Announcing winners of the Fifth Annual Yule Love it Lavender Farm Poetry Contest

I penciled my first poem as a child homesick for my Appalachian Mountains and McCoy cousins. Every summer, I consoled myself upon my family’s return to the flatlands of Warren, Michigan, by remembering my favorite place and people in the entire world. Then I mailed the poems to my cousin Kathy in Kentucky.
            Not one childhood poem survives. Yet, the love of poetry rooted into my heart. The practice granted me a strong sense of purpose and commitment to honoring the places and people who loved me.
            I’ve since traveled the world and published poetry and stories about my adventures. However, it is Appalachia, my birthplace, where the purest and truest sixth sense of summer resides.
            Dear Reader, this is why I sponsor the Annual Yule Love it Lavender Farm Poetry Contest.
            With great pleasure, I share three poems rich with the pure and true sixth sense of summer.

My Monday night writing group under the pergola several summers ago

First Place: Liza Young, Sterling Heights, Michigan

A Consequence of Warmth

I am leaning into the melon,
ready to wedge the red fruit
for lunch, the voices of my grown
children laughing at memories
formed in this sanctuary, contorted
in time and I ease into a smile.
A summer breeze whisks the wind
chimes edging the deck, the tune ethereal
and pleading, leaves of the sugar
maple barter an answer, and I smile
at the mystery of language. The pop
crunch of an apple skin, the rip tear
of celery, the suck slurp
of watermelon, the symphony
of food, manna passed hand
to hand like a last supper. The last sputter
of the pot brewing coffee, its nutty
roasted aroma wafting
the room, the sullen saxophone
of a Dexter Gordon CD and I lean
into my husband’s shoulder. We share
a smile watching the quiet camaraderie
of our children, a benediction
at day’s end. And later, slipped
between his chest and arm, soaking
in words he has whispered
Again and again like a covenant,
I breathe to the beat of my husband’s heart
and wonder at the fading cadence of this hosanna.

Second Place: Jack D. Ferguson, Auburn Hills, Michigan


Brunch is best
with family, friends
and winged pollinator,
Papilio glaucus.

Eggs over grits, asparagus
coffee and melon;
a common meal deemed ceremonial
by a butterfly
ruffling marigold petals.

Sunlight coaxes nectar.
Pollen pistils scrubbed clean
until, in dappled shade,
beneath leaves lent
by a gingko,
we rest, restore, recreate
in quiet Sabbath repast.

Third Place: Joyce Harlukowicz, Rochester Hills


I drift down the front porch polished wood steps,
settle on the bottom tread
a choice seat in the evening’s amphitheater.
The sun’s candle fades in the west.
The leverets emerge from safe harbor in the wetlands weeds,
lap and gnaw the lawn’s new grasses, under the doe’s
sly watchful gaze. So much beauty, so much love.
Overhead, the gulls soar in onshore breezes, kites without strings,
celestial buoys, eastward to open water
and safety for the night. The slow song of another kingdom.
Mare’s Tails soften the receding light, brush strokes
of devotion in the descending coolness.
Shorebirds rattle and call, lay claim
to secret places on the beachfront. So much given,
so few who know. The black rags of loneliness
Cleanse the temple.

Do not hurry. The calendar has nothing to do with it.
We are here, in this place, at this moment, the quick wings of twilight,
 near the satin water’s edge, like a hundred
or a thousand other places this evening. I stand to stretch.
It is time when time itself stops to visit and say,
linger, tarry, sit down, I have something
plenary for you. How long is there room for love
in your heart? Does it settle under
a watchful eye? Does it seek safety on
the shoreline of hope?

Robins will still sing down the eventide.

Diane DeCillis’ poetry collection Strings Attached (Wayne State Univ. Press) was honored as a Michigan Notable Book for 2015, won the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Award, and was a finalist for the Forward Indie Fab Book. Her stories, poetry and essays have appeared in CALYX, Columbia Review, Minnesota Review, Nimrod International Journal, Connecticut Review, the North American Review, and numerous other journals. She teaches poetry for Springfed Arts and hosts a monthly literary reading series, “Mondays at the Maple” at the Maple Theater in Bloomfield.

Agricultural lessons and liberty

The summer day I saw Granny walking down her Appalachian alley, swinging a hen by its feet, the head dangling back and forth, I knew we’d find fried chicken on her supper table.
           Discreet in her butchering and processing, my sisters and I never discovered where she kept her birds—never heard a squawk, or saw a chicken running around without its head, or feathers stuck to Granny’s dress.
As a child, the platter of crispy fried chicken legs, thighs, and breasts appeared on the table without any drama on Granny’s part. And beside the meat sat a bowl of mashed potatoes with a pool of butter, green beans seasoned with pork fat, and hot pone of cornbread.
Oh, and her homegrown slaw.
           Summer-by-summer, my grandmother embedded in my soul her subtle lessons how to grow and serve food. Ninety-eight percent utilitarian, she grew one pink rose bush and a pot of red geraniums for beauty and fragrance.
In her mid-eighties, upon our last visit to her home when she still stood on her feet, Granny said, “Sorry ya’ll, but I can’t cook today.” 

