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HARBINGER
by Sam McKay
Section II


A friend is like oxygen -
Necessary to life

First Airplane Sighting

Grandpa was deaf.
We pointed out the plane to him.
He chewed tobacco,
spat rarely.
Frozen like a statue,
he and his hoe
made a triangle with the ground.
He gazed at the plane
until, in the far sky,
it was a little speck.
Then changing his stance,
he spat,
shifted his wad,
said,
"'Taint flapped its wings yet!"


Plowing Up Corn

Old Beck was gentle,
and slow,
and deaf (by choice).
Yet things went well
till midday - too well.
I was even proud
of my first plowing.
But then Old Beck began
living up to her fame,
she couldn't/wouldn't hear
a single command I gave.
Suddenly she got a burning urge
to go to the barn which
was diagonally across the field.
She chose the most direct route
and lost all vestige of slowness.
Setting the plow deeper
only increased her speed.
Grandpa had not told me how
to conquer a mule's mulishness,
so, Old Beck and I plowed up
some mighty nice corn that day.


Costly Tag

Uncle Archie was proudly mounting
the new license tag on his Model T.
Grandpa asked the price.
"two dollars."
"Humph!" grunted Grandpa,
"For that piece of tin you paid
a dollar and ninety cents too much!"


Surprise!

Car unavailable till seven-thirty,
Jim hitched Old Beck to the buggy
to take Jessie Mae to the party.
He helped her into the "carriage,"
sat proudly beside his "lady,"
and gently jerked the reigns
to start them toward the party.

But nobody really owned Old Beck.
She had finished her day's work,
Her mind was set on home
and home she went,
pulling the buggy,
a very agitated young man
and his quiet guest
into the barn.


The Parson

Robed in black and maroon,
armed with truth in pictures,
he captured the camp.

Quiet as a budding rose,
their eyes intent with listening,
he calmed their inner storms.

Mirth written on his face,
joy sounding in his voice,
he united lives in wedlock.

Tears on his heart,
sadness in his gait,
he said the benediction at their graves.

Giving of his best,
seeing small response, and being human,
he felt, at times, like piffle on the wind.


Joyce

A jolly person
with a pessimistic outlook.
Some thought she was clairvoyant.
She related episodes
before anyone else knew about them.
Rumor did not interest her.
She had a radar for neighbors' troubles.

Kindness was her right hand.
Generosity sprang up around her.
Cheerfulness with an undertone
of sadness pervaded her days.

All her family died young.
She knew she would die
next week, next month, or next year.
She married Bill,
school superintendent,
and lived to be 81.


Miss Angie

Once a queenly figure,
now stoop-shouldered,
she walks with obvious
pain, unmentioned,
across her uncarpeted floors.
A smile lights up her face
as her eyes catch those of another.
Her voice, a quiet flute,
plays in private as she
hums her favorite hymns.

Those who know her find it
easy to sing with a smile.


The Banquet *

The finest people came to fill
the banquet hall.
They ate up all
the victuals and were hungry still.

The introducer lectured hard
one time at bat;
he rendered fat,
but people didn't like his lard.

The speaker told fifteen old jokes
on priests and goons
and pulled baboons
from wordy, desiccated pokes,

then droned on matters firm and sound,
in solemn tone,
in monotone.
Howe'er, the marrow was not found!

* Written at a banquet while the speaker droned.


To Martha

(on our 26th wedding anniversary)

Three hundred plus a dozen months!
A millennium to some, perchance,
But not for hearts close-bound in love,
Enthralled by joys the years enhance!

The months have been but moments spun
From heaven's pearls of richest hue,
And every moment begs to live
Again in time for sake of you!

For me the time has been too brief,
A thousand years indeed would be
Too short a time in which to say
With all its meaning, "I love thee!"

But consolation! Love like this
Survives the sum of years to be,
To live and grow and bloom and give
A fragrance to eternity!


The Woman

Her presence is pleasure.
Her smile clears away clouds.
Her right hand is kindness,
grace and tact her craft.
Her winsome ways are crowned with wisdom.
Uniquely intuitive, she divines my mind.
A teasing twinkle lights her eyes.
A dimpled cheek surpasses orchids.
Her loveliness rivals primal Eden's beauty.
She moves like poetry…
and there is music.


The Ballad Of The Lonely Piper

(Written in memory of William T. McKay of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and Maitland, Florida, who was an ardent lover of the music of the bagpipes and himself an excellent piper, who organized a pipe band in Maitland, Florida. He was killed in an automobile accident on July 7, 1973.)

