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Recollections of My Father


poems by


Gene Kimmet



Canopic Publishing

389 Lincoln Ave

Woodstock, IL 60098

www.canopicpublishing.com


Copyright © 2015 by Gene Kimmet


All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Canopic Publishing, Woodstock, Illinois.


Virginia Smith Rice, Editor


Cover design by Lindsey Fisher

Cover painting by Christine Sotos-Barrera


Grateful acknowledgment is made to the editors of the following publications where many of the poems in this collection have appeared, some in slightly different versions: Karamu, Passager, Northwest Cultural Council, Sou’Wester, and Spoon River Review. Special thanks to Willow Review, which not only published several individual poems, but also a portion of this manuscript in Volume XXXVIII, Spring, 2011 as part of their Featured Illinois Poet series.


Acknowledgements


In memory of Lucien Stryk, a mentor, friend and world-respected poet and translator. His help at Northern Illinois University resulted in my receiving a sabbatical from William Rainey Harper College in order to get a first book of poetry published in spite of the fact that my teaching field was economics. Also thanks to Gregory Orr at The University of Virginia for his fine guidance in critiquing my work and teaching me the “Temperaments of Poetry” and the differences between what can be taught and what is inherent in the writer. Thanks to the members of the Barrington Writers Workshop for their fine support and their great camaraderie. Special thanks to Phil Rice for the book production effort and especially to Virginia Smith Rice for her confidence in my poetry and her help in critiquing and arranging this work — an onerous task at which she is so talented. I doubt that I would have finished this collection without their help.


Contents


Light on a Dark River

Study in Black and White

Sunday Dreams

Bill’s Corner

The Ache

Recollections of My Father

Grief

The Search

Encounter

Carrots

Wilhelmina Christina Maag

Hobby Haws

The Emperor Goes Down to the River

The Rite

Hunting Pheasants in November Rain

Silent Night

Running on the Orange River

Descent from Big Savage Mountain

Three Flights of the Surreal

Letter to Miss McClurg

Garvey Christian

Hitchhiking Home for Christmas on My Nineteenth Birthday

September

Frank Stillwaggon

Accident in Broken Bow

The Firefly

Walking Woman

Loneliness

Seeking Refuge

Considering Jeremy Bentham while Lying in Bed

Wolf Spider

Snowflakes

Pot Hole Lake, North Dakota

Spring Cleaning

The Diners

The Last Lark

The Woods

November

Reflection in an April Woods


About the Author


Light on a Dark River


Old images seep

From the slow current, drift

Through winter weeds, the hiss

Of steam, throb of engines,

Smell of bitter smoke.


Empty mills strewn like corpses

Line the rusted rails, the river

Soiled as if still stained from

Molten steel; a picture framed

In gray, drained of color.


I pause a moment

And from a clump of yellow

Grass a pheasant rises

Into winter air, its colors

Fired by a certain slant of sun.


Like a sudden light in a black

Dream, it shimmers in red,

Green, gold, locking itself

Into memory like a jewel

In a velvet box.


Study in Black and White


In a picture taken

Sixty years ago, my father

Stands in a row of men,

Their steel-toed shoes half buried

In gray foundry sand, figures

Dwarfed beneath a giant crane

That holds two-hundred tons

Of steam locomotive suspended

In dusty air.


Its massive boiler, pistons,

Rods, and wheels forming

A sculptured elegance in black,

Poised serene above the men

Who fashioned it. Wheels innocent

Of track, heart of fire unlit,

First breath of steam not drawn.


It floats pristine in a moment

Thieved from time, forever

Halting the slow decay of flesh,

The growing store of dust

Blackening the lungs

Of the fragile forms

That stand below.




Sunday Dreams


Sun pours through the window,

A bright rectangle on white carpet.

The clockwork rhythm of Bach

Fills the room. I dream of clear

Rivers rushing through pine forests,

Silent canyons, red and mysterious,

Great swells pounding the purple

Cliffs of Cornwall.


