Mother’s old Bible,
Worn out from years of long use.
Much like its owner.
We come now to the winter of our years
(Where did the autumn with its pleasures go?)
Our roof will all too soon be cloaked with snow,
So, come, let’s stoke our fire against the fears.
It seems another life ago, my dear,
That full of grace you pilgrim sat aglow
Enkindled so this prodigal would know
That grace was free and grace was very near.
Midsummer’s eve brought more epiphanies
Of spotless bride adorned, redeemed, in white,
Too ill for customary liberties,
So wan, yet still for these sore eyes a sight.
Then! Over Lake Champlain the full moon sees
A railway sleeper car rock through the night.
When love is good and it lasts, it can be tempting to idealize its beginnings.
But, the very first time I saw my wife, she was glowing. I kid you not. Sitting in the second row of a darkened auditorium listening to the Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, there she was — surrounded by a golden aura.
At the time, I was a reporter for a small suburban weekly paper, and was there on assignment. I had a camera, but was so befuddled I failed to get the shot. You might argue I was imagining things, but I don’t think so. I’m not given to visions nor hallucinations. I’ve never witnessed anything like it before or since.
I kept my eye on her while I got my story. But at the end of the program, she went right up to the speaker. I figured she must be with the group of important people who had accompanied him from Washington, D.C.
So, I put The Glowing Girl out of mind and tried to forget about her.
Fortunately for me, she turned up again a couple of weeks later at church. She was a friend of a friend, who introduced us and immediately left us alone. I didn’t let her get away a second time.
I think the whole experience was a special gift for a fellow a bit slow on the uptake, who needed a sign to notice a good thing right under my nose.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
We were married at Midsummer. She was sick and only made it through the festivities with the help of cold medicine. The next morning we flew out of town to New York, and the very next night, took an overnight train to Montreal.
I’ve been a fan of railway travel ever since.
THE PASSIONATE WRITER TO HIS LOVE
Come live with me and be my love,
Assured before you voice your fears
That we will meld as hand to glove
With tender wearing through the years.
How could I love another more,
Or ever you abandon me?
So come, our prospects let’s explore
Assay our hopes in honesty.
I’ll write old-fashioned poems for you,
The kind that sing with foot and rhyme,
To soothe your ear and gently woo
Your cautious heart in its due time.
We’ll stay abed when springtime rains,
And care not if it’s ever done;
We’ll pedal wooded country lanes,
And bask beneath a merry sun.
In lilac-time I’ll break for you
The heart-shaped leaf and purple bloom
That flourished when our love was new,
And filled the night with strong perfume.
Like hardy husbandmen of old,
Who ploughed and tilled the fertile soil,
We’ll give ourselves to labors bold,
And harvest children for our toil.
And when the winter of our years
Bespecks our thinning hair with snow,
We’ll stoke our fire against the fear,
Companions though the chill winds blow.
Relentless time moves on apace,
Time leaves its vanquished under stone.
But we can win at time’s own race
By choosing not to run alone.
Defying reason, let’s unite
To form a sturdy three-fold cord,
A braid miraculously tight,
Of bridegroom, bride and gentle Lord.
If my proposal your love stirs,
If this be your desire for life,
If to my faith your heart avers,
Come live with me and be my wife.
Thankfully, sometimes love DOES work out.
After some bump and bruises, I finally found the love of my life. Thirty-one years ago I wrote her a poem. Not leaving anything to chance, I shameless ripped off the first line from Christopher Marlowe’s poem “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love.” The rest was mine.
It may not have been wholly original poetry, but it did the trick. She said “yes.”
The funny thing is … soon after that I wound up practicing direct marketing copywriting as my day job.
After my experience with this poem, I should have known I was destined for direct marketing. The poem was my very first direct marketing letter.
I got a 100% response rate. Retention has been solid, and long-term value excellent.
Thank you, Christopher Marlow.
Father’s old Bible
held together with duct tape.
Now he’s face to face.
While you are away
thank God I have your pillow …
your fragrance lingers.
Father, all I ask —
unbutton your coat, and warm
my toes on your skin.
This weary world is so cold,
and I am a trembling reed.
Notes on the form:
Tanka is a type of Japanese short poetry that some believe predates haiku. Rather than the three line 5/7/5 haiku for, tanka adds two more seven syllable lines to form a 5/7/5 7/7 pattern.
From what I can determine, the content tanka tends to be more personal than haiku. Some are even love notes passed between lovers. But many also express an appreciation of nature.
I chose the tanka form for this poem inspired by my own father, and written as a prayer.
Notes on the content: The example of a good father
I had the most excellent good fortune to have been blessed with a wonderful dad. Because of his example, I found it easy to comprehend the idea of God as a good and loving father.
One of my earliest memories goes back to a winter day when I must have been no more than 3 years old. Word came to our farmhouse on the party phone line that something strange had been found in a tree a couple of miles from our place.
