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.

My Valley

20160130_140354

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.

Mountain Song

On this fourth anniversary of beginning my Rabbit Lane blog of poetry, memoir, song, and craft, I have decided to post the very first poem I wrote, at about age 11, entitled “Mountain Song.”  In the intervening 43 years, I have written over 450 poems, contained in a massive binder on my bookshelf.  I look at that binder and think, “There, between the covers, is my soul.”  Writing poetry is not an intellectual exercise for me.  Certainly I use my best intellect to hone diction and line.  But for me each poem must arise from a compelling image, emotion, or memory.  Anything else is mere words on a page.  My rough, juvenile poem below expresses my love of nature.  I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you live looking for the hidden depths underpinning all we experience.

MOUNTAIN SONG

I am the mountain.
I stand majestic and tall.
I am the mountain.
I look over and take care of the valley.
I have a vest of trees,
of green piney trees.
I stand above all other mountains.
I stand majestic and tall.

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.

Lavender

To my darling daughter and her lucky groom.  May life’s blossoms ever bloom.

LAVENDER

My lavender has gone to seed:
soft blue blossoms
to brown scratchy scales;
perfume to dust.

You wanted
branches of blue blossoms
for your bridal bouquet.
But they won’t do,
I am sorry to say:
they simply will not do!

Trim the branches back,
you said patiently,
and we will see.
We still have a month,
and they may bloom again,
yet, blue and fragrant.

I trimmed,
I hope,
enough.

 

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.

Coming Home (1940)

How often I have wondered about my grandfather, when he came home from work to find his family gone and his house empty.  Having recently experienced divorce myself, I could not help wondering about his grief as I wallowed in my own.  He died before I was born, so I know him only through stories.  I think I would have liked him.  I knew and loved my grandmother.  I do not judge or blame either one.  I am sure they each did their best.  Now it is up to me to do mine.

COMING HOME (1940)

The man came home
from his lab at Utah oil
to find
an empty house.
The rooms stared,
bare, open-mouthed.
She had left,
taken with her
his own little tribe:
Weezy—6
Sonny—5
Wiggy—3
Gone.
The man sat
against a wall—
it does not matter which wall—
he sat and
he cursed and
he roared and
he sobbed and
he rocked and rocked and rocked and rocked
as he sat
on the floor
against a wall,
looking at the white walls,
looking at rectangular patches
on the white walls
where portraits and landscapes and mirrors had hung,
looking at white textured cobwebbed ceilings,
looking at the fixture with the bulb burnt out,
looking at the worn tan shag,
worn except where the sofa had been,
where he sat,
against a wall,
wondering how, and where, and why
everything
had vanished.

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.

Wood Lamps

My children and I worked for months (and in the case of the featured lamps, years) to be ready for the Tooele Arts Festival, a gathering of more dozens of artists and crafters from around the American west, held June 14-16.  I purchased a booth space to sell the family wares.  This post highlights several wood lamps I made with my sons John, Caleb, and Hyrum.  Displaying our art for three days was an intense and rewarding social experience as we interacted with many hundreds of people, not pushing for sales, but just being personable.  We sold three lamps, five rag rugs crocheted by my mother, eight wood bird-beak back scratchers carved by Caleb, and two dozen papier mache floral jars made with my daughter Hannah and my sons, along with 40 copies of my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  Making these lamps with my sons has been a meaningful father-son experience for me, and hopefully gave them a sense of creativity, beauty, and business.  You can see our other lamps on the Woodcraft page of this blog.

Burl wood in Sedona red, by Caleb.

Burl wood in Provincial brown, by Caleb.  (Sold $49.)

Cottonwood with larval etchings, by Hyrum.

Root stump, by Hyrum.

Forked branch, by Hyrum.

Slender branch, by Hyrum.

“Anchor” by Hyrum.  (Sold $49.)

“Little Guy” by John.

Hyrum’s first lamp from 2014.

“Old Timer” by Dad (me).  This one is on my night stand.  (Made in 1993,)

“Stone” by Hyrum.

“Ripples” by Hyrum.  (Sold $29.)

Rabbit Lane Preserved

My local newspaper, the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin was so kind to publish a feature article about my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The writer, Gwen Bristol, captured perfectly my purposes in writing the book, as well as what the road and the book have meant to me for 20 years.  Thank you Gwen.  You can read the article by clicking on the link below.

The article follows on the County Commission’s recent Resolution to close Rabbit Lane to motorized traffic and to preserve the road as part of the County’s pedestrian trail system.  Thank you County Commission.

