Two Poems by Maura High 13th Annual Contest in Poetry Winner

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The Field Index

Abandoned field, Orange County, North Carolina

Asters: lesser stars in these constellations, for the native bees, late-summer smatterings of a color I might call blue, blue petals and fireworks along the margins of the track, and

broomsedge, bluestems: stooped in the fall and shimmering, shivering in the wind, spinning out seed, bird fodder, tangled (insert here) into brambles, blackberries, this year’s, last year’s canes knotting and weaving, and

crabgrass: crabby claw and crab leg of a herb: edges into the wilding mint and onion grass, the tall stands of raggedy, wing-stemmed (my favorite) crownbeard gone to seed, where I am with my small dog, and

dogwood: not here yet, but it will come; also redbud (q.v.) and holly; the birds will bring it, in their guts, its white bracts and inconspicuous flowers, its small understory leaves will open and turn into the sunlight, before the canopy leafs out and shades

exotics: migrants, stowaways and hitchhikers, too much at home; see invasives, stiff-stemmed privet with its small dark leaves, and the clustered graceful arcs of autumn olive, honeysuckle vines, dead stiltgrass flopped into heaps, good for nothing except time

ferns: rise and unfurl like our letter f, old as fossils, here before letters and fiddles and bows and Michaux and his acrostics, first and last green under the trees, with

ghost plants: the ancestors, clusters rising from damp, unsunned patches of leaves along the margins of wood;  also: smatterings of green-and-gold, the droop-headed goldenrod

honeysuckle: announcing itself in scent on the wind and winding up and around the living and the dead: colors coral (see natives), creamy white curling to yellow (see exotics)

invasives, see exotics; index of vexed and vicious cycles; see also, kill

jaywalkers: I, alive, among others, on and off the old farm road, on pirate paths, seed-spreader, compacting soil, alarming insects and deer, stealing berries and sprigs and twigs and clumps of lichen or moss, colored leaves, I

kill: by ice and drought, sapsuckers, larvae, blight, competition, succession (it happens, why do I grieve?), deer rub and browse, humans; see jaywalkers

loblolly pine: its spiny cones and bundles of three long needles green, or fallen and draped in the shrubberies; aka oldfield pine, straight up, above all, old-meadow native homesteader in the lobby-lolly soil of this wide floodplain

milkweed: var. swamp milkweed, its pink inflorescence and faint scent, drawing monarchs among butterflies and pollinators, queen of weeds, fecund, its large brittle-dry pods burst and spewing cloudy seed over the bewilding meadow

natives: as in, before our time here, before this language and its metaphors and usages, before people, and which we watch with sorrow as they fall back and dwindle, are cut down; see exotics, see  

oaks, passim, and Osage orange, spiny along the branch bank, its large green nobble-skinned fruit fallen in the path and long grass, bitter, slow to blacken and rot, unscavenged by all but small seed-eaters

persimmon (native), privet (not; see exotics): one, provender for all comers, all creatures, i.e., small bell-shaped flowers, small sweet ripe fruits; the other just minding its own business, i.e., to thrive

Queen Anne’s lace: umbels and fine-cut leaves, branching stems, aka wild carrot and medicine, queen unknown and from elsewhere, and the lace medallions for her bodice and gown, for her headdress, her cuff, all scattered to the people (winged and crawling insects), self-seeding

red cedar: modest, upright, native, pioneer in this process of succession, spindle of evergreen and scent rolled between the fingers (here I am again, breaking the rule of no taking and leaving of souvenirs); and redbud: see understory, flights of pink-purple blossom in the spring woods, pleiades, announcing light and wings again, after all that

stiltgrass: Japanese, Microstegium vimineum, in summer blithe, feathery and green under the trees over creeper and grass, but poor food, tick haven (see exotics; see also  jaywalkers); and sweetgum: all over this old field, native and opportunistic, prolific and prodigal, Liquidambar of the spiny round seedhead and star-shaped, lobed leaves, their margins calling to mind (my mind) calligraphy or the gestures of dance, delight of form that is mutable and has prickly edges, deliquescence, decadence, a nuisance, really

tulip tree: tulipifera, the saplings standing here and there, innocuous, like any other small tree, but give them time, they’ll rise; the yellow-and-pale green petals of their flowers say in English “tulip,” the Tutelo-Saponi name lost, yellow-green the heartwood, yellow the leaves in fall, and early to fall 

understory: native holly and redbud and dogwood, parsimonious and irregular in habit, sparse fruit, sparse flower; now also autumn olive, privet, and exotic forbs and grasses, the introduced and naturalized, myself and dog under the canopy

