A Walk with Robert

Ruddles Cove

May I call you Robert?

Of course, that is my name;
better to call me Robert than
Hezekiah, don’t you think?

There used to be a farm here,
gentle, rolling grass, dandelions,
muddy fields and ponds,
a firefly show every June, and
a farmer named Roscoe Ruddle,
an authentic old timer.
He had cows,
and weathered, calloused hands,
and a ready smile.

I like him already.

He let us board our horse here
But he got old.

As farmers are wont to do.

Yes, too old to care for this land alone.
So his kids moved him away,
first the cows, then Roscoe.

As farmers’ kids are wont to do.

And soon he passed.

A farmer’s heart is in the plow and herd—
rip it out and it withers
and dies.

The rolling hills laid fallow a while,
empty barn, empty house on the hill,
fences in disrepair.
It was sad.

There are ghosts on empty farms,
milking spirit cows and walking the fence line,
And maybe woodland sprites, knocking over posts,
and tearing slats from barn doors.

It wasn’t long before a sign went up:
“Coming Soon: Ruddle’s Cove
Quality Estates – 9 sites available.”

With all the farmers
turning over in their graves
around here, it is a small wonder
it doesn’t register as a seismic event.

They tore down the fences,
drained the ponds,
staked out home sites.

Flagellation and bloodletting
and daggers
to the heart of famers’ ghosts.

They paved the long, winding stone driveway,
and planted sod, and left.

Lay the headstone and plant over the grave.
May this farm rest in peace.

I doubt that, Robert.
You see the mini-mansions already built,
the last few under construction,
all sold, most occupied.
Peace fled this land with the roaming deer.

You’re right, of course—
it was just a figure of speech,
something I felt
I needed to say.

I understand, Robert.
Tell me, did you see this in your New England?

I caught a glance, askance,
but I maintained my fences,
kept stone on stone,
good neighbors, and all that.

I remember.

It is hard to stem the tide
of man’s ambition and greed,
with wistful nostalgia of
simpler times.

We’ve lost something here,
something sacred, I feel.
And now there is word
that yet another tract of homes
will go up soon beyond those back woods,
where once we plinked at targets with .22s
without worry.

I still hear the echoing of ricochets.

That would be the rod and gun club,
just up the road, nearly 400 acres of
riverfront property,
where guns still blaze daily.
I don’t even hear those guns now,
after all these years.

I was accused of tuning out
in my day,
and I liked that description.
I had to tune out the noise
to write what I wrote, you see.

I do the same.
But this blight on the land,
has me so distracted,
so altered,
I can’t seem to tune it out.
It violates my rationale
for living here,
the lure of quiet,
that brought us here
nearly 20 years ago.

What will you do?

I don’t know, Robert, I don’t know.

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A Lunch Hour Walk in Washington, DC

I saw a girl with purple hair
and vivid violet lips,
and thought this look so suited her,
I stared and nearly tripped.

Two lovers argued face to face
with words as sharp as knives.
Then he surrendered with embrace,
and there they stayed entwined.

A bike messenger flew by fast
singing the Marseillaise.
His loud shout as he passed,
“L’étendard sanglant est levé!”

A school of suits and leather shoes
swam by in harried haste.
Power lunches with lots of booze
Seemed de rigueur today.

A hawker barked, “New ‘Street Sense’ news!
Two dollars we suggest.
Help the homeless, please do,
Good day and may God bless.”

A homeless man asked help for food,
just a snack to get by.
I bought him a bowl of beef stew
and slice of apple pie.

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There is but a shadow, a wisp, a hint

of the vibrancy she once possessed.

The grip and the hugs are still strong,

desperate almost, as if clinging to hope.


But the mind, ah, the mind slumbers.

There is a flash of unsure recognition,

a quick hug that gets even tighter

when I call her “mom” and tell her my name.


“It’s so good to see you,” she says,

the first of the score of times

she’ll tell me the same this afternoon.

“It’s good to see you, too, mom—you look great.”


She who once was always the first to talk,

must almost be prompted now to speak,

and most often repeats what she just heard.

“You’re still strong,” I tell her.

“I’m still strong,” she says.


She enjoys a ride in the car,

perhaps an escape from the routine.

She still eats well, if a bit messily

since her dentures were taken away

to prevent the manic behavior and drooling.

She enjoys going for walks, slowly, silently.

She loves holding hands.


She rocks back and forth as she sits on her bed,

and cocks her head close to the pages

of the book I brought, and reads in a clear

but halting voice, looking up after every few sentences,

as if seeking approval that she read well.

