Tag Archives: Poem

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 . . .

Why in Heaven’s Name Can’t We Get There?

For 400 years America has struggled with the racial hatred that enabled slavery and perpetuates inequity.  For untold thousands of years one people has subjugated and enslaved another.  Why can’t humanity rise above its hate?  Please, we must.  This is not a political post, or a racial post, or an activist post.  This is a human post, a poem begging for hope and love and equity.

Why in Heaven’s Name Can’t We Get There?

George Floyd: a name:
the name of a Man:
a Black Man:
an African-American man:
who wanted only to breathe:

To Breathe!

to breathe the crisp air of freedom:
to breathe kisses upon his children:
to breathe love to his beloved:
a Black Man who has gathered us together:
a world of all color:
in chant and march and rage:
in song:
in colorful earthy human song:
singing the name of every Man:
every Black Man:
every White Man:
every Yellow and Brown and Red Man:
subject to subjugation:
chafing and straining against the rough blistering cords of bondage:
singing the name of every Woman:
who hoped for her Child:
as good as any Child:
a Black Child or a White Child:
who dared to hope:
hope against We don’t want you! signs:
in the windows and on the doors:
hope against blood and bombs and broken bones:
hope against the burning, cutting ropes:
who dare to hope against that universal

NO!

He could not breathe:
another man pressed a knee on his neck:
and he could not breathe:
George Floyd:
the name of a Man:
a Black Man:
the name of every Child:
the name of every Woman:
the name of every Man:
the name of a nation:
a nation that cannot breathe:

We Want To Breathe!

the name of a nation of people who can barely breathe:
a nation of too many who do not know love, except:
the false love of defending what we think is our own:
which is no love at all:
but sticky, unctuous pride:
but a bashing-teeth hatred:
but a cheap rickety need to be better, somehow intrinsically better, than another:

How Absurd!

how absurd to think:

I am better than you:
better than anyone:
better than George Floyd:
better than any other human:
better than any other equal human:

Equal Equal Equal!

But we cannot seem to do it:
we cannot seem to allow any skin to be better than our own:
better: a strange notion we can reconcile only if we lie.

Well, we had better:
we had better stop chewing glass:
the broken glass of hate:
we had better stop swallowing the cutting nails of arrogance:
we had better put our arms around one another, and hold one another’s hands
and weep our declaration:

We are the same, you and I!

The Same!

with the same pleasant dreams:
with the same color of pounding blood:
with the same innate capacities:
for love and for hate;
for love, and for caring and kindness:
for helping a Sister:
for helping a Brother:
for helping a Daughter and a Son.

So:
come on:
come on out:
come on out of yourself:
give it all up:
let go of anything, of everything, that makes you less:
less than what you are:
less than what you can be:
be Equal
and
be Good
and
be Free . . .

(Image above by truthseeker08 from Pixabay)

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.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

Vessels in the Tear

This is a poem for troubled times, an allegory of sorts, short, and I wish helpful and hopeful.  Be strengthened in your sailing.

VESSELS IN THE TEAR

how does one
sail when
the keel hangs
cracked and the sails flap
all frayed
and the bailing bucket falls overboard, when
the wind
twists hysterically liked an eel
on a hook? perhaps
then it is
best to release
the rudder
and loosen the jib and main and knot
oneself to the mast, to follow
frightening lists and unknown
currents, reconciled
to ride the writhe

Image by Noupload 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.

I Must . . . Trust

As I have studied African-American history during this celebratory month, I am heartbroken by the stories of human suffering, and lament the cruelty of which we are capable.  I wonder: Can we elevate ourselves?  Can we be better?  Despite our communal history, I believe we can overcome our baser natures to become better, individually and as a world society.  Let us, together, through kindness, fairness, and toughness, coax from ourselves our better selves, demand from our institutions a new way to see and to be.  Let us trust in whatever forces we believe in, above and within, to achieve greater equality and generosity.  And let us not despair, but choose to move forward and upward with strength.

I Must . . . Trust

Every human life is tragic
if one sees it that way
which I do
much of the time

others capture us
sell us off
for a few coins—
and we sell them
in turn

others grin at us
at the tortures they inflict
our weeping wounds—
and we laugh at them
in turn

they must gather wealth
greater wealth than us all
if they can

they must amass power
greater might than us all
if they can

they must be right
righter than everyone
more justified than us all
and they will

and when they cannot
as they know they cannot
then they rage
then they break their teeth with clenched hatred
and you can do nothing for them
nothing with them

then the devil has full sway
to spit in the face of human virtue
the more the better to grind us
beneath the great granite millstone

and new centuries of civility and law and goodness
may not be enough
to right the listing ship
to tip the rusty scales

and I must trust
though a hundred billion have suffered their way to the grave
with too-scant joys

must trust the Invisible Beyond
through all the manipulations and sorceries
imprisonments and abandonments
the utter isolations

must trust the Silence inside
and kindness and gentleness—mocked
and forgiveness and forbearance—mocked

I must . . . trust
or despair
and perhaps
both

(Image provided by Clker-Free-Vector-Images 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)

Dad Leads Me on a Bullfrog Hunt at Dallenbachs

Dad and Me (ca 1969)

At dusk at the abandoned Dallenbachs quarry turned deep lake in East Brunswick, New Jersey, Dad and I turned our attention from the bluegills to the bullfrogs.  This was a new experience for me, and I was wide-eyed and expectant.  Enormous frogs croaked, a loud, deep, rumbling song.  Spying a bullfrog, Dad pounced just at the frog jumped under his shoe.  Dad felt so upset about hurting the frog.  I didn’t know what to do or feel.  I simply stood quietly, then followed, quietly, to the car.  Fifty years later, the memory has reappeared and found its way into this new poem.

Dad Leads Me on a Bullfrog Hunt at Dallenbachs

From reedy black bank-water emanated the rumbling
thrum that I knew, at four,
came from big bullfrogs. Even the bluegills

eluded our hooks, so we skulked the flank
because we could and because we were serious and excited
and on the hunt. I followed his point to two

gray spheres, an iceberg of frog flesh, its ears
metallic yellow discs just below. Two things
happened then, a concomitance in four

dimensions, the giant frog launching
a great leap, the big man’s
wet sneaker falling hard on the frog

sitting dazed, pink tongue bulging, while dad cussed
a grimace, I watched
and I listened and I knew both were

hurt, the soft body and the gentle mind,
and I did not move or speak
and I did not know what to feel

and I did not know how to help the bullfrog or
the father, hearing not a gravelly croak
on the long lake shore.

 

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 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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.