All the Things You Are

November 24, 1955
To Allen on his Second Birthday

You’re a quaint, little elf
Dancing on your pink toes,
A gay, smiling rascal
As everyone knows.

You’re a tiny magician
With tricks up your sleeve,
An imp and an angel,
Such spells as you weave!

You’re a funny, old farmer
Who swaggers and sways,
A shrewd, little diplomat
Planning angles and ways.

Like Comet and Cupid
You’re quick as a flash.
Little Punkin, the kitten
You’re there in a dash.

You’re a dear, little boy
Full of laughter and fun
So to-day – Happy Birthday!
Just one year plus one.

With love, “Gramma”

The eighth, and last, in a series of my great-grandma’s poems. This one was written for my uncle (name changed above).

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Winter Evening

A clipper ship far out at sea,
A bowl of turquoise blue,
An old, brass jug from London Town,
Gay portieres quite new,
A singing hearth, a welcome lamp,
Books beckoning in a row
Make me stay home and laugh to hear
A wild Nor’easter blow.

The seventh in a series of my great-grandma’s poems.

Night Wind

Astride black stallions of the night
Fierce cowboy raiders
Sweep through the glen,
Whirling their mighty lariats around
The proudest branches of the elm.
Howling their glee they watch
This matriarch of forests
Until spent with her struggle
She bows, ashamed, defeated
Before her ancient foe.

Across the field fragile grass blades,
Trembling like silken steel
Cling to her who gave them birth,
Begging to escape the fury
Of a bandit’s lash.
Above, an old moan, jaded with too late hours
Yawns, sighs and feebly slips
Behind a laggard cloud,
Weary with watching these bullies
Who proudly stage their boisterous rodeo.

Sixth in a series of my great-grandma’s poems.

World Traveler

Our postman swings along the street
In rain and wind, in cold or heat.
Often he makes a short detour
Across some lot to a house demure.
Then off to a grand estate far back
He hurries again from his usual track.

When he grows weary of carrying mail,
(Just in his mind) he hoists a sail
Or boards a plane for realms afar
And travels to where his postmarks are.
New York – Chicago – What’s that? – Mexico!
An airmail letter! Of course he’ll go!

The fifth in a series of my great-grandma’s poems.

In the Gallery

I come each day to gaze upon your face
It is so fair, so gentle, so full of grace.
Your smile, your gesture cannot be denied.
The artist’s touch has made you come alive.
As if to speak those quiet lips are curved
And fantasy for me supplies the word.

I wonder if your artist knew
That you and I would have this rendezvous.

The fourth in a series of my great-grandma’s poems.

Garden Moods

Our garden is a tapestry
Of fragile, fay pastels
Woven on a giant loom
Where the rainbow fairy dwells.

Our garden is a bright, hooked rug
Spread out beneath the sky
Where lovely blossoms nod their heads
To let the breeze sail by.

Our garden is a patchwork quilt
Of lavender and blue
With appliqued forget-me-nots
That make a dream come true.

The third in a series of the great-grandma’s poems.

Sanctuary

Such beauty as an old cathedral wears,
Offering to clouds its gracious dignity,
Fashioned of brown and blood and women’s prayers,
Built to endure through an eternity.
At vesper time around these altars dim
Wayfaring pilgrims kneel in glad release.
Tapers are lighted while some ancient hymn
Throbs out its age-old ministry of peace.

So may a life its own cathedral mold,
Out of the past some sanctuary find,
Erect some altar where its prayers are told,
Guide other travelers to a faith enshrined.
Kneeling in twilight’s benediction ray,
Courage is found for yet another day.

The second in a series of my great-grandmother’s poems. 

Comparisons

Conan Doyle once wrote that “Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms.” In my case, the only art I’ve ever been halfway good at – writing – has a direct lineage, one which skipped over my grandfather (the soldier, the state trooper, the detective), my father (the athlete, the manager of all things), and his brothers (the policeman, the entrepreneur, and the traveler), and went directly to me and, thus far, only to me.  There’s a glimmer of it in my younger cousin, but she’s a far better visual artist than a writer, so it’s found a slightly different expression in her.  I never met my grandfather’s mother, but when I was younger (and just beginning to write) my grandmother, who liked to keep such things, gave me a sheaf of her poems.  I was going to school in Maine.  They’re housed in an off-white envelope, faded to softness; the delivery address, my home town’s community library, and the return address? Boston, Massachusetts, the area in which I’ve lived and worked for over 4 years now.  Another clue, another coincidence between my great-grandmother’s life and my own.  The only forms her poems take are twenty-some sheets of old paper on which her words have been carefully typewritten.  Some have been drawn over in pencil, the words changed here and there.  So, she worked in some of the same ways I do even now, I who insist, stubbornly, on hand-writing many of my early drafts. I want these to be around for a long time, so I’m putting them here and in a text file on my zip drive/the Google Drive cloud.  The only date I can find on them is coming up in a different poem, but let me say for now that they’re 50+ years old! And the author’s name was Mildred Wilson Smith, a licensed schoolteacher, who primarily taught English and in her retirement wrote poetry, presumably because she enjoyed it a great deal.

Finally, before I get to the poem, Mildred left me with a quote by Hilaire Belloc (a Catholic novelist. Oh, and by the way, I used to work at the archival library which holds the majority of his manuscripts – that’s in Boston as well): “From… first beginning,/Out to the undiscovered ends/Here’s nothing worth the wear of winning/But laughter and the love of friends.” – Verses (1910) “Dedicatory Ode”

***

Comparisons

Today the sky hands low
A great inverted mixing bowl.
The clouds, giant spoonsful of beaten eggwhite
Play tag with each other.
The wind, scolding and fault-finding at the window
Is an old woman who life dangles about on a worn ribbon
But will not let go.

Beside the fire sits memory, a sorry ghost
With all his data too carefully compiled.
While doubts are greedy moth-worms
Burrowing into the delicate fabric
Of my contentment.