Monday, November 27, 2017

Introduction ~

Cities have long been an object of poetic contemplation. This poetry about a small Western Pennsylvania town attempts to reawaken the past and infuse meaning and newness into seemingly trivial happenings one takes for granted. It expresses awe at what is seemingly trivial, it slows down to express wonder at the commonplace. It does this with plain language that penetrates beneath the sensual surface of the events of everyday live for the hidden, mysterious component that reveals the beauty of life's experience.

These poems are more than a nostalgic recounting of memories and occurrences. They have to do with the essence of reality and as such they are insights into the way people see things and the way they live in small towns across the nation.

Setting Foot ~

When I was a boy my compass said:
Main Street points North
where parades come from
marching up to the Court House,
and Brady Street points West
along the route the circus takes
from the train yard to the fairgrounds.

Where those lines crossed
my world opened up
expanded to the edge of town
and the woods beyond,
coordinates between which
I staked out and claimed
Utopia as my own
lived in it, that time-free state,
then growing self-reliant, left—
forgetting what I had
until some yearning unstillable
drew me back
to where those lines crossed.

And I returned to the Eden that once was,
knowing I could never find it again,
yet I would live within its bounds
with the boy in me
who had known and seen,
and I could hope and believe
and await the gate to open
to an Eden grander yet
than the one I once possessed
in those guileless boyhood days,
in that first beguiling taste.

Butler Aubade ~

One spring morning
Our eager sun burst in on us
And came bounding down
The full length of Pearl Street,
But suddenly pulled up short
Behind three young birch trees,
Then passed through, gently,
In tinkling fragments of green.

Court House ~

One autumn morning
I saw that the Court House
was up before dawn
with forehead turned
to the east toward the hill
and the sky beyond
waiting for the sun
to raise her brow
above the ridge
and come tripping over
on silent feet
to clothe her
in the golden sheath
she wears for sunrise.

Maple Tree ~

Is the proud maple
still standing
beside the pond
where we used to play
in summer
as if before
a full-length mirror
fluffing her blouse and
patting her skirt
down around her thighs?

First Love ~

                      (For N.)    

She seemed to bob
on her sister's matted silver bike
not yet able to reach the high seat,
working her way up car-free Penn Street,
and I would make as if I hadn't seen her
when she came pedaling past the window
where I was waiting.

After she was out of sight
I learned what emptiness was
and felt its keen brutal lance
pierce through my heaving breast
to fill the void she had left.

But worst of all was evenings in autumn
when she would pedal home
down across Main Street
out through the smoke of leaves
burning at the street curbs,
with the moon escorting her
a soft round lantern
hanging above her in the trees.


She was older now
and we had gone our ways
but she would come walking
down Penn Street
past my window
every Friday evening
at exactly ten minutes to eight
carrying her violin case
and I would stand there
behind a thin curtain, waiting.

Her rich black hair flowed long,
at times a stray strand streaked
down over her eye
brushing back past a pendant earring.
Once she came in a rainstorm
and I, timid, rushed out to umbrella her
only to watch her hurry off
into gray evening darkness.
But I did see her ravelled hair dripping,
her face wet, her pure skin gleaming
and her radiant smile,
kindled only for me, I thought,
betraying words she dared not say
yet on her face was written
what words would have conveyed.

Ah, more beautiful was she then,
mingled with the loneliness I felt,
than she had ever been before.

Often I would see her walking
upright, buoyant, her visage shining
her very carriage betraying
her being loved already
by someone worthier than I
who had inched his way
into what I thought
was our walled-in paradise.

Could it be just by chance, I asked,
that she was thinking of me
as she looked straight ahead
walking past, smiling thoughtfully?
What pain was caused
by my inadequacy
to muster charms I lacked
and character enough
to aspire to her high caste.

How that loss has haunted me,
that wound festered over the years.
There has been no escaping
no cure, no way back
to where that treasure was
that ever after I have lacked.

Often I would wake at night
trembling, calling out her name.
One rainy night I thought I saw her
through the curtain
standing at my window
holding out her hand.

Then I remembered the thread
we once said we had spun
between us, tender and thin,
each from our own end
and fused where they met
to bind us together
for all time to come.

Flinging back the curtain
my eyes met hers
and she smiled,
like she had done then.

