Sunday, February 26, 2012

Epiphany Ashes

from 2007

The last time I was here
a mountain of coniferous fuel
awaited the snickering flames,
and we loaded on the greens,
hauling limbs and branches and trunks
and snapping pieces of tree
into the orange mouth of the Epiphany fire.
We stood around in down and flannel,
hugging ourselves and shivering.

A coyote howled up on Sassafras Mountain.

Today I pull together a snarl of rusted metal,
the pale green glass nose
of an old-fashioned Coke bottle,
 a dented metal bowl,
and a stick, long as a branch
but barer,
to frame a place of ash and pagan collusion against the cold,
a marking of the passage of winter
and the exchange of sacred gifts.

The dry grass crackles around my heels.
The auburn pinestraw
and the green imperious blossom
of an invading dandelion
have become the gifts these Epiphany ashes offer me,
the sacramental metal of the bowl
the perfect shade of gray
(not silver)
in the summer light.

©Laura Sorrells 2007
all rights reserved

Friday, February 17, 2012

a habit of vision

This is a found poem I put together today from John McQuiston's book Always We Begin Again.

Every mystery we seek
carries a ruthlessly patient
habit of vision.
A compass of fire
refines our sacred work.
Something infinite and vast
gently pursues us,
an affinity for praise,
a currency of mercy,
insatiable and healing.

--lks 2/17/2012
©Laura Sorrells
some rights reserved

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


This is from 2007. I plan to write something new very soon.

Last night I read something about impermanence and I remembered the time when my mother gave me the kaleidoscope. I was about twenty-two and living temporarily in the downstairs bedroom of my mother’s house. It was a surprise when she handed me a brass cylinder in a soft cobalt blue velvet cloth with a drawstring on one end that tied with a white ribbon. I don’t know where Mom got the scope, and it was apparent to me that she had just acquired it, but I never asked her where it came from. It was midsummer and I was drinking too much. I remember one night I lay awake and watched the foxfire-green pulse of a firefly that had gotten into the house. It was flying intermittently around the room the next morning, and when I went off to work I left my mother a note to warn her that it was there, dormant and flareless against the windowpane. For some reason I was afraid she’d think it was a wasp or a bee and kill it. It seemed so fragile to me, so vulnerable, and its tiny folded wings, black with red stripes at the edges, tightened my throat with their smallness.The kaleidoscope held colors darker and less bright than you might expect: slate, oxblood, cleargold, winesong, deep purple, palest winterblue, hard rust. No cerulean, scarlet, or fuchsia, or kellygreen. Reflective tones. Strong, subtle. I can still see them when I hold the kaleidoscope up to lamplight now and they’re as pure as they were then. The blue cloth encasing the scope is musty and the circle at the end that I hold up to my eye has come loose. All it needs is some super glue but I hesitate to fix it. The circle is spotted with rust and I rather like how its tones of sienna and gray fit into the colorscape of the glass at the other end of the tube. When my mother gave me this kaleidoscope, she told me that change was the only constant and to celebrate that. I like having to hold the loose metal ring against my eye when I hold the kaleidoscope up to the light, a scrap of fallenness gently acknowledged but not negated or rejected. A tag of flow and scatter, of attachment come loose and propped lightly against the grooves of its house of glass and metal. 

©Laura Sorrells 2007
all rights reserved

Friday, February 10, 2012

the sky's whisper

Together under
the little red
the sky thinks,
we let the world

--lks 2/10/2012

This is one from the haiku magnetic poetry kit.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Poetry Daily

I don’t read the poem of the day on the website Poetry Daily every day the way I once did. There’s so much to read. My house is aflow with text. I’m not complaining, but sometimes it means more to read the rain or the mist obscuring Sharptop or the drooping purple crocuses by the mailbox or the expression on the old farmer’s face in the beatup old flatbed at the stop sign in downtown Jasper at 6 a.m.
Today was full of poetry, as ever. The way the world smells at dawn in early February in the mountains of north Georgia is singular and wild. It’s different from the redclay smell of a country day in my hometown of Monroe and very different from the pungent gasoline tang of city dawns. There’s loamy soil in it and dew and wet leaves and something like creaturefur, like how my cat smelled last night after coming in from a roll in the humus.
The big moon is rising over the trees now. The woods around my house are faintly luminous with something like blackberry winter. The Lenten roses are a small field of bloom and tendril over behind the old garden. There are big limbs in my yard that I can’t bring myself to haul off to the brushpile. There’s a dry oakleaf spinning in a spiderweb adhered to my bedroom window. No lawn is left under the leaves in what used to be my backyard, and that space is shedding its skin of lawn and reacquainting itself with the forest. I’m going to let it. Poetry plays in ten thousand places, like Hopkins said, and more.

