Friday, March 10, 2006

A Soliloquy for Howard--a Poem

I haven't posted much poetry lately. I wrote this poem last November about a man that is going to be missed in these parts. He was a great guy who could tell stories for hours about how things use to be. He also enjoyed showing his farm off to children, regardless of your age. I notice that my formating and indentation didn't transfer over to the blog page! O well. c2005

A Soliloquy for Howard

Meticulous and proud,
Howard bragged they’d never been an auction
in the 133 years the family had the farm.
His grandfather, Caleb Dean,
a driver on the Battle Creek stage line,
facing competition from newly laid track,
purchased the property back in ’73.
At first, they lived in town,
driving the cows out to pasture each morning
‘till they finished the house that still stands upon the hill,
with hand-hewed floor joists, bark left on one side,
still visible in the Michigan basement he’d dug.

Much has changed in 89 years.
Then the world was young and more innocent
before the Great War, the Depression and more wars.
In the Spring of ’16, his mother brought forth life
in the house on the hill overlooking the lower fields,
the road to Grand Rapids and the Michigan Central
with its coal-fired hogs pulling freight and passengers
along the banks of the Thornapple.
For those holding the reigns of a mule,
the train served as a siren,
its whistle reminding them of a larger world
luring some, but not all.

Though he traveled around the globe,
following the lines of the highway,
the whistle of the train and the contrail of jets
off to India, Africa, New Zealand with winters in Arizona
Howard never really left Rutland Township.
He lived in the same house,
attending a one room school until high school,
when he went into town where he met his wife Kathryn,
who commuted to school each morning from Shultz,
on the old C, K & S, christened the Chicago, Kalamazoo & Saginaw
(though it never made it to either end)
and locally dubbed the Cuss, Kick and Swear.

After marriage, he continued with his daddy,
farming the high ground south of the Thornapple:
milking Guernsey, raising beef, growing corn
and always tending a large garden
whose bounty, sealed in Mason Jars, were saved for winter.
Together, he and his dad brought one of the first tractors in these parts,
a ‘39 General, made at the Cleveland Tractor works.
As the seasons came and went
he dabbled in politics and farmed less,
but always kept his equipment as good as new
and for anyone who’d stop by, he’d tell stories
about working with oxen or plowing behind a mule.

Each fall, Howard harvested black walnuts,
primarily because they were there and that’s what you do,
when the Good Lord gives you a harvest.
As the years wore on, he came to depend upon other
But with an eye to detail, he demanded that those who assisted
to follow his instructions precisely:
husking the nuts through a corn shucker,
washing ‘em in an old cement mixer
and drying ‘em in racks in the barn,
then a keeping ‘em a week or so in the basement by the furnace
‘till the nuts neatly cracked open and the meat fell
into a cake or a batch of homemade ice cream.

Last Saturday, with walnuts drying in the basement,
harnesses and an oxen yoke still hanging in the barn,
Howard called his son to come quick and donned a fresh shirt,
for a trip to the hospital.
Heading toward the highway, where the two-track end,
out by the grape-vines,
he heard the distant wail of a train long pasted.
Kathryn had gone on ahead, but he knew the whistle,
and could hear the engine chugging through the swamps south of town,
as before,
carrying the girl he loved and who become his wife,
Listening, Howard gasped and breathed his last,
in sight of the house in which he was born
on the land he loved
where his family farmed
for 133 years.


  1. Gosh, I just loved every word of your poem. You should share more often.

  2. Wonderful, Sage, and a fitting tribute to a man you must have loved.

  3. Love it Sage. Wonderful reflection :)

  4. Great post, Sage, and a beautiful poem.

    Michele sent me.

  5. Yes a wonderful tribute! From Michele's this time.

  6. Love it. It's especially poignant to me now as I have just finished reading Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter and am in mourning of the loss of farms and the simplier kind of living.

  7. I have the country song, 'Long Black Train' in my head now. What a lovely tribute to Howard.

  8. WOW... that is an amazing poem. I love the ending... very powerful. I was there the entire time.

    Michele sent me and I am glad she did!

  9. Great words, a strong tribute using language that Howard would've appreciated. Michele sent me!

  10. thanks for all the kind words.

    Colleen, I loved Hannah Coulter as I have most of Berry's writings. I wrote a review of it back in January:

    Murf, since I generally only listen to country music out of duress, I don't know that song, could you enlighten us?

  11. Sage, that surprises me. I thought everyone from the south listens to country. :-) That song was out maybe two years ago or so. Sung by Josh Turner. Lovely deep voice, he has. Check out a snippet on iTunes or

  12. sorry to disappoint you Murf, I prefer Rock & Roll (you know there is a sub-genre called Southern Rock), jazz and blues and classical. Country is way down on the list. I don't watch Nascar either, nor do my jeans have those round rings on the back pocket from having a snuff can.

  13. I could sit and listen to old timers for hours without end. I'm not much of a packrat when it comes to physical things (much to my wife's chagrin) but when it comes to stories of the "old days," I wish I could tape every second and catalog it for future reference. Kind of like what Stephen Spielburg did for Holocaust victims. I guess that is also why I am into genealogy.

  14. oh come on..dont just read my post..u have to leave comment sir Jeff!

  15. Southern Rock?! I'll try not to think less of you for liking that. ;-)

  16. come on Murf, The Allman Brothers, the Marshall Tucker Band, that's good stuff! I don't particularly like ZZ Top and I will admit that I like a lot of Charlie Daniels. My favorite country singer would probably be Tom T. Hall.

  17. Great poem Sage--was he a family member?
    Love Southern rock--the Allman's are playing two blocks from my house on and off until the 26th but I can't go--too much to do and going away Saturday myself

  18. Don't forget the anthem of southern rock by Lynrd Skynrd, "Sweet Home Alabama."

    I'm right there with your musical tastes Sage.

  19. Pia, no, I ain't related to anybody around here! You're not taking off and doing the AT are you?

    Ed, how did I forget Skynrd?

  20. The song on the way to work reminded my of another southern rock anthem... at least for me. Aimee by Pure Prairie League

  21. I haven't heard Aimee in years--I liked the way Pure Praire League linked Amee wtih with "Falling in and out of love with you" on their album that had the picture of a cowboy being kicked out of a saloon.