Tag: Poetry

Blacksmith memories…

The Village Blacksmith” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow written in 1840, the first poem of any substance I remember from Parrish Elementary School, struck me as a fairly accurate physical description of my father. He did not have a smithy, but he did often work under large oaks to avoid some of Florida’s brutal sun. He also did not go to church on Sunday nor did I ever see him shed a tear. However, the visual and auditory images Longfellow employed brought my father to mind immediately, and I could see him at his anvil as my 4th grade teacher read the piece aloud.

…The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands….

…His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate’er he can,…

…You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
with measured beat and slow…

I became familiar with farrier tools when my brother, Smokey, and I accompanied our father on horseshoeing jobs across Manatee, Hardee, De Soto, and Sarasota counties. We were expected to grab the correct tool when my father demanded one from the toolbox. My father’s contemporaries called him a blacksmith, but, in truth, I learned later that he was a farrier, one who shoes horses, mules, donkeys and occasionally oxen and is not necessarily skilled in other iron work done by the blacksmith. The farrier comes from the Latin word ferrarius, which means of iron or blacksmith, so the confusion between the two is natural.

Thirty years later I flashed back to those blacksmith /farrier moments when I watched the television show, Our House. From an online article in Equus Magazine, I learned “Wilford Brimley, America’s most famous farrier,…(from that 1986 television series) who shoed horses as crotchety old Gus Witherspoon…convinced the (show) writers to have Gus, the grandfather, go back to shoeing horses for some extra cash. As Wil likes to tell the story, he even got NBC to build him a shoeing rig. (“And a pretty nice one at that,” he recalls.) Brimley…referred again and again to how hard farriers work — and live. “My father wanted me to do something to earn an honest living, so I said I wanted to make that honest living shoeing horses,” he began his final story. “My father looked at me and said, ‘That’s a little bit too honest, son’.” As I watched those episodes, I wished my father had embodied some of Gus Witherspoon’s jovial qualities.

From the 17th chapter, “Blacksmithing,” in Growing Up Floridian:

The flash of the year and a half old 1958 Ford Ranchero sitting in the driveway just beyond the railroad-tie cattleguard, which offered vehicles a way to enter the yard but kept cattle and horses out, caught my eye as my brother and I cleared the tree line. The yard, surrounded by taut barbed wire to keep the ranch’s roaming cattle and horses at bay, had ample room for several vehicles and a horse trailer. After hearing bits of our parents’ conversation over the previous weeks about the problems created by the frequent breakdowns of my father’s 1950 Chevy pickup, I anticipated the newer truck. I did not expect a truck that
looked like a sleek car. The two-tone black and white body trimmed with a chrome sidespear that split the two colors gleamed as the black roof sat above the big windshield like a trim formal hat. My brother said our father must have been sold by the advertising descriptions of a truck with “double-duty beauty” and “the only truck with true passenger-car comfort and driving ease,” and the truck was comfortable and fashionable.

As I adjusted my schoolbooks to my other arm, I could see the Ranchero’s bed already gave home to a custom-made multi-sectioned box to house my father’s farrier tools. A stainless steel lid with a substantial lock protected the tools that facilitated his evening and weekend avocation, a self-taught set of skills that supplemented his work as a ranch hand on the Quarter Circle A Ranch. My brother pointed to the 90 pound anvil, secured by a strap attached to a bolt in the sidewall behind the left wheel well, that clearly weighed down the driver’s side of the truck a bit, but that weight would soon be balanced on the opposite side by stacks of horseshoes in a variety of sizes that fit into another custom rack fastened to the sidewall behind the right wheel well. A pair of bolts for anchoring the portable coal forge protruded noticeably from the bed of the truck. Clearly, our father had measured and designed storage space for his entire blacksmithing operation.

In the style of John Holmes: “Map of My Country”

 

Writing in the style of a poet is a way to practice creating poetry while creating original poetry. The poem, “Map of My Country” by John Holmes, is a powerful self reflection. 

In 1954, Holmes typed a copy of the poem with lengthy annotations, explaining the choices behind the evolution of the poem. This annotated version has been recreated here:

http://dca.lib.tufts.edu/features/holmes/world/map/map01.html#stanza1

One way to write in the style of a poet is to go line-by-line through a poem and ask a question that would get at the heart of the line. Then, the writer could answer that question in the rhythm and with the substance of the original line. What follows is Holmes’ poem and my attempt to write is his style.

Memorial Day connection:  According to Adele J. Haft in “The Map-makers’ Colors”: Maps in Twentieth-Century American Poetry in English,” the Navy adopted John Holmes’ “Map of My Country” (Holmes, 1943; see Holmes, 1999) for the “libraries of its ships and stations” (Eyges, 2007, 117). The first of several American collections dominated by map metaphors, “Map of My Country” opens with a sprawling twelve-part poem (3–34), an autobiography so expansive that it not only pays homage to the American people and places that enriched Holmes’ life, but also charts his generation and the literature that molded those who lived through two World Wars.

