Friday, July 30, 2010

unto the hills

LeConte ’10

our overnight on the mountain becomes quite an expedition:
places allocated, monies gathered, lodging figured,
all figured & refigured as fate rolls the dice,
food for before, during, and after
planned, prepared, frozen to wait,
last-minute changes to the group
as a back rebels, a new job demands, a parent needs,

two days ago a storm washed over us here at the base of the mountain
with lightning & hail & rain,
a frenetic scurrying-around by the storm
as if to prepare stream and wood for the hike,

items on our lists increasingly checked-off,
no one else is here yet
and I feel an expectant calm,
easily ready to flurry into anxiousness as need arises,

in this interim for me
I imagine the bustle of house after house
as cousins & friends & children & grandchildren
whirl into action with their own checklists of things to get ready,
of packing and scurrying,
as car and plane will soon serve to work together
to gather our self-made clan for our pilgrimage up our mountain,

and we will hope for whatever revelations can come our way
as we lift up our bodies and our spirits unto the hills.

by Henry Walker
July 28, ’10

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

vacation & prices to pay

after bucking-up

how ironic that vacation can demand heavy lifting,

take away the drive of work
that can consume our attention with its routines,
that can settle into our openness
and fill our internal spaces with lists & chores & construction,
then exhausted sleep,
take away that fulfilling definition of who we are,
and I, at least, can feel adrift,
guilty for unaimed time,
for giving in to any indulgence,
even if I’ve paid its price of earlier denial,

when the muscles of my body have worked hard,
they can remind me of the prices they’ve paid
with a twitch, a soreness, a cramp in the night,

so, too, do the muscles of my psyche
when I notice what I have neglected, repressed,
while I’ve bucked-up and persevered
and denied to hear the doubting voices within.

by Henry Walker
July 24, ’10

Sunday, July 25, 2010

a grassy bald, a morning, and me

back home in the mountains

I get up and get going halfway through the night,
out the window a fulling moon heads west
as if to draw me with it,
the packed van and I dodge deer on backroads
and join a few trucks and fewer cars on the interstate,
above a lopsided oval of moon,
within a pale yellow luminous ring of would-be cloud,
pulls at me to follow,
like a bulls-eye to arrow toward,
the circle a perfectly-scaled frame to the moon
that reaches to be as full to us as a circle for a night,
after awhile the clouds close their shutters over it
and drizzle then follows me for an hour or so,
the interstate lit only by our headlights
except for bright oases near towns or weigh stations,

as the sky lightens more and more join the race west,
the workday pulls people toward it,

I’d hoped to be further and higher when the Sun broke the horizon,

I leave the interstate and drive 9 miles up valley then ridge,
park, heat water and make hot chocolate,
and climb 10 minutes to the top of Max Patch,

by then the Sun’s had an hour to climb over the horizon,
as I hike right up the rounded mountain
the bright Sun is directly before me
as if I’ a deer and it’s a headlight,

the grasses up here know their job and do it well,
no wonder people for hundreds of years
kept some mountain tops clear for their animals,
we mammals need the grasses,
the seed stalks near 3 feet high today,
ranging from green and ripening to tawny and ripe,

they wave back and forth to the warm strokes of the blustering wind,

I find bearing blackberries, almost alpine in their hunkering close to the ground,
the wind here doesn’t always just caress,

Queen Anne’s lace poses for me in front of green mountains

who shade to blue mountains in the distance,
between the foreground and the background
one valley fills with the white fog of low cloud,

I find a place to sit
and I contemplate the Smokies’ main ridge,
which is high enough to hold the clouds to it
and both merge as if one,

bird calls sing of morning breaking,
and swifts soar before me on the bounty of the bugs who buzz all around me,

I like how alone on the mountain I am this morning,
I’m surprised that for more than an hour in late July
no one visits this grassy bald except for me,

no great insight comes to me up here this morning,
yet I do feel deeply right as if I’ve been traveling
and now I’m back home.