In her hand she held her thread
offering it to me lovingly—
and I, with hands extended
with fingers outstretched
strained to take hold,
yet all my attempts kept falling short
of that precious holy cord.


We were but children then
in a Garden of Eden
just made for two,
where nothing else mattered
but that you were loved by me
and I was loved by you.

Now the longing for that,
my Long-lost Love,
has brought you back anew,
so I have begun to love you
with that pure innocent love
our childrenhearts once knew.

Winter Afternoon ~

The sounds of your mills
have reached me at night
and sometimes
I think I hear the steam engines
stomping in the yards
out behind the hill
or whistling like they did
on entering town
at the crossing by the creek—
but never did I see a sky like yours
on waning winter afternoons
when I, a boy of four
found myself ensconced
behind a frosted window
scratching through ice
to sit there rapt, gazing
until light had given way
to darkness.

The Spirit of Butler ~

Butlerites write letters
of condolence
when someone dies,
bring food to back doors
and tramp through matted grass
in graveyards
looking for old friends—
but what is more
they find them again
when passing
the clapboard houses
they once lived in
now lining our streets
tidy and proud,
monuments for us
to them they housed,
those whose spirit flowed
into the making of this our town
giving it life we are heirs of
and will draw from long.

McKean Street Dream ~

In gentle sleep the downward sweep
of tree-lined McKean Street
tilts centerward and glides
then rises gently up to where
the great gray ship, the church
rides carefee on waves
with surging mast and billowed sails
that touch our skymost bounds,
while behind the portly maples
across from it
the yellow brick school house
that used to be
still sits stranded, brooding
with ruler in hand,
earth-bound, tethered,
behind blunt Ionic columns.

Butler Woman ~ Normandy June 6, 1944

She was standing on the porch
that day in June
watching her youngest
come running up the steps
then across the lawn
when it happened
on a beach called Omaha
where her eldest lay now,
face down
no longer clawing
at wet sand.

She stood there, quiet,
holding him close,
fingering his hair.

Main Street Clock ~

It was at Jefferson and Main,
in the heart of town,
in front of the bank
that our clock stood
solid and proud, on cast iron
but upswung and tapered
forming a base
with ornamental molding
upon which the clockwork was
shrine-like, behind glass
with fragments of quartz
red, amber and green
set in along its edges.

It was in our very center
in those days
when uptown was where
all our paths crossed.

We looked up
to watch time rest into place
with a slight jerking
of the minute hand.
From glances at that solemn face
we learned the stinging awareness
of our time passing.

But who is that I see now
forty years later
standing underneath it—
still the same as she was then,
on tip-toes, waving?

Buried Treasure ~

There was a freshness, a newness in the land
just beyond the edge of town,
a kind of sacredness that even we boys felt
playing there in its woods and fields,
kept virginal, it seemed, since creation
by Indians who once treaded there
on padded feet, leaving nothing other
than their burial ground, a mound or two,
or words like Connoquenessing, Oneida
and Chicora, with music in them,
or those arrowheads we found and cherished—
gentle reminders for us that what we stood on,
revered earth left unsoiled by them,
need be so kept as we had found it.

And was not that, come to think of it now,
the very respect the Indians lived by
and handed down to us,
our inheritance
to be understood, practiced, made part of us—
then passed on to our children after us.

Home of the Jeep ~

No one boasts about great things
our town has brought about
like the little car designed here
when World War II broke out.

We tend to eschew the lamplight
or are too busy getting on
with chores
to brag about duties performed
or those on drawing boards.

Who, until now, has thought
of basking in the glory
of that one achievement?
One would think a museum fitting
or a monument for him, the designer
who gave birth to it,
and sent it out from here
to lovers of his car
the world over.

No, we allow our molds,
be they cars or people,
to leave our unwalled city
with what they have received—
their unique fashioning—
to unfold where they will and how.
Such is our way of giving,
painful though it be,
to our nation, to the world.

In our town square there rises
a great stone monument
honoring those for whom we weep.
Not far from it stands
a modest marble slab
with words etched in:
Butler—Home of the Jeep.

