Tag Archives: Poem

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

Red Rock Trail

Living in Utah, I have come to love what we call “red rock country.”  Bizarre twisted shapes dominate canyon landscapes, in every hue of red and orange, remnants of ancient tectonic upheavals and eons of erosion.  On the trails winding through these hills I have found inspiration and wonderment, pondering the forces of creation and nature.  I have held my young children’s hands as we scrambled over boulders and up screes.  We have marveled at the prickly-pear’s crimson bloom and the aromatic sagebrush.  We have laughed at the lizards and cottontails scurrying for cover beneath black brush and Mormon tea.  All, the stuff of awe and sweet memory.  In this poem I look back at an early red-rock-country explorer on horseback.  Enjoy the trail.

RED ROCK TRAIL

shod hoofs
stumble on stones,
leave glintings
behind, sparks,
scramble to rise
to the high red butte;
desert varnish trickles
below, springs
sprout cottonwoods,
beaver chewed,
beaver felled,
feeding, damming
all but flashing
floods from distant rains
beyond, where
snows melt
under desert sun
on the high red butte

Snow Canyon, Utah

Arco-Iris

On a recent evening, the image of a piece of thick chalk popped into my mind, perhaps from an old photo of my daughter’s driveway chalk drawings, perhaps from an web ad for a sidewalk chalk contest.  I decided to see what I could make of it.  The Portuguese word “arco-iris” is one of my favorites, meaning “rainbow.”  For this poem, I imagined my daughter making long, curving sweeps with her pastel chalks, to make a rainbow.  I hope you enjoy it.

ARCO-ÍRIS

make me an arco-íris
a pretty one
take this piece of chalk
here: scrape a long arc
on rough-brushed concrete
a yellow arc
a nice, thick arc
the chalk on its side
take this piece of chalk
here: grind out the green
the blue, nice long injured
arcs
now here the pink, and red
put the purple above
or beneath, either way
just make me an arc
an arc
before
rain


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.

Impressions of Erda and Enterprise

I visited recently with my good friends Harvey and Mary Russell at their home in Enterprise, Utah.  I had not seen them for years.  Harvey, my humble hero, is a leading figure in my nonfiction book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  Named “Many Feathers” by American Indians, Harv helped me build my chicken coop and lead me through an Indian sweat ceremony in Erda, Utah.  My impressions during the visit were poignant and bitter-sweet, demanding expression in this impressionistic poem.

IMPRESSIONS OF ERDA AND ENTERPRISE

Car window down:
“Is this Harvey’s place?”
A wave to drive in, and smiles:
three mechanics, brown
where I should have seen white:
lost their teeth to the chew.

Engine block rocks
from its rolling crane.
“You’re the one that wrote the book?”
“And you write poems, too?”
“Yea,” I said, “but
I don’t know a spark plug
from a distributor cap,
like you!”

That storm broke branches off
Harv’s old elm. “Shall I cut them
small for the stove, or long
for the truck bed to the dump?”
“Oh, it’s not your mess—
long for the dump.” I cut them
short for next winter’s warming.

Neighbors burning winter’s detritus,
wind-lopped limbs, old stumps.
Pleasant smell of woody smoke.
The whole family shovels
manure over the garden plot;
rich, dry, composted;
like I used to do, before.

Perfect pens for homers,
robust cocks chortling in one,
slighter hens in the other.
At 79, he still races.

“When he finally left,
he took everything, even
the lightbulbs and toilet seat.”

Worn brown leather boots
on the workbench
by the big rusty drill press,
under dust.

“Will you keep an eye on my place Harv?”
“pow pow pow!”
Ducks falling from the sky,
poached from his neighbor’s pond.

“pow pow pow!”
Geese poached from the sky.
“But I called this time;
they think they own all the birds
in the whole country.”

Old Ekins took
their guns, their geese.
One protested: “Too late:
the goose is in the oven.
Sunday dinner!”
Said Old Jim: “Not too late:
take the Sunday goose out!”

