growing up

Poem – A Childhood in Retrospect

Shifting through photos
I feel no connection, no recognition
to the person with time and years
ahead of them, looking to the future.

Pausing at one in particular in the midst of summer,
oak leaves burning with white light,
the sun slowly fading into the horizon
behind the hill at the street’s end.

What was etched into the mind
when the image became a permanent
moment tossed into a shoe box?
What was the last thought defining that moment?

Years will pass and that young face
will undergo an outward expression
of the strife, agony, depression, and final transformation
built upon the experiences, cast from the struggle.

In time what we are in this life
circles back to the foundation,
the hands pushing up from the earth,
the roots feeding a child’s growth and imagination.

Words and Actions – Revisited for 04/18/17

Rugged facial features and expressions, like that of mountain men in history books and legends standing atop the highest peaks and planting a flag for their country, shaped by the endless sun and arctic winds. He handled life and the people around him with the ease and care of a seasoned glass maker. It was extremely difficult for me to believe that was my grandfather lying before me, thin, frail, a skeleton of his former self.

As a child four or five years old, my mother divorced and we moved into my grandparent’s home, where she grew up on main street. Now after a few years, looking back on how life brought me to today, I believe this was fate. The moment afforded a chance for my mother and me to develop a bond, not only as parent and child, but with my grandparents. These bonds would stand time and distance, coming to fruition upon my grandfather’s passing. Time has not softened the heart which still yearns to hear his voice and the raw, unpolished words.

On April 17th, I stood at the foot of grandfather’s bed with him resting comfortably back home in St. Anthony. I did not know at the time that these were my last few remaining moments with him to talk, listen, and learn more of his life. For a man who would pass away the next day, he was his old and inquisitive self. His dark chocolate round eyes piercing through me were soft, but looking for something. Perhaps they were trying to find closure in the last hours. His face still had the character and unique features from years back when I helped him paint a brown wooden fence. I remember the backyard that always had the smell of baked breads, waffling from the kitchen where grandma was busy. A tall apple tree stood in the middle year after year, providing fruit and color. The tree reminds me of him: rigid, set in his ways, stubborn and able to withstand and overcome any challenge. Like the tree surviving a harsh winter, he had gone through many hardships and trials, with dignity and courage that stayed with him to the very end. Through his years, he did so many things, large and small, that have contributed to who I am as a person today.

While living on main street and adjusting to a new life with my grandparents and mother, I was obsessed with au gratin potatoes. They were the only food I ever wanted; breakfast, lunch or dinner, whenever hunger pangs took over. If there was none to be found in the cupboards, grandfather would take my hand and with no questions asked, lead me out the front door, into the car and off to the local Snyder’s on Central Ave. This kind of gesture was etched into my memory as his way of showing he loved me, without having to say the words.

I often built things with Lego, Constructs and Electra sets – typical toys of the early 1980s. These real-world things became reality as my imagination oozed into my fingers and assembled them, piece by piece: race cars with huge, spongy rubber tires and fast engines; cities of tall buildings and skyscrapers that reached for miles. Building these structures gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Standing in awe and knowing that the images became something concrete and useful. The expression on my face conveyed these feelings: my eyes were bulging with excitement and I would be smiling from ear to ear.

When I would finish a project, I would take it to my grandfather and he would look it over. His words “This is really good, you should be an engineer” pushed me to keep building and make the next one even better than the last. Encouraging words from this man became my motivation and heightened my desire to build more and seek his approval.

Christmas is a time for family and the chance to see the loved ones from near and far. I cannot remember the gift I received from grandma and grandpa that year as there were more important memories to take away and energies to focus upon. I cherished this last time to see him as he always was: the man of pride, character and dignity. Christmas also brought with it a lot of questions I needed answers to: reasons why, the purpose, that as a 17-year-old losing a part of me, could not comprehend and answer myself. How could this man of such strength and dignity be brought down by an illness, a life turned upside and spiraling so quickly?