Learning to See ~

Didn't our visionaries
say that change could happen
if beauty approved
and went on to erect edifices
to inspire us, pride ourselves in—
uplifts in stone
reminding us of lands left behind,
faces Roman, Gothic, Florentine, Doric,
that have long stood looking at us
from churches, lodging places,
banks and Court House—
and, let it be said,
from that one plain structure,
its base elevated on lawns
where North Street joins Main,
a shrine of sorts not a business place,
the lines of which at every passing
taught our untrained eyes
lessons in harmony, balance and order,
schooling us in classic forms,
a work of art that ennobled us,
instilling pride in self and city
merely by being there to see
and speaking to us, silently.

What was it our eyes were seeing?
Wasn't it what others saw revealed
on looking at an ancient Roman basilica
or an Acropolis on a hill?

Room with Window Facing West ~

If only I could lie in that bed again
late on winter nights and listen
wouldn't I hear the steam engines
running along the creek
out beyond the hill
or the shifting of freight cars
in the yards under the bridge,
and be carried back by those sounds
to summer nights
when I would lie in bed, listening,
in sheets tangled
asking my sleepless self
what "Chicago" meant,
that haunting word heard
in whispers spoken
from tongues of boys
I thought were friends
who would toss their heads back
to slur at me in mocking tones:
Some day, when you grow up,
some day you will learn.

The Bombing of Butler ~

The planes would come in
from the West
at an angle, so as to run
up along the valley
to destroy our mills,
then lay a carpet of bombs
one mile wide
straight up across our town,
fixing on the Court House
then out to the hill beyond
where the hospital stands
then further still
to our railroad yards
and the bridge across.
Twenty merciless runs they'd make
and whatever still stood
would be ground
in drafts of fire—

burnt into memory
Try to imagine.

And those who survived
would gather along the creek
where water soothed
or in our woods
under protecting wings
while one long dirge of soft wailing
would be heard
for what had been.

Then one among them would rise,
agéd now and enlightened,
with that one word empowered:
And it would happen.

Man in Blue ~

At the corner of Jefferson and Main
he stood as erect and upright
as the gray granite building
he refrained from
leaning back against
leaving untouched
the shiny brass plaque
that framed him for us,
undaunted and righteous
for memory to summon
in need and distress.

In dark blue dressed
but for the silver badge breast-high,
his hat visor at eye level
a black leather strap slashing
crosswise his chest
latched to buckle and belt
from which a revolver unused
padded his thigh.

He was our constant—
ever present day and night
fearless, chivalrous, vigilant
cherished and respected
by young and old alike
for being who he was
and being there for us.

Knowing him there calmed us,
our protector alert
deflecting danger lurking
as if some unseen being
were hovering over him
spreading outstretched arms
shielding, sheltering,
preserving us from harm.

Franklin Street ~

Franklin Street was
our cool cathedral to play in
vaulted high in green
with shards of light
breaking through leafy windows
to fall on mosaics
of brownish-yellow bricks
curbed by shaded aisles
flanked with patches of green
bordered by side-altar steps
where flowers threw off scents
like plumes of incense
and porches gave access
to narrow transepts
at whose distant end
a lone stained glass window
glowed reddish orange
for vespers and none.

We played different there
under that arching canopy
celebrating our rituals
with quiet fervor in restrained games
in a sanctuary more suited for prayer
between eight mighty pillars
flanking the nave, evenly spaced
bearing the weight of the arches—
or were they oaks?

Penn Street Troth

That night in August
we were yearners,
children holding hands
standing on Penn Street
looking up at our star
we had laid claimed to
then made vows to make it
our secret trysting place.

Do you sometimes peer up
from your far angle
at our pulsing torch
through light years
to meet there,
or do you find me
still standing beside you
on those warm red bricks, barefoot,
guiding you up through galaxies
to our far chamber
trying to tell you
incense burned there
and candles,
and from then on
it would be ours
to be together at
to carry out
our never-ending rituals
of blesséd quiet oneness?

On Returning ~

And on returning
even the streets know
you were born here
and speak
when you walk them
watching for sidewalk flaws
cracks and swellings
where napping childhood
hides waiting.

And, after all the years
people on the porches
greet you and wave
to show they know
on seeing you,
who is one of theirs.

