G. Louis Heath
I am a native Californian, a Berkeley Ph.D., who is Professor Emeritus, Ashford University. That basically means that my campus closed and I had to retire at age 71 in May, 2016, after 47 years in higher education. Please excuse the clinging initial G. (for Gary) Louis Heath but I thought it was cool in 1969 when I first published! My books include Mutiny Does Not Happen Lightly, Long Dark River Casino, and Vandals in The Bomb Factory. I love to read my poems at the Midwest Writing Center in Davenport, Iowa and at other open mic events. I serve on the Human Rights Commission of my city, Clinton, Iowa. I love to hike along the Mississippi River where I can sit down, weather permitting, and work on a poem that I have stuffed in my back pocket.
I Am River
I have carved canyons, eons and eons of canyons.
Glaciers let loose talus and scree to greet me.
Mountains of majestic purple cascade to meet me
on banks where leafing spring trees thrust thirsty roots.
I travel under granite cliffs and roiling gray skies
and below tranquil azure canopies where megaliths
lift up in supplication to Time and Eternity.
I have shaped striated, buff, undulant rock
into vivid quartzite of smoky rose that
big-shouldered men cut into fortresses,
bulwarks against gods unpleased,
against men conjured as evil incarnate.
I have flowed deep, I have flowed angry.
I have flowed rapid, I have flowed peaceful.
Men know my powers and moods and
they pray to me with their shiny talismans fabricated
on my concrete-and-steel-bound surging muscles.
They ford me but few times in their mayfly season,
flailing wildly at me and those they call enemy.
I go on because it is my nature.
I flow through their dams making power.
I flood onto their soil making it prosper,
nurturing fortresses into towns where families
bury their dead under broad-leaf canopies
that drink from me.
I am energy.
I am life.
I am river.
I Knew A Hopi
who, as a boy one day,
worked feverishly in the family garden,
“like a white man,” he told me.
His Mom chastened, “Pray to the soil
as you dig. Be with it, not against.”
I thought of him the other day
as I drove my 28-year-old TV to the
recycling center. Its tube had
failed deep into the digital age.
I loved the programs I’d seen on it.
I loved to play tapes of those programs.
I’d spent more time with RCA than with
my closest relatives. RCA and I had
a relationship stronger and longer
than the most fervent cellphone
Tears welled as I neared the center.
My faithful seeing eye machine no
longer saw! It seemed obscene to dump
it like the day’s garbage. RCA had served
faithfully and well over a quarter
century, an advanced old age for an
American-made TV of its era.
The center had no chapel for a proper
tobacco ceremony, a burial sacrament,
even a simple eulogy, words from the heart to
confer the sacred on RCA’s demise. I felt the blood
quicken in my hands as I turned over RCA’s boxy
last remains. Words surged from deep within.
“Thanks for your service” I cried to RCA’s blank eye.
The attendant looked at me quizzically for
the longest time. Finally, he said, “No problem.”
I sip coffee, fending off chill at the annual Dairy
Cow Days Parade in a northern Wisconsin town.
Jackets and coats line the route, testament to
the Midwest in June. Last snow of spring, a few flakes,
fell eleven days ago. The couple next to me say
frost greeted their emerging plants with a cold shoulder,
putting them in retreat. They talk of job, family, car
repairs, the ginseng crop they expect. True locals,
born here, loyal to the little town’s boundaries,
an island in the American archipelago, bounded by
shores of crops, thin on latitude and longitude.
The couple point to what rounds the corner.
A man I guess to be Dad pulls a small red play
wagon. It carries his son, about five, who sits in a
red, white, and blue cardboard box, “The America
Machine.” He is hunched over against the cold in a
windbreaker. He holds an American flag.
My couple smiles. Hands fly up like ground doves.
“That’s our grandson!” The Dad flashes a gloved hand
of reply and pulls on. His weary smile fades with the
receding brass notes of the band just passed. The boy
stays hunkered. He does not wave his flag.
©2016 G. Louis Heath