by Robert Frost
[from North of Boston (1914)]
I let myself in at the kitchen door.
“It’s you,” she said. “I can’t get up. Forgive me
Not answering your knock. I can no more
Let people in than I can keep them out.
I’m getting too old for my size, I tell them.
My fingers are about all I’ve the use of
So’s to take any comfort. I can sew:
I help out with this beadwork what I can.”
“That’s a smart pair of pumps you’re beading there.
Who are they for?”
“You mean?—oh, for some miss.
I can’t keep track of other people’s daughters.
Lord, if I were to dream of everyone
Whose shoes I primped to dance in!”
“And where’s John?”
“Haven’t you seen him? Strange what set you off
To come to his house when he’s gone to yours.
You can’t have passed each other. I know what:
He must have changed his mind and gone to Garlands.
He won’t be long in that case. You can wait.
Though what good you can be, or anyone—
It’s gone so far. You’ve heard? Estelle’s run off.”
“Yes, what’s it all about? When did she go?”
“Two weeks since.”
“She’s in earnest, it appears.”
“I’m sure she won’t come back. She’s hiding somewhere.
I don’t know where myself. John thinks I do.
He thinks I only have to say the word,
And she’ll come back. But, bless you, I’m her mother—
I can’t talk to her, and, Lord, if I could!”
“It will go hard with John. What will he do?
He can’t find anyone to take her place.”
“Oh, if you ask me that, what will he do?
He gets some sort of bakeshop meals together,
With me to sit and tell him everything,
What’s wanted and how much and where it is.
But when I’m gone—of course I can’t stay here:
Estelle’s to take me when she’s settled down.
He and I only hinder one another.
I tell them they can’t get me through the door, though:
I’ve been built in here like a big church organ.
We’ve been here fifteen years.”
“That’s a long time
To live together and then pull apart.
How do you see him living when you’re gone?
Two of you out will leave an empty house.”
“I don’t just see him living many years,
Left here with nothing but the furniture.
I hate to think of the old place when we’re gone,
With the brook going by below the yard,
And no one here but hens blowing about.
If he could sell the place, but then, he can’t:
No one will ever live on it again.
It’s too run down. This is the last of it.
What I think he will do, is let things smash.
He’ll sort of swear the time away. He’s awful!
I never saw a man let family troubles
Make so much difference in his man’s affairs.
He’s just dropped everything. He’s like a child.
I blame his being brought up by his mother.
He’s got hay down that’s been rained on three times.
He hoed a little yesterday for me:
I thought the growing things would do him good.
Something went wrong. I saw him throw the hoe
Sky-high with both hands. I can see it now—
Come here—I’ll show you—in that apple tree.
That’s no way for a man to do at his age:
He’s fifty-five, you know, if he’s a day.”
“Aren’t you afraid of him? What’s that gun for?”
“Oh, that’s been there for hawks since chicken-time.
John Hall touch me! Not if he knows his friends.
I’ll say that for him, John’s no threatener
Like some men folk. No one’s afraid of him;
All is, he’s made up his mind not to stand
What he has got to stand.”
“Where is Estelle?
Couldn’t one talk to her? What does she say?
You say you don’t know where she is.”
“Nor want to!
She thinks if it was bad to live with him,
It must be right to leave him.”
“Which is wrong!”
“Yes, but he should have married her.”
“The strain’s been too much for her all these years:
I can’t explain it any other way.
It’s different with a man, at least with John:
He knows he’s kinder than the run of men.
Better than married ought to be as good
As married—that’s what he has always said.
I know the way he’s felt—but all the same!”
“I wonder why he doesn’t marry her
And end it.”
“Too late now: she wouldn’t have him.
He’s given her time to think of something else.
That’s his mistake. The dear knows my interest
Has been to keep the thing from breaking up.
This is a good home: I don’t ask for better.
But when I’ve said, ‘Why shouldn’t they be married,’
He’d say, ‘Why should they?’—no more words than that.”
