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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

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