Friday, December 31, 2010

the falcon can hear

as the train, and as not

the heart beats,
once it starts and until it stops
it marks with each point of the beat
the line of a life,
a timeline on which we can notice event follow event,
as if life is a train that follows a track,
all so linear, sequential,
my consciousness jumps that track
like a falcon released from the train:
I fly back along the track
and I can’t believe a time has passed,

my children and grandchildren were just with me
and I cannot feel that I noticed, and appreciated,
each moment with them enough,
for how can I appreciate unless I pull out enough,
then I’m not fully present in the moment I want to know fully:
I listened to them,
I played with them,
I took care to take care,
and I still feel I was asleep
as if each moment was a glance out the window,
pleasant, fleeting, lost in an inexorable unfolding,

now I sob with loss,

my falcon flies hard and fast
toward the time just past
that I wish I could hold again,
I fly toward the time ahead
when I hope to recapture
more such moments of rightness,
that of the past I loved can maybe be again
in a future I can find,

the train still beats along the track,
and I still feel released as the falcon
to find a way to hold the whole length of the track
within the self I can feel myself to be.

by Henry Walker
December 30, ’10

companion to granddaughters

a force of nature

the human spirit is a force of nature,
like the root that finds a way, regardless,
like water that can sculpt a mountain, given enough time,
like a hummingbird that takes itself from the U.S. to the tropics,
and back again, despite how diminutive it is,
like a storm, or a glacier, or the desert sun,

our granddaughters are each a force of nature,
becoming who they are with implacable force,

though also with an openness to the right nudge,
the right clarifying question or reaction,
so that means and goals negotiate with each other
to reveal connections between consequence and cause,

directions forward have guides who suggest,
a driver who decides,

and at each nexus, each moment of nexus,
each stumbles steadfastly toward a future
that can well express the force of nature
each granddaughter embodies with her soul,
that self who increasingly feels itself here and ready to be:

how extraordinary to be a companion on any part of that journey.

by Henry Walker
December 28, ’10

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

to honor

I have known Lawrence by seeing him within his daughter Toni: the integrity to self, the humor, the steadfastness of purpose, the devotion to express that of God in the world. Any of us as parents could wish for no better than to live again so fully in the children we love without condition.

Lawrence Edward Williamson

a man,
a man who knew how to be a man,
and how to be a man well,

grounded with deep roots in the pride and clay of the upper piedmont of North Carolina,
that state which values humility, being real and true over seeming and pretension,
with deep roots in Rockingham County, his home his whole life,

born while the country still reeled from Depression, World War II,
and opportunities limited by the color of your skin and the money in your pocket,

born into a farming family with those most American of values at our best:
hard work, from dawn to dusk and beyond,
working with the earth and hoping for the right rain
so that vegetables can grow to fill our stomachs,
so that tobacco can grow to pay the bills,
so that animals can prosper and thus the farmer,

there was always enough love to fill his heart
and enough food to get by,
though times were hard,
and sacrifices had to be made,

Lawrence was very private and didn’t whine his problems;
to appreciate the glory of his life, though,
it’s good to acknowledge the effort he gave every day,
he never planned to retire and gave himself fully every moment of his life,

grounded in family, for in family you can have a partner
who is at least half of a whole you love yourself to be,
for in family you can have children whom you love more than life itself,
and of whom you are more proud than you can bring yourself to say,
the loss of a beloved niece wrenched him to the core,
as he imagined losing a daughter himself,
Lawrence was the baby in his birth family,
and as such his lot was to lose both a brother and a sister
before his time to be lost to us,
family and wife as completely devoted to him as he to them,

though grounded in body and place, in family and history,
Lawrence’s spirit soared,
for in his mind, in his spirit, in his imagination,
he flew up, out, beyond,
always willing to take a risk,
imagine him on the front porch with a cigarette
as he enjoyed long moments of contemplation,
imagine all the jobs he had as he expressed more and more parts of who he was,
who he could be, a jack-of-all-trades:
working wood and making cabinets,
a barber,
a school bus driver, what a way to find “Zet,” the love of his life!
painting cars, a love of maintaining his vehicles always with him,
and then he found a calling in small engine repair,
keeping neighbors’ lawn mowers going,
fiddling rightly with the small
so that the tool would be ready for the large,
a musician, whose bass guitar at church helped worshippers keep to the faith,

he loved the mountains, and the Native American, though not the sea,
and Maggie Valley spoke to him enough for him to get his family up there for years,
and, speaking of years, could the Washington Redskins have a bigger fan?

in his last few years his sensitive side revealed itself more and more,
losing his mother brought forth his tears and his softer side came more to the front,

Lawrence was a gift God chose to give us,
and it’s wonderful how much he continues to be here,
we are lucky to still have his wife and his children,
and all who have been touched and transformed by him,
those who are still here and who honor him with the fabric of their lives
within which he is interwoven deeply,
it’s good to think of him now released and back home:
standing up straight with his hair just right, and no more pain,
may we honor him by remembering the gift of the life he worked so hard to give.

by Henry Walker
December 26, ’10

Thursday, December 23, 2010

what the Sun gives and how we receive it. . .

