The Cathedral

Toledo Cathedral

The Cathedral

Shadows grow long and solemn
In cool columned halls of stone
While pale footsteps echo like voices
And dim candles flicker and glow

The ceiling stands distant and lofty
With carving that dances like lace
While stone clouds sit still and silent
And gather round a blank, white stone face

The organ now rumbles and whispers
From pipes that are fashioned of gold
Aged, but yet still remembers
The sound of the myst’ries untold

In aisle and alley and corner
In prominent angle and space
Great figures of eras long passing
In stone, find their last resting place

Visions of great Bible stories
In varying tones and hues
Spread like a gilded curtain
There before dark, age-worn pews

A figure stands here on the altar
Welcoming all who are lost
With arms spread in patience and comfort
Whose shadow there covers the cross

The saints here all line every window
Madonnas stand silent and nod
I see the Christ suff’ring and bleeding
But where is the living God?

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The Silent House

There are certain moments in life, for me at least, when one starts to feel just a bit nostalgic, and that has been true for me in the past few weeks. I’m not entirely certain why. Maybe it’s the rainy weather we’ve been having. Maybe it’s because we’ve been reading Tennyson in my Victorian Literature class. Or maybe it’s because of all the death happening around me: peers, family, friends, friends of friends…

Either way, I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood recently, and particularly about the set of great grandparents I grew up around.

My great grandparents bought their land and built their house some time during the Great Depression, though I don’t remember exactly when. My great grandfather worked as a foreman at a nearby brickyard, and so brick edifices dot the property around the house, some complete buildings, others not. The property my great grandfather bought back then sits on what is now more of a family estate, having been parcelled out to the various generations.

I was only a little girl, possibly 6 years old, when my great grandparents died, but I still have memories, if slightly romanticized, of them. I remember them as kind and happy people, and I remember the times I spent there in that house and on that property as some of the best.

I don’t go home much these days, but when I do, I like to visit the old house. In some ways it’s very different now; in others, it’s as though no time has passed at all. In any case, my nostalgia recently has inspired me to write a new poem based on my last visit. I hope you enjoy!

*EDIT: My mother sent me an email correcting me on my time frame for when the house was built. As the information she gave me has some very interesting historical tidbits in it, I thought I’d go ahead and share it here with you.

“Just wanted to make one little correction for you in your lead in to the poem. Great-grandpa built the house during WWII. That’s one of the reasons it has some of the issues it has, such as the floor falling apart. You see, everything was rationed during that time because resources had to go to the war effort. To even put windows in the house Great-grandpa befriended a wealthy rancher that had a government contract (I think that’s correct) and when this gentleman was allowed to place an order for glass he would add an extra piece or two to his order for Great-Grandpa. It took a number of years to build the house as he had to get supplies in small amounts at a time and then build the house. As a matter of fact, when they first moved in (in 1945) they didn’t have sheetrock on the walls. They had a heavy paper that had different prints on it. Grandma talks about remembering the flower print that was on the paper in her room.”

————

The Silent House

Hinted chills on whispering winds
Stir the bone-bare trees
As a house sits dark and silent
Amidst the mournful breeze

Echoes of distant laughter
Hang in the empty air
A remnant of moments remembered
And the loved ones who’re no longer there

The grapevine grows long and forgotten
On crumbling walls of brick
While the grey grass waves bleak and haunting
Like a graveyard candlestick

Longing creeps soft and gentle
As I wander the empty rooms
Rememb’ring the ones now sleeping
In silent, time-weary tombs

The scent that I always remembered
Envelops me as I walk in
While the chairs stand quiet, inviting
As they were and always have been

The cane in the cobwebbed corner
The photographs scattered around
The records all lined up in orderly rows
Yet with silence their only sound

The jars of that last summer’s produce
The dust-covered books on the shelf
Sit as if all are just waiting
For time to unravel itself

Mem’ries haunt the dusty halls
Where now my footsteps tread
Lingering like a listless shade
Beside an empty bed

If I listen, I almost hear them
If I watch, I almost can see
The loved ones I knew in times long past
And the way things used to be

But silence is all that remains of them
The voices are all in my mind
Their laughter is all a sweet mem’ry
And emptiness all I will find

Time has its way of changing
The places I used to go
And age has its way of taking
Those I used to know

But good-bye is not forever
Someday again I will see
The ones I remember in the silent house
And ’till then, they live in me.