Eight hens scratch in the grass,
keep him in eggs.
Two roosters corral and crow.
Ducks waddle where they will.

The garden tool shed:
a secret privy, with shovel and hoe.
“Toss in a cup of wood stove ash.”
(The neighbors, they don’t know.)

Lilac bushes, just leafing,
a long arcing row
next the dirt drive;
promising purple perfume.

Flapjacks browned on cast iron;
butter; blueberries; pure maple syrup;
my first goat milk, creamy and sweet.

Crazy Cliff dragged a trailer house
up a Skull Valley mountain
with a rickety track hoe; by some miracle
the belcher didn’t topple over backwards.

A lightning bolt split:
two fires funneling down
to that trailer. A bomber dropped
red retardant dust,
panicked mustangs plunging through.

Mother made Mary
give away her baby;
only 15. She married
the man at 16, and met
her first-born son 49 years late.

Brussels and yams
roasted soft
in olive oil and herbs;
fresh bread and pot roast.

Third and fourth marriages
for both: married twice
to each other: “We just drifted
apart, until God brought us
back together.”

“Living with someone is just
hard, rubbing and bumping
against each other.”

“He kissed me
tenderly
on the cheek.”

Harvey, Mary, and Roger

Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.

You Showed Me

My assistant city attorneys and I have prosecuted domestic violence perpetrators for 24 years.  I have come to loathe the mentality that allows a perpetrator to use violence to maintain power and control in an intimate relationship.  The very person the perpetrator should love with tenderness he beats into submission.  A cherished friend recently confided in me that her estranged husband had clobbered her in the face with a work boot he was holding, breaking her nose.  As painful as was the injury to her face, the deeper injury was to her spirit and her mind.  That strike caused her eyes to swell and blacken, but at the same time opened her eyes wide to who and what he was, and to what a future with him would bring.  I wrote this poem to honor my friend’s courage to see the truth and to seek a place of safety for herself and her children.  I dedicate this poem to all victims of domestic violence, those who survive and thrive, and those who have not yet broken free.  God bless.

YOU SHOWED ME

You bashed my face
with your boot,
steel-toed,
to show me
who you are:
tough, in control,
powerful.

You broke my nose
with your heel.

Our lambs watched, and
wept.

I am bleeding now,
swollen, my face
red and sore.

Yes, you showed me
the man you are.

But I say
to your face:
You missed!

Bereft I may be, but
I am not destroyed!
Because
you beat me,
you bruised me,
you cut me,
but you missed
my heart
my mind
my dreams
my soul
my will.

Yes,
you showed me.

Skyward

In our struggles to get it all done, to get ahead in the world, do we stop often enough to observe nature’s beauty, to smell gorgeous blooms, to listen to bird song, and to feel the warmth of the sun on our upturned face?  This poem is about slowing down and noticing the miracles of nature all around us.

SKYWARD

Do not look directly
at the Sun; instead,
look upon all
the Sun touches;
see the tall trees
wave in the wind;
draw in the aromas:
the many-petalled rose,
pink peonies,
bunches of lilac blooms;
tingle in the ice-melt
bouncing over boulders,
brushing over moss;
sink your toes
into the sandy surf,
white sails and gulls
highlighting the horizon;
contemplate the warmth
across eight billion miles
on your skin,
the glow through
closed lids turned
skyward.

Times and Seasons

Just because the skirmish is over does not mean we feel safe to come out of hiding.  Though the day may be sunny and calm, we may yet believe the safest place is underground, in our hole, in our cave.  Eventually, we dare to poke our heads out into the light, eyes squinting, hoping for peace, the memory of battle still fresh, wounds still stinging.  We cannot stay in our dark caves forever, can we?  For life happens outside, in the sun and the breeze, under the trees, with the sound in our ears of waves rolling onto the sand.

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.

