Category Archives: Memoir

Starting the Old Chain Saw

I built this old wood shed as a raccoon pen, but Harvey sent his raccoons to live somewhere else–a good thing, probably, as the raccoons will have fared better, I fared better for not having raccoons to care for, and I now had a covered place for my wood stove firewood supply, all cut with a Husqvarna chain saw Reza lent me before he died, and spit and stacked with my children (see the photos after the poem).  That chain saw was complicated to keep running well and sharp, but I managed, and even taught my sons to use it, until I had to leave home.  And now the youngest must learn on his own, over the phone, and with his own considerable smarts.  I wrote this poem after yesterday’s phone call from Hyrum.

Starting the Old Chain Saw

Well, first you move the blue
lever forward (that’s the choke) then push-
squeeze the clear bulb

five times or so (you’ll see it fill with fuel)
to prime the motor,
and now you’re ready to pull the chord, but,

of course, you need fresh fuel in the tank
(old gas has water in it, and the motor won’t run with water in the gas)
and don’t forget the bar chain oil to cool and grease the chain.

Is the chain loose? The chain can’t be so tight
it binds on the bar, nor falling off neither,
but just loose enough. Pull and pull that chord,

and when the motor starts to putter,
ease that choke back and let that motor purr.
Ease that blade into that old cottonwood,

rock your way right on through.
You’ll know the blade is sharp if the sawdust flies in flakes;
powder means it’s dull.

I’m sorry I can’t be there to help you, son,
but I know you will figure things out:
you will cut the wood of your life,

make beautiful things,
beautiful things:
I will watch, and see.

And here are my children, splitting all that wood we cut in September 2015 and filling the wood shed.

Roger Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human heart.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Thoughts about the Inside and Outside of Caves

While visiting my first grandchild with her parents in Kentucky, we chose to spend a day in Mammoth Cave National Park.  Progressing, stooped, through the cave as we took notes on what we noted, I suggested to my son, Brian, a professional writer, that we should each compose a poem of our cave experience, and exchange them with each other.  Here is my effort.

Thoughts about the Inside and Outside of Caves

outside,
the river rises with yesterday’s rains, and tree trunks
are submerged, and footpaths are submerged, all in
a swirling brown tangle, and roads and bridges
are consumed in opaque immersion

studded steel stairs take us
in steep angles and twists, and we must
contort in our down following

walls drip and ceilings drip and despite hundreds
of hands ahead the cold railings drip
new water as we grip and slide,
never relinquishing the rod
for our fears of stumbling—how gladsome the amber lights,
subdued!

silhouetted cave crickets hang on long legs, harmless
but fearsome in our spidery imaginations,
crickets that browse on leafy detritus and migrate
back to the passages to drop kind guano
for undetected little creatures having little
else for their feasting

so many scratchings scar the stone and the curtains
hang chipped from many who did not know and more who knew
but did not care: these defaced bulkheads
reveal the bulk and bent of humankind—I exhale:

do not touch the walls:
do not touch the curtains:
do not touch the crickets:
they are perfect…

we happen to accompany a choir of forty
tied and bonneted Mennonite youth who gather and take their breath
and fill the high twisting chambers
with eight-part echoes and images of a child
in Bethlehem
and notes that settle on the soul:
no one speaks

outside,
a sycamore lunges
into the gray-cloud sky,
her ancient girth steadfast, the slender of old giants,
her pale smooth arms reaching and reaching,
always reaching

 

spidery cave cricket

with little Lila Jean

 

Roger Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human heart.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Another View of Venice

Roaming Seattle’s Pikes Peak Market 20 years ago, I met an artist selling his numbered prints.  This one caught my eye, and I could not resist bringing it home to Utah, where it has hung on my walls these two decades.  And the poem finally came.

Another View of Venice

These fishing boats, here,
moored in rows along the sun-twisted
planks of the wharf, do you see their

fancy colored stripes and singular
bow ornaments, carved, do you see
the fanciful names, betrayals

of deep-buried griefs
of lost loves and unrequited
loves and dreamed-of loves never told, yet

these little boats all bob
along on the swells, prow
through the crests, and launch wide

wakes down the waves’ wild tails, staunch pilots
holding true
to the helms, gazing always

afar off.

Painting “Another View of Venice” by Michael Eberhardt.