In November of 1990, grandpa was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He had limited time left and we had limited time with him. Was I just losing a grandfather? It was much deeper and more profound than that. I was losing a friend, security, and someone deeply loved; who helped me to grow and become who I am today; a person close to my heart and soul, who loved with no questions asked and nothing expected in return. This man, who raised me while mom worked, was the essence of the early stages of my life, planting seeds and giving advice that burned into my consciousness. He showed me how to care for others and love my family and work hard for what I desired out of life. I guess that is why his death hit me so hard and impacted the way I think and go from day to day. My thoughts are always in motion and his presence always alive and guiding. I must strive in the present with the few chances that I have and utilize all opportunities that I am given.

It has been 26-years since grandpa’s passing, and not a day is without thoughts of him, or I come across a subtle reminder. I cannot forget the day when I last saw him and he looked into my eyes and tried to smile. I could see his pain and suffering coming to an end and finally becoming free. Some of the days when I am weakest and in need of help, I look towards the sky and thank the universe he is looking down and listening.

Words and Actions – Revisited for 04/18/15

Back in 2009, I had a short story published at Whispering Angel Books about my grandfather.  It was titled “Grandpa’s Words and Actions”.  As 04/18/15 was an important anniversary, I am re-posting, along with updates from reviewing each year,  and including it below.


Rugged facial features and expressions, like that of mountain men in history books and legends standing atop the highest peaks and planting a flag for their country, shaped by the endless sun and arctic winds. He handled life and the people around him with the ease and care of a seasoned glass maker. It was extremely difficult for me to believe that was my grandfather lying before me, thin, frail, a skeleton of his former self.

As a child four or five years old, my mother divorced and we moved into my grandparent’s home, where she grew up on main street. Now after a few years, looking back on how life brought me to today, I believe this was fate. The moment afforded a chance for my mother and me to develop a bond, not only as parent and child, but with my grandparents. These bonds would stand time and distance, coming to fruition upon my grandfather’s passing. Time has not softened the heart which still yearns to hear his voice and the raw, unpolished words.

On April 17th, I stood at the foot of grandfather’s bed with him resting comfortably back home in St. Anthony. I did not know at the time that these were my last few remaining moments with him to talk, listen, and learn more of his life. For a man who would pass away the next day, he was his old and inquisitive self. His dark chocolate round eyes piercing through me were soft, but looking for something. Perhaps they were trying to find closure in the last hours. His face still had the character and unique features from years back when I helped him paint a brown wooden fence. I remember the backyard that always had the smell of baked breads, waffling from the kitchen where grandma was busy. A tall apple tree stood in the middle year after year, providing fruit and color. The tree reminds me of him: rigid, set in his ways, stubborn and able to withstand and overcome any challenge. Like the tree surviving a harsh winter, he had gone through many hardships and trials, with dignity and courage that stayed with him to the very end. Through his years, he did so many things, large and small, that have contributed to who I am as a person today.

While living on main street and adjusting to a new life with my grandparents and mother, I had an obsession with au gratin potatoes. They were the only food I ever wanted; breakfast, lunch or dinner, whenever hunger pangs took over. If there was none to be found in the cupboards, grandfather would take my hand and with no questions asked, lead me out the front door, into the car and off to the local Snyder’s on Central Ave. This kind of gesture was etched into my memory as his way of showing he loved me, without having to say the words.

Many children grew up with a blanket, providing security and comfort at the most stressful times and I was no different. Wrapping my arms firmly around the vivid colors of Winnie the Pooh and his friends, I clung to the blanket all the time. My fingers deeply entrenched, cotton and thread entwined with skin. When it was lost and torn from me, I was crushed and devastated.