Commandments

In our lives, in this world, so much of what we hear screams at us; so much of what we see strains the eye; so much stimulus overwhelms our senses.  So how do we sense the sublime? How do we discern the quintessential?  Beauty and ugliness both surround us.  To see beauty despite what is ugly requires both a choice to see, and a belief that beauty is there to be seen. For a moment, put aside religion, God, spirituality, and morality–and trust that intrinsic beauty and goodness are real.  That is when you will see.  My poem “Commandments” points at the difficulty of having faith in goodness, of sensing the sublime, of believing in beauty, touches on the straining effort faith requires, but affirms the reality and virtue of light, goodness, beauty, and sublimity, and their power to eclipse evil.

COMMANDMENTS

Of you
I require
to hear Wren’s peep
through the hurricane’s howl,
to stare at the sun
yet see Luna fly,
to feel the breeze on your skin
as you’re quartered and drawn.
I demand your peaceability
despite warmongerings and deceits,
against abominations and lying hearts.
Your peaceable walk
I adjure.
Discern the beauty
of the muddy speck,
the song
in the screech and cry.

Fly

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A butterfly, though battered, does not cease to fly.  It pays no mind to the sloughed scales that leave it cracked and drab.  Though not as graceful, perhaps, as in younger days, the butterfly yet lilts from flower to flower, following scents of sweetness.  So must I not give up because I am cracked and broken, weary, and showing my age.  The world is beautiful still, sweet still, ripe and available still, for me, for you.

FLY

Today you limp
on air:
wings faded,
edges serrated,
tails broken off.
Still, flowers
beckon
you to push awkwardly on,
to cling with three barbed feet.
Uncurl your coil
to taste the sweetness
of the flowers
today.

Farmer

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I have often second-guessed my career as a lawyer, wondering if I would have been better suited as an ornithologist, a cosmologist, an English teacher, or a writer.  It doesn’t matter anymore, really: I’ve been a lawyer for 25 years.  And I will be the best municipal lawyer I can be until I retire, and happy to do it.  Throughout my career, I have found opportunities to be both the intellectual and the romantic, the lawyer and the poet, the analyst and the naturalist. In my poem “Farmer” I explore the concept of being who we really are in the midst of circumstances that, we think, may not suit us but in which we find ourselves.  And, maybe we are right where we need to be: learning, stretching, becoming.

FARMER

Now,
looking back thirty years,
I would to have sidestepped
a torturous jurisprudence.
I would, rather, to have studied
the sturdy soil,
the art of growing things.
Still, today,
from my desk,
I till and I plant;
I nurture and hoe out the choking weeds,
looking to the harvest.
Resolutions are my cash crop,
statutes and prosecutions.
Policies and proclamations
yield forthcoming fruits.
The pen is my plough,
reams of paper
my fertile, furrowed fields,
poems my flower garden,
where butterflies condescend
to radiate.

Hold My Hand

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While many toss it aside as a casual gesture, holding hands is actually quite an intimate, meaningful act.  One that I miss.  The touching of the skin covering another divine soul.  Out of respect for this intimacy, I will dispense with the usual vignette and say only that my poem “Hold My Hand” attempts to describe how holding hands can be, how it should be, and how I hope it to be again.

HOLD MY HAND

circle round
each knuckle
steal down the length
of each shivering finger
press my palm
as I move
to wrap
your slender wrist
blanket me
with a free hand
skin-soft
blood-warm
pulses a-patter

Between

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I rarely write poems about poetry.  While the challenging art of writing a good poem is as meritorious a subject as a stunning sunset or a broken heart. writing about writing can become trite and shallow if one is not careful.  My nephew Trevor called me tonight and asked me how I began to write poetry.  “I wasn’t content,” I told him, “to say simply, ‘How pretty.’  I wanted to dig deeper, to really get at the essence of beauty and my experience with it.  So I began to study and write poetry.”  Despite frequent arid periods, I have never stopped.  At the risk of writing a trite poem about writing poetry, I did just that in “Between.”  I hope it meets with your approval.

