Caught Up in the Air

Ford 8 N

Ford 8 N

A dozen or more three hundred year old black oaks spread
over the top of the south side hill of our farm
a two acre pasture on top &
our house sat on the edge and overlooked a small
twenty acre valley bottom with a creek & across it
was a similar hill of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir
to complete the farms north edge as a cross section
of a small valley running from our house south/north

One afternoon after school when I was 14
I walked out through the oaks to find my Grandfather
a man in his early eighties, he had turned the
place into a farm in only about four years

It was his son’s farm who owned a business
in town and twenty miles away, my grandfather had
used his own money, to build a lambing shed, then
chicken coops, then a substantial barn, and a half acre
garden down by the creek that was irrigated
by a pump and sprinkler and we all ate
very well and the tractor was an important tool

Every day in his sweat stained straw
cowboy hat he was on his son’s Ford 8N tractor
to the garden, the sheep shed, the creek,
& when I went looking for him my radar
was set for the Ford tractor

The tractor was the 20 team of mules
he used to own when he was
a successful farmer on the Great Plains
& he had started as a cowboy breaking horses for a living
& was at the door of change from horse drawn everything
to tractors, & power from oil
that began to feed the world
shortly before, banks and the great depression
ended all that for him

For our little farm, the tractor plowed, the tractor fertilized, the tractor planted,
the tractor cut hay, the tractor raked hay, and the tractor bailed hay
the tractor hauled hay, the tractor mixed cement,
the tractor toted injured animals,

I found him sitting on a 5 gallon bucket
his hat on his knee & embarrassment on his face
a look I’d never seen before from
the most affable man I’d ever known
“Oh Jimmy,” he sighed, “You have to do something for me,”

He had left the Ford tractor out of gear and did
not set the brake while he got off to do some chore &
the 8N had rolled down the hill…

The hill had about a 70 percent slope
& almost a straight drop got it going at such a high rate of
speed that when it hit the bottom it actually bounced
over a fence at the bottom of the hill and while airborne
hit the pasture & bounded over another small
hill by the apple trees and rolled out but not over
into the fresh green pasture;
beside the still slough where bull frogs were
letting go in their slow & late afternoon jug-a-rums
& I by his narrative, I was now looking down wide eyed overthe hill
& out to where, yes in the green pasture—thered tractor was sitting motionless

“I’d like you to go down there,” he said pointing but looking away, “and if there is nothing
wrong with it, drive the tractor back up here and never-tell-my-son-that-this-ever-happened.”

I went over the top of this steep hill side amazed & imagining again
the trajectory and the perfect angle of descent that kept
the 8N from turning over and fully expected something broken
as his narrative told of a loud noise when it hit
the bottom of the hill, before it leapt the fence

& yes, I was wishing I’d seen it happen, but
when I got to it I could not see anything broken & I touched
the button starter next to the gear shift,
it fired up and I drove it back up the 100 year old
road bed that was at one time the road from Medford
to Prospect, that now let us take a long gentle slope up
and down to our house and farm, &
he was relieved & I never told his son of the driverless 8N’s wild ride

Another afternoon when I was 17, I found him on the
concrete floor of the barn having fallen and broken
his hip while tending an animal, I gently got him
In the carry-all I attached to the back of the tractor
& very slowly got him to the house, before dark where
I called and we waited for an ambulance, to come twenty miles from town
& they operated & pinned his hip
& told him he’d never walk again.

Before he left the hospital he told me that was bullshit
and he’d be walking on a plane to fly to Kansas, as he was determined not
to die in Oregon as he thought they might bury him there,
& he mended, in a hospital bed in our living room, started out on crutches
& progressed to a walker, & then two canes & then to one

That next fall I and a neighbor killed three nice bucks
across the creek where I knew they could be waylaid
& I drove them back draped over the tractor
up the old Prospect road past our house where
my grandfather was standing on the back patio watching
us return & he raised one of his canes
and brandished it in the air, as we drove past.

That next spring I accompanied him to the
airport and saw him walk with one cane up onto a 727
& as he got to the door he turned around
& waved his Stetson hat down at me on the tarmac,
& then slowly turned around in his cowboy boots
& entered the jet to be caught up in the air & I never saw him again.

The Red Gate

That last time I was to the farm
where running through creeks, chasing
small birds and my imagination,
I had grown up
there was a red gate my Grandfather had built

Much of the paint had blistered and peeled
as its weight had pulled the corner post
forward toward the earth that it also
had leaned for, still functional but barely so

Fashioned with boards and bolts that
had gone through hand augured holes by
brace and bit—I still remember
that tools’ shininess from years of use

The gate separated the farm from
an adjacent well-to do horse ranch
where fine Arabians pawed at the
sawdust in tight functional stalls

North of the gate had been our barn
that burned several winters before the funeral
all the animals had gotten out & though
the gate was only five feet away it stood,
a bit charred still, & latched to the fence

It had swung open mostly for bartered loads
of hay and occasionally for myself, to get closer
to a fox or deer in the next field and sometimes
to deliver Christmas cakes to affluent neighbors

The farm changed hands to distant relations
by marriage; who after the funeral came offering
condolences and money — I stood there looking
at its form as the content of memories, of ghosts,
of the distance of wealth, of long ago laughter
of a presence of sorrow the screeched
like a rusty hinge

Thomas Merton— from Theology of Creativity

thomas merton

Excerpted from an essay which first  appeared in 1960 in  The American Benedictine Review. 

