Category Archives: Memoir

Little Growler

Little Growler

A lion sits on my bed, a little lion, named Little Growler.  He clambers onto my pillow each morning after I make the bed.  Hello Little Growler, I say.  He guards the small house all day.  And he shuffles off to his secondary perch when I draw back the blankets at night.  He does not demand anything of me.  He does not growl or bark or mewl or drool.  He does not whine or glare or fume.  Little Growler came to stay when I moved away.  She brought him with her one day and introduced us.  She knew I was alone now.  She was 9.

When she turned 10, Olaf skated home with us from Disney on Ice.  He joins Little Growler with a grin that refuses to dim.  Pooh Bear with his round rumbly tumbly completes the trio, wandering in from California when the girl was not quite 2 and we met a giant Pooh and a giant Tigger and they happily squeezed in with us in a photo of the family: together.

I wave to the threesome at night – company in the dark is comforting – and manage to smile and say Good night little friends and remember Hannah at 9 and 10 and 2 and know we have had some happy times and I am not irreparable and I am very much alive and moving into something mysterious and beautiful and that Little Growler will be perched on my pillow when I come home at night.

They Fell from the Sky

They Fell from the Sky

Hundreds of them.  Eared Grebes.  The birds precipitated from inside crystalline clouds where the sunlight flashed in an infinity of ice atoms swirling and refracting in a frozen explosion of brilliance, as if the sun raged coldly right there inside the clouds.  The birds became utterly hopelessly disoriented in the icy intensity, blind, not knowing up from down.  Hundreds of grebes dropped from the mists to bounce into buildings, cars, trees, yards, and parking lots.  And there she stood, unmoving, in my parking space, her olive-brown feet stuck frozen to the ice.  My office key made a crude chisel for chopping around her toes – they bled and flaked skin already.  I wrapped her in my coat and sat her in a box by my desk, with cracker crumbs and a bowl of water.

The children begged to open the box and see what was scratching inside, and exhaled exclamations of wonder when they saw.  What IS it?  She’s an Eared Grebe.  Look at her pointy black beak, her long flaring golden feathers that look like ears, and her crimson eyes.  Do you know what you call a group of grebes?  A Water Dance!  Can’t you just picture the family flapping and paddling and splashing their delighted dance on the lake?

What are we going to do with her?  Can we fill the bath tub?  Our grebe paddled around with obvious enthusiasm.  What are we going to feed her?  How about fish!  Tub-side with a bag of goldfish, the children clamored for the privilege of feeding their bird.  Our compromise: eight hands held the bloated bag and poured.  She darted after the fish in a flash of black and gold and red, a little paddling package of magnificence.  Look at her feet – no webbing.  Look at how her toes unhinge with little retractable paddles.  Wow! came in whispers.

That needling question of what to do with the bird in the bathtub?  We would try a nearby pond, and hope for the best.  The children watched her swim away and they looked sad and happy and I sensed how singular a blessing to have welcomed that bit of living feathered grace into our human home, to release her willfully, to be moved by her wildness and beauty.  And I hoped a small sliver of that exquisiteness would stay behind in memories of hinged toes and golden ears and red red eyes, and of creatures that dance on the water.

(Image by David Mark from Pixabay.) 

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.

 

 

Our, Angel Gabriel

Our, Angel Gabriel

It was an unseasonably warm winter afternoon when Angel Gabriel came to visit.  I was baking bread for his great-grandparents who sat thin-jacketed watching him lead my angel sister toward the enormous long-needled Austrian pine – she carried a five-gallon bucket that could have carried him – where he hunted his favorite treasure: Continue reading

The Wrong Shade of Blue

The Wrong Shade of Blue

On my desk stands an assortment of cheap pens, conference swag stamped with the names of cities and malls, colleges and garbage haulers, hospitals and law firms, architects and engineers and janitors.  Some are fat and uncomfortable to grip, like writing with a broomstick.  Some scratch the paper with stiff unrolling ball points.  My favorite boasts a three-inch ruler, a level, and a screwdriver bit in the top: the engineer.  The pens rise from a rough clay jar we turned so awkwardly on a wheel when we were together and laughing and making a memory – Continue reading

Dragon Patrol

Dragon Patrol

This was his modus operandi:

arriving at a mountain lake and settling the family with picnic baskets and chairs and tackle boxes and poles, our father walked the perimeter, heading off on a trail if there was a trail, through bushes and over-and-around tree trunks if there wasn’t, to scout the best fishing and to gather perspective of lake and forest and meadow and bog and picnicking family from every vantage point to find what he could find.  He looked small on the opposite shore Continue reading

Just Like That

Just Like That

Not one prosthetic leg, but two—two metal legs where shins bones had been, fibula-flanked tibia, and metal feet filling running shoes laced tight and carrying bone and muscle and steel around the gym.  I did not pity him, but I did pity him—I couldn’t help feeling sorry that something violent had taken his legs, his shins, his ankles, his feet.  It could have been an improvised explosive device disguised as a cardboard box along the side of an Iraqi highway.  It could have been a land mine in Afghanistan.  It could have been a pickup truck rolling and rolling cab-crushing rolling down an embankment into cattails and reeds.  My curiosity couldn’t help but wonder.  He moved down the line of upper-body machines, hip flexors lifting metal in a slightly mechanical gait.  Men—guys—simply do not speak to other men at the gym, except for the group that ripple and strut and those that come as friends and spotters, for fear perhaps of misunderstanding or offense, or to project a cool stoic toughness, or to avoid the embarrassment of slack-muscled bald-headed types like me intruding on their pounding blue-tooth buds.  I did finally figure out a way to be friendly without being weird, playing to vanity by asking for tips for this muscle or that, and usually they were friendly, except for one hulk who sneered It’s all in the genes… which I guess meant I owned unfortunate DNA.  But asking the man with carbon-metal legs for tips would be an obvious ruse for selfishly satisfying a shallow curiosity.

