Rewrite of a poem from 5-years ago along with a new photo.


The Old Barn

An old abandoned barn lies on the east side of town, at the end
of Baker’s road, where the tar abruptly changes to gravel, dusty this
time of year as rain has been scarce and the crops are wilting.

Coming up the driveway, a neglected John Deere
greets you with rust and smeared green paint, revealing the steel machine
underneath, a workhorse in the fields, taking stalk after stalk

from the earth, a bounty each year for the family with hopes
of selling a few bushels at the market on main street.
That is the past now, rain has not visited, people have

not visited, a once lush yard, crunches beneath my feet
impending fire permeates the air, timber from the fence
I built last summer, blown apart by that storm, a tricycle

faded blue kids pool, half a tire, a 1938 Studebaker
– how I would still like to restore that – and a menagerie of
other things are carelessly strewn about near the for sale sign.

I remember the winters spent in front of the potbelly stove,
a wool blanket for one stretched to two –
whose turn is it to fetch a few more logs, the flame is getting low.

One last trip to the barn, the scent hangs in the air,
you may still be here, but I do not hear any voices
as the fire takes hold and ashes replace hay bales.

The newest member of the family will be home soon.  Here she is, Vinny, at 4 weeks old.

IMG_1796

12/18/13

Today we bury my uncle.
Deep blue sky the day
after a full moon.

Fire across the horizon
burning purple behind
the snow covered limbs
and rooftops.

A raven flies high above rising
smoke and the city’s chatter.

Solitude and peace infused
with sorrow and the ache of loneliness.

We gather in the morning
forgetting the throes of winter
and remember the warmth of your heart.

An entire lifetime spanning so many years, is divided into smaller lifetimes, or books. These books of our life are further divided into chapters. I think the books are finished and started with major events or changes and these can be happy, joyous, sad, perhaps a death or tragedy. The chapters within each are related with a thread tying them together that defines the person we are at the moment in time. All of these books collect the experiences we have endured, the people we have met, what we have learned and ignored, and the view we have taken of the world.

The second book of my life started when I was 6-years old.

Many years have passed. 33 to be exact. If I stop for a moment and think about everything that has happened, both personally, and in the world, I am overwhelmed, almost in a state of panic. Like the changing sea, it is endless and never stops, never takes a break. Yet, without us noticing, we are constantly being affected, and our actions are influenced directly and indirectly by the things we do not see.

Who we are as a whole, our outside appearance, may not noticeably change, but the core of ourself, the thoughts and actions, how we process information, and how we think about the world and in turn react to events, does. I believe it is in a constant state of change that turns our being over and over, the same as a stone within the currents.

How we grow from this depends on more immediate influences and our roots, our upbringing, a sense of humility, and awareness.

33 years ago I was fortunate to gain a real father after mom remarried. This greatly changed the direction of my life. I look back now and cannot imagine the other person. I doubt I would recognize or have anything in common with them if we sat down for a cup of coffee.

Like any family, there was tension, fights, raised voices, and doors slamming. There was the frustration of algebra and geometry homework, the chores of lawn mowing and picking up after the dogs.  But there was also the endless hours of playing catch in the backyard and the continuous encouragement.

As I struggled to find independence and define the person I wanted to be, I fought against rules, what I thought others were defining for me, and forged any path that was different.

When I look back on these 33 years, I realize the great influence pops had, and in his silent way, I have followed in his footsteps, and for that I am grateful.  Mom will tease and say “you are just like your father” and I genuinely say “thank you”.  That is probably the best complement I could get.

I understand to get anywhere requires hard work, long hours of dedication, and some personal sacrifice. And when you achieve something, appreciate it and never take anything for granted. Each day should be cherished, along with the people in your life, and family. At the end of the day, work is just work and you should take time to enjoy what you have over a traditional Sunday dinner or watching a football game.

Every time I mow the grass or take care of the dog, I think back to those long summer days and how I complained and put up a fuss. Now, I actually enjoy these tasks beneath the summer and fall sky.

I hope that I have become the person pops wanted, as I know I have become a man because of him.

Across the sea of sand and water
thousands of miles away
weeks and months may pass before
we hear your voice.

To forget about the time and
placate our worried and disjointed thoughts
we look for your face and
hopefully a smile in someone’s photograph.


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This is the second of three parts to the “Old Barn” poems.


The Oklahoma Barn

1

In the summer of 1974, I spent 3-months with grandma and grandpa Batcher at the farm on the plains of eastern Oklahoma, surrounded by fireweed and roses.

