When Old Rules Meet New Situations

It seems the receptionist stepped out for a moment

It’s an old joke, but in certain circles it still gets a laugh:

“What’s the difference between a boatyard and a bar?”
“In a bar, someone might be working.”

To a degree, the joke’s rooted in reality. Boatyards have their share of hard workers, but they also shelter a variety of reprobates: scam artists, hustlers, and hard-drinking, hard-living sorts who aren’t necessarily subscribers to the Protestant work ethic. Skilled but not always schooled, they drift through coastal towns like so much flotsam and jetsam, rarely noticed or remarked by those who comb along life’s beaches.

On the waterfront, skilled craftspeople, under-employed shrimpers, undocumented workers, refugees from corporate boardrooms, and dedicated boat junkies ebb and flow with the tides. In the easy-going camaraderie that develops, there’s more than enough room for the idiosyncratic and quirky, the lazy, the listless, and the flatly mysterious drifters who show up from time to time.

By the time I began working in local yards, Varnish John had been around for years. Although not precisely a drifter, an aura of mystery surrounded him. He didn’t seem to frequent the local cafés or bars, and I never found him sitting in the sheds after work, drinking beer and swapping stories with other workers.

Despite his constant presence,  no one seemed to know his full name. When asked, he’d say only that he was from ‘up the coast.’ Tall and slender, showing only slight traces of youthful dissipation, he favored jeans and faded cotton shirts; he considered tee-shirts too informal for work at ‘the office.’

Despite his age — generally assumed to be around seventy or seventy-five — he seemed impervious to difficult weather conditions, working gloveless in winter and sometimes barefoot in summer.  Still, his brightwork was as beautiful as any I’d seen. He worked for only a few select customers, and during his occasional months-long absences, we always assumed he was in the islands, varnishing some elegant beauty of a boat in warm, Caribbean breezes.

Break time in the Boatyard

When in the yards, John rarely had much to say. He’d nod in passing, but avoided the easy banter typical of such places. In his own way unsubstantial as a wraith, he seemed wrapped in silence.  Always polite, he never invited approach. He simply ‘was’ — like the ospreys or herons watching from the edges of our world.

One day, bending over a trawler’s rail with my brush in hand, I felt a sudden presence. Looking up, I discovered John standing a few feet away, watching. I assumed he’d have nothing to say, until he surprised me by commenting on the weather and asking a few questions about my varnish and my brush.

Unwilling to stop working but not wanting to be thought impolite, I answered his questions as I moved down the rail. As I reached the rail’s end and straightened up, he said, “Good. You didn’t stop. Everyone wants to talk, so you have to learn to work and talk at the same time.” Then he turned, and walked off down the dock.

It was the first of many such encounters. John would materialize, watch, offer a pronouncement, and leave. Sometimes he offered technical tips so casually they hardly were noticeable. Some people were using this solvent rather than that; a different caulk might not mildew so badly.

Both practical and cautious, he insisted a shower, clean clothes, and a new brush were mandatory before final coats of varnish. Over time, as he taught me to varnish on clean winds blowing from the water, to recognize the first tendrils of winter fog, and to guard freshly-applied varnish with a vengeance, the truth of our relationship slowly dawned. I had a mentor.

One afternoon, in the course of a conversation about rebuilding businesses and communities after Hurricane Ike, John revealed one of his inviolable rules for life:After the big ‘un, you start where you can start, and do what you can do.”

At the time, his words seemed ordinary, and perhaps even trite. But over the years they’ve continued to resonate, particularly since they’ve applied so well to every circumstance of life: from the  realities of recovery from actual hurricanes to the wholly unexpected and utterly frustrating set of circumstances one of my vendors calls ‘the supply chain storm.’

Not every storm is as predictable as a hurricane, and I didn’t see the most recent one coming. Just after Memorial Day, when my car’s air conditioner began blowing warm air, I assumed a service call had to be added to my to-to list. Then, the AC began working again: until it didn’t. In fifteen minutes, it went from cold to warm and back again several times. When the ‘check engine’ light came on, I did the only reasonable thing and drove directly to my dealership. While I sighed over the need to leave my car while they ran their diagnostics, I accepted the offer of a complimentary Uber ride home, and prepared to wait it out.

The next day, the storm made landfall in the form of a casual phone call from my service representative. “It’s not the AC,” she said. “It’s the coolant bypass pipe. It has to be replaced.” “Great,” I said. “When will the car be ready?” After an extended pause, she said, “We don’t have the part in stock. We’ll have to order it, and it’s on backorder.” Suddenly nervous, I asked the obvious question. “How long is this going to take?” “Oh,” she said, “it should be here in three weeks.”

