Saturday, October 10, 2015

Poet Terri Kirby Erickson's Poetry Collection Illustrated by her Uncle Stephen White . . .

Christal Cooper

*Article With Excerpts – 1,503 Words
All excerpts have been given copyright privilege by Terri Kirby Erickson and Press 53

Terri Kirby Erickson’s Poetry Collection
A Lake of Light and Clouds

       Terri Kirby Erickson’s most recent poetry collection, A Lake of Light and Clouds, was published by Press 53. (April 3, 2014).

The poems from this collection are focused on Erickson’s family, her own reflections, her spirituality, nostalgia of a time past, environmentalism, and victims of crime. 

       A Lake of Light and Clouds is illustrated by Erickson’s uncle Stephen White.

 “It seemed natural for me to ask Stephen to do the paintings for my book covers, and as his only niece, I feel like I had a bit of "pull" when it came to what his answer might be.  He is an amazing artist whose work has been in MoMA, so I feel grateful and blessed that his fine paintings grace the covers of my books.”


       For Stephen White

By the stone wall on top
of which my mother balanced as a child,

grow the purple irises
my grandmother planted, still blooming.

The house is there, as well, but the paint
is peeling, the front porch

collapsing.  The man inside carries
a baseball bat,

peers at us through the bulging screen
door like we’ve come to rob

the place, though we are not the trouble
he’s been waiting for – just a family

searching for the past, saddened
by what we see.  That’s when Stephen

spies the irises.  Then the once familiar
house, frightening in its strangeness,

takes on a kindlier air,
as if the woman kneeling by the walk

decades before, digging up the rich, red
dirt, pushing bulbs into holes

she made in the ground, is still there –
and we are all welcome.

Erickson describes her reading and writing poetry as a sculptor with a piece of clay, an act some attribute to the creator aspect of God.  It’s not surprising that Erickson is a Christian but never describes herself as a Christian poet. 

“C. S. Lewis once said, " I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."  I don't write "Christian" poetry, but because I am a Christian, everything I write moves through that prism of belief.”


Light as crumbs on a plate,
a bluebird perched on the porch

railing, cocking its head this way
and that, feathers

the indigo blue of a king’s hand-
dyed robe, or the sky

on its bluest day, drained of clouds
and concentrated in the bottom

of God’s drinking glass, which He
swirled and swallowed,

then breathed out this little bird,
now flying.

She’s been reading poetry since she was nine years old, sitting on the floor beside her parents’ bookcase reading poems by Robert Frost, the only book of poetry in the house.

“And of course, my mother read all sorts of books to me before I could read, myself.  I was blessed with loving parents who have been married now, for sixty years, and a joyful childhood, which I can go back to again and again for the length of any poem I write about it.”


Headscarf fluttering in the wind,
stockings hanging loose on her vein-roped
legs, an old woman clings to her husband

as if he were the last tree standing in a storm,
though he is not the strong one.

His skin is translucent – more like a window
than a shade.  Without a shirt and coat,

we could see his lungs swell and shrink,
his heart skip.  But he has offered her his arm,
and for sixty years, she has taken it.

       One year later when she was in the fifth grade at Brunson Elementary School she wrote her first poem in which she compared snow that had been on the ground for a long time to old newspapers.                        

     “My wonderful and gifted fifth grade teacher, Elizabeth Reynolds, (who to this day, attends my book launch parties and buys my books!) praised my fledgling efforts to no end, which is what I hope every parent and teacher will do if their children show any interest in writing.” 


Flower child, where did you come from?
Your hands are bigger than mine, stronger.
They are seldom still.  Digging in the dirt, stringing beads
on a necklace, snapping your fingers to a Beatles song-
you are always moving forward, dragging the past
behind you like a streamer.  You are happier barefoot,
dancing in the grass, than women
wearing designer shoes, jumping in a pile of money.
Pierced and tattooed, silver bracelets jingling,
you are as different from me as North
is to South.  Yet wherever you go, my heart,
like the needle on a compass, follows.

       She attended Appalachian State where she was a Sophomore English Honors student, but had to drop out due to complications from Crohn’s Disease.

       By her twenties she was a divorced single mother of her only child, daughter Gia:  “She is 33 years old, and is the loveliest "poem” I ever ‘created.’”