2

I remember our second summer together, and the first road trip we wanted to plan.  You desired Colorado and the mountain air surrounded by white-tipped peaks.  I had another idea, and agreed to anywhere you liked as long as we visited Oklahoma for a day or two.  There is something I want to show you – in the fields, on the outskirts of town, a farm where my grandparents migrated and where I grew up within the fields, the bluffs and the river.

3

The faded red farmhouse resides west of Main Street on the right-had side of Batcher Road.

Welcome home – grayed-white patchwork fence, the grain silo with silver dome slightly askew, and the mailbox carved from fallen poplar atop welded iron rings and railroad ties.  Though the baked apple pie and old spice no longer permeate the summer air, the rusty red and white tricycle waits on the front porch, exactly where it was left.

4

Deep ruts with overgrown grasses to either side demark the driveway.  Flora long ago took over the prized gardens that fed the family and townspeople.  Taken each week to the farmers market, grandpa heaved corn, tomatoes and cucumbers into the truck bed.

The red 1949 Ford F1 with white sidewalls sagged in the rear.  Grandpa spent more time reinforcing the suspension then he did growing the fruits and vegetables.

I helped grandpa each morning load the previous days harvest into the back of the rusty Ford which took a bit of coaxing to get moving out of first gear.  Grandpa had time, and I was happy just being with grandpa.  It did not matter how long it took to leave the driveway.

To the left of the farmhouse, near a small apple orchard, three weeping willow trees approach their full height.  The veil of branches reaches down and touches the earth.  Walking along the side of the house through knee-high grass, small rocks, and the burrowed tunnel openings, something in the distance reflects the sun.  Somewhere in the wild grass, the hand pump connected to the well that grandpa dug and built, lies rusting.

5

On the 18th of April, the swallows left the barnyard.  Their empty nests tossed about – in the trees, the yard, within the gutters.  The last breath sighed from the barn as the roof collapsed.  Winter left behind decaying acorns, leaves and branches.

6

A thousand feet or so west of the farmstead, the earth gains elevation.  Rising closer to the sky and meeting the heavy clouds and the rolling cumulonimbus – the gray and black with tinges of pink as the afternoon sun plays.

I take your hand and we walk the trail packed from years of hard labor, now covered in big bluestem.  The bluff overlooks the creek flowing north to south through fields toward the waiting lake.  To the northeast, a slight movement of black feathers catches the eye.  A flock of ravens hold their pattern just above the wheat tops.  In the far distance, perhaps 2 or 3 miles, the suns shadow retreats toward the tree line, over the top and back to the horizon.

7

I remember the creaking barn doors – oak stained red and streaking from years of fending off  straight-line winds and rain as storms made their way east across the plains.  The wide path strewing hay, fence posts, barbed wire, windows, and an old John Deere.

Walking along the back of the house, the barn comes into view – one I have not seen in seven years.  The white trim faded and stained with grime.  Along the perimeter, wild roses bloom with lucid colors against the dulled barn.  Even from this distance the black iris is unmistakable.  Their silk petals shimmer behind the swirling willow branches.

8

A letter sent from the neighbor a mile down the road, who found grandpa, said he was under the willow tree where the black iris grows.  Each winter since April 18th, 3 of them poke through the drifting snow.

We decide to spend the evening in the farmhouse one last time before new owners receive the key and title next week.  They may keep the farmstead as is or raze the house and build new – I have no care, except the barn.  I pray the barn in its leaning and dilapidated state, but full of personal history, is spared.  I hope they let the wild iris and willow trees grow and continue bringing peace and silence.  In due time the elements and earth will take the barn on their terms, returning what we took by hand.

9

Near midnight we are awakened by thunder and intense light though the bare windows.   Sleep finally came after the storm moved east across the fields, into the distant plains.

10

Nine years old and we run through tall summer grass swaying in the northern wind.  Each tip reaches toward the ground.  We run for hours chasing something long forgotten since the game began.  Any one of us, including Leroy the black lab, could be “it”.

Timmy is near the creek and a willow tree as his laughter gives away his guarded secret.  Johnny is lying somewhere in the grass, muffled giggles that Leroy is desperately looking for.  The howls, quick barks, and  the tail straight as if the great hunter has found the treasured pheasant lurking amongst the Indian grass.

We run chasing shouts of “you’re it” and “catch me if you can” until knees are numb and our breath can no longer be caught.  Collapsing into clumps near the creek, smiles and laughter carry down the shore, along each bank, and into the changing leaves and branches.

11

The summers on the barn will never be forgotten.  No matter how things were going with mom and pops back home, the time with Grandpa loading the vegetables, chasing Leroy through the fields, fishing in the creek, stealing bits of the fresh apple pie, or just laying in the tall grass and imagining shapes within the clouds, became a part of me.