Yes, it’s a real sign. Danbury, Texas understands life.

As I outlined the list of difficulties presented by three weeks without a car, the service rep was sympathetic, but the options were limited. No loaner car was available, and the daily cost of a rental was exorbitant. I was going to be on my own.

When a friend working in the same marina offered to pick me up each morning and bring me home from work, that solved my most serious problem, and other friends took me to the grocery store. Still, I hadn’t been that grounded since I was in high school, and I wasn’t pleased.

When I called the dealership for updates, I learned that a shutdown of Toyota plants in Japan might be involved. Then again, the part might have been shipped; it might still be lingering in a container off a west coast port. When I pressed, a new date sort-of-certain was offered for completion of my repairs: June 25th, or perhaps the end of the month.

That’s when I remembered Varnish John, and his admonition to “Start where you can start, and do what you can do.” I started by getting the number of the required part — 162680T090 – Pipe Water By Pass — then did what I should have done much earlier. I went online, and began searching.

The next morning, I talked with a very helpful man at a Toyota parts dealership in Olathe, Kansas. They didn’t have the part in stock, but could get it. If I wanted to expedite things, the part could be sent air freight, and I could have it the next day. Of course I agreed. Never mind work; expeditions to places like Walden West demanded expeditious shipment.

For once, everything went smoothly. The Olathe dealership received the part in only hours, then forwarded it via FedEx Air Freight. When it arrived at my house the next morning, a friend took me to the dealership, where I handed 162680T090 to the Parts Manager. The service tech retrieved my car from the dealership’s back forty, and by that evening Princess and I were on our way home.

I still smile when I remember walking into the parts department with the water bypass pipe clutched in my hand, and the amazement expressed by the parts manager “How did you do it?” she asked. “We couldn’t find that part anywhere, and yet here you are. How’d you manage it?”

“Easy,” I said. “I started where I could start, and did what I could do.”

 

Comments always are welcome.

Blackberry Rain

Occasional showers have fallen in parts of Texas, but desiccated pastures, thinning herds, drying playas, and empty stock ponds make clear the continuing need for rain.

Hidden behind such public signs of drought lie other consequences: equally troublesome, if more personal.  During a recent visit with a hill country friend, I heard a familiar sigh as I split a breakfast biscuit and reached for the dish of preserves. “That’s the last of the peach,” she said. “I’m down to apple butter now, until we see how things turn out this year. I sure hope things get better.”

For my friend, “better” means rain. Several times in the past decade drought has put an end to her vegetables and fruits. The fig trees barely produced, pears were the size of walnuts, and pecans shriveled in their shells. Even the dewberries bloomed sparsely, setting so little fruit she left it for hungry birds and animals.

The sweet, trellised blackberries that overflowed her baskets in the past withered and died, offering up only tart, unappealing berries. Without good berries the usual abundance of pies, cobblers, and sauces disappeared, not to mention the brandied berries traditionally set aside for holidays.

Dewberry blossom

“Could you have watered?” I asked. “I did,” she said, “but as the weeks went by, we decided to stop. Some people’s wells went dry, and I couldn’t risk that. I let the flower gardens go first, then the vegetables. I hated it, but there was nothing else to do, even though I didn’t get a single decent tomato.”

Life without blackberry cobbler is one thing. Life without tomatoes is something else. Like generations of women, including my own grandmother, my friend traditionally spent the summer canning uncounted quarts of  sauced, stewed, and diced tomatoes for the long winter ahead.

In my grandparents’ fruit cellar, jars shone in the dim light like jewels: tomatoes, peaches and plums; cherries suspended in burgundy syrup; jams, jellies, and marmelades; sweet corn relish, spiced apples and pears, and the translucent shimmer of pickles. My friend’s larder always had resembled that jewel-like abundance, until the scourge of drought took first her water and then the harvest that helps to sustain her family through the year.

Some of her more drought-tolerant fruits have survived the summers, although their yield was low.  Two varieties of persimmon, one a Texas native (Diospyros texana) and one the more familiar Asian (Diospyros kaki) were freely shared with a multitude of birds and squirrels, white-tailed deer, foxes, possums and raccoons.

The possum’s love of persimmons is legendary. In some regions, the creature spends so much time gorging on its fruit the tree is known as ‘possum wood.’ John James Audubon pictured the Virginia Opossum in a persimmon tree, and an old American folk-song celebrates the relationships among the Possum, the Persimmon, and the Raccoon.