BETWEEN

Poems come from places in between:
between sleep and wakefulness;
between light and darkness;
between divine habitation
and this rough carnal plane;
between intellect and pathos;
belonging at once to neither
and to both: creations
of paradox and reconciliation.

Frames

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Sitting at my desk, staring at the framed pictures on the windowsill, I began to contemplate the nature of frames: frames around pictures; frames around windows and doors; frames around issues.  Squares; circles; rectangles.  My brain beats against the frame of my skull, my heart in its rib cage.  I thought about the relationship between frames and things framed.  Do frames imprison, complement, constrain, guide?  Here is my poem exploring the idea of frames.

FRAMES

Frames around windows—
windows and doors.
Frames around paintings
and pictures of smiling children
missing their baby teeth.
Frames around issues of law
in a reply memorandum.

Squares and rectangles,
borders and limitations.

Frames around the innocent
without alibi.
Frames around political cartoons
and Sunday morning comics.
Frames around Christmas cards,
posters and book titles,
product labels and lists
of edible ingredients, tri-fold
advertisements and dollar bills.

Circles and hedges,
boxes and constraints.

Apartment for Rent

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For a time I lived rent free in a construction zone, an apartment that the evicted renters had destroyed.  Not one interior door hung from its hinges.  Every room had holes beaten in the walls.  The carpets and walls were disgustingly soiled.  My benefactor slowly began to clean and rebuild.  He filled and repaired the holes, hung new doors, painted walls and ceilings, stretched new carpet, scoured the tub and toilet, laid new tile, and replaced windows.  I helped here and there as my schedule allowed.  From my bedroll in the only decent room, which my friend had prepared for me, I contemplated the state of the place, and wrote this poem.

APARTMENT FOR RENT

That soft spot near the tub
where the tile is cracked
and the water has dripped through
and soaked and rotted the subfloor and joist.

These banged up walls with
holes from hammers,
holes from fists and boots,
holes from hurled kitsch,
holes from staples and nails
for draping blankets over doorways
after ragings destroyed their doors.

These windows, their cracks
and missing shards taped over
with clear packing tape and brown masking tape
to keep the furnace from pumping wasted warmth
throughout the length of cold nights.

The renters don’t give a damn.
Their food smears the walls.
Dog feces ground into carpets,
dry but still rank, evoke dry heaves.

The owner is kind,
and he’s tired,
and he’s broke.

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Winter Window

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The longer the winter, the harder to bear the bleak and the cold, I find.  Still, upon entering winter’s wilderness, I cannot deny its beauty, its sublimity.  Here is a wintertime poem composed as I contemplated a winter scene through a glass pane, from the warm inside.

WINTER WINDOW

Watch through the window in winter:

a solitary snowflake
floating innocently down
to catch, and slowly fade,
on the frosted ground;

a stray photon
flying from a distant minor star,
surviving massing clouds
and a creeping fog;

a shriveled gambel leaf
yielding finally to the nagging wind
and wafting without will
to alien ground;

a slow fly
bouncing repeatedly, futilely, against the clear pane,
falling to convalesce upon the sill, unaware that
on the other side exists a lonesome sterility and a cold unable to bear.

Through Winter’s Window

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Working at my home office today while convalescing after foot surgery, a little flock of finches and sparrows landed in the crabapple tree outside my window and began to eat the tiny pea-sized fruits.  A living poem, I thought.  Having promised myself never to deny, or even to delay, inspiration, I wrote the poem that came: Through Winter’s Window.  I hope you find it a spot of warmth on this freezing Winter day.