“Map of My Country” by John Holmes

A map of my native country is all edges,
The shore touching sea, the easy impartial rivers
Splitting the local boundary lines, round hills in two townships,
Blue ponds interrupting the careful county shapes.
The Mississippi runs down the middle. Cape Cod. The Gulf.
Nebraska is on latitude forty. Kansas is west of Missouri.
.
When I was a child, I drew it, from memory,
A game in the schoolroom, naming the big cities right.

Cloud shadows were not shown, nor where winter whitens,
Nor the wide road the day’s wind takes.
None of the tall letters told my grandfather’s name.
Nothing said, “Here they see in clear air a hundred miles.
Here they go to bed early. They fear snow here.”
Oak trees and maple boughs I had seen on the long hillsides
Changing color, and laurel, and bayberry, were never mapped.
Geography told only capitals and state lines.

I have come a long way using other men’s maps for the turnings.
I have a long way to go.
It is time I drew the map again,
Spread with the broad colors of life, and words of my own
Saying, “Here the people worked hard, and died for the wrong reasons.
Here wild strawberries tell the time of year.
I could not sleep, here, while bell-buoys beyond the surf rang.
Here trains passed in the night, crying of distance,
Calling to cities far away, listening for an answer.”

On my own map of my own country
I shall show where there were never wars,
And plot the changed way I hear men speak in the west,
Words in the south slower, and food different.
Not the court houses seen floodlighted at night from trains,
But the local stone built into house walls,
And barns telling the traveler where he is
By the slant of the roof, the color of the paint.

Not monuments. Not the battlefields famous in school.
But Thoreau’s pond, and Huckleberry Finn’s island.
I shall name an unhistorical hill three boys climbed one morning.
Lines indicate my few journeys,
And the long way letters come from absent friends.

Forest is where green ferns cooled me under the big trees.
Ocean is where I ran in the white drag of waves on white sand.
Music is what I heard in a country house while hearts broke.
Not knowing they were breaking, and Brahms wrote it.

All that I remember happened to me here.
This is the known world.
I shall make a star here for a man who died too young.
Here, and here, in gold, I shall mark two towns
Famous for nothing, except that I have been happy in them.

 

From the “Epilogue” of Growing Up Floridian:

“Remapping My Country” (with respect to John Holmes)

Massachusetts, a rectangle, ends as a boot,
kicking back the salty waves of the Atlantic,
a barrier island sheltering Cape Cod Bay,
where people can stop for a Sandwich between
Plymouth and Provincetown.
Buzzards Bay intrudes at the ankle,
while Vineyard Sound is ground under the heel.
Nantucket looks longingly at the toe
and westerly at the dust kicked up over Martha’s Vineyard.

My snow-suited youth understood little about latitude lines
crossed when visiting a grandfather’s stone house in New Hampshire.

Reds and yellows of New England falls
dappled the rural hills in memories
of September jaunts to Vermont.
The sight of lobster traps in stacks pulled forth
scents of Old Bay seasonings bubbling around
red claws and protruding feelers that fed
galloping appetites born in piles of playful leaves.
Road signs spoke only of overlooks, not of what to look over.

Parental tales of trips taken twenty years earlier
in a Hudson Commodore did not realistically inform the imagination swaying in the back of a Mercury Comet.
A child’s mind must explore his own byways,
and he must sculpt his own dragons in the clouds.
A black bear on a stone wall frightening chipmunks
did not intimidate a latter day Mohican Cooper inspired.
Fly fishermen down a distant stream did not decorate
the AAA triptik followed up the east coast.

A Studebaker Daytona, ten years later, on the same route
populated by Firebirds, Fieros, Camaros, and Thunderbirds,
shared the roadway with 18-wheeled behemoths jockeyed by
ratchet-jawed rooster cruisers defying the double nickel.
The flat tires fixed on the shoulders refocused the destination
that was not intended as a permanent relocation but as a
waypoint during an exploration.

Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, written in the year of my birth, set a traveling rhythm twenty years later.
His journey was not retraced, but the spirit was embraced.
The only Mary Lou I knew populated Ricky Nelson’s song
on a worn out eight track tape,
but letters from Floridian tourists set new waypoints that
beckoned off interstate exit ramps.

Brautigan’s Confederate General at Big Sur altered my reality.
Trout Fishing in America took me down a humorous path.
Richard’s images entwined within me on western mountain slopes and rolled down shimmering highways into setting suns.

Topographical symbols reveal the contours of my life.
Straight, curved, dashed, and solid lines link moments.
Circled cities connected by yellow highlighted routes merge
melodic memories that bridge kaleidoscope reflections
with echoes resounded through my years.