J.F.K. ~ 23 November 1963

Grief came flooding in
over every hill,
down all our streets
right into the heart of town,
the day the President was shot,
insisting that he lie in state
here with us
for three days and nights,
until they came
with a caisson,
behind which
a veiled mourner
with children walked,
taking him as we watched
out across the viaduct
and on up over
our steepest hill
until we lost them
from sight.

Then silence hung long over our town
until the morning the rains ceased
when we woke to sun
breaking through dark clouds,
and looking up we saw gently rippling Vs
against the emblazoned sky
and heard flocks of wild geese
calling down to us
to rise up, to carry on.

With spirits gladdened
we set to removing flowers
and the portraits they honored
from off the streets,
candles and lamps were gathered
from curbs and fences
and then we stripped the trees
of those long black ribbons
that during those days of grief
had been fluttering in the breeze.

Minnesinger ~

It was as if the whole world
lived inside that little room of yours
under the eaves on Chestnut Street
and to be near you
I, with boyish desire
envied the maple tree
that grew beside your window.

Ah, those blurred panes
I see now on looking up
at emptiness and loss,
craving somehow yet
the bliss that went with hoping
your curtain might open
and seeing you aware
that I was waiting there.

Main Street Parade ~

Who's that man
standing over there,
waiting for the parade to pass?
He is straightening now
holds his head high
as the flag furls by.

That's my Dad—
who said,
when I was older,
he had so much
to thank America for
and Butler,
his New World home.

His life he spent here,
giving back, as he deemed it,
and in his mind
leaving it
could only have meant

Back Yard ~

One day while passing hurriedly
on Cliff Street where the orchard was
I caught sight of an apple tree running,
when suddenly it stopped,
the right foot stretched out
for the earth in front
the other high behind,
with one arm thrust forward
the other cocked chest high—
speed caught in flight
at the moment of victory
in dappled red and green
dashing across the finish line,
while runners pursuing it
stood there awed, gaping,
motionless like trees.

Powers That Be ~

The newspaper reported that evening
that the stately old tree
dating back before 1800
had fallen,
but left unsaid
that forty years back
lightning had struck it,
and that metal rods were being used
to hold up its arms.

On that orangish evening
in late September
the strong winds
that blow in off the hill
to the west of us
had known no mercy
and took down
our oldest living member.

Next morning we encircled the plot
where men with saws had laid it out,
criss-cross in pyre form,
to burn its spirit on,
and we mourners stood
a day long in silence watching
until its limbs had turned to ashes.

Sledding at Oak and Pearl ~

Deep white covered all the streets
leading up to Oak and Pearl
where a road block
from which a red lantern hung
was planted in the snow,
and all of us would gather there
with sleds,
some holding them up like shields
others kneeling,
most sitting with booted heels
sunk in snow.

To break the tension
someone would run,
slam a small chest down
on varnished boards
and all the rest would follow
in flurried wake through white
to glide and turn at Penn,
and then while coasting
out over the smooth white crest
with head and chest uplifted
behold our town,
a hamlet of soft white homes
and smoking chimneys
before crossing Monroe
then on down to where
a foot would drag
to make the turn on Elm,
that last steep stretch
to Brady's ashes
that finally scratched us to a halt.

And then back up again
on frozen feet,
just one more time,
to the red lantern at the top
where all of winter's bliss
would be pressed
into one last rapturous ride.

Out Along 422 ~

It is no longer in use
the rusty bridge over a creek
on an old country road
not far from home.

Not many see it
wasting away quietly
just off the berm
of the new superhighway
as they go speeding by.

On autumn afternoons
it lies there outstretched
lazily fluffing leaves
the oak trees
have decked it out in.

At other times you see it
with knees cramped up
or lying on its side
watching leaves fall
on shallow water
to float in lagging circles
before parting
in the bobbing current
just beyond the rocks.

To a Despondent Boy ~

as anyone ever told you
a time is coming when,
without your doing,
something great will happen to you?
A waking experience,
that will shake you
to the depths of your being.

Know that it is coming,
so that when it does
you will not run away.

Be not afraid.
It will all happen
before you realize what it is.
But once it does
it will become a new person.

You will find yourself in a wild storm,
you will be battered and born aloft,
you will lose all orientation and
be set out on a path
you never knew existed.
The life you had lived
will be overturned,
and you will look out and find
a new world.

You will discover
forces in you
that you knew nothing about.
Forces stronger than you
that you must soon
learn to harness,
lest they run away with you.

