KNOWING WHAT TO SAY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Thought for Today

We honor the dead by living harder; growing stronger and taking care of the country they left behind.

 

Every time I think I’m out of tears a television replay of someone jumping or falling from a tower is replayed or the camera zooms in on the tired, sad and ash-dirty face of a rescue worker and the dam breaks open.

So many images, so many snapshots and home-made posters of the missing, interviews with worried relatives, photos of the flag, shots of people running, replays of replays and I go on watching, stupefied. I walk outside, go around the block, but all too soon I’m back again mesmerized by everything the tube fore-feeds me.

And words? I am out of words.

I hate war, any kind and every kind of war. How weary I have grown of hearing killings justified by phrases like “this is a holy war.” Really? The bible says, “Thou shalt not kill.” Eastern philosophy informs us, “Life is not ours to take” and perhaps my copy of The Koran is a bad translation but it clearly states, with no ambiguity, “If a man murders another man it is as though he has killed all of mankind.”

Because I am out of fresh words I’ve turned to a long poem I wrote some years ago, an allegory comparing mans seasons to those of nature. This is the ‘Autumn’ section of “The Times of Man.”.


The Times of Man

three

Always in autumn the hunted hundred
moving separately from the circle
going off into the wood
                 or deep within the world –

You see them just beyond the mind’s edge
kneeling before the night,
                       their mother church.
Taking her round face into their hands
they pull it forward
till it passes the eye and moves
                       inside the head
there to hound the arteries, compartments
                                        and canals
                                 within the brain.
What are they doing ? Is it magic
or moonlight once absorbed then gone ?
We are always left to wonder.

The ritual never varies
it is always quite the same
and once you’ve seen it
it remains predictable and as obvious
as the outcome of a hurried prayer
                          or a mantra done by rote.

Autumn is the mother church.
Though her acolytes have different names
                                              and faces
from year to year, they never change,
nor did the mumbled chants seem different.

If there were angels in that circle
and like as not there could be
you might slowly walk the eye rim’s distance
                        and catch one by the tail.
As autumn circles in on brown-tipped wings
the harvesting begins–
               or from a too short summer ends.
How hard the harvest is depends
not on the Elements
but on the elements that make up man.

Where are the brave ones now
proud people of perception
and as near the sun could turn them
                         persons of perfection.
Remember those who came stepping
from the shadows into sunshine ?
Long ago it was, before the green began.
Some trees have not a green leaf left.
No sign of living or of having lived.
Some men too are now bent over
more so than they were with fall’s first
                                            double bow.

Something,
something isn’t,
something isn’t right.
Something like a speck of sand
                          inside an oyster
itches and has need of being scratched.

Some who ventured out in summer
are counting pumpkins now,
making pickles, stripping squash,
measuring the size of every vegetables
sorting each one out according to the price
                             its marketing should bring
as compared to what was spent
in the planting and the tending.

This small task done
man moves back inside himself,
withdraws even further.
With nothing but a mirror
in the mind or on the wall
man has trained himself so well,
built up his disguises
                   and his forts
till even sagging muscle flexes back
each time he sees his own reflection.

There between the hedge and that old oak
a fat gray squirrel sits in mid-life
unmoving but for batting eyes
that seem to circle noonlike in his head.
He isn’t bored but seems to be deciding
with some degree of contemplation
                      the order of things.
Should I forage for the last short grass
still alive within the neighborhood
or begin the stocking up again
of life’s free acorns?

Everything that moves
does so with precision –
thrashers thrashing wheat,
mice and cats, a fat gray fox
running from the blades
                  of diesel-powered harvesters
as though they flee a hurricane– and they do.

In the quiet places and at night
owls grow sleepy-eyed and prop themselves
                                against high branches.

Here comes the measurer -
a bloated concertina caterpillar
sulking as quarter inch by quarter
he surveys garden walls and wells.
His statistics when collected
will not help to make a sale,
but he’ll have seen the whole
                of this whole U.S.A.
within the confines of a single garden.

The beaver now repairs his dam.
Crows argue over southern routes and clime.

