Martin Willitts Jr
When I was a child, I spent time working on my grandparent's farm. I would return to Syracuse for school. I basically led a Country Mouse/City Mouse life. My grandfather was Mennonite and my grandmother was Amish, therefore everything I learned was olde-time, and did not use any machines or electricity. But I learned hard stuff the hard way, like how to hand plow, or how to work as a blacksmith, or how to slaughter animals: the hands-on approach. This life was connected to the Mennonite-Amish-Quaker religion and simplicity. Now I use electric things, but I still grow organically. Now I publish poems in magazine, chapbooks, and full-length books. My most recent book, How to Be Silent (FutureCycle Press, 2016) contains Quaker inspired spiritual poetry, but it also honors other spiritual writers from around the world: Rilke, Hafiz, Emily Dickinson, the "desert poets", Rumi, Thomas Merton, etc etc. One of my favorite poet is William Stafford, a Quaker, a CO, like me. I spent my CO life as a field medic in Vietnam; he was arrested for being a CO during WWII.
A barn owl, a young tiny one,
It was testing its new wings
against the horizon
as it chased a small field mouse
Terror was becoming its second nature.
I could save this world some misery
and stop the owl, but
I cannot change the nature of Nature.
I knew it
like a heartbeat gone quiet as a stone
with its own darkness.
I could let its silence pass
my silence, let it get ahead of me
like a line of poetry slips by
before I can write it down. I could
let the wings take this small mouse’s life
to another place.
There are hunters and survivors:
some sit in a duck blind,
and some ducks scatter.
Not one part of life can ever be still.
Once upon a time, starlight was the eyes of a hawk.
I do not recall the good old days
because when I do, rivers take them away —
all that remains is an empty island
I try to see how life is connected and interconnected
like the roots of a tumbled-down tree across the way.
How men took chainsaws and tractors with chains
and removed that tree, forgetting how to take it safely.
Currents change like winds —
I do not want to visit the past anymore.
No one knows how time snarls and twists
and hunches over us.
End of an Era, 1964
When grandfather’s 1949 Ford Coupe died,
he collapsed in his chair,
too tired to care anymore what happened next.
When he was laid in an open coffin,
I touched him, wondering what it was like,
being empty, rouge-face, pasty-white.
As they lowered his casket,
the bank had foreclosures for Grandmother.
They intoned, they were sorry for her loss.
Unfortunately for the bank, she died the next day.
Her heart just could not handle any more bad news.
The bank took the farm, the house, dissected the land
into developments, repossessed every nail,
every loose roof tile, even the kitchen sink.
They took the door jambs, the misshaped porch
sagging like a pregnant belly, the chimney and
its missing bricks. They took every lattice,
every weather-beaten white-washed clapboard,
every spindle, every stair with holes in the carpets,
even the house number hanging loosely by one nail.
Our Amish and Mennonite neighbors
arrived in their horse-drawn buggies.
Grandfather had sharpened their plows,
made horseshoes for their horses,
painted hex signs on their barns.
When they heard what happened,
they withdrew all of their money from that bank,
and the bank went out of business.
Justice, like prayer, works mysteriously.
…a path veers toward our time
-William Stafford, "By the Old Deer Trail"
The moon picks up stones
at night that are low
and quiet to the ground.
Stones keep the moon
from being forlorn
and jumping into a lake.
The moon likes to bend
birch branches in its light
as it searches for the perfect stone.
It keeps one stone in its grey pocket.
When the moon is pleased,
there is a ticking from the rock.
If the moon is uncertain,
rain curves around the rock,
never touching it.
Then the moon leaves
something for us to find,
although we do not know where.
This is the whole point of discovery —
it is never on the clear worn path.
When we pick that stone, our hands are water.
The roots of the day lilies take over like armies,
interlocking and twisting over
and under each other like French braids,
making it impossible to uproot
or transplant, often appearing elsewhere,
determined as a teenager to get their way —
then explosions of color open dramatically
making me regret yanking them out —
in my dreams they overwhelm the earth,
lifting my house off its foundation,
its roots are tentacles encasing me —
I am tangled in the sheets,
window open, letting in day-lily light.
©2016 Martin Willitts Jr
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