THROUGH WINTER’S WINDOW

fidgety finches, purple bibbed,
nibble nervously on
purple crabapple fruits,
not whole berries,
but tiny snatches and pecks,
wiping beaks on branches
when the sticky pulp sticks

watching from within walls, me,
through gridded, two-paned glass,
through slanted shutters
and dark nylon micro screen;
still I see the fidgety finches,
joined, now, by sparrows
brown on brown

round, scarlet leaves of fall
have fallen; only the marble
fruits hang on
though winds gust, throwing snow,
and winter sun appears
a weak old bulb
on the world’s periphery

but the red-throated finches
and striped sparrows land in
a happy-dozen flock to nibble and talk,
to swipe and nibble and talk,
seeing not nor caring
that I watch
unhearing from inside

Sphere of Absence

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Sphere of Absence by Erin Frances Baker

I exited a posh downtown law firm revolving door to accompany several high-priced litigators to lunch.  As a municipal attorney, my city was their client, and I its representative.  Hundreds of people walked every which way, moving single-mindedly toward their various destinations.  Car horns honked.  Crosswalk lights chirped.  People talked animatedly.  Buses dieseled by.  Trolley car power cables sizzled.  On the corner, in the middle of the commotion, sat a homeless woman, dirty, dressed in rags, her hair ratty.  She sat and rocked and wailed inconsolably.  No one paid her any mind.  They merely arced around her from their many directions, creating a sphere of absence around her.  I approached her, but not too close, to see her better.  I ached for her, yet feared to enter that intimidating sphere.  I marveled that she remained invisible to the bustling world around her. Still, though I saw her and felt for her, I too arced clear and moved on to my worldly business.  Below is my poem describing the encounter, entitled “Sphere of Absence.”

My daughter, Erin Frances Baker, adapted my poem for her acrylic-on-board masterpiece, changing the character of my homeless woman to the lighter, but still isolated and nearly invisible, figure of a street performer.  I hope you enjoy the poem and the painting.

SPHERE OF ABSENCE

She sat on the corner
of a bustling city street:
a surreal reminder
of an unfriendly reality;
a sad black-and-white cutout,
pasted, out of place,
into the noisy, colorful hustle
of illusory pursuits.
Mute faces ate and laughed
behind thick glass panes;
wingtips and heels stepped past
in all directions,
carving a polygonal sphere,
untouched, unvisited,
seen but ignored, unknown.
Unknowable.
Above the train-wheel grind and clatter,
the honking horns,
the crosswalk chirps,
the biting wind,
and the chatter, rose
a soft, wailing cry,
a muffled desperation,
a distracted pouring-out
of a fractured soul
into the lonely sphere of absence.

 

My book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road, has recently been published in print and for Kindle.  You can read about it here.

Forever

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Ice Crystals on Wood

I believe in an afterlife.  I believe that human beings are eternal beings.  We always existed in some form, and will live forever, always improving and growing, with the objective of achieving our full potential.  I sometimes consider what I will not be able to do during my lifetime that I would like to do in the hereafter.  So much!  This poem touches upon that wish.  In the meantime, I had best be making the most of this life, this time!  This is our time to choose, to learn, to love, and to forgive.

FOREVER

In Heaven
(if allowed)
I shall revel in eternity.

I will first master music:
a century for the cello;
a century for the oboe;
a decade or two for each other;
a millennium to compose for them all.

After music will come languages,
a decade each, longer for
dazzling Thai, Bushman, and Navajo.

I shall then conquer the science
of deoxyribonucleic acid
and genomic switches—
ten millennia might do.

I will take three centuries
to tackle cosmology:
quasars, black holes, star-birth;
encounters subatomic to intergalactic.

Then, I will study systems:
water and air and heat;
flora and fauna;
soil and seeds;
the interdependency and synergy
of all things.

Lastly, perhaps, will come
my study of the human mind:
the joys, the hurts;
the addictions and dysfunctions;
the condition of perfection.
A million millennia
will make a good beginning.

For the remainder of forever
I shall endeavor to learn
kindness, humility, patience,
generosity, and forgiveness:
the true arts of eternity.