Grandpa Charles had worked in the vast shunting yards of the old Rio Grande, getting cars where they needed to be, cleaning, inspecting, greasing, working levers and switches and leaping over couplings and tight-rope-walking tracks and a general hopping about, with frequent reminders that steel is unforgiving, until that day an inattentive engineer lurched a car and crush-killed Grandpa Charles.  Jesse lived alone for long decades after.  And the grandkids never knew Grandpa.

I walked up to him anyway, taboo and all, because I refused to be afraid of being friendly, and I said Hi and told him I think it’s awesome you are here living your life and that I was not asking him what happened, but I’m sure you suffered terribly and I’m sure it took courage to walk again and live again and choose to be strong and fit and social and I admire and respect your strength in adversity and he was nice and I felt happy and relieved and he told me he had been working in the railyard at an industrial depot that used to be an Army depot when he met a spiteful unforgiving train that lurched at him and his legs were gone just like that but he didn’t die and he decided to live again and I told him I would try to do the same when life got hard for me, and he said Nice to meet you, too.

________________________

(Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay )

________________________

Roger is a municipal attorney, homebody poet and essayist, and amateur naturalist.  Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.  Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  A Time and A Season gathers Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births.  The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Teasing Daddy’s Ear

Teasing Daddy’s Ear

I have been watching a man at church, sitting in his cushioned pew.  His child sits belted in a wheelchair because she cannot use her legs at all and would flop to the floor if unrestrained.  She is motion, her arms and hands fluttering around and her head wagging and her tight long ponytail swishing violently as if warding off some invisible and pestering thing. Continue reading

Life and Death (A Matter of)

Life and Death (A Matter of)

Life was about to begin for me when on a TWA jet I poked tentatively at the soft walls of the tight round room of my mother’s womb.  And after quick-passing days she deu à luz (gave the light) to me.  Fifty years later life ended.  Books describe divorce as a kind of death, for its permanence and its depth of loss and grief, and perhaps Continue reading

Whence Come These Lullabies

Whence Come these Lullabies

I once composed lullabies.

I suppose they began when my three-month-old baby, my first child, spiked a 103 fever, and I was frightened and he was sick and miserable and frightened.  And I cradled him and rocked him for hours in my aching arms gently and rhythmically as I breathed and whispered unconnected assuring words that began to connect and to coalesce with the rocking rhythm and began to hiss forth with sympathy and hope and desperation: Continue reading

Merlins and Holy Ground

Merlins and Holy Ground

Dark Trail earned its name for the tree canopy that shades and darkens its travelers.  Gambel oaks.  Mountain maples.  Box Elders.  Orange lichen clothes their trunks as they arc over the path.  I ride a round-trip seven.  The higher I go, the prettier the canyon, campsites yielding to firs and aspen groves and snow pockets still in June.  On Independence Day I launched from a mogul Continue reading

Directions

Directions

These rusting tracks still rumble with the rolling weight of history, of capitalism’s commerce, of hobos leaving home leaving family to find money because they had none and would find none neither though hunger compelled them to try, of kine and swine heading to the slaughterhouses to spill their blood and feed a nation, of starry-eyed boys and beaten-down men who knew there was a better life out there somewhere, at the wherever end of the tracks.  With an ear to the cold steel, I can hear the scrape of the coal shovel Continue reading

Brothers

 

Brothers

Cries of “Marco” and “Polo” skip across the surface of the years and I am right back there in my neighbor’s pool swimming for my existence.  He didn’t mind being IT, squeezing his eyes and shouting “Marco” and charging at the splashing sounds of “Polo” we made.  The game was fun, somewhat, and frightening, somewhat, especially when he was IT and I knew I’d get caught and dunked if not drowned.  “Sharks and Minnows” is the same game but this title more truthfully connotes the terror of being a minnow when he was the shark.  Putting fun and anxiety on the scale, I’m afraid anxiety won most times, weighing more heavily on my mind, making the game one I avoided, and when avoidance was socially impossible, sometimes hiding in the corner and whispering polo.”  I liked being Marco not much better, fearing that the moment I closed my eyes the only thing I would catch was the concrete wall with my teeth, which happily never happened.  I do not play “Marco Polo” with my children.  I much prefer swimming with my eyes open and being neither a shark nor a minnow, but rather a friendly popular whale.  We play “Barnacle” where the little ones cling to my whaleness and I try to throw them off.  Or “Launch” where I throw the children high over my head (having studied our distance from the concrete wall).  When my children grew too old and heavy for me to throw, their younger cousins took their turn, clinging to their old bald waterlogged uncle with shouts and giggles that skip across the surface of the years, and my brother is two again, two to my eighteen, two to my leaving for a university two thousand miles away, before emails, before cell phones, before computers, and how is it even possible to know someone, a family member, your only brother, when he is only two when you’ve grown up and gone.

