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Archive for January, 2008

Both Ways

I had typed out my reason for choosing this particular small poem for today’s blog and thought it rather good, then, poof, it disappeared. I haven’t the slightes idea what I did to send it off to wherever such things go in this computer when they go, poof.
The following poem is one of the first poems I wrote for Butterflies and Bumblees. The truth is, I really do like weather that keeps me indoors: most of the time. Well, I’ll try again. . .
I still had to the milking, feeding, seeing to the needs of the livestock and taking care of our small daughter on my own twice a week while my husband was on his egg, chicken, butter and smoked meats route into the city of Philadelphia, Pa., but on days when the weather was inclement, I was free to be just a housewife and mother. However, anytime my husband was on the farm and the weather permitted, I played the role of hired hand seven days a week. Yes, I had good reason back then to appreciate rainy, cloudy days. And I still do.

My skies need not be always blue
to give me cause for singing.
I sometimes find that pewter-gray
can set my spirits winging.
I rather like a wild March wind
when spring time comes a’calling,
or when November clouds hang low
and first snowflakes are falling.
I like the grumbling thunder
that foretells a coming rain
with its ever welcome melody
against my window pane.
Call me perverse, or even strange;
to that charge I’ll testify.
Oh, I like sunshine well enough
but I still love a pewter sky.

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Street Shadow

In my comment to Jckaufman, my real life son—there is a Bob, an Al and others who are dear to me, something akin to sons—I wrote that I do not write poety for reward. Then why did I feel so pleased when the following poem gained an honorable mention in a state-wide contest in Pennsylvania one year? Thought I’d do a little bragging in this blog.

He is not there if we but will it true—who?
the man who claims the street his home. His bed?
where chance gives him the right to lay his head.
But should his plight we view, a momentary sense of shame
may wrestle with the conscience; we then
may seek redemption in the throng of men
who also claim the inability to see,
pretending something on the other side
has caught the eye. The street? a great divide,
a chasm, keeps us free
of any guilt that might arise
to spoil our smug tranquillity.
But should we pause in sympathy
when forced to face on life’s highway
a disillusioned soul with feet of clay,
a coin may ease the conscience and dismiss
uneasiness for surely, he was failure-prone.
We may free our troubled minds with this:
the fault’s not ours but all his own.

But in our hearts we know:
sometimes its circumstance
that brings a good man low.

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IF I

As I wrote in yesterday’s blog, I am, little by little, going to carve from my autobiography, bits of me in poetry. Without explanation, I leave you with. . .

If I, in my old age should be

lost in pleasant reverie,

please don’t ask of me

why I sometimes concentrate

on things you cannot see.

I may see a flight of steps without a door.

I may be waiting, as I waited years before,

for the moment he comes into view.

Should I muse the way that women do

when remembering past happiness,

I’ll be recalling a sweet memory

and should I smile if I recall

the way his eyes met mine so long ago,

silently expressing as plain as it could be

a love that others must not see,

I’ll be remembering;

I was as dear to him as he to me.

 

My hands, my strength, in spite of tears,

I gave my best throughout the years

to duty, but I set apart

within divisions of my heart

love for another and therein,

dared what gods may rule above

to call salvation, profane sin.

 

However brief the rose’s bloom,

if pressed within a book’s dark womb

it still retains its sweet perfume.

 

If someday, in reverie,

I should recall his memory

and pause to stare at a door that isn’t there,

I’ll be hearing what you cannot hear—

his footsteps on the stair.

