Yet A Little While

This shall be my contribution to National Poetry Month today:

Yet A Little While
by Mary J MacColl

Beyond the clouds smiles the clear blue sky,
and the sun will shine when the storm blows by.

In the frost-bound earth through the winter lay
the flowers that in beauty bloom today,

and soon from the buds on the bare brown trees
will banners of green be unfurled to the breeze.

Cloud, flower, and leaf, ye are teachers three
of the many my Father hath given to me.

The lesson ye teach I can understand;
to me ’tis as rain to the thirsty land.

I know that the sunlight will gild my sky,
in the sweet, mysterious “by-and-by”

and from chilly realms of dark despair
will spring Hope’s blossoms fresh and fair.

Then my heart will thrill like a wind-kissed leaf,
though it fainteth now ‘neath a weight of grief.

Oh, Thou who dost clothe the lilies aye,
in light or in shade may I feel Thee nigh.

May my faith burn bright and my love be strong,
though the tempest rage and the night be long.

Help me to work while ’tis yet today—
ere the twilight falleth cold and gray;

help me with careful hand to sow
good seed from whose germs no tares may grow.

May the Lord of the harvest upon me smile,
when He cometh to reap in “a little while.”

From the book, BIDE A WEE by Mary J MacColl,
published in 1880 by Peter Paul & Brother of Buffalo, NY.

I found this book in a sale somewhere, still in fairly good shape, with gold-trimmed cover edges and letters! And on the first page there are impressive endorsements of Miss MacColl’s poetry from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry W Longfellow, Joaquin Miller, and John G Whittier.

The Windows of Poetry

April is National Poetry Month and the League of Canadian Poets has adopted the theme, Celebrate nature with poetry. Which suits me just fine: I like to write about nature.

Imagine yourself walking down a long hall with a good friend. In this hallway there are a number of small windows, and as you pass each one, your friend points out some particular scene just outside that window. Something is happening out there that they want you to notice.

Like a painting, a good poem is a window on some scene in life and a book of poetry is like a line of windows. At each one you stop as your poet friend draws your attention to some detail outside. Some writers will make more comment what they’re pointing out, some less.

Poets of long ago gave readers the whole story and their take on what they are seeing. For example, Robert Burns’ To A Louse, is an eight-verse poem about a louse he saw crawling on a fine lady’s hat in church. Seven are saying, “This is what I see”:
Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,
Detested, shunn’d by saunt an sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her—
Sae fine a lady!
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner
On some poor body.

And then the punch line, now famous around the world:
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An foolish notion:
What airs in dress an gait wad lea’es us,
An ev’n devotion!

These words have resonated with readers of all ages, since we’ve all seen people with foolish notions of their own importance and wish they could see just how their behavior looks to us. Sometimes, on reading these lines, we may shake our heads as we think of situations in the past when we acted like a know-it-all, a snob or an airhead. We see it clearly now, and surely everyone around us saw back then how silly, selfish, or defensive our attitude was. It’s amazing, when we’re trying our best to put on a persona, how much of our real self sticks out.

In our day, poets tend to rather describe what they are seeing and let you draw your own conclusions. I appreciate both kinds of verses, the one that evokes a feeling as well as the one that delivers an understanding — actually a good poem should do both. I have a harder time appreciating verses where I haven’t a clue what the writer is trying to say. No matter what size or style, give me an accessible poem any day.

For National Poetry Month I’m going to try to post a verse a day, plus get my book of haiku & senryu published. I HAD it all prepared, but glitches arose… Today I’m going back to “Self-Pub U” and hope to learn how to insert images properly. Sigh…

Life is learning, and I have lots more to do. 😉

The Mind

by Edgar Guest

The mind is that mysterious thing
which makes the toiler and the king.
It is the realm of thought where dwells
the nursery rhymes the father tells.
It is the source of all that gives
high color to the life he lives.
It starts the smile or shapes the frown,
it lifts man up or holds him down.
It marks the happy singing lad,
it marks the neighbor kind and glad,
and world wide over this we find —
a man is fashioned by his mind.

How strange it is that what we see
and seem to cherish tenderly
is not the outward garb of clay,
for all are formed the self-same way.
Not in the hands and legs and cheeks,
not in the common voice which speaks,
lies man’s identity on earth—
all these come with the gift of birth.
But love and friendship and delight
lie in a world that’s hid from sight.
The mind of all is master still
to fashion them for good or ill.

So men and women here are wrought
by this strange hidden power of thought
and each becomes in life the thing
the mind has long been fashioning.
Man’s body moves and eats and drinks
and but reflects the thoughts he thinks.
His every action leaves behind
merely the prompting of his mind.
Bad men have arms and legs and eyes.
That which we cherish or despise
and shapes each individual soul
is wholly in the mind’s control.