You will taste rapture
and feel a new unknown strength
from out of your heart.
It will frighten you.
You will try
to rid yourself of it,
but you will no be able,
for it has become part of you.

A fire will be enkindled
that you will not be able to escape.
A devastating fire
that will lay waste to your past.
You will be confronted with
a fascinating, strange newness
and will slowly learn how
to live with it.

You will be greatly amazed
at the potential you have found.
You will be invited
to understand things,
to experience fullness and fruition.
You will become creative.
You will not know where to go
to find peace or hide away
with your ecstatic,
overflowing happiness.
You will have been
born again in a world
you never knew existed
and you will be new.

And when you are old
you will look back on what happened then,
always with amazement and wonder,
still not knowing
what it was,
but you will ever gravitate back
to that highest summit of your life.

Dressing Table ~

She watched her combing the girl's hair
And thought back fifty years
To when her own mother stood combing hers.
She felt the pleasant tugging
The warm hands touching the neck
Saw the smile on their faces in the mirror.

How she longed to have her own combed
Like that,
With the same love she saw the girl receiving,
But she was old and had no one —
So she became that girl she was watching
For one wondrous moment
Until her mother had finished.

Monday Morning Ritual ~

Monday morning
marked the passage of time
with gently rippling white sheets
drying on clotheslines
behind houses
on green lawns,
and even though we failed to see
Time strolling by,
we saw busy mothers
with wicker clothes-baskets
fixing gleaming white
with wooden one-piece clothespins.

Man With a Hat ~

When we were boys
he would come walking down Penn Street
on light and measured gait
every day at noontime
dressed in suit and tie—on his head he had
a black bowler hat.

He came down the sidewalk
opposite ours, unnoticed,
like the sun came
or flowers in spring:
a ritual so certain
we hardly noted.

We never asked who he was.
Never needed to know.
But some sixty years later
restless memory flashed him back,
eager to fill in emptiness.

We might have taken him
for a stranger,
but he had lived among us,
his life was formed here,
imbued with what was given him:
that staid carriage,
that confidence,
that contented air.
What he possessed
made light shine out from him
from some unseen source beside him,
and made us one with him and he with us.
It was the sight of this man passing by
that let us see, unknowingly,
what sincerity and uprighteousness were like
and called forth our respect.

Nine Eleven ~ Day One

On September eleven
when it happened
while we watched
we could not help thinking about
our own thin brick walls
left standing around us
here, in the heartland.

Walled in between
panic and gratitude
we sat gaping,
not noticing
how our helpless tears
would not stop falling.

Nine Eleven ~ Day Ten

Blackened buildings
have started
to get up early again
just to feel
the first sunlight
on their faces
and down along
their sides.

Nine Eleven ~ Day Seventeen

Late one night
in infamous September
the Court House clock
failed to strike the hour
and seconds passed
before a raven
glided down onto the Square
where I, still awaiting the sound,
watched it circle
then alight upon
a chilled granite slab,
to face me tilting its head
as if listening before lifting off
for the tower turret
whence it had come.

High above me it stood now
between two thin columns
robed in black
cawing its cryptic verdict
as to the doers and deed:
What has been
Is what has had to be.

Nine Eleven ~ Day Twenty-Nine

I can hear September's leaf
following me
down Penn Street's
asphalt surface
cartwheeling on pins,
but suddenly it stops—
just to see
if I will turn to look.

Wartime ~ 1943

We played war on Elephant's Back,
that hill on top of Monroe,
dug trenches, manned machine guns
on wooden pegs,
yanked helmets sponged inside
tight to chins
and made as if the enemy
were about to attack us
from the hill opposite ours.

They sent scouts out
to spy on them and report,
while we watched the older boys
(and that girl)
sketch out battle plans
on candy wrap.

But we the troops,
picnicked in foxholes,
pulled guard duty and soldiered,
answering duty's call
waging war on Saturdays
from ten until four
when the long awaited whistle
at the mill would blow
and we fell into line
for our victory march home.

We knew while marching
that those greeting us
from the porches
would rise and salute
while the others
would be waving their wary
worried gratitude.

For only later did we grasp
their real hope—
that we stay young just long enough
to be spared from finding out
what real war, what battle meant.