“And after all why should they? John’s been fair
I take it. What was his was always hers.
There was no quarrel about property.”
“Reason enough, there was no property.
A friend or two as good as own the farm,
Such as it is. It isn’t worth the mortgage.”
“I mean Estelle has always held the purse.”
“The rights of that are harder to get at.
I guess Estelle and I have filled the purse.
‘Twas we let him have money, not he us.
John’s a bad farmer. I’m not blaming him.
Take it year in, year out, he doesn’t make much.
We came here for a home for me, you know,
Estelle to do the housework for the board
Of both of us. But look how it turns out:
She seems to have the housework, and besides,
Half of the outdoor work, though as for that,
He’d say she does it more because she likes it.
You see our pretty things are all outdoors.
Our hens and cows and pigs are always better
Than folks like us have any business with.
Farmers around twice as well off as we
Haven’t as good. They don’t go with the farm.
One thing you can’t help liking about John,
He’s fond of nice things—too fond, some would say.
But Estelle don’t complain: she’s like him there.
She wants our hens to be the best there are.
You never saw this room before a show,
Full of lank, shivery, half-drowned birds
In separate coops, having their plumage done.
The smell of the wet feathers in the heat!
You spoke of John’s not being safe to stay with.
You don’t know what a gentle lot we are:
We wouldn’t hurt a hen! You ought to see us
Moving a flock of hens from place to place.
We’re not allowed to take them upside down,
All we can hold together by the legs.
Two at a time’s the rule, one on each arm,
No matter how far and how many times
We have to go.”
“You mean that’s John’s idea.”
“And we live up to it; or I don’t know
What childishness he wouldn’t give way to.
He manages to keep the upper hand
On his own farm. He’s boss. But as to hens:
We fence our flowers in and the hens range.
Nothing’s too good for them. We say it pays.
John likes to tell the offers he has had,
Twenty for this cock, twenty-five for that.
He never takes the money. If they’re worth
That much to sell, they’re worth as much to keep.
Bless you, it’s all expense, though. Reach me down
The little tin box on the cupboard shelf—
The upper shelf, the tin box. That’s the one.
I’ll show you. Here you are.”
For fifty dollars for one Langshang cock—
Receipted. And the cock is in the yard.”
“Not in a glass case, then?”
“He’d need a tall one:
He can eat off a barrel from the ground.
He’s been in a glass case, as you may say,
The Crystal Palace, London. He’s imported.
John bought him, and we paid the bill with beads—
Wampum, I call it. Mind, we don’t complain.
But you see, don’t you, we take care of him.”
“And like it, too. It makes it all the worse.”
“It seems as if. And that’s not all: he’s helpless
In ways that I can hardly tell you of.
Sometimes he gets possessed to keep accounts
To see where all the money goes so fast.
You know how men will be ridiculous.
But it’s just fun the way he gets bedeviled—
If he’s untidy now, what will he be——?
“It makes it all the worse. You must be blind.”
“Estelle’s the one. You needn’t talk to me.”
“Can’t you and I get to the root of it?
What’s the real trouble? What will satisfy her?”
“It’s as I say: she’s turned from him, that’s all.”
“But why, when she’s well off? Is it the neighbors,
Being cut off from friends?”
“We have our friends.
That isn’t it. Folks aren’t afraid of us.”
“She’s let it worry her. You stood the strain,
And you’re her mother.”
“But I didn’t always.
I didn’t relish it along at first.
But I got wonted to it. And besides—
John said I was too old to have grandchildren.
But what’s the use of talking when it’s done?
She won’t come back–it’s worse than that–she can’t.”
“Why do you speak like that? What do you know?
What do you mean?—she’s done harm to herself?”
“I mean she’s married—married someone else.”
“You don’t believe me.”
“Yes, I do,
Only too well. I knew there must be something!
So that was what was back. She’s bad, that’s all!”
“Bad to get married when she had the chance?”
“Nonsense! See what’s she done! But who, who——”
“Who’d marry her straight out of such a mess?
