Category Archives: Memoir

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.

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.

Dedicating a Friday to the Drafting of New Parking Rules

On a recent Friday morning I found myself faced with a list of statutory shortcomings (provided to me by the police chief) necessitating amendments to my city’s parking regulations.  Well, I thought, there’s nothing for it but to get on with itStill, I wondered, is this what my 25-year career as a municipal lawyer has come to, spending a day revising the rules of on-street parking?  The question was less one of disconsolation than of amusement.  Of course, that’s what city attorneys do.  Exploring these thoughts led to the pleasure of a poem, which I share with you below.  Should this poem come to the attention of my wonderful employers, let it be known that the poem is (mostly) in jest, though serious effort went into its composition.

Dedicating a Friday to the Drafting of New Parking Rules

So, it has come
to this, after 25 years, a day
drafting new rules for parking
cars in the public rights-of-way.

Someone else is drafting
international trade policy,
affordable housing strategies,
immigration reform,

civil rights initiatives,
climate change regulations. Someone else
is changing the world while I
change the rules for where one may

park one’s car, if there is a curb,
if there is not a curb,
if the car is too far from the curb, or at an angle
to the curb, or on the curb, or too close

to a fire hydrant or stop sign or driveway, or, heaven
forbid, pointed in the wrong direction, who
is authorized to write a parking ticket, and
what the fine will be, and how quickly

the fine must be paid,
and how to appeal—yes, the Constitution gives
you due process before I can take
your $15, the right to property

and all that… the officers will be
glad to have unambiguous rules
to prevent parking pandemonium
when they have a free moment

between investigating house burglaries,
racing to domestic violence incidents,
and arresting drug dealers.
Someone must do it,

I suppose. You can park here.

 

(Image by nile from Pixabay)

Medicine Wheel

Twenty years ago we took our young family to Mesa Verde National Park, where we marveled at ancient desert cliff dwellings, and to Four Corners, where the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet at a point marked with a brass cap and monument.  We walked from one American Indian artisan’s tent to another to another, admiring their skill and craft.  I lingered over a beautiful object, which the Navajo artist explained was a medicine wheel.  With some prompting, she told me of its symbolism and meaning.  I offered to type up the story, which she could copy onto a business card for her customers.  I bought the medicine wheel, mailed her the typed story, and dangled the medicine wheel from my staff.  I do no remember her name, sadly symbolic of how much suffering this country’s indigenous peoples have endured, and of how much they and their craft and their culture have been forgotten.  Twenty years later, I have written this poem.

MEDICINE WHEEL

four corners
mark a spot of rusty desert
a greening brass cap

dusty canopies
cover black hair plaited
long, smiles wanting, waiting
behind wares, soft eyes

I gaze long:
a crossed circle worked
with leather and bone beads
feathers dangle
              It is the medicine wheel.
I nod and gaze and question

              The medicine wheel shows
       Mother Earth
around us-beneath us-above us
       Paths of Life
on Earth-through Earth-under Sun
       Great Spirit: in all

The medicine wheel brings healing to believer and seeker

I offer to type this up
for her
on a card
maybe, to give
to her customers

          if you want….

I have forgotten
her name

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.

Sunflowers

Inching along on the interstate, traffic backed up for miles and miles, I drove so slowly that I could observe up close the scraggly sunflowers bending in the breeze.  They were totally unaware of the total lack of merit of their surroundings, in the barren borrow pit between asphalt lanes.  They simply shone, delighted to be.

SUNFLOWERS

Sunflowers
on scraggly stalks
bob and weave
in the wind
in the brown grass borrow pit
heedless of the ugliness
joyous in any event

Lines

Riding the train to work is a rare pleasure. With no train transit in my city, I get to ride Trax only when visiting the Capitol, Salt Lake City.  Sitting quietly in my seat, people all pretending to mind their own business, the scenery flies by almost more quickly than I can register.  What struck me today were the lines, mostly horizontal, mostly straight, a few downright chaotic.  Speed shapes perspective.  Here is some of what I saw.

LINES

cedar slat fences and faux stone walls
ubiquitous chain link
asphalt trails along
parallel tracks–clack clack
padlocked gate-chains sagging
letters arranged as rules for bringing bicycles on the train
on the Blue Line north to downtown
mountain ridges just before sunrise
trees pushing up, and out
tangled grape vines grow whither they will

A Lamp for Aunt Cari

Hyrum has wanted to make a wood lamp for his Aunt Carolyn, who appreciates art and craft.  We began by spray painting the rough roots of an old stump.  But the wood was so cracked and rotten that we could not work with it without it crumbling into pieces.  We worried that no matter how nice the lamp looked, one fall would destroy it.

