JACKI LYDEN: "I met James Navé for the first time 25 years ago while working on a story for NPR. He was a whirlwind of energy, performing poems out loud in grade schools in his home town of Asheville, North Carolina. He went on to perform poetry all over the world, from La Paz to Paris to the Philippines.

For Navé, it was all about poetry and travel and freedom and creativity. And then, wham, he made an all-too common mid-life discovery. He had health issues - prostate cancer - the big memento mori. He confronted the disease the best way he knew how, with words, vowing to write a poem a day for the hundred days following surgery."


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Recipe For An Afternoon Off

4 cups of spring water

1 dozen walnuts

6 pieces of velvet

1 dash of mist

6 guitar strings

17 lines of poetry

1 redwood tree

1 upright piano

2 streets in Paris

3 river stones

Whip vigorously till fluffy. Pour in a pan. Bake on low heat for 4 hours. Remove from oven.

Invite 3 friends. Walk to the edge of a lake. Serve warm.

Spirits From the Old Country

Yesterday I took an early evening drive up Enka Lake Road. It was raining. I went on for a few miles before I came to the stop light at Pisgah Highway; I turned left on the two-lane and headed west. A half a mile later a green state sign discouraged trucks because the road’s hair-pin turns started seven miles on where the mountains rise above Hominy Valley. A few damp cows stood around barns on both sides of the narrowing road where farmers still say the Hootnoggers, spirits from the old country, hold sway over the land, over me, over you.

On the N Train

Last night on the N train from Brooklyn to Manhattan the smell of burning electrical wire permeated the train. The man across from me sat on the blue subway bench. His eyes were closed. The woman next to him stared at a kitten on the banner above my head. The man chewed gum. The woman shifted her gaze. She held her day pack with both hands. The man wore white socks. The woman’s silver earrings were shaped like South Carolina.

Strong Heart

An old man went out to sea. He’d grown tired of the land. He skimmed his fingers across the the water. His heart was strong. Waves lapped his boat. He noticed sea gulls. He thought the gulls’ feathers had a kind of elegance about them like a willow or a small child walking with her mother in the park.

What She Said

This afternoon in a coffee shop a stranger two tables down turned to me out of the blue and said, “the thin man and the square built woman with pure black hair didn’t go to jail. Neither did their two boys who were skinny as rails and tall as skyscrapers. They were all so dry they couldn’t cry.”


Oh Jazz band play that hurricane blues

rising through the marsh grass warmer than

a coastal moon. Black magic June loves

steel rhythm blues and robs melancholy

to make me happy. Oh Jazz band, when

the air is thin, fill my mouth with night.

Overlapping Birthdays

Younger than me by eleven months, my brother

and I rode tall poplar trees to the ground;

trapped flying squirrels in nets nailed to long poles;

ran through thunderstorms slingshots dangling

from our jeans; wallowed in laurel thickets;

clung to rope swings; smoked rabbit tobacco;

listened to our voices change; felt our whiskers grow;

watched our grades fall; roared up W.T. Weaver

Boulevard in Dicky Wright’s 1959 Pontiac Bonneville

four door, 389 V-8 under the hood, smoke boiling

out of the wheel wells; did the boogaloo at the Brown

Derby to the Drifter’s Under the Boardwalk; rode on

graduation night in Wheeler’s VW Squareback to

Myrtle Beach where time like the warm June wind

blowing taut on sails going out to sea disintegrated into

the waves we danced beside holding dreams we didn’t know.

What a Child Knows

Children do not speak the language of steel, horsepower, leather, and smoke. They believe grass is fur on a dragon’s back as they race across lawns ahead of their mothers. “Run child run, your Mama will not let the big bears eat you.” The child flies out of her shoes; she will remember this running for the rest of her life and how she once owned a picture book that taught her the sun more than a ball of fire.

Talk to the Invisible

A Tibetan Monk who lived in small mountain village

told his followers he’d flown in a silver tube to a city

where he traveled in carts that went five times faster

than a horse. He told them had talked to people he

couldn’t see by holding a small box to his ear. They

believed their master mad to think he could fly through

the air, crazy that a cart could go faster than a horse,

and more divine because he could talk to the invisible.

She Let Him Slip Away

Just south of Taos on my way to Santa Fe this morning, a road sign warned: bighorn sheep. I scanned the land for wildlife. Nothing moved except my borrowed Mini Cooper gliding 60 miles an hour, windows open, scent of sage in the air, Spanish music on the radio. I downshifted for the curves and started thinking about the first time I heard Janis Joplin sing “Me and Bobby McGee.”

I always thought when Janis said that she let Bobby slip away, she meant he left her for another woman, or hoboed to Seattle because he loved the rails more than he loved her, or just plain turned mean and robbed a bank. Now I know better. Bobby died And he did it in the arms of a woman who loved him. An hour after I got to Santa Fe, I watched a young married couple order sandwiches at the counter of the Aztec Café. They touched each other while they waited. The air was clean and dry; a few clouds hung in the egg-blue sky.

When Trouble Came

Last night in a small theater on MacDougal Street, I listened to Minton Sparks tell stories of barns, pickles, pocketbooks, rags, lockets, snakes, old cars, dead bodies, peeping toms, lit cigarettes, and what happens when you ride in fancy cars on Highway 23 out of Tennessee over Sam’s Gap, North Carolina, and down the steep grade into the valley where I was born. I’ve seen the sands of Mauritania, heard Frank Sinatra croon in Vegas, walked rivers in Peru, hitchhiked the Pacific Highway, poetry slammed a perfect 30 at the Green Mill in Chicago. But when trouble came, as it did not long ago, I returned to Carolina like a bird coming home.

The Spider

The spider does not tolerate imperfection

as she predicts the wind and swims across

the air. Her web begins. She wraps one strand,

around a stem that welcomes spring. She jumps

again. Weaves in darkness just in time to spin

her final thread and flood the dawn with silk

as fine as Chinese lace. It is this silk she uses

in patterns repeatable throughout the clattering

and rumbling of summer’s perfect pace

that reminds me of my own design. Poised in the sun,

symphony complete, apologies made, I wander

like the spider, line to line, thread to thread,

side to side across the weaves I’ve tossed and tied.


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