Possum in a ’simmon tree, raccoon on the ground,
Raccoon said, “”You rascal, shake them ’simmons down!”

On the Gulf Coast, Atakapa Indians called persimmons piakimin. Early French settlers transformed it into plaquemine, familiar to many as the name of a Louisiana parish. Elias Wightman, a surveyor for Stephen F. Austin in the 1820s, documented persimmon groves in southeast Texas; the trees he found were the drought-resistant natives, their seedy black fruit much smaller and differently-shaped than the larger and more familiar red-orange Asian varieties. Both provide a wonderful base for an assortment of pastries and jams once the frosts reduce their astringent qualities. My first persimmon came from my friend’s hill country tree, and I was amazed by its smooth sweetness.

For pure eating pleasure from native Texas plants, you can’t do better than jams and jellies made from berries of the agarita, one of my friend’s favorites.  Because of its prickly nature, the best way to gather agarita berries is to lay a cloth on the ground and thrash the bushes, but when drought reduces the berry crop of even this hardy plant, time spent in bush-thrashing isn’t worth the return, and agarita jelly won’t be on the table.

Ripening Agarita berries

Recently, even the yield of berries from Scarlet Firethorn, or Pyracantha (Pyracantha coccinea), has declined somewhat.  Its beautiful red, red-orange, or yellow berries resemble tiny apples, and it’s branches often are used for decorating. My favorite bush, a large volunteer on a fenceline below my friend’s home, disappeared when the county showed up to widen and pave the road, but new shrubs always appear as seeds are spread by birds who love its tasty and nutritious fruit. In fall and winter, the berries occasionally ferment, leaving robins and waxwings staggering from the bushes, nearly unable to fly.

For years I assumed pyracantha was poisonous, but the apple-shaped berries are perfectly suitable for human consumption; boiling the fruit and straining the pulp to remove the seeds is all that’s necessary to make a fine jelly. It’s more work that I’m willing to take on, but thanks to my friend, I’ve had the opportunity to try pyracantha pancake syrup and agarita jelly: small reminders of nature’s abundance and human care.

Pyracantha

As friends will do, we often spend long hours drinking coffee and talking around the table. One memorable night, a sudden rattle across the tin roof and a rush of wind signaled rain. In a country so long bereft of storms, nothing could be more comforting.  “We sure do need more of that,” someone said as the rain murmured outside the windows. Then, the chairs were pushed back and we all went off to bed, ready to enjoy the luxury of falling asleep to the sound of falling rain.

The next morning, the “more” we’d hoped for had come. Puddles dotted the caliche drive and damp yard cats huddled under the potting shed, water dripping around them. We said our farewells in drizzle and fog: a gauzy, gray coverlet tucked around the resting ridges and valleys.

An hour later, as I swung around San Antonio and headed east, more rain developed. Heavy enough to make driving a challenge and consistent enough to bring a smile, it coursed along the ditches and collected in fields. Overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude, I tried, without success, to remember the last time I’d witnessed such abundance.

Passing a farmhouse, I glimpsed a man standing on his porch, just watching. A few miles down the road, I stopped for gas and coffee and found the men gathered at the front of the small store looking very much the same: hands tucked into pockets, eyes focused on the rain.

Coffee in hand, I left the store only to discover the drizzle had once again turned into a near-torrent. Standing under the awning, waiting for it to slack off before I headed to the car, I listened to the desultory talk.

“Nice,” said one fellow. “Sure enough,” said another. “Smells good, too,” said a third. And it did. It smelled clean, and fresh. It smelled like a new start, and hope, and home. It smelled sweet, like the promise of abundance.

It smelled like next year’s blackberries.

Comments always are welcome.

Living Through the Dry Days

“It’s the dust,” the old man said. “I can’t stand the damned dust.” And he couldn’t.

Moving through the house, he dusted reflexively, compulsively: the dampened cloth swinging and swiping in defiance of the elements. He considered dry heat a personal affront; wind an insult; dust a threat — inescapable reminders of those wretched childhood days atop the Caprock when dust was not merely an annoyance but a destroyer.

Even after the worst of the Dust Bowl years had passed, he absorbed his family’s grief and fear-filled stories. There was the blowing sand, stripping his uncle’s car of paint in less time than it takes to tell the tale. There was his mother, wedging damp towels into cracks around the windows and doors of the old house, re-wetting them with her tears. One neighbor, caught out in a fast-moving storm, became disoriented, unable to see and certain of death by billowing and unconstrained dirt. Although he survived, it was said he never recovered.

