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Given we just had snow (7 inches) yesterday, I thought I would share a poem that talks about natural wonder.  Although I now live in Minnesota, I find myself often returning to my hometown and Pennsylvania when I write.

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Natural Epiphanies

 

Among the smokestacks, buildings,

pollutants, steel,

of my childhood town

God was an abstraction,

impenetrable.

 

But camping in wild hills

of whitetails and hemlock

I could feel God’s glory.

 

The stretches of wild blackberries and huckleberries,

The shimmering aspen leaves,

The coy May apples under their umbrellas,

The delicate sassafras leaves in their threefold variety,

Black-eyed Susans, lacy Queen Annes,

Grasshoppers dancing ahead while we walked.

 

            The profusion of it all —

 

Racoons seeking refuse

Newts under rotting logs

Groundhogs waddling beside dirt roads

Wild turkeys raising a ruckus in the brush

A bull snake, crushed and broken on the road,

Her eggs exposed for us to see

Spiders in their webs in the corners of outhouses.

 

Here I could imagine a god

using these places as a palette.

 

At my first camp job,

I escaped the children and routine.

           

            My blaze orange poncho glowed,

rain dripped on my glasses.

I moved through an impressionist painting.

            Light trickled through leaves

Wet grasses brushed knees

Brambles grabbed at sleeves

            Low branches swiped at my face.

           

            Until —  suspended in time, rooted in place —

           

            Poised, we stared at each other

            Breathless, that instant captured us

            Knowingly, our eyes shared understanding

 

Then the deer bounded off.       

I was alone, connected.

 

Now, deceptive stillness

fills the urban yard.

Snow covers brush piles

Pine branches fill with snow

Oak limbs create abstract patterns

of hoar frost in the sky.

 

            But life spills out with of a shimmer of sun.

            Chickadees, feathers puffed for warmth

            Squirrels, scavenging acorns

            Blue jays, on alert

            A grey rabbit, peeking through shrubs

            A cardinal, singing flamboyantly

            Snow-suited children, exploding with energy.

 

Here too, amid the trees,

I seek the ineffable —

on my face, I feel the wind

bringing me

to what is.

 

Copyright (c) Lydia A. Schultz

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Sometimes, I have found that being away from my hometown makes it come into sharper focus.  I think about people and my childhood differently with the perspective that distance and time give me.  Here’s an example.

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Marty

That cute older boy,
A standard to dream of and measure by,
he counted the pennies after Sunday School,
ones we put in the Mission banks.
Even if he wasn’t truly brilliant,
His smile could light up my day.

It was 1969.
He’d done the business track in high school –
Oldest of four,
Born to a mill worker’s family,
He saw it as a way out.
He began work at the local paper,
Typing graduations, weddings, births–
Small town life as other people wrote it.

When he was drafted
We thought him lucky,
Or luckier than most
Since he could type.
He saw Vietnam from an office –
Armed with typewriter,
Clacking to flack
In heat and muck.
Missions and engagements differed now.
He transformed blood, destruction, death,
Into forms and reports.

When he returned,
We welcomed him.
His edginess, surliness,
Challenged adults
But intrigued me.
When he heard “Angel from Montgomery”
In the background,
He found it curious I shared
His love of John Prine songs.
He was home.
We thought that was good.

He tried so hard –

Marriage, but he slipped away.
Parenthood, but he lost his kids.
Work, but he kept getting fired.
Defeated,
He moved in with his parents,
And slipped ever further away,
Pouring alcohol into his emptiness
Until illness filled him.

Agent Orange, weakness,
Immorality, alcoholism –
Everybody ventured explanations.
But the liver transplant could not restore,
repair,
replace,
whatever he had lost.
No longer could he filter through
the daily business of life.
He was consumed by lost dreams,
Destroyed by disconnection
From a world no longer his.

When I heard he had died,
I listened to John Prine with
Marty centered in that song:
“Make me an angel that flies from Montgom’ry
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go.”

Now my children smile brightly
And try to change the world,
Rolling their pennies down plastic wells,
Where they spiral ever downward
Till they clack below.

And I remember Marty.

