Thursday, June 30, 2016

both sides of me answer

duality and me

my introversion needs to be alone in nature,
my extroversion needs to be connected with people,
my hunger needs to be sated with dessert,
my hunger needs to be accentuated with light fasting,
I need to exhaust myself with effort,
I need to relax myself with naps,

duality calls me, and both sides of me answer. 

by Henry H. Walker
June 29, ’16

my brother is working hard

a greatness revealing itself

I visit my brother
where he is assisted in his living
with quality caregivers, 
comfortable surroundings, 
and locked doors,
he and his companions each drawn into their own worlds,
as passing time inverts the opening into others and the world
we each lived in our youngest years,

my brother’s eyes still bright,
his memory of pieces of the past still keen,
he hears what I say
and makes pretty good sense out of what I talk about,
wrenching the subjects into what makes sense to his world,

he announces to me that he’s taking a seminar
and “working on growing up,”
on realizing the world doesn’t revolve around him,
a message a friend caregiver recently delivered to his face,
a message I wish he had taken in long ago,
back when he learned how to use the extraordinary gifts of his mind,
his will, his assertion of his self, 
he is brilliant, 
some of his doctors remarking that, after the stroke,
 with half a mind he remains smarter than they are,
he is also gifted with a passionate heart, 
a driven quality to his emotions,
yet he never seemed to find the way when younger 
to discipline his emotionality into empathy,
into understanding the universality 
of how to care for and understand 
“the least of these,” our brethren,
he used to criticize my “Rousseau fetish,” 
my identifying with the worker, the simple,
those that protocol ignore into the distance,

our mother was a wonderful, loving woman,
who sympathized and gave to all she could touch,
yet she seemed not to empathize,
empathy for me one of the greatest strengths,
and sorrows, for it can hurt to feel as another,

how wonderful it is that Johnny works so hard now on his soul,
I see the greatness in him now
that for too long has felt to me obscured 
by a persona he crafted
because he knew no other.

by Henry H. Walker
June 29, ’16

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

up where rock holds

The Bullhead Calls

the mountain calls:
I need to answer,

I need to push myself 
up slopes that steepen
as the train feints this way and that
to gain the high slopes with a manageable pull,
though one that does try the body and thus the spirit,

the Cherokee saw a bison bull’s head up there,
I want to go to where the neck connects 
with the massive shoulders we now call Balsam Point,
to where trail builders long ago raised rocks
so that a hiker can rise enough to see a view,
those builders’ effort a gratuitous act of kindness,
they just thought it should be done,

my heart, my lungs, my muscles, my soul,
need the effort,

a cloudy drizzly morning accompanies me,
the air so humid that it refuses
my gift of bounteous sweat,

the trail and I charge up the mountain,
finding a way to, and then around, the rocky bones
tectonics thrust up, and that hold,
Thunderhead sandstone a grey palette
upon which moss and leathery black lichen hold, too,

on the ridge line I find one American chestnut sapling,
still venturing forth from roots that hold and keep trying to endure,
the dry ridge can’t support trees to grow high enough
to kill them with shade, 
the fate of their brothers and sisters down in the wet valley
where tulip poplar thrust high
 and don’t care the chestnuts lost their place,
hemlock are the new victims of an imported devastation,
and their deaths haunt the woods though which I ascend,

along the ridge line where I turn around,
vistas start to open with clouds sweetening the valleys

and teasing me with what might be seen of the mountain above,

I am slower than I was a decade or two ago,
and I am increasingly cautious about each step,
roots today particularly seem to want to trip me,
and age has reduced the elasticity with which I can respond,

yet I make it up the mountain, and down the mountain,
my body and my soul are better for it,
how thankful I should be for every day
within which I can find and follow the way forward
where I can be as fully alive
as I have felt myself to be today. 

by Henry H. Walker
June 27-28, ’16

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

scaffolding above chasms of ignorance

the generative spirits within

I sit down by the creek,
paper and pen ready,
to see what might come
to reveal itself upon the page,

I usually don’t know, upfront, in my brain,
what the generative spirits within me have been working on,
those parts of myself apprentice
 to the me who is driven to understand,
to question, and then to seek answers,
answers which might scaffold 
across the chasms of my ignorance,
to reach high and sure enough
so that light can reveal
some of what the darkness can hide.