I felt the hurt of her disappointment. The letting go began.
Gradually, from that moment forward, whenever I’ve gardened, cooked, and preserved, I’ve come to realize the breadth and depth of my agricultural and botanic inheritance.
The root of Granny’s gardening grew from her Scottish mother whose ancestors were merchants immigrated to America. They settled in Chapman Hollow, Kentucky. There they raised dairy cattle and produced milk and butter for sale.
As many Americans, my agricultural taproot reaches the Revolutionary generation.
I didn’t know this when my husband and I visited Jefferson’s Monticello with our three young girls in tow. Yet, when we returned decades later, a spark of recognition identified paw-paw, tulip tree, and the magnolia unknown to me forty years prior.
And the gorgeous view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Jefferson’s terraced vegetable garden related much more to my affection as a gardener.
And while I sat on the porch of Washington’s house on Mount Vernon’s hilltop overlooking the Potomac, I pondered in awe our first President’s role in leading the colonies to liberty from Britain.
However, until I read Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf, I didn’t know Washington’s vision of Mount Vernon and an agrarian Union sustained him throughout eight years of battle.
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison held this ideology in common. Planters and botanists, they believed to sever all dependency upon Britain, the colonies must grow their own food and clothing.
And this bond amongst other Constitutional Convention delegates dissolved the gridlock within the stifling room where Congress voted for the Constitution of the United States.
In succession, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison served two terms as President of the new Union. Correspondingly, each farmer returned home to Mount Vernon, Monticello, Quincy, and Montpelier.
Dear Reader, in their retirement, our Founding Gardeners grew their own food. They fed family without any political drama on their part.

The scent of rainfall

A lovely harvest of buds for your table or vase

Iris Harkins, the only other Iris in our large church congregation, often sat behind my family of five during Sunday’s worship service. A friendly woman with a British accent, early on she said her husband Frank gathered with our pastors on the platform.
            Reverend Frank Harkins sometimes opened the service with his brogue, prayer, and anecdotes. A young mother of three girls, I thought Frank Harkins the ideal character to lead youth and racetrack ministries. I didn’t know then he fled an abusive home at age ten.
             In our early years of worship together in Detroit, I became acquainted with his five daughters who “wormed their way” into Frank Harkins’ heart. To be cliché, his smiling Irish eyes gave him away.
That my father was born an O’Brien endeared me more so to Frank Harkins. And that Iris Harkins birthed two redheads and three brunettes earned my awe reserved for my mother of five different and independent females.
Pauline, the Harkins’ eldest and first brunette, befriended me before we moved our home from Detroit to the country in 1989. Our oldest daughter, troubled with substance abuse, had already left home.
One July day, Pauline drove north to visit and stroll our Natural Beauty Road together. She noticed day-lilies budding amongst other native wildflowers.
“Did you know day-lily buds are edible?” she asked.
I promptly planted day-lilies in my gardens.
Not long after, Pauline married and moved to Newport, Kentucky where her husband began renovating their historic home. For several years, Pauline extended invitations to my husband and me. When Matthew arrived, all the more reason for a reunion.  
At last, the weekend of July 4, 1996 lined up for us both. Matthew aimed for kindergarten in the fall. July 5, en route to Pauline’s home, my family met with my Kentucky sister’s family at King’s Island. She broached the dreaded subject.
“Mom found out Becky’s using drugs and wants her out of the house.”
At an inconsiderably late hour, Pauline met my husband, middle daughter, and me at her door. She led us upstairs to our rooms before she asked me to the kitchen. There we prayed for Becky and attempted to gain some peace and understanding.
Hours later, Pauline knocked on the door where my husband and I slept. I knew by my friend's face that something terrible had happened. She leaned against the doorjamb.
Somehow, my gracious friend announced our firstborn’s death.
Today, I read Iris Harkin’s obituary. Born February 6, 1922, fifteen days after my mother’s birth, Iris lived thirteen years after my mother passed, and fifteen years beyond Frank’s departure for Glory.  
I slide open my kitchen door to the scent of rainfall, the fecund promise of another resurrection. Although the deer nibbled my day-lilies again, there'll be enough buds to harvest for a delicious memorial.
Dear Reader, the last Iris in this congregation of believers, I do this for Pauline and her sisters, daughters who wormed their way into their parents’ heart.