Say it right out—no matter for her mother.
The man was found. I’d better name no names.
John himself won’t imagine who he is.”
“Then it’s all up. I think I’ll get away.
You’ll be expecting John. I pity Estelle;
I suppose she deserves some pity, too.
You ought to have the kitchen to yourself
To break it to him. You may have the job.”
“You needn’t think you’re going to get away.
John’s almost here. I’ve had my eye on someone
Coming down Ryan’s Hill. I thought ’twas him.
Here he is now. This box! Put it away.
And this bill.”
“What’s the hurry? He’ll unhitch.”
“No, he won’t, either. He’ll just drop the reins
And turn Doll out to pasture, rig and all.
She won’t get far before the wheels hang up
On something—there’s no harm. See, there he is!
My, but he looks as if he must have heard!”
John threw the door wide but he didn’t enter.
“How are you, neighbor? Just the man I’m after.
Isn’t it Hell,” he said. “I want to know.
Come out here if you want to hear me talk.—
I’ll talk to you, old woman, afterward.—
I’ve got some news that maybe isn’t news.
What are they trying to do to me, these two?”
“Do go along with him and stop his shouting.”
She raised her voice against the closing door:
“Who wants to hear your news, you—dreadful fool?”
The phantom tries to mold me
into amber embryos
and as I gather pictures
the brink I break
in a mouth unfinished
Unfinished or not
the mold won’t work
I’ll scream and break
and then drink
what I broke out of.
It’s been done before
chew the contents
then chew the form
as a way of making
both more content. Mysterious
risks. Glass grows stronger
and we pour our sea salt
into the glass cabinet.
Will it melt or crack or
break another mold
release the latest specimen
racy and with crisp
momentum. A silo
a spillway being swallowed
in sallow halos will lead
towards self-created flying things.
It doesn’t matter how far down
you throw me.
Even if I break again and again
I will re-grow, re-birth,
Redefine this fodder.
Fold me out of the line,
not into it.
Juliet Cook is a grotesque glitter witch medusa hybrid brimming with black, grey, silver and purple explosions. Her poetry has appeared in a peculiar multitude of literary publications, most recently including Arsenic Lobster, Menacing Hedge, Mojave River Review, and Tarpaulin Sky. She is the author of more than thirteen published poetry chapbooks, most recently including FONDANT PIG ANGST (Slash Pine Press), Tongue Like a Stinger (Wheelhouse), POST-STROKE (Blood Pudding Press for Dusie Kollektiv 5), Thirteen Designer Vaginas (Hyacinth Girl Press), POISONOUS BEAUTYSKULL LOLLIPOP (Grey Book Press) and RED DEMOLITION (Shirt Pocket Press). A new collaborative poetry chapbook created by Juliet Cook and Robert Cole, MUTANT NEURON CODEX SWARM, is forthcoming from Hyacinth Girl Press in 2014. Juliet’s first full-length poetry book, Horrific Confection, was published by BlazeVOX. In addition to her own writing, Juliet is the editor/publisher of Blood Pudding Press (print) and Thirteen Myna Birds (online). You can find out more at www.JulietCook.weebly.com.
Christian O’Keeffe reads his poem “Concrete Dandelion” on November 22nd, 2011 in the Wick Poetry Corner of the Kent State University library. Some of Christian’s influences included the river, Jim Carroll, Maj Ragain, Jack Micheline, Bob Kaufman, moths, deer, blue heron, Kurt Cobain, Arthur Rimbaud, and that ecstatic act of walking. Christian died on 27 May 2012 at age 20. In 2014, his chapbook Irises Made of Moth Wings was published by Crisis Chronicles Press.
The Generations of Men
by Robert Frost
[from North of Boston (1914)]
A governor it was proclaimed this time,
When all who would come seeking in New Hampshire
Ancestral memories might come together.
And those of the name Stark gathered in Bow,
A rock-strewn town where farming has fallen off,
And sprout-lands flourish where the axe has gone.