I look forward to the Tooele Arts Festival June 14-16, where I will have a booth featuring several handmade crafts as well as copies of my book.

A walk down Rabbit Lane-Tooele Transcript Bulletin (06-07-18)

Please tell me…

Sitting at my desk, blinds dropped against the too-bright afternoon sun, books on bookshelves to my left, paintings on the wall to my right, surrounded by objects of meaning and story, with not a sound in the house but my breathing, I ask myself, as I have asked a million times, looking deep and hard inside, what is love?

PLEASE TELL ME…

alone as I am
these several years
I ask
again
like I asked
before
and after
and so often
along the long way,
what is love
?

is love sitting side by side
in the shade
as the sun softly sets
and the breeze tickles our faces
and the katydids hum
?

is love calling you
on the phone
when her fever is 103
and you are frightened
and feeling frantic
?

is love slipping a little note
into your suitcase
as you leave
for wherever
for a week and a day
?

is love saying
Love you!!
after every conversation
after every orgasm
after every text
after every meal
?

is love thinking
you are beautiful and charming and smart
?

what is love?
I ask
again again again

is love making love
giving and receiving
pleasure
sensual, sexual pleasure
?

is love leaving you
alone
when you are so very very tired
?

is love daydreaming:
you coming home
kissing you
feeling you
chatting about nothing in particular
looking hard into your eyes
?

is love washing greasy dishes and changing soiled stinking diapers and wiping up vomit and plunging toilets and wanting to wretch myself but holding it down just barely
?

is love wanting you
your company
your touch
your whisper
your presence
so badly
because I am lonely
?

is love giving
only giving
not needing or expecting or demanding or even wanting
reciprocity
but knowing still I need and want
and knowing you will do your best to reciprocate
anyway
?

is love overtly avoiding hurt
merely abstaining from harm
simply wishing, sincerely, for the best
for you
?

is love
a) all of the above,
b) some of the above,
c) none of the above, or
d) a quality so much grander than anything I have ever managed to conceive
?

So I ask you
reader of poetry blogs
liver of life
dreamer, lover, scolder, laborer
body and mind
head to toe
all the way:
what is love
?

Times and Seasons

Name your hardship, your challenge, your agony.  That is what this poem is about.  Is it divorce? abuse? death? disability?  That is what this poem is about.  Caution: if you do what this poem explores, do not do it for too long.  Sooner than later, we need to get out of our fox holes, leave the old battlefields, and make new peace.  We can.  We can.  That is what this poem is about.

TIMES AND SEASONS

A time to retrench,
to dig the fox hole deeper,
though the enemy’s tanks have gone,
the rumble and the smoke and the clatter, gone;
deep ruts angling off in the mud.

A time to hunker down,
to close my eyes and let
the war rage on in
some other field.

My battle is done.
In my trench I hide,
safely.

The House

The Erda house was the house of our dreams, the house we built together, the house in which we reared our children, the house in which we intended to grow old together, to which we would welcome our children and grandchildren for decades to come. But it was not to be. After 17 years in that house, that beautiful house, she asked me to leave, and the dream ended. And that house, she tells me, will soon be for sale, on the market. I wrote this poem to express my old hopes, my dreams, my memories, the agonies of human disappointment—as well as new hopes and dreams for a new future.

THE HOUSE

This is the house:
where
children scampered
through rough-ploughed soil,
pickup up stones and sticks
in advance
of the grumbling John Deere,
disking;
just two, he was,
in broad arcs running
around the house,
barefoot in Spring turf
with untroubled joy, screaming
“Whoopie Ti Yi Yo!”;
where
in that room, up there,
after church, we withdrew—
“Your mom and I need to talk.
Alone,” I announced,
and we talked a little
as we kissed and grabbed
and our eyes rolled back,
and the littlest sat,
her back to the door,
coloring, waiting
for the door knob to turn;
where
lightning sought
out the chimney
through the squall,
blackened outlets,
knocked out the phones;
her three-year-old voice
chuckled all callers:
“We’re not home . . . or
we can’t find the phone . . .
please leave
a message.”

This is the house:
where
our goats died,
our kittens died,
our dogs died,
the skunks and raccoons died,
and we buried them all
in the garden,
sprinkled with rose petals,
sprinkled with children’s tears,
tucked in with old sheets,
topped with stick crosses
that fell over,
covered over
with wild grass
and fast-spreading peppermint
and morning glory vines,
clinging and clambering,
obscuring the low mounds,
next the empty arbor
where the grapes would not grow,
where the rotting birdhouses perched,
houses for angry yellow jackets.