Now I am 56 and he is 40, my children are mostly grown and gone, and his are still young and joyfully exuberant, and one day he sends me an invitation to join Marco Polo, a video sharing app, and I do, and he starts sending me video messages and I start sending him video messages and soon we are “talking” every week, after a dearth of decades, giving updates about work and children and holidays and moves and home decor and books and thoughts about books and scripture and history and God—the conversation always comes back to God, who is there in our lives, from the beginning of our births to common parents, through our sponging-up childhood and our sluffing-off piecing-together adolescence and our first stumbling attempts at adulthood when stupidity counts but you can still course correct, to our first bumbling efforts at marriage when course correction is more important and more difficult and when the stakes are so dazzlingly high.  I ask him, how can this be that we are talking when I left when you were two and you are now forty and we are talking, we are expressing our hesitant thoughts that normally ramble around only in our own brains, hoping that we each understand the other and appreciate the other’s thoughts and respects the other even and is overjoyed to be an unexpected source of intellectual stimulation—that is what I ask him.  And he starts by pointing out, we never really know someone, we never really have access to them, really; we can live with someone for many years and they will say something that astonishes us or they will misunderstand us in a fundamental way; and while we may have access to the same sights and sounds we never really have access to their minds and thoughts; and how our most common and frequent correspondent is ourself, in our mind’s ruminations, and how these self-conversations often can merge for people of faith, can coalesce into prayer, where we have a new thought or we express gratitude or we ask “What’s that all about?”  And he says, it makes sense to me, for we were born and raised and spent years and decades in the same house with the same parents who struggled to work and provide and teach and mold and prepare us, and the same siblings we loved and lost and now love again, and we share the same DNA, literally the same double-helixed four-lettered molecules in our cells—the same history, the same biology, the same environment—we are brothers, built on a common foundation, and will share a common bond, forever.  I realize how smart and how wise and how right he is, and that thought begins to skip and run and somersault around and to make sense to me, not just the 1+1=2 kind of sense but the meaning of life kind of sense, the kind that seeks to know the human soul, the kind that labors to cultivate goodness and compassion within, the kind that distills into that quantum of existence called Truth.  And then we noticed that the thoughts we recorded and sent by Marco Polo are in common to the other’s thoughts, and these thoughts grow and dance and evanesce into shared minds, for an instant or two, now and then, even though we have never spoken about them to each other before.  And though we will never really know each other or understand each other, and perhaps not even ourselves, and though we will always be in our own worlds, yet we are brothers, and always will be, and share more than we know, more than we thought likely, or possible.

___________________

Roger is a municipal attorney, homebody poet and essayist, and amateur naturalist.  Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.  Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  A Time and A Season gathers Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births.  The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Mr. Whitlock’s Physics Class

Mr. Whitlock’s Physics Class

New Jersey.  East Brunswick.  High school physics class, with Mr. Whitlock.  (Mr. Whitlock was the band teacher, not the physics teacher, but they were both 50ish and ancient and pudgy (like I am now), and they were both nice to me, and I can’t remember my physics teacher’s name, though I wish I could because he liked physics and he liked us.  But I cannot recall his name, and his picture is not in my high school yearbooks: he must repeatedly have dodged faculty picture day.  So I will just call him Mr. Whitlock for now.)  I was a high school senior proudly registered for physics class.  The olive chalk board was full of Mr. Whitlock’s arrows on arcs and sine-cosine frequencies and equations with X and Y and Z and other wondrous letters and symbols with hidden meanings.  I was enthralled.  While the class title was merely Physics, to me the exciting subtitle was Relativity, Cosmology, Forces, Theories of Everything, and other Cool Space Science Stuff.  A willing sponge, I was eager to soak it all in.  That same year Cosmos erupted into my existence, by Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer and cosmologist with the deep nasal “billions and billions.”  I believed everything he said because it was the science and the truth of the universe.  That is what physics class was all about, right?  But while I adored and worshiped the ideas, I choked on the math—why is it always the math?—and I tripped over the translations of the pretty arrow-arcs into unintelligible long lettered mathematical formulae.  And I came quickly to understand that I did not understand and might never understand the mathematics of physics, despite the fact that I received an “A” in Trigonometry class the year before because I had memorized the equations and aced the tests and then forgot everything, the day after finals, because I had never understood the mystifying logical language of mathematics.

The inexorable dreadful day came when I carried home my report card, folded neatly in a 6×9 manila envelope, and we formed a line at the dinner table where Dad sat at the head before dinner, and we handed him our report cards, one at a time, me the oldest and me the last, and oh how slowly he opened the envelope and drew out my first-quarter report card and unfolded it and slowly and dreadfully scanned the straight As, with the C at the bottom, my first C in history, the C in physics, my favorite and impossible class, and he looked up and said simply, “Is this going to continue?”  But as I stood sickened and sweating, my insecure scared self supplied this translation: This is the best you can do?  I thought you were smarter than that.  I expect more of you.  A C, not being an A, might as well be an F.  F-F-F.  Failure.  You had better do better, son.  Dad meant none of that, of course, though he was and is the best smartest strongest man I knew and know, though his question simply revealed his own exhausted mind as lawyer clergyman handyman father-of-six, though my report card C was simply a small temporary bare blip of a fact, a diminutive letter written in a tiny box in a narrow column of my life, and meant nothing at all whatsoever about me and my value and worth and intelligence and my sense of wonder for the scientific world.  Dad’s question was simply a worry for his son and a hope for his son and an offer to help his son if he could.  I see that.

Please do not ask me why I majored in physics in college.  Please don’t.  Though if you do I will answer simply that I love cosmology and relativity and theories of everything and other cool sciencey spacey stuff.  I just could not do the math.

(Painting “Galaxy” by Roger, though I’m hesitant to claim it.)

Roger Evans Baker is a municipal attorney, homebody poet and essayist, and amateur naturalist.  Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.  Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  A Time and A Season gathers Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births.  The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

 

Old Man Walking

Old Man Walking

We drove to the park.  So did he.   Or perhaps someone drove him—that is more likely, perhaps.  We drove to the Loops at Lovers Lane Park.  Three of us, the youngest and fittest, were there to walk and jog the loose lime-finds path.  Me, the oldest and least fit and least interested in being fit, was there to walk slowly, so I could see the sassafras leaves and the parasitic threads of poison ivy vines sucking on the sassafras and maple and beech and tulip polar trunks.  I wished it were spring so I could gaze upward Continue reading

Curtains and Veils

Curtains and Veils

Only a cloth curtain separated the little boy’s anticipation of surgery from my own.  But he was only two and didn’t know what was coming and had two kind parents who spoke in cheerful optimistic soft voices and kind nurses and kind doctors who smiled and were soft and kind.