Someone had literally run to earth
In an old cellar hole in a by-road
The origin of all the family there.
Thence they were sprung, so numerous a tribe
That now not all the houses left in town
Made shift to shelter them without the help
Of here and there a tent in grove and orchard.
They were at Bow, but that was not enough:
Nothing would do but they must fix a day
To stand together on the crater’s verge
That turned them on the world, and try to fathom
The past and get some strangeness out of it.
But rain spoiled all. The day began uncertain,
With clouds low trailing and moments of rain that misted.
The young folk held some hope out to each other
Till well toward noon when the storm settled down
With a swish in the grass. “What if the others
Are there,” they said. “It isn’t going to rain.”
Only one from a farm not far away
Strolled thither, not expecting he would find
Anyone else, but out of idleness.
One, and one other, yes, for there were two.
The second round the curving hillside road
Was a girl; and she halted some way off
To reconnoiter, and then made up her mind
At least to pass by and see who he was,
And perhaps hear some word about the weather.
This was some Stark she didn’t know. He nodded.
“No fête to-day,” he said.
“It looks that way.”
She swept the heavens, turning on her heel.
“I only idled down.”
“I idled down.”
Provision there had been for just such meeting
Of stranger cousins, in a family tree
Drawn on a sort of passport with the branch
Of the one bearing it done in detail—
Some zealous one’s laborious device.
She made a sudden movement toward her bodice,
As one who clasps her heart. They laughed together.
“Stark?” he inquired. “No matter for the proof.”
“Yes, Stark. And you?”
“I’m Stark.” He drew his passport.
“You know we might not be and still be cousins:
The town is full of Chases, Lowes, and Baileys,
All claiming some priority in Starkness.
My mother was a Lane, yet might have married
Anyone upon earth and still her children
Would have been Starks, and doubtless here to-day.”
“You riddle with your genealogy
Like a Viola. I don’t follow you.”
“I only mean my mother was a Stark
Several times over, and by marrying father
No more than brought us back into the name.”
“One ought not to be thrown into confusion
By a plain statement of relationship,
But I own what you say makes my head spin.
You take my card—you seem so good at such things—
And see if you can reckon our cousinship.
Why not take seats here on the cellar wall
And dangle feet among the raspberry vines?”
“Under the shelter of the family tree.”
“Just soth—at ought to be enough protection.”
“Not from the rain. I think it’s going to rain.”
“No, it’s misting; let’s be fair.
Does the rain seem to you to cool the eyes?”
The situation was like this: the road
Bowed outward on the mountain halfway up,
And disappeared and ended not far off.
No one went home that way. The only house
Beyond where they were was a shattered seedpod.
And below roared a brook hidden in trees,
The sound of which was silence for the place.
This he sat listening to till she gave judgment.
“On father’s side, it seems, we’re—let me see——”
“Don’t be too technical.—You have three cards.”
“Four cards, one yours, three mine, one for each branch
Of the Stark family I’m a member of.”
“D’you know a person so related to herself
Is supposed to be mad.”
“I may be mad.”
“You look so, sitting out here in the rain
Studying genealogy with me
You never saw before. What will we come to
With all this pride of ancestry, we Yankees?
I think we’re all mad. Tell me why we’re here
Drawn into town about this cellar hole
Like wild geese on a lake before a storm?
What do we see in such a hole, I wonder.”
“The Indians had a myth of Chicamoztoc,
Which means The-Seven-Caves-That-We-Came-Out-Of.
This is the pit from which we Starks were digged.”
“You must be learned. That’s what you see in it?”
“And what do you see?”
“Yes, what do I see?
First let me look. I see raspberry vines——”
“Oh, if you’re going to use your eyes, just hear
What I see. It’s a little, little boy,
As pale and dim as a match flame in the sun;
He’s groping in the cellar after jam,
He thinks it’s dark and it’s flooded with daylight.”
