|Jimmy Carter at the opening of his Sunday School class|
It's been two weeks since I've blogged (or caught up with the blogs of others). I am not sure why for I haven't been that busy. But the weather is cooler and I have taken long walks in the evening. Other evenings I've spent watching Ken Burn's "The Vietnam War" and reading. Among the books I've been reading has been Diarmaid MacCullouch's The Reformation; David McCullough's The Wright Brothers, Michael Herr's Dispatches (If you're interested in Vietnam from the soldier's POV, read it); Archibald Ruthledge's Peace in the Heart; and several books of poetry including Anya Krugovoy Silver's Second Bloom. The other night, I began the poem below after reading a chapter in Ruthledge's book and a number of Silver's poems.
I still have several drafts of blogs I need to finish and post from my trip in June/July to Scotland, as well as my experiences this weekend as we visited Plains and Andersonville, Georgia. On Sunday, we were in Jimmy Carter's Sunday School. It was a treat and exceeded my expectations even though we arrived early (6 AM) while it was still dark. As I joked, I don't normally go to Baptist churches but when I do, it's under the cover of darkness and a former President is teaching Sunday School. (It was also Jimmy Carter's birthday so in a way I felt that I along with a few hundred other folks crashed his party). Now for the poem:
There is a section in the Hastings Cemetery where children who died during or before birth are buried. This area is at the back corner of the cemetery, on a ledge overlooking the river. A few years ago during a spring flood, some of the graves were lost to the Thornapple, a river that flows into the Grand and then in Lake Michigan as its waters make its way to the sea.
Bury me with the children who died prematurely
and planted in simple graves, at the back of the cemetery,
far from the gaze of the mourner, ‘cept broken-hearted parents.
Bury me under a huge sycamore,
whose broad leaves shade the ground in summer
and white bark appears ghostly on a foggy morn.
Bury me where the river makes its sharp bend
its swift waters carving into the bank.
There, I can hear the river’s call as it rushes past.
Bury me close to the ledge where in a few years or maybe a century,
a spring flood will free me and those kids
and I’ll lead them on a grand adventure.
In our box boats we’ll shoot through the gates of the Middleville and Irving dams,
forgetting the dangers for it no longer matters to the dead.
We’ll laugh as we catch an eddy below and float in circles.
At Alaska, the village-not the state, we’ll shoot the rapids
and when we meet the Grand we’ll chat with those fishing for salmon
and wave to the pedestrians on the bridges at Grand Rapids.
I hope it is night, with waves breaking over the piercing lighthouse,
when we leave the river at Holland, for the lake. We’ll then float more slowly
watching the lights on shore fade from sight as we navigate by the north star.
Time will slow as we slip from one lake to another
and over those falls at Niagara that terrify all but the dead,
before making our way into Canada and down that great waterway.
And years later, if our wooden boats hold up, we’ll slip out the St. Lawrence
and into the cold waters of the North Atlantic along with ice bergs,
riding the Gulf Stream as it heads north and then east and back south.
We’ll bed down with wintering puffins
and watch whales play as they ply the sea, while we pass
Iceland and the Faroes, Scotland and Ireland, and on beyond the Azores.
Bury me with the children, in the back of the cemetery,
And in time the river will call and we’ll float
to where peaceful waters gather.
-jg September 2017