To strengthen the wood, we painted it with two coats of diluted wood glue, which sealed all the cracks and breaks and made the old root a solid piece of lamp wood.

We painted the wood again to cover the creamy film of the dried wood glue.  Most of our lamps are stained various shades of brown.  But this lamp we spray painted a glossy black, giving the rustic wood a sleek and exotic look.  “Exquisite” as my sister described it.  She was thrilled with her new lamp, and we were thrilled with her happiness.

Hyrum has become an accomplished lamp maker, with an eye for the right wood pieces.

Intention

Slowing the body and quieting the mind are necessary prerequisites to writing poetry.  Hopefully today’s sky, under piney shade, assisted my ponderings on life and intention.

INTENTION

blue sky hovers vast and empty
but for still branches needling up their green-
magpies quickly caw their way across-
searching vultures float high and small,
never a wing beat, circling their descent-
purple mint blossoms bring bees-
red dragonflies, clasped
head to tail and tail to thorax,
flit over swampy grass,
awkward, but able,
finding just the right patch
to perpetuate.

Grandma’s Pressed-Leaf Greeting Cards

My grandmother Dorothy made thousands of homemade greeting cards from pressed leaves and flowers.  Encyclopedias stacked against the walls of her craft room were crammed full of drying leaves and petals.  Decades ago, she taught me.  And I have taught my children.  Hannah has just produced her first cards, inspired by her great-grandmother.

The process is simple: glue pressed leaves to wax paper, cover with tissue, apply more diluted white glue.  When dry, place the cards one at a time in a paper bag and iron to set the wax.  Then cut and send.  I provide more detailed instructions in the chapter Shirley and Lucille in my memoir Rabbit Lane.

Here are some photos of the process.  Give it a try yourself!

Arranging pressed leaves on wax paper.

Leaves and tissue glued on and drying.

Time to iron.

Match the card size and shape to your envelopes.

My sweet little Grandma with me (may she rest in peace), circa 1982 (when I had hair).

The finished product!

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.

 

Wisdom Sits in Places

In the book Wisdom Sits in Places (1996), ethnographer Keith Basso explores the Western Apache tradition, in Cibeque  Arizona, of bestowing place names, names that carry with them through centuries of generations the appearance and story of a place.  The mention of an Apache place name points to not just a geographical location, but conjures the deeply rooted experience, culture, morality, and sacred tradition of the tribe.  Walking in the canyon tonight, I began to compose names for my memorable experiences in nature, many sacred, some comical, all personal.*  How would you name the special places in your life story?  Leave a comment.

WISDOM SITS IN PLACES

Tanager sings greetings

Merlin swoops with bloody prey

Skinless trees spiral high

Splintered rock slants

Spotted fawn suckles

Fritillary flits on blue thistle

Yellow swallowtails suck salt

Glacier lilies smile

Trail through tunneled trees

Turkeys befoul white snow

Tarantula crosses

Pointed rock breaks ribs

Straight stick aids my travels

Springs whisper like ancestors

Grandfather red-tail rests here always

*I do not propose that my place naming follows the Apache tradition, only that my place naming is inspired by the Apache tradition.

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.

Flash Flood

Flash floods are among the most thrilling and dangerous experiences in nature.  They appear suddenly.  Their power destroys, then dissipates.  Ruin lies in their wake.  Some of life’s experiences ravage and leave us twisted and torn, as if a flash flood poured through us.  We may feel broken.  We nurse real wounds.  Remember that wounds can heal, if we let them.  Remember that the sun always shines after the rains, the wildflowers bloom beautifully, and the birds sing again.

FLASH FLOOD

rain pounces and stings
thunder bellows
angry
the cold and the wet and the clang
tempt my fears
of cold and wet and clang

sudden rivers choke
the gorge
a momentary roaring rage
soon spent

small birds sing
tentative song
under new sun

 

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.

Flow

It would be both cliche and passe to suggest that life is like a river: flowing.  But I found myself thinking just this as I sat on the bank of the Provo River as it rushed by, the water high from mountain snow-melt in summer.  Life . . . just . . . flows.  Every aspect of the river’s course deepens the metaphor, and I could not help writing this poem.  I hope you don’t mind my retelling of this ancient idea.

FLOW

the river flows
in deep green channels
in trickling shallows
over glacier-born boulders,
eddies swirl lolling bubbles
cutthroat flit and spawn
willows cling to ragged banks
lodgepoles look over:
the river flows and flows
from mountain snows
to unfathomable seas:
the river flows

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.