I am always very careful to say nothing when awaking Continue reading

7

7

I have seven children: 7.  They are mine.  Or rather, they are my progeny.  I do not possess them or control them, and would not if I could.  I have 7 children, and they have me, for better or for worse, for they cannot ever claim another father or even another dad.  I am what they got and what they get.  And mostly they are okay with that.  My 7 children each possess a great soul.  They care about this world and its life and beauty and stories and its living creatures all.  They care about the human family and its poverty and illiteracy and violence and illness and squalor.  They study hard and they work hard.  They are kind and generous and patient, and long-suffering.  They are fun and funny and adventurous and smart.  They call me Pops and Papa and Pappy and Dadda and sometimes even Father. Continue reading

A Tree to Remember

A Tree to Remember

At the time, I felt proud and childlike and utterly cheerful to plug in the new two-foot-tall artificial Christmas tree with multi-colored lights pre-strung—just slide it out of the box and plug it in—and skirted with a checkered flannel pillowcase hiding three plastic feet.  I hung fragile little ornaments I keep in an egg carton.  This lighted loaded twig brightened my living room, a quiet understated new friend demanding nothing of me, content to glow and keep me company.  Continue reading

Resistance

Resistance

That was the morning I awoke late and feeling groggy and foggy and depressed and sluggish, as in, like a slug.  And I had been feeling so well.  I will never take melatonin again at one o’clock in the morning, or for that matter at any other time of the day or night again ever.  Which I also said the last time this happened.  The tablets I have flung in the trash, and the bottle tossed into the recycling box for the next time I visit my parents, who have a giant green plastic recycling can the city empties Monday mornings.  Saturday is a good day to do the laundry, I shrugged,

Continue reading

A Time and A Season

My Christmas gift to family and friends this year is this book of poems, A Time and A Season.  The poems span the last five years of my life’s journey, but reach back over forty years of emotional memory.  Each poem is introduced by the story of its birth.  Poetry allows me to explore and express the intimate in a unique word art.  I consider these poems gifts from a larger Source to me.  Not dictated, however, they required pleasant effort, as do all meaningful gifts.  Sharing these poems with you gives me hope and joy.

*  *  *

Roger Evans Baker is a municipal attorney, homebody poet and essayist, and amateur naturalist.  Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.  Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  A Time and A Season compiles Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births.  The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Cards of Leaves and Petals

Cards of Leaves and Petals

I buy birthday cards at the dollar store: 6 for a dollar.  If I’m lucky I find pack of 8 for one dollar.  And I buy about ten packs which will last maybe a year.  The cards don’t have HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! or anything else printed on them.  Which doesn’t bother me because I can write HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! just well, or even better because I am practicing my handwriting.  I have got the cursive G down and the S as well, but H has me harrumphing.  The fronts of the cards Continue reading

Prayers of the Weak and Powerful

Prayers of the Weak and Powerful

Our Father who art in heaven.  Since I was about 12 years old, or maybe nine, or four, my prayer preamble has been “Dear Heavenly Father….”  But I may in my lifetime have spent more time wondering about prayer than praying, though I am beginning to wonder if there is much of a difference.  Mostly I ask whisperingly What is going on here? or sometimes utter an exasperated What in Heaven’s name is going on here? or on occasion send a belching What the hell is this?  I kneel bed-side or sofa-side, like I am supposed to, though periodically on only one knee because it is more comfortable and because sometimes kneeling on both knees just takes too much out of me and I just cannot do it, and I bow my head, like I am supposed to, to show respect for deity and all that.  And I say, Dear Heavenly Father . . . What is this all about?  Continue reading

Jam and English Muffins

Jam and English Muffins

English muffin halves, toasted crisp, with butter and blackberry jam.  When I wake up irrevocably at one-something o’clock in the morning, bladder bursting, feet tingling, back twisting, stomach chafing for food.  I just know.  I know that to wind back down I have first to wind up.  The perfume of burnt bread wafts soothingly and intoxicatingly from the toaster.  In sleepy waiting reverie, the harsh click of the popping-up startles.  First the butter—used because it tastes richly divine, and why eat at all unless the food pleases?—then the blackberry jam—not too much—or maybe strawberry—I like to alternate.  One smallish crispy bite of muffin.  One sip of cold whole milk.  Slowly.  Savoring.  One lamp lit to illuminate the book, and the fleece covering bare cold feet and other bare skin and undergarments.  A bite and a swallow.  Mmmm.  Since I’m up anyway, awake and comfortable, enjoying a muffin for two minutes, I might as well read.  Brian Doyle’s enchanting, funny, touching essays are right for this quiet moment and are just short enough and just long enough to finish with the last bite and sip.  I read about hummingbird hearts the size of pencil erasers, and blue whale heart chambers the size of a room a man could walk through.  I read of heart surgeries and the fear of loss and the pain of loss and the reconciliation to loss.  I read of love and beauty and whimsey and the mystery of a loving soul.  I read of how parents learn to live for their children, to see in their children the heights of heaven and the depths of anguished concern and the desperation of loss and the ephemeral and the letting go of what cannot ever be possessed or controlled.  Or I read from the Bible: about Paul telling the Romans and Ephesians and Philippians and Colossians and Hebrews about that man Jesus, full of grace, the very Son God of the Father God, full of grace, full of truth and light.  Or I read in the Book of Mormon about whole civilizations who turn from the God they know, turn intentionally away from him and his simple system for personal and societal peace and happiness—why would you reject what you know and love, all the truth and peace and light and joy, only to exterminate each other in a tempest of rage and blood and hate?—or the account of Jesus coming to them, descending, beaming his glory, radiating his light, his scarred palms outstretched for them all to feel and to witness forever, this Jesus come to teach and to correct, come to comfort and to heal, come to establish his order on earth.  Finished with the food, and the word, I snuggle into the fleece and the couch and work to think big divine universal thoughts, but all I can achieve is to almost understand something bigger than this big small world, all I can manage is to almost feel by mental reaching touch the grand blinding serene Mind hanging out behind the veil of the infinite universe, that Creator, and the elegant laws of the cosmos and the evolutionary laws of life and DNA and of the amazing simple brilliant law of love, love one cannot measure on a scale, love one cannot reduce to an equation,  love that is the greatest force in the universe for hope and for reformation and for redemption, love that allows forgiveness and invites a stretching reaching higher farther vaster than we thought possible…  Sweet respite, this, these tangible almosts…  Knowing I cannot ascend, yet, to where I wish, yet calmed and satisfied and inspired and touched, and fully awake, I know I can descend again now into sleep, and stay asleep until morning, though I do have to brush my teeth first.

