Contributor Spotlight: Dina Greenberg

Dina Greenberg on “After Florence, Roof-top Stigmata

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As Florence dervished across the Atlantic, clocking wind speeds of 140 miles per hour—earning distinction as a Category 4 Hurricane—residents of Wilmington, NC braced for a direct hit. All of the weather models seemed in agreement: even if the monster storm grew weaker before making landfall, predicted storm surge would still deliver unprecedented damage. 

So my husband and I made the call to evacuate and, like many of our friends and neighbors, shored up the house as best we could and headed out of town, toward safety. Even as we waited in unusually long gas station lines and crisscrossed caravans of National Guard vehicles headed east on Rt. 40, toward Wilmington rather than away, I understood we were already members of a privileged class. 

Our house was less than a year old. Homeowners insurance would cover any damage it sustained. We had a place to go, the means to afford it. Yes, we had friends in the same economic sphere that chose to stay in their homes. But they chose to stay. On September 14, Florence made landfall over Wrightsville Beach, just a few miles east of Wilmington. By then diminished to a Cat-1, 90-mile-per-hour storm, she still wrought widespread devastation that is still being calculated. 

After Florence, Roof-top Stigmata” began during those first days of self-imposed exile, as a strange sort of survivor’s guilt settled upon me. On the incessant TV news, bloated rivers overflowed their banks. First responders navigated streets and fields and highways, flooded by three feet of rain, a seemingly endless deluge. When we’d first hoped to return, the city of Wilmington was still islanded, inaccessible. And finally, when we did return, I was struck immediately by the random nature of Florence’s ire.

Our home was completely spared, others so badly damaged they would need to be stripped to the studs, and still others completely destroyed. For me, the ubiquitous blue tarps (still) covering leaking roofs throughout the region, are symbols of inequity, telltales of financial and social status. The blue tarps signify reliance on FEMA funds and the demoralizing struggle to reclaim what many families worked a lifetime to achieve. 

Now, as I drive through neighborhoods marginalized and disintegrating long before Florence, I cannot help but notice that lingering prevalence of blue.  

Contributor Spotlight: Arielle Hebert

Arielle Hebert on “Mary in the Glass

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I am interested in belief, in what we choose to put our faith and energy into, and how objects or experiences can become vessels for our need to believe. I’m also interested in doubt, in questioning handed-down narratives. 

“Mary in the Glass” began as a memory from when I was very young of going to see an oily appearance of the Virgin Mary on the side of a glass building, a huge, colorful stain in the shape of her graceful silhouette. I wasn’t sure if I had dreamed it. Once I got the memory down, I did some research. The news reported over 500,000 people went to see Mary over the first few weeks it was discovered, and it became a religious site after the owner of the building sold it to Shepherds of Christ. Millions of people had gone there to pray or leave offerings. 

This poem is an experience of both belief and questioning. The speaker is aware of the worshippers’ struggles, their needs to believe in this phenomenon, but she also expresses her own doubt that this is a divine experience

Contributor Spotlight: Leslie Adrienne Miller

Leslie Adrienne Miller on “Cove

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Cove” is one of series of poems I’ve been working on about the ways we remove ourselves mentally and physically (or fail to) from the bombardment of bad news, toxic people, general anxiety, the intractable demands of our own bodies, and much else that conspires to claim our attention. “Cove” predates the Marie Kondo craze to embrace minimalism, and while it doesn’t exactly celebrate the shedding of material acquisitions, it does examine the female urge to take shelter from the consuming projects of social and domestic management. Luxury, for many of us, is ironically, the illusion of having nothing, of shedding layers of conscious and subconscious management of schedules, people, domiciles. Going north into the woods, is often, for me, a slow, solitary, and deliberate winnowing of debilitating kinds of consciousness.

The form of the poem is tidy quintets that pit spare, sharp Anglo-Saxon nouns and verbs against Latinates like “luxury” and “liberty.” Often, those contrasts are heightened by sound echo as in “carapace” and “hiss.” The title, “cove,” describes both specific kinds of shore and domestic interior associated with privacy and shelter, and it’s a word rich in multiple meanings. I’m also playing with the “lux” in “luxury” a little bit here, varieties of light and luminosity being things that driving, solitude, vistas of water, and freedom from obligations afford us. And that moment when you suddenly realize you are out of cell phone range—that too is luxury and shelter from all kinds of storm!

Contributor Spotlight: Ashley Stimpson

Ashley Stimpson on “To the Dogs

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I wrote “To the Dogs” at my desk in Baltimore, a few weeks after a trip to the Badlands. I wrote it as a gift for my boyfriend, Jeff, who was with me at Roberts Prairie Dog Town, where we sat together in the dirt, surrounded by this absolutely raucous community of rodents. Looking at each other with big eyes and big smiles, shaking our heads in disbelief. “Get a load of the East-Coasters!” the dogs probably chirped to one another. 

The piece arrived quickly—it was a deeply affecting experience that sat poised in my fingertips for days. Although unintentional, it came to be less about prairie dogs and more about the shedding of the protective layers I keep wrapped around myself like a poncho, the filters through which I make sense of the world, organize it, hold it at a safe distance. You can see these layers fall away one by one here. 

First (embarrassingly enough) the cynicism, the hasty assumptions, the attitudes that promise to preclude disappointment by asserting its inevitability. Then, the metaphor-making, the if-this-than-that ego-trip of “higher consciousness.” And, finally, the rationalizing, the fact-reciting, the impulse to know well before you know. I experienced this undoing with the prairie dogs that day, and I experienced it again as I wrote about them. Very little changed from first to final draft. 

With all of that static out of the way, I was able to feel it, and convey it, I hope—the magic that happens when you’re stripped of all your tired posturing and stupid pretenses. This is the thing I love the most about being outdoors: nature’s ability to repair us to our most innocent, most open-hearted condition, and then to knock us over with the kind of pure delight we’re usually too skeptical, too smart to notice.