Sunday, December 31, 2017

the Performing Arts Center comes

a vehicle for the many to become one

across the creek,
light expectantly spills out of the 8 vertical windows
of the shell of the new C.F.S. Performing Arts Building,
construction slowly transforms concrete slab and block
toward the intimate, comfortable structure of the auditorium, 
within which the art of our dance and drama
can create an extended wholeness of experience
that feels alive to me,
George Fox could see that of God in everyone
and, in performance, 
I see it join with that same essence within others,
and a light kindles and flares,
the light within the shells of those windows,
like the coals of a fire,
ready to flare when new wood
 releases itself into a blaze,

within our current performing space, the Center Building,
our alums maintain a tradition of coming together
as Winter Solstice and Christmas reach toward the New Year,
they use their talents to create a performance:
today it is a take on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,”
a reimagining of the story,
starting with poverty as the reality of Charlie and his family,
at least in terms of food and money,
with poverty the reality of Willy Wonka’s soul,
a man obsessed with his own importance
and with how the kids on the tour are, to him,
existing only in how he can use their ideas to make money,
despite who might need to be sacrificed, forgotten,

in this version of the story,
Charlie’s father and a former coworker
commingle their ideas and create products
that work and make money for them,
the collective working better than the individualistic,

I enjoyed the use of dance as transformative,
a vehicle for two, for three, to become one,
the actors impressive in their virtuosity, 

two weeks ago a bridge already spanned the creek
between the new Performing Arts Center and the Center Building,
but there was no way to walk to it on this side of the creek,
while we’ve been gone, earth has been moved and shaped
into a pleasantly curved, inviting path
that connects what is to what will be,

the light in the windows across the creek promises of a future,
the light on the stage in the Center Building tonight reminds us
that every moment can be kindled and blaze bright.

by Henry H. Walker
December 30, ‘17

the tool reshapes the world, and the user

the smart phone versus the "lizard brain"

in only tens of thousands of years,
humans have physically adapted to different environments
by changing the pigment of the skin,
and the size of the body,
to fit what climate and sun require,

in even fewer of those tens of thousands of years,
humans have psychically adapted 
to what change has demanded,
figuring out how to manipulate
a small grass into hearty ears of corn,
rocks into tools and other rocks into metal for tools,
domesticating animals into servants and food,

when population outpaced 
what gathering and hunting could provide,
we evolved ourselves into agriculture and cities,
the need for inventory and marketing
led to writing and numbers:
abstract symbols that described concrete reality,
and changed the reality of how our brains were organized,
so that the tool shaped not only the outer world
but our inner world,
unconsciously we reprogrammed ourselves,
and we’re still at it,
creating a future self with the Internet and smart phones:
a brave new world,

if our lesser instinctual selves, 
the limbic system underneath our rationality,
don’t doom us before we can get there.

by Henry H. Walker
December 24, ’17

Thursday, December 28, 2017

fungus like the char-broiled

a fungus world

the fungus surprises me
as it works it will upon the woods,
upon the trunks toppled in last spring’s wind storms,
and upon standing trunks only partly consumed
by the Great Fire late last fall,

I am intrigued by trees that still seem alive,
but charred their first feet from the ground,
and, in that black char, fungus colonizes and erupts,
often in spectacularly beautiful shape,

I wonder if the mycelia will consume only dead wood,
like maggots were used in earlier times
to get rid of infested flesh
and leave healthy flesh alone,

some large pines have exuded sticky sap in the char,
and I wonder why,

for now, the fungus is a wonder.

by Henry H. Walker
December 24, ’17

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

luck in the stars

my wife and the cusps

my therapist finds me unusual
when I reach back in time
and find a cusp where I made the right decision,
and I then worry about my losses
if I’d travelled the other path,

my wife is more wonderful than I can imagine,
when I look back at our paths
that crossed and somehow melded into one,
I feel no inevitability, 
but, instead, a lot of intersections
at which, and through which, 
we made the right decisions to lead to now,