The piper living far from native soil
grew lonely for the skirling of the pipes.
Some music lovers came to hear him play,
and they became to him like chevron stripes.

The lonely piper taught them how to pipe.
To some he taught the drums - a band had they.
They practiced night by night and did so well
that many calls came in for them to play.

One night the lonely piper was not there.
He had a call to join the heavenly band.
The lonely piper is not lonely now,
He left his loneliness with us at hand.


Counter Conceit

Pant and Pynt are poets.
Pynt and Pant are critics.
When Pant is a poet
and Pynt is a critic,
all is doggerel.
When Pynt is poet,
and Pant is critic,
all is foggerel.


Love Sonnet

I'd like to give to you the golden moon,
Enabling you to buy your choicest dreams
and live in joy just like your honeymoon,
Yet sparing for your friends a few moonbeams.

I'd grant a private galaxy of stars -
Just yours - to guide you through the labyrinths
Of crinkled time, a brilliance strong that bars
All dark, so bringing dreams to bloom like hyacinths.

Some super orchids matching fragrance with
Rare beauty. Gems so scarce that each is sole.
A magic lamp with genie - all wherewith
To satisfy the senses and the soul.

Such dreams are brought to life by royalty,
But love and wishes come from fools like me.


Preoccupation

The train is pulling out!
The couple continues kissing.
Six children's voices shout,
The train is pulling out!
He will be left, no doubt.
The engine swells its hissing.
The train is pulling out!
The couple continues kissing.


Limerick

They repeated their motion to go.
(First start was two hours ago.)
But one more thing to say -
It extended their stay!
Prayer for patience is apropos.


Birthdays

come faster since

a certain number of

their antecedents crowd the great

beyond.


Our Love

Its wholeness, like a universe
shows harmony in all
its depth and breadth and height.
Through it
increasing tides of power flow.

Its beauty, like a budding rose
assumes the softest hues,
and stirs the deeper
recesses of being.

Its magic, like a magnet
grips our lives,
and keeps them living
miracles of joy.

The trueness of its trust
brings us face to face,
naked
in mind and heart and body,
each to know other
as each is known.

Its wonder:
the oneness of two.


Domestic Tranquility (a sestina)

Cecilia ran between the door and phone.
The baby waking fast began to cry.
The picky parrot shrieked, "Shut up! Shut up!"

As Ben came in, the clock applauded six times.
He flung his satchel down and kicked the cat.
"I'm home," he said, "and famished. Where's our meal?"

"You want your dinner now? Eat raw meal!
My time's all taken answering door and phone,
supplying food to baby and the cat,
until I want to jump and scream and cry,
for everything's to do a thousand times.
I wish - I wish the world would all shut up!

"Then maybe I could make myself shut up
inside for long enough to fix a decent meal
for all my family. God knows the times
are few we've had in quiet without the phone,
the blasted doorbell or the baby cry.
This forces me to be a carping cat.

"And I don't like to be a dingdong cat!
Why can't I tell the brassy world, 'Shut up!'
That parrot says it when he hears a cry.
I think if I ever do mix a meal
without a clip-on kind of phone,
it will be worth a write-up in THE TIMES."

Now Ben had heard all this a hundred times.
Perceiving it was no use to kick the cat,
he strode across the room, picked up the phone,
commanded picky parrot to shut up,
and ordered from a restaurant a meal,
then kissed Cecilia who began to cry.

When hugs and kisses calmed Cecilia's cry,
and they had vowed their love a dozen times,
the doorbell rang. It was their ordered meal.
The entree first was tasted by the cat
to whom the picky parrot said "Shut up!"
but, of course, they had to get the phone.

When ordered meal was done, they fed the cat,
they heard no cry from baby, seven times
the parrot squeaked, "Shut up. Unplug the phone!"


Love

A delicate rose -
slender, pointed
bud of assurance,
silken sheen softly glowing,
naked petals hugging tight,
holding deep inside
a mysterious magic
whose secret only God
and roses know


Quatrains

A woman may wear silks and mink;
Though orchids frame her face,
Nothing adorns her beauty like
The charm of honest grace.


When a question's put to me,
I like to be polite and answer
In a civil way. That's why
I sometimes bite the dentist's finger!