On Sunday afternoons, my father

Would fall asleep in a wooden chair

In sunlight dimmed by sooty windows,

His hands calloused and curled

In his lap. Nine nails grimy

From thirty years in dust,

The tenth a cat’s claw thrust

From a mashed finger.


With his life spent within

The boundaries of the mills,

What were the settings of his dreams?

Were they cast in smoke that reeked

Of coal and oil, attended by

The rumble and cry of trains?


Were there dreams we shared?

The stagger in the pheasant’s flight

At the shotgun’s blast, that flash

Of silver as we pulled fish from

The April river, stab of thorns

In July’s berry patch, the skin-like

Feel of mushrooms picked

In September rain?


Did he dream of steady work

In a clean place, having all his bills

Paid up, living in a warm house?

Or did he only dream of smoking

A really good cigar?


Bill’s Corner


Toward the end of his years

In the dust and heat of the mill

As his back grew stiff

And his fingers gnarled,

My father was given a tool room job


Handing out bits and wrenches,

Drills and diamond-tipped mills

To shape the steel poured from

Molten vats, rolled in the pits.

“Bill’s corner,” it was called.


Behind a window caged in wire

He worked among the rows of tools,

Each labeled and cleaned, wood floor

Swept of dust, his gray shop shirt

An unsoiled miracle.


At home he rarely talked,

Wore silence like a garment,

Dozed in a straight-backed chair,

Newspaper still in hands,

And after supper, one cigar.


Sundays he walked alone to Mass

To cleanse himself of some

Imagined sin, stave off

The realm of hell.


What afterlife could ever punish him?

No more fear of losing job

Or coming home to unpaid rent

And weeping wife.


Shielded by his cage of wire

From the familiar wall of heat,

He would simply turn and keep

His own small corner clean.


The Ache


In the only tavern left among

A rubble of mills, old men

Play cards. After a lifetime

Of labor near the blast

Of molten steel, they still

Shake salt into their beer,

A habit born of a crave to stem

A loss drained off by sweat.


Spilled grains on the table top

Recall, at twelve, the county clinic,

The salty taste of blood, the dentist’s

Whiskey rasp, “Hold still, hold still,”

The long walk home through winter drifts,

Pink spit on snow.


And later at a silent supper,

My father shaking salt

Into his beer, the grains

White as the frost etched

In perfect patterns on

A kitchen window.


Recollections of My Father


At twelve I watched for him in winter dusk,

A weary figure leaning into wind,

His black lunch bucket clamped beneath his arm.


At seventeen we stalked November fields,

Culled pheasants from rows of dried corn stalks,

The only dialogue our twelve-gauge guns.


The space between us grew as we grew old.

We talked of weather and of baseball games,

Our private thoughts kept safely locked away.


Three days before he died I came to him,

His skin transparent, fierce eyes filled with pain.

We tried to speak but habit held our tongues.


Today, I stand again before his stone.

Chiseled names stretch down to the river’s edge,

The rusted rails and empty shops all mute.


A sudden slant of sun and I recall

When I was four, on a bright Easter morn

He carried me through the green grass of spring

To find a blue egg in a hollow oak.


Grief


It was not the memory

Of all those years he toiled

In the fiery mills, feet numbed

By the winter walks to work,

Or that wall of silence that stood

Between us, or the stumbling words

Spoken over the dark pit.


It was the six old men who served

With him in the War to End All Wars,

Each past eighty, staggering under

That shrunken frame carried

To a hole in the ground.


It was their faces, pale and lined,

Their twisted limbs, their new

VFW hats perched on those old heads,

The palsied hands passing

The folded flag to the silent widow.


And the puzzled look in their eyes,

As if wondering how all this

Had happened, where the time

Had gone, and who would be left

To carry them.


The Search


Each year as autumn light descends

I am drawn to seek some message

From the silent world he traveled –

A sign, a shadow, a whispered word.


He could be that last leaf clinging

To a barren branch, the solitary crow

That turns its head to stare

And does not fly as I approach,

The vole that scours a patch of weeds

For seed to fill its winter store.


His could be the single set of prints


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