Roberta is another poet I met at Table Rock Writers Workshop but not as a poet! Roberta was a musician with the Solatido musicians who also attend that week. (The musicians put on a concert the last evening and it’s always incredible). She’s a singer/songwriter/performer with Raison D’Etre, a vocal trio of women who has performed together since 1990. She’s also a solo artist and drummer in a drumming circle. Listening to Roberta’s music just makes you happy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her when she wasn’t smiling. Roberta’s poetry carries that same deep primal connection that one feels with drumming, and others bring a smile like hers.
Touchstones is Roberta’s third collection, all from Finishing Line Press. The poems in this collection honor those items, beliefs, and memories that ground us, that are the touchstones that keep us from wandering too far, or help us find our way back. These elements are as diverse as rosaries to ancestry kits. The poems offer that standard by which we see ourselves, and others, in our family, in the community, and like the poem below, all that is created.
With Roberta’s permission I’m sharing two poems from Touchstones. (Titles are bolded).
So here’s Roberta!
1. Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote? How old were you? What was it about?
I wrote my first poem in the 7th grade when Miss Gosney told us to close our grammar books and notice the beauty of the snow falling outside. I had been writing songs for years—making up tunes to imports and exports so that I could memorize them for Geography tests I also made up tunes to poems I found in books—like “The Only Son” in the Mowgli stories of Kipling. But I had never thought of words themselves as music Miss Gosney asked to “publish” my snow poem in her notebook which only made me want to write more poetry.
That same year, I also experienced a rather boisterous and unusual social studies teacher, Mr. DeHaven, from Alaska. After we’d spend a rowdy recess in the gym, Klondike (what we called him behind his back) would calm us down by reading rhythmic poems aloud. I can still see him seated atop his desk, legs crossed like a guru, chanting, “…boots, boots, boots—moving up and down again. There’s no discharge in this war,” as we pounded our desks to the meter. While Miss Gosney led us to notice image and stillness, Klondike was in the business of rhythm. Or maybe he just knew how to soothe some 7th grade beasts.
2. If you could raise a glass of tea or wine with any poet, living or deceased, whom would it be?
I’d like to have coffee with the Affrilachian poet, Keith S. Wilson. There are so many strong voices in the world of poetry today
The Webster Sisters Discuss Theology
In a dark blue bedroom
three sisters discuss the nature of God.
two lie in bunk beds, the oldest sits cross-legged
on what she calls a Hollywood bed.
It must be summer, otherwise how are they not
studying math, science, language,
or even the humble pursuit of geography?
Violet likes a white-robed, long-bearded, deep-voiced
Charlton Heston figure
who races over the clouds in a fiery chariot,
his silver hair trailing like a comet,
His will be done above and below.
Rosanne’s God favors a friendly uncle
with curly dark hair and bronze skin
who makes lumpy oatmeal to feed her,
pats and smoothes her wispy blond hair,
accepts and loves her as she is,
without judgment .
The eldest itches to try her theory.
God must be big enough to know
the names of each star, but small enough
io know our names, too.
She nods in the direction of their bedroom window
where the night sky festoons with light.
What if God is the brain of the Universe,
with nerve-endings that stretch
to connect everything that exists?
Violet imagines a brain in a jar.
Like the specimen in Frankenstein’s lab,
it contains those crucial bits of glass,
and is labeled “abnormal.”
That’s the grossest thing I ever heard, she says.
And scary, too! Rosanne adds this with a shiver.
She recalls the Outer Limits episode
where a man evolves unchecked
into a mega-brained maniac who views
other humans as lowly, mindless insects
clicking and buzzing their meaningless drones.
The eldest sighs as she plops down on her pillow to dream
about webs braided with green, purple, and turquoise threads
that spin both galaxies and molecules into whole cloth.
(After “Gift” by Judith Hemschemeyer)
Let me tie this song around your finger—
Not now—when the bold print of your life,
like a high definition billboard
is reminding, prompting you along,
hosts of bright exits announcing every turn.
But later, if ever you follow a dark ramp into the loop,
and signs blur, or mumble “no-re-entry” or stop your breath
with the jolt of “dead end.”
Then unwind this twine to find the tune again,
a spare thread for your journey home.
Song appears in Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel: Appalachia: Stay or Go? Volume 20, 2017
Roberta Schultz ~ Touchstones
Outposts on the Border of Longing (2014)
Songs from the Shaper’s Harp (2017)
Available through Finishing Line Press