This old barn 004

This old barn 004

An old abandoned barn lies on the east side of town, at the end
of Baker’s road, where the tar abruptly changes to gravel, dusty this
time of year as rain has been scarce and the crops are wilting

coming up the driveway, a neglected John Deere
greets you with rust and smeared green paint, revealing the steel machine
underneath, a workhorse in the fields, taking stalk after stalk

from the earth, a bounty each year for the family with hopes
of selling a few bushels at the market on main street
that is the past now, rain has not visited, people have

not visited, a once lush yard, crunches beneath my feet
impending fire permeates the air, timber from the fence
I built last summer, blown apart by that storm, a tricycle

faded blue kids pool, half a tire, a 1938 Studebaker
– I would still like to restore – and a menagerie of
other things are carelessly strewn about near the for sale sign

I remember the winters spent cuddled in front of the potbelly stove
a wool blanket for one stretched to two
whose turn is it to fetch a few more logs, the flame is getting low

I miss those days, coffee from the French press
thick with crema and cream from the ranch
your silhouette in the kitchen through the fabric screen

a glass of wine, olive oil and teak mixing
an image back home of San Giovanni, I close my eyes
and see you picking olives, dressed in white

one last trip to the barn, the scent hangs in the air,
you may still be here, but I do not hear any voices
as the fire takes hold and ashes replace hay bales


* Photo by Twisted Root Studios

Christmas Day brings thoughts of family, friends, beliefs and what helps us to get through each day. We headed north into the cold and snow to spend the time within nature, at the beckon call of deer and raven, and fell asleep each day to the methodical splashing of water on the frozen shoreline.

Rising in the early morning before the sun, the grass is sharp and crunchy, the lake is calm, and the horizon has a very faint glow.

We walk down the wooden staircase to the rocky shoreline. Mostly flat with a slight slope to the water, it is mostly smooth stones, and sand. On this morning, with the temperature at 6 below, there is 2 feet of ice lining the shore for as far as we can see in both directions. The slushy water is heavy and slow, with pancake ice floating near. Our breath is thick and heavy, staying near our face with each exhale. Fingers are cold, even while holding a quickly cooling cup of coffee. We walk toward the river, kicking a few rocks and looking at various sized pieces of driftwood, trying to warm our fingers and toes.

Turning around and beginning to walk back, a faint shadow passes over the rocks. We stop and look up at the sky in time to see the black raven – large and majestic, the wingspan at least 4 feet across and the body the size of a small dog.

Once the sun has become visible
and fully stretched for a few hours
it is time to hit the trails
for a solo hike.

Well worn paths pass through
grasslands and into the forest
before narrowing as it hugs the
steep cliffs overlooking the Cascade River.

Scattered ice and snow patches,
frozen hoof prints and hiking boots.

The trail veers away
from the river and further
up the forest becomes dense,
the trail is overrun with
tree roots, river rock, and fallen limbs,
before opening into a field.

On the other side the last
climb to Lookout Mountain.

The solitude and quiet that is
winter while hiking trails that
have not been touched by humans
in days, brings the mind within
as it focuses and narrows, by
letting negative energy fall away
and we give ourselves to the creator.

In Stone Path Review, we have published the first 3 chapters of a story titled “Tunnels of my Childhood”.  It is about growing up in Northeast Minneapolis and is written by Felice Scrittore.  In the upcoming Winter issue we will be publishing chapter 4 and I thought it would be a good idea to include them here, on Wasteland Here.  And as this is Thanksgiving, a time with family, childhood and getting back in touch with our roots and where we came from, this seemed even more relevant.  These will be posted in three separate posts.

As with many people, I am taking this time to reflect on life and what I am thankful for.  I am in the same camp that wishes a day did not have to be set aside for us to take this time.  Why can we not be thankful each day, not only for the people around us, but just the fact we have one more precious day to live, and to be part of this world.  Each morning, whether it is raining, snowing, sunny, or cloudy is unique and replete with a new beginning, a palette waiting for our brush.  Be thankful for that, and do not take it for granted.

I am most thankful for my mom and pops, my brother, and to the woman who has chosen to keep me in her life, despite my flaws.  For Kyle, spending his Thanksgiving deployed in Afghanistan.  For family and friends.  I am grateful to have a job, a home, and warm clothing for the upcoming MN winter.  I try to not take for granted the freedom and opportunity that this country offers, and conversely strive to make the most of my time, and give back to the community what I can.

In these challenging times, both emotionally and economically, with a defined division, it is even more important to connect with those around us, and be honest and open while you have the chance.  Put aside differences, grudges, and share a meal together, at least as an ice-breaker, to allow a path for healing.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

Bill