It was seven or eight in the evening while standing on the front porch, frightened, yet curious and fascinated by the flashing and noise. The night was alive with thunder clapping in the shrinking distance, flashes of light, the wind blowing hard through the trees, branches swaying. Caught off guard for a moment, a gust of wind ripped the blanket from my grasp. My security was torn from me, my heart beating faster and faster, as though it would fly through my chest and into the wind. Looking into the direction I thought it went, in between raindrops becoming more fierce and heavy, I kept the thought alive that it would come back and return to my open arms. It never did. Leaving me screaming and crying, my eyes welling up at the slightest thought or mention of the blanket, I was vulnerable and searching for anything to deal with this moment. Fortunately, there was comfort to be found: grandfather’s kind and soothing words calmed me down, further cementing this man as a father figure. Although the loss could not be fixed or changed, he was there for me. His kind words and encouragement also helped in many other ways.

I often built things with Lego, Constructs and Electra sets – typical toys of the early 1980s. These real-world things became reality as my imagination oozed into my fingers and assembled them, piece by piece: race cars with huge, spongy rubber tires and fast engines; cities of tall buildings and skyscrapers that reached for miles. Building these structures gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Standing in awe and knowing that the images became something concrete and useful. The expression on my face conveyed these feelings: my eyes were bulging with excitement and I would be smiling from ear to ear.

When I would finish a project, I would take it to my grandfather and he would look it over. His words “This is really good, you should be an engineer” pushed me to keep building and make the next one even better than the last. Encouraging words from this man became my motivation and heightened my desire to build more and seek his approval.

Christmas is a time for family and the chance to see the loved ones from near and far. I cannot remember the gift I received from grandma and grandpa that year as there were more important memories to take away and energies to focus upon. I cherished this last time to see him as he always was: the man of pride, character and dignity. Christmas also brought with it a lot of questions I needed answers to: reasons why, the purpose, that as a 17 year-old losing a part of me, could not comprehend and answer myself. How could this man of such strength and dignity be brought down by an illness, a life turned upside and spiraling so quickly?

In November of 1990, grandpa was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He had limited time left and we had limited time with him. Was I just losing a grandfather? It was much deeper and more profound than that. I was losing a friend, security, and someone deeply loved; who helped me to grow and become who I am today; a person close to my heart and soul, who loved with no questions asked and nothing expected in return. This man, who raised me while mom worked, was the essence of the early stages of my life, planting seeds and giving advice that burned into my consciousness. He showed me how to care for others and love my family and work hard for what I desired out of life. I guess that is why his death hit me so hard and impacted the way I think and go from day to day. My thoughts are always in motion and his presence always alive and guiding. I must strive in the present with the few chances that I have and utilize all opportunities that I am given.

It has been 24-years since grandpa’s passing, and not a day is without thoughts of him, or I come across a subtle reminder. I cannot forget the day when I last saw him and he looked into my eyes and tried to smile. I could see his pain and suffering coming to an end and finally becoming free. Some of the days when I am weakest and in need of help, I look towards the sky and thank the universe he is looking down upon me.

A guardian angel is that spirit of consciousness that makes an agonizing decision a bit easier, or a hand that turns you away from death. I received min on April 18th, 1991. My life, outlook, and place in humanity has only improved since that devastating day that has become a blessing. In this regard, a death can be a blessing, another chance to grow, that knock on the door that takes an effort to answer, and seize the gift staring back at you.

Words and Actions

Back in 2009, I had a short story published at Whispering Angel Books about my grandfather.  It was titled “Grandpa’s Words and Actions”.  As today is an important anniversary, I am re-posting, along with updates from reviewing each year,  and including it below.


Rugged facial features and expressions, like that of mountain men in history books and legends standing atop the highest peaks and planting a flag for their country, shaped by the endless sun and arctic winds. He handled life and the people around him with the ease and care of a seasoned glass maker. It was extremely difficult for me to believe that was my grandfather lying before me, thin, frail, a skeleton of his former self.

As a child four or five years old, my mother divorced and we moved into my grandparent’s home, where she grew up on main street. Now after a few years, looking back on how life brought me to today, I believe this was fate. The moment afforded a chance for my mother and me to develop a bond, not only as parent and child, but with my grandparents. These bonds would stand time and distance, coming to fruition upon my grandfather’s passing. Time has not softened the heart which still yearns to hear his voice and the raw, unpolished words.