by Henry H. Walker
June 27, ’16

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Heinrich Malling's Service

Heinrich Malling Remembered, Honored

after the service, a woman in her 80’s
leaned over to me and ventured 
that one piece of her shops at funeral services
for how she’d like hers to be,
we agreed that Heinrich’s service was wonderful,
a model for how we’d like ours to be,

we agreed that the unique, extraordinary man was central to it all:
story after story each painted loving pictures
of a friend, a husband, a father—larger than life;
he was already a big man physically,
add the overwhelming, honest, exuberant personality
and Heinrich was as a friendly giant to all of us,
the hole he leaves bespeaks 
the fullness with which he lived his life—
we honored his drive to understand, to connect,
to believe in you,
thus making it hard to deny the greatness in yourself
yearning to breathe free,

the service opened with Native American flute music
followed by words: stories from friends and family,
a few moments silence,
and then extemporaneous messages from those
feeling and answering the call to share,
moving on to an African drumbeat,
powerfully echoing the beat of the human heart,
as his children tearfully, lovingly place
the heart of cedar box with his ashes into the orange clay hole,
white roses follow it into the earth before clay comes to fill it,
a final poem to honor Heinrich and the ripples from his life,
and we move on to visiting and sharing refreshments with each other,
we all knew Heinrich better from the service,
and we knew our grieving better, too,

we are such stuff as love is made of,
let us love, and honor Heinrich, 
as do his wonderful children with their lives,
and as does the bright flame of his wife with her life.

by Henry H. Walker
June 25, ‘16

Friday, June 24, 2016

black bears and humans

Bears and Seasons

June is a bad time to see bears in the mountains,
to even see their scat on the trail,
though at this time adolescent bears can and do manifest in the piedmont,
seeking their place in a world that does not guarantee a place for them,

mid-Summer on, mountain bears seem to feel “Winter is coming,”
and so they haunt the lower valleys
where fat and sugar carbs can help them bulk up,

I imagine that now exercise and salads call to them,
how like humans when youth starts to leave us,
only when they need to be more decadent 
will we see them frequent more of the human worlds.

Humans bulk up after middle age,
but there’s not a sleep that calls to us
that is regenerative like that for the bears.

by Henry H. Walker
June 21, ‘16

Thursday, June 23, 2016

help in the night

getting ready for the next round

I think that my psyche needs regular maintenance.

While I’m awake, I send scouting expeditions
back along the paths that I feel 
might have led to a feeling,  to a mood,
all very left-brain and rational,
also often revelatory of which part of my clockwork
works to make me tick this way or that.

In sleep, I can also work hard, maybe harder,
and to change the metaphor,
to knit those “raveled sleeves of care,”
last night, in a kind of dreaming, 
I worked for hours on some issues
I never quite consciously grasped,
yet in the morning I felt better for the work,

physically and psychically, I imagine teams of helpers
swarming around me in between rounds,
working to ready me to face the next bout.

by Henry H. Walker
June 21, ‘16

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

the patina of memories

nostalgia, how sweet? how sad?

when a piece of wood is handled by many hands over years,
it acquires a patina from the oils,
a soft rich transformation of layer after layer
that do not change the thing
but subtly add to my perception of it,

so do places I’ve been
seem to remember me and my visits,
at least in my perception,
as I look at them I feel earlier times echo
as if I can feel the layer after layer of memory
enrich and deepen what is here today
with what has been here over the years,

sometimes nostalgia is sweet,
sometimes it calls up tears,
sometimes I realize that the patina only exists in memory,
and, when I’m gone, the surface, and thus the moment,
will be fresh and new,
ready for new patinas to be added,

I love to find an artifact from long ago,
and then I love to imagine how the world came to be
for those here way before,

I live the present,
I seek to know the past,
I fear and joy to imagine 
the tomorrows that might and that will come. 