Copyright (c) Lydia A. Schultz

Posted in honor of Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish equivalent of Arbor Day.

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Tensions

A sky of emotions
A stormy week
Water in the basement
Power out
Tornado warnings

All seem calm
Compared to my feelings.
Is this crisis my official midlife one?
I do want a sports car
yellow, please
without room for car seats
or groceries
I think of coloring my hair.
Diseases seem more imminent
and deadly.
I’ve added the obituaries
to my daily newspaper fare.
I don’t read them all
Just the ones that sound familiar
Or seem too young.
(That could be someone I knew.
My friends and I are that age.)

The bunny hops by.
The kindergarten girl up the street
Has dubbed it “Fu-Fu.”
It eats the flowers
That the neighbor next door so diligently plants.
Me–I only want trees–
here before me,
likely to outsurvive me.
Flowers are joyous–
But I plant trees.
Maybe that’s my hedged bet with aging.
Flowers are too ephemeral.
Trees,
Long-lived and limbed and lovely,
that make me appreciate
that I am merely another element
of the world in which I live.
Birds, squirrels, rabbits, insects, and me-
We co-exist,
eyes alert, noses twitching,
ready to bolt if someone invades our territory
or behaves at all suspiciously.
But even we can be deceived
By coy, slow, stealthy ones,
The neighbor’s cat that tiptoes into the shrub
Waiting for the hapless fledgling
to lose its guard.

So I watch for that creeping old age.
wary
seeking the island of calm
within the storm.

Copyright (c) Lydia A. Schultz

You fix me with your yellow stare

 

From high above, you send out

the invitation

 

Join us, you caw,

come and see

So much to do

in this big tree

Copyright (c) Lydia A. Schultz

I wrote this poem a number of years after my father died.  I was teaching at a univerity a 45 minute, rural drive away, and spent a great deal of time in my car. 

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Legacies

I

I drive like my father.
I never really noticed before
But during my long commute
On the open interstate
I can now see.

My left knee bent, 90 degrees,
Supports my left hand –
Back on the knee,
Fingers curled round the wheel –
My right hand occasionally lends support
But usually rests, gently,
On my right thigh.

The realization shocks me,
Driving into the sun
On the anniversary of his death.
Another brilliant October day.

His legacy revolves around cars.
When the phone call came,
I was painting the new garage.
That cool October day,
Leaves surrounded my feet.
My purple sweatshirt was streaked with
The signs of my marginal competence.
Inside the phone machine blinked,
And I heard my mother’s voice
Apologizing
For telling me of his death
By these mechanical means –
Of the unexpected stalling
Of a life I had never been without.

II

Autumn had always been my favorite.
New plaid skirts and knee socks,
Sharp pencils and smooth paper –
Did I become a teacher from that love?
He calmed my annual fears,
Assuring me that I would do just fine.
The glory of the trees would
Line our river valley
Masking the industrial ruin
In a riot of color.
We’d watch the World Series together,
Especially if the Pirates played.
Baseball linked us
Across our age and gender.

After that call I cried for my loss,
But also for my little boy’s.
He’d never know my gruff, burly dad.
He wouldn’t remember him at all.
So we watch the World Series together,
My son and I.
And every time I look at him,
I see my dad.

The cemetery is an isolated island
On a deer trail
In a sea of corn.
At his funeral,
Yellow leaves floated
In the breeze.

III

I came to dread October.
T.S. Eliot was wrong, I thought.
So many people died in October –
Autumn was cruel, indifferent,
Killing off parents
As if they were no more than the leaves
That could return in spring.
Yet my father’s memory and spirit
Return mysteriously.

The first time that I parked my car
In that coveted, close spot
At the crowded mall lot,
I thought it chance.
But then it happened again
And again. And again.
Everywhere I went.
Then I knew.
He’d given me his special gift –
His luck at finding
The perfect spot.
So when it happens –
Every time –
I whisper “Thanks, Dad.”

IV

Can the patterns arise?
Move and shift?

After my car pulls into the lot,
I emerge to hear the sound –
Familiar, yet barely –
At the edges of recognition.
The sensations wrap about me –
The chill dense breeze,
Trees dancing to music of their own making,
Brown leaves playing tag –
All part of the acrid tang
Of ripeness and decay.