The Beauty of Language

The Trojan Horse

Today marked my third year to enter the annual creative writing contest here at my college, and I am pleased to announce that my poem, “Le Cheval de Troie”, won 2nd out of 18 poems entered in that category.

The funny thing about this poem is I don’t speak a bit of French. Well…not really. “Le Cheval de Troie” was an experiment of sorts, one that I still think turned out rather well. (And apparently the judge thought so, too).

The beauty of language is that it is always changing. As an English major/History minor in college, I’ve had the unique opportunity to spend hours upon hours studying the progression of language (namely English) as it has evolved over the centuries.

Though all languages have similarities and share similar words (particularly modern ones), English, especially American English, has one of the highest rates of language exchange of any language in use today. We say we speak English, but that’s because it’s easier than saying, “I speak a little bit of Anglo-Saxon, French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Gaelic, Arabic, Latin, Greek, etc. etc.” The words we use, even in everyday speech, are rarely what we would call “English” in the truest sense, meaning that a large portion of those words did not originate in England.

For instance, in 1066, William the Conqueror left Normandy (a region in France) and sailed to England, effectively usurping the English throne and bringing with him a tradition of French high culture and, more importantly, over 10,000 French words, of which 75% are still in common use today.

It was this fact that inspired me to begin researching familiar words of French origin and, in turn, inspired me to write “Le Cheval de Troie”. Of the 16 lines in the poem, there are 18 words or phrases that are of French or Anglo-Norman origin. I have added the poem to the end of this blog post with all the French and Anglo-Norman words bolded for your convenience.

Language. It’s a beautiful thing!

——————–

Le Cheval de Troie

A souvenir they thought it was
The vestige of the Greek barrage
There poised beyond the rampart
Like a grandiose, hooved mirage

The vermilion sun cast a hateful hue
Consuming as a hero’s pyre
The shadow of the effigy
And kindled like a fire

And against all good persuasion
The trammel they drew inside
Naïve they were of the menace
That here they stood beside

And left to wait in the sun’s decline
The pivot of fated law
The occupants of the city
Never knew le Cheval de Troie.

Blessed

As it has been what seems like forever and a day since I last blogged, I thought I’d post something here while I have a bit of internet and a chance to think. College most certainly doesn’t provide a lot of time for extra-curricular stuff, and usually when I have the time I don’t have the internet to blog.

Now for the interesting stuff. Last month was my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary, and I was asked to write a poem that would be read at the party. I spent weeks mulling over ideas, trying to come up with the perfect poem for my grandparents. My grandfather is a farmer; my grandmother was born and raised a country girl. My grandmother had practically raised me when I was little since she stayed at home and my parents worked. And of course, I had been my grandfather’s little shadow growing up. Surely I could come up with something.

It wasn’t until one day when I was hanging out with a friend that the idea hit me. I don’t remember the exact situation, but I do remember that we were talking about memories we had from when we were kids. Then I had made the comment, “When did we get older?”

I had to laugh when I thought about the comment. I thought about my grandparents and about how they acted just like kids even now. I could imagine that they were saying just about the same thing. And so I set to work writing this poem.

—————

Blessed

Picture frames like mirrors,
Reflections of the past,
That seem like only yesterday,
But time moves on so fast.

The babies in the cradle
Now have children of their own;
Each rosy cheek and playful grin
Reflect the seeds we’ve sown.

