“Words in Silence Speak”

When westerly zephyrs tease roses, and
hummingbirds hesitate their nectar search
to hear silent voices on the wind;

when the south wind moistens
earth’s vagrancies in fog and mist,
t
hese voices travel beyond;

when east wind rustles leaves,
golden tinder sparks the air,
passersby read the posted words;

when north wind blows men and treasure
to the depths of the sea,
I listen for these voices;

when the rhythms of wind and sun
are in moments of harmony and peace,
slips of paper—words—silent voices,

old, new, experienced and being, are
pinned to weathered faces of a cedar stylus
with heart and spirit in an aura of love.

    Yakima, Washington
                        2012

The Poetry Pole was planted in a rose garden by the sidewalk in residential Yakima, WA, in 1995. There it stood until last winter when Jim Bodeen, its caretaker, moved to Selah, WA, and planted it by the sidewalk of his new residence.

According to Jim—poet, English teacher, Viet Nam veteran, advocate for young Latinos, and founder of Blue Begonia Press—the idea of a poetry pole came to

him in a vision. Encouraged by friends, he a planted a four-sided cedar post “along the path of the mailman and the butterflies.”

Egalitarian and democratic, The Poetry Pole is accessible to all ages, life-styles, races and cultures. Poems may be personally pinned to the post or sent to Bodeen by mail or e-mail.

I first learned about The Poetry Pole last spring, when Terry Martin , co-editor of Weathered Pages: The Poetry Pole Anthology, read from her own work here in Bellingham. Last summer, my wife and I visited the original site, unaware the pole had moved. That was OK; I still felt its presence and was inspired to write “Words in Silence Speak.”

For additional information go to http://bluebegoniapress.com.

Remembering the Less Honored


Remembering the Less Honored

Richard Lee “Dick” Harris

Each Memorial Day we proudly wear our Red Poppies and decorate graves. And, when I attended two-room Rockport, WA, School, we recited, “In Flanders fields where poppies blow/Between the crosses row on row . . .” (John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields.”)

With each new Decoration Day, my thoughts turned more and more to the less honored who died in the service of their countries and our remembrance of them. These gradually coalesced into a poem.

As I drafted the poem, three individuals came to mind, giving the poem a face. Foremost, was my great-uncle Mark Harris who grew up in Maple Falls, WA,  died in the closing days of World War I, and is buried in Bayview Cemetery, Bellingham, WA. The others are a brother and sister from North Yorkshire, England, who died during World War II, and whose epitaph intrigued me.

I learned about my great-uncle in 1984 when I read my Aunt Belva Harris Poldervart’s newly published book, “On The Move” From Oxcarts to Motor Homes. With this information, his draft registration from Ancestry.com, and The Trail Through The Woods (Frances B. Todd, 1982), I created a picture of Mark.

Harris was born to Lydia Baker Harris and Civil War Veteran Chancy Harris on March 20, 1893, in Bradford, Chickasaw County, Iowa, ninth of 12 children. In 1907, he moved with his widowed mother and six siblings to Maple Falls with a “colony” of destitute Iowa residents recruited by a team of Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroad agents to begin a new life in the Pacific Northwest. Their ticket: passage in a boxcar!

On June 5, 1917, when Harris registered for the draft, he was medium height and build, with blue eyes and dark hair, and had a crooked finger on his right hand. He lived at 2226 Franklin Street, Bellingham, with his mother and brother, whose dependency he claimed as grounds for exemption from war. He was employed as a shingle weaver by Holly Shingle Company in Mill Town, Skagit County, WA.

Bivouacked at Camp Vancouver, Washington, during the 1918 flu pandemic, Mark contracted bronchial pneumonia. He died on October 22, 1918, five days after falling ill. He was buried in Bayview Cemetery on October 27, 1918.

It is unlikely today, that those who pass by grave 8, lot 15, section 3, notice the unadorned headstone on, with scarcely enough room for great-uncle Mark’s name and mismarked dates of 1894-1919.

For the last verse of the poem, I chose the epitaph on a plaque in Fountains Hall, a Jacobean mansion now a ruin, in North Yorkshire. It commemorates the lives of  Elizabeth Vyner, an 18-year old nurse who died with encephalitis while on active duty in 1942, and her brother Charles, who was missing in air operations off Rangoon, Burma, three years later.

Memorial Day

for Mark Harris, 1893-1918

 

A cloudless sky,

    a day filled with spring,

    a day to remember those

    who lay in common ground,

Fallen without honor,

    unseen by us,

    whose flags they bore.

As volleys resound in sharp salute

    and banners dip to a trumpet’s call,

it is our day to remember

    plaques that cling to crumbling walls,

    and plead as we pass by:

Tell them of us and say,

for your tomorrow,

we gave our today.

“Memorial Day” was originally published as “Memorial Day, 1995” in Tough Guys Don’t Give Up, ed. Mary Hamilton [Gillilan] (Bellingham, WA:  SunPorch Productions, 1996). Currently published by the author in Reimagine: Poems, 1993-2009 (Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2010.)