This is the house:
where
smoke oozing
from the chimney
meant a welcome fire
in the stove,
lighted by children
who sometimes forgot
to open the flue
with the sliding lever,
handled with a spring-like bulb
that burned its print
on your hand
at the base,
a welcome, hot, orange, roaring fire,
air hissing through
intake vents,
children lolling on the floor,
on the rag rug I wove
on a handmade loom
from thrift store wool skirts
cut in repurposed strips,
children staring, hypnotized
to happy stupor, waking
enough to ask
“should I put in another log?”
logs cut with Mathew’s
Husqvarna, borrowed
still after his heart quit,
lots cut from the ancient cottonwood tree
where the Bald Eagle once stood,
surveying, glaring
at my mere humanity
far below.

This is the house:
where
we built our chicken coop,
gathered warm pastel eggs,
clucked to the hens,
cut the head off
the devil rooster;
where
we planted our garden,
holding our breath for weeks
until corn blades
shot up, improbably,
pulling weeds, interminably,
sweltering under mid-Saturday sun
for more weeks until
we did not care anymore;
we knew tomatoes
by the red spots
in the green morass.

This is the house:
where
we sang campfire songs—
“Swing Low Sweet Chariot”
“White Wings”
“Springtime in the Rockies”—
roasted wieners, roasted apples,
threw the baseball,
chased the bolted goldendoodle pup,
freed the Black-chinned Hummingbird
from garage incarceration;
where
we cried and screamed and sang and laughed,
chased the goats
that jumped their fence,
found the neighbors’
black angus bull
in the back yard,
heard the Ring-necked Pheasant’s
“Er! Er!” in the man-tall grass,
heard the Mourning Dove’s
muffled wail;
where
we walked on cool evenings,
a family,
on the dirt farm road
named Rabbit Lane.

This is the house
that was mine
until you told me to leave,
told me to leave,
that was mine,
then was yours,
till you sold,
till you sold.
This
was
The House.

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.

The Trick

Living alone changes a person.  I have lived alone nearly three years now, after 27 years of marriage.  The longer I live alone, the more difficult it is for me to be around people.  I become anxious as they use my towels, dirty my dishes, watch my TV, sleep in my spare beds (not making them the next morning), and occupy my space.  I feel compelled to put everything back in its place when they leave.  When I began this new phase of my life, I could foresee the danger of drawing into myself with time as I lived alone.  I wrote this poem one week into the experience.  I fear I have fulfilled my own poetic prophecy of misanthropy.  I need to work that much harder to be social with people in their space and in my space.  If I am not careful, I will become the hermit I feared.  (I am not feeling sorry for myself, just noticing subtleties of change in a human spirit.)

THE TRICK

This will be the trick:
to not slip into idiosyncrasy,
peculiarity, even
queerness,
needing everything to be
just so, or nothing
to be just so;
to not harden to stone or ice, but
to not melt entirely away.

(I took the above photo of a sunrise moon from my apartment balcony a few days ago.)

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.

Little Girl

I experienced today, in church, a moment of purity, of innocence, of love, not due to any sermon or ritual or hymn, but as a gift from a small child.

LITTLE GIRL

I chanced to glance
at a little girl of three
sitting nearby
in the pew:
she looked up at me,
an old man,
not comely to warrant,
and smiled a smile
bright as the spring sun
full on my face.
I could not refrain
reciprocation
and twisted a grin
in return, and found
ice melting,
stone warming,
stiff boughs bending.
Another glance
revealed
colored pencils scratching
intently
between the lines.

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.

Anchors in Wind

Wind blows hard from the south in Summer, the north in Winter, catching the sheet metal at its corners, pulling, ripping, and flapping until it tears off and flies away.  So many nights I laid in bed, listening to the grinding and rapping, unable to sleep, powerless to stop it, and dreading the repair job.  Still, I was proud of my makeshift coop in Erda, Utah, and my chickens and their eggs, and the dusty, sweet smell of dry straw.  This is poem is about needing to anchor the roof down against the wind, a metaphor for anchoring our lives to sound principles against the storms of life.

