Tag Archives: Poetry

Courage at Twilight: Joyce Kilmer’s Trees

Joyce Kilmer - Wikipedia

Mom poked her head shyly into my home office and asked, “Have you heard of Joyce Kilmer?”  I had not.  “Well, I thought you might like to make a post about him sometime.”  As I listened to her story, I thought, Indeed, I would.  She held up a piece choir music, Kilmer’s 1913 poem “Trees” set to song in 1922.  In the late 1960s, Mom sang with a group of church ladies who called themselves the Singing Mothers (“a stupid name” Mom lamented) from congregations all over New Jersey.  They rehearsed in the Piscataway church building, the Hightstown high school building, and elsewhere in northern and central Jersey.  Mom sometimes dragged me and baby Megan along to rehearsals, though I was too young to remember.  During one rehearsal, Megan had a slight fever, from a cold, and Mom had put a bottle of children’s aspirin in her purse.  These were the days before Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Motrin (ibuprofen)—aspirin was the fever-reducing miracle medicine of the time—and before child-proof caps.  The baby pawed through Mom’s purse, opened the aspirin bottle, and chewed up the whole bottleful of aspirin.  Mom rushed Megan to the hospital where nurses pumped the baby’s stomach.  On occasion, our Church held conferences in Manhattan, and for one conference the Singing Mothers were invited to sing.  Mom hopped on the train to New York City and joined in the performance of Joyce Kilmer’s and Oscar Rasbach’s “Trees.”  While some consider “Trees” overly sentimental, the poem became popular and beloved across America.  An American poet, Joyce Kilmer earned a one-paragraph entry in World Book Encyclopedia (1990 ed.).  New Brunswick, New Jersey, where Kilmer was born, and where Dad later worked for Johnson and Johnson for 30 years, boasts a Joyce Kilmer Avenue.  Kilmer died in 1918 in France in The Great War, by a sniper’s bullet.


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Alfred Joyce Kilmer – Rutgers University Alumni Association


(Images from Wikipedia and Rutgers University.  Used pursuant to the Fair Use Doctrine.)

Courage at Twilight: Spraying Weeds

On the way home from work, I stopped to buy a big bottle of Round-Up herbicide.  Those pesky weeds keep popping up in the shrub beds and under the pine trees.  Virginia creeper seems impossible to extirpate.  As a teen, Dad taught me to mix concentrated pesticides with water in a three-gallon pressurized spray tank.  With rubber gloves and a long sleeve shirt, I mixed the poison and sprayed the fruit trees against aphids and borers.  Dad strictly instructed me never to get the pesticide—especially the concentrate—on my skin, and if I did to wash immediately with soap and water.  He told me how these chemicals had killed people who touched them, or breathed their vapor.  I took his word for it and followed his instructions carefully.  A decade later I came across a first edition of Rachel Carson’s 1962 masterpiece Silent Spring, and carried it around for another decade before reading it.  The book exposed the pesticide and herbicide industries for the dangerous nature of these chemicals to humans, animals (think DDT and Bald Eagle eggs), and ecosystems.  Of course, all those chemicals have since been banned for home use because they, in fact, killed people.  I am still careful with Round-Up, not spraying on a windy day, and washing with soap after.  How glad I am that sensitive, smart, and courageous persons like Rachel took on the industrial complex at great personal sacrifice to share messages of truth larger than themselves.  To introduce my book Rabbit Lane: Memory of a Country Road, and in admiration for how Rachel changed the world, I wrote this poem, expressing my sentiments 50 years after she penned hers.


not silent quite.
I hear,
the growing hum
of humankind.

A Time and A Season

My Christmas gift to family and friends this year is this book of poems, A Time and A Season.  The poems span the last five years of my life’s journey, but reach back over forty years of emotional memory.  Each poem is introduced by the story of its birth.  Poetry allows me to explore and express the intimate in a unique word art.  I consider these poems gifts from a larger Source to me.  Not dictated, however, they required pleasant effort, as do all meaningful gifts.  Sharing these poems with you gives me hope and joy.