Halter Broke

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One meaning of the term “halter broke” indicates the condition of a horse after its mind and spirit have been broken such that when the horse is wearing a halter, the horse will not move from the spot where its halter hangs to the ground, unless led.  As you read my poem Halter Broke, consider the ways in which you may have allowed yourself to be conditioned to the point of paralysis.  Ponder what you can do to free yourself, so that you remember who you really are, so that you realize you are free to become who you choose to become.  Whether it be through religion, spirituality, meditation, learning, prayer, forgiveness, or poetry–come to an understanding of what holds you back from achieving your full potential, both as an individual and as a member of your larger community.  You can do it.

HALTER BROKE

He stands at the scene,
at the very spot,
of his instruction.

Head down.

While the tail lies coiled,
the lead rope’s head lunges
up to its stranglehold.

Eyes down.

He stands in his space
sun-parched, thirst unsated,
though the trough sparkles
nearby under noon.

Shoulders drooped.

This is his place:
he will move
only when invited,
suppressing meanwhile.

Drooped and down.

To the Mountain

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This life’s journey can seem hard.  No–it IS hard!  In some ways life is meant to be hard (but not cruel or brutal) because it is through struggle and effort that we learn and grow, that we become better selves.  So often I have resisted the upward climb in my life.  My legs ache.  My lungs burn.  I feel fatigued.  I just want to rest.  And it’s ok to rest when needed, so long as we keep an upward direction.  Learning new skills.  Solving tough problems.  Choosing to forgive. These expand our minds and hearts.  These ennoble and redeem.  So, focus on that beautiful mountain top, and climb!

TO THE MOUNTAIN

The wind blows cold upon this mountain:
you reach out frigid fingers
to winch me up, to the summit,
but I refuse and split my stupid shin
on an unforgiving stumbling stone.

The air rests thin upon this mountain:
I suck and gasp with each heavy foot fall,
glancing away from your easy smile;
shin blood congeals;
the mucous freezes in my nose.

A smell sits rank upon this mountain,
from so many pissing travelers
and their perennial flotsam of tumbling toilet paper,
jagged aluminum cans, jolly rancher wrappers,
plastic bottles that will last a millennium.

Blue lupine, firecracker penstemon, Indian paintbrush, golden columbine, fireweed, asters,
daisies, monkeyflower, beard tongue, shooting star:
you redeem this mountain,
remind and rebuke;
you sing the beautiful song
to the beat of sheep hoofs
and the chirps of pikas and marmots.
You sing the beautiful song.

(Photo of Mt. Timponogos, Utah, in July, by the author.)

Whispers from Tinker Creek

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My son, Brian, gave me a book entitled, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard, for my birthday. Published in 1974, the book won the esteemed Pulitzer prize.  In its pages, Ms. Dillard goes traipsing through her Virginia woods, observing sky, trees, insects, birds, and Tinker Creek.  The smallest observations vault her into grand philosophical explorations about the nature of life.  I am impressed and moved at her intellectual and transcendental depth.  I am enjoying the book! I have heard that a good way to become a better writer is to read great writers.  During a quiet moment, I aspired to write a poem inspired by Ms. Dillard’s writing.  I present to you, “Whispers from Tinker Creek.”

WHISPERS FROM TINKER CREEK

I hang on every word,
dew on a leaf point,
sliding slowly to drop
toward mingling mud,
the view blue and green,
blinding
but for shadow.

I cling to the twig tip
with suction feet,
searching, in space,
through tattered clouds,
for how to inch on.

The breeze whispers
words I cannot comprehend,
almost audible,
puffs of cottonwood,
floating dandelions.

The sun spares me
sudden death to bedazzle
with sparkling dust,
shattered crystals hovering
purposefully.