Forest Boardwalk

Exploring High Uinta mountain lakes and trails is a favorite family pastime.  While the children fish and kayak, I enjoy walking around the lake.  Teapot Lake is just my size: not so big I feel it might swallow me up, but small and friendly and pretty, and more than a puddle.  I walk around its banks in 20 minutes, despite the north shore trail still being snow-bound in July.  Hundreds of frogs croak in swampy bogs.  An old boardwalk guides directs the trail across snow melt draining into the lake.  Tiny white flowers proliferate.

FOREST BOARDWALK

the boardwalk beckons
a sign of humanity
in my wilderness of fears
easing my way
on the swampy trail
lily pad pools flanking
yellow stars in the green
invisible frogs creaking
a hundred rust-hinged doors
and always the wind
across the lake

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.

Walk in the Woods

At the start of a seven-mile walk on the Dark Trail in Settlement Canyon, a flash of bright color and a chirp caught my attention.  In the branches not three six from me perched a gorgeous Western Tanager, red head, yellow breast.  It inclined its eye to me, and twittered a greeting, then leapt away.  How cheerful the encounter left me; how uplifted and inspired.  (I took this photo of a Western Tanager in 2007.)

WALK IN THE WOODS

Tanager of the West
yellow breast beaming
scarlet head brilliant under blue sky and sun
how kind of you to incline
to chirp to me
and warble.

Every Tanager and Towhee and Flicker,
I find,
every Fritillary and Mourning Cloak and Blue,
I see,
every walk in the woods:
instructs and enlightens,
uplifts and improves.

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.

Pals

My son Hyrum and I recently visited with one of my life’s heroes, Harvey Russell.  Harvey has been a mink rancher, tanner, mountain man, handyman, and friend to American Indians.  He helped me build my chicken coop and brought me to a four-hour sweat ceremony led by Sun-Chiefs.  His Indian name is Many Feathers.  Arriving at Harvey’s place, Hyrum and set to work helping Harvey with his chores and projects, during which he told stories of the “old days” and we laughed and enjoyed just being together.  The happy juxtaposition of these two men, one 16 and the other 81, struck me.  They got along marvelously together, each respecting and enjoying the other.  Kindred spirits, perhaps.  Those ruminations led to this little poem.

PALS

Two men
work together
one 16
the other 81
one coming up
the other moving on
little alike, perhaps,
yet
both keen
to learn
to fashion with sinewy fingers
to be busy in doing
to stand back, dusty and bruised,
admiring their handiwork:
two men
sitting, grinning, laughing
together
each helping the other up and on

Here are more pictures of our visit.

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.

Beyond

Is it cliche to say that the life of every individual is filled with many disappointments?  Perhaps.  But one’s experience of disappointment, and the grief that goes with it, is never cliche, but is very personal and real.  This poem is about not giving up when life gets hard, about accepting divine assistance that can feel like diving deprivation, and about keeping going, however weak we feel we have become.

BEYOND

My crude raft swirled,
slow and rudderless,
and I, Emaciated,
trembling with hunger-
lust, I clutched
a suddenly-appearing bowl,
steaming gruel, to devour.
Refrain, chided the white
cloud, crimson-laced,
kindly:
Your feast awaits beyond;
beyond the mountains.
“Ahhii-aii!” was my wail, choked.
“But I am . . . so . . . hungry!”
I collapsed with convulsions,
upsetting my salvation, spilling
all through the cracks
to salt water.
“It is finished,” I death-groaned,
as the sky echoed Beyond,
and a breeze picked up,
with a current
I could not see,
toward the mountains.

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.

Looking Up

The night’s newly-fallen snow coaxed me into the canyon for a solitary hike.  As I trudged along, often sinking up to my knees, I tried to focus upward on the beauty around me.  But I have noticed how often I focus downward on the trail and miss seeing that beauty.  This poem is about perspective, about looking up to see and to have our soul enriched and uplifted.

LOOKING UP

Hiking
this precarious trail
I am guilty
of looking always down
at the rocks and roots
that would send me sprawling,
tumbling, bleeding

I am missing it:
streaks of Tanager and Goldfinch
leaves green upon green
Oregon grape blossoms: yellow cream
orange-lichened branches arching over
blue sky above

this Black-capped Chickadee
sings to me
demanding I stop
insisting I look up
to see her
to see the world
and I invite her to come into me
and to fly around freely in my soul

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.