Consecration Cooking

Consecration Cooking

I cooked for hours.  Even though just yesterday I had roasted the annual turkey, yet today I had cooked for hours, for my children, who would arrive at 6 o’clock for dinner with dad.  Tó Brandileone crooned in the other room as I kneaded five parts butter to four parts flour, simmered sliced leeks in butter and their own juices for a long time until totally tender, whisked eggs and cream, rolled out the cold dough and baked the shells in 10-inch springform pans—they would be enormous quiches, Continue reading

They Neither Sow Nor Reap

In one short cold day the stout gusts denuded my parents’ pear trees.  The leaves were so vibrantly colorful, and seemed alive.  They swirled in little twisters as Dad and I worked to rake them up before the snow fell.  I hated to think of these leaves as just dead things sluffed off in season like flakes of dry skin.  So I didn’t.  I thought of them as beautiful and alive and holy,  like the New Testament lilies and sparrows.  And I thought they deserved a poem.

They Neither Sow Nor Reap

south winds whip and tear
at the joyful tree ornaments
all day until they twirl
and scud on the grass,
pile in corners
of color, multitudinous
vibrant reds, some greens
and yellows at the edges,
all painted uniquely
radiant and beautiful,
these trillions of leaves,
beyond sluffed scaly skin, but
the trees’ living breath,
engines of energy,
carbon sinks,
fall’s wonder-inspirers,
plucked and fallen
like lily petals
and sparrow feathers,
like the hairs of my head

We Swam the Mile Swim

I was 13 in the summer of 1977.  I had failed the 100-yard swim at scout camp the year before.  Now I was going for the mile swim.  Mist hung heavy on Lake Seneca in the early morning.  My dad lowered himself into the water with a cold shudder and swam out into the lake, while Fritz rowed alongside, with me a passenger.  Dad swam and swam and swam.  Fritz finally said he had swum a mile.  We hauled Dad in, and I jumped out of the rowboat for the long swim back.  The sidestroke was my savior as I swam slowly back to Camp Liahona.  As lake finally gave way to shore and I stood on firm ground, both calves cramped, and I fell to the ground.  Two men lifted me up and put my arms around their shoulders, congratulating me on my accomplishment.  I was proud to sew our seahorse patches on my merit badge sash.  We had done it.  What’s more, we had accidentally swum two miles each, Fritz having rowed us to the wrong landmark!  But we were proud and happy to have done it, and to have done it together.

We Swam the Mile Swim

You know that
patch on the back
of my old olive sash:
white with red
seahorse? I worked
for that patch: I swam
2 miles for 1 patch
2 miles
for the 1-mile swim

because the rower pulled to
the wrong landmark. Of course
I didn’t know
until the long swim ended
and two men shouldered
my dead arms after
both calves imploded
and the mile-swim boss
giggled Why
did you swim so
far? I knew all
along I could do it
no matter how far
because my dad had swum
out to that far landmark
and I had only to
sidestroke slowly
back while he watched
poised
over the gunwale
on Lake Seneca: still
steaming morning’s mist.

Image by TheOtherKev from Pixabay

Lily Pond in Summer Drouth

Do you ever feel dried out and empty, with no zest for life?  I know I do.  I am thinking that feeling is a common human experience.  The happy parts of life are there but seem just out of reach.  The heat of guilt and the sun of duty sap our strength, along with many other troublesome things.  But I also believe that if we work for it and wait for it, relief comes to us, in the form of a smile, a kind word, a personal achievement, and many other ennobling things.  In this poem I used a dried-out lake bed as a metaphor for the hard times in life, trusting that hope hangs just around the bend of tomorrow.

Lily Pond in Summer Drouth

The lily pond has
completely dried out, birds
have picked the flesh off white-boned fish, old
slimy greenery mats into dark
paper that flakes and flies
away like cindered news:

the sun has sucked all moisture from the muck:

the bowled bed lies cracked and ravined
in a million baked-mud islands:
the definition of a desiccation:

I recall:
red sliders scooting off their sun-logs, fiery
newts crawling with wet leafy fragility,
butter-cream lilies crowning: lotuses
bursting with wisdom and beauty . . .

but the spring will not flow:
the pond has dried and died:
and there is nothing for it
but to settle in

until tomorrow’s heaviness sheds
abundance.

 

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 heart.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Above image by Carabo Spain from Pixabay.

On the Jordan at Dusk

Knowing the beaver come out in the evening, I launched from Porter’s Landing at 7:00 p.m. and sprinted three miles upstream, then turn and paddled slowly and quietly with the current, looking for beaver.  I saw 7 beaver, 3 great blue heron, 2 black-capped night heron, and a belted kingfisher: all miraculous.  I arrived at the launch just as the dark settled in.  By the time I hauled out, this poem had composed itself and was gently asking to be written.

On the Jordan at Dusk

settle into the rhythm…
dip and pull…
breathe…
dip and pull…
breathe…
wiggle
on the keel…

Belted Kingfisher
splashes indigo and rust
on white canvas…

Great Blue Heron
flies low and wide toward me,
and I wonder if I resemble a fish…

pink petals and perfume
droop transfigured into ripe
red rose hips…

evening’s green aromas
drift over the water,
warm and pungent…

silent beaver swim
in the shadows of a gibbous moon,
waning…

Inconsequential

Walking along Idaho’s Salmon River shore at sunset during a 52-mile float, I began to notice the ridges of tiny underwater dunes.  I thought about how inconsequential the weak waves were, yet how they shaped the dunes.  I thought about how the little things in life may seem inconsequential, but always have important formational significance.