The full moon reminds me

May's full moon watches over our home
Moonlight cast mullion shadows upon my bedroom floor. The Man in the Moon had sneaked up on me again.
            Thirty-one years sleeping in the same place, I’ve learned lunar cycles from my southward view. Yet, somehow I’d lost track of the moon’s waxing and waning.
“No matter. All is well!” declared the Moon, high above our house, faithful and luminous.
Well rested, I replied, “Thanks for the reminder! I believe you’re right.”
For the previous day under the shade of our solitary crabapple tree, Mary Ellen and I knelt in my perennial island.
“Are you up to tackling these garlic chives again?” I asked.
“If these pests return next spring, I promise to incinerate them with one of those flame weeders. We have better things to do with our time,” I said.
 “Sounds good to me!”
My neighbor, a man who loves his work but has none due to the present state of our nation, carried wood shelves to his truck just yards from us.
“Hello ladies. Looks like you’re having fun.”
“Yes we are, thank you. And it looks like you’re about to build something,” I said.
“Not this time. Cleaning out stuff I brought home from the shop.”
            Every weekday he and his Chevy would leave his driveway at seven sharp and returned at six. He’s often said he’ll never retire.
His family moved in next door the same February weekend we did thirty-one years ago. I’ve watched their three girls grow up as mine left the nest.
            “I don’t know what to think,” he said. “I’m afraid life will never be the same for my girls and grandkids.”
           Mary Ellen, a grandmother of six, said, “That’s why we have to pray. God knows what’s going on and what we need.”
           “I guess you’re right,” my neighbor said.
            I held up my dandelion weeder. “We can’t let the masks get us down!”
But it’s easy for me to say. I’m not the breadwinner.
            Later, Mary Ellen and I relaxed in the sun with a cup of lavender turmeric tea and a hefty “everything” cookie loaded with chocolate, dried fruit, and nuts.
Truly, my friend’s help is more of an excuse for companionship, but it’s also a bonus to have twice the work done when she waves good-bye and drives away.
My friend is of hardy Norwegian stock, dairy farmers, and saunas in sub-zero weather. My Scot-Irish ancestors dairy farmed in hair-curling Kentucky humidity.
When Mary Ellen first walked into my house, I had no clue of the farmer she disguised under her flowing dress and flawless coiffure. Yet, by the time I served dessert for the Mother’s Day Tea, she’d signed up for the following Weed & Tea listed on the farm’s schedule.
We’ve since weeded together for ten years. Don’t know what my gardens would do without her.
Dear Reader, God watched over Mary Ellen and me last night. Our neighborhood. County. State. Our beloved country.  
And He will throughout all the moon cycles until Jesus returns.

Happy Mother's Day! This is my mother, the one who watched over me as a child

Magnolia memories and revelations

The first burst of bloom on our magnolia tree

I can’t wait for the Magnolia Fair,” cousin Kathy said every summer of our childhood.
           I could only imagine the fair, for I’d never seen it. Each summer vacation to Kentucky, those two words provoked a hope that this would be the year I’d walk the fair with Kathy.
Predictably, someone said “Magnolia Fair” at family picnics or baseball games in the McCoy Bottom. Kathy and her younger sisters whined to Aunt Eloise, “Mommy, please take us to the Magnolia Fair.”
I couldn’t understand why my aunt and mother wouldn’t leave their canning and laundry to drive us to the fair, just fifteen minutes up the road to Matewan, West Virginia.
Furthermore, I didn’t know that my mother delivered me in Matewan’s little hospital in 1949, just four days before Aunt Eloise brought Kathy into the world. The same year, Matewan established the Magnolia Fair.
No wonder our birthplace called Kathy and me to its a carnival along Tug Fork, just seven miles of hairpin turns from the McCoy farm.
 I found it an amusing distinction to be born in one state and live in another it bordered. Both locales provided casts of colorful characters—family, friends, and merchants who earned my steadfast regard for the roles they played in my life and family legends.
The Magnolia Fair, for one. Although the event perseveres as the largest and longest running outdoor fair in southwestern West Virginia, it remains only an icon in my imagination.
On our drive back to Michigan, Dad passed the rail yard that for decades held thousands of coal cars heaped high with black gold. And without fail, a happy clown’s face painted on the viaduct at the town’s entrance welcomed visitors to Matewan’s Magnolia Fair.
Today, in the perennial succession of springtime blooms, I admire my little pink magnolia tree outside my kitchen window. It’s a wimpy specimen compared to the 50-foot mountain magnolia tree and her fragrant, white blossoms the size of a dinner plate.   
The strum of memory hums in affection for Magnolia fraseri.  
For cousin Kathy and the clown planted the seed of wonder into my young soul. There the mystery of the Magnolia Fair waited until this past January 31st, a cold, cloudy day when I needed Kathy’s laugh.
After she related several profound things her grandson said, we reminisced a while.
“Remember when ya’ll came in and our mothers peeled those little green apples and stirred applesauce in a copper cauldron over a fire by the homeplace? Remember how the hot applesauce popped on our skin and burned us?”
“I remember climbing the apple trees and eating around the worms, but I don’t remember the applesauce.”
“Why, other than the Magnolia Fair, it was my highlight of your visit.”
“I remember you talking about the Magnolia Fair, but I don’t remember attending it. What was it like?”
Dear Reader, Kathy laughed in a tone loaded with revelation.
“Well, it wasn’t much, but it’s all we had. And we loved the ice cream.”