Hello, Harrold Lewis

A friend of mine told me today about how, whenever she visits a cemetery to pay her respects to her departed loved ones, she always seeks out the tombstone of a random stranger, with whom she stands and converses for a moment, honoring his or her memory and life, though she does not know them.  How sweet of her, I thought.  How noble and kind and good.  As I considered whether a poem might be hiding in that scene, the name Harrold Lewis appeared in my thoughts (I do not know a Harrold Lewis), followed by the images and sounds of a fictional cemetery encounter between an old British seafarer and a deceased whaling colleague (the motif thanks to my currently reading Melville’s Moby Dick).  Story, memory, friendship–such powerful, enduring themes living inside us all.

HELLO, HARROLD LEWIS

Hello, Harrold Lewis.
How fare ye this day?
Does the climate suit ye?
No scabies or scurvies?
The cook makes a good biscuit?
I see your stone has tipped a bit
more since last I came.
I cannae fix that,
but I’ll clip the vines and grass away,
and I’ll scrub the soot from your face.
Born 1776? July 4?
That be a good year, matie, a good year.
Thar be many a notice the day o’ your comin’,
to be sure. Quite a celebrity,
ye were! Harrold Lewis,
where do ye go from here?
How shall ye sail?
Gone sailin’ to a distant shore!
be more than words ‘graven o’ your grave.
Methinks ye be standin’ o’ the cross trees,
leanin’ o’er the wide blue,
sweet breath o’ the world in your hair,
searchin’, searchin’, a’crying’
“Thar she blows!”

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.

Medicine

On my last several jaunts into the snowy canyon near my home, I have carefully selected bits of nature that to me were beautiful, emblematic, and expressive of the mystery of life.  As I stepped through deep snow, my pockets and my mind full, I seemed to connect with the lichen-covered trees, with the blue sky, with the generations.  Scattered words began to coalesce into coherent expression, and a new poem came into being.

MEDICINE

Juniper berries:
purple and cream:
diminutive.
Box Elder seed.
Mountain Maple whirligig.
Acorns from the Gambel Oak.
Aromatic Sagebrush sprig,
powdery purple green.
Gifts from the Mother:
Earth – Universe – Divine:
connecting
nourishing
invisibly:
Medicine:
tokens, artifacts, charms, talismans,
DNA,
bits of living stuff:
still and unpretentious
in the shallow of tight weave:
Indian basket.

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.

Living

My youngest children came to visit me tonight, to share a meal, to talk about the day, to learn and to play: to be a family.  As they left with a wave and a “Love you, Dad,” I pondered the nature of life and relationships, and wrote this poem.

LIVING

They wave
a backward glance
Love you, Dad
are gone down
the road under
occasional street lamps
a white glaring gibbous;
just yesterday:
dull, dark, red.
They have blessed me
for an evening, as children
are wont, with stories
of their adventures,
kisses on craggy cheeks,
back-patting hugs:
mere youthful presence.
Some distance down
the road their own children will come
on an evening,
find them glad, and lonely:
grateful. I travel now
and again to my parents,
to ponder the passing of time
and story, the transfer
of character and contribution,
on loss and life:
loneliness. I have built
my crooked, creaking house
on robust stones. Flowers
will bloom above
my grave.

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.

Silver Cross

Truly special gifts come but rarely in one’s lifetime, and expected even less.  What was my surprise, then, to receive in the mail, from another continent, across an ocean, the gift of a small silver cross.  It hung for years from my friend’s neck where, she said, it would always stay.  And now it sat in the palm of my hand.  A precious heirloom, and a friend I will never met: the stuff of poetry.

SILVER CROSS

You wore the little silver cross,
not one inch tall,
on a silver chain
against the swell of your breast.
Where you got it
I never knew.
You wore it,
you told me,
for those you have loved, and have lost,
for those you wished to protect:
you wore it for me.
I never take it off,
you declared.

That same cross,
small and silver,
you have sent, now,
to me–
an ocean away, a continent away, a universe away–
to wear,
cool on my chest,
for those I have loved, and have lost,
for those I wish to see protected,
To give you a precious thing of mine,
you offered,
and, perhaps, to say
good-bye.
I wear the cross
for you.

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.

Africatown

Near Mobile, Alabama, sits Africatown, founded by the last group of West African slaves, in 1860, aboard the Clotilda, brought to America.  National Public Radio recently spoke to town residents, historians, and leaders about the town today, its economic, demographic, and environmental challenges, the fight for the town’s survival and identity in spite of 150 years of prejudiced politics, institutions, policies, and people, and the continuing struggles of the founders’ descendants to heal from the scars of enslavement and abuse.  Hearing the story, I ached with the heavy weight of the pains of generations.  I can only hope, and pray, and act for healing, and write.

