Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 30, 2021


The power of poetry

An assignment for my junior-high English class was to memorize a poem and recite it. English was one of my better subjects, but my introverted self wasn't looking forward to standing in front of the class. So why did I choose Edna St. Vincent Millay's 30-stanza "Ballad of the Harp-Weaver"? Perhaps it was because her words about a poverty-stricken mother's unconditional love for her young son resonated ... and they still do.

Poetry is considered as the intersection of prose and music. Since I enjoy both, I've dabbled some in this "between area." When I was in high school, I had poems published in "English Echoes," the school's literary publication. One was "My Loves," based on Rupert Brooke's "The Great Lover." Another was "Song of the Marsh" about the Vietnam War.

After my first husband Jerome died, my journey through grief swung wildly between depression and hope. Prose often seemed inadequate to express my feelings, so I turned to poetry. Our daughter Mariya's birth five months after his death, combined with the passage of time, slowly began healing my heart. I think that journey is mirrored in the following three poems.

Morning

The remaining leaves snapped off the trees,
     Their veins chilled by the first hard frost of the winter.
They fell gently through the crisp, still air,
     Making a soft blanket of yellow.
They weren’t allowed their full time on the tree -
     Not allowed to turn brown and crisp and then to fall.
No. They were taken in their prime when there was still life left.

Afternoon

The leaves float down,
     Catch in the breeze,
     twirl for a second
     and then fall,
     Creating a carpet.

I reach down to pick them up,
     Caressing each one
     and impressing their brilliant colors
     into my mind.

Memories are like leaves.

to Mariya

The tree lights
     sparkled in your eyes.
You reached for the string
     of twinkling red, green, blue, yellow and pink
And the magic of Christmas
     flickered in my heart - even if only for a moment.

You are my Christmas. I love you so.

Not all of my efforts have been serious. In 1991, husband Art, his mother Donna and I were in a huge miles-long traffic jam on the German-Polish border. After the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, traffic had increased dramatically and the thorough inspections of every truck created the problem. I decided to write something to help pass the time.

We went to the Polish border
     with our papers we thought were in order
We sat in the car
     while men “whizzed” near and far
And tried to fend off rigor mortir.

The last word was my tongue-in-cheek attempt to rhyme "rigor mortis" with "order." "Whizzed" referred to the men who exited their parked vehicles to relieve themselves at the edge of the road.

Although I'm only an occasional poet, a couple of friends have written poetry books and have performed their works in public places. Ron Wilson writes and performs cowboy poetry. He said in the early 2000s, he was working with a rural leadership group where everyone was asked to contribute their talents. His was a cowboy poem. Ron explained: "... the moderator said I was the group's poet laureate. I got my rope and replied that I wasn't a poet laureate, but I might be a poet lariat. The nickname stuck. ..."

                               What’s in a Name?

A stranger rode into town wearin' a big ten gallon hat,
     Tied up his horse at the hitchin’ rail near where the sheriff sat.
The sheriff said, "Howdy, stranger. Welcome to our town.
     What's the handle we should call you if you’re gonna be around?"
"Well, you can call me Tex," the stranger stopped to say.
     "Oh," replied the sheriff. "You come from Texas way?"
"Nope," replied the stranger, "I’m a Louisiana man."
     Now the sheriff said in puzzlement, "I just don't understand."
And then he asked the question which obviously came next:
     "If you're from Louisiana, why do you go by Tex?"
The stranger said, "Well, it's very simple, if you please.
     The truth is, I didn't want anybody callin' me Louise."

Tony Crawford, former Kansas State University special collections archivist, has published several poetry books. One recent poem is about the pandemic.

KANSAS COVID SPRING

Kansas spring,
cool, warm, wet, dry
calm, windy...
repeat

forsythia, dandelions
battle for season's
brightest yellow
under haze, smell of smoke
from prairie burns

kids, parents, friends
walk, ride bikes together
through neighborhood,
pandemic blessings

spring will fade
into summer,
hope eternal.

Poet Robert Frost was the first to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration. He had written the poem "Dedication" for the event, but the bright sunlight prevented him from reading it, so he recited from memory "The Gift Outright," about how our people once belonged to other lands, but now belong to this one. The 2017 National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman read her poem - "The Hill We Climb" - at this year's inauguration. Her passionate presentation stole the show.

Joy Harjo, current Poet Laureate of the United States, said, "When I began to listen to poetry, it's when I began to listen to the stones, and I began to listen to what the clouds had to say, and I began to listen to others. And I think, most importantly for all of us, then you begin to learn to listen to the soul, the soul of yourself in here, which is also the soul of everyone else."

Poetry has long inspired, educated, entertained and sometimes even changed the world. Poetry.org observed "... we can rely on poems to offer wisdom, uplifting ideas, and language that prompts reflection that can help us slow down and center mentally, emotionally, spiritually."

Today is the last day of the month, so it is not too late to mention that April is National Poetry Month - and this year is the 25th anniversary.


The Song of the Marsh

The day dawned on the marsh
And life began to stir.
Insects began their daily songs of harsh,
Crisp notes as a lure
For unwary music lovers.

The troops had been awake
Since the first signs of light
Because they knew the heat would bake
Them if they stayed in the bright
Rays of noonday sun.

They stamped through the bog
With mud up to their knees
While steam, like fog
Rose through the trees
And made it all seem unreal.

As the hours dragged past,
The sun rose in the sky.
All was quiet, until a blast
Shook the earth, and a cry
Penetrated the jungle.

Night fell on the bog
And with a dark veil, covered
The death of the day. The fog
Lifted and a lone star hovered
In the midnight sky.

My Loves

Long, lazy summers; the ripening of the wheat
     in June; the parching, fiery heat
Of a summer day, drenched by cooling rain.
     The song of the bullfrogs on the pond; the country lane
Shaded by an arch of greenery; lush, cool grass
     as thick as a carpet; a tangle of weeds, a mass
After plowing; dazzling sunsets ending a day
     of work; this is the summer way.

New life; young green shoots
     making new appearances; a white vest and boots
On a tiny white kitten; wobbly legs of a newborn calf.
     A friendly puppy’s greeting as he wags his tail; the laugh
Of a baby; a young bird’s call as shrill as a fife.
     This is the way of a young, sweet life.

Crisp new clothes at Easter; a comfortable arm chair
     beside the fireplace; aroma of bread filling the air.
A scrapbook of cherished memories; security of home;
     old trunks with photos and grandmother’s comb.
All these have been my loves.

These two poems were written years ago. The one on the left is about the Vietnam War and the one on the right was patterned after Rupert Brooke's "The Great Lover" and expresses my personal impressions of things I loved as a young woman.



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