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I hate how the upload losing the formatting.  Plus, nothing I have tried seems to correct the problem.  Oh well.  Here it is without the proper format.

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The Inchworm and the Heron

On my son’s shoulder sat the inchworm,

Having hitched a ride into the sanctuary.

The eulogy progressed.

I gently coaxed it

Onto a Torah cover,

To bide its time

Until I could help it

Return to its world.

It measured the cover’s perimeter—

Up down, up down—

At the corner it stretched out

Sightlessly      reaching

seeking

striving

A life carefully measured,

Centered on words of wisdom

Trying to find connection

purpose

community

When we went to leave

It had vanished, lost to view.

At the cemetery we mourners

unmoored

unconnected

unsure,

Struggled to strengthen our earthly ties,

Reaching out, looking helplessly,

For what had been lost

Over our heads a heron

Crossed the sky

Effortlessly     floating

gliding

drifting

Might rootlessness be desirable?

Might the ceasing of striving be purposeful?

Above the confines of earth

the heron soared.

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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

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