I appreciate our time together,
I fear the future, for ending is inevitable,

I fear the past, too,
for I know how lucky my stars have been.

by Henry H. Walker

December 23, ’17

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

a hidden valley

The Higher Eslinger Hollow

years ago we chanced upon a high hollow
we didn’t know existed, 
a relatively flat valley,
maybe 100 yards by 30 yards,
with a little stream meandering down it,

and sections of cut log wall and remnants of chimney,
for years I didn’t return,
then I took my niece to it about 25 years ago,
to give her a taste of what her father and I loved to do,
to search out where people had been,
to fulfill his charge to me,
as he was slipping away,
to “help my daughter love the woods”

my wife and I returned to that hidden valley today,
the Great Fire had swept through here a year ago,
moving swiftly across the ground here,
and only pausing to work its will 
upon stumps and logs, and standing trunks,
I feared the remnants of house walls would have burned,
but they seem to have rotted before the fire,

the “path” we followed was often the remnant of the old sled road,
and on it bear scat, big scat, was very present,

evidence of a large bear for whom this valley is his stomping grounds,
a down trunk, near what might have been their spring,

scratched with the bear’s assertion of self, of proprietorship.

by Henry H. Walker
December 22, ’17

Monday, December 25, 2017

over half a century of wondering

Daddy and Me

a tragedy I feel every day:
my daddy never found
the inclination and the words
to tell me clearly what made him who he was,

his actions shout to me of who he was:
a devoted husband who would do anything he could
for that half of him who loved him back,
a devoted father who worked his heart to the bone
as a principal of a rowdy junior high,
and who braved the South’s heat, before air-conditioning,
to teach math in summer school,
forty miles away from his beloved “cabin” in the Smokies,
a trip to the Old Swimming Hole every afternoon
after he got back from the valley’s heat and the students’ needs,

I know he loved learning,
the first in his family to go to college
escaping from Low Country, South Carolina
to the edge of the state, Furman, near mountains
and near another Carolina not so poisoned by slavery
as his family’s past, a reality that endured and lived all around him,

I know he used his body as a football player
so he could go to college,
take the ball and gain 
“two to three yards and a pile of dust,” he’d say,
and he also pulled the team together as its captain
defeating Clemson for the Southern Conference Championship in 1926,

yet who drove him and what held him back
opaques itself before my questioning,
Mother said she and Daddy never discussed parenting decisions,
never used words to describe their feelings for each other,

Daddy died around my fourteenth birthday
and I have spent over half a century
working to imagine his inner world, his feelings,

the intrapersonal is an intelligence
that allows us to access what can drive us,
I just don’t know for sure what drove Daddy:
what he ran from, what he ran toward,

the history of the Walker family, that I know about,
is of South Carolina, a state detractors 
can describe as “the pinnacle of conceit,”
and I have held copies of family wills in my hand
which distribute human beings to survivors,
as if those of African descent were but things,
like the furniture also in the wills,
I would love to know how Daddy dealt with that truth
I would love for him to have had time
to evolve away from the nightmare South Carolina can still live,

I would love to talk education with him,
for each of us has lived the world of the classroom,
the world of the early adolescent,
I would love for him to validate who I am,
and for me to know more clearly the battles he fought,
for me to know enough to appreciate better
what he gave the world with the effort of his life

one former student of his described Daddy
as welcoming every student to school with a hug,
that is the Daddy I would like to know better.

by Henry H. Walker

December 18, ’17

my old neighborhood, still the same

South Knoxville

the south side of Knoxville, Tennessee, 
where I grew up,
looks much the same as it did 50 years ago
I’m used to living around Durham, North Carolina,
where houses spring up like toadstools after a rain,
where new roads and new shopping centers
appear for the influx of people and money,

my old neighborhood is more the sign of a stagnant economy,
with houses and yards steady state,
business buildings keep the same walls
and new businesses move in for a few years
till they, too, don’t make it,

change and progress follow the money,
and the south of Knoxville doesn’t have the money
to support passing time in any change for the better.

