Mobile library — 1970

We were in VISTA when it really was a domestic Peace Corps. We taught in the schools, developed marketing for a native crafts store, and in the summer I drove a makeshift bookmobile, carrying books in cardboard boxes out to kids in the Ozark foothills, offering summer reading to kids in virtually bookless homes.

 

A pick-up filled

with bright, shiny new

double-paned windows

 

drives slowly, looking

for a windowless house,

reminding me of

 

inherent windows

on the sunlit world of words

carried in a truck.

 

Boxes in a van,

sliding side to side down road

not ever surfaced

 

with even gravel,

rutted by the spring rains there

in Ozark foothills.

 

Board-bound windowpanes;

paper pages inside cloth,

promising riches

 

to those kids who’d look

through, expanding vision from

these surrounding hills,

 

whose chief industry

consisted of growing and

processing chickens.

 

But inside boxes

shifting with the rutted roads

lay windows and keys,

 

new paths opening

to a brighter future than

Northwest Arkansas

 

could possibly give

those who were confined by these

low, rolling mountains.

 

 

My Lady of the Ozarks in the flesh

Truly Jesus walks with the poor, and this dear woman was as poor as they come. More than 40 years later I still remember her beatific presence, her warm smile, her peaceful countenance. None of that could be explained in human terms. Nothing in her life could explain it. Only the presence of God in her heart in a special way.

 

She was poor, holy,

My Lady of the Ozarks.

She’d been married to

 

an alcoholic

for at least 20 long years.

But there was no sign

 

of excessive wear.

She bore no lined countenance,

in fact no wrinkles

 

desecrated her

beautiful, smooth-skinned face.

A true hill person.

 

I’ve become certain,

looking back across the years,

one explanation

 

alone can explain

the glow that lit her bright face

each day she performed

 

her chores within

the walls of her small frame house

set back in the hills

 

with its newsprint

wallpapered walls, its cookstove

burning wood he cut,

 

gathering berries

as each came into season,

tending her garden.

 

Only her focus

on love from the living God,

only focus on

 

a God who loved and

walked alongside her each day

could explain her glow.

 

Ozark hill woman.

My Lady of the Ozarks.

Jesus her companion.

 

 

Rusty-throated wren-babbler 1947-2005

I’d seen the brief — eight column inches or so — article in the Sunday paper. Probably the only day of the week it could have squeezed itself onto the page, and had a bit of delight in just reading about such an oddly named bird. Its last specimen before the current live one having been seen the year of my birth just added to its allure. Then, out the kitchen window, a cardinal, capturing the sun’s last rays…

 

Rarest in the world.

Rusty-throated wren-babbler

near Russian border,

 

an Indian bird,

reported to have been seen

(at least alive)

 

only recently.

Before that, its small carcass

was found year of my birth.

 

But here, close at hand,

a cardinal inflates itself.

Feathers and trapped air

 

make him majestic

in bush outside back window

over kitchen sink.

 

We watch this wonder,

this “common” backyard bird

as it says good-bye

 

to the first sunlight

of this dreary, rain-soaked day,

capturing the sun

 

in its puffed feathers,

turning “common” cardinal

into rare marvel.

 

 

Blue-black, seedy memories in a glass jar

Mary Chandler was Des’s wife, and a jewel of an Ozark farm wife. Des had farmed as far back as the WWI era, when he walked behind a plow from before sunrise to after sunset for 75 cents a day. Of course they were bigger dollars, but still. Our little rent house was about 100 yards away from their native stone house, and we picked the blackberries from bushes between the two houses on the day described below.

 

Picking blackberries

up the side of the mountain,

filling a tin pail,

 

we stooped and we picked,

brambles pricking our fingers

and scratching our legs.

 

But it was light work.

Abundant fruit; some laughter,

and then a full pail.

 

We had set out to

give the berries to some friends

but when delivered,

 

Mary, our landlord’s wife,

gratefully took and poured half

of them in a pan,

 

stirred in some sugar,

some pectin, and added heat,

creating preserves.

 

We left her kitchen

richer by a jar of fruit

and a memory.

 

 

 

Fowl rebellion redux

OK,I’ve posted this one before, but with my friend Sam Lucero, editor of the Green Bay diocesan newspaper, throwing his great pictures of turkeys roosting in crabapple trees in Wisconsin on Facebook and his anticipation of their turning on the employees in a nearby diocesan building once the fruit supply runs out, I thought I ought to review some of my own experience with our favorite Thanksgiving bird.

Long after I wrote this piece, a flock of ten on formerly wild land about a mile from our neighborhood in Fort Worth (developed 60 years ago) became visible wandering the newly naked land, about to be developed. They too have proven hostile.

 

Angry turkey pack,

refugees from land nearby,

attack joggers, cars.

 

Like an angry mob

not caring if you’re the one

who did the grading,

 

poured the foundations,

laid one brick on the other;

you’re the enemy.

 

Come for Thanksgiving?

Not on your Puritan life.

The main course has turned.

 

New building at Markum Estates, a country estates-styled subdivision at the edge of town, apparently violated a restrictive covenant the turkeys had set in place, and they began to attack cars and joggers without provocation — or so the residents told us a few years back.

 

.

 

“Aargh! Can I take your plate, mate?”

Ocracoke accent,

300-plus years old.

English artifact

 

still on the lips of

children of the children of

those who scavenged wrecks.

 

They immigrated here

and island’s isolation

allowed them to pass

 

English dialect

one generation to next.

Though they weren’t pirates,

 

it was rumored that

some of them set false lights

to lure ships inshore

 

where the waves swamped them,

broke decks apart, holds open.

Rest is history

 

— or economy.

They salvaged what goods they could,

made their living from

 

others’ disasters.

No need to leave their island:

the sea met their needs.

 

In a restaurant

we heard the accent spoken.

He wore no eye patch;

 

he had no peg leg.

Though he’d descended from them.

he just bussed tables.

 

 

My daughter’s challenge: “Write one about chickens”

The title pretty well explains this one. On my next walk down by the Trinity River, in the shallows inches deep over river-cut limestone, two snowy egrets were engaged in a small dispute over fishing territory, and so…

 

Two snowy egrets

in full mating plumage strut

like gangly chickens

 

while the setting sun

shines a corona around

their wispy outlines.

 

Morning walk, Honduran village

January 3, 2009

Morning walk, Honduran village

 

Hand carved wooden yokes

adorn the broad, muscled necks

of tan oxen pairs

 

plowing the cornfields

that surround red-tile roofed homes

of small villages

 

with houses linked

wall to wall, lining

narrow, unpaved streets

 

where dogs, pigs, horses

and barefoot small children

share the tight space

 

with oxen duos

on their way out to plow

as my friend and I

 

press ourselves against

the wall so they can pass,

heading for their fields.

 

Three-quarter sized horses

carrying round bundles of

smallish round firewood

 

also share our space

as the two of us enjoy

the bright fall morning.