“He’s nothing. Listen. When I lean like this
I can make out old Grandsir Stark distinctly,—
With his pipe in his mouth and his brown jug—
Bless you, it isn’t Grandsir Stark, it’s Granny,
But the pipe’s there and smoking and the jug.
She’s after cider, the old girl, she’s thirsty;
Here’s hoping she gets her drink and gets out safely.”
“Tell me about her. Does she look like me?”
“She should, shouldn’t she, you’re so many times
Over descended from her. I believe
She does look like you. Stay the way you are.
The nose is just the same, and so’s the chin–
Making allowance, making due allowance.”
“You poor, dear, great, great, great, great Granny!”
“See that you get her greatness right. Don’t stint her.”
“Yes, it’s important, though you think it isn’t.
I won’t be teased. But see how wet I am.”
“Yes, you must go; we can’t stay here for ever.
But wait until I give you a hand up.
A bead of silver water more or less
Strung on your hair won’t hurt your summer looks.
I wanted to try something with the noise
That the brook raises in the empty valley.
We have seen visions—now consult the voices.
Something I must have learned riding in trains
When I was young. I used the roar
To set the voices speaking out of it,
Speaking or singing, and the band-music playing.
Perhaps you have the art of what I mean.
I’ve never listened in among the sounds
That a brook makes in such a wild descent.
It ought to give a purer oracle.”
“It’s as you throw a picture on a screen:
The meaning of it all is out of you;
The voices give you what you wish to hear.”
“Strangely, it’s anything they wish to give.”
“Then I don’t know. It must be strange enough.
I wonder if it’s not your make-believe.
What do you think you’re like to hear to-day?”
“From the sense of our having been together—
But why take time for what I’m like to hear?
I’ll tell you what the voices really say.
You will do very well right where you are
A little longer. I mustn’t feel too hurried,
Or I can’t give myself to hear the voices.”
“Is this some trance you are withdrawing into?”
“You must be very still; you mustn’t talk.”
“I’ll hardly breathe.”
“The voices seem to say——”
“Don’t! The voices seem to say:
Call her Nausicaa, the unafraid
Of an acquaintance made adventurously.”
“I let you say that—on consideration.”
“I don’t see very well how you can help it.
You want the truth. I speak but by the voices.
You see they know I haven’t had your name,
Though what a name should matter between us——”
“I shall suspect——”
“Be good. The voices say:
Call her Nausicaa, and take a timber
That you shall find lies in the cellar charred
Among the raspberries, and hew and shape it
For a door-sill or other corner piece
In a new cottage on the ancient spot.
The life is not yet all gone out of it.
And come and make your summer dwelling here,
And perhaps she will come, still unafraid,
And sit before you in the open door
With flowers in her lap until they fade,
But not come in across the sacred sill——”
“I wonder where your oracle is tending.
You can see that there’s something wrong with it,
Or it would speak in dialect. Whose voice
Does it purport to speak in? Not old Grandsir’s
Nor Granny’s, surely. Call up one of them.
They have best right to be heard in this place.”
“You seem so partial to our great-grandmother
(Nine times removed. Correct me if I err.)
You will be likely to regard as sacred
Anything she may say. But let me warn you,
Folks in her day were given to plain speaking.
You think you’d best tempt her at such a time?”
“It rests with us always to cut her off.”
“Well then, it’s Granny speaking: ‘I dunnow!
Mebbe I’m wrong to take it as I do.
There ain’t no names quite like the old ones though,
Nor never will be to my way of thinking.
One mustn’t bear too hard on the newcomers,
But there’s a dite too many of them for comfort.
I should feel easier if I could see
More of the salt wherewith they’re to be salted.
Son, you do as you’re told! You take the timber—
It’s as sound as the day when it was cut—
And begin over——’ There, she’d better stop.
You can see what is troubling Granny, though.
But don’t you think we sometimes make too much
Of the old stock? What counts is the ideals,
And those will bear some keeping still about.”
“I can see we are going to be good friends.”
