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