No Squirming In Church

My grandparents lived by rules -
the Bible, folk and almanac,
The Ten Commandments formed life's Constitution,
The Golden Rule and Beatitudes its By-Laws.
No swearing, no card playing (except for family Rook),
no carousing or "cuttin' up."
No work or play on Sunday,
not even cooking
unless the preacher came to dinner.
(I wondered why that made
Sunday-cooking less of a sin.)

Doctors were for extreme emergencies.
Healing was by positive suggestion,
aided with herbs and poultices
and the everpresent Mentholatum.
Food was plentiful but not ever
to be wasted - if anyone served his plate
with more than he could eat,
he stayed until he could!

Firewood was cut
in the light of the moon.
Corn was planted
when oak trees grew mouse ears.
Hoeing the crops
came before cultivating because
grass was dug out not covered up.
If there were two ways to do a thing,
the most difficult was the better.


My Love Loves Yellow

For her the earth yields
gold and topaz,
quince and honey,
jasmine and daffodils.
The moon,
on lover's nights,
sends mellow beams
to wreathe her hair
and kiss her breasts.
Spring belongs to her,
wild and windy,
caught up in the storms
of becoming.
Fall is hers,
soft and sensitive,
wearing calico
for a colorful strip-tease.
For her the flicker
flies on wings of goldenrod,
the goldfinch wears his jacket
and the common warbler a flaxen scarf.
Today, for love, I wear a yellow shirt
and dream of a saffron counterpane.


The Battle Of Atlanta As Portrayed By The Cyclorama

Atop the hill that fronts the Harris House
Tecumseh Sherman sits astride his steed
Surveying combat scenes. His visage vows
more savage war as men in the blue, keyed
To wreak red death, engage the men in gray,
Each falling victim to the musket's bite
As firing line advances in the fray
Till blue and gray commingle in white blight.

Yet through the deadly bedlam mercy lives,
For under truce they tend the wounded, clear
The field, inter the dead, as fighting gives
Its so briefly to a peaceful sphere.
Blue brother grants to gray blood brother balm
To ease his passage to eternal calm.


Disturbed

What demon wears this cloak of loveliness?
A charming face, yet lurking fear begets
A nervousness with anxious eyes. It sets
A pilfered grace upon an emptiness.
What tries her mind so deep she can't confess?
Perhaps the gnawing mice of petty frets
That pulverize the seeds of faith? Regrets
Gone wild like dogs released to wilderness?

Divine Physician, understanding pain,
So darling kitten be not snarling cat,
Remove the childhood quirk she can't let go,
Unbind her mind and make the mystery plain,
Release her from deceitful passion that
Unstunted life possess her and she grow.


The Pickety Fence

I like the looks of a pickety fence,
especially white.
I've wanted to walk on a pickety fence,
even at night.
I saw a seductive pickety fence,
a beautiful sight.
Came the urge to prance on that pickety fence,
it was useless to fight.

I found it a rickety pickety fence.
I went flippity flop.
My amazement: the rickety pickety fence
ended on top!


Quatrains

Are you the butt of creature jokes?
You wince inside when they deplore you?
Take comfort in one salient fact -
Indeed, be glad they don't ignore you!


The lazy fellow never finds the time
that's right to do a job. Says he's too tired,
or it's too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry,
too soon too late. He's always getting fired!


Two Giants

I stood beside a tree
and marveled at its size.
Six persons finger-tipping
could barely firth its trunk.
Spreading branches formed a massive tent.
Under the westering sun
its shade met and merged
with that of a distant grove.

I thought of another giant.
When one stood beside him,
he did not seem tall.
He was just a friend whose caring arms
reached out to help.
But from that distant time
his benevolent shade
is thrown across the years
to bless this day.


Interlude

Children skip and spin to a merry melody
on the flute and jew's harp.

A procession trudges by
bearing a burden.
Dancers stop to look,
then glide around it,
first slowly,
peering,
but with increasing tempo,
until the freighted column passes.

Animated conversation breaks out
and the dance becomes
a jolly pantomime
of what the children saw.


To My Muse

Where do you go
when you leave me
and make yourself
so completely inaccessible?
Have you companions
you visit in the sky?
Do you go to tame the Great Bear,
inspire the Pleiades,
or soften the nature of Orion?
Or have you some shangrilah
beyond the orbit of Haley's famous light?
Are you, like myself, earthbound?
But where do you hide?
Do you crawl in a dark hole
and mingle with iron and silicon?
Have you a booth beneath
the ocean?
Or do you just make yourself
inaccessible by being mute
and pretending your not here?
You rascal!