ANCHORS IN WIND

Wind blows noisily through the leaves,
snaps the brittle branches,
penetrates the pores in my window
screen, sibilating angrily,
seeking for bottles and knick-knacks
to knock off the sills
to break and spill upon the floor,
slams my door on its whooshing way out,
where I have neglected to place a stopping cushion.
The old steel on the chicken coop roof
has come unscrewed on its southern windward sides
to creek and groan and complain and moan
until I climb the stepladder with
a new box of screws
to really, this time,
anchor it down.

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.

Empty Arbor

I worked for years to convince grape vines to grow up my arbor.  I imagined an arbor crisscrossed with verdant vines, heavy clusters of green and red grapes hanging down, and me sitting in a chair underneath, in grape-shade, pleasantly paralyzed by grape and wild flower and spice garden perfume.  But the vines never grew more than a few feet high before turning brown and dying.  Too much water?  Not enough iron or acid to compensate for the alkaline soil?  It no longer matters.  The grape arbor became my bird arbor, hosting many pretty species year-round.

EMPTY ARBOR

Bird feeders swing empty from nails pounded in the arbor.
After years of compost, fertilizer, water, and iron,
the vines still grow sickly and yellow, vines that grow no grapes.
I once dreamed of the arbor covered in a dense green,
with plump, hanging clusters of white and purple grapes.

Bird houses nailed to the arbor sit vacant,
the entrance holes too large or two small, too high or too low,
or too exposed to climbing cats,
vacant but for teaming yellow jackets that relish dark nooks.

The finches prefer the spiny blue spruce nearby.
Who knows where the sparrows and blackbirds live?
But they visit by the hundred, chirping and chasing, cracking at shells.

I must fill the swinging feeders
for the little birds that descend to my empty arbor.

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.

Travelers

Oh Pioneers!  Song of the Open Road.  I have enjoyed reading these and other poems from Walt Whitman’s anthology Leaves of Grass.  Whitman shows such ebullience and enthusiasm for life, such hope for the progress of humanity.  After reading these more than once, I thought to write my own poem about this journey of life, after my own heart and style, inspired by Whitman.

TRAVELERS

Ho!
Fellow traveler!
Share the road
with a vagabond?
May I walk with you
to wherever?
I’ll be glad
of your company,
to be sure!
Such a dusty, lonely road
it has been.
Look at these shoes!
The holes in the soles!
Now, they have seen
a pretty mile or two,
and have a story or two
to tell! Aye!
Hey—them is prodigious
holes of your own!
Wary that stone, now,
friend,
for tis but the tip
of a larger,
and would break your kicking toe!
Whence hail you,
if you do not mind?
It be a long way?
Aye, that be a distance!
You seek
a situation, then, employ?
Or, may I be bold,
my new friend,
flee you a broken heart?
I understand you, aye,
only too well.
Though you walk and walk,
the break follows,
and the sorrow.
You search for solace:
tis natural.
And death—
you know it?
That we all flee,
yet it follows, too close,
stalking,
at times, too close,
from us taking,
left and right,
the ones we love
most. Aye. Aye.
I know it, too,
my brother….
But, my dear fellow!
Look!
See!
The sun sets behind.
Always behind!
And on the morrow?
A New Sun rises!
To be sure.
To be sure!
Let not us part
the way we walk
together,
for we will find
companionship in company,
in the step step step
of our direction,
in the clop clop clop
of our resolve.
The morrow
we will command!
The Heavens will send manna,
coveys of quail,
and waters
from the dry stone!
You shall see!
You shall certainly see!

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.

Birdsong Scratchers

My son Caleb loves to wood carve.  And paint.  And draw.  Creations of all kinds.  Caleb carved these charming bird-beak back scratchers out of tough Russian Olive wood collected near Rabbit Lane.  He has created an Etsy account where you can see each of these awesome artistic bird-beak-scratchers highlighted individually.  Pay a visit; take a look.  Way to go Caleb!

(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.)

Wood Pens by Hyrum

Hyrum (15–one of the four Baker brothers) has become quite the woodworker, taking advanced wood-shop and furniture-making in high school.  Today a good friend taught Hyrum to turn wood pens on a lathe.  Hyrum started from 1×1 square scrap lumber rescued from the trash can: cedar heart; walnut; wormy maple.  He drilled the correct diameter hole in the wood blank with a drill press.

After drilling, he glued and inserted the metal tube into the blank.  When the glue cured, he “squared” the ends with a reamer, making the blank ends truly perpendicular to the blank length.  With the preparations over, it was time to turn the wood on the lathe, transforming the square blank into a perfect round.  Using a wood turning gouge and chisel, Hyrum slowly took off the corners of the square, taking the now-round wood blank down to the desired diameter and even with the bushings at either end.