Mother's Lesson ~

We children
would be sitting at table
around noon
when one of them
would come in off the trains
to our back door.

We wondered why she
would fill a plate
for him out there
on our back porch
and have the four of us
make do
with that much less.

After a Bad Dream ~

Looking out an oblong cellar window
I watched mercenaries that night
swarming through our streets,
heard tank cleats chewing asphalt,
listened to planes strafing,
heard bombs squealing down at us,
heels thumping on porches,
saw black-gloved fists pounding:
while in fitful sleep
fear raged inside me
defying all defenses.

Awake now, from struggle uncoiled,
I lay shooing the dream
by asking myself what trucks were saying
while driving down steep Main Street hill
breaking the night silence by throttling—
prolonging it even,
slower, ever slower it seemed,
each intoning drawn-out drum rolls,
upbeat in triumph I mused,
as if each were entering
some long-sought-for, sung-about town.

Welcoming Party ~

All the tiger lilies
on the steep banks
of Main Street's hill
stood there waving,
the day I returned.

But I felt shamed
at seeing their delight
in welcoming me,
the wayward one,
after having been away
for all those years.

Butler ~ Iraq

For 20 Ohio Marines
[A Tribute from Butler, Pa.]

14 Marine reservists from the Cleveland area were killed in the first 
week of August 2005 by a roadside bomb-- one of the heaviest blows 
suffered by a single unit in the war. Two days earlier six others from 
the same battalion were killed in combat.

Did you feel the wave of sympathy
surging across the Pennsylvania line
and out to you,
the families left behind?

Oh, how we know--
for your boys were here
among ours,
in our streets jogging,
in cars, in shopping malls,
in our churches, at picnics,
and High School proms,
and not too long ago
on the Fourth of July
as eager boys on Main Street
watching soldiers marching by
and even then they'd straighten
when the flag would catch their eye.

Not long ago
we watched them at gates
embracing you,
parents wives and families,
grandparents too
and young girls
who couldn't break loose,
watched them turn to leave
with head held high,
then at the ramp look back--
that last fleeting glance.

Today, twenty, they reported, have fallen--
snatched from us, our treasure plundered,
lying lifeless there on foreign clay.

We sit down beside you and weep,
mingle our tears with yours in grief.

A Picture Tribute

Butler Woman ~

She would come every day
to visit her son, thirty-seven now,
who had been sent
to the County Prison
for murder.

I am only doing
what a mother does, she said.

At night she would dream
she had seen him
coming home from school
with books under his arm,
smiling, waving to her
standing at her kitchen window,

Lost Key ~

It was as if the boundless
cosmic harmony
had been restored
the day I found
the key I lost
dangling on a string
in a bush
beside the path
leading over
to the bread-and-milk shop
that used to be on Penn Street
where Franklin crossed.

Local Happenings ~

One morning on the steps
in front of the Court House
three shreds of paper
were dancing together
in perfect harmony
in drafty circles
of crisp spring.

Such secret one-time rituals
need no one to see them,
they rather wait for moments
when no one is looking.

But yesterday in a back yard
on Locust Street
I thought I saw
a ballerina in pink
her arms held bosom high
fingertips almost touching,
her head thrown back
slanted toward me, smiling.

After passing I looked back
but saw only a tree
shedding cherry blossoms
as if they were leaves.

Library ~

When we were boys
our library rode at anchor
like the  Santa Maria herself,
her entrance inviting
with steps leading up
to an opening in the hull
and more stairs inside
to the great underdeck
supported by books
in rows and columns
with colorful bindings
enticing us to open
and be swayed into dreams
by pictures and words--
winds we thought them
that billowed our sails
and drove us out to sea.

Was it the scent
of that stately room
or the colors we saw
that let us partake
of the mariner's pleasure:
the pulse of the swells
the slash of the winds
the thrust of the valiant prow?

We sailed to far off places,
plotted, sought, acquired.
But— we set the course
that our ship would take
by following our finger
as it skimmed cross the page.

Butler Woman ~

It called for a headstone,
raw earth covered with snow
that had fallen
since we had buried her
two lonesome months before.

But first the earth must settle,
he said, who was chiseling
her name now in stone.