Tax

Tax taxes intellect.
Understanding the plan pains the brain,
thins the hair, confuses reason,
dims the eyes, palpitates the heart,
prickles the skin, tickles the feet,
aches the bones, and bakes the disposition.

Preparing the return taxes friendship,
nixes the day, fixes the mind,
distorts outlook, contorts the body,
crumples compassion, coerces candor,
forces honor, compels competence.

Tax cracks the taxed
and extirpates the profit.


Trouble Is Temporary

The rain rode the wind
moving like pellets
from a thousand guns.
It beat my shoulders
and burned my face
until I forget its wetness.
The strong gale pushed me dazed
and staggering toward shelter.
Stumbling into a ditch, I lay
prostrate watching celestial fireworks
accompanied by Thor's loudest symphony.
A flash flood moved me across a field
as the ground quivered under the shock
of whole gale and violent thunder.

Unexpectedly nature's tantrum ceased.
Sunshine appeared in fast moving spots
like the swift shadows of intermittent aircraft.
But the birds did not sing.

Abruptly the fury returned
dressed in all its militant accouterments
including large hail stones,
stripping leaves from trees,
turning gardens into platters of tossed salad,
leaving blanket destruction.

Now the sun shines, the birds sing,
gardens are lush and trees have new leaves.


Mounds And Shards

Upon the hallowed brow of Brunswicktown
St. Phillip's hollow shell still stands, a gaunt
Memorial, with pioneers' renown
Inscribed on crypts commending deeds that haunt
Posterity. Engaging wasteland woes,
They marched through blood and hell to populate
A borough, calling port where ships disclose
The world, assemblies, governors debate.
Subduing savage, mastering disease,
Defeating Redcoat, building up world trade -
But, fighting men in blue, they met decease,
Their earthen fort could not resist blockade.

Rock pillars, mounds and shards betoken death,
Yet on this hill is an eternal breath.


A Needless Fright

Uncle Archie walked to
a neighbor's house one night.
They were all excited -
a mad-dog had been there.
A gunshot missed and the rabid
dog had gone into the nearby woods.

Declining a ride home, Uncle Archie
had just forded Mallard Creek
when he heard close behind him
the gallop of dog feet.
Instinct drove him up the nearest tree.
Looking down from his safe perch,
he saw the outline of a large dog
sitting, looking up at him. Then
the familiar deep-throated "Woof"
of his own dog.


A New Ride

Mr. Bill, a neighbor, gave me a ride home
one rainy day as I was coming from school.
He didn't stop, but slowed his Model T
and shouted, "Hop on!"
I jumped on the running-board
catching hold of the metal stay
that supported the fabric top.
He released the low pedal
and the wind began to blow through me.
But I was a MAN because
I was running the running-board.
(Mr. Bill always treated me
as if I had as much sense
and judgment as any grown man.)
Standing up outside the car at 20-plus mph
was exquisite and new.
The drizzle stung my face.
The wind pulled at my hair.
I was a daredevil,
a fireman rushing to save a house,
a ship's captain on the prow,
a famous rodeo performer…

The car was throttled
and I heard Mr. Bill shout,
"I'm in hurry - you step off.
Be careful now."
I stepped off, and, quick as lightning,
took my first and only
perfect double somersault.

The Model T stopped.
"Are you awright?"
Not knowing what really happened,
I jumped yelling, "YESSIR!"
Mr. Bill, looking quite serious, drove on.
I entered the house very quietly.


Loneliness

A waterless riverbed
where sun-baked clay cracks and curls.
A field
where stunted vegetation turns brown.
What has driven the rains away?
Dry leaves crackle and crunch
on sand that pours like milk.
A thirsty wind drinks
moisture from the body
losing it to nothingness.
The landscape quivers,
distorting vision.
Squinting wishes create
imaginary oases swiftly vanishing.
Where are the underground springs?
Why do they not break forth?
When will the floodgates open
and drench this land with life?
Or wash it away?


One Man's Odyssey

In the ignorance of twenty, he knew
himself to be wise, always right and headed
inexorably up the ladder. He was not humbled
by the smile of perceptive silence in older friends.

Climbing the hill at thirty,
his dream still large, aspirations high,
he was sure the ladder would be conquered.

In the mills of forty, the grinding taught
him the pain of personal suffering,
he was too stubborn to lose.

In the fields of fifty,
the patience of hurting for others
became a part of him.

Now, as he faces three-score he knows
his limitations of wisdom, will, and word,
but he stands firmly on the ladder's
first rung - appreciation.


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