Even the apocryphal stories rang true. Did a Panhandle priest flee back to Illinois after that terror-filled Ash Wednesday service: seeking solace in the valleys, verdant fields, and rivers of his midwestern home? No one had proof, but no one doubted it was possible. Priest or not, what man could endure reminding his fellows that from dust they’d come and to dust they would return, even as the dust of destruction overtook their lives?

“Were you afraid it would happen again?” I asked. “Sure,” he said. “It didn’t take much to remind folks. Still doesn’t. When the rains don’t come, people get nervous — kind of alert. They watch the sky; look for clouds; sniff the air. When the first well goes dry, if there’s no hay, if the springs stop running…”

He trailed off, considering. “When I was a kid,” he said, “I’d sit on the front step of the house. There wasn’t anything around but the lane out to the road, and the fields. I’d sit there and watch the wheat blow, bending and waving. It looked like I thought the ocean would look if I ever could see it.”

“I looked at that wheat and thought about water while I waited for the clouds to build. Sometimes I’d think about what it was like to have a really good rain. Anybody living in the Panhandle better hold on to a few good rain memories. They’ll stand you in good stead in the dry days.”

It’s a dry day, now. Coastal marshes are growing shallow, leaving water birds perplexed. Tendrils of smoke curl in from distant fires; even the frogs are silent. Perhaps the creatures are remembering other dry times: considering their own experiences of endurance and survival. Perhaps, like people of the drought and like the earth itself they, too, are waiting for refreshment; for renewal; for rain.

Seed takes no pleasure in a thin and heat-parched earth.
To root and hold demands a different soil:

damp, receptive loam turned and broken,
fields unrolled from horizon to horizon
with a firm and measured hand.
Straighter and less complicated than a river’s curl
furrows slice across the land, silent and predictable.
Their simplicity refreshes.

Around them,
rotting fences dissolve in mist
while birdsong drips like dew
and coursing torrents
from billowing clouds
wash clear both air and sight:
sluicing through fields and flooding ditches,
joining seed to furrow and enlivening growth
before ebbing and flowing
away.
~ Linda Leinen

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Songs of the Season ~ O, Tumbleweed!

If the words ‘toolpusher’, ‘roughneck,’ ‘monkeyboard,’ or ‘mud man’ aren’t familiar, you might not recognize the aging bit of oil field equipment in the photo as a Christmas tree.  Obviously, it has nothing to do with the fragrant pines and firs we bring into our homes for the holiday, but the array of valves, spools, and fittings designed to control the flow of fluids into or out of a well apparently reminded oil and gas field workers of old-fashioned, decorated Christmas trees: so much so that the name took hold, and still is used today.

Whether Charles Follen would have appreciated a connection between the improbable oilfield trees and the more traditional ‘tannenbaum’ he introduced to New England is impossible to say, but I suspect he would have been intrigued.

Raised in Germany, Follen immigrated to America in 1824, becoming Harvard’s first German-language instructor in 1825. By 1832, living in Cambridge with his wife and two-year-old son, he decided to recreate the German Christmas customs of his childhood and youth. In the woods near his home, he cut a small fir, decorated its branches with dolls and candy-filled cornucopias, and illuminated it with candles.

Harriet Martineau, an English journalist visiting Boston at the time, described the unveiling of the tree at the Follens’ Christmas party:

The tree was the top of a young fir, planted in a tub which was ornamented with moss. Smart dolls and other whimsies glittered on the evergreen and there was not a twig which had not something sparkling upon it…
I mounted the steps behind the tree to see the effect of opening the doors. It was delightful. The children poured in, but in a moment every voice was hushed. Their faces were upturned to the blaze, all eyes wide open, all lips parted, all steps arrested. Nobody spoke, only Charley leaped for joy….
It really looked beautiful; the room seemed in a blaze, and the ornaments were so well hung on that no accident happened, except that one doll’s petticoat caught fire. There was a sponge tied to the end of a stick to put out any supernumerary blaze, and no harm ensued.
I have little doubt that the Christmas tree will become one of the most flourishing exotics of New England.

Over time, trees like the one introduced by Follen changed. Candles gave way to electric lights, imported glass baubles replaced paper chains, and peppermint canes supplanted candy-filled cornucopias. Still, the pine, the fir, and the spruce remained the Christmas trees of choice: good trees being defined by their conical shape, even branches, and straight trunks.