The cemetery is not far
from where she watched
right up to the last, wheelchair-erect,
from her dining room window,
letting her eye skim westwards
across that stony ridge
jagged by obelisks
to the skies beyond —
her open book
she sat reading from
and meditating on.

From where her gravestone lies
you can see at times
flashes of light
from off the windowpane
where she sat
and near it that valiant old oak
still standing watch
as if she were living there yet.

After the War ~ 1945

And the figures on the porches
fathers and sons
who had returned from war
tried to let forgetting happen
as did mothers
who sat in wicker chairs
beside windows
where faded banners hung
studded with golden stars.

They could only sit there, silent
on glider swings or those on chains,
some seeking calm in rocking chairs
their mothers had used
to rock them to sleep in
while around her
men has spoken of
Marne, Argonne or Verdun.

Now, if at all, language came
in broken strands
with long silent gaps between,
while those who heard
would mine for meanings.
But nothing formed.
Only the back and forth of swings
grinding their metallic dirge.

In time one of them would rise,
wander out on warped boards
to stare in battle-fright
at oaks or pines that slowly stirred
until someone assured him
they were but tender timbers
standing guard over his safe plot,
his earth, his haven, his hearth.

But the others?
What assured them, still doubting
of their being safe at home?

Was it the noonday bell
at Franklin and North
or the sun on the backs
of Main Street buildings?
Was it a smooth sidewalk
they walked on
or the pounding at the mill
or the shafts of scrub grass
on the path leading up
to Elephant's Back hill?

On Chicora Road ~

"Damn that stone bustin'my plow"
he kept mumbling,
wheeling in on narrow Chicora Road
(with his brother) in a '29 Ford
with a short flatbed behind.

"We came whippin' down Lick Hill
and wingin'the length of
Jefferson Street
right into the center of town,
then takin' a left
to the hardware store,
pullin' up short in front
where the hitchin' post
used t'be, he told her later.

On entering his brother heard him yell
"Ya got a plowshare an' any a'them bolts,"
while he himself moved over
to eye n Austrian scythe he'd spotted,
like Grampa's, lost in the fire.
Right then his eye
caught that of Sally Hughs
crouched behind the counter.

What they bought fit in the flatbed
but caused the driver to quarrel
homebound mile for mile
while the other sat upright, not listening
but looking instead
out the tilted windshield
at the gently rolling Chicora countryside,
thinking how he could win her over
without fear of strife or reprisal
from his unsuspecting brother.

Sunday School ~

They looked straight ahead
while passing him
that Sunday morning
along the side of the church
where the roof jutted out
just low enough to protect
the sleeping from lying there
blanketed in plastic and trap.

It was the presence
of the dog beside him
that disquieted them
when seated inside
while asking themselves
how a mere pup could put up
with a good-for-nothing
such as that.

High School Love ~ 1949

Like the faun must when observed
with more graceful strides seek distance,
so also did she
whom I had sighted that morning
from where I stood, withdrawn,
facing the High School's entrance
into which she, on courtly gait,
had vanished.

Hurriedly, I wove over
through milling crowds
pursuing her
up wide steps to pillars
and the door she used,
and once inside
I mounted
the stately winding staircase.

On reaching the top
deserted hallways
opened mocking arms to me
with all my expectant dreams
and I stood there forlorn,
broken in an instant
knowing finally then
that she had chosen him.

Shattered all boyant schemes
of meeting her
as I had envisioned
in endless vigils of longing,
shattered the hope
of knowing her aware
of my burning yearning suffered,
to be thus driven to her.

Then rue set in,
with shame blended,
with dawning awareness
that gloating eyes had seen me,
with glee most likely,
being driven, they would whisper,
to that glimpsed vision
of my vain search.

Roaming Son ~

How strange—
always to be far from home,
lost, it seems, and robbed
of the realm
I once reigned over
as a boy.

Ah, to be there again
where childhood lies waiting
to be retrieved
from sidewalks and streets,
there again
where I would ferret out
every route my own small feet
had taken
and claim again,
if but for ten minutes time,
what was mine,
by walking through that Eden I knew
when I was nine.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Living ~

In our cemetery in late August
faded flags stand at spiralled ease
guarding flat bronze markers
embossed with name, unit, rank
and places like Korea, Vietnam, France
and as of late, Afghanistan and Iraq
all wreathed by scorched grass cuttings.

