Posts Tagged ‘death’

Their Last Full Measure of Devotion

May 28, 2017

In the novel King of Soul, which I have recently published, college students Donnie and Kevin take an impulsive road trip to Kevin’s home in Ohio. This happens in early May of 1970. While  on the road in Tennessee, they pick up Ed, a hitchhiker. Ed has been honorably discharged from military service in Vietnam only three weeks ago.  In chapter 23, we find  Donnie and Kevin accompanying Ed to a bar in Nashville:

       At the China Beach bar and grill in downtown Nashville, Donnie and Kevin tagged along while Ed linked up with a buddy of his from the war.

       Sled was a sort of hillbilly with a twist. His West Virginia upbringing had been traumatized in a snow-sledding accident that happened when he was ten years old. In a head-on collision with a pine tree, a low branch had penetrated his left cheek. A scar that resulted from the surgery gave the appearance of a question mark on the left side of his face. From his teen years onward, all John’s people called him “Sled” because of what had happened to him in a sledding accident when he was a kid.

       Ed and Sled had become friends at Fort Hood, Texas, before they both went to Vietnam. They were assigned to the same Company, but different platoons. On this particular evening , Sled and Ed were having beer and burgers as they celebrated the fact that they both had survived Vietnam. This was the first time they had seen each other since both were honorably discharged. Donnie and Kevin listened intently as Sled reported to Ed the account of how their CO, Lt. Gary, had fallen in battle only 11 months ago.

       Sled explained that, in a strategy to avoid group casualties, Lt. Gary had his men spread out as they were advancing down a jungle hillside.  Three dozen soldiers had distanced themselves from each  other, and each man was walking alone.  The radio man reported that an NVA encampment was below them, but the exact location had not yet been determined.

       Delta company was thus strung out for a mile or more. When their point guys reached the bottom, they caught sight of evidence of the enemy bunkers above them, up on the north side. Sergeant Charles halted his men at a covered spot.  He knew they were near the enemy because, he said, he could smell their rice cooking; but as he took a few steps to obtain a better view of the area in question,  suddenly he was struck with a bullet. It hit him in the abdomen;. Within seconds, an assault by automatic weapons erupted  somewhere northward and above them, with what sounded like AK-47 fire.

Sgt. Charles did not make it home alive from Vietnam.

On this Memorial Day, 2017, we remember Charles and the other 54,000 American soldiers who never got back here to taste the good life of the dear ole US of A. We appreciate that these men and women sacrificed their last full measure of devotion so that we we can live free.

VietMem2

King of Soul

March 14, 2017

March 14, 2017

Why the Diagonal, y’all?

TreeDiag

Because it’s the shortest distance

between two

points?

or

because what goes up must come

down?

or

to break up the conformism of these trunkated

lines?

or

because it

snowed?

or

because this old tree was just ready to begin its

fall?

DiagTree

or

because its time had come, y’all?

or

because that’s

all

she wrote

or

maybe it was just the final

call,

from seed to tall

from spring to fall.

It could happen to us

all,

y’all.

From seed to fall,

that’s all?

Prob’ly not,

I do believe.

SeedEating

You?

Glass half-Full

Tear me up.

March 7, 2017

FalnTre3

Tear me up, life,

just tear me up,

stomp on me if you want to

pick me up and throw me ‘cross the world.

I don’t care.

Go on now,

get on with it.

Watch me like a hawk,

and when I’m at my tenderest,

most vulnerable point,

pounce!

Take your best shot!

What you do not see

is the One who died for me.

His sacrifice has made all the difference,

and will yet again

when I rise with Him.

So just get along now.

Go find someone else to pick on.

You think I don’t see you.

But I do.

And I will.

IrisB2

Glass half-Full

Coast

October 5, 2016

Clear

Coast is clear

life is dear

without fear

now and here

World turns round

up turns down

some get lost, others found

life goes back to ground

Build the town

structures up, but they’ll come down

lots of noise, then dearth of sound

still the world goes round and round

Another day, another turn

some will learn; some will burn

many earn and some discern

still the world doth turn and turn

Clouds rise up

life is tough

times get rough

lose some stuff

When all is said and done

we live and walk and speak and run

we feel pain but we find fun

until this present day is done.

What then?

Do it all again?

How about find a friend

in the one who died and rose again.

Cloud

Glass half-Full

Ole Uncle Sammy

April 18, 2016

My uncle Sammy worked hard; he worked every day.

He made good money, and he put some away.

He made a good living; but then he got older

Ole Sam carried the weight of this world on his shoulders.

WorldWait

I was told that in his gathering of wealth,

he had worked the land, done well, and maintained his health.

He managed to save a little more than he needed

so he squirreled it in the bank where his fortune was seeded.

WellsFarg

He figured, you know, everybody’s got to eat

so he opened a burger joint, it was quite a feat,

because his humble, capital enterprise

eventually become a growing franchise.

BurgerOld

And in America, you know, everyone wanted wheels,

so Sammy expanded into more wheels and big deals;

he got things going, built up a good team;

he was riding in style, living the dream.