“I like your ‘going to be.’ You said just now
It’s going to rain.”
“I know, and it was raining.
I let you say all that. But I must go now.”
“You let me say it? on consideration?
How shall we say good-by in such a case?”
“How shall we?”
“Will you leave the way to me?”
“No, I don’t trust your eyes. You’ve said enough.
Now give me your hand up.—Pick me that flower.”
“Where shall we meet again?”
“Nowhere but here
Once more before we meet elsewhere.”
“It ought to be in rain. Sometime in rain.
In rain to-morrow, shall we, if it rains?
But if we must, in sunshine.” So she went.
“This Is Gonna Hurt Me
more than it hurts you,”
is what Mama used to say
when I misbehaved or didn’t
listen to the admonition I was
given by my “loved ones.”
After the lashing, I fell fast
asleep. Before the lashing,
I pretended to be asleep—
attempting to escape hurting
Mama more than she hurt me,
as she said, my brother
giggling like a little school
girl and, to my surprise, my
Grandma too. There are two
sides to every story, and I wasn’t
always wrong, like when my Peeps
were tossed into the wind from
a moving car because McDonald’s
wasn’t junk food and my Peeps were.
* * *
“This Is Gonna Hurt Me” by Jami Tillis comes from her 2014 chapbook In Bold Blackness: Selections published by Crisis Chronicles Press.
Jami Tillis is 24 years old. She graduated from Northeastern Illinois University in May 2012. Her field of study is Secondary Education with a concentration in English and history. In college, she belonged to a variety of groups—Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society, and Pi Alpha Theta History Honors Society.
Jami has a 6 year old daughter named Chayse who is her current inspiration for writing. “All of my poetry and other written works are derived from real life experiences that I have witnessed and survived before and after she came along.”
Jami lives in Chicago and works as a 5th and 6th grade reading and writing teacher in Chicago Public Schools.
by Siegfried Sassoon
[from The Old Huntsman and Other Poems, 1918]
Down in the hollow there’s the whole Brigade
Camped in four groups: through twilight falling slow
I hear a sound of mouth-organs, ill-played,
And murmur of voices, gruff, confused, and low.
Crouched among thistle-tufts I’ve watched the glow
Of a blurred orange sunset flare and fade;
And I’m content. To-morrow we must go
To take some cursèd Wood … O world God made!
July 3rd, 1916
Are you thirsty?
Well, we have what you’re thirsty for.
Push open the door, pull up a stool,
and order a draught of Cuyahoga River’s
burnished Cleveland Spirit,
distilled right here
in the Best Location in the Nation.
This Cleveland Spirit pumps
through tap-houses of poetry
and museums of history, Playhouse stages
and West Side Market stalls. It swells
through Nighttown jazz and House of Blues,
Severance Hall and Beachland Ballroom,
it floods the rooms of Gordon Square Arts
and Tremont restaurants, it sweeps into
FirstEnergy Stadium and Progressive Field—
everywhere you go, there’s ”Dog Pound”
and “Go Tribe,” Spirit enough
to fill the televisions of grills and pubs
and bars, Spirit enough to fill the seats
and paint this city in brown and orange,
red, white, and navy blue.
This is Cleveland,
come slake your thirst; make yourself at home.
Pour another draught and drink deeply
of the music that inspired, invited
and inveigled the Rock Hall of Fame:
Michael Stanley, Eric Carmen, Tracy Chapman,
Machine Gun Kelly and Bone Thugs N Harmony,
Steve Adler, The Dead Boys, Nine Inch Nails, and
that “Skinny Little Boy from Cleveland, Ohio.”
Quaff that Cleveland Spirit driving the special
personalities who’ve called this city “home”:
Daniel Thompson and his Alley way,
Carnegie and his Avenue,
Daffy Dan and his tee shirts,
Dick Goddard and his wooly bears,
Neil Zurcher and his One-Tank Trips,
Les Roberts and his Milan Jacovich mysteries,
Lanigan and his mornings,
Ghoulardi and his “aaaaaaaaamraaaaaap”,
Hoolihan, Big Chuck and Little John, Barnaby,
Captain Penny and Halle’s Mr. Jingaling.
