence that is always there for me. I was standing around outside the old WPA tower on top of the mountain when my attention was directed towards the butterflies tumbling and rushing through the woods. Tiger swallowtails, mourning cloaks. i couldn’t get any good photos of the swallowtails but the mourning cloaks offered themselves right up to me. They were big and slow and tired from mating. Two in particular came right up to me, even brushing my forehead over and over as I lay on the ground near a big old log that seemed to hold some pull for them. They kept coming back and back to the log. I was able to get very close and the tattered wings and furry bodies of the mourning cloaks showed up gloriously on my camera. One mourning cloak paused on a branch near a big brown leaf that mirrored its body’s hues softly, earthily, eloquently. I was moved and thrilled by my photographs, and I thanked the butterflies when I left.

The next day I was in the little mountain town of Dahlonega, standing outside a cafĂ©, taking photographs of pansies and their expressive curling faces when I did it. Somehow, in my eagerness to take better macro shots, I reformatted my entire memory card, deleting all the splendid mourning cloak shots as well as photos from my father’s house at Eastertime and other pictures that I loved. I was sick at heart but tried to lean into the incident as a lesson in nonattachment. I’d never done anything like this before, and I pretty much knew my way around my relatively simple little Canon. Though what I’d done seemed stupid and careless, cavalier even, I decided to feel into the emptiness a bit and try to learn what I could from it.

And here it is: photographs for me are gifts of spirit. They’re a collaboration between my eye and the world with its tenderness and its sternness. They’re not about capturing but about witnessing and being there to let something come through. This process isn’t about passivity or even just receptivity, though: I think one has to seek, or at least open up, in order to receive. But it can and for me should be a sort of prayer, even in the goofiest and most playful of moments. If I carry this sensibility with me then my photographs will do the same thing for me that animals can: ground me in the thisness of now in a way that will nurture and befriend the spirits who see them.


One of my favorite books is Byrd Baylor’s I’m in Charge of Celebrations. A breathtakingly beautiful book, accompanied by Peter Parnall’s illustrations, it’s narrated by a young woman who lives “alone” in a Southwestern desert. She’s not lonely, though, since she’s “the one in charge of celebrations.” She has a hundred and eight of them too—Dust Devil Day, when the dust devils “came dancing in time to their own windy music;” Rainbow Celebration Day, when she saw a jackrabbit poised on a hill staring into a triple rainbow; Green Cloud Day, when she saw a cloud “green as a jungle parrot” high up in the winter sky; Coyote Day, when a certain special coyote followed her through the desert holding her gaze as any friend would; The Time of Falling Stars, when during a meteor shower she also saw a fireball blaze across the nightsky; and her own New Year’s Celebration, which happens in springtime, around the end of April, when the white-winged doves come back from Mexico and the desert is abloom with cactus blossoms.

That young girl’s spirit resonates so deeply for me. I’ve always felt my own sense of the wheel of the year and when I was a child I would create my own holidays according to when good things happened or when I saw something wonderful, just as she did. Now, I don’t do that anymore, but I could, and maybe I will again.

So, if I did, what would the holidays be?

Blue Ice Day will come in January, to mark the time when an icestorm came and blanketed the forest around Jasper with a particularly deep blue sheen of crisp, fiercely shining ice. This ice kept the light that shone through it and reflected it out into the air so that the world seemed hollowed out with a magical aching blueness. On Blue Ice Day, you lean into experiencing the world by candlelight and firelight.

In April will come Dogwood Day, when the dogwood blossoms reach their peak and the creamy branch stretching across the top of my backyard shows itself bright as a floral nightlight in the Georgia dusk.