She earned a living in a variety of fields:  copywriter for a radio station; worked on the news-desk and researcher for the Winston-Salem Journal; assistant to the Director of Vascular Ultrasound Research at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical; and a contract technical medical editor.

       By her late twenties she went back to college at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina where she graduate Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. in English Literature and Mass Communications. 

       “At the time of graduation I was going to school full time, working part time at the Winston-Salem Journal, and raising my daughter as a single, divorced mother.  It was quite a rigorous schedule, but I was determined to get my degree...and I did it!”

                         Meanwhile, the grasshoppers,
which can leap twenty times their bodies’ length,
are still on the move, mandibles packed
with brown juice like baseball players chewing
tobacco, legs quivering from the hard

work of lifting from one side of the field
to the other, a creature that wears its skeleton
on the outside like a coat, eats more than a cow
will in a single day – but can also jump,
resembling tiny puffs of green air – as if the earth
in spring is so content, it can’t stop sighing.  

       Excerpt, “GRASSHOPPERS”

In 2006, her first poetry collection, Thread Count, was published by AuthorHouse in January 11, 2006).  Two more poetry collections followed, Telling Tales of Dusk (Press 53, August 13, 2009); and In the Palms of Angels (Press 53, April 1, 2011).

       It took Erickson three years to write A Lake of Light and Clouds, which is the norm for most poets.

       “Most publishers require that at least a third to half of all poems submitted in a manuscript be previously published in literary journals, it takes anywhere from a year to three years and even longer, to produce enough viable work to create a full-length collection.  So, I write poems and send many of them to journals in hopes of publication.”

       She then makes hard copies of every poem and stacks them on her dresser until she has eighty or ninety poems to choose from, lays them on her living room floor, and determines the order the poems will go in the poetry collection.

       “I take my time to decide which poems "fit" and which poems don't.  And then, of course, you submit the manuscript and your publisher will have some preferences and suggestions, also.”

       Press 53 editor and founder Kevin Morgan Watson accepted A Lake of Light and Clouds, her third book to published by Press 53.

“Kevin Morgan Watson works beautifully with writers.  Kevin and I are friends with a great deal of respect and admiration for each of our roles in creating a book of poetry that is beautiful to look at, a pleasure to hold, and hopefully, an unforgettable read.”

       Erickson does most of her writing (essays and poems) in the morning in her sunlit home office, which she considers a haven:  full of books, art work, photographs and meaningful objects she’s collected through the years: a snail shell from the ocean given to her by one of her readers in 2009; and a tiny wind-up Merry-Go-Round gifted to her from her mother.

       “I have written in waiting rooms, in my car in between stoplights, and other strange places.   When a line comes into your head, you have to get it down right away or risk losing it.  The poems come when they come--I can't write poetry unless I am moved to do so by something I've seen, heard, remembered, or imagined.”

Erickson teaches poetry workshops and classes in multiple venues, is a frequent guest speaker, and a member of Delta Kappa Gamma International, an organization for key women educators. Erickson’s work has been widely published:  Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, Asheville Poetry Review, 2014 Poet’s Market, and many others.  She has won multiple awards including the Joy Harjo Poetry Prize and a Nautilus Book Award.

She can be reached via email and via Facebook

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Sue Williams And Her Son Bernard Williams: A Mother's Murder-Grief

Christal Cooper

Article 2,069 Words

Sue Williams
A Mother’s Murder Grief &
A Mother’s Rescue: The Compassionate Friends

Murder grief leaves scars on those left to survive
It warps the strongest spirits and twists so many lives

Murder grief is harder than other grief to bear
Because it’s done by evil and the devil doesn’t care

Murder grief continues to tear apart your heart
It stomps upon your feelings and breaks your life apart

Murder grief makes friendships harder to keep alive
People now avoid you as you struggle to survive

Murder grief isn’t pretty . . . It’s black, cold and grey
As it hovers overhead it refuses to go away

Murder grief engulfs you as it drowns you in its pain
It snares the strongest persons into feeling they’re insane.

Murder grief is destructive as it descends upon your mind
You must confront it boldly and to yourself be kind

Murder grief is controllable if your faith in God stays strong
He’ll give you strength to face it and the courage to live on . . .