AFRICATOWN

If you tell me
I will hear
your stories,
your stories of molestation
your stories of starvation
your stories of enslavement.
Tell me of your injustices
tell me of your griefs
tell me of your pinnacles of joy and your chasms of struggle and loss and longing.
For I will sit with them
all
here
and I will press them into my eyes
and I will strap them round my chest
and I will load them upon my back:
I will weep with your weeping.
Then what shall I do?
What shall we do
together
with your stories
all
told
with your pains
all
exposed?
How shall we sit
together
with this history,
how shall we use it and mold something new,
how shall we heal, and mend
now that you have told me,
and I have heard?

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.

The Barrowman

 

Feeling introspective at the start of a new year, my mind is drawn to an allegorical poem I wrote some years ago.  Picture a kindly, good-natured man pushing his produce down a country road in a wheelbarrow with a lopsided wheel.  Reading through to the end, the allegorical meaning will be made clear.  I hope the poem succeeds on its own merits and as a metaphor.  Wishing you all well.

BARROWMAN AND WHEEL

His wooden wheel
turned cracked and worn
flat in two places;
it clunked around
over macadam and cobblestone,
through clutching mud.
But cabbages did not mind,
nor carrots, nor kale, nor turnips,
nor eggs, even, bouncing
cushioned on straw.
Furrowers, weeders, hoers all
wondered
that Barrowman long-suffered such
an imperfection: “Why
endure that clunker?
Carve a new one.
Ease your own way.
Do you have fresh cheese?”
Barrowman nodded a greeting—
good day, and many thanks—
collected his coin,
and pushed on,
arms jerking at the clunking,
remembering the weeks when
he had cut and joined,
rasped and sanded,
mounted his wheel on
axel, wood-pinned,
had pushed on down the path
with his cart and his necessary wares.
He thought he might
rasp the flat to round,
dowel-pin new curves,
or rim the whole with costly iron,
someday.
Barrowman grinned at his lopsided wheel,
turning and turning,
clunk-clunk,
clunk-clunk,
bearing nonetheless the load,
as he pushed on.

The clunky, deformed, imperfect wheel represents me with my imperfections, weaknesses, and defects, in addition to the wear and tear of life.  The Barrowman is my divine, who allows me to participate in his cosmic work, despite my defects, and who even finds joy in my willing serviceability.  As we go down the road together, he will fix me and strengthen me sufficiently to carry on.  We are, in a real sense, a team, for though I am unwieldy, still the barrow needs a wheel.  But don’t push the allegory too far, for it does not represent a literal correspondence but a loose, metaphorical one.  For my part, I am just pleased to be part of a benevolent cosmic plan of growth, fulfillment, and happiness.

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.

Sparrows

Hundreds of House Sparrows took up residence in Harvey’s chicken and pigeon coops, eating several pounds of expensive lay mash and pellets a day, squeezing easily through iconic hexagonal chicken wire.  Our project together on my recent visit to Enterprise was to sparrow-proof the coops.  We measured, cut, and stapled fine mesh screen to the coop’s frames, over the chicken wire.  “Poor spugs,” Harvey chuckled, feeling half sorry for the little birds, with Winter coming.  “Don’t worry,” I ribbed, “they’ll just get to know your neighbors better.”  And we laughed.  Stepping through a narrow coop door to tack up some screen, I felt a mystical change in the air, and knew instantly I had a poem.

SPARROWS

hexagonal holes
in the chicken wire fence
contain
the gentle hens
perhaps
the neighborhood’s shy red fox
an escaped white-pelted mink
but not the house sparrows
who land and poke through
with ease
to gorge on lay mash
yes:
chicken wire was made for sparrows

entering the coop
through the narrow coop door
taut spring twanging
I feel a change
in the air
though the air within
is the same
as the air without
passing sparrow-like through
hexagonal holes
but I sense
I have entered
that mystical zone
where tame hens lay perfect eggs
and chortle
and brood
where brown-eyed mice scurry for mash morsels
where startled sparrows swirl
in a tight and dusty vortex
darting out past the propped door
for the last time
before it closes
newly-clad
with tight-holed screen

Harvey with his wife Mary

Harvey and moi in front of the homing pigeon coop

Hexagonal chicken wire overlain with fine screen

Harvey, Mary, and me on our way to church

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.