The blank cut to the right size and shape, it was time to make it shine!  First came the sandpaper: 150 grit; 400 grit; then 800 grit.  Finally, steel wool.

Then Hyrum rubbed into the wood, turning at high speed, five coats of walnut oil mixed with wax.

The finished blank came alive and sparkled with natural beauty!

With the wood finished, it was ready to be assembled with the parts of the pen kit for the final pen product.  Hyrum can’t wait to make more beautiful wood pens, and plans to show them soon on his new Etsy account.

Hyrum and I are very grateful to our friend, Paul, for teaching us a new skill.

For more Baker brothers woodcraft, see the Woodcraft page of this Blog and click on any link.

Wilderness

Are we not all wanderers, searchers, seekers?  No matter the strength or persuasion of our faith, no matter our accumulation of years and wisdom, still we trudge through time and space.  Sometimes we dance, tip-toe.  Often we wallow and slog.  Mists of darkness move in to shroud our discernment, obscure our way.  Such clouds are a thing of this world only, for the sun always shines, always burns at millions of degrees and sends light and warmth over millions of miles, to us.  I offer this poem to the good people of earth who care about doing good and right, who sometimes lose their way, and who keep on walking the path.

WILDERNESS

“I am in a wilderness,”
you said to me. Still,
the cross rests round
your neck. Delicate silver.
Waves crash against pier and rock:
I can hear through your open door.
“It grows bigger,
my wilderness, the expanse
wider.”
Crashing waves; cars
throttling away; voices
through the wall;
the cat slinks by;
a movie plays
in the next room.
You bake muffins, chocolate chip,
in the tin, wondering,
silver resting on skin.
You sit high on a stool
at the table, sipping coffee,
sipping brandy,
thinking Help me, Jesus
with a chill:
you have to go
out once again, out
to make your way, somehow.
I am
in my
wilderness.

Play Me a Song

I closed my eyes as my son eased into a Bach cello suite during his recent lesson.  I drifted quickly into serenity and dream.  Keep playing this song, I thought.  Never stop.  And the words began to appear, first describing what I heard, what I felt, then what I saw, and finally what I became.

PLAY ME A SONG

Play me a song
on that big string cello,
low and slow,
to swell in my chest
and tighten my throat
and get me to crying soft.
Play me that song
again. I want to hear it.
I want to hear
as the walls fall away
and the roof flies off
and trees and flowers
grow up through the decomposing floor,
around me, close,
aromatic, shading
as the song goes on,
low and slow,
till my cocoon is complete
and I wait until Spring
to emerge, your song
still sweet in my ears.

Anniversary of Rabbit Lane

Today is a happy day for me: it marks the 1st anniversary of the print publication of my book 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.  Thanks to the nearly 200 of you who purchased and read the book in its inaugural year.  Thanks to those in my community who are working to raise awareness for the preservation of Rabbit Lane as a pathway for walkers, joggers, and cyclists.  Thanks to those in your communities who are finding and saving Rabbit Lanes everywhere.  These are special places that deserve to be preserved as a legacy for generations.  I hope we have the vision and persistence to preserve our respective Rabbit Lanes as special historical, cultural, social, and environmental icons.

Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road is available in print and full-color Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

That Man

Grand Teton from Table Mountain, by Caleb Baker

Sitting in church I noticed a rough-looking man handling his three little boys with patience and kindness and gentleness.  He inspired me, and I felt filled with gratitude for the method of this man.  Those boys will know they are loved, that they matter.  Those boys will learn that kindness is the way of true manhood as they marry and raise their own children in turn.  My wish and prayer is for kindness to find ever more-frequent expression in this world.

THAT MAN

that man
over there
who ruffles one boy’s strawberry hair
and pats the older gently on the back
and kisses the littlest on top the head and whispers in his ear and smiles,
that man
will raise prophets
and kings
with his kindness

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.

On Hangars

Baker Boys

I have seven children.  Yes, seven.  Four boys and three girls.  I am proud of them and love them.  Sitting at my writing desk tonight, I remembered them when were younger, and chuckled at their antics, one of which was the boys shedding their Sunday go-to-meetin’ clothes after church for more comfortable clothing in which to play Legos and ping-pong and do their sword-fighting, “ching! ching!”.  After one such Sunday, I wrote this little poem.

