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

Monday, April 9, 2018

how much a Luddhite?

tech attracts, repels

I can’t decide if I’m a Luddhite—
all askance at how electronic do-dads
divorce us from what is most real,
or if I can be as a kid on Christmas morning,
loving every bell and whistle
our servant masters offer me,
I just voiced a text for the first time this afternoon,
I had to adjust and consciously add punctuation,
but I did, and it worked,
I shared my day with Facebook, too,

this afternoon I also pushed myself through the woods,
up the trail, and then cross-country up a thicketed wash,
and then steep up a hill we self-centeredly call Walker Knob,
a hundred years ago we heard it was called Chestnut Hill,
ten to fifteen minutes of intense climbing up a half-angle slope,
mostly clear to the walking by the Fire that raged
a year and a half ago here,

the Fire left laurel and pine trunks: black, diminished, enduring,
with new shoots of laurel tapping the roots’ memory,

and pine seedlings, like the English, ready to colonize,
decades ago I forced myself up here
and I could see little past the woods that engulfed me,
now the Fire has allowed vista to reappear,
it is worth an hour of effort, sweat, 
and aggressive tough branches tearing at my skin,
so that we can summit and appreciate where we find ourselves,
the beauty before us, to our south, incredible!

back down the mountain, I jump into the creek,
and feel as elemental as the waters seeking the sea,

I work to contain multitudes,
I want to appreciate and use the tech,
but, when push comes to shove,
I want to know a mountain, a creek,

more than I want to know my computer and its cousins.

by Henry H. Walker
April 4, ‘18

Sunday, April 8, 2018

three eternities

past, future, present

three eternities still pull at me:
the past sirens story and memory to draw me back—nostalgia,
the future intrigues me and the sureness of death can haunt me—
the world without me,
the present holds me in the moment,
and I can lose the sense of where I’ve been,
of where I might go, of anticipation and consequence,

at our best we hold those three eternities with equal measure,
a triangle is the most stable of shape,
an equilateral triangle is the best,
but each line knows itself to be the longer, and better,

our challenge is to hold the whole,
and know each truth as true.

by Henry H. Walker
April 5, ‘18

Saturday, April 7, 2018

to reconnect


A friend.

though years have spiraled us away from each other,
the years have now also spiraled us back together here in the mountains,

how wonderful it is to have known each other
when we both were forming response
to the tempest within and without
that was college to us in the late 1960’s,

each of us from mountains,
each of us wanting to make our families proud,
each of us working at the Language Lab at Duke to help pay the bills,
rock music, civil rights, the Vietnam War:
all fires fueling the fire underneath the self we sought to be,

how we “found” ourselves as different, and the same, as can be:
graduate schools, jobs, the call as to how
we each might respond to dysfunction in society and people,

the call of another to help us be more complete,
the call of children unborn who ached to be,
the raising of those children to reveal the best of who they might become,
and now grandchildren, as we push at the end of our careers,

the Smokies were where we deepened our connections,
and today we walked the high valley again
in search of the spring ephemeral wildflowers we all love,

it is good to reconnect and feel the friendship,
that, once forged, endures.

by Henry H. Walker
April 3, ‘18

Friday, April 6, 2018

where flowers are, God is. . .

today is of flowers

today is of flowers:
the calendar says it’s Spring,
the days are lengthening,
yet the cold still freezes its fortresses in the North,
most of the trees do not yet venture forth, 
but some, like the sarvis and the maple, are impetuous,

as if they want to push ahead
to be first in line for the Sun,

these days we seek the high coves
whose floors will soon be darkened 
by a full canopy of leaves
when the trees get going,
now is the time of flowering plants
to make their proverbial hay,

like bees to pollen, we seek out a bounty of glory:
white trillium on steep slope,
great chick weed and violets, toothwort,
yellow trillium, wood and rue anemone, bishop’s cap,
hepatica, stone crop, spring beauty,
and a profusion of fringed phacelia,
we find where trout lilies are exuberant in their flaring,
where ginger’s succulent leaves shelter the cornucopia of their flowers,
we seek blood root, a true ephemeral,
it doesn’t show itself for long,
mostly we find its leaves, memorial markers,

we find a few flowering blood root
whose erect perfection centers our world for awhile,

the dinosaurs did not know the flower,
mammals and flowering plants have evolved together,
we love to let such gratuitous beauty
center our world, for awhile.

by Henry H. Walker
April 1, ‘18

Thursday, April 5, 2018

the soul of an artist

he called himself “The Boogerman"

Robert Palmer lived deep in the rugged Smokies,
within the valley called Cataloochee
deep in distance from the gentler travelled coves,
the Palmer farm deep and distant even within Cataloochee,
a place Robert found “too crowded,”

we start out in the bottom lands,
where flat grassy fields support re-introduced elk,

protected by being so remote 
and with predatory wolves no longer around,
a beautiful hand-hewn log bridge crosses Cataloochee Creek,

and twenty minutes up the trail 
another beautifully-crafted log bridge crosses Caldwell Fork,
clear and boisterous today,

we soon take a side trail,
the remnants of the sled road
Robert Palmer hewed-out of the mountains
to get back and forth to his home,

once again I am in awe of his artistry:
the way he knew every slope and bone of these mountains
and how to slip away up the slopes
with as gentle an elevation gain as possible

and wedded to ridge after ridge
as if each knew the way to his place and wanted to help,
Robert knew the land as the Cherokee must have known it,
not as a conglomeration of things but as a living wholeness,
when others gave in to money offered,
so that living trees would become lumber for someone distant,
Robert wouldn’t sell 
and some old growth woods remain on land he held title to,
like any good farmer he knew the place of death in life,
he felled trees so he could have fields and buildings,
he must have known the trees as well 

as he knew the ridges where he built his road,

if they were to die, 
their death should mean more than a few dollars,

Robert must have had the soul of an artist,
just like those who built the bridges we crossed
and those who left stone walls all over the Smokies,
made with rightness, to last,
to honor the soul within, who knows grace.

by Henry H. Walker
March 31, ‘18