Friday, August 4, 2017


Writers more profound and talented than I have experienced the mystery of the muse; the feeling one has—when reading over a song or poem or story—of pondering, “Now, where did that come from…” The germ of an idea, the flash of a thought—these may be no mystery, but the spirit that inhabits what began as a skeleton of words: Where did that come from? I believe in the concept of the muse—even if it’s just the hidden firing of brain synapses. But might it be more ephemeral than that? These bits of verse, below (with the exception of the last, which was penned on Sam’s first day), were written before Sam and Violet were born. Yet they serve as a kind of narration for their lives with us today! I like to think that they were my (prophetic? proleptic?) poetic muses! (Along with Anna’s violin!)

1) A few weeks ago, as we were preparing to leave the family cabin and head for home, six-year-old Violet said, “I’m going to go down and say good-by to the creek.”  Her sweet-but-determined resolve to linger a bit took me back a few years, to the time when Violet’s Auntie Anna—then about thirteen—and I had spent a week at the cabin—just the two of us and our dog, Sunny—and were packing the car for our departure. I later reflected on the wistfulness that is always part
of leaving:

Remove all trash and recyclables from under sink.
Make sure all windows are closed and locked.
Check that fireplace is cold to the touch and swept bare.
Rinse out thermos, but first
take a last cup of coffee and
walk down to the creek where it all began,
where it all begins each time: the valley and the day,
to that flat rock where Tom used to like to hold forth
with a glass of wine.
Go back to the porch, to the piles of suitcases and guitars,
laundry and tattered books—
the open tailgate waiting at the bottom of the stairs.
Visualize the cargo space: a place for everything,
though everything will end up out of place when the dogs
scramble inside in terror of being left behind in paradise.
Before packing it away, ask Anna to take out her violin:
"Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" sounding up the valley
one more time.
Lock gate securely behind you.

2) On a recent eighty-nine degree day, nine-and-a-half-year-old Sam expressed that age-old epiphany: “Hey! When it’s cold, we want it to be hot, and when it’s hot, we want it to be cold!” Here’s how I wrote it for my third-graders, in my teaching days. (Yes, I was once a teacher!)

It’s three below January,
I’m wrapped to my eyes
in cotton and goose-down and wool.
I look like a beach ball
about twice my size,
or a pillow that’s stuffed much too full.

And speaking of beach balls –
It seems I recall
a season of summer and fun,
when the ice comes in root beer
in glasses this tall!
And the sand is as warm as the sun.

July in the nineties!
I’m hot as a spark
of the charcoal that glows in the grill.
I hope it gets cooler
tonight when it’s dark,
but I really don’t think that it will.

And speaking of darkness –
It would be so nice
to wake up to winter and snow,
and run in the whiteness
and slide on the ice,
and tell the old wind it can blow!

3) When Sam was one day old, I was already looking forward to the day we would read The Lord of the Rings together. Which we just did!

It was this boy that I prayed for and the Lord has granted what I asked.
Now I make him over to the Lord….  ~1 Samuel 1:27-28

Samuel, I dedicate you to the Lord.
Your kooky little cap even looks like
one a prophet (or a wizard) would wear.
Though the biblical Sam wasn’t so much
a prophet as he was a wild west sheriff
trying to keep the peace between the mob
and a God who could blow at any minute.
So God made Samuel a maker of kings.
(Like Gandalf lifting up Aragorn’s crown:
Another Holy Book waiting for us!)
Lawmen and wizards and cowboys and kings:
Someday you’ll play all these wonderful things.
     But now, little prophet, your visions must keep
     as mommy and daddy rock Sammy to sleep.


Sam today. Maybe my next poem will be
inspired by crayfish!

Violet and Daddy. Down by the creek.