Finding such a perfect tree was possible in New England. In Texas, it was more difficult, particularly in the days before Christmas tree farms and modern transportation.

The native Ashe juniper, also known as Texas cedar or mountain cedar, became a more-than-adequate substitute for early settlers. Even today, hill country families harvest nicely-shaped Christmas cedars from their land, keeping with long Texas tradition.

A decorated Ashe juniper at Lyndon B. Johnson’s boyhood home

Farther west and south, even cedar grows sparse. Ever-inventive, a few lucky Texans harvest the stalk of the agave, or century plant, for drying and decoration. Impressive in its natural state, the plant’s stalk can grow to as much as thirty feet, making it especially appropriate for large spaces.

Agave at Sunset ~ Goliad, Texas
Decorated agave at Mission Espíritu Santo, Goliad, Texas

If there isn’t an agave handy and cedars are in short supply, Texans in the Panhandle always can turn to the tumbleweed. They’re often lighted and hung from trees as yard ornaments, and more than a few rotund ‘snowmen’ have made use of the weeds, but the best stories revolve around tumbleweed Christmas trees.

Red Steagall, well-known cowboy poet and raconteur, tells one of the best tumbleweed holiday stories, and he tells it in song. As it turns out, there are Christmas trees in Notrees, Texas, and not all of them are sitting in the oil patch.

It was a rough year for roughnecks’ children,
hard times and harder livin’,
we moved when the rent come due,
and it come due once a week.
That year in late December
found us in an old house trailer,
west of Odessa, near a town they call Notrees.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Notrees, Texas
Too poor to pay attention,
Daddy lived on good intentions;
he intended Christmas to be just what we believed.
Drove to town in the company pickup,
when he didn’t have a sawbuck
for the price of a Christmas tree —
he brought back a tumbleweed.
The tumbleweed I captured outside Dodge City, Kansas
Christmas eve in Notrees, Texas,
wind blowin’ through the cactus,
Santy Claus was a rich kid’s saint
and a poor kid’s dream.
I’d trade every fancy present
I ever had, or ever will get,
for the night of the tumbleweed Christmas tree.
Daddy set it on the dinette table,
Mama made a newsprint angel,
ornaments of tinfoil scraps and buttons on a string.
Took us all night to decorate it,
When we got done I’ll have to say that
it was the prettiest tumbleweed that I’d ever seen.
O, Tumbleweed
Wind rocked the trailer like a cradle,
While we sang our Christmas carols
settin’ on a sofa on the duct-tape Naugahyde.
Daddy looked proud as a big city banker,
Mama tried hard to be thankful
Lookin’ at that tumbleweed,
she laughed until she cried.
Christmas eve in Notrees, Texas,
Wind blowin’ through the cactus,
Santy Claus was a rich kid’s saint
and a poor kid’s dream.
I’d trade every fancy present
I ever had or ever will get
for the night of the tumbleweed Christmas tree.
I was just six, goin’ on seven
being poor is an education;
That night I learned a lot
about just what Christmas means.
It means love and it means lovin’,
It means money don’t mean nothin’,
and it means a tumbleweed can make a Christmas tree.
Christmas eve in Notrees, Texas,
Wind blowin’ through the cactus,
Santy Claus was a rich kid’s saint
and a poor kid’s dream.
I’d trade every fancy present
I ever had or ever will get
for the night of the tumbleweed Christmas tree.

And so it is. ‘Makin’ do’ isn’t the worst thing in the world, and sometimes it’s the best. After all — it’s not the tree that counts, but the song it evokes.

Comments always are welcome.

Giving Thanks for “Yes”

One of my amusements during the holiday season is people-watching. Where crowds, lines, and captive children are the norm, amusement abounds.

During a pre-Thanksgiving swing through a local grocery, I landed behind a child and his mother in the checkout line. The boy appeared to be three or four years old, and he was fussy. Hanging on to his mother’s skirt, he circled around until he found safety, tucked between her body and the cart. Looking past us to displays of merchandise across the aisle, he pointed to something and tugged on her skirt to gain attention. Busy sorting through her purse, his mother ignored him — a mistake she would come to regret.

The boy continued to demand her attention, until ‘fussy’ transformed itself into ‘cantankerous.’ and he began to wail with rage and frustration. He was tired. He wanted to go home, and he certainly didn’t want to wait while his mother sorted through coupons. As his outraged protest grew louder and more high-pitched, his obviously embarassed mother tried her best to reason with him.