ON HANGARS

Day’s end of a Sabbath,
and their clothes lie on my bed,
black slacks and black socks,
white shirts inside-out with the sleeves
still rolled and the ties
still under buttoned collar flaps,
left by young ones so eager to play,
while I right each shirt,
loose each button,
extract the slip-knot ties, and
drape three shirts and slacks
on hangars in the closet,
between the dresses and the suits,
where they wait
for the next Sabbath day.

Fall

Fall’s Maple leaves are so beautiful in Settlement Canyon, I cannot resist sharing one of my Fall poems and some photographs of my favorite local haunt.

 

 

 

 

FALL

Fall has become
in my advancing years
a sweet season
sending forth
a settling sense
of things slowing down
preparing to rest
under white blankets
that warm and moisten
against year’s end.
Nights are cool
and days are sunny and cool.
Rows of dry corn
sheaves rasp each other
in the evening air.
Geese wave
a noisy farewell
overhead on their way away.
Greens melt
to candy yellows and reds
smelling earthy sweet
drifting down to become
the richness in the soil
where sleeping segos and tapertips
wait for Spring.

Naiad

Walking tonight, stream-side, I could not help but notice how playful was the water, and I imagined the water spirits having all sorts of fun, with one wary eye on me.

NAIAD

Easy the stream
to think the fairy-
a hundred fairies-
somersaulting over rocks,
pirouetting in pools,
relaxing prone, with smiles,
in the calm places,
passing me, on the bank,
with a wink.

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

A Time to Prune

Erda, Utah

Fall reminds me of climbing high into apples trees to join my church congregation in picking and selling large red delicious apples as part of our annual church fundraiser.  How I loved my perches high in the trees, munching on sweet apples that had not seen a refrigerator.  As a boy, this was the height of happiness.  We returned later, when the leaves had fallen and air had grown quite cold, to prune.  Seeing a tree, I feel a compulsive desire to prune, to improve its shape, its health, its fruit-bearing potential.  And, at pruning time, I contemplate whether, during the previous year, I adequately pruned myself, to improve my shape, my health, my fruit-bearing potential.

A TIME TO PRUNE

Mid-Winter
is the time to prune apple trees,
with sheers and saws and snippers.
All upward-pointing twigs must go:
leave the balance to bud and to bloom,
to offer hanging fruit
to the groping hands of Fall that fill
brown paper sacks and assorted used boxes
with flaps folded in.

Top it flat,
declutter it within,
to admit Summer’s ripening sun,
with no suckers upward pointing,
stealing the sap of Spring
from the blossoms, from the fruit.

Send the children scurrying high
to pluck sun-red apples,
to crunch sweet freshness,
to gaze across orchard top to ocean’s horizon.

Sell the bulging bags and boxes
by the roadside,
at the church bazaar.

Oil and sharpen the shears.

Roger Evans Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The non-fiction book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  Rose Gluck Reviews recently reviewed Rabbit Lane in Words and Pictures.

An Evening

We poets seek often to write about things grand: the deepest emotions; the most sublime sunsets; beauty and love. Yet, ponder the potential power of a still life, a self-portrait, a mere sketch. Often, the most mundane of images, visual or verbal, conveys the greatest sense of humanity. I know I am not a great poet, but I think, I feel, I observe, I experience.  And I write. This short poem is a self-portrait-still-life from a year ago, which, I hope, captures a bit of the essence of the human experience.

AN EVENING

A fish fillet simmers
in basil and salted lemon juice.
The baked potato steams
with butter and sour cream gobs.
Three cobs of corn.
Absence of conversation.

Fingers fumble with chords,
picking awkward patterns.
Crooning “Looking for a Lady.”
Absence of applause.

On the big bed,
looking at paintings
on the walls.

 

Roger Evans Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The non-fiction book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  Rose Gluck Reviews recently reviewed Rabbit Lane in Words and Pictures.

The Worth of a Man

Harvey Russell

I closely watched Harvey and his family as they celebrated his 80th birthday.  They spoke warmly of memories and sang his praises.  How nice, I thought, that they, at least, recognize his worth.  Harvey, though elderly and arguably past his prime, embodies an enormous wealth of tradition, strength, virtue, memory, and love.  Though a quiet obscurity to many, he is a hero to me, as recounted in my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  So many in western culture write off and even ridicule the elderly, seeing only weakness and faded glory. This fact I sorely lament.  We would do well to remember their strength, their sacrifice, their accomplishments, their contributions, their legacy, and their love.  Rather than relegated to the “old” category, implying uselessness, they should be lifted up as timeless mentors to be followed, learned from, cared for, and revered.  As you read this poem, ponder for yourself, What is the worth of an aged man and woman?  I hope your answer is bounteous.  Consider sharing your thoughts in a comment.