Winter Solstice, ’10

the year is slowing down,
the trees have cast off their leaves,
and the sap sleeps within the roots,

much of the woods is black-and-white, like in an old movie,
rhododendron leaves hang limp as if in homage to the cold,
a light snow hovers on the holly one morning
and reminds the forest floor and us that it’s a good time to sleep,
the light hides away behind clouds often this time of year
and drifts more and more to the south,

the cold has come early and icy snow lingers longer and longer,
particularly high up on the slopes
and in the little worlds blocked from the diminished Sun,

we hike, we explore, and we notice what we can:
how the magnificence of great trunks of tulip poplar and buckeye

reveal themselves more easily than when we’re near them in high summer,
ferns, laurel, rhododendron, and pine keep true to the green,
while beds of galax are almost royal in their purple,

the last full day of Fall is even-handed, like a parent with two kids,
and gives equal time to either side of freezing,
the Winter Solstice is not till the next day,
at least in the preciously precise rendering of astronomers
who figure just when the Sun stops in its retreat to the south,
and then begins its climb
that will fill us in the north
with leafing, flowering, fruiting, seeding,
and with sweat and air-conditioning,
clouds and rain should come in the next day
so I respect the universe as to what it will give
and how much I need adjust myself to the other,

the last late afternoon of Fall
I drive high up where the Earth around here gets closest to the sky,
and I search out a good view of the setting Sun and the rising near full Moon,

just my luck, each align themselves with the spine of the mountains
so peak and leafless tree block clarity of revelation,

till I return to the valley
and watch the great round Moon climb over the ridges,

in the night clouds and fog roll in
and hide the eclipse of the Moon I had hoped to see,
morning doesn’t break: it just slowly lightens with a cool drizzle,
the rhododendron have more hope in their droop:
looking up as if from under half-lidded eyes,
four wild turkeys scrape among the leaves for a morning snack,

all day of the Solstice I feel myself driven in,
driven into my house,
driven into my self,
all by gloomy dark drizzle,

I turn up the thermostat and retreat into my book,
two naps, some cooking, more eating,
night comes on slowly as if a great dimmer
were slowly, slowly turned towards “off,”

I want the season’s change to be sharp, clear,
a switch turned off or on,
the Sun to rise and set with bold strokes,
a dramatic exit or entrance,
the night to be of stars,
a canvas upon which the fullness of the Moon paints itself,

this year inherent order and rightness within the cosmos,
expressed in the heavens,
speaks softly,
yet still carries the stick,
the stick of our dependence on what the Sun gives,
and how we receive it will still drive us,

we ignore the power contained within the simplicity of seasonal change
at the peril of our playing a game in which we don’t know the rules,
and within which we’re still winner or loser, based on our play.

by Henry Walker
December 21, ’10

differentiation & oneness

within & without

I’m deep in the valley,
I hike, climb high, and look back down,
I see myself within and now above,

I experience, and I’m in the experience,

when I look back and down,
I’m then at a remove from one experience
and fully into another one,

when I write, I step out,
my words both distancing and penetrating,
when I photograph, I step out,
my camera both distancing me from the moment
and seizing the day,

our first days alive can still be of the long dream
in which we float in a sea,
a sea that is also us,
and only abruptly, and slowly, do we step out
and separate one from the other,
me from not-me,
parent from not-parent,
present from past, future from present,
objects and people develop permanence,
a permanence that also can be an absence,

feeling translates into thoughts and thought into words,
and we wield the words and they are our handles for understanding,
for ourselves and for all that is other,
in meditation I seek moments that reverse differentiation,
that differentiation which is so much of who we know ourselves to be,

when my mother slipped away from words
I wonder how much she also slipped away from thoughts
as her thoughts lost their connection to word,
and, when she was most gone, and close to the last breath,

how much was her soul ready for the oneness before
that the oneness that is after remembers?