In mid-June will be Lake Conasauga Day, a special midsummer day and night set aside for a pilgrimage to Lake Conasauga, the highest lake in Georgia, up above Ellijay in the Cohutta Wilderness. It will have to be a perfect bluegold summer day, which is to say there might well be a thunderstorm in the late afternoon, which will then give way to a sunshot early evening with mist hanging over the face of the lake in deep wet pockets. On Lake Conasauga Day, I and whoever wants to go with me will drive up to the lake, enjoy a picnic lunch of crusty bread, Manchego cheese, lime fizzy water, grapes, hummus, and halfmoonshaped fried peach pies from Annie’s Restaurant in Talking Rock. We will then take a nap on the banks of the lake while the food settles. Then we will go for a swim in the cool teabrown waters of the lake, and then we’ll hike deep into the gray shadows of the woods to the Firetower, which requires a ceremonial climb every summer so that a perfect view of the Cohuttas is available. There are stairs, so it isn’t particularly dangerous, but it’s a ways up, and the wind blows hard up there. It’s another world, for just a little while, a windy pocket of perfect vision and separateness, a suspension of body and spirit in time and place. Then we will either have a campfire and settle into a quiet evening of fishing and marshmallow roasting, or we will head down the mountain back home.

In fall, preferably late October, will come a day for frolicking in the leaves: Leaffall Day. It’s all about leaves on this particular day---rolling in them, smelling like them, playing in them, raking them, burning them if possible, taking pictures of them, naming them. Oakfire, poplarchild, sweetgumracer, maplewhirl.

In December, around the time of the solstice and in its spirit, will come Shadow Day. On this day the liminal spirit of wintertime, of threshold and slumbering possibility, will be held forth in a quiet reflective time of meditation and simple stillness. Shadow Day will be a bowl of time, a curve of hours meant for reflection and labyrinth walking, for stillness and the hush of hopeful holy darkness. On Shadow Day, you might choose to suspend yourself from all the bustle and expectation of the world, or you might decide to write things down, examining them and pondering the passage of months and weeks ahead. It’s up to you, your space, your deep emptiness. Shadow Day smells like juniper and smooth stone, like wet earth and damp wood.

I think Byrd Baylor would approve.

Monday, August 1, 2011


I ran across these thoughts just now while looking for an old lesson plan template. I think I'll revisit this project. I felt so strongly about it a couple of years ago. It still feels viable....and somehow suddenly important.

I’ve been thinking lately about how to begin writing down any sort of coherent narrative, or set of narratives, about my family---who they were and are and how their respective senses of self were formed, altered, damaged, rebuilt or not. It’s been intimidating to begin this project and I’ve had a hard time getting started, so I thought I would just start typing. First of all, I want to set some sort of intention, but I don’t exactly know what I want to end up with. So I suppose I should start with what I think I want. I want to collect and preserve and write family stories, but not primarily for their narrative qualities. I want the stories to come together or at least relate to each other in terms of having some sort of overarching coherence and meaning regarding specific themes, paradigms, issues, struggles, and recurrent personality traits, for lack of a better term. I don’t think I’m capable of writing a true family history and that isn’t really what I’m after anyway. Maybe these stories will morph into fiction; maybe not. I think what I need to do is record my experience of them—how I learn about the people, places, and experiences involved—in a journalistic sort of way, incorporating my own thoughts, impressions, feelings, disappointments and hopes into the mix as I go. I am not sure what will happen, but that really does seem all right at this point. I hope I gain a stronger sense of that as I write and learn and record more.

Starting off, I want to look at my grandparents and start to write down stories and impressions and information about them. I want to think about them, as well as my parents, in terms of several different aspects of who they seem to have been, but I know I won’t be able to get any sort of total or complete sense of that. That’s all right; a full and accurate depiction of character isn’t what I’m really looking for, and I don’t think it’s possible. There are always different perspectives, layers, stories within stories. So, I am also willing to be surprised. I hope I will be. One of these components of identity has to do with spirituality, one has to do with vocation and creativity, and one has to do with exploring what seem to me to be real polarities of personality---a need for solitude and a desire/need to be of service to others. (I suppose this last paradoxical set of stuff is pretty much typical of the human condition, but I think it expresses itself pretty intensely in my family, and I’m interested in how it has played out in our lives. How it’s folded into our beings, jerked us around, brought us loneliness and joy. Kept us whole, torn us up. I guess this is a universal sort of matrix but I am hoping there will be some sort of resonance and singularity about what I come up with that makes it worth reading. ) People in my family seem to be dealing with very strong desires to help others, to be part of community in a tangible, profound, and service-based way, and yet they also seem to be bumping up against very powerful tugs towards solitude. Sometimes silence. Sometimes a kind of self- or other-inflicted exile. I know I feel the paradox of this dynamic in myself, and maybe I am just splicing it onto my sense of who my people have been. But I don’t think so.

