Friday, June 30, 2017

of bushes and tragedy

the boxwood’s and rhododendron’s story

many tragedies tell themselves
if we can hear them,
a home lost to the fire is easy to hear,
and it scares me with its blunt power,

yet I also ache to hear the boxwood’s story,
planted by my dad near 80 years ago,
now it’s hardwood height and breadth
cooked away in the heat of the fire
that swept up around it,
a few shoots valiantly struggle from the roots,

some of the native rhododendron were also cooked,
their leaves now brown and straight as icicles,

a rhododendron bush looks young,
for their trunks at most have the size
in width of an adult human leg,
yet they grow so slowly I’ll bet their inches of diameter
represent centuries of growth,
they have endured quietly and graciously,
greening the world of the creek,
their rose-white blossoms cheering us every year,

many of the nearby trees, much younger and much greater,
hid their strength from the fire in their roots
and let their bulk protect them,
if I look into their canopy I can imagine all is the same,
it’s the coal-black soil and down logs that tell a different story,

the rhododendron nearest the protecting creek
also can seem untouched, while next to them,
deadened rhododendron leaves mourn what they’ve lost.

by Henry H. Walker
June 25, ’17

Thursday, June 29, 2017

the history student in me

to hold a moment

I love to write a poem,
to coalesce into words
an insight, a perspective,
a movement forward into understanding,
a way to say:
I’ve been there,
I’ve done that,
I know, and you can know, too,
through my words,

an experience within can still be similarly powerful,
though so very ephemeral, fleeting,
a hike with eyes open into wonder,
a dip into a cold mountain creek, 
intense rejuvenating shock,
a moment noticed and hoped to be remembered,
a picture snapped to hold a moment,

the history student in me
loves to write the words
that hope to hold a moment
and preserve it into the future,

I love to write a poem,
and I love it when the poem works.

by Henry H. Walker

June 25, ’17

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

my psyche, and the bends

the repressed, releases

I wonder if my psyche can get “the bends,” 
like coming up from deep below the ocean’s surface,
too fast,
and the nitrogen repressed into the blood 
bubbles out,

I disengage from teaching,
and I do not know what to do with myself,
besides throwing myself into new actions:
making applesauce to hold the evanescent
in a tartly sweet jacket,
ready to share, to connect,
to cook: angel biscuits, pork-filled buns,
chicken for salad,
all for others, and myself, in our Mt. LeConte extravaganza,

but if I’m not doing,
if I’m released from what normally defines me,
my psyche rebels, like the nitrogen,
anxieties I’ve repressed release themselves and scare me
with my not being ready for a transformation
into a different definition of self,

for now I fear retirement,
for I fear I’ll look down
like a cartoon character over an abyss,
and then I’ll fall,
the ground, no longer repressed, coming for me.

by Henry H. Walker

June 22, ’17

Monday, June 26, 2017

Summer Solstice 17

Summer Solstice ‘17

my head know that early this morning
the Sun paused at the top of its climb north
and started its retreat to the south,
today, though, the Sun is no point source,
clear and definite,
rather all I know of it is diffused light,

grayness swaths us,
all the way down to the tops of the trees
a gray mist anchors us to the clouds,

a light drizzle drips and drops onto and from the leaves,
irregular abrupt drumbeats on the carport,

the garden beginning to release a bounty,
half the potatoes dug,
some squash and beans picked,

the first cherry tomatoes I let sit on the plants
in hopes of their being even firmer and sweeter,

instead when I picked them yesterday,
too many were too soft, some burst asunder,

the Native American pumpkin ecstatic,
free of weeds, the vines bursting forth in growth,

the blueberries, held back in number by a culling late frost,
give us a cup or two a day of big sweet perfection,

sometimes the Solstice makes a dramatic entrance,
today the Solstice quietly slips in in shades of gray.

by Henry H. Walker
June 22, ’17

Sunday, June 18, 2017

politics, and the lesser within us

I empathically leap, and feel, soiled. . .

within my values,
I often elder myself,
I push myself, 
sure that if I but work just a bit harder,
that I can understand where another is coming from,
then sympathize,
maybe even empathize,
I can then feel that the universe they see
is just a bit different from mine,
that their point-of-view just values the inputs differently,
that at a deep level,
at a place to which I can empathically leap,
I can see and justify reasoning with which I disagree,

however, now my values hijack me into judgment:
truth is not relative and fungible but clear and not to be denied,
facts exist, and denial of facts is not worthy of the brain with which we are gifted,
the climate is changing, that’s not up for debate,
what can be up for debate is whether government or business
can be the prime mechanism to clear the way forward to deal with the problem,
I just cannot deny that facts exist—
this was a ridiculously warm North Carolina February:
ice-sheets melt, sea-levels rise,
any who deny those truths deny facts,

furthermore, I just can’t empathically leap into
ridiculing and hating the other:
that seems to me a juvenile reaction,
not worthy of us, or even the juvenile,
not worthy of understanding in any way, 
any way that can allow such hate and belittling to exist,
right now judgment rings truer to me than empathy,
I want to shout that it’s time to grow up, America,
time to realize that the lesser within us should not be empowered,
that all we can get when we make an empathic leap
into the world that is true for a hater,
is that we will feel soiled, that we will feel lesser,

it’s time to grow up, America, 
self-indulgence is not who we are at our best,
we can be greater when reason and love can transform us,
and we can then reach toward the greatness 
that that of the God within us demands.

