Yesterday, the kids and I made a trip to the public library. As I walked down the staircase, I noticed our little library teemed with people, all kinds of people and more than I’d seen in the library in a long time. It made me happy. People-watching is one of my favorite things, and I enjoyed wondering at the different people and what they were searching for in their chosen sections.
These I Would Keep, one of the books I chose, is a collection of selected poems by the poet laureates of Alabama. I want to share a few of my favorites.
First, a poem by Mary B. Ward about what she observed in the library. I hope my children form a strong appetite for bookish food.
Thoughts in a Public Library
Endless are questions and demands
by those forever passing
in and out, in and out…
the old, wary with pain;
the lonely — searching, always searching…
and the gregarious
who take great gulps of culture as they run.
The youngsters crowd the library,
forming an appetite for bookish food;
and there are those who have acquired
a taste for large slices of life.
Some get their armor here–
breastplates of thought
and swords of knowledge for their use.
They come, and all are welcomed pleasantly
by those who catalogue all wisdom
and ancient lore for ready use,
by those who have the pulse of nations
throbbing through their fingertips.
* * *
I appreciate this next one for what it says to me about history and my place in it, the duty we all have to not forget the people who occupied this place prior to us. This poem also took me to Japan.
Morton D. Prouty, Jr.
After the wind
has swept away the ashes of the fire,
after the waves
have washed away only the shores we know,
someone will find
a rock on which to stand.
Somewhere a fire will glow.
After the singing
ceases and we all have lost the tune
in the cacophony
of sound from which the melody is gone,
someone will hear
the wind repeat the music we have known;
someone will learn our song.
After our bones
have mingled with the bones of other men,
after our thoughts
and those of all mankind become as one,
someone will feel
the welling of our dream within his blood
and thinking it his own, will bear it on.
* * *
There’s a lot to find in this next one. One of the things I like about it is that it reminds me that “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).
If It Was a Supernova
Morton D. Prouty, Jr.
(It has been suggested that that Star of Bethlehem may have been a supernova, an explosion which sometimes accompanies the death of a galaxy.)
Before the earth was, before the sun was
even a gathering of dust in the darkness,
I dreamed an Eden. Even then I knew
your frailty and what I would have to do.
I set a cluster of stars in the distant sky.
How long is star life? That is how long I held
that galaxy, and then I let it die
in the holocaust, star setting fire to the star
and brilliance adding brilliance, until the light
spilled forth to inundate the universe.
How far does starlight travel? Who can say
how long the journey? While you were yet slaves
to the elemental spirits and lived in darkness,
the brightness of that conflagration poured
out of the vials of Heaven to seek your world.
Before the pharaohs went to their great tombs,
it found your galaxy and, in the year
a virgin conceived, it lingered very near,
but not until the night when she gave birth
did My Light, so long in preparation, reach the earth.
* * *
I like this one because it’s a short history of Alabama. My lineage includes an interesting commingling of races: Cherokee, Irish, and who knows what else. I’ve been told that one of my ancestors was a Baptist minister who also made his own moonshine and ran a brothel. I don’t know if any of it is true, but it makes for an interesting story.
Helen F. Blackshear
My father’s father was a Jew from Hungary
who fled a country torn by civil war.
My mother’s father was a small-town judge,
a Baptist, such a strange commingling,
but Alabama’s cloth has many threads.
First came Frenchmen landing at Mobile,
hungry for homes, led by black-clad priests.
Many died of fever; many stayed
and brought their love of beauty to their town.
Scots traders came and married Indian wives
whose blood was shed with theirs in massacres,
but some survived to raise up sons and daughters.
Others of them linked their lives with slaves.
A band of English Tories came from Natchez
seeking sanctuary in our forest.
Germans chose Cullman for its fertile soil.
Welshmen dug for coal near Tuscaloosa,
and Irish poured in from their starving isle.
Many among them hated slavery.
Union lovers up in Winston County
seceded from the North and from the South,
and hid in caves to keep from being drafted.
Others wove their lives in colored threads —
Jews and Lebanese, small groups of Greeks,
in recent years a sprinkling of Asians
from China and Japan in wake of wars.
Diverse strands of many different cultures
make up Alabama’s tapestry.
We are a fertile country full of forests,
richly veined with rivers wide and deep.
In the North the mighty Tennessee,
the Chattahoochee down the length of Georgia.
In the west the Coosa and the Warrior
flowing through the Tensaw to Mobile
where white sand beaches spread along the sea.
A friendly land of open-hearted people,
we cling to old traditions, slow to change,
mistrustful of new ways, we face the future,
poised on the threshold of the century,
close joined in love of this our native land.
* * *
Which one do you like?