The Veil is Thinning…

The veil is thinning,
and I hear your call.
You always speak loudest in the fall.

The rustling of the browning leaves
is an echoing chorus;
The cooling heat of the sun,
the touch of many hands
Of the ones that came before me,
And the spirits of the land.

The veil is thinning
And we hear your call.
The ancestors have not left us at all.

The start of the day found the temperature just shy of chilly, with an overcast sky, and a draping fog over the land…but North Carolina is fickle about her weather and the day will no doubt clear, with a warm rush of sunlight, and the scurrying of small animals and birds in the trees and brush.

Today is my 35th birthday and I find that the ancestors are on my mind.

The reasons for this abound, but none have to do with getting older. Getting older for me is just what it is. We are born, we grow up, we get older, and then when our time has come, we join the ancestors on the other side.

When I was a child – even a child as young as seven or eight – I felt the ancestors at this time of the year. When I wandered around our large backyard, or played in the field around our home, the whispering leaves and the quiet anticipation that the whole world seem to be filled with filled me up at well. I would often think of colonial times – when there were supposed to be witches and spirits and headless horsemen in the world. I would think of the Native Americans, the first peoples of this land, who were one with it and who were driven off of the land. Whose spirits I imagined I could still feel in the chilly autumn air.

Perhaps I was a sensitive child. Perhaps I had a good imagination. And perhaps I watched too much television.

Regardless, the fall and its main holiday – Halloween to most, and Samhain to a few – captured me and held me tightly until the Christmas seasone swept away the more quiet, magical feelings I held inside with anticipation for rich food, presents, and Santa Claus.

But even then, the feelings that the ancestors were there on the outskirts watching and whispering never truly left. I could feel their presence in the celebration of Thanksgiving, and I would wonder about the Native Americans and why I’d never met any. I could feel the ancestors’ presence in the songs about the virgin birth of Jesus, the Christmas tree, or about decking the halls.

The silent, holy nights. The angels appearing to shepherds in the field. The evergreen boughs of the tree and the decking of halls. The singing of yuletide carols.

Even before I knew the histories of some of our most prominent fall and winter holidays, the hints were there. The voices muted, the language changed, but the presence of those who came before were still there. And still are.

The fact that I’m harping (can I harp? I didn’t know it was a verb) on thoughts of the dead and deceased on my birthday might frighten some, make others nervous, and still others question my state of mind, but I assure you…I’m quite all right.

In truth, thoughts of the ancestors comfort me in these shorter, colder days of the year. Their voices soothe me in the darkness before bed.

I sit in the yard, listening to the wind in the trees, the scurrying animals, feel the faint warmth of the sun, and know that they are there with me. Thoughts of the long-gone and dearly departed do not depress me but move my spirit to peace.

I tell them that my soul remembers them, even if their faces or their names are lost to me. I tell them they are not forgotten. They live on in this world because we, their descendants, live on in this world. We struggle and love and work, just as they struggled and loved and worked.

I may have said it before, but the fall time is my favorite time of the year…because it is a quiet, reflective, magical time – when the veil is thinning, and our hearts can entwine more fully with those who have gone before us.

Enough – a poem

I don’t remember your laughter
or the sparkle of your eyes
I don’t remember the strength of your arms
as you picked me up, brushed me off
when I fell and scraped my knee.

I don’t remember your tussled black hair,
tangling in the wind.
Even your voice is a mystery,
I don’t remember the sound.

But I have pictures
nestled in a cardboard box
in the attic, gathering dust
of you, of me, of us.

I remember your presence.
I remember warmth
and I remember love,
the kind of love I like to think
was just for me.

And that was
and is
and must
be enough

Copyright © J.S. White

With Mortified Fondness

In many ways, I was a typical teenager. I spent a great deal of time in my room. I listened to music and wished I was anywhere but where I was at any particular moment. And starting sometime during my sixth-grade year (I was eleven at the time), I started writing poetry.

I fell in love with Edgar Allen Poe. I had dedicated journals where I would painstakingly copy the flowery, overwrought poetry I’d ‘perfected’ on simple notebook paper several hours before, and I suspected that one day they would become collectors’ items when I was older and much, much more famous.

I still have those journals. Sometimes I open them up, sift through the pages, and feel mortified fondness for the poems written there.

My poetic style is more sparse than before; I became enamored with haiku and tanka and never really looked back. It is very difficult for me to write a poem that expands beyond a half a page. But that poetry was the beginning of so much more…

Like most poets (and writers in general), the same themes come up all the time in my work.

Despite what some think when they meet me in real life, my inner world can be quite dark and filled with shadows.

