I live only a stone's throw from Glacier National Park. I love to hike and explore the out of doors. I've been teaching creative writing at Flathead Valley Community College for 32 years, and I still like my job. I have six books of poems published. My seventh book, Or Maybe I Drift Off Alone, is looking for a publisher.
Team Leader, said the cardboard badge
our fifth-grade teacher safety-pinned to my shirt pocket
the festive final day of school
with the promise of boundless summer
achingly golden so nearby.
It was supposed to be an honor. And the badge
quickened my chest with clattering hooves
of proud stallions. Also hatched in me
daydreams of conquering rocky summits
like Davy Crockett, like Daniel Boone,
when I should have paid prudent attention,
as did other team leaders who committed to memory
the where and when and how to usher our classmates
from the ropes course to the softball throw,
from the balance beam to the fifty-yard dash.
And that’s how it came to pass my team wandered
lost amidst everyone else’s laughter and purpose.
And we huddled under a stairwell, dismayed,
disapproving frowns stabbing at my confusion
when the leader’s badge could offer no better plan.
Even then, like so often in life afterwards,
all I wanted was a quiet room and the door closed.
Or a winding pathway through trees, following
where whimsy beckoned. Or a nowhere stretch of road,
alone with my thoughts. A thousand miles to go.
All These Years After
She’d hooked a finger in my belt loop
and trailed my lead like that
through crowds at the fairgrounds
— Kiddee Day on the Fourth of July --
weaving us in and out of knots of teens
and moms and kids holding their places in line.
As if she’d chosen me for what
comes next: a wall
of thunderheads, a downpour scattering
revelers scurrying home. While she and I
sheltered under the grandstand and waited.
Watched each other watching the mist
rise from hot pave. Till somewhere
she took my hand, and the rains quit
as suddenly as they’d surprised us. The skies opened,
and we ran — fingers locked — past
drawn awnings on midway tents shut down.
Past the Zephyr, silenced. Past the Tilt-a-Whirl,
emptied. Like we were all that was left
of anybody, anywhere. And all these years after,
I still smile at delicious puddles of muck,
how we splashed laughing
through every one.
No snapshot of this exists except
for the shutter of memory’s random
flash impressions. So much else
went by unrecorded, almost as if
it never happened. Or — if it did —
my eyes were closed and the light shut out.
But that dawn woke with my bones
half frozen — frost on the prickly pear,
the sky pooled ice-blue,
and snowcapped distant peaks ablaze
in the early sun’s glare. Three days
from home, and no one had warned me
how high-country desert nights turned
arctic, how each star looked down
with a barren stare. How I’d shiver
fitfully with hard-scrabble exhaustion
where I’d been dropped at a back-county
exit to rolling expanses of open range. How I’d rise
through misery and dance like a madman
to flush my chilled limbs with fresh
blood. How I’d laugh and fling my useless
summer-camp sleeping bag to its final
demise in a forgotten ravine. Then
shoulder my rucksack and step toward
the highway, inhaling the moment,
dizzied, a-tingle, awed by the earth at my feet,
thrilled to be my body walking, waking
amidst pungent sage, letting the sun’s new rays
seep in; absolutely certain I’d carry with me
the joy of this and someday write it down.
Just wanted to see birds, lots of birds up close
enough to distinguish their jackets and tails,
learn their names. Wanted to offer crumbs
like saints I’d read about and neighbors
who claimed they could lure a skittish
chickadee to perch in an opened palm.
Had no suspicion how greedy, jealous, quarrelsome
squirrels could balance like circus experts,
tip-toeing a thin line I’d strung to hang
a feeder of corn. No idea, when corn fell
and birds pecked in the turf, snarling chipmunks
could bully them aside. Had a plan
to mount new feeders on long wrought-iron rods
from deck rails outside the kitchen door,
two stories up. Did persuade a pair of yellow warblers
to lunch one early afternoon, and a red-breasted
stranger after that. A gang of little grey
nobody-specials spit and scattered seeds, bickered
and flew before I could find them painted
in the fieldguide. And the game warden said it had to be
a bear, a big one at that, who’d bumped his shaggy butt
up the back stairs — while we slumbered trustingly,
thin walls away — and he’d twisted the iron rods
like pipe-cleaners, smashed feeders, licked the spillage clean.
A woman in Kansas
orders a grilled sandwich
and there in the melted cheddar
appears the likeness
of the Holy Mother —
the humble shrouded form,
the bereaved serene face, revealed.
Hard to swallow a miracle
like that. Better smuggle it
home in a to-go box
to astound her husband
who in turn carries Mother Mary
to the airplane factory
to impress his buddies on the assembly line,
the most trusted of which
sells all sorts of God’s oddities
on ebay. And lo . . . the cheese sandwich
bids up to a hefty bag of shekels,
twenty-eight thousand, cash
from a Vegas profiteer
who seals under glass
the apparition — Our Lady of Good Luck —
and spotlights her like a Picasso
in a velvet-draped casino.
Meanwhile, I’ve clipped this news
and pasted it on my fridge.
An attestation how God
has richly bequeathed to America
such amazing cheese.
©2016 Lowell Jaeger