On my mother’s side, there’s my grandpa Floyd. I’m not going to enumerate everything I know about him here. There are a lot of gaps regarding him and it should be interesting to fill them in. he was a public servant, working for the Federal government as a revenue agent, and he had a sort of mythic status in this town, a larger than life character who was apparently well loved by even many of those he chased down and arrested. But according to my mother and cousin he was quite a curmudgeon—not a family man at all, and prone to needing time alone in the woods. There’s a story about how he informed my grandmother when he first went out with her that he wasn’t looking to get married. This doesn’t seem terribly unique to me but I am interested in how the specifics of his character might show me some of this apparent paradox. Maybe it isn’t there after all. But I think I will learn interesting things about him. I don’t have a strong sense of his spirituality at all. It’s a blank page for me aside from the bald facts of what church he apparently attended. That isn’t true of my other family members; he’s the only one.

My grandma Floyd is someone I knew, though not as well as I might have. I think my cousin Jeff is the primary one to talk to about her. I don’t have a sense, actually, of a need for solitude in her. She seems the least introverted, the least inward of my four grandparents, for sure. Maybe that’s why I felt less of an affinity for her when she was alive, less of an immediacy of kinship, than I wanted to. She had so much energy and was so connected to so many different people. I do relate to the sometimes chaotic and discombobulated expressions of that energy that I remember in her as I get older and acknowledge my own patterns of thinking and living and how very similar they are to hers in that way. I do know she had a strong sense of personal religion. I get the feeling it was an authentic thing for her, not lip service, at least when I knew her. I remember my mother speaking of her mother’s service to her church and to other communities she was a part of and how it brought tears to my mother’s voice. I also want to think about my grandmother’s creativity, especially in terms of her painting, and how it informed who she was. How she came to her various expressions of it, what it meant to her, how it allowed her to become more fully and completely herself. I know she began painting in middle age, and I’m curious about how things changed for her inwardly when that happened.

Next, my granddaddy Sorrells. He was a legendary figure for me in childhood and someone I grew up sad about not knowing. He was, according to everyone who spoke about him, deeply committed to serving his community. He was a city policeman, deputy sheriff, and then county sheriff for many years, until he was killed in the line of duty in ‘62. I’m prepared, at least a little I think, to have some of these perceptions shaken up a bit. I’m not sure who might do that, though. My father’scousin Danny? Maybe. I am specifically interested in how my grandfather Sorrells’ relationship(s) with the African-American community of Walton County worked, or didn’t. as far as religion and spirituality go, I know that my grandfather Sorrells was born a Primitive Baptist but left that church when they told him he couldn’t be a Mason. So he chose to be a Mason rather than a Baptist. That interests me. It doesn’t bespeak a spiritual lack at all for me, though I am sure it did for some who knew him then…I am interested in why he might have made that choice, what it was about the community of the Masons that appealed to him and called to him more strongly than that of the church.

My father’s mother is the person, of these four, whom I knew the best. She was a very private, quiet, shy person, and certainly someone who chose a great deal of solitude. I don’t think she disliked people or even society, though; she was partly just shy and partly traumatized by personal experience. I never got a sense of her as misanthropic. I am interested in how she created and found relationship in her solitude. I think my dad is the best person to talk to about all this, though maybe his cousin Jeannette will also help, as well as his cousin Danny. I’m interested, finally, in my grandma Sorrells’ generativity, her creativity. It expressed itself in her sewing, quilting, baking, and cooking---domestic activities that she seemed almost constantly engaged in, at least peripherally. I am interested in how they helped sustain her and how they, again paradoxically, maybe contributed, if they did, to her solitude. As to grandma’s religion—I don’t think she ever did any de-mythologizing of any kind. Her stories were simple and unquestioned. But the faith she had, the belief system she carried, seemed to work for her. She relied on it emotionally a lot. Maybe, though, it failed her in some ways. It must have. I am curious about that. And I’m curious about the specifics of her friendship with Claudia Hillman, the African-American woman who saved my brother Brian’s life when he was a toddler. What were the rules and understandings surrounding grandma’s and Claudia’s friendship? How did it help her be less isolated, less lonely?