 

Siste Dans (“Last Dance”)

Mary and Andrew

Background

    I first learned about my great-grandparents Mary Anderson (1856-1925) and Andrew (Hanson) Vestrem (1856-1938) from my mother’s recollections, an 1895 portrait and several pages in a hand-me-down scrapbook.

    Both were born in Hallingdal, a mountain valley in Buskerud County in 1856. The residents of Buskerud County, where agricultural land was scarce, frequently migrated to Vesterålen district, Norderland County, an island and fjord island county above the Arctic Circle, and the cod and herring fisheries.  When economic conditions or lack of skills precluded fishing they immigrated to North America, eventually making their way as farm laborers, to north central Iowa. Independently, Mary Anderson and Andrew Vestrem sailed steerage on the same boat in 1875.

    They knew each other socially in Hallingdal, met again on the boat and by happenstance, worked off their passage as cowherd and milkmaid on neighboring farms owned by Buskerud immigrants. Records show that they were married in 1876. They lived in Palo Alto County and Estherville, Iowa. Some records show they Mary had 12 pregnancies. Nine children lived into adulthood. Andrew worked as a laborer and carpenter.  Both were awarded citizenship in July 1881.

    Sometime in 1920, the Vestrems moved from their home in Estherville, Iowa, to live with their youngest daughter Mai and husband Glen Eggleston and their family, first in Worthington, then in Mankato, Minnesota.

    During her later years, Mary carried a small bundle of papers with her, no matter where she went. Mom guessed that these were personal papers, quite possibly certificates of baptism, confirmation, naturalization and marriage, including those brought from Norway.

    My mother recalled that in June 1925, her mother was too sick to care for Mary. Mai was, herself, ill after a premature birth, and exhausted from caring for a family of six small children and her parents in Mankato, where they had recently moved. (My mother, the oldest, would not be ten until October.) Additionally, Mai did not have family or neighbors nearby for support, as she had in Worthington where they had always lived. Also, Mom’s dad was out of town on his railroad job most of the time.

    During my last visit with Mom, then ninety-years-old, she reached into her memory as a nine-year-old and remembered how sad her family was the day the taxi took Great-Grandma Mary to the train to live in Sibley, Iowa with Mary and Andrew’s son George and daughter-in-law Grace.

    Although not the dialect spoken in the rural valleys of Norway in the 19th century, I used Norwegian Bokmål for native terms or phrases. These are:

  • bygdedans: traditional “village” dances
  • datter: daughter
  • favel: farewell, good-bye
  • hallingdans: rhythmic, acrobatic male solo dances originating in Hallingdal.
  • lausdans: “free” dance during which the dancer attempts to kick his hat off a stick held aloft by his partner.
  • fra hus til hus: from farmhouse to farmhouse.
  • samdans: a slow couples dance
  • underdekk: steerage deck, frequently crowded with upwards 450 passengers
  • siste dans: last dance

 

   Siste Dans (“Last Dance”)

(In the manner of a Norwegian Visionary Poem

[Draumkvædet] told in the Middle Ages.)

for Mary Anderson Vestrem, 1856-1925 &

     Andrew Herman Vestrem, 1856-1938

Hear Great-Grandma Mary’s story

remembered in a portrait and family

scrapbook; how illness and the moment

illuded her, and seven decades were timeless.


Mary was born in Hallingdal

in the mountains of Norway,

the year Andrew was born

in a village nearby.


In their youth, they danced bygdedance.

By steerage, they came to America,

to labor in Iowa for their passage,

marriage, and to rear nine children.

Now old, they live with their datter.


Holding tight her son’s arm,

Mary leans over her datter,

whispers “farvel” in her ear and

kisses the tiny bundle in her arms.


In her other hand, she holds papers

neatly folded, tied with faded ribbon.

Her life she holds in these papers,

to remember when memory is gone.


As straight and tall as pain allows,

Mary clings to her son even more.

Slowly, they shuffle through

an open door into blinding sun.


Andrew standing along the path

with datter’s children, their arms

outstretched, tearfully pleading,

“Grandma, do not go!” are shadowy

silhouettes fading into Mary’s past.


Andrew, his thoughts with Mary,

helping her from her sickbed,

dressing her for this day, reaches

to touch his wife one last time.


Bewildered, she smiles ….


You are best hallingdans,

We applaud your head-spins,

you kick so high! I will hold

your lausdans hat-stick.


Papa was a logger.

He drowned in the rapids

of Hallingdal River.


I must be with mamma,

to go fra hus til hus,

baking farmers’ knäckebröd.


You must go to Vesterålen,

to the arctic islands

and fish. Hallingdal has

no skills, no trades to learn.


I love you, Andrew.

I will dance samdans.

Do not hold me tight

or talk of marriage.


I go with our son.

He will care for me


I hear your voice, Andrew, I know

your dialect. Do not leave me in the

dark of this crowded underdekk.


“Farvel
,” Andrew,

I dance siste dans with you.