by Henry H. Walker

December 19, ’17

Sunday, December 24, 2017

the dominance of dark, the gift of light

Winter Solstice ‘17

today began and ends 
with a gray shroud swallowing the world,
just beyond the nearby trees,

yesterday rain socked us in
and raised the streams into full-throated power,

the early morning lightly misting, and all is wet,

midmorning the sun reminds us that it’s still there,
a few patches of blue in the sky,
and a few moments of diffuse sunbeam
right as the Sun pauses its drop to the south
and starts its six month climb back to the north,

we pull ourselves two miles up a steep mountain
at the time of that pausing,
up toward where the Great Fire started thirteenth months ago

on those twin pinnacles of stone
commonly called the Chimney Tops,

the last half of the trail a work of art
with countless rock steps snaking up the steep slope,
particularly where a small stream
beautifully slices and dances downward,
while leg and lung and heart labor upwards,

at the top a gorgeous view gifts itself upon us,
though the ravages of the Great Fire
strip away the comfort this view had for years,

in the afternoon, sauna and creek call me
to cleanse myself with sweat and bracing stream,

night now comes on and reminds me
that the Winter Solstice is more of the dark than of the light,

how much more of wonder is life today
because of how heavy the darkness is now,

the leaves still hold to the beech,
the ember lightness of their brown draws my eye,

as does the bright green of moss
and the sure green of the rhododendron,

no time is only of the one,
the other also has its part.

by Henry H. Walker
December 21, ’17

Saturday, December 23, 2017

what an incredible spirit!

Ann Dickinson Beal

what an incredible spirit Ann Dickinson Beal was—

brilliant, as her mind pierced and enveloped
so that the deep mysteries 
within past and present revealed themselves,
brilliant, as her heart knew you, loved you,
helped you to be even more impressive as yourself,

Ann appreciated fine food, fine drink, fine people,
Ann knew the joy inherent in every moment
if we can but let ourselves live it,
particularly the joy of poetry, 
of watching tennis,
of swimming in a friend’s lake,
of her friend Rick’s description of her “4 Bs”:
William Blake, Wendell Barry, the Beatles, Bob Dylan,
of exploring the way history and religion weave together
in the lives of John Rogers, an ancestor, and William Tyndale,
who, like Ann, believed that all should have access to TheWord,

as strong as her spirit was,
so was the fragility that could also infuse her:
a marriage that could not last
but which produced two amazing children,
a body that had to give up when the assaults were too much,

we miss the amazing wonder that was Ann,

and we treasure the memory of her incredible spirit.

by Henry H. Walker
December 21, ’17,

Ann’s birthday--
she should have been 74 today

Friday, December 22, 2017

the "Chimneys"

Duni’skwalgun’i, the forked antler

the twin pinnacles of rock
shout their story now,

the subtlety of the Smokies gone—
that round blurring of line
from thousands of years of forest
weighing down rock’s story
with countless green tales,

now these upper rocks the native people called Duni’skwalgun’i, 
have lost that gentle softening,
because fire smoldered, erupted, and consumed
their green skin, even some of the gray paint of lichen
that works so hard to gentle rock toward life,

the dirt held on their steep slopes
slips away in every rain now,
the gaunt black rocks shock us,
as if angry, brooding, sullen,

the Cherokee knew a truth
that spoke to them of an earlier time
today’s shapes of mountains dimly remember,

these days the fire-ravaged prominences before us
shout of what is underneath the surface,
the surface that can lull us into forgetting. 

by Henry H. Walker
December 18, ‘17

Thursday, December 21, 2017

the past comes toward me

a tea-kettle in the woods

there before me lies
the rusted remains of a tea-kettle,
the spout still enough itself
to speak to me of home and family,

for most of a century
it must have just sat there 
in the leaves that fall,
a forgotten tool,
yet in the curve of the spot
I feel the love
that held it
that used it,

usually it’s a well-preserved section of chimney
that speaks to me of the fire
that held the family whole,
today a kettle helps the past come toward me. 

by Henry H. Walker

December 17, ‘17