On August 22, 2015, to celebrate her son’s 30th birthday, Sue Williams drove to Michigan to visit his resting place at the Oak Hill Cemetery.  

My son, Bernard Calvin Williams, was murdered 10 years ago in Pontiac, Michigan on December 30, 2005.”

       Sue Williams, never married and never had biological children, but she was born to be a mother.
“When Bernard was three years old, his father, who is Sue’s biological brother, was in prison.  Bernard’s mother, Samantha, was over burdened with pressing life issues, which rendered her neglectful.”
 Sue stepped up to the plate and adopted Bernard as her own.

            Bernard came with issues – abandonment and abuse issues. He didn’t like anyone behind him.  He had to have the entire view of the room. He had to be able to see everything.  It was fear.”

Bernard was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and was soon on a regiment of medication and a controlled diet, which excluded many foods and those with   red dye.  Even with the medication and diet changes, individual therapy and the unconditional love of a mother, he was still afraid of being abandoned.

       “He’d play with his match box cars for a few minutes and then he would come back and say, ‘Mom, where are you?’  It was the big thing called fear. 

He also played with (the original) Ninja Turtles. After he was asleep, I used to peel his hands apart at night only to find a ninja turtle. He was afraid to let them go.”

“Bernard proved to be a bright student, eager to learn. He loved history and learning about the various war battles. He loved to research other places and when he and I traveled, he knew in advance of arriving in various cities how to get around and what features we should see. Bernard was very excited to learn about the Civil Rights movement.  

As a youngster, he chose Ralph Bunche for his school project and he memorized and recited one of Bunche’s speeches, which greatly impressed his teacher and classmates.”

       Mother and son attended Bible study and church at the Eastside Church of Christ, in Pontiac, Michigan. But even with the strong roots of spirituality and love, Bernard still got into trouble: First in 2003 for driving a vehicle that contained drugs in the glove compartment and again in 2005 for a domestic dispute.  

“He did get in trouble, but he saw his way through with prayer and dependence on his faith. He got baptized for remissions of sin while in jail in Oct 2005.Bernard knew right from wrong and he used his knowledge to start down a right path.”  

When the Williams family resided in Pontiac, Michigan, Sue worked as a mental health nurse at the Clinton Valley Mental Hospital.  She was attacked and severely beaten by a mental health patient. Her injuries required three back surgeries, which ultimately resulted in permanent disabilities.
“By this time, Bernard, who was also excellent in math, had graduated high school and was looking towards the future. He wanted more education and decided to attend Alabama State University where he majored in Business.”

Sue gave up her life in Pontiac, Michigan to be near her son and to support him.
       Despite now living in Montgomery, Alabama, Sue made sure Bernard knew his father and birth mother who still lived in Pontiac, Michigan.  She made sure that he visited them and extended family for special occasions, the last visit being Christmas of 2005. 

       “That Christmas Day he kept on saying, ‘Mom, I want you to cook.’  So I cooked for him – all his favorite foods. I made turkey and dressing, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, sweet potatoes, cornbread, vanilla cake with chocolate icing, and sweet potato pie.   We had Christmas at my mother’s house.  I sat and watched him eat.  I served him his last supper.  For some odd reason we took a lot of pictures.”

       Mother and son talked about his favorite shoes- Nike Air Force Ones:  “He loved to wear those shoes with Nautica Blue Jeans. He also liked sweatpants, but he was very particular in how everything had to fit and he only wore dark colors.”
Then he headed out the door with his brother Brandon to go visit his birth mother, Samantha.  That was the last time she saw Bernard.

       Sue was driving her mother, Mary Alice, and her mother’s two friends Shellie and Ineta to Detroit to have dinner at the casino.  In route, Mary Alice’s cell phone rang at 7:30 p.m.  Mary Alice leaned over to whisper something to her friend Shellie, who was sitting in the front passenger seat.

       “Susie,” Shellie said, “We need to turn around and go back to Pontiac General Hospital.”
       Without hesitation, Sue responded, “My child is dead.”
I instinctively knew that something was wrong with Bernard and that if he had not called me directly, he must have been dead!”
On December 30, 2005, Bernard was murdered inside Samantha’s house. Samantha’s boyfriend, Dennis Anthony Hall, 34, mistook him for a man he had had an altercation with earlier in the day, and shot him three times – in the arm, the chest, and the left side of his head.