by Henry H. Walker
June 20, ’16

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

the Sun and I both pause

Summer Solstice ‘16

deep in this heavily-treed valley,
finally the Sun climbs high enough
to green flame the tops of the trees,
and for the first beams to slip between hungry leaves
and find my eyes, they pierce,
while the forest around me is still cool from the night
and rhododendron blossoms clump full and draw pollinators,
spent blossoms jewel a dark green mossy rock before me,

no other day will allow the Sun to be so far to the North,
and what it sees today will softly, slowly change even tomorrow,

at the river swimming hole
the water is low and clear, the sun bright,
I can watch the trout
hold their place in the current,
letting time slip past them
in the hope of food coming along with it,
I dip into the water and then dive from the smooth gray rock,

today I’ve piddled and relaxed
as if at the top of a mountain,
the frenzy of the few days before
like the last pull up the high trail,

the Sun pauses and I pause,
the longest day of the year softly closes,

and the full Moon still celebrates the light.

by Henry H. Walker
June 20, ’16

just a taste of sweetness?

moments of transcendence

in between the practical tasks that pull at me,
I give the bulk of my morning
to pushing myself up the mountains,
letting vista and flower pull me up to them,

I feel the aerobic burn of my aging body,
68 years old by the calendar
and getting older judged by my aches and pains,
the air is fresh and the views as breathtaking as the pull,
laurel, catawba rhododendron, and galax
are there to again draw me to them,
just before the Summer Solstice,

as I’m savoring flower pictures with my digital camera,
I look into the sky above the old ridge,
and two peregrine falcon circle in the thermals,
their world and mine only touch for a few moments,

and others hiking by me seem to not care to heed my pointing,
and to savor a moment with them,

I want to be ready for each revelation of beauty
that greatness can chance to reveal to my pedestrian life.

I call up a memory of my wife’s mother
who could just have a taste of sweetness after supper,
who didn’t need to over-indulge in quantity while savoring quality,
but I still want even more encounters with the falcons.
I need to joy in what I have and not sorrow for more.

by Henry H. Walker
June 18, ’16

Monday, June 20, 2016

webbed to school, then to mountains

transitioning into Summer

the school year abruptly ends
amid a flurry of evaluations and ceremony,
one day I’m there, all webbed to students and staff,
and the next day I’m off to the Smokies,
to slip into different, older webs,
which also define me, 
which give me purpose,
that center and ground me,
nature here not the background
but rather the focus of my days,

this year we chose our piedmont home
to be a halfway house for a time,
we chose to spend a week with house and garden,
and naps, whether in sleep or in videos,
and now we are in mountains:
mostly a green backdrop to the days
with white flowering rhododendron above a tired old stream,
low and gently murmuring,

while inside summer transparency apples call us
to transform them into wonder,
chickens boil for chicken salad 6 weeks from now,
pork-filled buns and angel biscuits call me to make them,
it all feels right to the Southerner in me
who long ago learned a lesson
that body and soul need quality food provided,
so that we can connect better with family and friends,
and deepen how fully we appreciate the moments
we have with each other and  with the the rightness below it all 
that many of us call God.

by Henry H. Walker
June 18, ’16

Friday, June 17, 2016

garden bounty

mid-June’s garden

human convention of calendar has aspects
more practical than metaphysical,
though the year starting near the Winter Solstice,
works to follow the light and the dark, and that power,

Summer, though, fits the needs of the farmer
for labor to fight back the weeds, to shepherd the growing,
to reap the bounty of vegetable and early fruit,

our garden now:
sugar snap peas have finished, as has lettuce,

green beans, squash, and the first tomatoes grace us,

potatoes are almost ready to be dug and savored,

blueberries and blackberries slip into ripeness,

the heavy harvest of Fall opens into possibility:
pumpkin vines race to capture the sun and flower into fruit,

grapes hope for flower to transform into green fruit

and for that fruit to ripen months from now,
kiwi set into fruit that may be ready in October,

how important it is to feel the patterns
and release ourselves into them.

by Henry H. Walker
June 16, ‘16

Siri Us ly

tools and atrophy

how ironic
that just when Google can answer countless questions,
often seemingly instantaneous with the last key stroke of typing it in,
I seem to have fewer questions,
it’s as if the part of my soul
that drives me to question,
to imagine possible answers,
to enjoy the hunt
almost as much when the quarry escapes
as when the quarry is found,
that part of me seems to atrophy
when my electronic servant does it for me,
I read a lesson there to continue to rely on my self enough
so as not to be too dependent on a tool:
to find my way on the highway without GPS and Siri sometimes,
to exercise the muscles of my mind to keep them strong,
my middle school students,
given a simple math problem,
ask for a calculator,
when I’m in a mood, I point at my own head and say
“Here’s my calculator!”

