August 25, 2022

“Blue Ridge Autumn,” A Poem by Reed Venrick

“Blue Ridge Autumn,” A Poem by Reed Venrick
"Blue Ridge Autumn" 

ONE 

On a cold but sunny afternoon,  
late autumn, Wendy hurries up 
a chilly, pine-shaded sidewalk. And 
as she hurries, she memorizes 
her favorite poem from that semester's 
study and strife; she, sounding out 
dee-dum, the stresses of iambic rhythm,  
while inhaling the rich aroma of pine 
boughs hanging over her ascending walk. 

After another week of classes, just 
a few weeks more, at the university 
across the ridge, but now Wendy 
hurries on up to her waitressing job 
at the restaurant and hotel called 
"The Grove Park Inn," where Scott  
Fitzgerald and Zelda dined, where  
Thomas Wolfe rushed to write—gazing  
out to Mount Pisgah. 

Hopkin's "Spring and Fall," the sounds 
stepping inside Wendy's fresh-air brain, 
as she recites the lines on an autumn 
day cold enough to need a woolen 
sweater, down jacket, and ski cap.  
Somewhere upon the ridge, oak wood 
burns in a fireplace or stove, and 
she, inhales deeply the wafting scent. 

Though nearly freezing, she loves this  
chill mountain air, where the cold makes 
her cheeks glow, where her heart beats 
faster, and besides, she perceives that 
mountain air palpably changes its character 
when the wind falters, then ceases to 
become a breeze, then drops into twilight 
stillness, then dusk slides into night. 


TWO 

On the hotel grounds, Wendy hikes in, 
steps over to her favorite autumn tree,  
pulls off her ski gloves, fidgets as she 
waits for her classmate-co-workers. 
Lately, they try to come early just 
to meet under the blazing tree; now 
she repeats what Neil once said: that  
the appreciation of this maple tree, 
with its bursting bloom of mixed foliage 
of gold, rust, auburn was worth more 
than a semester's course in botany. 

Lowery soon arrives, chains his  
mountain bike around the maple's trunk 
and pulls out the cannabis joint rolled 
ready in his shirt pocket; he wears 
that wide smile and open attitude that 
always brightens class discussions, 
especially if he can work in the names  
of Henry Miller or Jack Kerouac, and 
within a minute, they are lighting up 
and feeling the euphoria that dove- 
tails THC with cold, fresh mountain air. 

Wendy and Lowery, once lovers, but 
that was back then, semesters before 
during the "Intro to Greek Drama" course,  
but still literature-chat buddies (he, 
the fiction writer; she, the dramatist 
and actor) getting stoked and prepped 
for their evening shift, where they 
make their paltry salary but garner 
good tips to pay for campus rents.  

 
THREE 

Getting close to punch-in time, Neil 
comes rumbling by in his old Toyota 
pick up, and to save time, parks against 
rules in a guest parking lot. All three 
of them, waiters on Friday evenings,  
an employment gig to pay tuition and
support their love-of-literature life. 

Neil's lungs, heated as bellows, 
inhales the thick joint and recites 
a line from Steven's "13 Ways  
to view a Blackbird." He's spent 
part of his afternoon writing it out 
in longhand before his fireplace,  
then taped it on his steering wheel,  
while driving down a mountain 
highway, number 9, down from where 
he rents an old fishing-camp  
cabin in the woods near Bat Cave.

Today Neil has a new idea:  he was 
reading that Wallace Stevens used 
to stay at the famous La Marina hotel 
in Key West—same hotel Frost stayed. 
"Why don't we all go? Drive down there 
on spring break? We can stay over 
at my uncle and Aunt's retirement house  
outside of Okeechobee." They nod, 
they agree—why not? They will split gas. 

Lowery fiddles with his notebook, 
writing in the dates of spring break, then
flipping pages for that line that he's 
trying to remember for a term paper 
on Nikki Giovanni that's overdue a week; 
he will have to take another incomplete, 
but it will give him time to focus only on 
the writing during Christmas break. 