Inconsequential

inconsequential waves
lap the river bank:
a sandy river bank:

in the shallows
long ridges run
along the shore—

not straight, but undulating,
now breaking off
now splitting,

now rejoining—
ridgelines a centimeter high:
and each incoming

and each outgoing
adds to the tiny dunes,
takes away,

reshapes . . .

Fiddle Fever

I have attended some great concerts in my many years: Journey: Billy Joel; Boston; John Taylor.  But the best concert I ever attended was a free community Concert in the Park in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in the summer 1981.  The band was Fiddle Fever, and I was 17.  From the first note, I was completely captivated.  Their Appalachian bluegrass music was earthy and mystical, happy and tender, evoking generations and adventures past and yet to come, and expertly performed.  The players radiated enthusiasm and utter joy that washed over and through me.  We bought the vinyl and listened to it hundreds of times until it was too scratched to play.  To my delight, I recently found a CD of the original LP, with several bonus tracks.  Thirty-nine years later, I am playing Fiddle Fever again.  I am captivated still.

Silver Spoon Chimes

Forty years ago my parents loaded the station wagon and drove the family from our New Jersey home to the woods of Maine for a modest vacation.  We stayed at Gray’s Cabins, which had no central heat (but a fireplace) or running water, but an abundance of gorgeous views and rustic nostalgia.  At a small bait shop on a winding country road, while Dad bought lures and earthworms, I stood on the porch admiring a mobile of flattened silver spoons suspended from bent and curled fork tines.  The spoons met each other, as the breeze passed through, with surprisingly rich peals, as from a bell.  For two decades I haunted thrift stores for discarded silver-plate, and made dozens of chimes for family and friends.  I recently pulled out of a box the scattered spoons and fork of my last remaining set of chimes, polished the silver, restrung the spoons, and hung the chimes in my patio, where they tinkle and take me back to the green woods of Maine.

If plated silver is not available, you can make your own set with any inexpensive metal ware.  Tools you will need:

  • hammer
  • rag to buffer the spoons from the hammer and concrete surface as you carefully flatten them
  • power drill with very small drill bit
  • block of wood under the ware as you drill
  • needle-nose pliers
  • fishing line or stout threat (thick string will muffle the spoon vibrations and dampen their sound)
  • nail or hook to hang from

The colder your metal ware, the higher the likelihood the spoons will crack and the tines will break off.  Work with the spoons and fork after leaving them in the sun for a few minutes.

Osprey Brings a Snake for Her Crying Chick

During a visit to Greer, Arizona, we played at River Reservoir, where I searched for the Osprey my sister had seen weeks before.  The children canoed and fished for crayfish and napped on a quilt under the pines, while I scanned the sky.  The tree-top nest stood tall in front of me, and I was not disappointed:

Osprey Brings a Snake for Her Crying Chick

on a barkless ponderosa snag
ascending the hill—
a lightning kill—
a nest of rough twigs tangled
in the crook of its crown

a beak rises
peaks out and over
scans from north to south to north again

and from that beak a hunger call:
cry cry cry cry cry cry cry—

then the long wait for the mother

and the regurgitated trout:

              cry cry cry cry cry—

Here she comes!
swooping through pine tops
a snake slack with death dangling
from the ebony nails of her talons

Roger Baker is a municipal attorney, aspiring poet, and amateur naturalist.  He 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.

Sunshine’s Summer Hat

With Phoenix Arizona regularly reaching 110F in June, Amy has made sure Sunshine is prepared for the hot sun, with his own straw hat.  Of course, the Bearded Dragon lizard is native to the brutally hot Australian desert.  But whether Sunshine needs a hat or not, Amy is loyal and caring and looks after Sunshine’s every need.

Sunshine’s Green Hammock

Amy loves swinging in her hammock under the big shade tree, or in the covered glider chair, with Sunshine in tow.  Thinking that Sunshine might like to have her own hammock, Amy sewed her a green cloth hammock.  Now they can enjoy hammocking together in the Arizona shade.

 

When a Feather Falls from an Osprey

This is my staff.  An old mountain-man friend, Harvey, whose Indian name is Many Feathers, taught me the technique of shaving the feather shafts and curling them back into themselves to make a loop, then threading a string to tie to the staff.  Thus attached, the feathers sway freely in the breeze without damage.  Watching it rest in a corner, I wonder why I made it and what it means, to me, today.  Well, perhaps it is enough that the feathers are beautiful, and that I carved the staff, and that I love them.  Is more rationale needed?  This poem imagines finding real raptor feathers, creating a staff, and pondering the meanings.

When a Feather Falls from an Osprey

when a feather falls from an Osprey
wing and lies on a lakeshore
path a boy might find

her and raise her up and stroke
along her stiff-soft vane and hide
her in his sleeping bag

to take home, and, when
considerably older, he might learn
from Many Feathers to drape

her from a staff carved smooth,
from a waxy string tied through
a loop in her shaved shaft

where she sways
in an air-conditioned corner
with companions

—and just what are they for?
—what do they mean, now?
dead feathers not

flying just remembering
flights taken—short bursts—and more
merely dreamed of—

 

(All feathers depicted are lawfully possessed.)

Sunshine Is Growing Up Beautifully!

In just six months, Sunshine has grown from a rather drab little pointy creature to a beautifully-hued growing pointy creature.  (Keep those crickets coming!)  Sunshine is as gentle as ever, and she and Amy remain the best of friends.

Baby Sunshine

Growing Sunshine, with Bracelet

Amy and Sunshine: “Buds and Pards Forever”

I Have Never Heard Such Joy

On a canyon ride through gambel oaks, a streak of scarlet and yellow caught my eye, and the prettiest cascading song pleasured my ears.  I stopped my bicycle and stared at the miraculous little creature.  She in turn eyed me curiously and opened her beak in renewed song.  How could I not try to write her into a poem, though she remains joyfully wild in the woods?