When did we grow older?
I don’t recall that time went by;
Here today and gone tomorrow
Like the clouds up in the sky.
But though I can’t recall each moment,
This I know is true:
I have cherished every second
I’ve been blessed to spend with you.

There’s one thing that I’m sure of:
It’s that the mirror must play tricks.
For I don’t remember hairs of grey
And brown now intermixed.

The corn rows do seem longer now.
I don’t travel them as fast.
And the floor now seems much further down
Than it was when I checked last.

When did we grow older?
I don’t recall that time went by;
Here today and gone tomorrow
Like the clouds up in the sky.
But though I can’t recall each moment,
This I know is true:
I have cherished every second
I’ve been blessed to spend with you.

Yesterday when we were young,
Do you remember how we played?
We were best friends then and ever,
And I’m so happy that we stayed.

It’s been 50 years and counting,
An adventure I won’t forget.
And just in case you’re wond’ring,
It’s one I won’t regret.

When did we grow older?
I don’t recall that time went by;
Here today and gone tomorrow
Like the clouds up in the sky.
But though I can’t recall each moment,
This I know is true:
I have treasured every second
I’ve been blessed to be with you.

Painted Faces

Among the many other things I have been up to this semester, I have been a part of the spring drama team here at my college. Our performances began last week, but our dress rehearsals started even before that. I have never been one to be particularly fond of make-up, and I despise hairspray, so my experience as part of the play cast has been very interesting. While thinking about this (a.k.a. dreading the make-up and hair-fixing part of this shindig), I also began to think about how I have tried, for so long, to be someone I am not. This was on the same day that I wrote “The Murder” so you can probably see the similarities in the poem in this post.

———————

Painted Faces

In crowded halls and city streets,
In town and country fair,
If you look, you’ll surely find
A crowd of actors there.

With mended hair and made-up face,
In colors of every hue,
A million lives, a million lies
Are now set up to view.

Their words rehearsed, their moves direct,
As though followed from a script,
And secret lives are hid inside
As though stashed within a crypt.

But if you look, you’ll no doubt see
The hints, still there but faint.
Just watch for secret moments;
You’ll see the soul behind the paint.

The Murder

It was my plan at one point to become a high school teacher, primarily because I have never believed that my dream of being a writer could ever be a reality. But being here in college, here with incredible, supportive professors and friends, I have come to the point where I have actually started believing that my dream could be a reality. But I have also learned something else, and this reality has struck me very hard within the past week. I have realized that, for many years, I have been trying to turn myself into someone I’m not, never believing that the real me could ever be accepted…by anyone. I have always believed that my dreams must always stay dreams and that the real me is someone only I can appreciate, someone who must stay behind closed doors, hidden from public view. I was really reflecting on this problem this afternoon, which, in turn, inspired this new poem. I haven’t quite figured everything out, and changing my behavior, learning to love and appreciate who I really am, will take time, but I know now that, at least, I need to start letting the real me shine. And while I’m working on that, I hope you enjoy this poem.

——————

The Murder

I have a secret I’ll never tell;
A secret sin, I know it well.
With ebbing life and crimson flow,
With painful death, I surely know,
My only victim you will find:
A girl of strength of heart and mind,
A girl of laughter, a girl with fears,
One who smiles despite her tears.
What makes her special I dare not know.
I resolve to kill her so she won’t grow.
I fear her laughter, I fear her pain;
I fear to know what people say;
What they might say if they saw her true,
I fear to know what they would do.
And so I kill her so they won’t see
The girl that lives inside of me.
I fear to let the real Me shine,
Yet still for her I yet will pine.
I’ve caged her up, I’ve gagged her face;
I’ve starved her soul, I’ve murdered her grace.
I’ve done all that I know I can
To hide her from the world of man,
Hoping that I never will see
The day when someone rejects Me.

