Saturday, December 31, 2016

too brief a time

Greenbrier, and Loss

a child is born and dies the same day,

a boy dies in his second year,

a mother dies at 25,

each loss as sad and tragic
as I care to imagine,

the gravestones up the Greenbrier valley
only hint at their stories,

as does the beautiful cove
that held each for too brief a time.

by Henry H. Walker

December 28, ‘16

an opinion needs the test of reality

aggressive ignorance

he sounds aggressively ignorant to me,
as he insists those settlers up this mountain valley
must have used mortar in the steps before us,
despite the wealth of experience I offer up to him,

I contend that ignorance is our basic lot in life,
since there’s a universe outside us, maybe more than one,
for sure, our universe one we can never fully understand,
yet I believe that we must see the world as it is,
and build our understanding step by step,
just as did the farmer with these steps before us,

to view our own opinion as worthy, just because it’s ours,
can damn us, and our aggressive ignorance
can keep us from seeing the path
that can save us from our own stupidity.

by Henry H. Walker

December 28, ‘16

Friday, December 30, 2016

we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps?

how random is it all?

evolution requires us to consider random change
as the mechanism the universe uses
to move from matter to life,
then from such as algae to such as the human eye,

simplicity somehow builds to complexity,
though in ordinary life complexity can more easily
break down that build up,

time and water similarly build structure,
as rocks follow gravity,
assisted by water doing the same,
and a stream bed, a mountain valley, shapes itself,
an order, a beauty, like that of life,
random change builded by geology and meteorology,

as water flows down slopes
roots hold against the downward pull,
lichen, moss, and liverwort 
paint themselves over rocks in the streams,

there’s volition that resists change,
how easy it is to believe there’s some kind of volition
that works upon the genes
to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

by Henry H. Walker

December 28, ‘16

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Great Chimney Tops 2 Fire, science

the science of the fire

the science of the fire intrigues me,
when I can get past the wrenching in my emotions—

the sorrow at buildings lost and lives uprooted,

the black scarring across the land and up the trees,
as if trying to scale them when it could find purchase,

the trees downed, the logs burnt away,
and only shadowed by what’s left,

the places where green has been chased away
and all is black and forlorn,

I am heartened where the green holds,
often right next to leaves so brown and brittle
they easily crumble in my fingers,

I work to imagine maws of flame
swallowing and belching forth
all that energy saved by leaves for growth
and not to for wanton, wasteful,
dissipation in death, in destruction,

I wonder at high pine
browned to the top by conflagration at their feet,

I marvel at trees who endured
and seemingly considered the fire
an annoyance and not devastating,

I hope for spring flowers to return, 
along with all the plants who slept through the great fire,
I hope for them to shake themselves awake in a few months
and reassert green and joy upon these woods.

by Henry H. Walker

December 26, ‘16

tenuous, fragile, fleeting

disasters lie in wait

just below the bustle of normalcy,
potential disasters just wait
to have their number called,

the great Chimney Tops 2 Fire
erupted from seemingly nowhere:
a Black Swan event,

disease can all of a sudden
lay waste to constancy,

at a deep level I fear the atom bomb,
as a little kid I remember being told
I need to wear a dog tag
so they could identify me after the bombs hit,

now I’m closing in on 70,
and normalcy seems tenuous, fragile, fleeting,

in the night I can awaken
into the fear just below. 

by Henry H. Walker

December 23, '16

Sunday, December 25, 2016

kids, grandkids, of Fate and choice

free will

I cannot quite face
how much I love my children,
how much I love my grandchildren,
some are on the way to the cabin already,
others plan to join us in a few days,

I cook, we cook,
I plan, we plan,
we love the idea of presents for them,
of treats, of taking care of them,

what is most wonderful, and
what is most troublesome,
is that their futures are theirs, and Fate’s, to control,
not within our power, yet surely within our hope,

as we understand God to be,
free will came along with creation,
maybe the reason for creation,

the puppet-master isn’t in charge,
the strings are cut,
what comes into being,
and what happens to that being,
beyond our control,
by design,

I hope,
and I fear. 

by Henry H. Walker

December 23, ‘16

Saturday, December 24, 2016

create together

coalescing on the page

the pressure builds within me:
experiences, thoughts, feelings
come and stay, all a-churn,
just below what I notice,
they only roughly organize themselves,
each jostles for attention,
my triage nurses inside prioritize,
and I deal only with the most immediate,

then, when I get some time, unscripted,
my soul loves to write the scripts
that star my experiences, thoughts, feelings,
that help me to know them and let their stories be told,

meaning coalesces, a meaning that wasn’t entirely there,
until it and I had a talk on the page,