vines: Virginia creeper, close-to-ground native; grape vine, gangly fox grape, looping and loping up branch and stem, dbh often equal to small trees; poison ivy, not the inconspicuous three-leaved forb of the northlands, but (learn this, human) rampant, thick-stemmed, hairy vine, stuck fast to the trunks of trees

winged elm: small tree of delicate, dry stem, and long, corky flanges along its branches; old (to my eye) before it’s old, strange (to my eye); unknowable why those wings

x: Xanthium through Xyris in Radford’s Manual, as in chicory and the yellow-eyed grass; also, a sign for canceling and for marking you are here, this is the place, this, my mark, my thumbprint

yellow poplar: see tulip tree and weep

zigzag: of silk in the web of the orb-weaving spider, homespun look-at-me and distraction, quirk among zoologies of abandoned gardens and meadows; zee, zed, the end of bee flights and alphabets



  1. Acrostic: Med. Lat. acrostichis, from Gk. akrostikhis, from akros“at the end, outermost” (from PIE root *ak– “be sharp, rise (out) to a point, pierce”) + stikhos “line of verse,” literally “row, line,” from PIE root *steigh- “to stride, step, rise” [Online Etymological Dictionary]. The Christmas fern’s botanical name is Plystichum acrostichoides (Michaux) Schott.
  2. André Michaux (1746 –1802), French botanist, author of Flora Boreali-Americana (1803; “The Flora of North America”), made at least five visits to North Carolina.
  3. Loblolly: Pinus taeda, From Wikipedia: The word “loblolly” is a combination of “lob,” referring to the thick, heavy bubbling of cooking porridge, and “lolly,” an old British dialect word for broth, soup, or any other food boiled in a pot. In the southern United States, the word is used to mean “a mudhole; a mire,” a sense derived from an allusion to the consistency of porridge. The pine is generally found in lowlands and swampy areas.
  4. Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas, by Albert E. Radford, Harry E. Ahles, and C. Ritchie Bell (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968). Commonly known as Radford.
  5. Pleiades, Gk., perhaps literally “constellation of doves” from a shortened form of peleiades, plural of peleias“dove” (from PIE root *pel-“dark-colored, gray”) [Online Etymological Dictionary].




Old House

Still summer, and Gerardo Ruiz
and his son, Gerardo Ruiz,
have been at it all day, hammer and claw,
            prising off what can’t be saved
            of the siding, under the layers

of semisolid stain, under the wood grain
swollen with damp, and the labyrinths
            drilled out by insects, the plywood, particle board
blackened by decades of rainwater
                        seeping, streaking, down
            and drying, gone spongy, punky,
nails loosening, loose flashing.

They are, in this heat,
            ripping off the old boards
                        and letting them drop,
hoisting and clattering.

The house, we were so sure of it,
            inside and out,
                        its pipes and sump pump,
            water tank, HVAC, filters,
its wiring, its ducts and coils.

We abided with the insects and the birds,
the mice and roaches, the sugar ants
            running over the tiles and counters, they had
                        their pathways and lived off our largesse.
            We came to understandings.

The two Gerardos see a house
that is like ours,
                        that occupies
the same space and time, an overlay,
vulnerable and damaged,
            but still fixable, as we might see
our own bodies, or the earth.



Judge Sean Hill says...
What draws me to these poems is the noticing, the attentiveness and the appreciation of perspectives. In “The Field Index”, an abecedarian about an “abandoned field” in Orange County, North Carolina, there is such an abundance noted—so many plants and their relationships to place and time and other species including humans. I’m engaged by the way the poet plays with the form of the reference book and the self-referential space that play creates in the poem. Here I’m thinking of the economic way “Field Notes” tussles with the idea and reality of invasive species with “exotics: migrants, stowaways and hitchhikers, too much at home; see invasives.” And I dig the way it acknowledges the place of natives and their time in a place with language like “ferns: rise and unfurl like our letter f, old as fossils, here before letters and fiddles and bows.” A different understanding of relationships and seeing possibilities is reached in “Old House”. These poems feel hopeful, and I’m grateful for them.


Maura HighMaura High, originally from Wales, now lives and works in North Carolina. She has worked in a cigarette factory, as a school teacher, college teacher, community volunteer, and editor, but her poetry owes most to her experience working in conservation and as a wildland firefighter. She collaborates with visual artists on shows and publications, notably Stone, Water, Time with Lyric Kinard. Her chapbook The Garden of Persuasions won the Jacar Press chapbook prize, and she is this year’s winner of the William Matthews Poetry Prize. Catch up with her at

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