Tro-cha-ic

No matter what other advice the writing sages offer, they always offer this one piece: If you want to write a lot of good writing, you need to read a lot of good writing. And so it is. One person’s take on the events of their life is often the spur to see your own life experience differently — or even at all.

 

Poetry is useless to me,

a silent GPS for a blind man,

a tire tool in a canoe.

 

Then I open my Billy Collins,

read a couple of poems,

and suddenly poetry is

water to a man dying of thirst;

a breeze for a becalmed sailor;

salt and pepper for an unseasoned steak.

 

Stress/Unstress.

I am a poetic foot.

I am trochaic.

 

 

Tipi near the Divide

Craig Childs became one of my favorite, colorful Western nature and wildscaping writers many years after our trip to western Colorado’s mountains. A hummingbird stained-glass piece we bought in Ouray from an artist just as he finished it was only one bit of memorabilia we returned with.

 

Traveling the western slopes

of the Rockies,

a few hundred yards

from the highway,

we stumble upon a tipi in a meadow

ringed by tall pines,

patchy snow,

rocky ground,

early wildflowers.

 

Twenty years later

I read a passage in a book

by wildlife writer  Craig Childs,

an adventurer,

who mentions being lost,

finding his way in a blizzard

back to his tipi

—   also near Ouray

and the Continental Divide.

 

 

Jane Kenyon lives

We all have favorite authors and poets. Though their words have a life of their own, there is a finiteness to their lives and their productivity. Too many of my favorites have passed beyond us, and I know too much of their lives — enough to suffer each time I read in their biographies of their passing.

 

She dies again,

and I cry again

appreciating her life.

 

Like C.S. Lewis;

like Loren Eiseley;

like the aging of Annie Dillard

who announced on her website

she might not write again.

 

Each time I experience sadness.

I mourn and I cry,

aware there will be no more words,

no more books,

flowing from this favorite.

 

Their undying works,

the miracle of

their productivity,

their creativity,

 

like the still-burning candle

on Jack’s coffin

as they carried it

outside to the graveyard.

 

By the grace of God,

the wind can’t blow out,

no breeze erase

the beauty of their words.

 

 

This will be my last post for a short time, the Lord willing. I go into the hospital Friday morning early for the insertion of a plastic mesh under the muscles either side of my abdomen to seal an opening gap or three down the midline of my body where I had another surgery in May of last year. The mesh has been used successfully in this kind of surgery for the past 25 years by this excellent abdominal surgeon, and he quotes a 95 percent success rate for the surgery. I intend to join the other 95 percent for whom this has gone well, again, God willing. It’s projected I will only be in the hospital two or three days and will be back at work in two weeks after the surgery. If all that holds true, I’ll likely be back posting poetry in a week or so. Please pray for me. Jeff

 

 

In praise of normal memory (and forgetfulness)

My wife and I have the pleasure of watching favorite movies every two years or so, seeing them, oftentimes, as though for the first time. Ah, having normal leaky-like-a-sieve memory is such a blessing. Poor C.S. Lewis, quite literally could forget nothing. He reached a point at which he could identify no literary works in English worthy of a first read, and thanks to his eidetic memory he could remember everything he had ever read before — all too well…

 

Poor C.S. Lewis,

with photographic recall

couldn’t read again

 

all of the great works

— poetry, literature —

he’d enjoyed so much.

 

Whereas those of us

with limited memories

can find all things fresh,

 

giving us a whiff

of something remembered, when

we read them again,

 

surprised nonetheless

by a piece of bright language

as if we read it

 

the very first time.

 

 

“My Creek! My Hills!” (with emphatic emotion, a la Shakespeare’s “Mid-Summer Night’s Dream”)

One poor woman who recklessly referred to the creek as a ditch got the full brunt of my anger at her presumptuous, careless reference. It’s not that I prefer nature and wildlife to people, but failing to acknowledge the value of our natural surroundings, well, that’s just insufferable.

 

I’ve gotten defensive

about the shallow stream

that flows behind

the place where I work.

 

So now every time

someone casually

(or derisively)

refers to it as a ditch,

I inform them

— more or less heatedly,

depending on my mood —

that the ditch is a creek,

that it was here before us and

shaped the low hills

that surround us.

 

Most respond with stunned silence,

and my mini-sermons

are of no purpose, I suppose.

 

But somehow, it makes

me feel I’ve taken on the role

of gamekeeper or naturalist

for these scant few acres

where our building sits,

backed up to this creek,

nestled between

limestone hills

that nurture

fiery fields of

Texas wildflowers

each spring.

 

Land on which

I’ve seen possums, skunks, cottontails,

jackrabbits, raccoons, field mice,

owls, titmice, slate-gray juncos,

skunks, red-tailed hawks,

prairie falcons, and coyotes,

working these rolling hills

that drain into this creek

that’s home to crawdads,

bullfrogs, perch,

and great blue herons.