Down another fine draught of Cleveland Spirit:
Great Lakes Brewing,
Home of the Buzzard,
It’s Live on Five,
See the USA. in Your C. Miller Chevrolet
World-Class Care Close to Home,
Garfield One Two Three Two Three,
I’ll Make Them Pay.
We’re here to intoxicate your senses
and blow down your fences!
Kick back, hook your heels in this city’s rungs,
relax and stay awhile. Hold out your hand
for another round of Cleveland’s finest.
This is Cleveland—my home,
and when you’re here, it belongs to you, too.
This is Cleveland;
come as you are—
but do come thirsty.
* * *
“Cleveland Spriritual” by Dianne Borsenik will appear in the book #ThisIsCLE: An Anthology of the 2014 Best Cleveland Poem Competition, to be published in January 2015 by Crisis Chronicles Press.
Dianne Borsenik is active in the Cleveland poetry scene and regional reading circuit. Her work has been widely published in journals and anthologies, including Slipstream, Rosebud, Lilliput Review, The Magnetic Poetry Book of Poetry, and Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac. Recent books include Corpus Lingua (Poet’s Haven), Fortune Cookie (Kattywompus), and Blue Graffiti (Crisis Chronicles). She is founder of NightBallet Press, and lives in Elyria with husband James and dogsons Bodhisattva and Michael-Angelo. Find her on Facebook, or at www.dianneborsenik.com.
There’s something quieter than sleep
Within this inner room!
It wears a sprig upon its breast —
And will not tell its name.
Some touch it, and some kiss it —
Some chafe its idle hand —
It has a simple gravity
I do not understand!
I would not weep if I were they —
How rude in one to sob!
Might scare the quiet fairy
Back to her native wood!
While simple-hearted neighbors
Chat of the “Early dead” —
We — prone to periphrasis
Remark that Birds have fled!
by Shelley Chernin
Lord Buddha attained enlightenment in Bihar
near ISM, the Indian School of Mines, in Dhanbad,
eastern Jharkhand state, Damodar River valley,
“The Coal Capital of India.” A city at the heart
of the coalfields of Jharia, its pulmonary veins
carry blood money to Tata Iron and Steel Company
Ltd. Its ground exhales the smoke of coal fires,
burning in the viscera, perpetual dyspepsia in
the second most polluted place in India.
In West Virginia, the Sago Baptist Church was founded in 1856 by Lucy Henderson, Hester Summerville, and others. Seventy years later, historian E.R. Grose would write:
This church has wielded a large influence in the lives of the Sago people. It has never been large in numbers but has stood faithfully for the best things in life; and only eternity can tell the influence it has exerted.
That’s a long time to wait, congregate. Youngsters in the first Sunday school competed to memorize scripture. L.B. Moore once recited two chapters of Matthew, left no time for the other children. At age twenty, Moore entered the Union Army, fought with Company B of the Tenth West Virginia Volunteer Infantry for three years. Wounded on the last day of the Siege of Petersburg, he returned home on crutches, joined the Baptist ministry ten years later. Company B lost fourteen to injuries and disease in the war. Moore founded a temperance society, preached against hard cider. Others went out as ministers from Sago Baptist, which first held services in the old log schoolhouse, on the river bank, at the chestnut tree. Many hearts beat there, and in the 1873 white painted church-house that became Mr. Burner’s barn twenty years later.
Rutajit studies mining engineering at ISM, plays
cricket on collegiate fields. His stomach growls
on fasting days; he snacks on sabudana khichdi
made from sago, pith of cycas revoluta, pearls of flour
leached of natural toxins. The recipe is simple:
Soak the sago overnight, melt ghee, brown chiles
and cumin seeds and maybe potatoes too, add soaked sago,
cook until crisp. Garnish with coconut and cilantro.
