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Muses Like Moonlight: A Closet Poet Comes Out
by Colleen Redman


  I moved to the country nearly 20 years ago with homesteading on my mind. Although I never lived in a solar home without indoor plumbing, as some of my neighbors do, I learned early on about woodstoves and where water comes from (besides from out of the faucet).
   It was here in this Virginia mountain county of Floyd that I learned to grow and preserve much of my own food. I grew herbs and made medicinal tinctures, home-schooled my young sons, and rarely saw a doctor. Here, farmers and back-to-the-landers live side-by-side. (Hold-out moonshiners and underground pot growers do too.)
   The longtime local natives and the mostly Yankee newcomers have more in common than was originally thought when the "alter-natives" (as my friend Will likes to call us) first began to arrive in the late 70s and early 80s. What we have in common has something to do with being independent. It has something to do with a sense of place and working from where one is.
   In Floyd we have locally famous artists, potters, wood-carvers, writers and musicians, alongside well-diggers, saw-millers, hunters and race-car-drivers. We also have midwives, herbalists, dousers and rites-of-passage ceremonialists. Is it any wonder that I publish my books from my log cabin home, from a make-shift office that used to be my son's bedroom, which is why Grateful Dead posters still hang on the walls?
   One of my husband's mentors, Bo Lozoff, is an author and co-founder of the Prison Ashram Project, a project that teaches meditation practice to prison inmates. Bo has a new book out called "It's a Meaningful Life: It Just Takes Practice." After years of "in house" publishing, his new book was published by a mainstream publisher. On a recent visit to the Human Kindness Foundation in North Carolina, where Bo and his wife Sita live, Bo told my husband that mainstream publishing isn't all that it's cracked up to be. He can't even get copies of his new book without buying them, which creates a problem since part of the Prison Ashram Project is making Bo's books available to inmates free of charge. What if everyone who had a talent got a big name contract and became a world product; what would small towns do?
   In my small town, old-time bluegrass is the traditional music, and we have many talented fiddle players and such. We also have talented hip hop reggae musicians and others who produce their own CDs. We're famous for the Friday Night Jamboree that happens at the Country Store each weekend and, more recently, for our annual world music festival, known as the Floyd Fest. Where else in the world can you learn from an old-timer how to forage ginseng one day, and then meet Wavy Gravy, the clown from Woodstock fame, the next? Wallace Black Elk and Sun Bear came to Floyd. So did renowned herbalist, Susun Weed, Barbara Marciniak, author of "Bringers of the Dawn," and Jose ArgŁelles, creator of the Harmonic Convergence event.
If I got a big publishing contract, I wouldn't turn it down, but I do like to personally deliver my own books to local shops and get hand written cards with orders. I like going to my computer, as I did this morning, and finding an email heading like this: "I JUST FINISHED YOUR BOOK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (The Jim and Dan Stories). I also like the fact that I have an ongoing dialogue with my community through the pages of the Museletter, a homespun newsletter I co-edit. The Museletter has served as a training ground for my writing over the years. Because of it, I have a small, but supportive, local audience that knows me as a poet.
   Every town needs a poet or two, just as it needs an auto mechanic, a grocery shop owner, and an "in house" band. Every town is a microcosm of the whole world. If we stay where we are and invest in our own community, the whole world eventually comes to us.

"Wherever you are is the entry point." Kabir

A Sweet Labor

My husband has tools
for digging potatoes
but I like to use my hands

Reaching down deep
into the musty dark soil
mounded up like swollen bellies

I feel around for the curve of their bodies
wiggle them loose like teeth

Born into my hand
without the sharp edge of a shovel
more than twins more than quintuplets

I lay them out in a proud display
marvel at each one's uniqueness

In piles along rows they dry in the sun
glowing golden by dusk

Collected in buckets
they tumble and plunk
then settle together like a newborn litter

I rise upright from squatting and bending
firmly planted in the brimming moment
With buckets swinging heavy with harvest
I head for the warmth of the house

Summer Slug

My ambition rises
in a sluggish summer day

to the number of squash bugs
in my garden

Death by squish is
not for the squeamish
but I'm the mother of butternut
Out of my way!

Read another sample from Muses Like Moonlight

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