Worthy

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“I am worthless,” my friend sighed to me.  “Oh, no,” I urged, “you are so worthy, so deserving.”  My friend wanted to believe, but could not.  “You are worthy,” I insisted again.  This poem declares your worthiness:

WORTHY

I AM:

rocks and ice in frozen space:

I AM:

dazzling beacons of pulsing proton beams:

I AM:

rainbow clouds, glowing, brilliant, birthing billions of bright suns:

I AM:

gold dust, iron dust, plutonium dust, the stuff of supernova stars:

I AM:

volcanoes bursting liquid stone to the skies, hot and hissing:

I AM:

waters of life, boiling and crystalline, flowing, flowing:

I AM:

the breath of God:

I AM.

Couplets

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“Couplet: two lines of poetry that form a unit.”  I found myself writing random couplets as they pushed themselves upon my yielding mind.  I share them with you here.  Each couplet only nicks the surface of a universal story.  Explore deeper to find that every image is a symbol of human depths we can only stare into blackly.  Examine the people, places, images, and ideas around you to see what poetic couplets come to you.  Look at your lover, your dog, the hornets nest in the crook of your gable, your birdhouse.  Only the poem can fathom.

COUPLETS

Rise unresisting to the slight swelling between
parallel bleached and knotted planks.

Strain at the runes stamped into your skull:
the Rosetta stone is smashed.

Hobble my feet at the desk;
hide my brain in the left-hand drawer.

The message is mute under my tongue;
black balloons founder on the floor.

Extinguished are the lights in the hotel hall;
strange sounds seep under bolted doors.

The coffee is free,
though cold (sorry).

What do I say? Give me a beer
so I can heave until I’m empty, then heave.

Peak through the keyhole, expectantly:
to see: worlds never to be known.

Bless all the dear children in Africa’s care, in Asia’s and America’s care,
the walkers, the limpers, the rollers and bed-layers: runners all.

Put your tooth under the pillow, your stocking on the hearth,
your clogs on the sill—your knees to the floor.

You should check that dry red spot on your back:
you lifeguarded as a girl, you know, several summers.

Put your arms around that boy, clap him twice:
Proud of you, son.

I would reach out, to touch:
empty space; paw at it, paw.

You look lovely,
dear.

You

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This poem is not an accusation of you, dear reader.  Consider this poem as asking the question, What kind of person do I consider myself to be?  Am I observant of my surroundings, or oblivious?  Am I attentive to the needs of others, or uncaring?  Do I hold the door for others, or do I go through first and let it shut behind me?  When friends tell me about their successes and their struggles, do I one-up them with my own, or listen with excitement and empathy?  Consider this poem as my quest, and my invitation, to live life showing more consideration, more kindness, greater courtesy, and more civility (as I’m sure you do, being readers and writers of poetry!).

YOU

You are the kind
that pisses on the toilet seat,
that unplugs your nose in the men’s shower,
that swerves slapdash through traffic without signal,
that leaves your soiled dishes on the table, swaggering off to your football.

You are that type,
the type that tramples the flowers
and does not see.

Sucking Air

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Some of life’s experiences leave you feeling like a flopping fish sucking air in a dry river bed.

SUCKING AIR

By some dark power she
damned the stream,
made all the fishes flop
on their sides on the rocks,
sucking air, just
long enough.

Break the log jam.  Pray for rain.  Breathe deeply.  And swim.

Grail

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How does one put into words the fragility, beauty, and precious nature of life?  The more words we use, maybe, the closer we get–adjective upon adjective.  Or, perhaps, only a poem, with the fewest words, but bursting with meaning and imagery, can do the job.  Even then, words might not be capable at all, and we must yield to an embrace, a kiss, a memory, a lullaby.  My poem Grail is an attempt to encapsulate life, or at least a bit of it.  I hope you enjoy.

GRAIL

Even
a cracked and empty eggshell
evokes awe for new life.

The infant, you cradle,
as if a spark,
ephemeral,
of something infinite,
or divine.

Hold her, tight
and careful,
while she is yours
to hold.
She will bury you,
someday,
with roses and tears,
and tell your story:
you will inspire,
still, from the crypt.