Genetics

If there is one hobby that rivals my love for art and writing, it’s genealogy. I have spent years working on my family tree, tracking old family legends and searching through documents, following my ancestors through wars, immigration, scandals, and everything in between. I once had a fellow genealogist tell me that the only reason he did genealogy was so that he could find living relatives. After all, dead people are just dead people.

Tracking down estranged and distant family members is great, but I have found that researching my ancestors is just as rewarding and interesting. And, even though they are dead now, those people who passed on their looks, illnesses, and tendencies were all real, living, breathing people at one time. They had feelings; they had stories to tell. As a writer, I find that those stories are important to me. It was these people and the lives they led that played a part in making me who I am today.

It is a well-known fact that genetics plays a large role in a person’s life. You may have great-grandpa Peterson’s nose or your great-great-great-grandmother Taylor’s allergy to citrus fruit. But fewer people stop to think about how their talents can also be passed down through the generations.

It was this thought that struck home yesterday when I was going through a folder of my great-grandmother’s writings. I had heard, at one point or another, that she had written down a few family stories. What I didn’t know, however, was that she had a serious talent for poetry as well.

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Born into a farming family in 1912 and being the third oldest of ten children, my great-grandmother had plenty to talk about. Her stories range from one about a mountain lion invading a relative’s house to the more modern stories of how my grandma, her youngest child, liked to find pet kittens from amongst the feral feline population that lived on the brickyard where my great-grandfather worked.

My great-grandmother was devoutly religious and very hopeful. I often find that my own writing has a tendency to reflect her style, if not topic, on a regular basis. My memories of her are few and far between. I was still a very little girl when she died. But even then, in the memories I do have of her, she is always smiling.

Most of her writing has been lost to us. Between the dementia she had in the last years of her life, (she threw away a lot of stuff during that time), and the numerous robberies that took place once the old house was vacated, not much of her writing has been left behind. Of what is left, however, I now see a clearer picture of who my great-grandmother was as a person, and I understand more fully where I come from. My research has brought me closer to many family members, people I never got to meet, but one theme in almost all of my great-grandmother’s poetry, a hope that I dearly hold onto, is that some day, I will be able to meet them. Right now, however, I must be content to read and imagine what it would be like to see each one, loving who I am. Because, in the end, who I am is, for the most part, a piece of who they were, too.

—–

A poem by my great-grandmother, Edna Rabun. She dedicated it to her father.

Whip-poor-will’s Song

I sit here alone in the twilight,
While the world is hushed and still,
And I hear in the deepening shadows
The song of the Whip-poor-will.
Then in memory I’m carried backward
To a humble, sweet little home
Nestled close to the sheltering forest
‘Neath the lovely, star-sprinkled dome.

I think of those sweet days of childhood,
And the loved ones now far away.
How we’d sit on the doorstep together
And sing at the close of the day.
We’d search for the first star’s appearing,
A silvery dot in the blue;
Then count, as the darkening colors
Brought numberless glories to view.

Each night as we sat there together,
When the work of the day was o’er,
We heard nature’s evening chorus
Perform there before our door.
The old bullfrog by the brooklet
Sang the bass notes rich and deep,
And the katydid in the elm tree
Seemed singing her babies to sleep.

But the sound on those summer evenings
That I loved more than all the rest,
The sound that still brings back sweet memories
Of all that is dearest and best:
When I hear it, I feel a strange longing
Just to be a child there still,
And to hear from that same old doorstep
The song of the Whip-poor-will.

Oh! Many miles now separate us;
Oft we’re tired and careworn.
And a precious one is now sleeping,
To wake when Dear Jesus shall come.
All those children so happy and carefree
Are grown men and women now;
There are silver threads mid the blond and brown,
And furrows are masking each brow.

Tho the family circle is broken,
Oh may it be whole once more!
May we meet in the world recreated
On that sinless, glorious shore.
As we roam in the beauties of nature,
And hear birds carol praises still,
May we hear in that Beautiful Homeland
The song of the Whip-poor-will.

—–

For those who are interested, this is what a Whippoorwill sounds like.