Tuesday, February 7, 2017

from Kentucky

So much water has passed under the bridge since my last blog entry.  I hope you haven’t missed The Back Porch too much.  Truth is, I have found other audiences, mostly in person-to-person emails.  Don’t know if that’s a natural progression, but it has been for me. 

I have been at Lake Cumberland, near Monticello, Kentucky since early January working on the last chapters of Nature’s People: The Hog Island story from Mabel Loomis Todd to Audubon.  2017 should be a big year in getting Nature’s People in front of other Nature’s People.  

I am a real fan of Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac podcast poetry postings.  I must say I don’t pay much attention to the rest of the almanac, but I read the poem out loud to myself every day.  Many days I find the verse appropriate for forwarding to a friend or family member I think the poem might speak to.  Perhaps you have been target for one or more of them.  

The first poem below ran on the podcast one day last week and drew my attention because it was about a bird stuck inside a church.  Two weeks ago on a still-dark rainy morning here, I opened the door to the deck to check the weather — and a wren flew right inside the house.  I felt panicked immediately as I quickly shut bedroom doors and opened every outside door I could.  I so hoped the little critter wouldn’t do something horrible like fly into a window full speed.  

I armed myself with the only broom in the house and proceeded to herd the wren back into a more natural space.  It took maybe five minutes, but the sweet little singer finally left by the same door she came in.  She sat on the deck railing for a few minutes, cocking her head, perhaps wondering what the heck that was all about.  

I was glad to get her back outside, and at the same time felt blessed by her unexpected visit.  A buddy did some research for me and found that wrens in our lives encourage us to believe in ourselves and sing strong. I have been grateful for the visit ever since I closed the door with Miss Carolina safely back out in the rain.   

And then there is that other ‘bird in a church’ poem by Pattiann Rogers that I like so much. It is because of poems like ‘For the wren trapped in a cathedral’ that I became an authentic Pattiann fan.  Got to talk to her briefly in Denver once.  I find her work inspirational.   

Neither poem appears here with any kind of permission from the publisher.  I hope I’m not in violation of any copyrights, it’s just that I wanted to share their work with you.  

Think of this as a little pre-Lent meditation.  


Holy Ghost 

The congregation sang off key.
The priest was rambling.
The paint was peeling in the Sacristy.

A wayward pigeon, trapped in the church,
flew wildly around for a while and then
flew toward a stained glass window,

but it didn’t look like reality.

The ushers yawned, the dollar bills
drifted lazily out of the collection baskets
and a child in the front row began to cry.

Suddenly, the pigeon flew down low,
swooping over the heads of the faithful
like the Holy Ghost descending at Pentecost

Everyone took it to be a sign,
Everyone wants so badly to believe.
You can survive anything if you know
that someone is looking out for you,

but the sky outside the stained glass window,
doesn’t it look like home ?

from Fatherless Women
(Cape Cod Literary Press  2004) 

For the Wren Trapped in a Cathedral   
by Pattiann Rogers

She can never remember how she entered--
What door, what invisible gate, what mistaken 
Passage.  But in this place every day, 
The day shines as a muted mosaic of impenetrable 
Colors, and during the black moonless nights, 
Every flickering star lifts smoke, drips wax. 
She flies, back and forth through the nave, small, 
Bewildered among the forest of branchless trees, 
Their straight stone trunks disappearing majestically
Into the high arches of the seasonless stone sky. 
No weather here, except the predictable weather 
Of chant and procession; no storm, except the storm 
Of the watchdogs let loose inside at night. 

Now when she perches on the bishop’s throne 
Her song naturally imitates the pattern 
Of frills and flutes found in the carvings there, 
The hanging fruit, profuse foliage, ripened 
Curves.  Her trills have adapted themselves 
To fit perfectly the detailed abundance 
Of that wooden Paradise. 

And she has come to believe in gods, swerving close 
To the brightness of the apse, attempting to match 
Her spread wings, her attitude, to that of the shining 
Dove caught there in poised flight above the Ark. 
Near the window of the upper chapel, she imagines 
She is that other bird, emanating golden rays 
To the Christ in the river below. 

Resting on a colonnade opposite the south wall
Of stained glass, she watches how the lines 
Of her wings become scarlet and purple 
With Mary’s Grief.  And when she flies the entire 
Length of the side aisle, she passes 
Through the brown-orange swath of light 
From the Journey into Egypt, the green and azure 
Of the Miracle of the Five Thousand Fed. 
Occasionally she finds that particular moment 
And place where she is magnificently transformed, 
The dull brown of her breast becoming violet
And magenta with the Adoration of the Magi. 

What is it that happens to her body, to bone 
And feather and eye, when, on some dark evenings, 
She actually sees herself covered, bathed, suffused
In the red blood of the Crucifixion?

Among the statues at night, she finds it a peace, 
A serenity, to pause, to murmur in sleep
Next to the ear of a saint, to waken 
Nested on the outstretched hand
Of the Savior’s unchanging blessing. 

Certainly she dreams often of escape, of reversing 
That process by which she came to be here, leaving 
As an ordinary emissary carrying her own story, 
Sacred news from the reality of artifice, 
Out into the brilliant white mystery
Of the truthful world. 
from Firekeeper:  New and Selected Poems
(Milkweed  1994)


images:  Norwich Cathedral, Norwich, East Anglia, U.K.

Tom Schaefer / fall 2013