Poetic drama in the Caribbean

I saw this scene unfold while working on the Yankee Clipper, part of the Windjammer fleet, in the Caribbean in 1972. When I saw Don Ray’s painting, I had to get a print and was inspired to capture the battle in poetic form. The real life drama was caught on film:
https://www.facebook.com/intothebluetv/videos/1201673946572026/

 

Caribbean Collisions

(In response to Don Ray’s painting of a flying fish being pursued by both a Magnificent Frigate and a dolphin fish.)

Fins folded, the flying fish lifts,
bursts from beneath the sea’s surface
to glide at forty-five miles an hour
across the crests and rifts.

Coryphaena hippurus, chartreuse purple flashes,
agitated dark dorsal flags flying,
dart underneath in patterned pursuit
anticipating winged dashes.

Overhead, a frigate’s black wings reflect cobalt blue;
narrowed in diving descent,
his deeply forked tail alters flight
and allows hooked bill to pursue.

Adapted after a million years of predation
silver herring aircraft take off
with the lower lobe of the caudal fin whirring
in instinctive defensive navigation.

Feathered pirate, Fregata Magnificens,
descends, snaps his hinged, hooked trap,
plucks the airborne sard,
claims the prize, and ascends.

Undeterred, dorado drive pinnate prey
through waves into gusts to glide
over furrows and undulating ridges
to bank off swells in an aerial ballet.

A dance of the eons is enacted on the oceanic tide
by a triad of species entwined;
evolved adaptations of flight and fight
on a sun dappled sea collide.

M. Taylor

How do Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a buzzard, and a hummingbird come together?

On the third hole of the Buffalo Creek Golf Course, a wake of buzzards often circles overhead. Whether that action is a symbolic comment on my golf game or not, I am not sure, but any time I see a turkey vulture or a black vulture, I am reminded of the poem, “To a Buzzard Swinging in Silence.” The hummingbird connection is twofold: Lynn and I just took a trip to AZ to see my mother-in-law, Martha Bodenchuk, and to visit Patagonia’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds…and I wrote a poem in the style of Ms Douglas in response to a hummingbird.

MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS April 7, 1890 – May 14, 1998

Ms Douglas’ “To a Buzzard Swinging in Silence” was published most recently in Florida in Poetry, in 1995.

“To a Buzzard Swinging in Silence”

by Marjory Stoneman Douglas

I never knew how fair a thing

was freedom, till I saw you swing,

Ragged, exultant, black and high,

Against a hollow, windy sky.

You that with such a horrid gait

Lumbers and flops with red, raw pate.

I never knew how beauty grew

From ugliness, until you flew

With soaring, sombre, steady beat

Of wings rough-edged to grip the fleet

Far coursing horses of the sky —

To ride, to ride them gloriously.

Oh, brother buzzard, you whose sin

On earth is to be shackled in

To horror, teach me how to go

Like you, to beauty, sure and slow.

Like you, to slip such carrion ties

And lift and lift to high, clean skies,

Where winds and sun and silence ride,

Like you, oh buzzard, glorified.

——

In the style of Ms Douglas’ poem,

“To a Hummingbird”

I did not understand how bright a thing

was winged flight, till I viewed your skyward fling,

shimmering, motionless, then darting away,

emerald against the bluest day.

You with an elongated, pointed beak,

amid tubular flowers holding the nectar you seek.

I did not understand how sheer speed

from tiny wings could lead,

with twisting, turning, tattooed tacks

on courses flown on invisible tracks,

to flights of dreams of silver days.

To gaze, to gaze along the slant of heaven’s rays

and find the summit of ambition

in the constant ambrosia-seeking mission.

I must be taught to search like you

for life’s most vibrant enticing hue.

Like you, to taste sensual dessert,

Like you, to move in symphonic concert

and flit and flit in cloudless realms

beneath the gods’ anointed helms

where buds and blooms and aromas waft.

To you, oh hummingbird, my hat is doffed.

Exploring Floridian Reflections

 

12 year-old me in July of 1963 with my 4-H Hereford steer getting ready for the Manatee County Fair.

                                                       

 

                     Inner cowboy adrift on literate shores

 

      The Six-Word Memoir is the challenge to describe one’s life in only six words: My rural, Cracker-cowboy, Florida childhood took a detour when my parents were divorced, and I spent my teenage years on the beaches of Florida’s west coast. My passion for reading led me in and out of college and along twisted paths and hallways of educational institutions. A variety of teaching positions on several levels actually enhanced my appreciation of well-written literature. Teaching Shakespeare, Frost, Poe, and MacDonald have offered stimulating journeys that invigorate my mind. My explorations were most rewarding when youthful student intellects engaged and shared the adventures.

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