by Henry Walker
December 19, ’10

a third way


edges can be scary, and revealing,
for near a boundary between one reality and another,
there is a place where, with a slight change,
something basic reorients,

our cabin in the mountains is in the city:
city water, paved streets, cable TV,
a well-stocked kitchen and a comfortable bed,
and just out the back door
we have a national park for a backyard,
our ways there follow stream and trail,
I wander outside long enough to hear
and start to understand the languages
water sings with rock,
sun sings with leaf,
that the double helix spirals with bird and bear,

I like to hold within myself both sides of divide after divide,
I am both introvert and extrovert, actor and observer,
wherever reality seems to resolve into two
I see a third way that is of both and of neither,

the world of our civilization can flower beautifully,
however, I want to know the root, the trunk, and the branches,
as well as the fruit that comes from the flower.

by Henry Walker
December 18, ’10

the heavens & us

to center our world?

how much of day-to-day life is dice playing with the universe,
a cosmic randomizer that messes with our certainty,
and, as if on a whim, changes the weather, relationships, opinions--
success or failure of this or that?

so instead we can seek constancy, surety, a plan,
a parent who knows what they’re doing,
we pull back the curtain and hope for someone in charge,
a tragedy? surely part of God’s plan,
just that we poor mortals can’t fathom it,
the capricious scares us,
our destiny, from the stars? somehow?

a people in the desert of the Southwest a thousand years ago
went to enormous effort to build structure after structure
to mirror the changes Sun & Moon dance with the Earth
in their stable, predictable way,

the Sun’s changes, for sure, affect us mightily:
our crops, our comfort, our moods change as possibility changes,
as light and dark tussle for dominance,
the Moon varies enormously each month
and the night sky transforms again and again,
the seas and the imaginative rise and settle at its beckoning,

that the Moon has a 19 year cycle of where on the horizon it rises and sets
only matters if we have an esoteric reason to care,
for these changes are subtle beyond my belief,

at least one people, a thousand years ago, cared,
cared enough to build structure after structure
that mark the regular, predictable changes in the sky,
including the Moon’s minor changes over near two decades,
it seems the certainty found in the heavens centered their world,
what centers ours?

by Henry Walker
December 17, ’10

Monday, November 29, 2010

a center

Thanksgiving & the Cabin

3 tables
14 chairs
all empty now
dark as night settles over us,
it’s the day after Thanksgiving,
only Joan and I here at the cabin,
one brother long gone from our presence,
not from my heart,
another brother wrapped in the arms of a new family,
my brother’s widow and her daughter off to another part of her family,
our children and grandchildren caught up in the worlds
their choices have brought about,
Joan’s sisters with their own lives which don’t land up here this time,

so for Thanksgiving this year we’re back to the basics,
me where I most feel home this season, and thankful,
with my wife who loves this place and me, and us together,
as we both are thankful for the other,

the tables stand empty for now,
I look at them and see my father at the head,
gone for almost 49 years,
and then I see and remember many more
who found this place a center for awhile
and who now have slipped away
in death & choice & circumstance,

much of what I do now is honor this shell
and work to keep it ready to hold those who come later,
so that this place can serve again and again
as a center to pull folks together,
and the tables will fill again and again,
as will the stomachs and the hearts of those around them.

by Henry Walker
November 26, ’10

Saturday, November 27, 2010

tears spring to the eyes

so full of feeling

I love it when I feel so full of feeling
that tears spring to my eyes,
when the calluses I’ve built up
forget they’re there enough
so that I can feel the touch of the other upon me,
the tug on my heart of my own children,
my own grandchildren,
the children I teach,
the wife I love,
the friends I get,
the connections I can have,
the beauty revealed before my eyes
in plant and animal and vista,
the beauty revealed within the eyes of those before me
who work so hard to release that of God within them,

when I truly notice the gifts before me,
and those before now who are not fully present,
except in echo,
I contend that I best honor the glory within that moment
when the moment brings tears ready to fall.

by Henry Walker
November 25, ’10

remember, or forget

that doesn’t love a trail. . .

something there is that doesn’t love a trail,
that knocks trees down over it,
fills it with leaves and branches,
blocks the passage over it,
as if the Earth herself wants to heal the scar,
to forget the path ever was,

on the surface I miss a path abandoned,
deep down I fear how easy it is to forget.

by Henry Walker
November 25, ’10

with gratitude

darlings of God?