We all bundled up and went to the scene. It seems that a large weather balloon had fallen back to earth and gotten snagged high up in the tree. It seemed to me that it took forever for the local high school-age farm lads to determine how best to climb the tree and free the object from its captor.
As the proceedings dragged on and on, I got colder and colder, and my feet were freezing. When I complained to my dad, he scooped me up, took off my socks and shoes, and stuck my tiny feet inside his coat and inside his shirt to warm them up.
A bit about my dad
He was a provider. He worked hard all his life to provide for his family the best way he knew how. In his youth during the Great Depression, working as a farmhand for a dollar a day (and glad to get it!) Then, after saving up, he bought his own 80 acre dirt farm, which he operated for many years.
I came along as a late child, as Mom and Dad were facing middle age. When I was young, he sold the farm, made the one big entrepreneurial move of his life, and bought a Ford Tractor dealership with a couple of partners. When that business ultimately failed, Dad kept one working, this time as a mechanic. Through hard times and disappointments, he just kept chopping wood, and doing the best he could.
He possessed a merry disposition, quick with a story or a quaint country expression. But he was capable of administering effective corporal punishment when required. His boys learned early on that he was not afraid to use his belt to emphasize a disciplinary point. I must say his spankings, while no fun, were short, undamaging, and few.
He was honest to a fault, even refusing to charge mark-ups on the parts he bought to use in repairing cars, trucks, and farm implements. Even though that was standard practice in auto and farm repair shops everywhere, it just didn’t seem right, he said, to take that money for nothing. It was known throughout the county that if Ray Ball couldn’t fix it, it couldn’t be fixed.
And in those rare cases when he could not get the tractor to run or the corn picker to pick, Dad wouldn’t charge the farmer anything at all.
An example as a husband
Dad was faithful to our mother throughout his life, and he clearly adored her. And when she declined in health past the point where he could care for her at home, he visited her in the nursing home every day, personally spoon feeding lunch to her.
Finally, Dad did his best to expose his four sons to faith and to the love of God as he had come to know it. He had seen his own father undergo a dramatic adult conversion, which resulted in a softening and sweetening in the disposition of my grandfather. This must have had an effect on my own father, because he was always a gentle and kind man.
Although my brothers and I all initially rejected the faith of our parents, at least some of us eventually came around. Dad passed away in 2000, but I would like to think that Dad would appreciate this little poem, if he were around to read it.
Faith of our forebears.
No organ. No liturgy.
Just Jesus. That’s all.
This Christmas, I received a couple of poetry-related gifts. The first was an original hand-drawn and illustrated version of a haiku I wrote.
It was done by my talented and thoughtful daughter-in-law, Sarah. I had written this haiku last year in honor of my late father.
Now, it is I who feel honored and delighted!
This is as close as I’ve ever come to having an authentic version of an original haiku. The old haiku masters produced total works of art, complete with beautiful hand-lettering and illustrations to complement the poignant words.
The idea for the verse came about while going through my parent’s belongings before getting their house ready to sell. I came across my father’s old Bible.
It was so well-worn that it was literally being held together by duct tape.
My father never finished high school, and spent his life as a farmer and mechanic. He didn’t travel, and he had no hobbies except for studying the Bible and ancient times.
He became a bit of an amateur scholar, ordering books on theology and history. I packed up a few of books to pass along to my scholarly son, but the prized possession from the old house was that Bible.
Now, my prized new possession is this illustrated haiku.
Father’s old Bible
Held together with duct tape.
Now he’s face to face.
Dad was not just interested in history for history’s sake, or out of a mere intellectual curiosity. He also had a deep faith. He had seen the difference that God had made in his own father’s life and he believed in Jesus as well. He did his best to introduce his own children to that faith.
I’ll write about my other poetry-related Christmas present in a subsequent post soon.
Happy New Year!
That the author casts himself
In such a small role.
The proper name for these critters was “cicadas,” but for me, they will always be locusts.
These bugs made a terrible racket when they started their serenade. Some sources say the noise is so loud it can damage the human ear.
I won’t take that bet. They can be exceedingly annoying.
But they are also fascinating because they molt and leave behind an almost perfect exoskeleton. As a kid, I would collect these artifacts like little relics.
Dancing Echoes does a great job coming close to the original idea of haiku.
The old haiku masters combined words with beautiful calligraphy and drawings to form a total experience.
Dancing Echoes pairs each poem with a beautiful photograph. In this effort, she approaches the complete experience achieved by the old masters. You could say it’s haiku for the modern age.
The cicada haiku from Dancing Echoes reminded me of an old poem sitting in my files gathering dust. It’s not haiku. But it does feature a cicada — or rather, a locust.
SOMETIMES IN THE
Sometimes in the moonlight
The feeling comes afresh,
The old familiar feeling,
The aching of the flesh.
Sometimes in the summer
The noisy locust strains
Against the skin that holds him.
To shed his crusty chains.
When the trees grow weary
Of their summer masquerade,
And fallen leaves are gathered
I hunger for the shade
Of limbs that never falter
And love that never cools,
Where ruin never alters,
And where death never rules.