First cry, first tear.
First laugh and first kiss.
Sips from the holy grail.

Finding Sleep

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I went to bed early one evening, overcome by fatigue, stress, over-stimulation, and worry.  But I could not sleep for all the ambient sounds that my ears so perfectly picked out.  Instead of sleeping, I scrawled out this poem.  Was it really sleep that I needed?  Or did I need the ability in the moment to find joy and wonder in all that surrounded me?  Did the ear plugs help or hinder my state of being?  Let me know what you think.

FINDING SLEEP

Bulbous beetle sees
my nightstand light
and bounces his exoskeleton
against the vertical trampoline
of the window screen,
bounces three times,
his lace wings rasping like
sheets of stiff cellophane;
he can’t enter into my room
to reach the light he longs for,
and we both are the better for it.

Incorporeal sounds sail through—
a filly whinnying over his weaning,
a puppy straining and yapping
at her collar and leash,
our cat defending her kittens
against the neighbor’s surly tom,
children screaming delightedly
as they run at night in the grass,
only to bicker over turns
on the round trampoline—
they all drift in
to settle upon me
like a New England Bible
on a dying man’s chest.

Orange plugs twisted into my ears
dull it all, stop even
the crooning of the crickets
and the breeze’s inviting whisper.

To Touch the Moon

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I know this has happened to you.  You feel that something beautiful, something desirable, something blissful, is so close you can feel its presence, almost touch it.  Yet it lies a universe away, the mystery behind the gloaming.  Nearly yours, it slips through your fingers before you can take hold.  Or, it may be someone: someone you wish you could love, someone you wish could love you, someone to touch.  This poem explores that real but elusive sense, that longing.

TO TOUCH THE MOON

I cannot touch
the Moon.
For all her beauty,
her seductiveness,
for all her wisdom,
her distracted discernment,
she moves just
out of reach.
For all her cool warmth,
her illuminating glow,
for all her coy kindness,
her constant variability,
she glides just
beyond my reach.
For all my ardor,
my real gratitude,
for all my scheming plans,
my considered, burgeoning love,
I cannot touch
the Moon.

Susquehanna

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This scene from 2013 is in the town of Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, is the most idyllic I have ever seen.  “I want to live here,” I whispered to myself again and again as I looked over the tall corn toward the farmhouse and barn.  “This is where I want to be.”  Have you had this experience of seeing your dream home, your dream town, and sighing loudly but forlornly with love and satisfaction? Boy did I fall hard for this place.  I didn’t want to leave.  But my wife and children were in Utah; my parents and several siblings were in Utah; my job (and my income) was in Utah.  So I went back to Utah, not unhappily, but leaving a part of me behind in Amish country.  My poem Susquehanna braids a dialogue between intimate partners with a description of place.  Do you sympathize with or relate to one person over the other?  Or are they both unrealistic, even extreme?  Do you have the courage to pursue your dreams in spite of opposing voices?  (I hope I do, but I’m not sure.)

SUSQUEHANNA

I could live here,

he dreamed,
gazing
from a ridge-top
road

And what would you do
Mr. Lawyer? It would
ruin the place—and you—to dive
into their divorces

at the far-off
river meandering
in graceful curves

and mangled hands
and rat poisoned livestock.

Still, I could
live here: right there:
on that farm:
see
the red barn, tilting?

where the feet
of mountains meet,
a reflecting ribbon,
shining silver
beneath a bright
sky,

I could right it,
help it stand straight
again.

You and whose budget?
Not yours, surely,
and not mine!
And what would you do
with a farm, anyway?

flanked in leafy
darkening green

You couldn’t fix
a door knob
let alone
a bailing wagon.

transforming
to iridescent gold
under the alchemy

You don’t know your rye
from your barley or oats
or triticale wheat.
You,
a farmer!

of the slowly setting
sun.

I could live here:
me: right here.