Do not cover the pan or the sago conglomerates
into one lump. Sago thickens like tapioca and plots.
Despite popular myths, white sago is no purer
than the light cream variety. Rutajit feels full.
Sago Baptist Church is the point where trapped miners’ families gathered on pins and needles to wait for their loved ones to surface. Neighbors brought glazed hams, potato salad, and homemade black walnut apple cake with vanilla icing. The children ate. Red Cross workers brought cots, blankets, and Tylenol. Pastors Day and Barker, joined by Pastor Murrell of The Way of Holiness Church of Buckhannon brought hymns and scriptures, read Romans 8:28:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Families watched the mine entrance across the street. President Bush offered his prayer: May God bless those who are trapped below the earth, and may God bless those who are concerned about those trapped below the earth. Bush, Murrell, and Day asked us all to pray, so prayers circulated like oxygenated blood down through the national arteries, branched into our capillaries, in search of miners’ cells.
Rutajit’s name means “Conqueror of Truth.” Hindus permit
debate on the existence of God. His parents congratulate
their future mine safety expert. A “mining accident”
is any accident that happens in a mine. If five or more
people die, the accident is called a “mining disaster.”
Rutajit loves science and his girlfriend, not words. His heart
pounds, but he does not pray the first time
his class enters Bagdigi Mine. Twenty-nine men died
in a flood there in 2001, he learns. Inside the mine are signs
of concern: Coal dust hai kahtray ki naani, is mein chheeto
hardam paani. (Coal dust is the grandmother of all dangers,
always sprinkle water on it.) Dust and ashes
are cognate. If footprints are visible on the mine floor,
fine particles can explode, produce 200 mile per hour winds,
dispersing additional dust from walls and overhead
beams. There can be secondary explosions, fires. Anything
that can burn in bulk can explode when powdered
and mixed with air. Coal, wood. Churches.
Westboro Baptist Church is down in the basement of Reverend Fred Phelps’ home in Topeka. Twenty members trekked to West Virginia for the miners’ memorial service. A holy pilgrimage. Their leaflets blasted Sago Baptist Church
for blasphemously misrepresenting the sovereign, predestined providences of The Almighty in the Sago Mine matter.
They proclaimed God’s absolute power to cause or prevent tragedy, abused the bereaved for the sin of failure to rejoice in God’s tragedies. Human compassion ignores the logic. At the core, faith is thick and dark as a coal mine, burns like fossil fuel. When the dead miners’ families misbelieved that all but one lived, they celebrated their miracle, danced and sang. Pastor Murrell said after that it was like they had experienced The Resurrection.
In the month after the Sago disaster, four more
miners died in mining accidents in West Virginia.
Like miscooked sago, the flow of names congeals.
Rutajit knows a story. On May 28, 1965, an explosion
and fire in the Dhori Colliery in Dhanbad killed
more than 400 miners. Deep inside, heat blasted the mine
to darkness, blew off eyeglasses, burned off brows. The air
coagulated. The men died in denseness, unable to see
their own hands. Thick in prayer.
Shelley Chernin is a 59-year-old freelance researcher, writer, and editor of legal reference books. She lives in Russell, Ohio (aka Novelty, proving that the US Postal Service once had a sense of irony). Her poems have appeared in Scrivener Creative Review, Rhapsoidia, What I Knew Before I Knew: Poems from the Pudding House Salon-Cleveland, the Heights Observer, the 2010 through 2012 Hessler Street Fair poetry anthologies and the Cuyahoga Burning edition of Big Bridge. She received the 2nd Place award in the 2011 Hessler Street Fair Poetry Contest and Honorable Mentions in the Akron Art Museum’s New Words Poetry Contest in 2009 and 2010. Her latest book, Oct Tongue -1, (2014, Crisis Chronicles Press) is a collaboration with Mary Weems, John Swain, Steven Smith, Lady, John Burroughs and Steve Brightman, Yes, of course, Shelley plays the ukulele. Who doesn’t?