On April 17th, I stood at the foot of grandfather’s bed with him resting comfortably back home in St. Anthony. I did not know at the time that these were my last few remaining moments with him to talk, listen, and learn more of his life. For a man who would pass away the next day, he was his old and inquisitive self. His dark chocolate round eyes piercing through me were soft, but looking for something. Perhaps they were trying to find closure in the last hours. His face still had the character and unique features from years back when I helped him paint a brown wooden fence. I remember the backyard that always had the smell of baked breads, waffling from the kitchen where grandma was busy. A tall apple tree stood in the middle year after year, providing fruit and color. The tree reminds me of him: rigid, set in his ways, stubborn and able to withstand and overcome any challenge. Like the tree surviving a harsh winter, he had gone through many hardships and trials, with dignity and courage that stayed with him to the very end. Through his years, he did so many things, large and small, that have contributed to who I am as a person today.

While living on main street and adjusting to a new life with my grandparents and mother, I had an obsession with au gratin potatoes. They were the only sustenance I ever wanted; breakfast, lunch and dinner, whenever hunger pangs took over. If there was none to be found in the cupboards, grandfather would take my hand and with no questions asked, lead me out the front door, into the car and off to the local Snyder’s on Central Ave. This kind of gesture was etched into my memory as his way of showing he loved me, without having to say the words.

Many children grew up with a blanket, providing security and comfort at the most stressful times. I was no different. Wrapping my arms firmly around the vivid colors of Winnie the Pooh and his friends, I clung to the blanket all the time. My fingers deeply entrenched, cotton and thread entwined with skin. When it was lost and torn from me, I was crushed and devastated.

It was seven or eight in the evening while standing on the front porch, frightened, yet curious and fascinated by the flashing and noise. The night was alive with thunder clapping in the shrinking distance, flashes of light, the wind blowing hard through the trees, branches swaying. Caught off guard for a moment, a gust of wind rose from the east and ripped the blanket from my grasp. My security was torn from me, my heart beating faster and faster, as though it would fly through my chest and into the wind. Looking into the direction I thought it flew, in between raindrops more fierce and heavy than minutes before into the void of the night, I kept the thought alive that it would come back and return to my open arms. It never did. Leaving me screaming and crying, my eyes welling up at the slightest thought or mention of the blanket, I was vulnerable and searching for anything to deal with this moment. Fortunately, there was comfort to be found: grandfather’s kind and soothing words calmed me down, further cementing this man as a father figure. Although the loss could not be fixed or changed, he was there for me. His kind words and encouragement also helped in many other ways.

I often built things with Lego’s, Constructs and Electra sets, typical toys of the early 1980s. These real-world things became reality as my imagination oozed into my fingers and assembled them, piece by piece: racecars with huge, spongy rubber tires and fast engines; cities of tall buildings and skyscrapers that reached for miles. Building these structures gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Standing in awe and knowing that the images became something concrete and useful. The expression on my face conveyed these feelings: my eyes were bulging with excitement and I would be smiling from ear to ear.

When I would finish a project, I would take it to my grandfather and he would look it over. His words “This is really good, you should be an engineer” pushed me to keep building and make the next one even better than the last. Encouraging words from this man became my motivation and heightened my desire to build more and seek his approval.

Christmas is a time for family and the chance to see the loved ones from near and far. I cannot remember the gift I received from grandma and grandpa that year as there were more important memories to take away and energies to focus upon. I cherished this last time to see him as he always was: the man of pride, character and dignity. Christmas also brought with it a lot of questions I needed answers to: reasons why, the purpose, that as a 17 year-old losing a part of me, could not comprehend and answer myself. How could this man of such strength and dignity be brought down by an illness, a life turned upside and spiraling so quickly?

