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January 11, 2017

"The Witness"

The recent snow and ice have kept us inside much of the past few weeks. Winter is like that -- it insulates and isolates us in our homes, our cars and even our minds. Many people get 'a kind of modern cabin-fever' in the winter. Mostly, they call that SADD and intense bright lights try to compensate for the lack of sunlight. Since I moved to the rolling landscape of this area, Florida sunshine is the thing I miss most. The light here is different -- check out the photo on my blog front page -- with a coolness to it that never quite warms you up, even in summer. 

Over the past few months, I have been posting poems from "The Windwalker: Poems" with little narratives included that I would offer at a reading. The longest poem in the book is "The Witness." 

Like interior and exterior climate changes make a seasonal backdrop for our lives, the social climate of school, family and community create the setting of children's lives as Charles Schulz did in Charlie Brown cartoons. Real children hear what grownups say, watch what they do and feel their influence but through a kind of upside down funnel with children on the big end -- all that conversation, activity and intention come at children in an overwhelming sensory flood like the muted "wonk, wonk" of adults in Charles Schulz' cartoons. It's only later that we understand what was really happening in that adult world; what we witnessed. 

My childhood was during the forties, fifties and the earliest sixties. Yes, I went off to college in the early sixties but that young woman with so much ambition and determination on the outside carried that child who heard too much, saw too much and experienced too much of the adult world with her. 

Technically, "The Witness" is free verse and influenced by the Spenserian stanza style of "The Faerie Queen" although it doesn't follow that form -- no rhymes. Babies, I hope that our little "poetry workshops" add a bit to your encounter with each poem. Although I enjoy working with the "sense of place" in much of my work, in "The Witness" I explore the dichotomy in an era's sense of culture and community. 


                    
                      The Witness

At press time humans still gave birth to other
Humans. Please They were not “human-ed”
As in calved or fold-ed. Borne. Birthed. Born
Inside the pain of some other human being.
Being born gave pain to the “birthee” as well.
no. Birthing pain. Living pain. Dying Pain.
The exit form said to list all secrets known
About the human condition. Are secrets
Important, I asked? no more never again

In late August trees begged to be climbed. never
again Girls were not allowed to be the trail boss
When playing cowboys. Instead they owned the
The hotel in town. hold still After dark and on
Saturdays the roller rink opened its clapboard
Awning panels, music glided out, people
Spun round and round in twos and threes back
talk! The people at the Pentecostal Apostolic
Holiness Tabernacle cranked open their
  
Blue-white mottled casement windows and propped
Doors wide for new air. Everyone who passed
By or sat on front porches after skate-outs
Saw them rolling around and heard their swoons
And tongues speaking. no one will come scream all
you want They prayed to cure giant Lukey Browne
Who was retarded and clumsy from eating
Green grapes they said. His sister drowned in July. 
When late September afternoons rolled around,

The sun skated west; honey-hued rye seeds
Waited for that light and winter wheat warmed
To sprout. Across the river bottomland
Harsh winds blew golden-ripe shafts of rye, hay
Or wheat; they swayed and beckoned joy that came.
Never tell me no again Fisher’s hardware
Store plunked Halloween pumpkins in assorted sizes,
Tin pails with straps in its front window ledge with leaf
Rakes and ten-pound bags of fertilizer.

Winds howled from the north. The high school football
Team won sometimes and the band bus pulsated
To and from away games. On Mondays the whole
School buzzed about the band bus even if
The team won. Shy players smiled sideways grins,
Eyes shining. suffer the little children McKinley’s
Garden Center held a November holiday kick-off 
And icy winds blew snow flakes into eyelashes.
 i’ll hit you until you do cry After Thanksgiving,

Housedogs wore sweaters for night walks. Outside
Dogs got new hay for their houses; backyard 
Rhubarb and asparagus stumps nestled
Beneath dry straw. Paperboys donned last year’s
Christmas gloves, hats and wooly scarves, collected
Bills on Friday nights; warm air escaped and
Their eyeglasses frosted at opened kitchen doors.
some men stabbed him by the backwater Saturday’s
Enchanted radio brought Big John and Sparky
  