But looking up makes it hard to find her place,

and she reads the same paragraph aloud three times.


She always loved to read,

and seems to enjoy it still,

although it’s hard to tell now

if she really understands what she reads.

I know she won’t remember it.


I consider wryly the title of the book I gifted,

“It Is Better to Look Up,” inspirational quotes,

as she who once faced boldly all who crossed her path,

now keeps her gaze mostly down, within herself.


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HER Dreams

Ethiopian night sky
There are more dreams
in the minds of young women
than stars that dot the black Ethiopian sky.

One dreams of the healing arts,
another of justice and human rights.
One dreams of numbers, ordered and fair,
another dreams of the stage and applause,
One dreams of guiding young minds to learning,
another dreams of peace and global understanding.

And why not dream?
The future is the realm of dreamers,
and those who chase their dreams
make the imagined future real.

Yet, it is not enough to dream alone;
only dreamers who work hard,
whose passion and energy are applied,
who prepare with single-mindedness,
only these see their dreams realized.

What is it about HER
that helps dreams come alive?
There is a hope in HER
that once was dormant
but now shines brightly;
a hope that once unlikely dreams
may not be so unlikely after all.

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All Flesh is Grass

 Flowers on a grave

All flesh is grass,

as seasons pass

it withers, decays, and then sleeps,

to awaken when Spring rains rise

and caress its roots stretching deep.


All flowers fade

that grace the grave,

their beautiful petals will fall,

returning elements to earth,

the same that happens to us all.


All glory dies,

as light leaves eyes,

when the heart and soul separate,

only our minds transcend through time,

to travel to a higher state.


The word of God,

the iron rod,

endures, forever more will stand,

all else will die, all else will fade,

over all God sustains his hand.

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Flat fields and plentiful rains—

this was, after all, called at one time

the Great Black Swamp—

meant ditches lined the fields and roads

to catch the runoff

and channel it safely away to

snaking creeks and rivers.


Mostly dry and benign,

these straight line gashes in the earth

could swell to muddy torrents,

rolling ribbons of brown,

eight feet deep after soaking rains.


Ditches for us kids were fun and work,

full of frogs, snakes, and even fish sometimes,

but also easily cluttered after a storm

with stones, branches, and litter

that had to be cleared,

especially from the large pipe

running under our driveway,

to prevent future flooding.


Many summer days we spent

hiking the ditches,

searching for specimens,

mud sucking off and swallowing our shoes,

or casting sticks or paper boats

when the water ran high,

to see whose won the race

from one end of the pipe

to the other.


Ditches also swallowed balls

tossed inadvertently

and regurgitated reluctantly,

and opened their jaws

for bike and car crashes,

the latter almost always

occasioning the arrival of a

friendly farmer with a tractor and chain.


Ditch jumping,

especially when the water was running,

was a childhood sport,

a running start and flying leap

to try to land high enough on the opposite bank

to avoid slip sliding down into the muck.


I suppose we were fortunate,

for all the time we spent slopping about

in ditches

full of fertilizer- and pesticide-soaked runoff,

and occasional septic tank overflows,

to avoid dysentery and

a host of infections

that would otherwise have spoiled

all the fun.

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“Bus Just Stoppped at Rosebrocks!”

school bus

“Bus just stopped at Rosebrocks!”

It was the window watcher’s call

early on school mornings,

when four children were rushing about,

gobbling down Corn Flakes, packing lunches,

stuffing books in bags,

shrugging on sweaters or coats, and

running combs or brushes through bed hair.

First one done with all or most of these tasks

took up station at the west sewing room window.


The Rosebrocks, closest neighbor to the west,

lived half a mile up Buckskin Road,

and when the bus stopped there

and lit up the red flashing lights

we knew we had two to three minutes at most

to be in place on the south side of Buckskin

across from the mailbox, ready for pick up.


It was bad form to be rushing out of the house

as the bus was pulling up, and heaven forbid,

if no one was ready and the bus driver

laid on the loud, impatient, petulant horn—

that precipitated a melee of shouting, grabbing, running

and jeers or laughter from kids already on the bus.


But our driveway was short.

The real sport happened at the Crites’ farm,

last stop on Farmer-Mark Road before school,

with its quarter-mile-long driveway

and three brothers who seemed to relish

the bus driver’s blaring horn,

and the mad sprint down the driveway,

with kids on the bus cheering on the runners

and congratulating the winner as he mounted the steps

sucking in large gasps of air.


I decided then I was thankful

for fair warning of the bus’s approach

and a short driveway.

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