THE WORTH OF A MAN

What is the worth of a man
when his ears refuse to hear
and shrouds eclipse his sight,
when his back bends low
and his hands quiver,
when he forgets things large and small
and the young lose their scant patience
with his remembrances and his gait?

He has made whatever difference, whatever contribution,
he is going make.
If he hasn’t said it by now, it won’t be said.

So much counsel.
So much love.
So much poetry.
Unspoken.

He is a mere memory,
and fading at that.

That is what you think.
That is what so many think.

Remember when
he taught you to tame a fox and skin a weasel and splint a songbird’s wing?
Remember when
he bought you a thrift store bike and taught you to fix a flat?
Remember when
he slogged in from the smelter each day after dark, slimed with sweat and soot?
Remember when
you took turns tossing the ball to the family mutt?
Remember when
he told you how to treat a woman, with fidelity, with respect, with tenderness?
Remember when
he called you a numbskull for smoking behind the barn, and stomped the butt out?
Remember when
he carried you, and even sang, and even cried, when your body burned from fever?

But you do not remember.
You spurn the soul what made you.
You rush break-neck from your cradle to your own aged obsolescence.
Tomorrow, as you shuffle and stoop,
they will glance at you and ask,
What is the worth of a man?

Judah’s Shoes

From July 12-31, 2017, I helped lead a troop of 34 boy scouts to the 2017 National Boy Scout Jamboree, featuring ten days of camping and high adventure activities at the BSA Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia.  As part of the jamboree experience, we took the boys to New York City, Philadelphia, Gettysburg, and Washington, D.C. for eight days before the camp.  On the itinerary was a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.  I had read so many books about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, and seen so many films, that I dreaded going, or rather, dreaded the grief and pain I knew I would feel upon experiencing the museum.  Still, the boys needed to know and appreciate this awful period of history.  Our youth are those who will see that such things never happen again.  I held myself together as I studied the various exhibits.  But then I came to the room of shoes.  Real.  Tangible.  Worn by the departed dead murdered in the death camps, in the gas chambers.  So many.  Outside the museum, my son and nephew put their arms around me as I collapsed into convulsing sobs.  We must never forget.  This must never happen again.  We must never forget.

JUDAH’S SHOES

This room is
filled
with shoes,
worn brown leather
crumpled and twisted and squashed:

shoes of the stripped and the shamed

they lie upon
one another,
laces yanked,
the pile deep,
crooked and disjointed and mangled:

shoes of children and working men and working women
shoes of rabbis and butchers and violin players

toes point all directions,
searching,
forlorn,
never finding,
their mates lost:

shoes of the gassed and the dead
shoes of the forgotten
shoes of the remembered

 

Roger Evans Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The non-fiction book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  Rose Gluck Reviews recently reviewed Rabbit Lane in Words and Pictures.

Psalm

This poem expresses my hope in humanity and in the universal Forces that lift and edify us as we experience life, making us better and better souls.  I believe in a Power that heals, that instructs, and that loves.  I believe that human beings, by exercising the power of choice and by learning principles of goodness, can become noble and powerful and good.  This poem, entitled “Psalm,” is both a prayer and a song, a reaching upward of the human mind to touch the Divine and invoke its powers on our behalf.  Whatever your religious, spiritual, or philosophical inclinations, I hope you will enjoy this poem and the hope to which it aspires.

PSALM

Let thy stiff knees bend
at the hem of that gracious garment,
and touch.
Let thy weary head bow
beneath the benevolent hands
that lift
your face to his.
Let thine eyes permit
his omniscient eyes
to seek out the heights and depths
of your willing and wounded heart,
to close your cracks,
knit together your tears and broken bones,
anoint your bruises with balm.
Let the Mystery fill you,
lift you
above demons and fiends,
over faithless perpetrators,
who possess the power of worms
twisting under the sun.
Sway with the breeze, with the trees.
Soar with the clouds and the high-flying birds.
Dive with the falcons and the raindrops.
Crash and roar with the ocean waves.
Float with the green damselfly, a dandelion seed.
Breathe the winds and swallow the sun.
Arise a new creation, whole,
complete: You:
the glory of God,
His child,
His masterpiece.