 

This creek is mine,

and with these words,

I stake my squatter’s claim.

 

 

From Ms. Tracy’s Place…

Everyone should visit Terlingua and the Big Bend and the Chisos Basin and Santa Elena Canyon. Everybody should grab a bite or a cup at Ms. Tracy’s cafe. Texas Highways magazine has made the character and the place famous,doing almost annual pieces on this crusty, hospitable, one of a kind lady. I stumbled on her place desperate for coffee out in Terlingua. She obliged my thirst even though she’d just closed the place for the day. I was so impressed I refused to argue with her even when she goaded me. A gentleman has an obligation to remain a gentleman.

 

From Ms. Tracy’s place

in the Terlingua Ghost Town,

you can see the gate,

 

gate through solid rock

that is the epic canyon,

Santa Elena.

 

I’ve stopped for coffee

in hundred and ten degrees

of dry desert heat.

 

Heat flows through the place,

gives illusion that it’s cool

just because it’s shade.

 

But the company —

Ms. Tracy and English guest —

take my mind off heat.

 

Since the place was closed,

she’s offered me iced tea, and

I’ve asked for coffee,

 

given without charge.

I’m her guest, money’s no good.

And it sets a tone.

 

She banters, argues;

I fail to take her challenge.

Hospitality

 

she’s offered, my excuse.

Each time she counters remarks,

I thank her for coffee.

 

I call canyon “mythic;”

she says it’s “spiritual,”

but the English guy

 

acknowledges that

it looks like the mythic gates

in all great tales,

 

place the adventure

begins or deepens, changes,

takes on new hues,

 

new light and shadow

of transforming mythic power

(self-defining terms).

 

But nonetheless

one sees Sam and Frodo there

in canoe below,

 

made small by distance

between the canyon wall trail

and Rio Grande.

 

We banter, chatter.

I make the Englishman smile.

Then it’s time to go.

 

She’s made a date for

30-year-old visitor

with friend in 80s.

 

Their conversation

will provide entertainment,

bridge their ages.

 

And I must return

to my cheap retro motel,

the Antelope Lodge.

 

Alpine will be cool,

altitude almost a mile.

Warm days and cool nights.

 

The roof of Texas.

 

 

 

The “day of his death” haiku

There is an ancient tradition among writers of haiku, of the “day of one’s death” haiku, perhaps a chance to record one last helpful insight from the very door of death. I’ve taken that tradition and played with it a bit, twisting the existential and time-limited into the path of the eternal and spiritual. It’s only a little bit mythic…

 

The haiku master

was granted a special wish

to write traditional

 

day of death haiku,

not that day, but the next.

He would deliver

 

the promised insights

his kind had always sought

but from beyond grave.

 

With pen at his side

he passed through the darkened doors,

and here’s what he found:

 

Stacks of time cards,

some of them complete, some blank.

Each stack was labeled.

 

Time with son, daughter.

Time spent serving needs of others.

Time with his mother.

 

Time for various

duties, for civic, neighborly,

and other purposes.

 

And some stacks were full.

He discovered to his shame.

He’d cared well for self.

 

So he took his pen

and wrote as well as he could

describing what he’d found,

 

then awoke from his dream

amazed he’d been given chance

to fill his cards again.

 

 

Once upon a time, they lived happily ever after

My daughter, Amy, may not have been the first to come up with the formulation of the shortest fairy tale ever — around the age of five — but it was certainly something she came up with on her own, and it’s the title of this piece. As soon as she would sit still to listen, and long before she had much speech at all, we started reading to her. She still loves the Narnia books mentioned here. She still loves to read, and she still loves endings.

 

She loves endings

and I love the beginnings.

We learned through the books

 

and the stories of

Chronicles of Narnia,

my daughter and I.

 

Her favorite book

was The Last Battle, but mine

The Magician’s Nephew.

 

Hers, the coming kingdom,

mine, the beauty of creation,

and each without doubt

 

or hesitation,

each desiring to witness

these crucial moments.

 

Like a coin’s sides,

on one, the promise of Hope,

other, its Fulfillment.

 

Each a nom de plume

for the One through whom it comes,

He who is the Word.

 

 

 

Flying wonders propelled by words

Polish Nobel laureate in poetry Czeslaw Milosz can write in a way that lifts your mind and spirits and sets them twirling. The words have an almost physical effect that seems to set off  sparks in the synapses. It happens when the poet combines words that make sense in the mind, in a nearly comprehensible way, but not particularly in the brain. This world renowned poet’s works sometimes give my brain that buzz.

 

Some writers skim, fly,

pirouette and dance upon

the crests of their words.

 

Nobel laureate

Czeslaw Milosz is one such.

I read in wonder,

 

and my mind takes flight

as it dances in his wake,

words become music.