These are some of the questions and considerations I am starting out with. I am excited about where they might take me.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


The twitch begins behind my left eye,
the dusty one,
lazy in long hours.
Prepared to wait it out,
I gather myself
into shadow and sheet,
drinking in the firings of
each throb
and wanting
a deeper dark.
Finally I surrender to
those bending furls of purple
and lie with the music
of this clutter,
stilling the hurried rush of blur and trailer
into a settled space of gritty warmth.
Sleep dispels the brightness,
subduing it under a collapsing wooden dock
so that it settles down on its knees
in fishy mud,
browning away
from that shuddering muscle
of weakened sight.
I dream of thick glass,
old-world pirates
with eye patches,
and the gray tabby hand puppet I played with
when I was five,
the one with the rip in her left ear,
the one who heard
(and saw)
my stories.


These hooks hang onto hunks
of a color I can’t name,
Not auburn
or burnt sienna.
More like the
ubiquity of rust
And the flakes of its oxidizing
The tumble of bead
over stone
like the kaleidoscope
my mother gave me
when I was twenty
and its assurance of flow.
The horsehair smells like a
hay on a wooden floor,
and the funk of farriers’ tools
warming in the sun
after their congress with horseshoe,
and nail.
It sticks and streams
from hooked hunks
of barbed wire,
a testimony to presence,
the imagined body of absence,
and how they play together,
like the glow of new metal
before rust reaches it
and gives it blood.

Friday, July 22, 2011

How Long?

How long will it take me to get from there to here? From the place where I was to the place where I am?
I start off with freeze-dried lentil curry and lots of water. I have a good map and strong legs. I miss my music. I hum fragments of Kind of Blue, bits and pieces of Two Little Feet, a bar of Concrete Sky. I stop to wash my hands in the spring and notice a callus where I used to grip my pen. It seems lonely.
The birds sound the same in the morning here as they did on my mountainside. The dawn chorus. Pink and mauve light filling feathered throats, an old view weathered by many visions. Lonesome, haunted. Crepuscular despite the early hour.
I make up songs as I go along now. My mother said she used to do this all the time, not just as a child, but all her life. The little old man on the tractor was so ugly he got a song all to himself, an homage to his puckered face. I make up triptychs of verse about Queen Anne’s lace, bear scat, and why crows always seem to travel in threes.
I pull at a loose thread on my flannel shirt. It wraps itself around my finger and the snap of string from sleeve is gratifying and crisp. My socks are wet and I want to go home.
The blackberries I find taste good and they get stuck in my teeth the way they did when my grandma made cobblers for us. All that crystallized sugar and flaky dough swimming around in a big white Pyrex casserole dish. These berries go into a baggie and I count them out on the bone of my knee as I watch the sun go down.
I had a dream last night about a bracelet I used to wear, a yellow rubber thing with a famous athlete’s name on it. It disappeared at the Y one afternoon when I went swimming. I didn’t miss it at all until I had this dream but now I wish I had it back.
How can people live without writing things down?
Pretty soon the loop will be complete. I’m still not sure where the time went. The crows are still coming around in threes, but there are also more hawks than ever flying above me.
I like the way I think music will sound when I’m driving in my car.
There are no blackberries left.


Emptiness conspires with grace to present itself sometimes as fullness, as a replete warmth, a sweet creature well-fed and mild grazing in a field behind a farmhouse.
This is not one of those times.
Today the laundry became a carnival of twisted threads and shredded silk, a mandala of rips and stains from clay.
Today a favorite song suggests to me that anywhere else would be as good as, if not better than, this place. (Boots and faded jeans an imagined charm for completeness and right being. But not really.)
Today I neglected to take a seat when I ate my Irish oatmeal and instead gulped it down through a mouthful of gritty raisins while I shuffled through student papers and looked for my keys.
Today while I was in the shower the coffee made friends with the linoleum, a hot brown lake eddying across the countertop and lapping at the rug in front of the stove.
Tonight, I swear, will be different.
Tonight I’ll let myself be dazzled and stilled by the spools of stars and planets visible in the sky above the ballground.
Tonight I’ll write the first few words of a great and daring poem.
The rest of it will find me soon.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


these wild dandelion wanderings
let me need what
the blue morning
tells me

This is sort of from the haiku magnets. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

driving past a collapsing farmhouse on Highway 78

no radishes left
in the old kudzu basket
just earth

(with apologies to Issa, or the memory of Issa, or Issa's devotees, or all of the above)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

one from the haiku magnets

say the green here
stand up
and walk

--lks 6/22/11

I like playing with the haiku magnets. They help me take myself less seriously, sometimes.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Hawk's Nickname