My head tilts upward,
As if of its own accord.
The darkness of inverted Vs
Perforate the cool blue
Gradually, consistently, persistently
Moving, shifting,
To become the southbound giant.

The geese honk.
I accept the complexities of autumn.

Copyright (c) Lydia A. Schultz

I wrote this poem a number of years ago, after a visit to my hometown in Pennsylvania. Given the state of the economy right now, and the fact that I saw a national news story about a town across the river from where I grew up, I thought it appropriate to the times.

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Rust Belt Blues

Train tracks go in, out.
The rusting fortress of a factory
darkens the sky.

In its shadow
The old Italian men in sleeveless T-shirts
and black lace-up oxfords
Collect in metal yard chairs
Behind backyard wire fences,
Drinking Iron City and playing bocce.
Contained within their kitchens
Their aproned wives hum –
stir, simmer, soothe –
Providers of earthly sustenance.
“No one should leave my house hungry.”
But I have left and returned,
Hungry still.

Poking sticks into sidewalk cracks,
Children line the crumbling curbs.
Grubby, grimy, bickering,
They are ready at an instant
To issue or accept the challenge.
Running downhill until
Lungs and legs give out –
They collapse at the curb, resuming their endless vigil.
My body remembers, doubles over,
Sharing that sensation,
Boredom alternating with breathless intensity.

The local gas station describes my life here –
My relationship with this place – STOP-N-GO.
I pay the clerk in the plexiglass box,
A grade school class mate
Who doesn’t even register my credit card name.
His practiced hand avoids all touch,
Drops the card in mine.
We held hands to NASA launches
In the TV room of our old school
Whose windows now stare like haunted eyes.
Shattered and abandoned,
His eyes, too, are vacant.

I hear peripheral echoes,
Shadows upon shadows.
Hometown.

Copyright (c) Lydia A. Schultz

I’ve decided to separate my poetry from my blog for learning about technology.   Hey, I work as a librarian; I categorize things for a living!

Anyway, this poem is a reflection I made about two of my great aunts about a dozen years ago.  While they aren’t physically alive anymore, my memories of them certainly are.

I welcome constructive feedback.

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Kinship Shows

Kathy and Eleanor sit
                daintily
on the sofa.
Their        interacting,
                polite arguing,
                being individuals,
somehow point up the similarities:
                beauty shop hair
                ironed print dresses
                inflections of their voices
                shared blindness.

A gentle breeze and the summer heat
encircle them
and the stories I know.

Their Scottish father came to this coal region–
doing the same work he’d always done–
But in America, work echoing
                promise and plenty.
Kathy cared for him until he died at 96
in Smithton
a coal and beer town on the Youghigheny,
where she lived a genteel life.
Yet not.

She and a different sister–Agnes–
married brothers, those Stolting boys.
In the 1930s and 40s,
in that rural Pennsylvania backwater,
Kathy’s husband Carl and Eleanor’s Frank ran a tavern.
But Carl chose
                perhaps not only religiously
to be a minister.
From a barman’s to a minister’s wife–
perhaps that’s why she takes so much
                in stride.
Till 94 she lived in Smithton
fortified by the brewery’s fumes.
But now,
because her blindness scares him,
her son Roy cares for her.
At 98, in Texas,
she is remote
from home and family.

Rooted still in her rural home
Eleanor is surrounded
by fruit trees and family.
Even blind she bakes
                pies
                cakes
                cobblers
as she always has.
The baby in her family at 93,
she spends her days with daughter Doris Ann
and the extensive generations
who all live nearby.
While she traveled with her husband Frank
to remote places in Europe,
she always remained grounded
                not far from where she was born
                in her spot in the Laurel highlands.
She looks so much like her mother
who died when Eleanor was just a girl.

As they click their teeth
and dispense firmly loving hugs,
I see them
                now, but then too,
as the younger women they once were.
I imagine my grandmother Agnes on the couch there too–
a woman I never knew–
between them

in age, appearance, views–
The lovely Robertson girls
                still
ready to take their town by storm.

Copyright (c) Lydia A. Schultz