now that every cell phone seems able to record video,
where is Sasquatch?
where are the alien sightings?

but also where is God?
where is wonder?
where is joy?

not all that gives value is reducible to bits and binary genius,

and I need to be master to my own lethargy.

by Henry H. Walker
June 16, ‘16

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Hugh Meriwether's father, a tribute

Henry Tutwiler Meriwether

imagine a life always
of purpose,
of planning,
of questing to know,
of finding a pattern that is right,
and holding to it,
of being so conservative that it is radical,
back to the roots and staying true to them:
a marriage,
a partnership for the ages
both in how long it lasted,
and in how fully it fit those two in love
and all they touched,
best friends and partners for 62 years,
in the same house for over 50 years,
sharing the house with children and parent
because family should extend and hold against dissolution,

life should be lived true to the scientist within
who needs to know the questions
and who needs to find the answers,

Henry grew up on a Tennessee farm,
grounded in its immediacy,
with a father grounded in foundational Greek and Latin,
with a mother so well-read that she could effectively home school
before such a path was common,

Henry found his way to Knoxville and the University of Tennessee,
and to chemistry, that science which explains 
the connections of reality as substance meets substance,
chemistry drawing him to graduate school,
and to a lifelong career with Merck and pharmaceuticals,
to the pursuit of results in the lab
and to the result of finding Dorothy, and she him,
like Pierre Curie finding Marie
and arguing the case that, like sodium and chlorine,
they would fit together and make a stable whole,
Henry and Dorothy, the salt of the earth,
who never lost their savor,

Henry loved to travel, for how better to learn?
a wondrous ten day trip rafting down the Colorado with his son Hugh,
decades at Sanibel Island in Florida in the winter,
one of the ten best shelling beaches in the world,
ready for whatever wonders would reveal themselves at low tide,
a naturalist to the core, a birder all over the world,
a curiosity, a need to know, that drove him,
as did a fastidiousness as to how things should be,
the way drinking glasses should be stored, toothbrushes cleaned,
breakfasts made ready, even the night before,
an anxiousness to make sure to get it right suffusing him,
the “Meriwether Worry,”

how wonderful that he could take that which drove him
and ride that energy into creating a life:
pure, full of love and connection,
of being true to his partner,
and true to his releasing a wonderful life upon the world.

by Henry H. Walker
June 10, ‘16

Saturday, June 4, 2016

a foolish consistency?

to boldly write

one person’s rule can keep the barbarians away from the gate,
for another that same rule can be a constipated editor
who substitutes protocol for message,

our goal is for words to fit together
and stretch toward truth,
our challenge is to guess right
whether a rule helps truth
or is a foolish consistency.

each of us can bring their own take on it all.

by Henry H. Walker
April 11, ‘16

across the separating divide

different paths up the same mountain

as my colleagues and I each express 
the individual advisees we honor,
I am intrigued by how differently
each advisor expresses who they know,
and I am impressed with the power of each connection,
I believe each advisor “sees” the advisee truly
and has been there and been there for them 
in however the way could open,

no one can see a person from all the angles
through which we can lens ourselves:
what is important is to see true what each can see,
and to leap across the separating divide
with appreciation, with direction, with love,
for then we are there for them,
and they can be there for themselves.

by Henry H. Walker
June 3, ‘16

the child, and the teenager

the middle schooler

middle school:
enter as a child—exuberant, trusting, open, young,
leave as a teenager—empowered, doubting, absorbed in self and other,

a 10 year old finds a picture and gives it to a 13 year old,
of course she’ll want a photograph of herself,
the 13 year old carefully tears the photo into pieces,
no snapshot of physical self,
no matter how pretty,
can compete with the doubting fears
that beset the adolescent soul,

I love middle schoolers
the power into which they are maturing, though,
is matched by the plague of self-doubt that comes along, too,
the closing that comes right along with the opening,
I feel for them, and for the part of me that parallels that effort,

our goal is to help each find a balance
between the child and the adult within,
to remember how to believe
while remembering also how to doubt,
to see the glass as both half-full and half-empty,
and to then find the way to fill it further.

by Henry H. Walker
June 3, ‘16