Just recently I have forsaken my long nightgown and robe for sweat pants and a raggedy t-shirt to walk out to the little library, checking on the latest surprises therein.
This morning it is a slim collection of Carl Sandburg, “Chicago Poems,” 1994 edition, though he died in 1967… I wonder who claimed the revenue for the 1994 printing.
I knew he was the Poet Laureate, or won the Pulitzer or something, didn’t he? I only just now, reading this, learned he was born in Illinois in 1878, seventy five – eighty years or so before I remember hearing of him. This morning I learned he published his first poem, “Chicago,” in 1914, in Poetry Magazine. We read it in grade school. I am certain of that, I think.
1914! One HUNDRED five years ago, if you are reading this in 2019. Three years after the deadly Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in NYC in 1911 that fueled changes in labor laws for the future. Eleven years after the Wright Brothers glided above the beach in North Carolina, shutting up naysayers, and forever leaving us with our eyes lifted skyward. Nine before Mom took her first breath in Des Moines, Iowa, some years before her family and she moved to Illinois, that common denominator to this musing. Did she read him, I wonder, or was she too busy growing up, living her life… He was an old, old man when he died. I remember pictures of his white haired head – I imagine he smelled old, and spoke with a rasp. Of course, I could be wrong about that, but no one can prove me wrong.
These poems, read anew this morning as I stood in front of my Little Free Library, reek of Illinois; carry the mid-west accent of those who live there; Mom’s accent, though sometimes I think she spoke with a bit of the Swedish tones of her stern grandmother, Clara Fredericka…something in the way Ma said “you.” I cannot explain it…so I shall get back to Sandburg.
These poems reek of Illinois (yes, I repeated it), of Chicago in 1914; AND 2019.
“They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women…
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free…
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger…
…so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them…show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning…”
And Sandburg continues on with a pride so fierce, so total, so hotly alive, I forget I knew him only as a musty, old man in my head, and I hear his clear voice, his vigor. Who can write of sneering back at those who sneer, but a street smart, crusty young man, veteran of the Spanish American war, veteran of the very streets of which he writes so fully.
Eighty some poems fill this small, thin booklet printed by Dover Thrift. A tight, sad inscription fills a corner of the title page: To Bruce From Chandra to help you remember Chicago when you’re gone (gone is underlined with a flourish). I am honored to hold this in my little library. I shall read it first, though, and taste that distant city along with the life of the man from Illinois who penned them, perchance to find something of myself.
written and unedited 5/15/19 rJo Herman at the table in the backyard in the sun and slight breeze with grass that needs mowing and a growling stomach…
This remodeled library is a glorious expanse, with airy, tall ceilings enveloping the shelves, and any number of comfortable chairs, high backed and low, set near the fireplace, or the magazines; some alone, some angled in pairs in cozy corners overlooking the trees, some clustered to encourage whispered conversations and hand covered giggles while sharing a favorite paragraph, or chapter.
There is everything you could want in this great new space. Large conference rooms, small glass front offices with screens and white boards begging for graphs and tables. Everything you could want, or need, or dream about, including privacy in an otherwise public area.
So tell me, Dude with the scruffy, long beard, and the grunge covered jeans, old boots and whatever else you hauled in with you, why did you think you had an invitation to push into my corner against my egg shaped cocoon chair, pile your newspapers on the table in front of me, then unceremoniously settle your arse in the chair touching mine, letting out a sigh as though I should look at and/or speak to you?
I was in the library alone by design. Lord knows I was not there to save anyone, speak to anyone, acknowledge anyone. I was there for a few minutes just to take some time to think and read in a beautiful, comfortable place. I know for a fact that there were at least fifty other empty chairs available…at least fifty. I briefly waited to see if you realized I was sitting there. Surely you did, and just as certainly, I realized you intended to continue to sit there. Rude douche. You must be related to those people in the grocery store who see you studying the spice rack, then elbow in front of you, rather than going around, to grab their can of red beans. Or those inconsiderate chicks who stand right next to you at clothing store, checking out the clothes YOU are holding in your hand.