From Cincinnati; then, “Texaco Presents:
The Metropolitan Opera from New York.”
Houses smelled like vegetable soup and mittens
Steaming on a furnace grate. you’re no better than
what you came from Christmas vacation came just
About the time volunteer firefighters set up
Their tree lot outside the grade school. Big
Spruce trees invaded rooms like grandmas on
Buses with shopping bags. One bubble green

Light always flowed behind mashed tensile, silver.
Copper’s never closed their beer joint early even on 
Christmas Eve Heavy snow on New Year’s Day
Was a sure thing. jukebox honky tonk music came
out the doors when drunks came and went If
Ice spears hung off the roof to the window sash,
Old Mrs. James canceled school. Ice grew
Up thin wavy glass and February
Made puddles wet the lace curtains yellow.
  
Mrs. Ball’s third grade class transformed oat and
Corn meal boxes with cutout red hearts
On paper lace ones under smudged glue layers.
don’t think too much missy Old folks talked of
Mr. Clark’s pigs loose on Route 60 in ‘35’s flood
And when the river froze. After chemical
Plants brought work to the valley the river
Never froze again and the corps of federal
Engineers built a lock on the river. toxic

dumping is harmful to children and other
living things Mrs. Tatske’s fifth-graders
Churned milk into butter in a glazed urn.
Benny Shepherd and Donnie Dark had the
Strongest arms and churned most. The Korean
Conflict, adults said, wasn’t a real war
So teachers didn’t discuss it in school.
he’s drunk and ‘ll kill you all Teachers said
Those communist reds had to stay at the thirty-
  
Eighth parallel on the exact opposite side
Of earth from their school. A few men returned
But most stayed away. Vietnam split in ‘54
Into North and South like America had once.
the mps pounded on the door with their rifle
butts and dragged him across the front porch
Brown vs. the United States of America kept
The country separated. don’t walk in front
of the mayor’s house men get moonshine

bet on dice and cards he’s in the clan they watch
people. Donnie Dark’s strong arms helped men break
Into a warehouse that spring and no one
At his school ever saw him again. Mrs. Johanson
Sent sixth-graders to regard the body
Of Johnny Bing’s father who died in a
Mine cave-in. god won’t help you The sixth-grade
Recruits filed past Mr. Bing whose death man-
Dated a home viewing. Johnny’s family
  
Moved away the next week to Tennessee.
call on someone you know On school snow days
Levin’s furniture store’s cardboard mattress
Cartons morphed into toboggans. High school
Kids trudged up the slope above the creek at
Burning Springs hill for one more outrageous
Ride until the cartons shredded about two-thirty.
A snow day tastes like hot chocolate made
From cocoa powder, sugar, canned milk, water,

And, a little vanilla, if you have it.
Melting March delivered grass in a shade even
Gargantuan crayon selections never match
Exactly. The wind blew strong every day.
Benny got a loaded turquoise Crown Vic
For his sixteenth birthday and died on Dead-
Man’s Curve the same year. when you get to be
sixteen he’ll come back for you Sixteen-year-old
Girls listened to Cincinnati jazz radio all night,
  
Read Steinbeck, Updike, Eliot, Fitzgerald.
They went to sleep when the birds got up. James
Dean died. Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable
Made their last movie The Misfits.Who knew
That wild mustangs were symptoms? One fine day
President Kennedy promised Vietnamese
People communism wouldn’t find life
In their country. don’t you look at me like that
Billy Boyd, the language conqueror, went

First. April Fool’s Day dumped snow before
The wind howled. he’ll put you to work for him After
Billy, many boys signed up for a new life
As soldiers. Maybe some were born again.
Many never came home and those who did
Were different men. don’t make me use this knife
The Greyhound bus station sits right between
Levin’s and Rice’s Drug Store where buses
Stopped twice a day. Lilac bushes bloomed full 
  
Near the river in Mrs. Carrico’s
Garden; dewy fragrance kissed the ground
Before Decoration Day. if you ever come back
I’ll kill you She bought a ticket for any place else,
Placed her white windbreaker on the empty
Seat beside her and watched night whiz by out
The dark window. She placed her heart inside
The perpetual witness protection
Program of quiet anonymity.

                         Dixie G. Golden
                        From “Wingwalking: Poems” © 2011