I know a brilliant writer
who describes her stories as coming from the characters
she finds and fleshes out full,
not Athena, full-blown, who just appears,
but characters whose stories come into being on the page
in a kind of alchemy in which the author and they
tap into the universe’s need to create. 

by Henry H. Walker

December 23, ’16

Friday, December 23, 2016

the year wanes, light and dark

Winter Solstice ‘16

at least, for now, nothing we humans do
can change the rigid pattern of the dance
Earth and Sun move with each other,
as if each is the other’s partner
in formal scripted choreography,

early tomorrow the Sun will pause in its retreat to the south,
and slowly begin its return to the north toward the bounty of summer,

weather is a fickle servant of such grand schemes,
a lagging indicator of the Sun’s power and the Earth’s response,
the last few days here have been cold and gray,
hoar-frost and light snow just a mile up the valley from us,

who knows what’s up, literally,
thousands of feet higher
at the top of the mountain,
my mother quoted some of her campers as asking:
“What happens to the people on top when the mountain disappears?”

yesterday’s rain up there fills the creek,

but clouds are settled deep on the mountain
and block our view of the upper reaches,

outside, the air clears and lets the black of the sky
paint itself above me, and lets the stars remind us of light,
even in the darkest of times,
the Solstice slowly awakens
with a clarity to the air we’ve not had for days,
sharp lines in trees and ridge
replace the fuzzy blurring the mist smudged,

I face the east and await the Sun’s rising,
reminding myself of Native American wisdom
held in a meditation I often use,
to let there be light in my word and on my path,
by how starting over can unburden us of sorrow,
the sun is slow to rise over the mountains to the east,
even more so this day when it is lowest in the sky,
just as it climbs over the mountain,
so does it begin the climb back to the north
and toward the center of the sky above,

the Sun breaks upon the valley,
and we fill the day with chores and cooking,
Christmas is a-coming,
the family soon will be back together,
though this time is of the dark,
we choose this time to be of the light.

by Henry H. Walker

December 20-21, ’16

Thursday, December 22, 2016

rhododendron, after the fire

rhododendron and consciousness

I have known these rosebay rhododendron all my life,
just as I have known the creek along which they huddle,
twenty feet tall and often just as wide:
they are old growth,
a constancy of being themselves
here, snaking along with this stream
since the Ice retreated north
and people first found their way here,

now, change is upon them:
fire leaped, and raced, through the lower woods,
the hungry flames reaching toward the sky
and hurting those green fingers
that work with sun and water the whole year
to capture the energy to hold their sense of self,
to reach for the future in the luxuriance of their flowering
when Earth and Sun find themselves around the Summer Solstice,

when it’s warm, the green fingers reach out like hands
to embrace the sun of the day,
when cold enough they can point straight down
as if to bow before limitation,
now, where the fire hurt them,
the leaves are browning, and hanging down,
where the fire touched them 
they hang limp and maybe lifeless,

Fire damaged rhododendron

Green rhododendron amid the fire damaged neighbors

Both views above in one photo

I wonder at the consciousness within the rhododendron,
how it knows itself,
how it can figure if it’s time to let go,
if there’s a way forward to rebuild, and how,

do its neighbors, spared the devastating loss,
notice the wounded, find any way to help?

most of the flora either slept deep
when the fire passed through,
or reached too high and strong
for the fire to hurt them,
the ash maybe a fertilizer to use in the spring,

right now, though, I feel for the rhododendron,

I wonder at how such life understands and decides,
I honor such effort,
as I have long appreciated the result they live
in the glory of their blossoming.

Healthy rhododendron leaves with snow on them

by Henry H. Walker

December 18, ’16

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

primary sources add much

stories of the Fire

we historians love primary sources,
for it’s like the scientist with the truth just before us
of what actually happens,
not the truth we imagine should be so,
that we’ve heard to be so,

the great disaster, the Chimney Tops 2 Fire,
swept down upon Gatlinburg like an avenging angel,

when I visit with those who were here in those moments,
I feel the awful rawness and beauty
of the best within humanity,
called-out by the damned capriciousness
the world can throw at us,

a man describes the fire and his responses,
a cataloguing of what it did, what tools he could use,
what he did to hold against dissolution,

a woman describes hearing of the fire
and saving what could be saved,
until a tree fell on the ark of her car,
the fire forcing another retreat
and destroying the car,
losing so much but not the love she lives
for family and friends,
losing possessions a sorrow
but a lesser end
than losing her life,
or that of her loved ones,

