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

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I ache to hold them

at the table

the last light is slipping away,
so are the colors,
so is my time here in the Smokies,

I found my first bear of the trip
less than an hour ago,

I’d hiked from valley to mountain top,
up and down the watersheds around me,
and no bear, or even turkey, showed itself,
minutes ago a gaggle of us watched
as the bear fed, moving crinkly leaves and a grey stone
to get at what was underneath,
acorns seem likely to me,
mine was the second car to stop,
the child in many more also slowed, stopped,
poured out of the vehicles
to almost prance at the edge of her arena,

cameras before them,
looking as if each was offered to the bear,

I snapped my pictures, too,

now as beige and russet leaves swirl in the pool before me
my mind is drawn to the practical,
what needs doing back at school,
what needs doing here at the cabin,
and who should do it, who can do it, who will do it,

I’ve already put some things in the car,
for I want to leave early in the morning,
see sunrise from an overlook half an hour away,

then seek out the elk in Cataloochee on the way home,
another cousin we’ve belatedly reintroduced to what was their home
before we took it for ours,

a guy watching the bear imagined her considering us
with the cold eye she did give us
and thinking we should “get a life,”

I think we “get a life”
when we make room at Earth’s table
for the least of these, our own brethren,
and those we often treat as even lesser,
the plants and animals with whom we are kin,

the wolves couldn’t find a new home here,
the peregrine falcon and the elk are on the way back,
the bear endures, as do we,

I hope for us to learn more truly
how to gentle our touch upon the world
so that the tomorrows that will come
have a table set for all of God’s creatures, including us,

in the morning I find a sunrise that dazzles me,
elk and turkey who thrill me,

and my camera and pen ache to appreciate and hold them.

by Henry Walker
November 1, ’10

feeling right

the hike and its moods

there comes a time
when I’m pulling up a slope,
and I’m in the rhythm,
legs and lungs working hard, and feeling right:

I know myself and the mountain, and it is good,

in some ways such a time feels better than getting to the destination,
for at the waterfall, at the peak,

it is not just me and nature, body and challenge,
it is me with people,
people who can blunt the edge of my enthusiasm,
pull me back from transcendence into the mundane,
with my students I am called to work to help them find what they need,
with strangers it’s a crap shoot, and I can lose quite often,

the beginning of a hike is of will and doubt,
of assertion despite the challenge,
the end can be of pride, coupled with the sadness of moving past,
on the way up, on the way down,
I can glitch when I hope I’m somewhere, and I’m not,
so my fuss box turns over, and I am disheartened,
on the way down my feet often hurt,

my eyes want to close,
and I easily slip into my mind being elsewhere,
I like to call up when I felt most in the moment
and let that wholeness call me
to be more and more mindful of what feels right.

by Henry Walker
October 30, ’10

a hard hike and an open soul

I need the tonic

I need a retreat from school, a strategic withdrawal,
I have been at my social best the last week:
a “pickin’” at our house

with music, visiting,
and eating enough to give thanks,
casting a play so that kid after kid, person after person,
can find the way home to being their best,
having a Day of the Dead so that many of us can be larger
because we remember, and, in that remembering, honor,
and, in that honoring,
we open ourselves anew to feel the pain
that must be there for the joy to come in, too,

and I have been there for each and every class and student,
as best I can, and it has been hard, and good,
throughout all my work I labor to find and hold the vision:
to find and hold each of us who strive to bring ourselves true enough
so that a difference can be made that matters,

so much of who I am is social,
for I have my gifts and it’s in connection that I must use them,
and I love to make a difference,

so much of me is other,
and I need the tonic of forest and stream, of elk and bear,
of a hard hike and an open soul.

by Henry Walker
October 29, ’10

off to the Smokies

of bear & elk

a great imposing bear can own these woods at night,
this grand bear’s been seen, late at night,
moving in the neighborhood,
filling half a lane of the road,
a few weeks ago a great pile of its scat appeared in our yard,

I guessed chestnuts drew it here
so that it could even more bulk up for winter,
and I felt daunted by its size,

it’s early evening and I’m sipping a cup of coffee down by the creek,
the porch lights bright enough for me to see
some of the world around me,
and I do look over my shoulder in case that bear is coming,
the beech tree above me holds her leaves
which must be yellowing into gold,
though this night takes away the color,
enough of the other trees have lost their leaves
to let stars glare at me through the cold clear air,
on my drive up here the sun’s last beams
spotlit some trees to make them glow,

though most of the high country had taken off their party best
and put back on subtler hues and more basic shapes,

I hoped for elk at dusk, and I found them,
just off the road in a grassy field:
a great antlered bull asserted his pride,
he, his mates and children all together,
the young still on the milk,

and more mating still on the bull’s mind,

a younger male, with antlers more twigs than trunk, intruded,
and the two males faced-off,

pushing and testing each other, more play at dominance than challenge,
I left as the Smokies slipped more into dark than day.

by Henry Walker
October 29, ’10