I Have Never Heard Such Joy

I have never heard
such joy
as when a tanager opened
her soul to sing her trilling
song: a symphony compressed in
a single glorious line—

and, I know I should not
begin a poem with “I”
but to pen “much joy was heard” simply
will not do, for
I saw her scarlet streak through green,
I heard her delightsomeness,
I discerned her eager joy—

and as I stared, baffled
and thrilled, she again yielded up,
again, knowing
I could not
fathom after hearing but once her cleansing
cascade of happiness

 

Image by PublicDomainImages from Pixabay

Roger Baker is a municipal attorney, aspiring poet, and amateur naturalist.  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 heart.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

High School Graduation!

Thousands of high school graduations happened by pre-recorded broadcast with empty auditoriums.  Among the illustrious graduates were Amy’s sister, Afton, and cousin, Hyrum.  Unfazed, when Amy couldn’t go to Afton’s cap-and-gown, Amy brought the cap-and-gown to Afton, with a little help from Sunshine.  Congratulations graduates of the Class of 2020!

I Would Love To See the River in that Way

The river pulls me back and back, and I see from the level of the water what I cannot see from the high-bank trail.  They look at me wistfully, wanting.  They can have it, if they will look.  This new poem tells what I saw, and how you can see it, too.

I Would Love To See the River in that Way

 

a cyclist braked

and waved:

 

                                                Have you seen anything interesting

                                    on the river

            today? Any wild things?

 

Oh, always . . .

            always.

                        I have to remember: I cannot

                                    make them come.  I

                                                allow them, if

                                                            they will . . .

 

heron dropped from the sky, not

beating her wings even once, just

expertly angling, dangling

crooked legs

 

and five fluffy goslings disappeared

in dive, rising obscured under

dark bank branches

 

and old red slider slid

from his sunning log

 

and beaver sat munching

a willow stem straight

on: I could see

chisel teeth, black-bead eyes,

little red hands holding

the bough: he dove

with a splashy slap, more

annoyed than alarmed:

and I felt so happy—

 

she looked past,

and I began to drift.

 

            I would love to see

                                    the river

                                                in that way.

 

Roger Baker is a municipal attorney, aspiring poet, and amateur naturalist.  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 heart.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

The Baking of a Quiche

I have enjoyed learning, ever so slowly, from Julia Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  And I am learning.  First came a simple soup, then delectable cream of mushroom, then a Bavarian cream, then a gratin (casserole), then a quiche, which requires a pastry shell and the filling.  After a successful baking adventure, I sometimes enjoy writing a poem on the subject.  So, here is my poem (perhaps the world’s first?) about baking a quiche.

The Baking of a Quiche

The baking
of a quiche
is no great enterprise

when the baker knows
how to bake a quiche,
has baked a quiche

before, one time or two,
and has at hand, of course,
fresh ingredients,

quality equipment,
a careful recipe,
and the right frame of mind,

joyful and long-suffering,
so the savory custard sits creamy
and the shell hints of crunch after kneading

four parts butter and five flour
with quick nimble fingertips
and never the too-warm palms.

Intro to “Adventures with Sunshine”

Welcome to the new page “Adventures with Sunshine” on my Rabbit Lane blog.  This page chronicles the adventures of my niece Amy and Sunshine, her pet bearded dragon.

Amy discovered a You Tube channel called Snake Discovery.  She loved learning about reptiles.  Her good mama (my sister) started taking her on field trips to the Arizona Reptile Center to see many varieties of reptiles.   Amy’s interest deepened, and she began asking for a pet lizard.  In advance of her 8th birthday, Amy picked out a Bearded Dragon, and they purchased it and put it on hold for the day of the birthday celebration.  The week of her birthday, Amy became ill with the flu.  On her fourth day of fever, she looked up at her mama with sad eyes and asked if they could go get her dragon a little early.  Of course, my sister said, and brought home the 6-week-old lizard.  Amy named her Sunshine.  Sunshine is the perfect little friend and playmate for Amy.  They are inseparable.  Amy loves Sunshine, and Sunshine is gentle, patient, and even quietly affectionate with Amy.

Stay tuned for more Adventures with Sunshine!

Who Ever Thought That Old River Could Be So Lovely

I often escape to the canyon for a mountain bike ride or to the Jordan River with a kayak.  Both have their attractions.  But when I want to be slow and quiet, to see wildlife, and to forget my troubles, there is nothing like a long paddle on the river.  Turtles sunning on logs.  Mallards flying upstream.  Great blue herons and belted kingfishers.  And signs of beaver chew.  This humble river runs the length of the great Salt Lake Valley, home to 1.2 million people.  The river runs mostly unseen and ignored right up the middle of the valley.  I am grateful for decades of visionaries who have seen to the river’s cleanup and restoration for people to kayak and canoe, fish, and cycle and walk and run on the riverside trails.  I can’t wait for my next glide on the river.  In the meantime, this poem distills some of my observations and impressions.

Who Ever Thought That Old River Could Be So Lovely

Paddling is as much pushing as it is pulling, a balance of both with each stroke, to spread the strain and stretch my strength to keep on.

The moment my kayak slips into the dark smooth water I feel free from sticky attachments and my fears float off with clouds of elm seeds.

Today I learn that when a Canada goose flies its elongated neck slightly dips and tremors with each wing beat.

Why would so many hundreds of swallows, swarming around me, glue their mud-daub domiciles under the lip of the rumbling interstate?

I feel a surge of joy just knowing that these new gnawings on elm trunks and new nippings of willow shoots mean that beaver again work the river.

A hen quacks increasing irritation as I keep arriving and she keeps needing to fly off. Her drake makes no protest, and I ask if he is lazy, or unconcerned, or thinks his partner makes sufficient complaint for them both.

