poetic interlude the third

We interrupt our regular blogging for this poetic interlude:

JOHN HENRY WAKES IN THE NIGHT

Awakened with the silence

Under the roof, the night’s cold rain

And thunder sounding patternless noise

Above, his eyes open to find where

Darkness fails in the hearth’s faint glow,

John Henry lies still to find himself.

 

Gusts rise suddenly to stir

The storm’s chaotic fury and wind

Its net about the cabin, its flood

Running down to meet the waters

Rising in the spring overflowing the fen

Incipient to the stream.

The dream returns.

 

John Henry stands darkly hammer in hand

One step beyond the clearing with the trees,

The cold rain washing the warmth from his skin.

There around his cabin, prancing with torchlight

The ghosts clothed in white, dunce caps

For some reason worn with honor,

Call their invitation for him to taste

The waters of Acquinas’ spring.

Frustrated by his silence they break

A window with a burning faggot,

Cheering the flames rising in the night

Never understanding how he watches from the dark.

 

The memory returns, the bonfire burns

In the village circle, his people dance

And sing with the griot’s

Lead and drumbeat. John Henry

Lays two more logs on the fire

That collapses, condenses under their weight.

The griot pauses and watches the sparks

Flaring and flashing and rising

To die in the night above.

His clan stills in wonder of what

He has seen when he turns to John Henry

And says, “When you meet with death,

Keep your hammer in your hand.”

 

John Henry sits and smoors his fire,

Keeping the coals until morning

And wanting the darkness until then.

He picks up his hammer from

Beside the door to place by his bed

And returns to sleep, sparks

Waiting to be struck by the steel’s strike,

The rain drumming on his roof.

That concludes this poetic interlude.  We will return soon to our regular blogging with another piece on the hippocampus.

a poetic interlude though

not the one I had thought:

OBIT

My old friend Stuart died yesterday

Four days after receiving a life saving

Bone marrow transplant,

For which his body had been conditioned

By 8 months of chemotherapy,

So the doctors are understandably

Mystified. Like many of our generation

He had emulated Peter Pan

By jumping off stairs and low walls

And once he felt his arc pause,

Lift even, with the promise of flight,

But then no, he fell to earth just like Icarus.

Like many of us he too had run around the neighborhood

A towel pinned to his shoulders flying behind

As he performed superior acts.

He used a large impressive bath towel

Until his mother discovered that

And made him use a dish towel,

Quite unsuitable for the flying he must do.

He would give that up soon enough anyway

For he was bright and good with numbers

And followed a dream to university.

His family sent him off with the traditional blessing,

Don’t get too big for your britches

Or forget our Christian ways, and he did not get too big

Nor forget though he did change and grow

To become an engineer of modern times,

A Daedalus of water flows for all citizens to enjoy,

a kind and good man, thorough and by the book.

I don’t know why his first marriage failed;

Probably someone came to their senses as they usually do.

I do know at last he loved Fran and worked hard,

Maybe too hard, for their life together,

And he loved music, old school like Guy Clark,

And he practiced his own guitar and worked at songwriting

With all due diligence as was his way. Last spring

He retired, breathless, mysteriously low on energy,

But with rest knowing his songs would come out.

The next week they figured out his diagnosis:

MDS developing maybe over 2-3 years

Had finally blossomed into a flower of collapse.

He died yesterday, two days before family and doctors

Had planned to pull the plug on life support

To give time for good-byes,

A line of friends coming in the room sadly

To take their leave, but with age

A mystical form evolves bone deep

And I guess he figured out that flying up and away

Was not as complicated as he once had dreamed.

 

Poetic interlude

We interrupt our regular programming for this poetic interlude.

 

JOHN HENRY GOES TO CHURCH

 

Dawn had come hardly seen

Above the heavy fog filling the valley,

Above the clouds covering the ridgetop,

The world around translucent to any eye.

John Henry stepped out his door

To greet the day and orient himself

As to his place in nature.

His memory of space, the mountain’s shadow

Through the gloom, and the creek’s

Delicate silvery echoes sounding the way

Told him again, somehow never redundant,

Never commonplace or stale, all he needed to know

For now.

Closing the door behind him

He started down the valley along the creek,

Skirting marshlands and pausing to watch

A wild turkey lumber into the air

Across the water into the woods and fog

At the mountain’s base, a fearful fury

Of feathers struggling to safety, then all quiet,

All hidden, and he resumed his trail to church.

 

A light breeze thinned the fog

As it carried the sound ringing

From the small cast iron bell

Summoning the hearing to gather and meet

This sabbath before Beltane.

John Henry heard the call

And the conversational murmur

Of neighbors greeting each other,

Then saw the whitewashed stones

Lining the path from creek trail

To the whitewashed clapboard church

Built a generation ago

And he entered the open door

Nodding to greet each one.

 

Inside he listened and could not help

Wondering about the past.

Not just what they ate but how did they cook it?

Whose recipe did they use?

Not just what they drank but what grapes and yeast

Did they use for the wine?

Who made the table and chairs? By what method?

How old was the room, for he assumed that

It was not new? Was there a window with a view?

Being John Henry he wondered at the weight

Of the hammer used to drive the nails

And did they reuse the nails like he did

Or were the authorities rich enough,

And of course they were, to pay

A blacksmith for new ones to waste each time.

Buried in a stone crypt, yes,

But how were the walls shaped and painted

And what shadows flickered there in the rushlight?

What of the mice that stole the dead’s gift of grain

Back to their nest, leaving their droppings in the dust?

He wondered this and more even during the hymns,

Even during the last doxology, even as he left

Nodding his goodbyes until he saw the new sign

At the end of the white stoned path, “For Sale.”

 

Homeward the fog lifted though

The creek bed still breathed

With damp chill air. Above

The clouds rested more lightly on the mountain top

And the sunlight filtering through

Gently, informally promised

A warm spring day. Back home

He fed and banked his fire

Against the cold night to come,

Grasped his hammer, feeling its heft

For work the next day, knowing it too heavy

For driving mere nails, and planned next Sunday

To walk up the valley along the creek

To see its headwaters at Copernican Spring

Named long ago also before memory began.

Clyde Evely

2016

 

and that concludes the interlude.  We now return to our regular programming.  Coming soon:  Re-read 4.0  Susanne Langer on Music, or How returning home feels so wondrous.

P.S.  Here in a high mountain valley in SW Virginia we have >10″ snow.

snowmeadow.jpg