Sunday, May 20, 2018

Rachel's Bat Mitzvah

Rachel’s Bat Mitzvah

thousands of years of tradition and wisdom
meet one individual life coalescing toward adulthood:

the profound weight of ritual, of the Word, of the chant,
slip onto her as if made just for her,

the incredible lightness of her wholesome spirit
imbues her as she accepts and embraces who she is,
in the combining of the gifts of the past, the present, the future,
with her sense of self,
who she is stands there and owns the audience,
stands there and asserts the profundity of her take on it all,
we are undone with the purity of the power she knows and speaks,

the mantle she is assuming is venerable and well-worn,
and still new with how her heart and head
make sense of it all,

Rachel has always been who she is,
now is the time for her, and us,
to celebrate the power that dawns with her today.

with love and appreciation,
by granddaddy Henry H. Walker

May 19, ‘18

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

through the maelstrom of middle school

fighting through the doubts

“I discovered I like being on stage.
I like everybody looking at me!”
and she released herself into a powerful performance on stage,
a venturing forth of the will, an assertion of self,
that same assertion we work on in writing:
craft a strong thesis statement, assert it,
venture an opinion in discussion,
risk to draw, to sing, to learn an instrument,

middle school can feel as a maelstrom,
with swirling winds that deny you a perch, a foundation,
a sureness of where you are,
a sureness of a path forward,
a sureness that you can do it,

we should celebrate every time
a young person fights through the doubts,
we should celebrate each step forward,
when the doubting winds calm enough
that the self learns itself well enough
to step forward, again and again,
and feel the rightness of unleashing
that which is awesome
within the doubting self.

by Henry H. Walker
May 11, ‘18

Monday, May 14, 2018

Making Friends

Arts Eve ‘19

I remember the Weebles,
“they wobble but they don’t fall down,”  
that’s how my spirit works to be,
I keep seeing the positive,
despite the buffeting negativity throws at us,
tonight was of the positive,

tonight was particularly of the arts:
what a middle schooler can create on their own,
with vision, effort, a pencil, paint, papier-maché,

two dimensions, then three,
what middle schoolers together can create

with drama, with idea, dance, video,

the reaching of perception from the known to the unknown,

with music—the instrument alone,

then with other conduits,
from the piano 

to the voice, to the signing,
as movement seeks to convey the words that set to convey the thoughts,

tonight was of what a group of middle schoolers can create as a chorus,

the individual and the group genius released in song,
perfected when voice harmonizes with voice,
the sound just feels right, and beautiful,
three dimensions become four, maybe more,

what particularly gets to me tonight 
is the joy which erupts from their friends
as middle schooler after middle schooler celebrates another’s shining,
cheers, high-fives, a bouncing vivaciousness within the audience,
it saddens me when we lose addition as we fear subtraction,
at the heart of our school we love addition, community,
the sense that we are Friends,
that we are at our best when we come out of ourselves
and find the other who helps us be more complete,
more true to who we are.

by Henry H. Walker
May 10, ‘18

Sunday, May 13, 2018

a good man is gone

Welton Clayton, Loss

away from me, within the institutionalized care
we sort of give to those hurting,
those without the safety nets
privilege slips under many of us,
my friend, my buddy, Welton Clayton,
slept, and slipped away,
without my even quite realizing it,
till I checked my voice mail
and heard just the rawness of the change,
the message from two days before,
the service a day ago,

my friend, my buddy, is now already in the ground,
next to Ida, his wife, in the cemetery of her church,
Welton’s garden is now in weeds,
just like all of us who knew and loved him,
not quite sure of how to be
without the cultivation of his spirit,
all the growths of our individual lives
holding our attention,
I miss Welton’s clarity, the power of his caring,
the sureness of his self,
as he had to deal with ridiculous people,
with a world that often did not know him the way we did,

Welton had common sense,
a trueness of who people are,
Welton had a heart that loved to give:
his time, his help, his vegetables,
a concrete way to say what his words often could not say,
Welton was a good man,
a good friend who loved to do for you,
a man who did not suffer fools gladly,
and to be an African-American man,
even in the twenty-first century,
had the fools closer than he would like,