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Enlightenment

Many years ago, while still a member of the Mennonite church, my husband and I spent a delightful evening in the home of a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, artist. A series of paintings depicting the life of Jesus hung on the walls of his studio. The beautifully-rendered work fascinated me. Even as I admired his skill, something troubled me. Neither the facial features nor the style of hair rendered in the paintings resembled the Jesus pictured in illustrated Sunday School Bible Stories, on canvasses hanging on church walls or in museums. The features and hair style were those of a man much like my host’s.
“It doesn’t look like Jesus,” I ventured.
“Many people are puzzled when first viewing the paintings,” our host ventured, “but Jesus was a Jew, as I am, so I must paint him as a Jew.” I left the artist’s home a somewhat enlightened Mennonite.
Several years later, I had cause to remember my visit to the artist’s home. While visiting my youngest sister Jean who lives in New Jersey, I accompanied her to the local library. As we entered the building, a large framed photograph hanging on a wall opposite the door, attracted our attention. As curious as anyone might be, we walked over to better view the display. Someone had photographed a portion of a wall on which danced a curious blend of shadows caused by smoke from a fire. There was no mistaking the image: another “miraculous” likeness of Christ.
I have, on several occasions, been shown what was deemed to be the face of Christ in such things as ink stains, oil spills and mud puddles. Without exception, I have been shown a Jesus as envisioned by various artists hundreds of years after his death. As far as I was concerned, the image I was looking at in the library was but another natural phenomenon—a quirk of a moment caught on film. I had not forgotten my conversation with the Jewish artist I once visited, nor the various paintings of Jesus viewed since. As I stood in the library looking up at what was supposed to be the face of Christ, I decided to clue my sister in on my thoughts.
“Why is Jesus always portrayed with almost feminine-like features, a beautifully-proportion Roman nose and with slightly wavy blond hair down to his shoulders.” I asked, and then continued, “Jesus was born a Jew, would have had the features of a Jew, and he would have worn his hair short, as did other Jewish men of his time.”
My sister protested. “Who cares?”
Not to be silenced when on a roll, I ventured, “I think I can take a Jew’s word on that. If Jesus is going to make his presence known by appearing as an image in shadows of one sort or another, he surely knows what he looked like while living here on earth. All you have to do is to read Second Corinthians, Chapter Fourteen, . . .
Sometimes, I guess I don’t know when to quit because, my sister cut me off and walked off muttering something to the effect, “All right, Mary. Enough with the physiognomy lessons.”
Well, ya can’t win them all.

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You Are Not Alone

Edgar A. Guest. A poet of the common, everyday people and for the common, everyday people.
Among my many poetry books, I cherish a 1934 volume of Mr. Guest’s poetry. Don’t worry Barbara Kaufman Boyer, the book is yours, but not just yet. I’ve a few things I plan on doing before you lay claim to it.
I know, today’s poem is, say, old-fashioned, and terribly out of date, but you’ve got to admit: the reader does not have to work up a sweat ‘getting the lid off’ before consuming the contents. So, without apology, and in memory of Edgar A. Guest, I give you. . .

When your world turns topsy-turvy, nothing seems to come out right:
when you think hope is behind you and you’ve lost your will to fight:
when the struggle is all uphill and you’re tempted near to tears,
it takes a heap of courage to face your doubts and fears.
There are always those about you whom you’d think Dame Fortune’s child,
who have never walked in sorrow and on whom the gods have smiled,
but if you knew them better there’s no doubt that you would find,
they turn their clouds all inside out to find them golden-lined.

So when the clouds are hanging all about you grim and gray;
when you think that loss and heartbreak is your fate day after day,
just remember there’s a sun behind those clouds that trouble you
and happiness may yet be yours when it comes breaking through.

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Thank You Doctor

When my grandson, Justin, first suggested I tell my readers more about who I am and so forth, I found myself at a loss for words, so decided to allow my work to do the job for me. I think today’s blog should help to do just that, but first, a bit of explanation: I have written two books of poetry still waiting for self-publishing. I’ve already used several poems from Butterflies and Bumblebees, but now, let me introduce to The Iconoclast using the preface. I may change the title, but the preface stands as written. Or, nearly so.

