Wednesday, March 25, 2020

my subconscious works hard

the mentor of a dream

the familiar trail opens the woods before me,
and I slip fast among friends
of tree and stone and dropping creek,
until it’s time to turn around and head back,
I start down a different way to return,
a place where the woods open to sun and road and house,
I joy in running,
making great leaps into the air,
and I feel like I’m flying,
a brief touch on the trail 
and I bound again,
the way is new,
but I’m sure it will reconnect with what I know,
I check my watch and I’m on schedule,
then the trail, which was heading back to the familiar,
peters out into but hints of possible ways,

I see someone in a house, knock at the door,
and the person inside laughs at my confusion
and asks if I want to know the trail,
he tells me where it is but his face turns all quizzical
about where the trail will come out,
I name where I started,
and that name doesn’t register for him,
instead he names two roads where it goes,
numbers I don’t recognize,
still he reassures me a bit that the trail
is of the area I know, though maybe not,

I wake then, enough into consciousness
to realize my subconscious is working as hard as it can
to make sense of where we are now,
and the indeterminacy of where we’re going,
for now where we are feels fine,
until I look around and realize this path is new,
one I haven’t travelled,
one I do not know for sure where it will come out,

as I began to wake at 5:00 a.m. this morning,
I felt myself an anxious child
mentored by my subconscious self,
a self who deals with the titanic possibilities
my conscious self would rather leap over
and pretend that the path before us is charted,
and will get us home.

by Henry H. Walker
March 24, ‘20

Monday, March 23, 2020

stasis, and change

the virus, and life

why are we here?
what purpose calls to us from out of the void?

we came into reality and then into consciousness,
and somehow there is a drive to want our lives to matter
to make a difference for the better,
our challenge is often to seek the better for the other
who is beyond our personal bundle of senses and ego,

love can pull us to a partner,
and who we are at least doubles,
maybe then to children,
and we step into the chain
that reaches back billions of years
and hopes to find a future with which it can link up,

at our best we enlarge ourselves from our own Narcissism 
to other people as being “us,” too,
maybe then to animals,
maybe then to plants,
maybe to all life that webs itself upon the Earth,

to a virus?
experts argue that viruses are not alive,
that they are con men who only exist
by having others’ lives live for them,

I am at an age where the view out the rear-view mirror is far longer
than the view out the windshield of what’s coming up before me

I want to have been more than the virus,
using up the host in its own self-indulgence,
though that view may be unfair to the virus,
who, like death itself, is wedded to who we are,
our very DNA subject to the tweak of a virus,
maybe to help us punctuate equilibrium
and adapt ourselves to how the world changes,

we are not alone on the world,
no matter what we tell ourselves,
how sad that it takes a virus to wake us up,

how sad that it is still up in the air
whether we will wake up soon enough
to save ourselves and the world
from the self-centered excess that drives us so much.

by Henry H. Walker
March 22, ‘20

advice from the practical

the shop, and the soul

in shop class my student realizes she is capable,
she learns how to use machines
to cut, to drill, to shape wood into a useful form,
a form she conceived and achieved,
something more real than the dance of pixels on a screen,
even more real than the dance of those words 
I so dearly love, in books and writing, 
words which are grounded in the concrete, at their best,
but still beyond touch and concrete substance,

today our cars are engineered beyond our tinkering,
our food usually has a store between it and the ground,
our appliances warn us not to attempt their fixing,
or even opening them at all,
instead of knowing where we are
and finding the way ourselves to where we want to go
with a map, with signs, with dead reckoning,
we become servants to our GPS,
let it find the way that we slavishly follow,
and woe to us if it is suddenly not there,

I want to figure the way myself, when I can, 
on the road, in the wood, in my life,

the girl at the first of this poem
finds out in shop class
that she is not a princess,
for whom others toil,
but instead she is a mover and shaker 
who can do more than she thought, 
if she but will,
the practical shouts at us to learn our world,
to know our world,
to open ourselves to be actors in our own play.

by Henry H. Walker
March 20, ‘20

Friday, March 20, 2020

the Sun, right above the Equator

Vernal Equinox ‘20

I have long been drawn to the change of seasons,
the first poem I wrote well in my adult phase of writing
was of the Winter Solstice,
as dark and loss win for a while,
and set up the miracle of the transient new
in the flowers that briefly joy the moment months later,
the Sun will briefly be right above the Equator today,

