Inspirational Doggerel

False Hawaii missile attack alert

A wise man once opined
That nothing so focuses the mind
Quite as much as knowing
That you’ll be hanged in the morning.

And while that may be true,
That knowledge is not really new.
Another wise man said
Soon or late we all wind up dead.


NOTES:  I can’t imagine what it must have been like in Hawaii Saturday when the alert of an incoming ballistic missile was issued by mistake.  Hopefully, all of the sober reflection that occurred during those tense minutes will bear some positive fruit.

 

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Winter echo

Hoarfrost

FROST IN MORNING

When the willow world is with hoarfrost hung,
And the white fog lifts leaving trees bright new,
The foliage flashes with a crystal clue
Of how the world looked when light first leaped young.

Before man’s weight and weakness had begun
To break the branch or bruise the sodden slough,
The garden grew unburdened, bathed in dew,
Grew like a canticle, perfectly sung.


NOTES: Many years ago and many miles away, I awoke one Minnesota winter morning to the most astounding display of hoarfrost I had ever seen.  The world was completely coated, clothed in white.

This was approximately 35  years ago.  Garrison Keillor was just getting traction with his Prairie Home Companion show.  He still had a day job on the local public radio station, and that morning, he celebrated the frosty morning by reading a poem.

I regret that I do not remember the name, or author of the poem he read that day.  Perhaps it could have been this poem, Hoarfrost and Fog, by Barton Sutter.  But I don’t think so.

It might have been his own work.  But his efforts inspired the modest 8 lines I’ve posted above.

This fall, I’ve been writing a lot about how the death of summer is a metaphor for the inevitable death we all as humans face.  This might be the single most-used image in all of literature.

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a marvelous poem along these lines, Spring and Fall.  It’s one of my most beloved poems of all time.

Hopkins also wrote a 2-part poem, The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo, that gets at something even more.  The first part, The Leaden Echo, sets up the problem of the decline and decay of beauty.  It ends with despair.

But, in The Golden Echo, we come back to hope for redemption, for eternal life, and for the love of a Heavenly Father who restores.

“When the thing we forfeit is kept with fonder a care
Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it ….”

(For a real treat, listen to Richard Burton read this poem.  He reads poetry as it should be read, not with whiny, tinny detachment, but with passion.)

So, as I look at nature, there are signs of both despair and hope.   Leaden echoes and golden echoes alike.

When I see the world covered in frost, I think of a more perfect world.  A world like what may have been before sin and death entered into it.  Or the world that is to come.

Honeymoon sonnet

The happy couple honeymooning in Montreal
Epiphanies

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.


Notes:

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.

She said “Yes!”

Wedding candid, 1985. Not sure precisely what is going on, but she's got a list and is checking it twice.
Wedding candid, 1985.

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.


Notes:

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.

Midsummer Anniversary Poem

Here comes midsummer's milestone of our love
Here Comes Midsummer’s Milestone

Here comes midsummer’s milestone of our love,
Years since our selfish selves we pledged to yield,
So we’re as broken-in now as the glove,
I wore so long ago while in the field.

Fresh from the store unworn straight to my room,
Rubbed in the oil and every crease explored,
All through the night I savored the perfume,
The musky linseed leather I adored.

Come sober daylight with our job to do,
All awkward stiff not giving either way,
How many sweaty strivings’ deja vu
It took before we as one flesh could play.

Some ragged days I’d spit and pound the palm,
Or hurl the thing against the dugout wall,
But all the while a magic mute and calm
Mutated hand to glove with every ball.

The softening was gradual but sure.
Soon nerves and muscles seemed just like they spanned
From fingertips to join the glove secure,
As if I had been born with one webbed hand.

We’ve come now to the eve of middle age,
Well worn but with a lot of sport to go.
We must each for the other one assuage
Those stinging blows life certainly will throw.

We’ve held through wins and losses and through rain,
That etched new cracks not there at all before.
But loves like this were made to take the strain,
Just like that piece of cowhide that I wore.


Notes:

Not long ago, I asked my wife if she had a favorite poem.  Her blink reaction was, “the one about the baseball glove.”

So, that is what she gets on the eve of  our 31st anniversary.  A re-run.

It was written sometime in the early 1990s.  We were young and just starting a family.  I had a job I absolutely hated.  I would take long lunch breaks and write poems parked by the side of Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis.

Long before I discovered girls, back in Marshall, MO, my first love was baseball.

I cannot begin to total up the hours spent playing baseball, watching baseball, collecting baseball cards, sorting baseball cards, reading about baseball, and dreaming about playing in the World Series.

I knew the starting line-ups of both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City A’s by heart.

When I played one-man whiffle ball against my friend Royce, we would pick a team and go through the line up as each individual player. If the guy batted right, we batted right. If he batted left, we batted left.

(We drew the line at pitching left-handed, because neither of us was truly ambidextrous.)

Our spare time was spent searching for discarded pop bottles which we could turn into the neighborhood grocery store for two cents apiece. Every 5 bottles meant we could buy two more packs of baseball cards.

Somewhere between the ages of 12 and 13, we moved on to other interests. A long and winding path led me to the love of my life.

We were married 31 years ago today.

The inspirations for this poem are multiple. Several years ago, it was coming on to midsummer and my wedding anniversary.

I was feeling that sense of my youth slipping away. But, despite the oppressive job I was enduring, I was confident that good things still lay ahead.

I was also listening to a lot of Van Morrison. His song “Madame George” was stuck in my head. (Quite possible the most poignant song ever written.)

In particular, I was hearing the line where Van does his improvisational thing where he repeats the words “love” and “glove” over and over in an almost hypnotic chant.

My story is about a very different glove, and a very different love. But that merging of the two words was lodged in my mind.

The result of all of this ferment was this poem.

The only time I’ve ever read it in public, I was told it was “an audacious metaphor.”

I’ll take that.

Today, upon the occasion of my 31th wedding anniversary, I submit this little poem. It’s as true today as when I wrote it years ago

Spring Poem

Phili; Larkin wrote a beautiful spring poem, "The Trees."

As spring comes into its full, glorious own here in the Pacific Northwest, I discovered a wonderful spring poem I had never read before.

Mary Karr posted a short poem by Philip Larkin last week on her Facebook page. In one of those interesting coincidences, I had just been encouraged to look into Larkin by my literary friend and colleague, Mark Neigh.

(You know how you discover a new word one day, and then you see it and hear it all around you the next?  It was sort of like I was surrounded by Larkin all of a sudden.)

I already had Larkin’s “Collected Poems” on my bookshelf, but hadn’t read much in it. I’d never been much impressed by what little I had read of Larkin, but his spring poem really hit home. I must never have given him a proper chance. Or the timing wasn’t right.

Here it is, just 12 short, beautiful lines:


 

The Trees
by Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.


 

You can listen to Larkin read this poem here.  (It just sounds better when he reads it.)  This small gem gives me hope that I’ll find other poems that speak to me in Larkin’s work.

A Haiku Prayer

Sunset over Liberty Bay, with flag at halfmast

Once upon a time,
when tyrants assailed the world …
there rose up heroes.