CarOldIntr

But then ole uncle Sammy, one day, up and died,

so we laid him aside; he went out with the tide,

No longer an icon on tracebook, nor twittee,

maybe we’ll see him in eternity city.

CityBay

Glass half-Full

The Scarecrow some of us have known

March 11, 2016

We put ashes of my nephew away yesterday, in the cold ground. It was a sad event, tragic that a young man could strive through the difficult decade of being between age 20 and 30, only to have it end abruptly.

Searching for love, with a false start or two, and fathering two young ones into this world along the way, Erik had just started to turn the corner between bittersweet street and true love way with his very own soulmate, Nora. Then he passed away. Absolutely no one was expecting it. It was a tragedy for our large extended family. On a perfect March day, we put what was left of his earthly remains away, but not the memories.

His sister Samantha, my niece, pierced the hearts of us all with her tender remembrance of Erik’s life–his unique presence in the history of our world, his wry humor, his fierce determination to provide for the young family despite all the pitfalls of finding and retaining work in this fiercely competitive world. More importantly though, his sister brought to our gathered attention his intense love for his children, his blooming love with his newfound bride of five months. And then his sister mentioned the bluebird.

In many ways, the young man who passed reflected the troubles of our times. At age 30, he was a tender shoot, untimely snipped by death’s sharp shearing. In sibling Samantha’s sensitive eulogy, she explained why Erik called his wife, his true love, “bluebird.”

It was a reference to a very timely, profound love song by a young singer I had never heard of. But at the memorial ceremony, a recording of the ballad was played for us to hear as we reflected up the life and childlike legacy of the deceased.

As an aging songwriter of sorts myself, I was struck dumb with admiration when this line–about the power that is unleashed in a lonely heart when absolute love is at last discovered– poured out of the sedate funeral home sound system:

“In my heart stands a scarecrow, and if he’s hurt he doesn’t say so; he chases everything he loves away.

But at night, when it’s colder, there’s a bluebird on his shoulder, and he whispers that he’ll hold her one bright day. . .”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WfwNwjbbpA

Such a love song I have never heard. And such a life as Erik’s will never again be lived again. John Fulbright’s tender love tune came to my attention through this memorial to Erik, his beloved widow Nora, and his sister’s remembrance of it all. The song, linked above, captures more than I could ever explain in words.

Thank you, Sam, for sharing this rich love of life lived by your brother, which has now been passed to us by his passing.

Glass half-Full

Allies in History

July 9, 2015

The Charger rides out upon a cusp of history’s advance

with zeal that flashes in his hand,

brandishing our great weapon of destiny

that had earlier been forged

upon the anvil of progress.

Logan1

He’s duty-bound on pushing the envelope of change

through yonder canyon of chaos, or mountain of

justice, whichever comes forth first.

His steed, chomping at the bit to yank upon the seams

of troublous times,

rips out the evil twins of lethargy and lies, and

by opposing ends them

for a while.

MarqJoliet

Yon Paxateer, on the other hand,

is methodical and principled.

He summons forth coalitions of belief,

taming methods of madness,

crossing rivers of patient sadness.

His armature has accumulated in the crucible of time

from the residue of our Charger’s blood,

and the aggregate left behind when women toil

and men do sweat

for all the progress mankind can get,

although we are not there

yet,

if ever shall we be.

 

Together, between them,

among them and in spite of them,

the wisdom of the ages settles in,

if there is such a thing.

For history is not yet written,

nor the evils that beset men smitten

until the sands of time

are deposited on this body of mine

and yours.

WavArt6u

King of Soul

the Irish I knew

May 9, 2015

AshWall

Born into this world seventeen days

before the crash of ’29,

he was a contender,

a fight’n man,

not a troublemaker, mind you, but

you knew what I mean;

life’s no bowl of cherries, and for a while

it was like him against the world,

even later on, after the War,

to keep his family fed and well-heeled.

He never kiss’d no blarney stone, him,

nor anybody’s arse.

It was a hard world he came into

a Jersey boy

hard work’n man

with a woman who loved him his whole

dam life, and the Church to

back him up, as he needed so much

grace and mercy

to balance out his rude legacy upon the world.

Oh, he was a well-built man, stronger than Ulysses

and pretty dam smart too, an engineer.

A man who built bridges,

although he might have burned a few too

if you know what I mean.

Hell, it was men like him who built

America.

So here we stood today in southern shade

gentle breeze blow’n from somewhere far away

eighty-six years after the fact

of his life, which has passed into eternity.

The nine+ souls gather’d round,

grown up now and left behind

to contend as he did with every dam thing that’s wrong

with this world.

Now here’s the dear friar waiting patiently,

in gentle character so different from the fierce Catholic whose ashes now

we set aside, to await the great awakening,

the communion of the saints,

a big host of them, raised up

by the nail-scarred hands of Him upon that cross

hung there upon the nearby wall.

 

All these living offspring, celebrants of their father’s recent

life,

hard workers,  nine of ’em.

They don’t make ’em like that any more–

all of ’em stay’n ahead of the game

keep’n up with the Joneses,

aint no potato famine go’n tie them down.