See My Wings

On my recent cycling and hiking forays into the local canyons, I have been graced with the presence of hundreds of gorgeous, enormous Tiger Swallowtail butterflies.  Such amazing creatures!  Utterly vulnerable, yet mighty and magnificent in their beauty and flight.  I reached into the memory of my butterfly collecting days (God forgive me) and my first experience of seeing a butterfly wing under a microscope.  That these stunning creatures can fly on flimsy wings astonishes me.  They embody such a rare combination: beauty and strength and humility.  With no worry for their future, with no thought of the impossibility of them against the world, they fly and fly, in spite of the skeptic.  This poem grasps at the metaphor of a butterfly’s flight to contemplate the concepts of beauty, introspection, the flight of the human soul, and the finding of hope, faith, and trust in this life.  I hope you enjoy it.

SEE MY WINGS

Look closely
at my wings,
carefully,
do not touch,
scrutinize
up close
with the microscope of your brain
and see,
see scale upon scale
in row upon row,
the most exquisite tapestry
known:
orange and blue
spots and whorls
blending
into one another;
yellow and black
fields and stripes,
veined,
coursing
under Sun’s heat
and tiny flutterings
that flash beauty unabashed and unaware,
that lift on wing
into apparent invisibility
of air and sky,
of breath and life,
of trust
implausible and true.

Roger Evans Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The non-fiction book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  Rose Gluck Reviews recently reviewed Rabbit Lane in Words and Pictures.

Look Around

Finding myself suddenly with completely new surroundings after 20 years, I wrote this poem to describe my momentary impressions of the neighborhood, its houses and people, the scenic backdrop, and of my own emotional reaction to it all. Moving one’s life from here to there can be an overwhelming experience for even the strongest.  There is no substitute for time when acclimating to a new atmosphere. And wherever we go we can find beauty and positivity. But it took me awhile.

LOOK AROUND

Look over the world.
Look to the west where
the sun has fallen behind
the mountains.
Look to the north where
the lake blends
with the sky,
blue on blue.
Look around:
that shirtless man
in the field throwing
a ball to his happy mutt—
this sulking kid carrying
sacs of garbage to the dumpster—
kingbirds surveying
from gable tops, darting
off to snatch flying bugs—
a small pony-tailed girl inching
her bicycle along, training
wheels rattling, a pink helmet
strapped on—
garage doors opened and closed down
the street, an assortment
of deteriorating cars, and a crammed collection
of the detritus of living—
the stop sign standing red, standing.
All is in order:
look around:
everything as it always
is, as it should be,
I suppose.
Now shuffle
back inside,
look around,
turn off the light
again.

A Day to Rejoice!

I sat in my home recently, contemplating my blessings.  I could see quickly that they abound.  I felt to rejoice on that day and wrote this poem.  I thought it fitting to post the poem on Fathers Day.  I hope that you all find reasons to rejoice today and everyday.

A DAY TO REJOICE!

Today
is a day
to rejoice:
A Rejoicing Day!

Do you see
there
on that wall
those photographs
of young people who
consider
you their friend, who
trust
you with their hearts, who
love
you despite your imperfections, who
call after
you, papa, dada, pops,
smiling from their place
on that wall, who
forgive
you
today:
A Rejoicing Day!

What do you think of these
bratwurst,
tell me:
stadium brats,
beer brats,
smoked brats,
sweet Italians—grilled
on that Father’s Day grill
under flames leaping after dripping juice—
which do you like
best?
You like them all?
A Celebration Day!

No booby-trapped doors.
No roadside IEDs just waiting to rip off your limbs.
No bullets through your windows on a Sunday afternoon.
You can walk
to your church,
you can pray and sing
and lift your hallelujah hands to the heavens
and not get beheaded for it;
you can hold your grandbaby,
almost smiling,
and have
a reasonable hope
in her
prosperity and peace—
a reasonable hope.
Yes,
I declare it:
A Rejoicing Day!
A Rejoicing Day!!

Then
there
is
you:
your wrap-around hugs, tight,
your battalions of butterfly kisses, soft,
your letting go and letting God,
your dogged determination
to forgive
me.
I am permitted to dream,
am I not?
A Jubilation Day!

The sun shines.
The rain falls.
The garden grows its fruits.
The church steeple rises
toward the sun in heaven,
rises,
with your heart, in
a reasonable hope
that the world,
for all its cracks and chasms,
is a home worth living in
on this
Rejoicing Day!

 

(Note: parts of this poem are autobiographical; other parts are aspirational.)