The creativity of the Christian person must be seen in relation to the creative vocation of the new Adam, mystical person of the “whole Christ.” The creative will of God has been at work in the cosmos since he said: “Let there be light.”  This creative fiat was not uttered merely at the dawn of time. All time and all history are a continued, uninterrupted creative act, a stupendous, ineffable mystery in which God has signified his will to associate man with himself in his work of creation. The will and power of the Almighty Father were not satisfied simply to make the world and turn it over to man to run it as best he could. The creative love of God was met, at first, by the destructive and self-centered recusal of man: an act of such incalculable consequences that it would have amounted to a destruction of God’s plan, if that were possible. But the creative work of God could not be frustrated by man’s sin. On the contrary, sin itself entered into the plan. If man was first called to share in the creative work of his heavenly Father, he now became involved in the “new creation,” the redemption of his own kind and the restoration of the cosmos, purified and transfigured, into the hands of the Father. God himself became man in order that in this way man could be most perfectly associated with him in this great work, the fullest manifestation of his eternal wisdom and mercy.

The Literary Essays of Thomas Merton,  New Directions

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C. S.Lewis—Heaven

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis

We are very shy nowadays of even mentioning heaven. We are afraid of the jeer about ‘pie in the sky’, and of being told that we are trying to ‘escape’ from the duty of making a happy world here and now into dreams of a happy world elsewhere. But either there is ‘pie in the sky’ or there is not. If there is not, then Christianity is false, for this doctrine is woven into it’s whole fabric. If there is, then this truth, like any other, must be faced, whether it is useful at political meetings or no. Again, we are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man’s love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by definition, seeks to enjoy it’s object. You may think that there is another reason for our silence about heaven—namely, that we do not really desire it. But that may be an illusion. What I am now going to say is merely an opinion of my own without the slightest authority, which I submit to the judgement of better Christians and better scholars than myself. There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else. You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that. Again, you have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all your life; and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw—but at the first words a gulf yawns between you, and you realise that this landscape means something totally different to him, that he is pursuing an alien vision and cares nothing for the ineffable suggestion by which you are transported. Even in your hobbies, has there not always been some secret attraction which the others are curiously ignorant of—something, not to be identified with, but always on the verge of breaking through, the smell of cut wood in the workshop or the clap-clap of water against the boat’s side?

Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it—tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest—if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound it’self—you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.’ We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.

This signature on each soul may be a product of heredity and environment, but that only means that heredity and environment are among the instruments whereby God creates a soul. I am considering not how, but why, He makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you. The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key it’self a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you—you, the individual reader, John Stubbs or Janet Smith. Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another’s. All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction. The Brocken spectre ‘looked to every man like his first love’, because she was a cheat. But God will look to every soul like it’s first love because He is it’s first love. Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it—made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.

Lewis, C. S. (1940). The Problem of Pain (pp. 148-152). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

We were criminals

Willard’s great Uncle Carl had died the night before
& that same night my own Aunt Pat
Who had raised me from nine years on, passed..
Willard’s great uncle Carl had raised
Willard’s Dad & his Uncle Buck,
Both of these men had dropped from black night sky
Into Normandy, as paratroopers to liberate France

Thirteen days later my father drove a tank
onto the Norman beach for same purpose

& they all made it back, after putting fear
In the hearts of Hitler’s supermen,
Willard senior to fall timber all his life
& Buck to run his cows every summer
In the High Cascades, my father drilled oil wells

We’d somehow met up that night &
With differently the same kind of memories
& grief in our hearts we drank beer,
With our pizza at a parlor, that had been a pasture
Back in high school

Cops came in later & thought
Our demeanor somehow unfit
& being new & not knowing us as locals decided
We were criminals,
This decision struck both of us
As remarkable & when
The cops followed us into the restroom
As we were departing
We had words with them..
& we were not kind
& left them bristling as we
Got into Willard’s old ’59 Chevy
With its sideways teardrop tail lights

I told Will, ‘ We’ve not seen the last of these pricks,’
We were 70s hippies then, & I hid our pot deep
Under the car seat when we left the parking lot

One mile out of town they pulled us over,
Spot-light on us & a bullhorn
Ordering us out of the car..
I could hear the tremolo of a wavering voice
Behind the blinding light & over the
Baseness of the bull horn &
Over the roof of the car,
I loudly told Will to move slowly..
As I knew they had guns on us..
& they did..

