BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH
After the tumultuous year 2020, dealing with the ongoing creep of the invisible corona virus, the deaths and lock downs, the murders and denials, we are in ruins. We have seen how our democracy might fall in a matter of hours, how easy that might be. Our economy is stalled; our emotions are frozen.
This sense of dislocation is captured on The Poetry Porch 2021 pages by Nels Hanson as he describes the out-of-control
descent through the sky, holding on to the chord of a parachute. Mary Buchinger questions what constitutes place with her son,
suggesting that three things — a feeling of safety, a sense of purpose, and a view — might need a fourth. (See the poem for the answer). Marguerite Bouvard describes the interior hidden place where she can carry the story of another person with her, in this case that of a prison inmate, known through their correspondence. William Doreski joins a local protest, Jenny Barber contemplates returning to a favorite summer place. Marge Piercy prays for rain (reports are in that parts of Massachusetts have been in a drought since the year 2000) as she voices her disenchantment with her personal computer. We were fortunate to receive two sonnet crowns, by Heather Dubrow and Jean Kreiling, that bookend the new Sonnet Scroll.
Each year The Poetry Porch brings me in contact with a repertoire of poets who have become very good friends. Every year we hope to attract new contributors; this year we welcome nine. I continue to delight in the work required to put together a finished collection of submitted writings, to keep in touch with other poets, and to read formalized thoughts. During this isolated time, when every writing project seemed to present a blank page with an edge, I have wrestled with the temptation to jump off. It is my involvement in the many literary communities online that has sustained me.
COMMUNITIES ON ZOOM. There are so many communities on Zoom that I could have tuned in every night and both weekend afternoons. Some sites put their recorded readings on YouTube if you missed them live. Here is a partial list: Cervena Barva Press in Somerville, Theatre of War in New York City, Light Magazine, Prairie Schooner, libraries in Plymouth and Newburyport, Grolier Poetry Book Store, Harvard Book Store, The New England Poetry Club, Carmine Street Metrics, Powow River Poets, Falmouth Cable TV, and many other entities.
POETRY DISCUSSION GROUP. The Poetry Discussion Group that I began at the Scituate Town Library in 2017 moved to Zoom midway through 2020. We are a reading group — consulting dictionaries, focusing on grammar and punctuation, considering the author, and incorporating online distractions if we can — as we discuss how to read a poem. A group of eight women, we spent the summer and fall examining ways to talk about racism in specific poems.
COVER PHOTOGRAPH. The ruins in the cover photograph, taken by my father, show what was left of the octagonal building in 1959. The eight-sided single-roomed structure was one of several in the area of Pennsylvania where I grew up, near the corner of Route 1 and 202. Built in 1838, it was first a school house and then a church, purchased by Lydia A. Archie in 1891 for her African American congregation with the adjacent land for the cemetery. Andrew Wyeth, the painter, remembers hearing Mother Archie preaching to her congregation in that building in 1903.
Wyeth painted the church* many times, endowing it with symbolic attributes: a low structure at the end of a hair pin turn, a destination at the bottom of the hill, a point of emphasis surrounded by open fields. After Mother Archie died in 1932, the group disbanded. A private residence for a few years , the building was abandoned by the time my parents bought a house nearby in 1946. My father caught the moment of disintegration at the end of the 1950s, when the roof supports had loosened and were falling away from the stone walls. Brambles, vines, and saplings were overtaking the foundation. Stonework peered out from behind cracks in the white plaster coating and the timbers lay in haphazard disorder.
Sixty years later, the ruins consist of the dark stones worn smooth with age and the 79 headstones of the community members buried
there.** Not all of the headstones are visible; some have sunk into the ground and been covered over by the verdant growth. The property has become an historic site and the ruins stabilized by the Chester County Historical Society, protected against developers always seeking bigger housing developments and wider roads. By keeping its grass cut and trees trimmed, it is also protected from being swallowed by nature.
The setting aside of a place creates a hunger for narrative. The reminders of a populated place raise questions about the brief but vibrant community in southeastern Pennsylvania called Little Africa. What happened to the people, the next generation, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews? Where did they go? With the preservation of the ruins, the stones remain as receptacles for those who pass by to imagine a way into their story.
*See Andrew Wyeth: Close Friends (catalogue). Jackson: Mississippi Museum of Art, 2001.
** Google “Mother Archie’s Church, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania” for more information.