From the Collected Verse of Edgar A. Guest
© 1934 by the Reilly & Lee Company

A Story in Slivers

Yesterday we attended an all-day writing workshop in the city, put on by a national Christian writing group based more-or-less in Alberta. We heard half a dozen different speakers, mostly motivational. A lot of thoughts on the need to write, and why we need to write.

A few minor things stuck in my mind, one of them being a comment one of our speakers made to an attender who’d just finished publishing his parents’ life story. Sheila Webster, the speaker, congratulated him, then reminded him & told us all about the nudge she’d given him when he wasn’t finding the time to write this. They’d done a quick calculation and figured that if he’d only write 47 words a day he could get the memoir done in such-and-such a time.

I’m not certain of the exact numbers, but the point was clear. A writer may wish for hours to write, with thousands of words whacked out every day. However, even writing in silvers — 10-15 minutes a day — you can actually get a book finished and edited. I don’t know about you, but if I have my scene thought out and sit down to write, I can easily do 500 words in 15 minutes.

This reminds me of another done-in-slivers project I heard about one day. An older woman who sews all her own dresses was advising some younger ones, busy moms, who claimed they couldn’t find time to sew. “If you sew just one seam every day, you can get a new dress made for yourself in a month.”

Marla Cilley has made her fortune as the FlyLady, telling people the same thing about house-cleaning. In her book, Sink Reflections, she writes that no matter how disabled or how depressed a person is, almost everyone can work at a task for 10-15 minutes.

Facing the immense task of rebuilding the temple at Jerusalem after it had been destroyed by the marauding army, the prophet Zechariah says, “For who hath despised the day of small things?” Zech 4:10 A plan was made and the work was organized, each family given responsibility for a part of the wall.

Both Marla & Sheila do stress one point:
YOU NEED TO HAVE SOME SYSTEM. A ROUTINE IS YOUR FRIEND.

That’s what I need to work on. 🙂

Truth, Lies, and Desk-ku

According to haiku poet David Lanoue in his book Write Like Issa, “Many poets and some editors of journals dislike so-called “desk-ku”; haiku dreamed up as works of pure imaginations. Such writers and readers much prefer haiku to erupt from raw, genuine sensations and feelings.”

the furious sea’s
cat-and-mouse game with the ship
the band plays on

I guess this is desk-ku, since I’ve never been on a cruise, nor at sea in a storm. I was on a whale watch cruise once and did sense the power of the deep sea below. Also, I’ve read A Mighty Tempest by Michelle Hamilton, who describes her own experience in a small craft during a ferocious storm. So I let myself envision what might go on if a wild storm suddenly swept down on a cruise ship and picture the wild sea tossing even a behemoth like that into and out of troughs. I imagine the crew trying to distract passengers from the danger and keep up morale. I remember the story of the Titanic, how the band played as the ship went down.

In reality, cruise ships nowadays have enough weather-watch equipment to avoid that kind of a storm. Passengers would be ordered to their cabins until the danger was past. Oh, well…exciting to imagine.

This thought of genuine experiences and emotions versus writer imagination brings to my mind a similar sentiment expressed by a couple of different friends: “There’s no point reading fiction. It’s just lies someone’s dreamed up.”

To which I’ve replied, “Not very many writers just dream up everything they write in their stories. While the setting itself is invented, fiction involves weaving in incidents we writers have seen, heard, and experienced ourselves. The characteristics of our heroes and villains may be over-balanced compared to real-world people, but if they behave too irrationally, the story is spoiled and the reader disgusted — unless they like fantasy.

I think of Jesus, whose parables have come down to us through the ages, and how He left his stories open so readers could put themselves in the place of his characters. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus no doubt had a real situation in mind. He didn’t tell this as a dry account, however. He didn’t explain how “Twenty years ago back in Bethlehem, A, a middle-aged farmer, had two sons, B and C. One day C decided he’d had enough of working long hours in the fields; he wanted to see the world. So he says to his dad…and then he takes his share of the inheritance and heads off to xxx where he shells out his shekels on booze and parties. Etc.”

Leaving the actual facts unsaid, Jesus invites his audience — and us today — to see ourselves in all those characters. Haven’t all of us wandered down some wrong path — in attitude if not in fact? Then something woke us up, we saw where we were headed. We sensed we were polluting our minds, bodies, lives, with garbage, and we turned around. Haven’t we all had to go back and admit, apologize, figuratively if not literally ask to be taken back into the family or friendship?

Years ago a teen wanted “freedom” from the restrictions of her Christian home. She became infatuated with a ‘leader-of-the pack’ type, the head of a biker gang, and became his girl. But those bikers worked their girls; she ended up in the pigsty of prostitution, not at all free, and was finally cast aside by the leader. One day, soon to give birth, she finally came to herself, thought of her parents, the love she once knew, and started walking. She started to hemorrhage there on the sidewalk; a good Samaritan picked her up and drove her to the hospital. From there she and her baby girl went back to Mom & Dad and were welcomed back into the family fold.