“Surveillance video showed Hall drag Bernard, by his feet, from his car and place him just inside the emergency room entrance at North Oakland Medical Centers. He then left.”
       “When I arrived at North Oakland Medical Centers, my fears about Bernard were confirmed.  I’m a nurse and I could tell by the way they were walking around, and how quiet the Emergency Room was.  Everything was calm.  I went to the desk looking at the lady’s face.  She said ‘I’ll be back.’  I knew he was dead.”

       The plan had been for Sue and Bernard to fly back to Montgomery, Alabama on January 4, 2006; instead Susie was at her son’s funeral just as Dennis Anthony Hall was being arraigned for the murder of her son.

 I never experienced anger with God.  God stepped in and Bernard died within seconds. He didn’t have to suffer.  I didn’t have to worry about pulling the plug, my son being a vegetable, or at a nursing facility.”

Two days later, on January 6, Sue turned 42 years old.
       She flew back to Birmingham alone. She doesn’t remember the flight or how she got to Montgomery, but she made it home, and knew she needed help.

       “I had volunteered at the Baptist South Hospital and asked the chaplain where I could go for support for the death of a loved one.  This was new territory for me.  She gave me a newsletter for The Compassionate Friends.”

The Compassionate Friends was founded in 1960 when Chaplain Simon Stephens at the Warwickshire Hospital in England was counseling two sets of grieving parents, the Lawleys and the Hendersons, and decided that they needed one another for support and healing.  

The first chapter of The Compassionate Friends established in America was in 1978 in Illinois. 
In the spring of 1979 the Montgomery, Alabama chapter was established.

Presently there are 600 chapters serving all 50 states plus Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam.
Now there are more than 30 countries across the globe who have The Compassionate Friends chapters with their main mission being:  When a child dies, at any age, the family suffers intense pain and may feel hopeless and isolated. The Compassionate Friends provides highly personal comfort, hope, and support to every family experiencing the death of a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister, or a grandchild, and helps others better assist the grieving family.

The Compassionate Friends of Montgomery, Alabama meet the first Tuesday of every month.  Susie attended her first meeting in February of 2006.
“I’m with people that understand how it feels to lose a child at any age, at any cause.  It is a unique group of people that has suffered a loss like I had.  Your heart aches because your child is dead.”

The Compassionate Friends was a great rock of strength for Sue, especially when she attended the trial of Hall.  
In October of 2006, a Michigan court declared Hall guilty of second-degree murder and Oakland County Circuit Judge John J McDonald sentenced him to 31 years in prison.  

“The jury heard the evidence.  I don’t disagree with the verdict at all.  It’s the proper verdict.”  Judge McDonald declared before sentencing Hall. 
Sue was able to feel closure, but the result is still the same – death:  It doesn’t mater how a child dies – at the end of the day the child is dead.”
Sue is now co-leader of the Montgomery Chapter of The Compassionate Friends and regional coordinator for the state of Alabama.  
She attended her first The Compassionate Friends conference this past July in Dallas, Texas.

“Even though I am now a seasoned griever – I know how you feel, to stretch out on the floor and scream and holler and I know what it is to not sleep or dream.  With my eyes I cry; with my pillow I sob; in the shower I cry; I get underwear from my drawer and ask myself, “Did I wear this yesterday?  I even cry in my closet, but you have to keep on going.

       In 2007, two years after her son’s murder, Sue and her family were in the backyard talking when a frog jumped their way.  The family screamed and ran away, only to end up laughing.  Bernard had been terrified of frogs, and they felt that the frog was a message from him to them.  

       It is events like this that help Sue to laugh again and people at The Compassionate Friends that give her hope, healing, and comfort.
       “My faith in God, my family, and The Compassionate Friends have given me hope.  I’ve dreamed about Bernard.  I’ve had him call my name.  Things I do, I do in memory of my son.”

       But the pain is still very fresh and always there.
“When a husband dies he leaves his wife a widow.  When a mom dies she leaves a child an orphan.  When a child dies – there is nothing.  It is unnatural. Kid bury their parents, but parents don’t bury their kids.”