The hunters sneak in silently.
Not just the strong survive
the cunning fare far better.
Still all the cunning learned,
                inherited, or practiced
will not guarantee the wild-eyed animal
freedom when the trap springs shut.
The wolf who chewed his leg off getting free
                                  limps away and dies.
The shotgun blast
that left an antelope in agony
is taken up and whistled by the loon.

Man, ill-prepared
even for the loneliness of evening,
finds himself in thought again and wondering
what kind of barricade or fence to make
against the loneliest of all his nights.

The business of autumn
is letting life lie where it falls.
The business of man is picking up
himself and every brother
who falls or stumbles
                           in the yellow leaves.

For every wounded stag,
guts tumbling out of gaping man-holes
not staggering amid the wood,
three dozen huntsmen brag
about the big one who lumbered off
stretching out their arms
till arm’s length’s not enough
to show the wideness of his antlers.

With each applauding crack of thunder
the rain regenerates itself
till it’s an unexpected flood or hurricane.
Not to worry.
All the shutters have been shuttered,
the cat’s inside beneath the bed
and not a single door’s been left ajar.
But this rain cannot be blotted out
by music or the newly lighted fire.
Not even making love will make it stop.
There’s the hollow feeling
that something still outside should have been
                        taken up and carried forward
into the safety of the house or barn.

-from “The Power Bright & Shining,” 1980

Sleep warm.

RM 9/15/2001

Details of Rod's next appearance can be obtained by following the link below.

"Tap Your Troubles Away" - the music of Jerry Herman

notable birthdays Roy Acuff o Cannonball Adderley o Richard Arnell o Robert Benchley o Ann Berzinsky o Agatha Christie o Jackie Cooper o James Fenimore Cooper o Norm Crosby o Henry Darrow o Milton Eisenhower o Louis Frémaux o Prince Harry o Tommy Lee Jones o Dan Marino o Kathryn Murray o Jessye Norman o Merlin Olsen o Gaylord Perry o Jean Renoir o Rin Tin Tin o François, du de la Rochefoucauld o Bobby Short o Oliver Stone o Penny Singleton o William Howard Taft o Bruno Walter o Fay Wray
Rod's random thoughts My pledge of allegiance is a handshake. My anthem is my brother’s shoulder. My flag is every smile that returns my own.

The gladiator doesn’t always need a battle, only now and then a change of underwear.

The so-called common man or common woman offers strength and toughness to their country. They are the pulse of cities yet to come, townships yet beginning.

AMERICAN SONG

I’m not fond of printing the words to songs I write without the music that helps to make them songs. Lyrics seldom qualify as poetry and that goes for this song too but these words, written twenty-two years ago, certainly mirror what I’m feeling this hour, this minute.

The power bright and shining
held in a golden hand
the roustabout, the runabout
the tiller of the land
the rower of the boat
the ringer of the bell
the woman in the window
who waves to wish me well.

And each of those who teaches
another what is right
they make the country powerful
strong and shining bright.

The power bright and shining
passed from hand to hand
the engineer, the businessman
the child who sifts the sand
the weak who give their everything
and seem to be so strong
and she who waves as I pass by
then hurries me along.

And each of those who preaches
and each of you who might
you make my country powerful
strong and shining bright.

The power bright and shining
held in a golden hand
the lumberjack, the laborer
each woman and each man
he who fights the fires
and she who rights the wrongs
and all of those I never knew
the singers of the song.

And each who braves the darkness
until he feels the light
you make my country powerful
strong and shining bright.

The power bright and shining
passed from hand to hand
the pilot and the soldier
and she who takes her stand
the man who writes the poetry
and he who sells the rhyme
the farmer and the family man
and she who shares my time
and those who never turn their back
on freedom and it’s fight
they make my country powerful
strong and shining bright.

And those who turn the wheel for me
in or out of sight
they make my country powerful
strong and shining bright.

-from “The Power Bright & Shining,” 1980 & the album “Global,” 1981

 
© 1972, 1980, 1981, 1994, 2001 by Stanyan Music Group & Rod McKuen. All Rights Reserved
Birthday research by Wade Alexander o Poetry from the collection of Jay Hagan o Coordinated by Melinda Smith
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