Monday, January 25, 2010

Narcissus As Nero

Development of the Soul

who we are--

1st the blueprint in our genes
that gives and takes possibility,

2nd family & culture,
each of which seeks to structure the possibility,

and 3rd the decision-maker within
who first wakens in the infant
and learns quickly to fuss till conditions improve,

I am intrigued as I watch a one-year-old,
pushed by self and pushed by us
to declare wants, choices,
the “I” quick to get to “no,”
and we? dogged to get movement forward
as we limit choices and push them to proffer preference,

too many of us want our development to stop there
with freedom just a word that means selfishness
and we want to see others become us
so we export an infantile culture of self-indulgence,

yet I am also intrigued by a one-year-old
who freely offers a treat, a toy to another,
who decides to model a sister, a parent,

who feels happy in relationship, in connection,
who tempers self-indulgence with a dawning realization
of limits,
of sharing,
of larger and larger selves with interests,

and the tempering makes the metal of the self even stronger,

the wheel should turn,
from that time early on
when we need to gaze into the reflection of ourselves
and love and act for that self,
to when our gaze sees larger & larger selves to love
and for which we should act,
and then self-gratification can be of the soul more than of the senses,

I fear Narcissus, too, would fiddle while Rome burns.

by Henry Walker
January 22, 2010

Sunday, January 17, 2010

in celebration of a life

My first commission! Renee's aunt (Renee is CFS middle school head teacher) asked me to attempt a poem to honor her sister who died just before Christmas. I was honored, and the result of my efforts is below.

A new favorite author of mine (Sarah Vowell--check her out) put a quote from Carl Reiner at the first of one of her books: "That's what writing is. You're keeping people alive in your head." That fits some of what I try to do with such poems.

Elizabeth Missouri Howell, “Libby”

Libby loved to come home,
back to where she began as a person,
as a soul, as a daughter, a sister,
as one who joys in roots
and the flowering that deep grounding allows,
as one forged in the heat of a family together,
winning a living from the earth
and learning how much each matters to the other,
we lose the family farm as crucible of our best values at some peril,
Libby knew that foothills farm, the mountains rising up nearby to hold the self,
the heart, as she would lift up her eyes unto the hills,
hard work, father provides, mother holds all together,
plant and animal thrive and are transformed into the fuel
that feeds the body
while family and God feed the soul,
Libby would help her mother with the house,
enjoy appreciating her father harvest the animals,
the pleasure of riding horses, being in the country, a good joke,
the family picnic in a meadow by the steep hill,
the watermelon cooled by the creek,
Dad full of fun and Mom’s food always a treat,

then she finishes high school and goes out in the world--
Dupont, then cosmetology,
a fruitful marriage with Dip,
who worked with the Bureau of Mines as an engineer,
they travelled all around, including time in California,
and then went to work on the Hill in Washington, D.C.,
blessed with four children: Sharon, Gary, Ginger, Suzie,
four grandchildren, one great grandchild,
how hard it must have been to lose both Gary and Ginger,
and as she herself was slipping away
her children were foremost in her mind
as she feared for how loss would affect them,

Woodbridge, Virginia, her second home for many years,
childrearing, separation, divorce,
managing apartment houses and enjoying the work,
her longterm smoking catching up to her
with emphysema and later cancer,
though she had stopped the smoking,
a cancer that recurred and finally took her away,

a Missionary Baptist her whole life,
though till a decade ago not that active in her belief,
a decade ago her dear sister Ruth helped reopen the way,
and the Lord was there for her,
the thrill of gospel music,
less anxiety, more tranquillity,

the cancer and the end came on fast
and she chose not to fight it
for it was not her will in charge any more,

the dark, the cold, the snow came upon her and Virginia,

as the Sun’s light started to return,
as the Son’s light called to us from Christ’s birth,
at that time when so many come home for the holidays,
Libby returned to rejoin Him,
He whom her faith both knew and sought,

and now she is home, in His arms.