My peace is disturbed by the screams of two-cycle engines racing on dirt tracks and spinning up dust: I pick up my paddling pace.

A snipe calls a chiding chirrup as she flushes then flutters on short wings, her beak longer than half her round body.

Squat socks knitted from gray grasses hang by the dozen on the ends of elm boughs: oriole nests: empty and sagging and looking forlorn.

I float close enough to a wide flat turtle sunning on a log to see scarlet stripes on his face and we stare carefully at one other until he slowly slides off and I swear I can hear him sighing, yet another human has interrupted my nap.

Women speed by on the riverside trail and some wave and call out a hello, and I wonder if a man gliding alone on a glassy green river seems romantic.

Young perfume from budding olives embraces me gently with intimate arms, and I know this is where I want to be.

 

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.

She Gifted to Me a Treasure

In 2012 my daughter Laura and I joined a multi-week pottery class.  She turned and glazed many beautiful pieces (see photos below).  While the wheel tested our (my) patience, taking the class was a wonderful daddy-daughter experience.  As a younger child, Laura formed a clay blob of which she is not so proud.  But I love it because she made it, and it has become one of my treasures–which is why I wanted to write this poem.

She Gifted to Me a Treasure

It is
a blob of fired clay,

fist-size, resembling
a woven straw beehive

in shape—a slanting thumb hole
welcomes pencils and pens,
barred pheasant feathers.

I am so fond of this blob because her hands formed
this blob, the masterpiece of a child creating,

and she made a present of it to me
because she doubted

her creation’s merit
as a thing, a tapering firm-based thing
with a cream sky dangling turquoise clouds and royal-blue stars:

a treasure to me
as is she.

Laura at the pottery wheel.

With expert instructor Jon Wexels.

Laura’s little masterpieces.

 

Front Corner Pew

Church can be a welcoming, joyful experience or a lonely, isolating experience, depending on from where one is coming and to where one is going, and on one’s frame of mind along the way.  This poem shares one perspective, where the influence of little children and of love make all the difference.  That I could do for someone what they did for me–that is a wish.

Front Corner Pew

the front corner pew
is least conspicuous for one
who desires to be both

faithful and unseen, for the pastor
looks long across the harvest
to who occupies the back

corner chair signaling
I am broken and belligerent, but here
where the hard metal numbs

the mind, the Good News
half heard across the distance
and having given both ample chance

I had chosen to sit unseen
alone on the front corner pew
when a father marched by

with his three fidgety lambs
who looked at me and relaxed their faces and uncrossed their arms
to each smile and wave

at me
and incapable of resisting I
twitched a smile

and convulsed little waves
in return
and wondered how

something so soft
could chisel stone
and without excoriation

alter me forever
though they were quickly gone
through the chapel side door

Image by ddzphoto 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.

Supping from Pink Silk Blossoms

Spreading its canopy over the back corner of the lot of my childhood home grew a Mimosa tree.  I relished the pleasing sight of its abundant aromatic feathery flowers, running the soft leaflets gently through my hands.  I marveled at the dozens of swallowtails visiting the pink blossoms.  This corner was magical for its tree.  Here is my memory, in a poem.

SUPPING FROM PINK SILK BLOSSOMS

Mimosa blooms spring open in soft pink spheres,
smelling sweet, seducing me to slow my walking-by
and turn for another slow pass, but I do not pass by
but climb in to sit in a high wide crook. Feather
leaves waft, gently, brush my face, gently. There I
luxuriate in soft green light, lean back against pale
smooth bark, pull in the perfume, and black swallow
tails and tiger swallowtails flit all over and around.

This same silk tree threw father out when he pruned
a branch on a very hot and humid Saturday, and he
lay unconscious on the soft grass concealing stony
earth, three ribs cracked.

Image by Chorengel 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.

Poppies in Winter

When I moved five years ago, I decided to keep a beautiful centerpiece on my kitchen table, in all seasons, from fall maple leaves to spring daffodils to summer poppies.  They have brought cheer and color to my little dining room.  These silk and plastic decorations, from the dollar store, never fade in the dark or the cold.  The poppies are my favorite, and sit on my table still in late winter.  Their vase is a papier machet bottle made by my sister in elementary school.  Admiring them both from my sofa, I decided they deserved a poem.

Poppies in Winter

my poppies are plastic, yet
they huddle so prettily
on my dinner table with a real sun-
fire brilliance in summer

     I smell their perfume, I
fancy

my poppies stand in a bunched bouquet
in a narrow neck of glass glazed
with mottled patches of rust and brown,
earth of paper and glue

since grade school arts and crafts the bottle
has hid on a closet shelf until becoming
soil for my poppies:
sun-fire scarlet in winter

 

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.

Bid Them Come When I Am Quiet


(Mama and me in Rio, December 1964)

I seem to be always reading or writing or working–doing, doing, doing.  But sweetness of memory and poetry come in the non-doing, the quiet times, when we ponder and reflect.  I took a rare moment to reminisce, on this leap year day, and make this poetic offering.

Bid Them Come When I Am Quiet

shall I sit here on the grass
under this old apple bough
and conjure some old memory—

as when I reclined propped and
pillowed in a wicker picnic basket
on Copacabana’s broad sands:

but that scene belongs to my Mother
who recounted it to me
her eyes still reflecting the Brazilian sea—

or when my friend snagged
his lure in my neck
on the dock at Lake Seneca

and I hollered good and loud
for the sting of fear
and a ruined afternoon of bass fishing—

perhaps that blue-sky day we stopped the car
on the way through Paraná to cut wild lemon grass,
its perfume lingering sweetly these long years—

I finally netted the elusive Red-spotted Purple,
and pinned its beauty to a board
where it never lived brightly—

we wandered through the meadow
with Mom to pick asparagus, and at home
picked the ticks off of us—

I felt happy to carry
my sister, who grew tired
on the hike to Sunfish Pond—

 

Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Image by ASSY 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.

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.