In November of 1990, grandpa was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He had limited time left and we had limited time with him. Was I just losing a grandfather? It was much deeper and more profound than that. I was losing a friend, security, and someone deeply loved; who helped me to grow and become who I am today; a person close to my heart and soul, who loved with no questions asked and nothing expected in return. How could a God of passion and grace take away the very heart and soul of an individual? How can God leave people with a void that can never be replaced? How could He take away the person who always had an encouraging word that made me strive for more, reach for the top, fulfill my potential, and utilize the gifts that were given to me? This man, who raised me while mom worked, was the essence of the early stages of my life, planting seeds and giving advice that burned into my consciousness.

He showed me how to care for others and love my family and work hard for what I desired out of life. I guess that is why his death hit me so hard and impacted the way I think and go from day to day. My thoughts are always in motion and his presence always alive and guiding. I must strive in the present with the few chances that I have and utilize all opportunities that I am given.

It has been over 18-years since grandpa’s passing, and not a day is without thoughts of him, or I come across a subtle reminder. I cannot forget the day when I last saw him and he looked into my eyes and tried to smile. I could see his pain and suffering coming to an end and finally becoming free. Some of the days when I am weakest and in need of help, I look towards the heaven’s and thank God he is looking down upon me. A guardian angel is that spirit of consciousness that makes an agonizing decision a bit easier, or a hand that turns you away from death. Mine rose into Heaven on April 18th, 1991. My life, outlook, and place in humanity has only improved since that devastating day that has become a blessing.

In this regard, a death can be a blessing, another chance to grow, that knock on the door that takes an effort to answer, and seize the gift staring back at you.

Poem, Thoughts – Roots

Where do you come from?  Not from 5-minutes ago, or from your vehicle, but the essence of you, what time, experiences, and place gave you the foundation of who you are?  Where are your roots?

I did not come money, I came from Northeast, Minneapolis.  And so begins the story melding with the present and future, culminating in who I am now.

A few months ago I posted a poem titled “Summer on 41st” about the neighborhood I grew up in – http://wastelandhere.com/2012/06/10/summer-on-41st/

In an effort to figure out where I am going, and my purpose, I am looking back on where I came from.  I will be posting more of these reflections and observations about childhood, family, and my roots.  Below is a piece titled “Walking in Northeast”.  I apologize for the length of this piece.  Brevity is something that I have not yet mastered.


1.

evening light casted between
1 ½ story clapboard houses
across the boulevard from first Lutheran.

quiet this November Sunday
under changing leaves and after the changing guard.

the old boulevard
lined with sprawling oak and elm.

cement sidewalks in 4 foot sections
with weeds and purple flowers sprouting.

slight hunch over blue walker
down Central Avenue sidewalk.

eyes fixed ahead, slow deliberate steps
past large framed glass.

I wonder about shelter this evening
and the exposed face, grey beard and no socks.

2.

throngs of railcars separated
from the line are silent.

skipping over rusted dormant tracks, careful
of railroad ties and greyed, burnt rock.

timbers beginning to split
wet and soft to our touch.

come, just over here, near
the abandoned caboose next
to the junction box.

rain begins to mist
and cling to exposed skin.

we climb into a rail car,
slightly tilted and askew
shelter from easterly snow as the wind howls
jackets flutter and echo in the enclosed space.

searching for something to start
a fire in the aging stone ring,
we find old newspapers,
once wrapping market fish.

3.

I stop outside the wrought iron gate,
hands each grasping thin bars.

old black oak holding up the
fading blue sky.

the horizon thins behind iced headstones
mirror reflects silhouettes each evening
and the bouquets placed atop granite.

I bow my head before grandfather
lost to ailing lung and pacific theatre fire fight.

4.

each Sunday emerging from darkened church
halls, under the noon bell ringing.

turning right we walk to
central avenue and south from there.

red maple and yellow oak leaves flutter
soft, twisting, meandering to the concrete,
covered in white and purple chalk,
washed and blurred numbers.

Broadway is near and
the red, green and white awning
of Delmonico’s, face pressed against the glass
white cheese, sausage and daily baked bread.