by Henry Walker
July 23, ’10

Thursday, July 22, 2010

the importance of place

changes of altitude

as a Southerner I know place is early on to who we are,

before what we do can contract to define us
we are simmered in a stew of terrain, weather, family, and social realities
which mix into us, and, within that melding,
we become part of the land,
or rather the land becomes part of us,

early on when I meet people,
I ask where they’re from,
and place is a window to some truth of them for me,

all of this comes to me as I prepare myself to change places:
July rides heavy and hot on me here
so close to where piedmont falls away into coastal plain,
temperature outside passes my internal temperature
and the air becomes so heavy with water
that it can’t hold my sweat,
so I retreat inside to where the air is conditioned
and I can change my shirts
which weep with what physical effort costs me these days,
I walk and bike for exercise, mow the yard, till the garden,
pick tomatoes and dig potatoes,
inside I do chore after chore I’ve put on my checklist of what needs doing,
yet I miss living more outside,
the outside which means more to me than a view out the window,
I tire of forcing myself through the air,
of fighting the bugs who assault me,

I want the outside to be where I spend my best time,
where I live most truly,

so I’m ready to escape from the lowlands to the highlands,
changes of altitude, for me, can equal changes of attitude,
so I’ll go west until I’m back in the mountains,

like hunters and gatherers who moved by the season
to fit themselves into where the food was,
where I am is important to who I am,
and, for now, I need the high country.

by Henry Walker
July 21, ’10

as a writer

another foray into understanding what happens when I write

words reach toward the light

space and time open themselves enough for me to act,
to sit down with pen in hand and writing pad before me,
I don’t know what I’ll write,
it’s not like a present has been delivered
and I just have to open it,
I’m often not even sure I’m pregnant with possibility,
I just have to labor until I know
if the pressure is true, or false,

I feel an unease, an itch that needs scratching,
a sense that something beyond tugs at my attention,
something beyond my day-to-day routine and challenge,
something that needs to be noticed,
and coaxed or pulled out of the burgeoning darkness into the light,

I want to exist as fire,
to live the days as the night’s power haunts me,

I want to recognize and assert affirmation
when the lesser seems louder,
when doubt whispers in the night to my fear,

in our lives we are not just following a script,
unless we choose to deny our birthright,
instead we can choose to serve the muse who speaks through us,
we can serve the divine who gives us a hint of what can be,
and with our lives we stumble toward that light as best we can,

as I writer I seek to follow what whispers true to me,
and to find the words that call order into being
above the background chaos within which we can lose ourselves.

by Henry Walker
July 19, ’10

Saturday, July 17, 2010

death and remembrance

out of the dark, toward the light

deep in our hearts
we know things will not last,
that every joyous moment is a wager
surprisingly won against the odds,
we hope for a plan that guides everything,
that takes care of us
with even the most capricious, malevolent events
only so in appearance and really sensical in a Grand Design,

my father died in the middle of his work,
denied the next chapters,
the seeing-through of hopes and visions,
and I see his dropping away as tragic, not purposeful,
as is too much else that comes at us
as dissolution flexes its muscles,

the words from the Knoxville Board of Education
spoke of his legacy as sure to be remembered,

I want with my life to remember,
to echo his belief in young people coming into their selves,
for, as he felt, the only sureness to living past death
is being remembered and honored
as that of God in each of us
reaches back and forward toward the light.

by Henry Walker
July 15, ’10

to pause, to consider

the top of the year

the sun owns July,
the days are long and hot
and the air can forget to move,
almost as if it doesn’t want to go to the trouble,

the leaves are thirsty for the sun
and work hard to make the food they need
and we want and enjoy,
I’m jarred a bit by a few buckeye leaves who have given up their green
and are already decked out in light red as outliers of Fall,

this year the rains have been somewhere else for the last few weeks,
the streams drop low,

the plants hunger for hydration,
for the water we all need at our heart,

midday a few raindrops whisper that rain may come,
the Sun quickly returns and the air stills again,
late afternoon thunder marches toward us from the distance,
and finally the rain breaks on the forest,
dust hopes to be mud,
the rain fills the air, and then pauses,
as if the appetizers are over,
we don’t know if any courses are yet to be served,
through the night we are served by light rain showers
as if hors d’oeuvres at a party,
and no main course ever arrives,

in the morning the stream is slightly higher,
and the air sodden,
morning rolls over in the heavy mist,
it doesn’t break until the Sun lightens the clouds away enough
for blue and yellow to make their way and lighten our mood,

we’re at the top of the year like at the top of the mountain,
effort before and effort after,
for now it’s a pause and time to consider.