       Being a part of The Compassionate Friends family gives Sue the opportunity to mourn for other people’s children, which she considers vital in her healing. 
       “There was a couple who lost all three children in a two week period due to drug overdose.  Who am I to be selfish and grieve only for my son?”

One of the misconceptions about The Compassionate Friends is that it is a religious or spiritual organization.  This is false – and in fact there is no spiritual or religious affiliation with The Compassionate Friends.  All that is required in order to be a part of The Compassionate Friends is that a child, of any age, has died, by any cause and the person is seeking help, which is a big first step in the right direction.

 “I’ve learned along time ago as a nurse – sometimes we are stuck in the rut because we do the same thing.  You always go left.  Maybe it’s time for you to go right.” 

The Compassionate Friends Montgomery Chapter meets the first Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. at Eastmont Baptist Church on 4505 Atlanta Highway in Montgomery, Alabama.

Photograph Description And Copyright Information

Photo 1
Sue Williams holding the last photograph taken of her son Bernard Williams on December 25, 2005.
Copyright granted by Christal Rice Cooper and Sue Williams.

Photo 2
The Compassionate Friends web logo
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 3
The resting place for Bernard Williams.
Copyright granted by Sue Williams.

Photo 4.
Last photograph taken of Bernard Williams on December 25, 2005.
Copyright granted by Sue Williams.

Photo 5
Bernard Williams at 18 months.
Copyright granted by Sue Williams.

Photo 6
Bernard Williams at 3 years old
Copyright granted by Sue Williams.

Photo 7
Bernard, age 3, and Sue Williams
Copyright granted by Sue Williams.

Photo 8
Sue and Bernard, age 7
Copyright granted by Sue Williams.

Photo 9
Sue and Bernard, age 8
Copyright granted by Sue Williams

Photo 10
Bernard, age 3
Copyright granted by Sue Williams.

Photo 11
Bernard in his Ninja Turtle outfit
Copyright granted by Sue Williams.

Photo 12
Bernard, Sue, and Jalen in Atlanta at the Martin Luther King Memorial
Copyright granted by Sue Williams.

Photo 13
Ralph Bunche
Public Domain

Bernard on December 25, 2005
Copyright granted by Sue Williams.

Bernard, with his sister, and Jalen his brother.
Copyright granted by Sue Williams.

Photo 13
Bernard age 16 when he earned his GED
Copyright granted by Sue Williams.

Photos 15 and 16
Sue and Bernard on Christmas Day 2005.
Copyright granted by Sue Williams.

Photo 18
Brandon and Bernard
Copyright granted by Sue Williams.

Photo 19
Bernard and his grandmother Mary Alice.
Copyright granted by Sue Williams.

Photo 20
Mug shot of Dennis Anthony Hall
Public Domain

Photo 21
The North Oakland Medical Center
Web photo
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 22a
Mug shot of Dennis Anthony Hall
Public Domain

Photos 22b.  and 38.
Bernard Williams at rest
January 4, 2006
Copyright granted by Sue Williams.

Photo 23
Sue Williams on October 1, 2015
Copyright granted by Christal Rice Cooper and Sue Williams.

Photo 24
The Compassionate Friends Web Logo
Fair Use Under the Untied States Copyright Law

Photo 25
Chaplain Simone Stephens, founder of The Compassionate Friends.
Web logo
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photos 26, 29, and 35
Web logo for The Compassionate Friends Facebook page.
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 30
Sue being interviewed on the news on May 27, 2015.
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 32.
Oakland County Circuit Judge John J McDonald
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 34.
Sue Williams at The Compassionate Friends conference in Dallas, Texas in July of 2015.
Copyright granted by Sue Williams.

Photo 36.
Antique Folk Art Scenic Portrait Chop Plate Limoges France 'The Frog Prince!' Hand Painted & Signed 'Sullivan' Late 19th Century-Early 20th Century Porcelain Charger Plaque Painting Masterpiece
Public Domain
Photoshopped by Christal Rice Cooper
Copyright granted by Christal Rice Cooper

Photo 37
Mother of Bernard Williams
Copyright granted by Christal Rice Cooper and Sue Williams.

40 and 41
Sue Williams
Copyright granted by Christal Rice Cooper and Sue Williams.