Your grassy raindrop song
spreads like the bloom
of a season,
laughs like the color
a hawk’s nickname
would share
with its favorite


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Lace of Everything

To approach
the landscape of spirit,
choose the bone
of attention’s
treacherous blossom.
Serve the tricky ceremony
of exhalation.
Emerge from the fertile nothing
of winter’s bed
and disperse the season’s
a lace of everything,
a margin of crows and roses,
and inseparable.

--lks 2011

Sunday, May 1, 2011

another for dd

The irreverent river
your brightness breathes
is carrying
a branch
of rain
to its strange
and lovely


Saturday, April 30, 2011

one for dd

The blooming world
appears in you,
a raw and breathing
field of grace,
the color of smoke and sky,
of sacred fire
and birthing earth.
The ferns speak
a fresh language today,
a whispered call
for you to feel your own
gentle holiness,
abiding in the skin
of your feet,
the bones
of your hands,
and in the holy map
of your spirit’s
patient walk.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011


When I was nineteen, a spider bit me on the shin, and I still have the scar, a faint crescent slightly brighter than the skin around it. I was sick with the bite for almost a week but I never worried. I was bitten again this past October and only realized it when someone saw the bruise along the underside of my left arm, spreading out around a tiny central point of darker color. I went to bed that Friday night with the idea of seeing a doctor the next day, but when I woke up the bruise had faded and my arm was much less tender. Spiders seem to want me to notice their still bodies amidst the mandalas of their woven webs and against the patterns of cotton in the plastic bin where I keep old quilting pieces. The roving skitter of a daddy long legs feels like a ticklish thing to me, a dance of fingertips across concrete. The death of the five black widows who made their summer homes last year beneath my deck has even seemed a harsh subtraction, the gray beams of wood where they spun and waited diminished by an absence of coral.

Several summers ago, my brother and his wife and children came to visit. Downstairs, in the finished basement, a scorpion lived (maybe even more than one) and emerged with his tail arced over his back, guarding the treadmill and the trundle bed. I felt such a pang of love for his spiky form, for his grasping and his defiance. I swept him into the dustpan and carried him down into the woods, where I set him free.

Just after my mother died, maybe even the next day, a dragonfly came along. We call them snake doctors where I come from, though not here. At first I wasn’t sure what that noise was, that batting of wing against wall, that buzzing rustle, which sounded like a whispered secret but wasn’t. When the creature died, I found it in front of the fireplace, and I put it in a tiny pewter box, along with a palmful of dry bay leaves from my friend’s father’s central California garden. The dragonfly is still there against the box’s inner velvet, a gossamer stretch of paper falling slowly away from the axis of a twig.

When my mother first married my father, they lived in a jailhouse. He worked all the time and she was lonely. When bats began to invade their bedroom at night, coming down from the attic, my mother and father fought back. The bats had the last laugh, though, even in death, a grisly tumble of fecundity living even now in story here, a final wickedness, a Gothic tag of the inevitability of collapse. A claim made. 

I remember a night in early summer, June probably, before the sun had truly set. I was out walking, and out from the chimney of the old Roper hospital on Refuge Road spun a rising fan of batwing and batvoice, hurrying up. There were so many of them, rushing into gnats and sky, claiming their sustenance, noisy, dense, needy. The city tore the hospital down later that year, and I still wonder where the bats went to live.

Last May mosquito hawks flew in through an open window and clung to the walls of my classroom. Although they went after them with textbooks and canvas binders, my students discovered later that the creatures they had slain were not mosquitoes, but mosquito hawks. There would have been no itchy red welts, no thirteen-year-old catastrophic malarial fantasies, no West Nile.