You, Interloper, drove me from my magazine article about saving my fatty liver to the fiction section to find a Tami Hoag, or a Stephen King to calm myself with a horror filled murder or two. And now I am home, in my own comfortable chair, by my own toasty fireplace, still fuming, and hoping your skin develops boils, and your scruff is filled with gnats. Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, as they say, I shall never encounter you near me ever again.
Amen, and hallelujah for lonesome spots in the world where you can sit in peace while contemplating your very own navel.
It must be a five,
else I’ll never finish it.
That book I just chose.
rJo Herman 4/14/19
But sometimes, a northbound train hauling strange and unusual objects such as huge, blue airplane bodies, no wings, no tails, just long, pointy nosed tubes, making everyone stop, stare, and wonder whips up the rails with seeming abandon, leaving us with much to cheer and exclaim about for a day or two.
rJo Herman 4/10/19
Once, driving home to Denver from Gillette by way of Buffalo —
All the windows open to that wild Wyoming wind —
I embraced that lovely, lonesome road,
Relishing the thought I was the lone world survivor.
But as I sang along with Garth, as loudly as I could sing,
‘Bout all my friends in low, low places,
I chanced a look east across the plains,
And there in the middle of a wide, open basin,
Taking my breath clean away,
Stood a bison, shoulders tall, beard blowing.
Clearly the King of all he surveyed.
And I was humbled,
And hushed to awed silence, before I whooped and hollered
At the wonders of God’s creation.
Life is good!
rJo Herman 4/3/19
There once was an April Fools Day,
When no one could think what to say.
They chuckled, and muttered.
They chortled, and stuttered,
And they missed all the tricks of the day.
Limerick 4/1/19 rJo Herman
One spring morning in Sacramento, when I was in first grade, I brushed my teeth, got all dressed, then went into the kitchen where Mom and Dad were talking over coffee. While I ate my toast, Mom brushed and braided my hair, and Dad asked me what time it was. I was very proud that I had learned to tell time, uh-hunh.
The clock said it was eight o’clock.
I HAD TO BE AT SCHOOL IN MY DESK AT EIGHT O’CLOCK?
“OH NO! I’m late! I’m late!”
I wailed and cried, ran into my room for my shoes, blubbering all the way.
Mom and Dad called, “Hurry, hurry, hurry!”
I quickly made my bed, grabbed my books, glanced at the clock radio next to my bed…
Looked again, then stomped my foot, “Auugh!”
Back in the kitchen I looked from Mom to Dad,
“Why does the clock in my bedroom say it is only SEVEN o’clock?!”
Dad grinned at Mom.
“April Fools!” They hollered together.
“THAT IS NOT FUNNY! YOU ARE NOT FUNNY!”
They were holding onto each other, laughing, enjoying the joke.
“We’re sorry. Don’t be mad. We turned the clock ahead as a joke! Just a joke. You are not late!”
I huffed out the door and dramatically sobbed and muttered all the way down 8th Avenue to Donner Elementary on Stockton Blvd, then spent the rest of the day pulling pranks on other kids in my class. In all these many years since, I have never thought of a better April Fools Day prank than that first one pulled by my bratty Mom and Dad. HA!
You will succumb. Who would not be intrigued by a small, taut, razor slashing Russian woman pilot with great loyalty and faith in those she loved traveling by any means around war torn Europe? Who would not wonder about the history of the lovely German stepmother, who appears out of nowhere to wheedle her way into the hearts and lives of a respected Boston antiques dealer and his loving daughter? And why would a pair of young, handsome, dedicated Nazi-hunters with little money and reckless plans not peak your interest?
Slowly, with smoothly wrought prose, vivid descriptions, gripping action, the stories weave together, winding tighter and tighter around you, the willing reader. You feel them begin to constrict, but you do nothing to escape. You eventually refuse to shower, and eat (though a glass of chilled late harvest Riesling boosts your resolve to finish) until you’ve read through to the satisfying ending.
READ THIS! You will fight the urge to scream warnings! You’ll shake your head in disbelief, cover you mouth in disgust…and in the end, you’ll be glad you took the time for this adventure!