Welton’s story is fascinating:
a good person who had to deal with a world
that could have trouble seeing him truly.

by Henry H. Walker
May 11, ‘18

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Cherokee World

a world imbued with spirit

we live in ignorance,

when we deny our ignorance
we are in a desperately cold world
with only the fitful flame of hubris
to seem to warm us,
we are in a dark world
with only our own fitful light
to reveal the surface of ourselves,
how much warmer and brighter it is
when we open ourselves to risking,
to realizing the emptiness
and seeking to fill it as best we can,

today I was given the gift of two classes
with whom to share what I know
of the Cherokee, the Native American,
a subject that fascinates me,
a people whose way of seeing the world,
and our place in it,
I can only touch for a moment
and never quite hold,

I show the students a picture of a mountain
and ask them what they see,
some only see rocks, trees, an abstract shape,
the artist in some see a face, an animal, one a camel,
the Scotch-Irish settlers saw “Chimney Tops,”
a mirror of their cultivated world,
the Cherokee saw the antlers of a great stone deer,
an expression of how spirit imbues the story of their world,

I hoped to help the students imagine a people
who saw the world as animate, alive with resonance,
not a thing for us to toy with,
to discard, to change at our whim,
a world grander than we can hope to know,

we of the West stepped out of a seamless world,
we realized we could bend the world to our will,
and we did,
and we luxuriate in the gifts we’ve found,
I hoped today to open the children of rationality
to grasp at the gifts that spirituality can also share.

by Henry H. Walker
May 3, ‘18

Monday, April 30, 2018

don't lose the self in selflessness

The Platinum Rule

“Do unto yourself as you would do unto others.”

the Golden Rule inverted,
for the Platinum Rule is an even higher rule,
that the caregiver should take care of self
with as much love as the care for others,

the selfless can lose the self in the other,
and maybe then lose the wherewithal to keep caring, well,

I find it far harder to love myself
with the same lack of condition
as I love my spouse, my friends, my students,

I write this as I watch our bluebird house,
with five baby birds hungry and growing,
father and mother flit in and out feeding them,

the mother just noticed me and flitted away,
she knows how vital she is
and takes care of herself, just in case.

by Henry H. Walker
April 25, ‘18

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Great Fire's Aftermath

The Big Poplar

a year and a half ago,
the Great Fire roared over these mountains, 
particularly where the woods were dry
along the ridges, at the heads of slopes,
less so deeper in the hollows,
where, even in extreme drought, water lasts longer,
at the head of a hollow,
the home of cove hardwoods,
one great tulip poplar tree was not felled
when thousands of its brothers and sisters
became lumber and house,
maybe those logging wanted to leave it
as a bit of remembrance of the great forest once here,
maybe those logging noted its top blown out by the wind
and figured rot marred its worth,

it stands where slope starts to reach steep and rocky out of the valley,
a great wind roared the fire up its downhill side,
a char all the way up its trunk,
last summer its roots and circulation
 remembered how to bud and leaf
but I feared the effects of the char,
this spring we hike up to its magnificence,
the forest floor luxuriant with leaf, with flower, with fern,

many trees awake and leafing out with exuberance,
on the tops of the ridges leading up to the Poplar
the trees were gaunt, many lifeless,
as the Big Poplar itself comes into view
I search for new growth at its top,
a companion tree leafs out enough 
to confuse me for awhile
that it’s the Poplar greening,
the Big Poplar itself, though, looks lifeless,
maybe some growth on a few limbs, probably not,

a deep sorrow starts to build in me,

a great tree deserves a mourning.

by Henry H. Walker
April 20, ‘18

Monday, April 23, 2018

how full the glass?