Angles of Sun and Shadow Showed the Forest Butterfly

The Red-spotted Purple is my favorite butterfly.  I have seen her only once.  As a youth in New Jersey, I roamed the fields and woods hunting butterflies and moths.  I counted over 200 species in my collection.  I regret those killing days.  Beauty is most beautiful when alive.  The beauty of butterflies, the beauty I was trying to capture and make a part of my soul, inspires me still and always.  I found the Red-spotted Purple by knowing the position of the sun, seeing the butterfly’s shadow, then knowing just where to look in the canopy.  Knowing where to look is the key to so many things.

Angles of Sun and Shadow Showed the Forest Butterfly

Shadows have wings,
sometimes—
did you know? They flit

through green canopies, they race
over forest floors. I can find
their masters by discerning

the relative position of the Sun.
That one—see there—
I have found her

only once, the prettiest
of them all, I say,
all melding swirls and spots

of royal and rust, the rarest,
also, for my having found her
only once

in so many woodland ramblings,
or perhaps she spites
ubiquity with stealth. To me

she is a rare beauty, spied
by no mere chance, but by calculating
from the relative position of the Sun.

First image by skeeze from Pixabay.   Second image by Peggy Dyar from Pixabay.

Roger Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human heart.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Water in the Ditch

As a child reared in New Jersey, our family set off cross country about every three years to visit relatives in Utah, 2,200 miles distant.  How I loved exploring Grandma’s yards and gardens and sheds and coops, and the irrigation ditch hugging the dirt road in front of her bungalow house built by Grandpa.  Fifty years later, I can hear the water trickling, see my leaf boats bobbing, feel the song inside.  Today, the entire scene has been erased, except in memory, in the song inside, and in this poem.  (My father painted the bungalow before its demise.)

Water in the Ditch

water in the irrigation ditch
babbled
alongside the gravely road,

          bermed banks sprouting
tangled sunflowers, where
Grandma lived neatly

in a bungalow built
by her groom
in Depression years,

          where I skipped and crowed
and threw rocks
and floated little boats of leaves

and sticks down the trickles,
where the parched yards opened themselves
to receive irrigation floods

          and nightcrawlers rose and wriggled,
where my heart whooped
and sang little-boy melodies

that sing still,
though
the ditch has been piped and buried and the house bulldozed for a parking lot

 

Roger circa 1970 on a ditch culvert, complete with bug box.

The Turtle Pond Before The Subdivision Came

As a teenager, I relished my hours in the woods near my home in New Jersey.  I followed the meandering paths on my 10-speed.  One day I happened upon a little pond.  Painted turtles sunned themselves contentedly on a floating log.  At my approach they slipped into the murky water and disappeared from view.  I waited long minutes.  But, losing patience, I left before they resurfaced.  New subdivisions came, and the paths and ponds disappeared.  Looking back 40 years has transformed this happy memory into a new poem.

The Turtle Pond Before the Subdivision Came

When you pedal
on a wooded path, all brown
and green shadow, framed houses
out of view, you might discover
a little pond, water brown
as forest earth and gray
as autumn sky, fallen log
stuck at half past two,
a perch for turtles, carapaces
painted red and yellow, for what purpose
I am sure I do not know, but
perhaps from the sheer joy of their aliveness,
sunning unconcerned, but slipping
quickly, when I arrive,
into opaque shallows, hiding,
holding longer than my patience,
safely unseen.

(Image by Scottslm from Pixabay)

Roger Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human heart.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

A Mother Suckles her Fawn

Laboring uphill on my mountain bike on Settlement Canyon’s Left-hand Fork trail, I rounded a corner to encounter a mother mule deer suckling her fawn.  I quickly stopped, not wanting to frighten them, and gazed and the sight, both wild and tender.  She, for her part, stood taut, ready to bound away.  I spoke quietly, apologizing for startling them, assuring them of my peaceful intentions, and thanking them for their gift.  Mother was sleek and graceful and beautiful.  Baby was adorable, white-spotted, and oblivious of me for her mother’s milk.  After long moments, the doe turned her head and marched up the steep hill, her fawn following.  Enjoy the poem that has come a year later.

A Mother Suckles Her Fawn

    In speckled shade on a steep
hillside with a trickle and a trail
below, a mule deer doe, her spotted fawn

    punching feebly
her belly, drawing warm draughts,
my sweating and puffing are incongruous:

    I have stepped upon holy ground
with soiled sandals, entered
the covenant tabernacle unwashed,

    holy garments laid aside, so,
I stop and watch and speak
gentle affirmations of beauty and peace,

    harmlessness, though
the mother stands firm and taut, head
turned attentively toward me,

    an intruder, her great ears
erect, black stone eyes watching
in turn, ready…

 

(Image by Sr. Maria-Magdalena R. from Pixabay.)

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.