I choose to walk the old familiar ways,
To wend ways where I’ve put my foot before,
To gaze anew on views seen other days,
Which, though familiar, never seem to bore.
The changing light and seasons have their ways
Of making old things new: The light-laced hoar,
The first-flush, green-glow, bursting-forth spring days,
The growing tinge of gold we can’t ignore.
Each day, my dear, I choose afresh our trail,
The one we blazed so many years ago,
Eschewing other routes that might avail,
And hewing to the well-worn way we know.
Forsaking novelty need be no jail
With your face bathed in sunset’s golden glow.
NOTES: Thirty-two years of marriage and never a dull moment.
When May bursts forth all moisture and mirth,
And birds bestir while you are still abed,
With everything bent on fostering birth,
And balmy blossoms like a banquet spread
Call to the wanderer weary and wan,
“Close your eyes and breathe and remember nights
When you lay upon the redolent lawn,
And took your bashful taste of love’s delights.”
For though that time is but a glimmer now,
And keenness of the night is now subdued,
A fragrant echo still awakes somehow,
And stirs again a near forgotten mood.
One kiss with wonder could the world endow.
In one embrace you found all you pursued.
NOTES: Love when you are young and young love at any age share a common quality. My favorite month of May reminds me of that.
When I was very young and in love for the first time, I ran across a short little Robert Browning poem called Summum Bonum, which spoke to me quite vividly. Many years and many miles later, I discovered — thankfully — that you did not have to be young to fall in love again.
There just may be a whisper of an echo from that poem in here.
cheerleaders stirred crowds and our
NOTES: Here’s another invaluable photograph from my friend, Susumu. This must have been taken in the fall of 1968, amidst an exciting small town high school football season.
It most certainly was an away game. The home games of the Marshall High School Owls were played at Missouri Valley College’s Gregg-Mitchell Field, and this setting does not look familiar. I’m guessing it might have been the away game that year at the home field of our most hated rival, the Excelsior Springs Tigers.
Marshall had been playing second fiddle to the Tigers for several years, just unable to put together enough power to overcome dislodge them from the top of the Missouri River Valley Conference.
The year before, we had endured a humiliating defeat as the Tigers came into our stadium and beat us on a frigid night in Marshall. Those old aluminum benches had never felt so cold.
This year turned out much better. Coach Cecil Naylor had us worked into such a frenzy that we could have taken on a band of Viking berserkers. We travelled into the Tigers’ home turf, took care of business, and vanquished them 20 to 0.
But I digress.
The topic is cheerleaders. What is with their mystique? And why couldn’t they get a date with their own classmates?
I could be misremembering, but it seemed that very few cheerleaders ever dated guys in their own class. Older guys might work up the confidence to “date down” with a cheerleader from lower grade. But mating between cheerleaders and a classmate was scare and rare.
One of life’s great mysteries. The Cheerleader Paradox.
Mysterious even when you factor in the fact that in our little town, many of us had attended school together since first grade, and the rest of us had been together in the same building since 7th grade.
The long history and close familiarity meant that most of your classmates were like family. That contributed to sense that the cute girl in chemistry class seemed more like your sister or your cousin than girlfriend material.
I mean, you’d grown up together! You’d seen each other on good days and bad days. Good hair days and bad. You’d fought on the playground in grade school, and competed for teachers’ attention. Not much mystery left.
But even that doesn’t explain the Cheerleader Paradox.
Dr. Freud, call your office. I’m open to hypotheses.
Some poets have conducted quite conventional careers during the day to support their poetry habit at night. Insurance executive Wallace Stevens and physician William Carlos Williams are a couple of well known examples.
Dylan Thomas really couldn’t do much else besides write poems, and so he waged a losing war with poverty until he drank himself to death. He probably would have perished much sooner except for the fact he was able to charm wealthy female admirers into becoming patronesses.
About the only thing I have in common with the aforementioned gentlemen is that while I sometimes commit poetry, I also need another means to make a living.
I started my professional life in the 1970s as an ink-stained wretch of a newspaperman. While chasing deadlines was exhilarating when I was still a young man, there were already storm clouds on the horizon for journalism. Afternoon dailies were going extinct, and cities that had formerly had 2, 3 or more newspapers were seeing them merge or go out of business.
