Ralph Skip Stevens
Note: A friend has a poetry email list and sends us a poem every day, and I mean every day, 365 days a year, no matter what else, joy or sorrow, or just plain busy-ness, is going on in her life. Sometimes her introductory comments prompt a poem, as did a remark about useless information. For “Life Expectancy,” the prompt is obvious. I’m not much of an “occasional” poet but when Notre Dame burned I had to write something.
The Useless Information for Today
For Sydney Landon Plum
The useless information for today
when February starts to drag is from
a teacher in the mountains. She tells me
she has mixed precipitation and student papers.
She gives me Galesburg Illinois,
its concentration of Victorian homes,
brick streets with steel rails showing,
a mystery to teenage drivers who
complain about the shock-rattling surface,
who’ve never heard of street cars
running under sparking power lines
along the straight and narrow.
Coal trucks rumbled those streets
to the old Victorians, shouted loads
into cellars’ black holes, fuel to feed
furnaces that on winter mornings
would blaze and splinter Galesburg cold,
and bring the children shivering from their beds
as kitchens grew warm.
And that’s the useless information
For Notre Dame de Paris
The expiration date of wood and steel
We like to tamper with, predicting
The life expectancy of the latest
Submarine or Rolls Royce, built
To exacting standards with firm faith
In tensile strength, measured wear
Of moving parts, resistance to corrosion, rot.
We test the loyalty of weld, bronze screw,
Iron nail or wooden peg. We give this new
Sears dishwasher ten healthy years.
The Pentagon puts its hope in thirty
For destroyers building now on the Kennebec
And we might get even more out of those ships.
After all, the wood and lead roofs of cathedrals last
Eight hundred years or more. And yet
Wood is flammable, stone exposed
To fire can turn to chalk and crumble.
A ship can spring a leak and
Our hearts can break when that cathedral burns
Before its expiration date.
©2019 Ralph Skip Stevens
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