Twenty years later I’d been hunting ducks
With Willard’s brother Greg on Nygren’s Reservoir
& afterwards we went to the old homestead,
That his Uncle Carl had left
Only shortly before His death
& the old family farm had since sold to a cattle company,
& cattle men had not gotten around to razing the place
& no one had lived there in that time
Pots & pans still hung on a wall
Above the wood cook stove, & the old man’s long johns
Creased with 20 years of gravity hung in the bedroom
From the hook in the wall
& a dusky-footed wood rat had mounded
A large four-foot high stick nest
That covered all of Greg & Willard’s old Uncle Carl’s bed
Golden light diffused through the old house that fall afternoon
& the long empty bedroom, with a few pictures &
A calendar on the wall from 1965 &
I found this sight hauntingly beautiful

& yes, the cops were afraid of us that night
Thirty-six years ago..

I saw Ted Barr smiling..

Oil painting by Ted Bar 3/87--James Kelly collection

Oil painting by Ted Bar 3/87–James Kelly collection

I saw Ted Barr smiling
That self-assured smile that Teddy smiled
Full of himself and his friends
I saw Ted Barr smiling down a long shot freeze frame
off the railroad tracks from the back of the Hersey street house
Where you could see half way through this little jumbled up town
I saw Ted Barr smiling at an empty paint spattered easel
And the guitar stand standing now on Union street
But I saw Ted Barr smiling from Clancy’s Pub
In Dublin town and I saw Ted Barr smiling
in the Log Cabin on the Plaza & the “Good” Club &
I saw Ted Barr smiling at the oars in the small row boat
through the morning mist and the glass surface of Immigrant Lake
I saw Ted Barr smiling now a true new immigrant on the shore we have yet to go.
It’s where I saw Ted smiling on his friends that loaded Teddy grin..
I saw that smile on Skidmore street where a brush with death
Brought on an on rush of oil and sweat and sweet fullness and life, lugubrious
Thighs and breast and haunch and thigh and pert cheeked tongued
Women on canvass, I saw Ted Barr smiling on oil and death and long legged
Sex in our life’s dance on pity and blood and the half-light of the last of the last
Summer of a Century of so damn much pain –I saw Ted Barr smiling
Teddy who’d never got caught in the cob web of what ‘ought’ to be
I saw Ted Barr smiling at the piano keyboard on Union street
I saw Teddy smiling the blues, I saw Ted smiling at us
I saw Ted Barr smiling at his one true piece of art— his own Amanda
Proud father he was I saw Ted Barr smiling at us that loaded fat Teddy grin
& I can’t pound these keys hard enough to let you know that howling wolf growl
because I saw Ted Barr smiling…

teddy 2

A Psalm

I’ve been excited by women
in libraries
followed movements with
my eyes as a sail fills
with wind and felt the jolt
like a prow taking
its cut through a wave

I’ve been excited by women
in libraries
whose slow surreptitious movements,
the turn of an ankle
short measured steps in high heels
a twist of mouth
a glance at a book shelf
or through it

I’ve been excited by women
in libraries
whose silent voices echo chapters
of humility and respect
as peasant dresses
and pigtails flow by with ghosts
of Marilyn Monroe movie memories
and placid book cover art

"Marilyn at Forty" Oil painting by Ted Barr

“Marilyn at Forty” Oil painting (1986) by Ted Barr
James Kelly Collection

I’ve been excited by women
in libraries
rolling book carts to proper shelves
cataloging history and
time and gossip and art

I’ve been excited by women
in libraries
crossing legs out of terry cloth dresses with
rouged cheeks and
red elevated lips
taking a book inward
with focus and cognition
while red hair
and white thighs exude
auras of creation

I’ve been excited by women
in libraries
as if Sapphos’ lost poems
appeared while I wait for
a tall dark haired woman
to find me here between
stolid wooden shelves
where dreams meet the sea
and hearts have tried
to expose the sky

I’ve been excited by women
in libraries
and have turned pages
of desire toward islands of thought
where there are
rose petaled shores
of sure goodness
and love

William Douglas on Church and State

William O. Douglas 1898-1980

William O. Douglas 1898-1980

On April 28, 1952, in the decision of the Supreme Court of   the United States in Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952), in   which school children were allowed to be excused from public   schools for religious observances and education, Justice William   O. Douglas, in writing for the Court stated:

‘The First Amendment, however, does not say that in every and all respects   there shall be a separation of Church and State. Rather, it   studiously defines the manner, the specific ways, in which there   shall be no concern or union or dependency one on the other. That   is the common sense of the matter. Otherwise the State and religion would be aliens to each other – hostile, suspicious, and   even unfriendly. Churches could not be required to pay even   property taxes. Municipalities would not be permitted to render   police or fire protection to religious groups. Policemen who   helped parishioners into their places of worship would violate   the Constitution. Prayers in our legislative halls; the appeals to the Almighty in the messages of the Chief Executive; the   proclamations making Thanksgiving Day a holiday; “so help me God”   in our courtroom oaths – these and all other references to the Almighty that run through our laws, our public rituals, our   ceremonies would be flouting the First Amendment. A fastidious   atheist or agnostic could even object to the supplication with   which the Court opens each session: “God save the United States and this Honorable Court.”