Here are a couple of things from a poet from Kentucky, Maurice Manning. I heard him read over in Waleska once, at Reinhardt College, and he had a sweet energy and mellow passion for his words that crawled up inside me and demanded more. These are from his collection Bucolics:


boss of the grassy green
boss of the silver puddle
how happy is my lot
to tend the green to catch
the water when it rains
to do the doing Boss
the way the sun wakes up
the leaves they yawn a bit
each day a little more
for a tiny reason then
when the leaves outgrow their green
the wind unwinds them Boss
that’s the way you go around
if you loose me like a leaf
if you unburden me
if I untaste the taste
of being bossed by you
don’t boss me down to dust
may I become a flower
when my blossom Boss is full
boss a bee to my blue lips
that one drop of my bloom
would softly drop into
your sweetness once again
if I go round that way
I’ll know the doing means
to you what it means to me
a word before all words

are you ever in my chest Boss
are you ever in there with a hammer
tapping on my rib cage as if
you want to make a hum drum
right where I can feel it how big
is that little hammer anyway
does it have a silver head Boss
does it spark against my ribs
I know they’re made of iron
I’ve got a heap of horseshoes
nested in my chest like heavy birds
boss you make them sing you tap
away is one arm bigger than the other
from all that hammering you do
I wonder if you’re knocking for
a reason are you just fooling Boss
or have you found a little door
O it it’s really you I wish
you’d whistle through the keyhole Boss
I wish you’d lift my little latch

--Maurice Manning

Sunday, February 5, 2012

whistling past

I wrote this in 2008, in response to a writing prompt about the last time we had worn a costume.

The last time I wore a costume was Hallowe’en 2003. My mother, who was about to move north to help my brother and his wife with child care, went to a party with me. This party consisted of a weenie roast and bonfire down in a field on a farm that belonged to some friends of ours, over off Cove Road and halfway up Sassafras Mountain. There was a grass labyrinth behind the bonfire and you could see most of it clearly in the moonlight and by the light of the fire.  The labyrinth was starting to pass back into the larger body of drying meadowgrass around it and the trajectories and curves of its pathways were ragged and unclear in places.  I wore my time-honored gypsy get-up, a long funky thrift store skirt with tiny mirrors spattered across the fabric and little spirals of raised yellow and scarlet cloth coursing along the cloth in wild fraying spirals.  The elastic at the waist of the skirt had been absent when I found it but I liked it so much I disregarded this and belted the skirt with a broad black silver-buckled leather belt. (Coleman Barks once asked me who I was supposed to be when I wore a variation of this outfit out on the town when I lived in Athens, Georgia, several years ago. I told him a gypsy and he chuckled and took a sip of his bourbon.) My most recent iteration of this regalia included red fishnet stockings and thigh-high black suede Chinese Laundry boots as well as a variety of antique glass beaded necklaces once owned by my great-aunt Fannie Mae Floyd, tumbling circles of pale blue and green against my bare neck.  As I recall I also sported a pair of long dangly earrings with stars attached to them at various spots along their way to my shoulders, acquired solely for such occasions. The outfit was topped off by sort of a gauzy black cotton gypsy blouse with a round scoopneck. I looked absurd but was full of enthusiasm for the pageantry and play of Hallowe'en. My mother, who wasn't particularly enamored of the holiday, wore a simple black turtleneck and sleek black pants. She donned a rubber clown mask that she'd borrowed from a friend. The clown was a sad one and his mouth drooped at the edges in a ludicrous thick-lipped parody of a frown. He looked as if he was about to burst into tears at any moment. My mother played at little mock leavetakings of her friends before we left for the party, the clown face a lugubrious and somehow heartrending prop.
Just before heading out to the field we joined my aunt, uncle, and cousin for dinner at the local bed and breakfast. The owner and chef, a crotchety old German fellow who had once been a guard on the Berlin Wall and had fled East Germany years ago, stood with his wife and us in front of the inn after dinner. The night was solemn and the imminence of my mother's move north felt heavy on my heart. Joe, the owner of the inn, took photographs of the rest of us standing in front of and around a tumble of hay and pumpkins on the lawn. My cousin remarked, ah, the ancient pagan feast of Samhain comes round again. There was a heft and density to his words that struck me powerfully at the time and I marked it in my head, thinking that perhaps I would write something about what he'd said later.
Mom and I headed out to our friends’ field and stood around the fire, balancing our hot dogs and potato chips on paper plates. I talked and laughed with my friend Frank, who held his ubiquitous Dos Equis tightly to him while finishing off a mound of coleslaw. At one point he placed his black straw cowboy hat on my head and told me to keep it. I remember thinking that I should have carried my Rider Waite Tarot cards with me. The night held an edge of spookiness and exaggerated solemnity to it, leavened with the subtext of merry pagan ostentation I always felt on Hallowe'en.  Mom and I stayed for a couple of hours while Frank played the guitar and sang covers of Johnny Cash songs. 

The next morning, the first day of November, was of course the Feast of All Saints, as well as the Day of the Dead, and it dawned cold and foggy. For me there has always been a pall of sadness about this day, a dismal misty scarf washed clean of the bright harvest colors of autumn and of Hallowe'en. My mother set forth on her journey north and called me from the road, tears in her voice. She told me to be true to myself and ‘never settle.'  Ten months later, she was gone, lung cancer metastasizing swiftly and powerfully, a force probably already present that night as she stood all in black in front of a snickering October fire, her sad clown's mask both a challenge and a bow to the encroachment of that threshold thin place we were all calling ourselves into, there beside the shaggy grass of the homemade labyrinth and the cold meadow moonglow of Hallowe'en. When I remember that evening, though, I recall the beauty of it more than anything. The details of my mother's playful self-mocking and the timbre of her voice resonate along with the tableau in the field alongside the bonfire and the husky declarative tones of my cousin as we stood in front of the inn. In some way the remembrance of those hours holds the essence of Hallowe'en for me as well as the Day of the Dead and All Saints' Day. There's a liminal shadow to the scene in my mind, along with a shawl of impending grief and remembrance. But there is play there too, whistling past the graveyard but pausing to bow and tip its hat, its skeletal figure a jaunty hopeless form already acquainted with the threshold we honor and all that lies beyond it.

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About Me

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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