I hear a man tell of losing his home,
his rental properties,
of fireballs rising into the sky,
of rescuing melted mementoes from a car,
and then reminiscing of the past up this valley
that he still remembers and honors with fondness,
he looks at the woods and declares
that come spring the growth will make it easy
to think there was no devastating fire,
right after he declares a sadness in the loss,
he smiles, comments ruefully,
and moves on without bitterness,

each story slips over this half-charred, half-saved world
to add depth and perspective, to add complexity,
to how the story of the fire intersected
with the lives of the people,
caught up in the fiery plot of this maelstrom.

by Henry H. Walker

December 17, ’16

the spiral

the spiral at the heart

the spiral:
movement circles back in on itself,
but in each turning,
when it meets itself 
on the same side as before,
the place is just as different as it is the same,

after the loss of someone
you can move forward into the new
and then, as if you come around a corner,
you face the truth that still hurts anew,
though not quite like it did the last time,

I return to the Smokies
two and a half weeks 
after the fires laid bare 
the frailty of our sureness
in the sheltering constancy of the woods,
in the enduring solidity of the structures that ground us,

a whim of the wind, a roll of the dice,
the future transformed,

I feel I’m on the spiral,
whether I’m going up or down, I don’t know,
I do know, though, that I want to understand,
and each new perspective helps me to glimpse
a piece of that grand truth only God knows for sure.

by Henry H. Walker

December 17, ’16

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

of ice, rainbow, cloud, elk, and blustery wind

extremes today

the wind roars today,
though in fits,
as if the world meditates between exhalations
the breathing out explosive as a sneeze,

I look up into the high branches above,
checking out potential widow-makers,
and I work to imagine that the much fiercer winds
two and a half weeks ago would have convinced 
the susceptible to fall,
high in the beech above
a thick section of broken-off tree
as if ready to plummet down any time,

I retreat to the screened-in porch,

the day that started out 300 miles to the east
with light freezing drizzle,
that morphed 50 miles east into light rain,
a full rainbow over Lake Junaluska,
then into a heavy mist
that squeezed all around the car
to deny us distance,

we saw a herd of elk that lazed about in a big meadow,
the bull happy and unchallenged
with his genes safe in an abundance of wombs,

now the day ebbs,
warm and blustery as spring.

by Henry H. Walker

December 17, ’16

what can hold?

how a family binds together

a family can coalesce into an enlarging whole,
maybe around a patriarch, a matriarch,
an idea that there is an “us,”
a reality that we need to stand together,
more gravity to what draws us together
than power that explodes us away from each other,

my mother’s family welded together
in love and caring for each other,
then by not enough money,
by watching their mother hold the center
when the Depression hit,
the father’s dreams broken,
the father dies,
the grand old house kept going by letting rooms
to boarders who helped pay the bills,

earlier, the kids grew up 
as if an in a Norman Rockwell painting:
Sunday morning before church,
the father creates the ice-cream
and lets those ready for Sunday School 
lick off the maker’s tools,
the mother wrings the chickens’ necks,
and fries them after church,
the first son builds a radio and hears of World War I’s end,
runs downstairs and announces “The Kaiser is dead!”
the best summary he can figure for what he has heard,
the first born daughter marries early,
and uses her new resources 
to pay the mother for doing the laundry,
maybe the first money the mother ever had direct control of,
the second daughter sends her first teacher’s salary 
back home to help out,
the first son devoted to his family
and helping out whenever he could—
with a car for a sister,
with resources for a niece with cerebral palsy,
with many acts of gratuitous kindness and support
I don’t even know about,
the third daughter and her husband thanking God
for the gift of a daughter with cerebral palsy,
each daughter and son committed to the family,

now they’re gone,
some of the next generation are gone, too,
what binds us together now?

today at the family Christmas party
some of us maintained that tradition,
no one from the first born son and daughter’s families were there,
a high percentage of those within easy driving distances,
and who were well, were there, but not all,

my wife and I went, 
and enjoyed the good people who stretched across 3 generations,
but I feel the sundering of distance,
and I wonder how hard it is for my East Tennessee kin
to quite get their heads around
that my granddaughters are Jewish,

what can so bind us together
that differences of race, of religion, of politics,
pale beside the vibrancy of how we are connected?

by Henry H. Walker

December 18, ’16