Themes of loneliness and heartbreak abound. A turbulent and fractured spirituality colors perception and experiences. The desire for connection is overwhelming and the emotional distance between myself and others seems quite real.

It’s one of the reasons I love Poe so much.

His work is romantic and melancholy, much of his work is somewhat autobiographical, and there is a spirituality in his words and his imagery that feels just as real as it is symbolic. It resonates for me now just as strongly as it did when I was an adolescent.

In addition to other projects, such as “The Bells of Reine” – a short fiction inspired in a loose sort of way by Poe’s poem “The Bells” – and my haiku anthology, I’m compiling a collection of poetry and short fiction entitled “Ophelia’s Tears”.

“Ophelia’s Tears” will explore themes of romance, heartbreak, my struggle with gender stereotypes, bisexuality, as well as darker elements like anger, trauma, and feelings of despair.

Some of those poems and short works will ultimately preview here on The Writings of J.S. White and I hope you enjoy them if, and when, they make their appearances. It is also my hope that they will resonate with you as much as Poe so often resonated with me.

Where I’m From – a poem

When I graduated from high school, there was a local writers group I joined. I was a member for quite some time, eventually taking over as the group coordinator (which is a fancy way of saying I would schedule meetings, take minutes, and generally keep the meeting organized and moving). One of the poetry exercises we did was called ‘Where I’m From”.

The idea was to take about twenty minutes to list all of the things you could think of about where you were from: your hometown, impressions, favorite moments or places, famous people from there, family or friends, sights, smells, memories, etc. After the twenty minutes were up, we were to take the pieces home and create a poem using some, all, or none of our brainstorming list.

Here is the poem that I created and refined over the years. It’s not award-winning material, but I love it all the same. I really feel this sums up – in a general sort of way – my hometown, my childhood, and the overall feel I get when I think of them both.

Where I’m From

I’m from dirt roads and hill-top churches
from Campbell’s soup and grape Kool-Aid.
I’m from the old house with the wood stove
and the red shag carpet,
from the pear tree and the honeysuckle vine,
blossoming in summer.

I’m from Jonas White and Frankie Silver,
from Jesus Loves Me and the children’s bible stories
my sister would read me before bed.
I’m from long-winded debates
and hour-long lectures,
from front porch swings and songs about
a hole at the bottom of the sea.

I’m from Casar, thank you very much –
where the C is said like a K, and the S like a Z.
I’m from red clay gardens, tenant farmers,
and women working long hours in the mills.
I’m from the graffiti on the laundromat walls
beside Turner’s Grocery on NC 10.

I’m from a time when bravery
was picking out your own hickory switch
and Dad was the one you went to for advice.
I’m from Scot Irish drunks and Independent Baptist,
from fried bologna and pinto beans,
mashed ‘taters and homemade ‘snow cream’.

I’m from the worn albums overflowing
with Polaroid memories,
tear drops and laughter,
creased and yellowed by Time,
and countless viewings
around the kitchen table.

Copyright (C) J.S. White

Forgive Me If My Religion Shows

This post is different than others. Forgive me if my religion shows just a little…

I learned yesterday that a man I admired has been diagnosed with a rare, terminal, and incurable brain disease. I haven’t seen him for almost four years now, but I feel sense of loss and sadness as though I saw him yesterday.

He was the parish priest who confirmed me into the Catholic Church not a year before my son was born in 2016. I came to the RCC from a lifetime of being a very lazy Independent Baptist.

This man – this priest of twenty-seven years – is someone I thought of (and still think of in many ways) as a spiritual mentor.

He was a shining example to me of a strong man of faith, someone who held himself to high moral standards, who cared about others, who did what he could to extol them to virtue. He had a wry, almost sardonic, wit. He was soft-spoken during his homilies despite the fact that the things he pointed out to the congregation were sometimes hard to swallow – classic spiritual conviction without the pain of condemnation, or even condescension. I saw a picture of him taken recently and the degeneration was startling.

His message to the newest seminary students right before he left to be with his family were short, simple.

In times like these, it doesn’t matter what side we find ourselves on – liberal or conservative – faith matters. God has a plan for us all, even if we cannot see it. Whatever happens, we must keep the faith.

To that I would add only:

Whatever faith we profess to have, let us keep it close to our heart in these trying, uncertain times. Let us see it as the bracing strength it can be, instead of the divisive force for which it is so often used. I am thankful that he was the priest that Confirmed me into the Catholic Church, who gave me the Blessed Sacrament for the first time.

He will be sorely missed when he is gone.

Eternal rest grant him, O Lord, that he might dwell in Thy light forever…In nomine patri, et fili, et spiritus sancti. Amen. †