I meditate in the dark morning
under gray skies and a light mist,
Native American prayers pull me to them,
and they pull me to the Great Spirit
infusing life on Earth,
and to all the lessons God wraps within nature,

oak limbs above me hold themselves in midnight black,
the tips of their branches hint of bud,

but mostly the trees are of the skeletal structure of will,
the answer of life to the call of the Sun,
the trees ready themselves to work with the increasing light
to make and store the Sun’s energy in the old green deal,
that deal we name with a clunky term, photosynthesis,

as the day slowly brightens
birds murmur and shout as if an impatient audience
ready for the show to start,
gray fades into muted colors:
the grass greens, the house reds,

the redbud’s magenta looks ready to explode,

I go in and shower,

the day moves on, as do many of the clouds,
all around my wanderings the flora shakes itself awake,
blueberry blossoms pull pollinators to them,

a butterfly visits the quince,
violets and bluets declare it to be their times in the woods,
hickory buds start to open,

the maple readies itself,
and the pine starts to throw pollen upon everything,

with climate change I risk planting early,
12 tomatoes I’ve started from seed are already in the garden,

sugar snap peas, in two separate staggered plantings, rise,

as does buttercrunch lettuce,
two spring plantings,

plus last fall’s that made it all through winter,

next week I’ll plant potatoes in the dark of the Moon,

the day winds down with partly cloudy skies
and a balmy feel to the air,
the north in this country still knows winter,
while the south feels summer coming on,

astronomically, the equinox is of balance, of equality,
this year, a virus, bred of our excess,
shakes our house of cards,
the natural world, though, 
just takes on the change of season,
and makes the best of what it is dealt.

Sunrise, the next day.  The Sun rises right where our driveway points.

by Henry H. Walker
March 19, ‘20

Thursday, March 19, 2020

a virus hovers, closer

later might be too late

ever since my dad died abruptly, unexpectedly,
part of me keeps doubting the solidity of the ground beneath,
doubting the surety of a plan, any constancy to the world,
if a thing needs doing, I leap to do it sooner,
for later might be too late,

now a virus hovers ever closer,
as if to prove the doubter in me right,
my near half-century in the classroom with students
I see, I know, I help along their paths,
not physically with me but at a digital remove,
each of us protected by the sterility
of touch through electrical impulse and computer screen,
even the comfortable routine of shopping
a hazard I deny for fear of contagion,

our plans to fly to our granddaughters in a week and a half,
to go to the Smokies in two weeks,
poof away as if illusion,
and we wake to a different world,

I keep waking and future plans
seem tenuous like the dead in Hades,
bereft of animation, chittering shells,
who forget the fire that animates us into the future,

our planned summer trips to Costa Rica, the Smokies, Yellowstone,
shimmer like mirages we cannot count on,

part of me fears this is the great switch I’ve always expected,
part of me tells me to “buck up” and enjoy whatever moments
an unknown future still allows the present to know,
that glory still accessible to us as long as we still breathe.

by Henry H. Walker
March 18, ‘20

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

WAZE and SIRI in conflict

flummoxed by our AIs

“Turn left on Asheville Highway,” so I do,
then immediately I hear
“turn left” on a small street,
then “turn left” again on another small street,
then “turn left on Asheville Highway,”
then “return to the route,” 
I repeat this absurd reality a few times, 
thinking there must be method in what seems madness,

I had used WAZE to get to Greeneville, TN,
then I asked SIRI to get me to Spruce Pine, NC,

since I hadn’t gotten to the center of Greeneville,
WAZE was determined to get me there,
and I could not figure how to turn it off,
its screen insistent on my setting up a carpool,
SIRI was determined to instruct me
how to get to Spruce Pine,
each GPS tool using the same smart phone voice
with no cognitive dissonance, except in me,
just an imperative insistence I should follow its instructions,

I felt like a rat, trapped in a maze,
completely flummoxed by contradictory imperatives,

most of us are happy to be 
beyond physical maps and dead reckoning,
giving up navigating decisions to an A.I.
who knows just where I am,
and where everything else is,
just not able to let me control the vector of its directions,

our red reality and our blue reality leave us purple.
by Henry H. Walker
March 14, ‘20

Saturday, March 14, 2020

keeping learning going

what empowers learning?

as schools transition, for a time,
from being in a classroom together,
to being physically distant from each other,
each of us in a separate house,
accompanied by a sterile computer, 
what are we losing?

much of who we are as humans is of the herd—
the other who supports us, who challenges us,
who is a necessary, imperfect mirror
to let us know we have worth,
that a direction we are going
should be supported or varied,

I think of the shock a newborn feels,
as oneness with the ocean of the womb
is lost in the birth canal
and the shock of colder air out in the world,

school can be that shock, too,
as we discover who we are, and who we aren’t,
essaying a sense of self within the classroom,
risking an idea, a writing, a movement, an assertion,
finding a “voice,” unique to us,
that can survive, and thrive,
or in a worst case, be silenced,
it is the aggregation of individuals into a group
that can somehow allow the individuals to find themselves,
appreciate themselves, like themselves, love themselves, 
when it all works,

I feel best about my classes continuing for a time,
with us separated for safety,
when the class has had time together
for them to know each other, the curriculum, and themselves,
when I have had time to tend the flock,
to care for each of them,
to do my best to fashion a web of knowing and support,

for weeks I can imagine each of them
well rising to the challenge
of interacting with the novel, the idea,
the reality beyond them,
creating the story, the essay, the project,
asserting self, and letting me support that assertion,
as the product wends its way to me,
and my reactions back to them,

such a distance between teacher and student 
works better with the connection already established,
I will have to work harder with a class
with whom I have had but a few weeks to connect.

by Henry H. Walker
March 13, ‘20