Year before last, a little green anole came to stay with me for a couple of seasons. Her name was Bailey. I don’t know if she was really a female, but one of my students wanted the creature to have her name. A slice of amphibious beige, she drowsed behind a photograph of my grandmother, and she liked to match up with the greenness of the ficus tree’s leaves. When her blood slowed, she nestled into the moss around a different houseplant and returned to the soil around it, a leavetaking slow and holy; a docking.

Friday, February 4, 2011


On display in a poorly arranged glass case
alongside musket muzzles
and the collapsing tannin cursive
of soldiers’ letters home
hang two old masks of fragile cotton,
unexpected and strange,
surprising me like a story I never really thought was true:
ghostheads meant to hide all but eyes,
a wedge of mouth
and the blunt stub buttons
of drunk men’s piggy noses.
Pale and holding the light fiercely,
they glare through glass:
screens, thinning.
My grandma used to tell us stories
of men her daddy called the serenaders,
of how they’d come to shout and act the fool
outside her outsized Southern family’s shanty windows
on Christmas Eve,
of how they plugged up
the ragged rocky chimney
after what they sang was gone,
filling up the cold with smoke
and the poverty of winter mischief.
Still, some kind of distributive miracle
came into how she talked:
an ascetic glory rising up out of that
single shared sack of oranges,
the crescents split and nibbled down
to every last string and crumb
of acidic white rind,
a sacrament of juice on chins
and tongues on knuckles,
savoring the way a single traveling seed
held taste,
despite a trick,
despite invasion.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Writing Survey

Do you consider yourself a writer?
How did you learn to read? Did you reverse your L’s and P’s, and do you remember the first time you realized the existence of the hinge of meter , creaking in your brain until you bowed down to it, offering it syllables choked with angry consonants and the broad vowels of bad internal rhyme?
When was the first time someone snickered at the ridiculous breadth of your vocabulary, at the way your sentences were hung with pictures folded into words, at the choices your larynx made to surround your meanings with tribes of thorny adjectives?
Have you ever lost yourself in index cards, in preserving the voices of others in little plastic boxes crowded with squares of paper bound by rubber bands? And have you ever moved into the gap of unknowing supplied by a research question, impatient to know about the alchemical language of the I ching and its connection to the tao, or how Stieglitz met Georgia O’Keeffe?
How often do you write? Do you ever feel the chafe of unwritten clauses, hanging around in the sky of your mind's eye like clouds graying up with undropped rain?
Do you write poetry? Do you hear it before you sleep, hustling along in another language than the one you’re accustomed to, claiming its birthright, forming a body of need until you beg it to come alive in the language you know?
Answer each question as fully as possible, and use examples. Remember the time you sang to the carnival barker at the county fair, the one with the smoker’s cough and the purple bandanna, and how the words came out of you in an unexpected tributary of play and comfort. Call forth the journal you wrote in sixth grade and how you described the deer paths in the woods behind your house for no one but yourself to read. Tell me what you want from language, how you need it to sing, what questions you have of it. remind it to take care of you, and whip it into shape from time to time, until it neither flees nor marches, but moves instead with  the steady rolling pace of a dog you’ve trained to guard you, its pink tongue a flag of loyalty as the two of you pass through that throng of wordless Philistines, intact and strengthened.
© Laura Sorrells 2011
all rights reserved

Friday, January 14, 2011

a register

A secret register
of whisper
freezes through
the wander
of exile's evening

January 14, 2011

This is another from the haiku magnets. I'm going through a dry spell when it comes to any sort of substantive writing.

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Georgia, United States
I live at the edge of the forest in a little town in the north Georgia mountains. I teach sixth grade Language Arts and am writing a memoir of sorts about family, spirituality, and narrative. I am also exploring a possible writing project having to do with contemporary lay contemplative experience and how it might be informed by the Desert Fathers and Mothers of early Christianity. I am a relatively recent convert to Roman Catholicism and an admirer of Pope Francis, Leonardo Boff, Joan Chittister, and Richard Rohr. I'm a Lay Associate of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia. I am interested in indigenous cultures, narratives, and spirituality, especially how these can inform my spirituality as a lay contemplative. I write, read, take pictures, play around with creating ephemera from paper and cloth and other organic things. I cook, hike, watch wildlife, and collect random bits of interesting oddness, both tangible and abstract. I am a seer of smallness and a caretaker of ridiculous minutiae. If you want, e-mail me at or