Wendy explains the Hopkin's poem 
she's memorizing this week; she's 
going to audition for a regional play   
of historical matters, when she stays 
with her grandparents in Williamsburg, 
Virginia next summer; she's going  
to take a non-credit drama class at 
the College of Willam and Mary. 

Lowery exclaims: "Wendy wants 
a career in drama. I want to write 
a novel to compare with "The Great 
Gatsby. And Neil, what you want 
I'm not sure, but does it matter?  
We are poets, dramatists, novelists,  
actors. Our passionate dream  
of literary art need never wake up to 
a numbed-down day of 9 to 5!"


FOUR 

In nearby Black Mountain, Neil 
knows an elderly, Irish immigrant, 
who owns a gas station; sometimes  
when he stops for gasoline, Neil 
chats with him. The old man reminds 
Neil of one of W.B. Yeat's grizzled 
Irish blokes—burned out and bitter 
with disappointments, but wise. Neil 
exclaims: "I want to live in Ireland,  

I wouldn't even mind dying there,  
out on the windy Aran Islands, because  
what's better than finishing in a place 
where you'd love to write, even 
if your income gives you no more 
than a garret in a stone house with 
a grass roof and a candle light?" 

But Lowery wonders if Americans 
can collect social security overseas; 
he's the one, who often recalls 
juicy literary gossip, so now, snapping 
fingers, he remembers something he  
once read online that Yeats said: 
"T.S. Eliot'? Not exactly a poet, and 
what kind of writer he is, we aren't sure." 
"Oh, but I disagree," Wendy asserts, 
"Because in the same way that Emily 
Dickinson's pith is impeccable, isn't 
Eliot's rhythm incomparable?" 

Neil gazes up at the glowing leaves. 
His favorite autumn line is from Archibald 
MacLeish, "For all the history  
of grief, an empty doorway and 
a maple leaf." This is what Neil 
wants placed on his tombstone, 
except he adds, "Even though we  
now stand under a maple tree, 
I would substitute "maple" for "fallen." 
And Wendy, remembering her  
favorite haiku poet, Buson, sings: 
"I go/ you stay/ two auuutumns." 


FIVE 

The three of them watch their glowing, 
smoky breath gush from their chilled, but
grinning, laughing lips into the freezing  
air of the Blue Ridge; Wendy gazes up 
through the kaleidoscope designs 
of blazing maple leaves—she points 
to the pristine clarity of the waxing 
moon, beaming between the glow 
of gold and lavender leaves, exclaims: 

"Silent and listen" is the best poem of all. 
Then the soul can coordinate." Now, 
to enter the hotel by the back kitchen 
entrance, Neil reaches for the door 
handle, but Wendy rushes dramatically 
before him—blocking. "Listen! Before 
we go to work, I have to say: Let us 
not forget—that we three are forever 
bonded, standing here under the spell 

of a maple tree "in yellow leaf," as Byron 
put it. I mean . . . here we are, deep breathing, 
giggling, feeling fantastic, just happy  
to be alive!" And Lowery adds, laughing,  
"Yes, this is what makes us buddies. We're 
a mix of passionate poets, dramatists, 
fiction scribblers! And lovers of literature!" 
With his dazzling grin, wider still on starry 
nights, Lowery gazes—dramatically up 

through the golden-leafed tree—stretching 
his arms and hands up high like a Hamlet,
lamenting loudly for the moon to always shine  
with full light, "But why are our favorite poems 
always set in in autumn or winter?" And 
Wendy says quick back: "Because when 
we live in the mist and midst of the Blue Ridge,  
cold seasons make us feel the warmest!" 

***

Blue Ridge Autumn

Reed Venrick, a Florida poet, usually writes poems with nature and/or social themes.

Blue Ridge Autumn
#blue ridge autumn#college#friendship#poetry#reed venrick
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