by Henry Walker
July 10, ’10

Friday, July 9, 2010

the challenge of disengagement

the first of vacation

the first days of vacation,
after a long haul of heavy lifting,
are not just a turning down, a turning off,
my energies can shift into playing as hard as I worked,
the intense hike, chore after chore that needs doing,
when I try to cut off my engine,
it sometimes tries to keep going
and I backfire like an ill-tuned car,

sleep can be like that
with ignored attendants waking you back up
to remind you of what else needs doing,
or at least needs worrying about,

I love the sauna,
for, after hot sweat and cold shock,
I fall deep into a sleep
and don’t catch myself on any of the ledges on the way down.

by Henry Walker
July 6, ’10

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

we long for completeness

the story as basic as breath

the world is filled with stories
and many times we hear only snatches of them,
just enough to pique our interest, and not enough to satisfy our curiosity,
it’s as if we pass by door after door in a multiplex
and fragments of movies slip out into the hall and pull at us,
or as if a radio is set on scan and we hear a few seconds of each station,
or as if another surfs television channels and doesn’t hold with any one,
we eavesdrop as we pass through the world
while not much can pause long enough
for tantalizing tidbits to pull together into much coherence,

all of this comes back to the bear for me today,
for the bears are not around and I don’t know
where they are or what they’re doing,
whenever it’s not winter I search for them,
and I thrill when they just pass by,
pulled by whim and hunger I suppose, but do not know,
maybe their curiosity is from more than their stomach, or maybe not,
the longest fragments of their story I hear
are when they’re eating, climbing trees for acorns and fruit,
digging up a yellowjacket next for the pupae,
or when they let me follow them around the neighborhood
as they follow the scout of the nose,

though once I also saw two late season cubs
stand on their back legs and almost dance with each other,

plants don’t move or hide like animals do,
and we can think we know the story of a tree, a flower,

yet they’re so distant from us
they can become as musical score behind the action,

streams tell us a lot about their present,
though we have to read the shape of the stones
and the hollows in the slopes

to guess at what happened before
or will happen after,

we can think we know each other
while stories we can’t even guess at
can lie hidden within the shaping past,

we live in a world of fragments
and we long for completeness
so we create as best we can,
we watch, we listen, and we imagine,
and, like our eye will do with a bit of movement,
we see a whole that might be what the part begins to reveal,

an aspect of why I like to write is
I get a glimmer
and I let a fullness then unfold with my pen upon the page,

we love stories,
for, in their completeness,
they meet a need in us
as basic as breath.

by Henry Walker
July 2, ’10

Monday, July 5, 2010

Henry's voice on the radio

My last post (Voice) came to me while I was thinking about an upcoming interview on the radio about To Kill a Mockingbird (The State of Things, WUNC radio, 7/1/10). We work hard at CFS to help our students find and express their own voice, a "voice" Harper Lee expresses so eloquently. If you want to listen to the experts and me discuss the book, you can go to

to choose within the moment

I find the question fascinating:
how much the moment should hold who I am
and keep me just where and when body and mind find me?

every moment holds within itself
the past that led to now,
and the future, each future, that the moment now can usher in,
as one difference after another
can be the next to build its own narrative,

sometimes I need to live in the moment as spectator,
an audience who gets and enjoys all that is
and that is without any action from me,
and sometimes I need to be the director who sees what can be
and works to shape becoming out of being,

I can live in the past,
I can live in the present,
I can live in the potentials of the future,

so much depends on how I choose within the moment.

by Henry Walker
June 30, ’10

Sunday, July 4, 2010

the writer's voice


all of us are unique
with our own stories to tell
in our own way
and yet all of us are also the same,
with our particulars understandable and engaging to others,
because each of us journeys at the heart the same,
with our lives we each answer the same questions,

and how another walks his or her own path
helps us better understand the choices
and the journey we choose with our own moments,
their honesty helps both of us stay authentic to our own character,

each of us has an own voice,
while we speak the same language,
while we answer much the same questions,
the way we say what we need to say
can help in the tuning and the authoring
of how another voice finds a way to hold and speak the journey forward,
while so much works to hold us back,

when we are most individual and unique,
we can surprise ourselves and others by being the most universal.

by Henry Walker
June 30, ’10