And the Franciscan here, like Francis himself,

so  different from

the Irishman I loved– rough around the edges he was–

when in those last days he’d alienate

his attendants at the nursing home with his

racist nuances that could never really despoil

his helpless heart of love.

He so needed the grace and mercy

of the One who went to the cross for him,

and who went for me too.

Now we’re standing here with St. Francis

with knots in his waist-rope

and I wonder what the knots signify

but it doesn’t matter compared to eternity

of which I’m reminded, as this gentle breeze with bird sing’n,

and it makes me think of the day his daughter my wife and me,

we went

to Assisi, over there in the old world

and now I’m think’n of this new pope and

how long its been since I was a Catholic.

But that’s okay. It’s all good. I’m saved by the blood of the Lamb

and he is too.

Here these ashes inside a brass box

AshBox
ashes hidden from me, not like those

smeared upon the heads of Irish on how-many Ash Wednesdays

since the day of Calvary.

We’ll be there with him, and with  his bride

by ‘n by, you and I.

 

Smoke

While flying over the Alps. . .

March 25, 2015

Yesterday I heard the sad news about a German airliner that crashed over the French Alps. 150 people were killed.

When I heard about the crash, I thought about my daughter. In a few hours, she would be getting on an airplane to fly from San Francisco back here to North Carolina.

Will she be safe?

Don’t even think about it. Just pray.

As I write this, our other daughter is settling into a long trans-Pacific flight that will land her ultimately in Vanuata, the tiny island nation recently devastated by a hurricane.

Will she be safe?

Don’t even think about it. Just pray.

I’ve been thinking of a line in an old song from John Denver, singing about a plane trip . . .

“it’s a long time from this place to Denver, a long time to hang in the sky.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VATSdTRtK

Being a songwriter myself, I have always appreciated that line. . . a long time to hang in the sky. . .

How many people are hanging in the sky right now, at this moment?

How many people in the world are waiting at airport gates, about to walk onto an airplane. How many are walking through the aisle looking for their seat, then stuffing the walk-on bag in the overhead, having a seat, and . . .

and what?

We never think about what might happen, or what might not happen. We politely ignore the flight-crew’s recorded instruction about flight safety and emergency procedures.

Forget about it. If this thing goes down from 30,000 feet, what are the chances its anything but goodbye cruel world?

Don’t even think about it. Just pray.

Just about six weeks ago, my wife and I were hanging in the sky, high above the Alps, on a flight from Athens to London.

I snapped this picture:

AlpValyGood2
Two days ago, Tuesday morning, 150 travelers were sitting in their assigned seats, expecting to leave Barcelona, expecting to glide over the Alps like nothing happened and then land in a few hours in Dusseldorf.

But they never arrived.

Don’t even think about it.

Flying has always been a kind of escape for me. But the opportunity comes only every now and then, when my wife makes plans with elaborate arrangements for some exotic travel. In between those occasional, adventurous flights of our life, I have embarked on flights of fancy about getting on a jet plane, flying into the wild blue yonder to distant lands. Many a cold, crisp winter morning here in the Appalachian mountains, I would steal a few  daydreaming moments from my maintenance job, gazing up at sky, seeing white jet-trails that criss-cross against brilliant blue sky, wishing I were on a jet plane, flying over an ocean, maybe over the Alps, then having dinner that evening with my wife in some faraway place.

And we have actually done that, many times, because Love is a wonderful thing; we celebrate it as often as we can, by traveling together.

But we always got there, to our destination; and we have always returned home after a week or two.

We never crashed.

Don’t even think about it.

Upon hearing, yesterday morning, about the flight that crashed in the Alps, I was sad.

This evening, two days later, an old song, old sad song, is streaming through my head. It’s a song about a man who was at an airport, but he did not get on a plane:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OCnHNk2Hac

There’s a line in this song that I’ve always liked, although I have no idea why.

“.  .this old airport’s got me down; it’s no earthly good to me, ’cause I’m stuck here on the ground. .”

But in some cases, the ones who never got on the plane would be lucky ones.

You never know. . .you never know. . . Don’t even think about it.

Just pray, today.

 

Smoke

Life cycle of Art

March 1, 2015

Oh, wintry flakes pile up on our dwelling place

while summer’s green be gone with little trace

until one day stalactite ice gets a grip,

and another day begins to drip.

IciTreeSky

Soon the forest floor, laid with humus deep

will send up shoots and begin to peep;

from little bits and bites that life discarded long ago

life will resume its spritely show.

Mushrm4

Then peeps pop up from forest floor,

their thriving purpose soon to restore;

with us inside our dwelling safe and sound

this man considers what is all around.

ReaderStatu

See, sprouting life is nestled in a natural place,

‘though we have assigned unto it all some human trace.

And so, as if the real thing were not interesting enough,

we go and imitate life with our arty stuff.

TreeInStone

And though we so cleverly form our stuff into some crafty work

to promote our art as masterpiece, or some other querk,

we really do just throw our weight around in this natural world

as bull in china shop, while shards get hurled.

LittleMosaic

That movement comes; this stillness goes

until living dies; then dying throws

its soulful cycle through an open door,

returning it to the earthen floor.

MosaicFloor2
Selah.

Glass Chimera