*  *  *

Roger Evans Baker is a municipal attorney, homebody poet and essayist, and amateur naturalist.  Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.  Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  A Time and A Season compiles Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births.  The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Upcoming Review by Rose Gluck


On her WordPress blog “Words and Pictures” writer and reviewer Rose Gluck announces her forthcoming review of my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  I appreciate her selecting my book to review, but also her mission to explore the stories of everyday lives: an important cultural, historical, and literary endeavor.  See her original blog post below, and stay tuned for her review.

Rose Gluck of Words and Pictures: It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here on Words and Pictures. I’ve been pretty busy on several projects but am finally back here on my blog to share stories of everyday lives. I am in the final stretch of my dissertation so I’ve been very focused on that. My work -as you might . . . [click on this link to see the whole post: Been Out of Touch – Upcoming Projects here on Words and Pictures — Words and Pictures]



Driving alone toward Zion National Park in southern Utah one night, the full moon appeared above the redrock cliffs, shining large and bright and white.  I found myself suddenly flooded with tender emotions, wanting desperately to hold and be held.  I wrote this poem to help me remember the image of the immaculate moon, and my emotions upon spying her.  Please do me the honor of understanding that this is not a sex poem.  Rather, this is a poem about the powerful and wonderful feelings that can accompany intimate romantic love, even across great geographic distance.


I want to make love to the moon.

I want to caress her creamy, naked curves.

I want to whisper grateful sobs for withholding nothing but judgment.

Would she deign, I would make gentle, generous love to the moon.

A Good Man


Sometimes you just know.  You see someone, and your heart tells you, your mind tells you, This is a good person.  I can trust her.  Don’t ask me how.  It is something in the eyes, the set of the jaw, a softness of features, and a real spiritual, intuitive sense.  I experienced this recently with someone, and at a place, I did not expect.  But there he was.  A good man.  And I knew it.


Today I met
A Good Man.
I know that
he may not know
His tremulous hands have
lost touch,
and his feet shuffle
through forgetting.
But the slight lifting
of grizzled cheeks
and his liquid blue eyes
looking into me
from behind bushy gray
brows, like a warm sky
through Spring’s maples and mimosas:
they told me.

Sleeping on a Sewer Manhole


Wandering the streets of Philadelphia one rainy night, I asked a couple exiting their historic brick home where I could find a good place to eat.  They recommended a few restaurants, warning me which were BYOB.  Being both naive and a non-drinker, I hesitated, “Um . . . BYOB?” “Bring your own beer,” they chuckled.  I found City Tavern where the Founding Fathers debated the principles of liberty while smoking and sipping madeira, and ordered Martha Washington’s chicken pot pie.  My tummy warm and full (and my wallet drained), I set off through the cold drizzle to my hotel.  Steam snaked eerily up from the holes in the sewer manhole lids.  The wet air was growing more frigid.  I stepped round a cobbled corner into a narrow alley and came upon a man lying in a fetal ball on a sewer manhole lid, soaking up what little heat he could from the sewer vapors, sheltered from the rain by wilted cardboard.  This short poem remembers him.


A cold rain in April.
Glistening cobblestones.
Steam rising from the sewer through a cratered manhole lid.
A brother curled up, rolling restlessly, capturing wet warmth under his blankets
under an evening rain.

Woman at a Broad Street Bus Stop


What difference will $1 make to the poor, the homeless?  None.  I’m not talking about the professional panhandler, who can make a good enough living.  I’m talking about the humble poor, who really need help, but who often don’t ask.  I gave such a woman $1 once, knowing guiltily that my contribution did nothing to help her solve her problems.  I only hope that my attempt at kindness made a difference in her heart.  She sat rocking, nursing her pains, at a bus stop on Broad Street in Philadelphia.  Back in my warm hotel room, this is what I wrote.


She rocked on a Broad Street bench
rubbing a leg through blue and green blankets.
Tears quietly cut her brown face.
Liquid eyes shone
upon each oblivious observer, pleaded
unheard for spontaneous compassion.
No cup or turned over hat called for
a casually cast coin.
“Could you use a dollar?” I ventured.
“Oh, yes,” she whispered.  “I need to buy medicine.
I have such pain.”
She rubbed and she wept.
She asked for nothing.
What use is a lousy dollar!  What use
are a hundred lousy dollars!
And she asked for nothing.
“God bless you, sir,” she cried
as she rocked and rubbed her aches through her blankets.
She asked for nothing.