5.

blue fills the space between red brick
buildings from the early 1900s
slanted rooftops smooth with snow
white shadows casted from oak and elm.

cracked glass fragments expose the interior
the crystal chandelier is dark
powerless, clinging to the tin
ceiling handcrafted by Mario’s hands.

blood deep and lighter tan bricks
patterned in rows
separated by fading cement.

above second row of leaded windows
before the rooftop caps the building
inlaid brick arches hint at the roots
ancient Rome and venetian countryside.

for rent signs litter most windows
derelict has moved in.
Seemingly overnight, but years have passed.

expired rusty parking meter blinks
waiting for dropped quarters

once red bike waits in silence
for Mr. Totino to return,
one last ride around the
block to the corner
grocery store for milk.

standing at central and Hennepin
newspapers sprawl across
chipped cement underneath
skewed blinds and forms of payments
the chained door speaks… closed
and there will be no spaghetti with
grandma tonight.

I wish to have known then,
to have seen the shuttered windows,
that I see now, to have known
when the chandelier’s will fall.

6.

rain collects in the hats brim
the walk to the café
becomes longer the nearer I am.

I stop in front of a yellow clapboard home
manicured lawn under the yellow lights.

rain drops enlarge,
the impact echoes as time slows.

the blinds are closed
it feels quiet.

the willow tree branches sweep across
the lawn as the rain ceases.

then I know why I stopped here…

will it ever be the same, when you were here?
the booth we shared is empty.

Summer on 41st

Stretching eager fingers, ready to continue on a new piece with the working title of “A Season in Hell”.  Not very original, however, a tribute to one of my favorite writers Arthur Rimbaud.  I look over the empty streets from my office.  The unimpeded sun heats black tar and the day has the hazy look that leaves no question, it is summer.  And from that vision, childhood memories emerge, of time bookended by school, and the absolute freedom beneath tree canopies.

The following poem is from where I grew up.


Across the Lutheran church, where first grade
was once held, replaced by the ringing Sunday
bells, the yellow cracker box with brown trimmed
windows, sat quietly.

Red swing set, white plastic seats,
in the middle of a small city lot
surrounded by a chain link fence,
endless summer days for a 10-year old.

Morning dew on the tip of bending grass
from yesterdays rain, the sun
peaking through at the end of main street.

Underneath spring planted pine trees
robins waddle through the manicured Kentucky Bluegrass,
quick pecks at the emerging worms.

The back corner of the yard nestled near the garage,
became a miniature cemetery over time.

The backdoor led into a breezeway,
with floor to ceiling windows, the warm wind
brought in the scent of lilacs, and the sun
as the morning burns away, giving to the afternoon.

Finally when chores were done,
(or good enough to a 10-year old)
time to race on two wheels and dust the competition.

The race is mine, just a shadow, the elusive shadow
elongating as the sun scans the sky.

I pedal faster, trying to gain an edge, the finish
line at the top the church courtyard stairs.

All of this I remember…
from the passenger seat across the street.
The white paint dirty, worn, peeling
but still holding the memories.

The swing set is gone, presumably into
rust, back into the earth. The plastic seats
off in a landfill, years ago discarded.

The concrete walled alleyway
overrun with blooming lilacs. The
cobwebs of low hanging electrical cables
leading to from the transformers, that
attract lighting each summer.

Many imagined getaways and bike races
took place, leading up a steep hill
to the other side, and back to the finish line.

Against a backdrop of older oak and elm
my fears did not follow me into adulthood,
the steep drop, not as intimidating, not as fast.

Across the alley, the willow tree is gone,
replaced by Washington apples, fodder
for the spring and summer robins
returning each year.

I wonder if the 64 mustang still inhabits
the third garage stall. A someday project
that time seemed to answer, time here at
the yellow clapboard home, has slipped.

And the church bell still rings, a trickle of
people emerging from the main doors,
faces and smiles and laughter not familiar,
but if I close my eyes, the yellow house
swirling in lilacs comes back
and the summer on 41st.


Photo by Patricia Youker