Most parents can identify with the father, anxiously watching for the return of his prodigal. Whether the child has distanced himself in fact or in spirit, haven’t we hoped and prayed they’d come to their senses, deal with their sour attitude, and get their life back on track?

If we’re honest, we can place ourselves in the role of brother B, who kept his nose to the grindstone, bearing an extra-heavy workload because C took himself off to the fun-fair for a year or two. Now here comes his long-lost brother, crawling home broke and wasted, and their father lays out the red carpet, kills the fatted calf, and is in the middle of a big “Welcome Home” party for this loser.

Some writers do spin fantasies. Even if they try to cover their tale with a realistic setting, no real human beings would react the way their characters do. In real life, if you’re harsh and demanding, often rake your friend or partner over the coals for minor faults, he or she is not going to respond with profuse apologies and promises to get it right and pay attention to your feelings from now on. Trust me. Won’t happen. Modern romances really lead you astray on this one, because real human beings will either lash back or clam up and resent — just like you would if treated that way.

When I was a girl my mom wanted me to take an aspirin for whatever “growing pains” I had, so she’d crush it on a spoon together with sugar. The sweetness masked the taste of the medicine that relieved my pain.

That’s what writers do, sort of. A good fiction writer can take real life situations, dream up a fiction setting, give various incidents a twist — so Aunt Vanilla doesn’t know this humorous bit is based on her baked beans and Uncle Shellby doesn’t realize we’re describing his snoring — and head into a story that has a theme, a point. Something to ease the reader’s pain if they’re hurting.

I recall a time when I was worried about a situation that needed to be addressed somehow. It seemed someone(s) must see the light before too much damage was done — but I could hardly go and educate the attitude-riddled parties involved. Then a story seed dropped into my fertile mind and expanded into a somewhat exaggerated illustration with the point snugly wrapped inside.

My take on the gossip after a minor accident in our community, and how you just can’t believe everything you hear, became Brother Ed’s Accident in Silver Morning Song. Poor Brother Ed had a simple incident when hauling cattle, and thanks to the arrival of a helping hand, the problem was easily solved. But when he got to church the next Sunday… When I asked another writer for a critique, he told me, “This exact thing happened to me after I had a minor accident; the gossip had us dead and dying and what-not-all.”

One local farmer read that story and said he didn’t believe cattle could ever be rounded up that easily, I told him, “I’ve seen it done.” I also researched stock trailer doors online to find out if they might occasion pop open. Yes, it has; a horseman once lost a good stallion that way.

Writer integrity is the key phrase here. Realistic fiction, like all other writing, is a blend of personal experience & emotion, eye-witness accounts, stories heard, and a LOT of research. It shouldn’t be dismissed as “Just a bunch of lies.”

Thieving Wind

that thieving wind
has robbed another clothesline
the flowers all pink

I posted this account 18 months back, but my new followers may enjoy it so I’ll post it again.

Does anyone remember this old song?

“I was strolling through the park one day
…in the merry, merry month of May
…and I got a strange surprise…”

Back when we lived in Moose Jaw, SK, my husband and I were strolling through Crescent Park, located right near the heart of the city, early one morning. And we did indeed get a strange surprise…

In the center of the park is a cenotaph, a memorial to those soldiers from Moose Jaw who were killed in action in the two world wars. This marble pillar with its bronze plaques was encircled by a flower bed in the shape of a big star. So think five points of the star planted to flowers and between the points lush green grass. This flower “star” was encircled by a sidewalk round-about, with several lanes or paved paths going off to the south, west, and north, leading to other park attractions.

As I said, we took our walk soon after sunrise — and it was early spring, so the bedding flowers hadn’t been planted yet. Thus the points of the star were bare black earth awaiting the bedding plants. Bob and I had come up the south path and were following around the main circle when we stopped, amazed.

There, nicely laid out in one of the star points was a pale blue nylon nightgown.

We stood there eyeing it for awhile, contemplating the possibilities. It obviously hadn’t been just dropped there; rather, it was spread out as if on display. Across the street from the park were several three- to five-story apartment buildings. Had it blown off someone’s balcony when they’d hung a few things outside to dry?

Or was this someone’s idea of a practical joke?

I stepped into the flowerbed and retrieved the nightgown. It had a few spots from its tumble on the dirt, but was fairly clean for all that. I held it up. It was sleeveless and double-layered, the outside being sheer nylon, the inside opaque. Not bad. I took it along home and washed it; the fabric proved to be in good condition with hardly a snag.

There was at the time a small paper put out locally, called “ The Shopper,” full of ads anyone could place for free. We decided to give the owner a chance to claim her lost property by placing an ad in this paper, but Bob suggested giving the ad a humorous twist in case the whole thing was a joke. So we sent in the following:
Found in bed (flower) in Crescent Park: one blue nightgown. Free to the person who can come up with the best explanation of how it got there.

Nobody answered the ad. Seeing as the nightgown fit me just fine…I decided, “Finders keepers.”