“Do you want to ride in the cart?” she asked. No, he did not want to ride in the cart. “Do you want to look at your book?” No, he did not. “Do you want me to spank you?” He certainly didn’t want that. “Do you want to go to your room when we get home?” That wasn’t acceptable, either.

In desperation, his mother looked at her overflowing grocery cart. “Do you want a cookie?” “No!'” he shouted. Startled by the unexpected response, she asked again, “Are you sure you don’t want a cookie?”  At that point, the boy began to wail and his perplexed mother tried again. “Do you know what I just asked you?” This time, there was no reply; the unhappy child only re-buried his tearful face into her skirt, muffling the sound of his refusals.

Those of us watching were as amused as his mother was uncomfortable and embarassed, but all of us — mother and onlookers alike — seemed astonished by the intensity of the child’s “No!” Caught up in the perverse pleasure of opposition, his refusals had become more important to him than a cookie.

Unfortunately, the instinctive response of that child has become the habit of too many adults. Nay-sayers abound. Petulant, obnoxious, pessimistic, and filled with cynicism, their entire raison dêtre appears to be shouting No! into the face of life. Offered the hand of friendship, the challenges of collegiality, or the possibility of intimacy, they respond by clinging ever more tightly to their rejection of every overture; every gesture of conciliation; every offer of hope.

Tiresome and exhausting in personal relationships, negativity becomes corrosive and toxic on a social level. When whole groups begin saying No to one another, more than feelings get hurt. Society becomes segmented. Fear erodes acceptance. Selfishness appears, together with its unhappy twin, a hunger for power. From urban alleyways to the halls of Congress, from boardrooms to the halls of academia, we increasingly are confronted by the spectacle of enraged, petulant children shouting “No!” to those who dare confront or care for them: an army of aging children possessing adult strength and power: children whose negativity is capable of killing or reshaping lives without regard for consequence.

Recognizing the power of negativity to erode, consume and destroy, I’ve come to depend on the folly of hope: a willingness to believe that, despite all evidence to the contrary, humanity remains good at heart, that joy is possible, and that, however broken trust may be, it still can be rebuilt. To paraphrase the famous words of William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, I chose to believe humanity not only will endure the shouts of “no” we call history, but that it will prevail over that history by the “yes” of courageous human hearts.

Is such hope naive? Has faith in humanity become outdated? Have the cruelty, ridicule, and small-mindedness of the schoolyard made dignity, perseverance and acceptance irrelevant? Faced with such questions, I find myself once again aligned with a poet of my roots. Let the naysayers of the world rant on. Carl Sandburg knew the people; he knew the power of grace; and he knew the people’s “Yes.”

The people yes
The people will live on.
The learning and blundering people will live on.
They will be tricked and sold and again sold
And go back to the nourishing earth for rootholds,
The people so peculiar in renewal and comeback,
You can’t laugh off their capacity to take it…
The people so often sleepy, weary, enigmatic,
is a vast huddle with many units saying:
“I earn my living.
I make enough to get by
and it takes all my time.
If I had more time
I could do more for myself
and maybe for others.
I could read and study
and talk things over
and find out about things.
It takes time.
I wish I had the time.”…
Between the finite limitations of the five senses
and the endless yearnings of man for the beyond
the people hold to the humdrum bidding of work and food
while reaching out when it comes their way
for lights beyond the prison of the five senses,
for keepsakes lasting beyond any hunger or death.
This reaching is alive.
The panderers and liars have violated and smutted it.
Yet this reaching is alive yet
for lights and keepsakes.
The people know the salt of the sea
and the strength of the winds
lashing the corners of the earth.
The people take the earth
as a tomb of rest and a cradle of hope.
Who else speaks for the Family of Man?
They are in tune and step
with constellations of universal law.
The people is a polychrome,
a spectrum and a prism
held in a moving monolith,
a console organ of changing themes,
a clavilux of color poems
wherein the sea offers fog
and the fog moves off in rain
and the labrador sunset shortens
to a nocturne of clear stars
serene over the shot spray
of northern lights.
The steel mill sky is alive.
The fire breaks white and zigzag
shot on a gun-metal gloaming.
Man is a long time coming.
Man will yet win.
Brother may yet line up with brother:
This old anvil laughs at many broken hammers.
There are men who can’t be bought.
The fireborn are at home in fire.
The stars make no noise,
You can’t hinder the wind from blowing.
Time is a great teacher.
Who can live without hope?
In the darkness with a great bundle of grief
the people march.
In the night, and overhead a shovel of stars for keeps, the people
march:
“Where to? what next?”

Comments always are welcome.