three weeks have fallen over these mountains:
the golden woods have beiged to brown,
the stark geometry of the trees returns,
light and eye are not diffused
by swatches of color and texture dabbed upon each other,

the Sun tires of this day
so we hurry along to the valley
where the elk might be,
they aren’t where I expect them,
and where I saw them three weeks ago,
I’m disappointed for I wanted to share such a moment with my wife,

we decide to look nearby for them,
a side road with fields of grass along it,
and there they are!

our car the only car for near the 30 minutes we’re there,
only two other humans, a young Cherokee couple,

share these long moments with us,
window down, I snap picture after picture,
mostly of the great bull elk,

each antler near 3 feet long,
each antler with 5 branching forks,
two younger males and five cows share the field and graze the grass,

a second bull elk is near as big as the alpha male,
and probably has less sense,
his antlers long but unbranched,
he keeps messing with the greater:
they clack antlers together,

push, and get pushed back,
disengage, and re-engage,
we can’t tell how much it is play
and how much it is dominance work,
how much it is boredom,
how much it is scratching an itch that needs scratching,
for the younger elk had earlier engaged his antlers
with lower branches of a cedar tree,

and later he licks a mailbox, and then our car,
his saliva clearly there on the driver side window
after he moves to the front bumper,

I am big and I find him huge compared to me,
he towers over our car,
and I gaze into his big brown eye
and feel the power of his body and spirit questing,

tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a time of gratitude,
and these elk remind me that every form life ventures
might be a darling of God’s.

by Henry Walker
November 24, ’10

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jon Stewart got it right

politics & the Roman Circus

I enjoy sports,
and I can love sports,

I enjoy politics,
and I can love politics,

and hate either, or both, for a time,

yet they are not the same,
sports only truly matters to the little one that is my ego,
he can cheer and sob,
and like a dessert, or its absence,
it feels good, or not,
and we can then move on, none the worse for the wear,
except for the weight we can carry as a penance,

in politics, the fate of individuals, groups, the country itself, matters
when one wins a contest, or loses,
it can still be the little one who is heartened, or disheartened,
but behind the symbol there are real people with real lives,
and what we do with rights, with war, with bills and taxes,
are us at our best, or us becoming our worst,

we lose the war for the soul of the country
when all we care about is the battle,
when we think that if we win the game
who we’re playing for definitely benefits,
and we lose sight of who and what we’re fighting for
at our, and their, peril,

I fear the U.S. now treats politics like the Roman Circus, like gladiators,
something to distract us from what’s real,

like sports, the contest grabs us and we can forget what really matters.

by Henry Walker
November 13, ’10

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

of Izzy & Rachel

the self endures?

the self senses itself
within the whirl of people, events, things--
information, feeling floods in through the senses,
amidst that flood and the simultaneous upwellings
of reactions, desires, denials,
the self seems to coalesce out of all the possibilities,

it learns to realize it exists, and will exist, across imagined time,
that despite the fear, the despair when a want is thwarted
that future moments exist within which desires might be met
by a self that endures,

language and self seem to evolve together:
as two starts to turn to three
language explodes like a great firework overhead:
the tongue facile enough for all the sounds,
the mind developed enough to hold structure after structure
and to pile up word after word,

the tool and its wielder get to work:
every observation, every fact contains within itself question after question,
each of which demands attention:
“Why?” & “Why?” again and again,
the product of a mind that needs to know,
smiles the product of a heart that needs to connect, to give,

a soul releases itself to be,
and words are a way that let us know it is.

by Henry Walker
November 6, ’10

beauty from the soul

our 5 year old granddaughter, going on 6,
grows up before our eyes,
the primary colors in her changes of a few years ago
are more pastel now, more of hues and subtlety,
within her mind connections grow more and more complex,
the prides herself on mental math:
“What is 400 - 1?”
and moments later “399” answers,
the same with “200-1” and “600 - 1,”
so I ask “What is 1000 - 1?”,
an added layer of complexity,
so she ventures 2 or 3 answers that don’t work,
then you can almost see a “click” in her head,
and she gets it:

nothing she sees or hears gets by her--
all the social relations, the adult whispers she can overhear,
the examining of self? sometimes too much and too harsh,
a desire for control right there--
wanting a person, an action immediately,
yet learning patience,
she feels intensely and works hard to live with the intensity
without denying any of this sensitive part of herself,

she knows the buttons to push to annoy her little sister,
and she does push them when she can get annoyed with the younger,
she also knows the buttons to push to help her sister get back to happy,
and she quite often pushes them to help,

I love my Rachel’s mind, her feistiness, and her heart,
the complexities that multiply within her
and the beauty that beams from her soul.

by Henry Walker
November 6, ’10