By Ronald Tobey
Rest In Peace, Allen Ginsberg, 1926-1997
Several years before his death, Allen Ginsberg
testified that his favorite poem was William Wordsworth's
Ode - Intimations of Immortality from
Recollections of Early Childhood.
I wrote the poems below in the 1990s, in celebration of
friends and family, as inspired by correspondence and visits with my long time
friends in New England, Roger Amsden, Robert
Chadbourne, and Diana Parker Forbes.
- All autumn, crows raided the pecan tree,
- Pecans past ripe in brittle cases, soured;
- Thanksgiving to Christmas they harvested
- In roudy feast, wings flopping gracelessly,
- Spindle feet scraping pavement when hopping
- From one contested prize to another,
- Raising cacophonous doxology
- To whatever God has worship of beasts.
- Advent winds now rattle empty debris,
- Scattering shards of shell in the bleak yard;
- Stripped of nuts and leaves, the black pecan tree
- Trembles stiffly. From the quaking branches,
- Black insensate creatures call orisons
- And weightless fly into winter's gray sky.
New England Barn Ruins
- Glory is moldering boards,
- Soft to touch as mushroom spoor;
- Glory is a window pane, skewed to the light
- In a crumbled barn wall, glass as slow as sorrow
- Of a widow, old, flowing against the frame;
- Glory is heaped silence in summer heat,
- No scurry sounds of mice, no clicking beetles,
- No rasping grasshoppers in the lumber
- Jumbled near pasture, birch growing like weeds;
- Glory is granite foundation blocks tumbled into cellar ruin,
- The barn portal facing east, cow-packed paths
- Fading out to unmowed grass like uncompleted prayers;
- Glory is the high light lifting flecks of faded paint
- Off broken grey and brown timbers,
- Brittle peel poised with a look of surprise.
- Flaming above the late spring snow, daffodils
- Call out to summer and the sun's redemption.
- Green stalks support through the melting mantle
- Their candles of promise. In the warming wind
- Flickering vestments of color drape the shouldering hill.
- I journey my children to witness the snow melt
- Stream from spring's cup, the seasonal prayer channeling
- Through earth's chancel. At home, they light candles
- At the dining table, acolytes blossoming.
I have treasured memories being called to family dinners at
Lucknow in New Hampsire by my
grandmother playing a Tiffany dinner chime. When we moved to our home in
Riverside, I obtained a dinner chime (a
humble dining car steward's chime) to hang in our own dining room.
- I hold the old dinner chime like a child,
- Cradling its resonance against my heart.
- My arms embrace the ancestral xylophone
- As dining car priests in journeys before me
- Raised so the wood chalice of memory.
- I play in my turn the communion tune
- Shimmer forth from struck steel bars the warm brilliant
- Calling my family to the dining room,
- To share celebration with families past
- The common prayer of the evening repast.
Benediction for My Father
My father (d. 1992) loved the outdoor life in New Hampshire,
including hunting deer. He taught me to hunt deer when I was a teenager. I
obtained some of my fondest memories of New Hampshire's beautiful countryside
- His heart swung through the valley a pendulum,
- Rhythmically from memory of his family home,
- Slowest in perigee, afternoon hours of breathless still
- Keen in the sweet ferment of warmed birch leaves
- Fallen to the forest floor, waiting for the deer kill,
- Ascending to life's crest, the late spring glimpse of death.
- I am going home is no explanation,
- But simple plotting of destination,
- An ornate box with family gathered around.
- The case clock in our living room teaches
- Ceremony to our children. This is the key,
- And this, the winding crank. Care for time's
- Pulsing prayer is the way we give thanks.
For my beloved uncle, J. Calvin Carpenter
- O gracious Light,
- pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
- O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!
- Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
- and our eyes behold the vesper light,
- we sing your praises O God: Father, Son, and Holy
- Calvin, can I steer the sled now? Tinker had his turn.
- But I steered the flyer into the snow bank, rudely
- Tossing two squabbling cousins onto the icy road.
- He always pulled, the thin rope burning his ungloved hands.
- Sugar Hill, Campton Bog, Stage Coach, and Rumney Roads,
- Calvin hiked them after Sunday service with our band,
- Ignoring cold challenge to patience and gratitude.
- Nobly in the choir he sang most hymns from memory,
- Note by note, matching his voice to the untuned organ,
- Compensating for the hesitant parishioners.
- I hid my child's voice below his confident song,
- Thankful for his unquestioning complicity.
- He flourished in the little church, a spinster man
- Caring for mischievous nephews.
- An old man, blind, he sits untidy in diapers,
- Delusional in the nursing home. Tobo, he cries,
- Is that you? Have you come to visit me? I appear,
- Illuminated by his confidence that his dog
- Long deceased sits on his lap and some ancestor's door
- Long closed is hinged on the formica cabinet
- And swings open for him to mountain views once more.
September 1, 2002