Little did I know that in just a few years, the internet would come along and fatally wound the mainstream media organizations, forcing them to trim their newsrooms and close regional bureaus.
I sensed that there was a disturbing uniformity of political opinion in the newsrooms of my youth. My own political worldview was still evolving, but even back then everybody I worked with seemed to be left-leaning and Reagan-loathing. The lockstep groupthink bothered me.
In my naïve idealism, I thought journalists were supposed to be fiercely objective. I never caucused with any party, and I strove to play my own coverage right down the middle. I’d have coffee with both Democrats and Republicans, and always made sure to pay my own check because I didn’t want to owe anybody anything.
When the owner of one paper tried to pressure me to join the local Rotary Club, I refused because I didn’t want membership to influence my coverage of any organization.
If I had still been a journalist this past year I think my head would have exploded. With news organizations colluding with political campaigns, and sharing debate questions in advance with the favored candidate, it became clear that our creaky old news institutions had jumped the shark.
I would have burned my press card in protest.
I wish I could say I was smart enough to foresee the death of journalism and jump ship intentionally, but it was more random than that. I was about to get married and I needed a job in Minneapolis. The cash-strapped metropolitan dailies weren’t hiring right then, and so I took the first job I could get.
Fortunately I had stumbled my way into direct marketing. That later led me into non-profit fundraising. The bulk of my career since has been helping good causes raise money. Healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for widows and orphans, defending the persecuted, visiting those in prison, bringing the good news to those in bondage — that sort of thing.
I began to appreciate what I do a whole lot more when I stopped thinking about it as marketing and started thinking about it as “soul stirring.” When I’m doing it right, I touch the heart to stir people up to good works, and inspire them to be generous.
If you ask me, that’s really just a short step away from poetry. It’s all soul stirring.
Time was, the sun stood high and corn grew green,
The juice of youth coursed through our throbbing veins.
Love easy and free as the night was keen.
The grass our bed, our bath the gentle rains.
We took up books of verse and lingered long,
Imagined we were wise as those in odes,
Took guidance from the lyrics of a song,
Cast off the quaint restraint of outworn codes.
All along, ignoring every sign:
The chill that comes and strikes the landscape dead,
The smut that spoils the corn and rots the vine,
The vulture drifting gravely overhead,
And, one subtle clue even less benign,
That not one selfless thought entered our head.
NOTES: Reflecting back on my youth, I am chagrined. There is an old aphorism that states, “If you stand for nothing you’ll fall for anything.” There was a variation that went something like, “If you believe nothing, you’re liable to believe anything.”
By the late 1960s, many of us in my generation had pretty much had our beliefs in God, country and traditional morality watered down to pitifully weak broth.
Mainline churches increasingly didn’t even believe their own teachings. Patriotism was dealt a severe blow by the national identity crisis over the Vietnam War. The glowing reports of the sexual revolution made old fashioned morals seem not only quaint, but stupid. If you were missing out, you were not only square, you were a chump.
It was only natural that we would adopt values from the popular culture of the time. And the most influential popular culture of the day for the young was music.
Thankfully, there were some voices that seemed to have a moral compass. Bob Dylan, for example, started out as a folk-protest-poet, and never stopped looking for truth, going down whatever roads it took him.
But prophets like Dylan were scare and rare.
A good part of the steady diet we heard on the radio was more on the level of “Light My Fire” or “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Teenage libidos probably didn’t need any extra encouragement if you know what I’m talking about.
Of all the songs from those days, one stands out as especially reprehensible. Of course, I’m referring to Stephen Stills’ paean to infidelity, “Love the One You’re With.”
Set to a catchy tune with some nice acoustic guitar licks, the song’s poison message is wrapped in layers of cotton candy lyrics.
If you’re down and confused
And you don’t remember who you’re talking to
Concentration slips away
Cause your baby is so far away
Well there’s a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can’t be with the one you love honey
Love the one you’re with, love the one you’re with
Love the one you’re with, love the one you’re with.
That there is some great relationship advice. Just great.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who hates the song. Even former front man of punk bands Scratch and Jesus Lizard, David Yow — an expert in vile lyrics if there ever was one — agrees with me.
He says he hates that song so much he’d like to choke Stephen Stills to death.
I wouldn’t go that far. I’m just chagrined that I once thought it was a cool song.