But not even homage of this kind
withstands faint random breezes
that sweep it aside,
while those worn sentries look on,
too feeble to brandish
their stripe-like swords.

Butler Face ~

Didn't I see you once
in a picture by van der Goes
dressed in robes
kneeling before an infant
with your hands folded
rapt in awe
at what you saw.

Now you are leaning over looking
with that same fervor
at tarnished silver spoons
under a lamp
at a flea market
on the edge of town,
while under the stand
a bold electric fan
spins futile warmth
at our December cold.

Piano Recital ~

One icy winter evening an eight-year-old
walked across our High School stage
to a Steinway concert grand
where she sat with dangling feet
playing an Allemande
by Johann Sebastian Bach
with such perfection
that every one of us
lept to our feet and clapped
almost before she had finished.

She came to the edge and curtsied,
we applauded and kept on
till she returned, nine times,
sobbing at first, faltering next,
brushing away tears
trembling, then falling.

They carried her from the stage,
her parents' hands
that had been waiting in the wings.

Our clapping, already muffled, slowed
with awareness dawning
then ceased finally altogether
as light burst into our not-knowing
and we understood,
as if some radiant angel had come
to avenge her for our error
by making us conscious of
the suffering we had caused her.

Butler Epitaph ~

How many people
from distant lands
came to settle
within the safe palm
of your proud hills
making you their home,
mixed, and gave you children
who mingled as friends
without dissent
then taught theirs
what living in harmony

Selling the House ~

What will happen to the paintings
when the house is up for sale
and an auction's taking place?

Will strangers stand around
on hardwood floors
twisting scratches into varnished oak
as bids dislodge our silent storytellers
from walls they spoke from
through windows opening in
on worlds we longed for
and dreamed about?

Ah, won't all those
hand-clasped chins thrown back
and judgment noddings
frighten our poor shy
Maiden at the Stream,
fetching water as she did
for us daily to watch
teaching us what beauty was
and what it meant for us?

Had ever a day passed
without our glancing up at her
gladdened by her being there
and being one of us?

Ah, won't we stand there saddened then
staring at hooks and nails
in empty faded rectangles and squares
regretting having let the paintings go,
won't we be taken aback
when feisty bargainers
stand sceptically inquiring
before making each prize their own,
then rushing off with it
heedless of the pain we suffered,
alone delighted with their success?

Life Cycle ~

How many mothers
have walked down
the sandstone steps
from our hospital
overlooking town
with babies in their arms
singing silent songs of joy
for what they were holding
for the sun to see
and for all of us unseen
who welcomed their replenishing?

For not far from there,
were it not for trees,
a thin black thread of cars
can oft be seen
inching its way
up steep Main Street's slope
to that quiet lonely acre
unevenly studded
with tilted weathering stones.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Calvary Cemetery ~

At the gravesite on a slope
in frozen winter
waiting for the hearse to arrive
we mourners stood trembling,
weeping inside, but
on looking up found strength
in glances we cast
at a stubby beech tree
rooted on one foot
with its head thrown back
and with gnarled fingers
was reaching up
to claw at the icy winds.

Burial Ground ~

They will bury me in a far off land
but my heart will lie on the hill
near that granite shaft
that thrusts itself aloft
marking the family plot,
that flameless beacon
homing without light
that will draw me back
to that lowly slot
long since readied for me,
to lie there rooted with them
who will so long have awaited
my coming home at last.

Epilog ~

Why is it that thoughts about a hometown keep creeping back into our memory? Many people want to get away from the place as soon as possible. Especially if their town is small and offers only limited possibilities and resources. Many find their surroundings wearisome while others leave in hope of finding a more pleasant climate elsewhere.

There are, however, those who remain in their birthplace for a lifetime, happy. They learn to accept what their town has to offer, find that their talents and services are needed and appreciated, find fulfillment there.

Between these two extremes are those who have settled in some distant place,
prospered and found satisfaction, and yet they feel a yearning for home. Pulled in two directions they sense within themselves a deep rootedness and a strong bond with their place of birth.

Perhaps that is the dilemma of the author of these poems. He spent his boyhood at home but left as a young teenager and only returned from time to time as a visitor. What is more, he has spent the greater part of his life, some 30 years, in a foreign country.