one of my students saw t-shirts in Gatlinburg
and described them as "casual hate,"

we should be better than that.

by Henry H. Walker

March 1, ‘17 and June 18, '17

Happy Father's Day!

what makes a good father?

first, I think, is commitment,
commitment to the baby, well before eyes can meet,
well before the smile can melt you,
can call you to dance, to perform, to nurture. . .

it’s the bundle of potential in the dawning self that you love,
well before personality can reveal itself,

unconditional love, focused,

then the key is to see truly the personality releasing itself to the world,
to appreciate it, to cheer its successes,
to help it reconfigure when a strategy doesn’t work,
to be a champion for the self revealed,
a guide when the ways aren’t clear,
to be a friend, 
a mirror who reveals the truth 
of the wonder the child is,

an anchor when that’s the need,
a goad when that’s the need,
and the wisdom to know which is needed when,
even to know that moment 
when love expresses itself best by letting go,

you, my sons, are good fathers,
I am in awe of the artistry with which you parent. 

Happy Father's Day!
by Henry H. Walker

June 16, ‘17

Friday, June 16, 2017

Australopithecus and us

the ground pulls at us

millions of years ago,
a first ancestor of ours
rose up to walk on two limbs, not four,
and then we could see broader, further,
we could know ourselves in larger contexts,
the savannah full of wondrous, and dangerous, possibility,

in our politics these days
many see the danger and not the possibility
in the worlds outside
that we can fear to touch,
we retreat into the tribal
and huddle against the dark,
outside the family fire
we fear the shadows we do not know,

when we get tired
and feel ourselves stretched
so that we can’t quite cover what needs to be covered,
we feel the pull of the ground, the close,
and it is hard to stand tall and look out,
we can lose the larger contexts
as we struggle to control the world closest to us
over which our control seems to be slipping.

by Henry H. Walker

June 12, ‘17

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

the future still calls me

I hear the calling. . .

“how much longer will you teach?”
I keep hearing,
folks wonder when I’ll retire,
I normally answer with a mumble
about still feeling called,
though I point at body and mind
and acknowledge that the decision might be made for me
when I lose the wherewithal to see the kids, 
to see paths I can help them find,

in the film version of The Lord of the Rings
the elf princess Arwen sees the child
who can be born to her
if she chooses to stay in Middle Earth,
the child runs in the woods
and, through misty ether, sees her,
their eyes meet,
and he calls to her to be there
so that he can be there,

a child she doesn’t yet know,

for now, I am pulled by such children
I don’t even yet know,
teaching is a calling,
and, for now, 
I heed those future students calling me.

by Henry H. Walker

June 4, ‘17

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

change, and us

the reactionary just doesn’t get it

there is a difference 
between the conservative and the reactionary:
change comes at us faster than we can imagine,
just holding on to self can be tough,
yet we are tested by how we deal with change,

we teachers sometimes describe students as high maintenance,
wonderful and amazing but requiring us
to ride the roller-coaster with them,
and, maybe, to somehow wrench some control over the ride,

a conservative, to me, works to hold on to the best of the past
while boldly going into a future we can’t yet quite keen,
a reactionary, to me, just denies a different future is coming,
they reach up to stop the train,
to hold a past that cannot be held,
like a ghost, it slips out of their embrace,

I do mourn those who have gone before,
I do mourn the natural world we lose with our selfishness,
I do mourn losing all that feels comfortable to me,

and still I hope to remember well and also to see what’s coming,
to find the energy and vision for the high maintenance required
to ride the roller-coaster well.

by Henry H. Walker

May 28, ‘17

Monday, June 5, 2017

I am but part of a village

on others’ shoulders

for the last two years
one student, in particular,
has been able to use my classes
to find himself,
to believe in himself,
to assert himself upon the world
as a strong reader and writer,
as a strong person,
as a will that will move forward,
despite the overwhelming pull of the social for him,

for two years I have been singing his praises,
I have been seeing him as the best in how he sees himself,
and what I see is what I have gotten,
then I hear the story of how
my wife taught him as a 6 and as a 7 year old,
when he felt himself blundering in the thickets
that can beset the best of us,
those thickets that somehow empower the lesser,
she saw him and she saw paths out of the thicket,
she saw how to help him find those paths,
and he did it,

Isaac Newton is credited with a quote
acknowledging that he could go far
and that he should credit the giants who came before him
and on whose shoulders he could stand,
as a middle school teacher, I love to celebrate how far forward
my students are able to go while in my view,
how much better,
how much closer to the truth,
it is to acknowledge and honor
the great teachers before us
who helped the students lay their foundations
upon which we later teachers can help build toward the sky,
and, even more important,
we should honor the person before us
who works hard to see herself/himself truly,
and to express truly the best of who each is.

by Henry H. Walker

June 2, ‘17