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Posts Tagged ‘frost’

Old Professor

For Stanley Plumly

It started years ago, or before that,
a child, the source of everything
we become, the subtle origin of
a mighty river, that old first poem
ever spoken, the first pumps of blood to
the human heart, I was on my way.

I, nineteen, sitting in a lecture hall,
poetry 101, thinking I had
somehow mastered the craft already,
how wrong I was, how wrong I am.

You walked in on a frigid afternoon,
snow, melted and refrozen sat in the
sun crusting everything, casting light
back to where it came from. The cold campus
glistened like February, wisps of
cirrus engaged in their ice dance on that
blue stage, all those young minds afoot underneath,
like busy ants, channels of flowing blood
giving life to every brick and stone,
every piece of the place nurtured with youth.

I watched you approach, stage front, off came the
scarf, the over coat, white hair and a white
beard emerged, hand selected for the part,
meticulously putting all in place.

You spoke, that calmness, deep but not too deep,
serious but still warm, a low youthful
glisten in those old eyes, a room of young
reckless ambition put at ease by that
tone of voice, like the way I sought advice
from my grandfather cross-legged on the
floor at the foot of his chair, all the men
who had ever spoken to me rolled into one,
I knew then I knew nothing.

I read all that was assigned, frustrated,
something remained blurred, thoughts hung over me,
an orange moon tortured me one night,
purple clouds another, gaps that remained
in my head and in my heart, they still do.

You, an Old Heart by the time I arrived
in your presence, defender of the old ways,
a pulse giving master to the old craft.
You said, “Do not fear, poems do not get
lonely, they read themselves tucked away on
shelves”, lost in time, with time, deep in the stacks.
Though I am sure my beer stained verses
sat crumpled up on the floor, as lonely
as it gets, unloved, unread, unwanted.
The whirlwind of college absorbing
everything around, eventually
closing in with Frost “like a dent in dough”.
How much can one heart truly endure
alone in a world full of heartless things?

You and your Keats, observing the autumn
chill set in, but it was the deep heart of
winter, before the campus bloom of spring,
soon flowers, perhaps tulips, Plath’s Tulips,
you had us rearrange those stanzas once.
I could not see a new order to Plath’s
madness, only that those African cats
stalked me as well, some calculated dark-
ness had descended on my existence.

I have a fondness, as those who think do,
for that place where the water meets the land.
A stone, that heart-shaped stone by your beachside,
churned up in the origin countless times,
those unending forces, unforgiving.
After a night of heavy drinking I
split my eyebrow open on my night stand,
bleeding and passed out on the dorm room floor,
a scar on the body and on the heart,
spit back up from the tumultuous mix
of living for a breath, only to be
thrust back in to survive, stone heart and all,
“nicked from the top half down”, our own hearts
wishing to disappear in the skyline.

I sat with school children, you among them,
dense as Yeats questioning in his school room,
children sit in a classroom for me now.
The master source, the bole and the blossom,
you blossomed once, and yet, as if by chance,
I know we are both the “dancer and the dance.”

I have been to your roadside near Staunton
working some summer at Goshen Scout Camp,
that picture on a wall I have walked into,
arriving there without knowing it,
frozen in ancient mountain-building-time,
Appalachian time, beautiful time.

I would see you eating lunch on South Campus,
too afraid to approach for fear of
being dismissed over something that I
thought we may have had in common.
I will say something next time, I never did.

So Old Professor, let me not forget
a degree of thanks, a Directive on
how to get lost in the meanderings
of the mind, winding like your poem rivers,
like your clouds for Keats, like your first poem,
like campus frozen in February.
The source of which may one day empty
into some great delta, the Mississippi,
the Nile, the Me Kong, the gates of heaven,
a start and an end, as your young heart must
and has become an Old Heart, as youth led
you to, among many things, an Old Professor.
I was then, and am now, on my way.

Kyle McHale 2013

Poems referenced:

Stanley Plumly – Old Heart, Simile, Off a Roadside Near Staunton, Constable’s Clouds for Keats

Robert Frost – Directive

Sylvia Plath – Tulips

William Butler Yeats – Among School Children

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Thoughts in Autumn

I become lost in the scattered mess as I always am,
or seem to be, unable to break my unhappy cycle.
When daylight begins to die with everything else I find some peace.
The modern world allows for many of us to
avoid panic before the cold comes,
too much time to think when survival is not the pulse of thought.

I let an early frost-covered weekend morning break the silence,
and watch the cold glisten outside the kitchen window.
The house is asleep, though I am not.
My head hangs, my heart hangs,
my thoughts aren’t of anything memorable or meaningful.

Coffee is a good thing,
I learned to drink it too young with Gramps who would wake
too early to watch frost with a hanging head as well.
A deep sadness carried by men who often spread cheer themselves
but know the grim realities of life,
staying with those who have love in their hearts despite
the darkness of the world.

Slow mornings are good.
I wish I could share them with Gramps and Dad.
I say bring the season on with a quiet passion.
Dying colors have that special beauty,
an irreplaceable hit on the senses.
The air is cold, the coffee hot,
and I somewhere in between.
If anything I am ahead of the day
but behind in everything else,
thinking on this autumn morning.

Kyle McHale      2012

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