By Joseph Bathanti
Yesterday I read at CAST Theatre in Charlotte’s NoDa (North Davidson) neighborhood in the first of four consecutive April Salon Sundays hosted by John Amen, founder and editor of the excellent on-line magazine, The Pedestal.
The last time I read in NoDa was in its infancy, back in 1994, with the amazing Black Mountain College writer, Fielding Dawson, with whom I was good friends for the last ten years of his life. We teamed up at Saint Ruby’s Java Joint, the very first coffee house in NoDa and only the second independent coffee house to open in Charlotte. I met Saint Ruby’s founder, Betsy Bilger – by my lights a true Charlotte legend, a woman of enormous heart and social conscience, one of Joan’s and my very oldest and best friends – in the late 1970s when I was teaching English at Central Piedmont Community College and Betsy was teaching in CPCC’s Art Department.
Betsy not only opened Saint Ruby’s, but purchased a house on Yadkin Avenue and had a key role in lovingly, often selflessly, pioneering that then-fledgling neighborhood and establishing its ethos. Ruby was Betsy’s grandmother’s nurse who lived at Betsy’s family home in Charlotte and, as Betsy says, was her “true grandmother. We all loved her.” Saint Ruby’s closed in 1996. Betsy now lives in Wilmington with her husband, Eddie Caropreso, and their two daughters. She teaches 5th and 6thgrade Social Studies at Saint Mark School. Here’s a painting by Jerry Kirk called St. Ruby’s Java Joint.” That’s Betsy, of course, in the upper right-hand corner.
The reading at CAST was memorable and even a tad avant-garde. It featured two acts and a brief intermission. There were two sets featuring the same four poets: myself, Scott Douglass, Diana Pinckney, and Bluz. There’s a sampling of their fine work below. Each act was introduced by a dramatic reading by John Amen from The New Arcana, by John and Daniel Y. Harris. The Bechtler Ensemble, Tanja Bechtler & Mike Wirth, also performed. Here’s a plaintive, beautiful piece with Tanja Bechtler, cello; Shirley Gilpin, flute; Robert Teixeira, guitar; and David Crowe, percussion.
Sounds of Life
A shrill voice of disdain
Your own thundering back
Dog nails skittering on tile
As he scrambles for safety
Drawers open and close
Hangers clack together
Heels pound hardwood floors
The house door slams
A car door slams
A garage door winds up,
then down. A squealing fan
belt fades in the distance.
The fridge seal breaks, then
closes with a vacuous thud.
A twist top sucks air,
then clatters on the counter.
You collapse on a dirty old chair
knowing nothing can soothe
the silence that remains.
Scott is the founding editor and publisher of Main Street Rag Publishing Company in Charlotte. He is the author of four books of poems, including Hard to Love. “Sounds of Life” was first published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.
An Artist Speaks to Her Unborn Paintings
My hand holds no brush.
This dish is what I have. And children,
lovely clatter of voices flooding the days.
Eggs scrambled, boys off to school.
The little one plays dolls
while another sleeps, her weeks-old breath
rowing ceaseless, hungry
while I dream canvasses stretching
outlines on ocher-soaked linens,
earth-dug umber, sienna, yolk yellows,
wet, oily and waiting to bleed
thick and gummy from the brush,
the scent an ether in my veins
leaves me lightheaded, anointed
by the gods I might have stolen from.
Now the baby cries
and here she is, moist,
smelling of milky cotton, absorbing
this minute, the hazy hours. I’ll spill years
to her as the earth changes faces,
greens of summer rusting into autumn
and in winter, the north light
catching fire in the braids of her hair.
Diana first published “An Artist Speaks to Her Unborn Paintings” in Pedestal Magazine.com. The poem went on to win the Atlanta Review 2012 International Poetry Award, was printed in the Fall 2012 Atlanta Review and was included in the 2013 Jacar Press Anthology, What Matters.
Today’s entry is dedicated to Jim Plumley, a NoDa resident, and another very dear and sturdy friend, who was at the CAST today. When Joan and I first moved to Charlotte in 1976 as brand new VISTA Volunteers, we lived – along with a number of other new VISTAs – in his Charlotte apartment until we could find our own quarters. Jim was then a Program Director for The North Carolina Department of Correction and our VISTA boss. He figured prominently in the prison poems I read yesterday and has figured from the very start prominently in our lives.