The Middle Schooler

the middle schooler:

an incredible person
fraught with the challenges
of physical, social, and emotional changes,
just getting up and surviving the day
can seem like a victory,
the sureness of being a child
held safe in a parent’s arms,
gone way, at least for awhile,
the sureness of being a child
awake to the wonder within a moment,
within a belief, within a world that is stable,
all shattered by the double-edged sword
that empowers ability and disempowers sureness,

I love the middle schooler,
I see the wholeness of who each is,
despite the doubt and fear and hesitancy
that can plague every moment,

I am in awe of how often they can risk
and find enough faith to leap, despite the fear of falling,

this weekend I was in the mountains with ten middle schoolers,
each of whom is navigating a way through their changes,
each of whom deserves praise for how full each fills the glass,
and sympathy for how hard the glass is to fill.

by Henry H. Walker
April 21, ‘18

Saturday, April 14, 2018

why to get up in the morning

Find the Spark!

Why get up in the morning?

Bill Turner looks at us, challenges us:
help another “find the spark!”
the reason to get up in the morning,
purpose, meaning,
the fire that can burn within
and that can spread the light to others,
then the night will fall back
before the rising of the dawn,

look at another’s eyes,
beware finding a dullness there,
nothing can be more beautiful than the self
that looks back at you,
particularly when the occupant is in—
in, and present, and ready to risk
placing one block, then another, upon each other,
in a world that seems to hate connection,
to celebrate dissolution,

I spend my life seeing kids
and helping each find the spark within,
releasing it so that the world can brighten,

neither skin, nor gender, nor self-doubt
should suppress the flare!

by Henry H. Walker
April 13, ’18
at Duke University Reunion, 
quoting Reverend Bill Turner, 
one of the first African-American football players at Duke,
who later joined the Divinity School at Duke,
mentor to Rev. William Barber,
a major current leader in moral issues.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

the plant world awakes

spring is a-bustin’

the day dawns cloudy,
with some light spitting drizzle,
I meditate inside so that
word and idea and withdrawal from the wired
could more easily work on my psyche
than when drizzle annoys me into noticing,

by late afternoon the sky is so dry it’s clearly blue,

some bird solos a clarity of song,
mellifluous and imperative, a reality to notice,
the wind has gone away
but for a mild breeze from the south,

the cherry trees are filled with white blossoms,
who hope that sour, intense, sweet fruit are in their future,

the blueberry bushes parallel that blossoming,

I check the bluebird house in the morning:

5 perfect blue eggs await the sitting,
a sitting I think is happening by late afternoon,
as a male bluebird flies out of the lumbered house,

I water the garden of the first tomatoes, sugar snap peas, and lettuce,

plant the first half dozen basil,

note the first potato leaves breaking above the soil,

ready the way for Native American pumpkins
to claim their third of the garden,

the oak trees meet the clear light of the setting sun
with a light brown exuberance of growth,

as I head into supper more birds comment on the day,
spring is ready to bust wide open.

by Henry H. Walker
April 9, ‘18

the struggle

Duke Vigil, 1968

fifty years ago, MLK Jr. was murdered,
as if Moses pointed us to the Promised Land
but Pharaoh found a way to keep the Chosen People in bondage, 
two thousand of us at Duke shook ourselves awake from the slumber 
within which privileged America can hide,

we slept on the quad,
supported a union for non-academic employees, Local 77,
reached to pick up and carry the flag, as best we could,
to find how and where America could be healed,

our Vigil eddied, for the media lived the admonition:
“If it bleeds, it leads,” and we didn’t bleed,
except from our broken hearts
that wanted to follow King into a better world,

the struggle continues,
how can any of us be truly free
when our brothers and sisters of color
find it so hard to matter to many?

by Henry H. Walker, Duke '70
April 10, ‘18

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Wildflowers: for the soul, as a salad bar


mostly this week we have sought wildflowers,
our luck has held,
and thousands of perfect plants
have enticed us up valleys and trails,
two days ago a vista pulled us up a steep hill
where the Great Fire erased the forest
that swallowed the view:
a view that can now overwhelm me,

today was of bears: a mama bear and her two yearlings,

who stopped cars for hours as each browsed on wildflowers,
and seemed to enjoy the attention,

for us, the wildflowers are a feast for the soul,
for the bears, they are a salad bar,
worth a lot of helpings.

by Henry H. Walker
April 6, ‘18