by Henry Walker
January 6, 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

a vision shines forth

Ariel’s Way: of Jim, of Don

I am intrigued by how a person can create,
as a vision of what can be
drives through voice, hand, & movement,
and a wholeness is expressed,

that which was vague clears,
that which was possibility releases,
that which did not exist exists,
and the vision shines forth,
for me the drive to order, to build, to express
feels as that of God in us
which seeks to harmonize with a rightness
inherent at the deepest depths,

today I enjoy actors acting, dancers dancing, singers singing,
musicians playing, technicians implementing,
each releases a best that is personal,
and each connects to build a larger & larger whole:
the show is fabulous and pulls us all into its magic,

I am in awe of the playwright

who dreamed a dream of what could be
and worked hour upon hour, month upon month, year upon year,
until the vehicle was ready for so many to climb aboard
and give the play its run,
a run that could take so many of us along with it
and help us find the best in ourselves
as we feel the truth released in its words, its music,
the wholeness of its creation,

I also am in awe of the greatness of the school’s principal
who originally hired the playwright,

who takes a school born but uncertain of who it is
and how it can become the best it can be,
who protects it from parents who are too sure they know best,
from the state which can be too sure that it knows best,
from any of us on the staff who do not get the calling
that holds us to seeing that of God and not of ourselves in our students,
and today that former head of Friends School sits center in the audience
and experiences the glory created by the playwright
and all drawn to the vehicle of his vision,
all of this created within the larger vehicle of a school
devoted to the wholeness within everyone,
all of us at C.F.S. should celebrate the great gifts
that this early principal gave us in the school itself,
a work in progress but a work that might not even be here
without his vision of what can be
and his effort and skill in bringing us forth.

Thank you, Jim, and
Thank you, Don.

by Henry Walker
January 3, ’10

Friday, January 1, 2010



a child is born
and in the birthing of self
looks around and feels alone,
an aloneness that parents ameliorate for a time
as do friends when they’re there,

when love connects you with another
and a child is born
it’s hard to feel alone
for that child needs you
and you’re there for him and for her day and night
until their individuation separates parent and child again,

in my heart I’m still with my parents
and my children are still with me,
and my children and I for precious hours can be together again,
and then our different lives wrench us apart,

now that I’m lucky enough to be a grandparent
it’s harder and harder to feel alone
for there are younglings within whom my genes express themselves
in partnership with those of my love and of my son’s love,
and I can at least feel resonances of examples, of teaching,
of passing on gifts that are of the best to which we have risen,

when one granddaughter laughs at my tomfoolery
or another toddles up to me with arms raised in search of being in my arms,
when each day empowers them more and more
as cognition and heart learn to scale their selves higher and higher,
my eyes twinkle with the twinkle in theirs,
and I find joy every time each of them laughs, understands,
reveals a gift with which they rise,

when they leave our presence, I feel sad and more alone,
I also feel myself larger and fuller because they are,
for each of them is also who I am
and the substance of my life therefore feels fuller,
more nearly right.

by Henry Walker
December 30, 2009


Isabel, version 1.5

at one and a half Isabel is solidly herself--

there is an implacable sureness to her gaze and her actions,
a firmness as she considers, decides, acts,
she takes it all in and the decision-maker inside
sends her hands and her feet out
to touch, to pull, to push, to drop, to explore,
to mirror her sister, to engage with those around,

she casts out sounds and we quickly know her opinion,
especially if it’s “No!” with a quick shake of the head,
or her decisive “I want MAMA!”,
her interest: “More. . . That. . . Wuh!” (when she sees a dog),
sometimes a pride or something else: “I did it,”
her love of “Dada” and the power of “Door”
saying “Bye” and “Hi,” and her hand moves to reinforce the sound,
she increasingly has opinions of what she wants,
and when she wants it,

and, for now, she is limited in the verbal tools
that can express the subtleties within her,
so she fusses more and hopes we can translate well,

her whole face lights up when you notice her,
she notices you,
and you each smile,
her smile and the light in her eye enough to melt anyone,

life comes at her and she comes at life
as if each is made for the other,
with most of us, the fit isn’t so seamless
and a disquiet at that partial disconnect unsettles us,

I feel solidity of self and place in Isabel,
I love watching her watch her big sister
and to learn her best from her,
and I like watching her toddle quickly away as Big Big comes at her
to join in the fun that can be a bit much for the smaller self to endure.

by Henry Walker
December 27, 2009