If asked for the source of inspiration that inspired the poems in this book, I have to go back in memory to an impressive fieldstone home in Obelisk, about thirty-five miles north of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One summer afternoon, I rode my treasured American Saddlebred mare to a local grocery store not far from the farm on which my husband, our six children and I lived. While I was shopping, the telephone rang. The caller was a Mrs. Winter from across the road. ‘Would the proprietor ask the rider of the beautiful horse to stop by?’ I did, and met a delightful woman who was to become a dear friend. I also met Dr. Fenton Russell, recently retired from his practice, and his lovely wife, Elsie. All three, thoughtful freethinkers, welcomed me into their home and into their hearts.
I was, at the time and had been since sometime during 1948, a convert to a local, Mennonite church whose members believed the Bible, particularly the King James Version of the Bible, to be the definitive, inspired Word of God, and I was a believing Christian. Dr. Russell, with whom I had many lively debates on the subject of religion, had a difficult time breaking through the theological cocoon with which my years in the Mennonite faith had encased me.
Perhaps in desperation, one evening my tutor finally exclaimed, “Mary, you think you are thinking, but you are not cogitating.” Ashamed to admit I did not know the meaning of the word, I ceased fending off whatever point the informed doctor was endeavoring to hammer home in my obstinate, religiously-primed mind and settled back to enjoy the balance of my visit. I then went home and searched for the meaning of the word in the dictionary. For the first time in my entire life, I began to realize I had not been thinking for myself. From that moment on, I did not hesitate to allow facts to replace what I now know to have been legend, lore and superstition.
My thanks to all those who helped me think, who helped make this volume possible. First, my sincere thanks to Doctor Russell, then to the agnostic Robert Green Ingersoll to whom Dr. Russell introduced me via Mr. Ingersoll’s written orations. My thanks to Immanuel Velikovsky, author of ‘Worlds In Collision’, the book that first incited my interest in early religions, especially those in the Middle East. My thanks to Mr. Homer W. Smith’s Man And His Gods, an excellent research into the rise of the Judaic/Christian religion in the Middle East and to Sir Hugh Frazier and his well-researched study,The Golden Bough. Louis Ginzberg’s Legends Of The Bible fascinated me as did Hugh Shoenfield’s works such ‘Those Incredible Christians. John M. Allegro and his work, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross is a treasure as is Hyam Maccoby’s The Mythmaker/Paul And The Invention Of Christianity. Michael Grant’s ‘The Jews In The Roman World’ is a must if one wonders how history and regional politics shapes religious thinking and beliefs. My thanks to all such authors who have, many times, been my only like-minded companions on the often-times, lonely road only those who dare to doubt and to question organized religion, dare to travel. Those books began to convince me of how little I knew about the Christian faith to which I had, without thinking, handed over the most precious commodity I possessed—my intellect. It was then I began to really read the Bible—both the Old and New Testament—but this time without the “blindfold” imposed by church theology. A thorough study of the Bible’s contents convinced me, as nothing had before, that if God exists, he did not reveal himself on the pages of what Christians call the Holy Bible. Instead of groundless theology, I now have an unfaltering faith in the power of conceptual reasoning: otherwise known as . . . cogitation.

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About Poetry

As usual, this morning I rolled out of bed, feeling fine and looking forward to the day ahead of me. Still felt like I could take on the world after seeing to the needs of my two cats and my scamp of a Scamp, ShihTzu, but then, didn’t I have to go and read the morning paper which assures me the economy is crumbling and our service men and women are still getting killed and wounded in Iraq, which left me with a case of the blahs. What better way to shake the mood than to open up my computer and visit new friends via my blogsite. Thought I’d choose something on the “up” side this morning, something with a bit of humor to share, and here it is:

Sometimes I fantasize that I’m a poet,
but apparently, today,
my poems are passé.
I like to think that poetry
is made of lines that rhyme
with consistent regularity.
However, I am trapped in time
convinced that I’m
old fashioned and completely out of step.
The truth is this: I simply am not hep
to what, these days, is deemed to be . . . poetry.
When it comes to modern verse,
my attempts to imitate and possibly,
initiate a brand-new me
only makes the matter worse.
If, when I write poetically
and waxing most aesthetically
on a lovely poem-potpourri,
should I be, or should I not,
a poet still in Camelot?

I’ve often changed my mind before,
discarded old for new,
thought new thoughts, dreamed new dreams
and dared to think a matter through.
Believe me, I’m not beaten yet.
I’ll swing the odds, I’ll win the bet.
I’ll prove old dogs, old dogs like me,
though long of tooth, can also see
for a poet one must be
willing to forsake, forego,
the poets who endured through time.
So for the moment, down with rhyme.
Forgive me Swinburne, Keats and Poe,
I must desert time-trusted ode.
It’s the modern way to go.
I’ll try my best, if I’ve the time,
to be a modern Erato.

No matter how I try to fake it,
I doubt that I will ever make it.

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