Category Archives: Poetry

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.

My Valley

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What do you call the phenomenon of having your perspectives of close-held values and sacred convictions skewed by the pressured experiences of life, by your suffering, by your pain?  Perhaps, as a friend recently suggested, it might be called the “fog of war.”  As the sun burns away the fog, so light and truth and goodness lift the weighted mists from the mind and from the soul.  Persevere.  Have hope that the fogs and mists of your wilderness will clear, revealing bright, warm, blue skies, and the path ahead.

THE VALLEY

Fog fills my valley
dense and gray

the fog of war

church steeple tip
pokes through into the blue
soft bleatings echo
sharp barking

I walk a cobbled street
wet and slick from this
low valley mist
climbing into me
chilling, and choking

mist of battle
fog of war

and I wonder
if the fog will lift
if the sun
the blaze
will burn off and away

the fog of war, the fog
of war

so I can see
the hot bread bakery
the aromatic café
the barbershop and the haberdasher’s
the park with fountains
and great colored sycamores
so I can see
the white church with its cross-topped steeple
at the end of my cobblestone street
obscured betimes

in battle’s mist
in fog of war

 

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.

On the Jordan

Utah’s Jordan River meanders northward for 50 miles from Utah Lake to the Great Sale Lake.  I have enjoyed kayaking sections of the river with family recently, finding it a beautiful, peaceful, contemplative place, though a challenge to paddle upstream in spots.  I have also enjoyed riding the riverside trail on my bicycle.  I wrote this poem after my third paddle during which I grieved over the recent death of my nephew.  The glassy, calm water, the Great Blue Heron and Belted Kingfisher, the signs of fresh beaver chew, the tree branches arching over the water, all served to sooth my mind a bit.  Water has a way of doing that.  Enjoy.

ON THE JORDAN

down here
low
on the water
so much fades away
unseen
beyond the banks
no buildings
no cars
no traffic lights;
on the water ahead
reflections of sky and trees
behind, a gentle wake
and the river stretches forth
forever, it seems
around gentle bends
all overhung by drooping tree boughs
reaching over and down
for me to paddle
under and around

Kingfisher is belted
brawny in the neck
tall-crested
offended
at my nearness
swooping low
over his reflection
with a chiding cackle;
I chase him from tree to tree
downstream
to the edge of his territory
where he turns
to brave me and my boat
and fly
upstream
excreting as he passes

Heron is indeed
great and blue
perched on a dead-fall
as I round a curve
and hold my paddles still
floating toward
silent and slow;
she grows anxious
turning her big-beaked head
quickly left and right and left and right
on her tall and slender neck
and she leaps to fly
slow-beating wings out
their full six feet;
an irritated trill
downstream

Sparrow, white-crowned
hops about
unconcernedly
on a bed of green algae
and assorted human garbage
beer cans, basketballs
soda cups, sneakers
caught in the branches
of a fallen tree

the river flows slowly
and I can paddle
upstream and down
with even strokes of equal ease
dipping left and pulling back
dipping right and pulling back
reaching forward—and pulling back
water sprinkling

thoughts glide and eddy
opaque
like the brown water
reflecting
sky and trees
thoughts stuck
in the muddy muck
like the butt of a green Russian Olive limb
chewed and planted
last night
by a beaver

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.

Blue Line North

The seminar organizers encouraged us to take public transit instead of driving to the seminar site, so I took the blue line on the TRAX train.  This poem describes my experience.  The poem is longer than I normally post, but reads quickly.  In fact, the more quickly you read the poem the better, for each line represents a fleeting impressionistic moment of my train ride.  I loved riding the train.  The images flashing by were often compelling, sometimes humorous, always thought-provoking.  The people riding with me were diverse and beautiful, each in their own way.  I hope you can glimpse the images I saw as you read.  Enjoy.

BLUE LINE NORTH

Blue line north
to Salt Lake downtown . . .

clack-clack . . . clack-clack . . .

graffitied cinderblock painted incongruously over
Virginia creeper, vermillion in Fall, climbing chain link
brown canal flowing under overhanging elms
mustard caution panels at track pit edge
laughing demon painted on dumpster enclosure
ragged man sleeping curled on concrete under rust-framed dock door, wheelchair waiting
bull thistles eight feet tall, dead and dry
yards of rusting backhoes and bulldozers
traffic crawling below our bridge
No Train Horn signs at crossings
crumpled concertina guarding empty weedy lots
conexes stacked three high, corners rusting through old paint

clack-clack . . . clack-clack . . .

scraggly sunflowers hanging on
scrap yards, wood yards, junk yards
blocks of new apartments, six stories high
cinderblock shell of an old factory

clack-clack . . . clack-clack . . .

back pack, scooter, spiral notebook
blue trench coat, red hoodie, thick double-plaited dreads
tall girl in faded ox-blood jeans standing protectively over her bicycle, back to all, fingering       occasionally through pretty brown pinned-up hair

clack-clack . . . clack-clack . . .

blue tarp carport
stacks of pallets, stacks of pipe, rolls of cable, rows of cars, stacks of blue barrels
scaffolded water tower

clack-clack . . . clack-clack . . .

doors swooshing open to beepings and warnings and flashing red lights
I cannot hear what the voice is saying and saying
her hair so pretty in African beaded braids
transit police are real, so their badges, handcuffs, tasers, guns, and smiles

clack-clack . . . clack-clack . . .

decrepit little houses in tight neat rows
garbage cans toppled, shopping carts flipped, their wheels in the air
shambling urban aspiration: Camelot Inn
unmade bed under bridge, crooked pillow
Available
For Sale
lives blurring by to southward
slight screech on curves, rapid rocking
Fuck Trump painted black in a red red state

clack-clack . . . clack-clack . . .

lovers lounging in park tree shade
Cruse Oil, Inc. elicits a chuckle
red lights flashing on lowered arms
new high-rise wrapping hold-out home
faded silhouettes of removed signs

clack-clack . . . clack-clack . . .

sleepers cuddled into hard window glass
ear buds in all ears
sit quiet:
do not talk to anyone
do not see into their eyes

clack-clack . . . clack-clack . . . clack-clack . . .

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure and magical 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.

Carry Me Away (In Pieces)

Through a hole between two boulders in the retaining wall that supports my home, I discovered honey bees quietly flying in and out.  The thought of these gentle creatures scouting for nectar and bringing it back to my home to make honey gave me no little pleasure.  One day, however, the creatures coming to the hole, and their energy, transitioned from gathering bees to predatory yellowjacket wasps that.  Week after week they came by the thousands to cannibalize the bees and dismantle the hive, chewing all to balls of cud they carried away and fed to their hungry larvae, hoarding the rest for their own late-summer stores.  I wanted to kill them all–two cans of wasp spray would make it an easy job.  Ultimately, I decided to let nature do what nature does.  I found in the scene a metaphor for what we might feel life does to us.  We move peacefully along, minding our own business, making our small contributions, caring for our home and kin, when malicious forces seems to lay siege, hoping to dismantle and destroy.  Our way, however, is not to give in to fatalism but to take charge of our fate with energy, enthusiasm, and hope, if we can.  I am working on it.

CARRY ME AWAY (IN PIECES)

Deep in the space between
two boulders
the honey bees forged their hive,
going gently out
and from flower to flower,
coming quietly in
with their cargos
of nectar,
until the yellowjacket wasps
discovered and attacked
in steady swarms
that killed and carried away,
in tiny cut-up pieces,
the bees,
the honey,
the hive,
coming wildly in,
going frantically out
to feed their clamoring young
the bees,
the honey,
the hive,
hurrying in the heat,
before Winter found
just an empty hole.