About Caleb

I run a Childcare with my wife on a small farm in New Hampshire. Click "About" if interested in my life story.

NOSTALGIA –The Wursthaus Sonnet–

(This is for “Tom O”, who prefers poems with rhyme and rhythm.)

                 THE WURSTHAUS SONNET

As I ghosted through Harvard Square just before dawn,
My old face stretched out by a fracturing yawn,
My thinking was jolted from cravings for toast
For there by the street stood a fat fellow ghost.

A hitchhiking ghost, so I stopped. He got in
And beamed me a totally familiar grin
I couldn’t quite place, though I knew that I knew it.
My memory stirred, and I thought I’d pursue it.

He seemed to know that I needed a nudge.
With a laugh like a shout, he made my brains budge.
As far in the east daylight started to dawn
He asked, “Where’s the Wursthaus? Where has it gone?

Where is the cider and sausage and laughter
And young men who cared not a hoot what came after?”

CAMBRIDGE, MA – FEBRUARY 2: Patrons sit at the bar of the Wursthaus in Cambridge, MA’s Harvard Square on Feb. 2, 1983. (Photo by John Blanding/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Opened in 1917, the Wursthaus closed in 1996 to make way for a bank. (sigh).

http://archive.boston.com/blogs/yourtown/boston/dirty-old-boston/2014/02/for_better_or_wurst.html

Advertisements

LOCAL VIEW –Scorched Earth Sonnets–

The state motto of New Hampshire is “Live Free Or Die”, but bureaucrats don’t seem to understand that “free” means I can do what I want, and they can just buzz off. It used to be a man could run his farm how he wanted, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, and he didn’t need a bunch of busybody bureaucrats butting in to test manure for methane.  Old farmers were married to their land, and didn’t  need to ask a person who knew nothing about the quirks of his particular plot of dirt for permission to love it. Bureaucrats beg to differ. They spend all their time far from the dirt and weeds, inventing rules and regulations which make it harder to farm, quite certain they know more about farming than the farmers they oppress.

Sorry about the rant.  I could on for pages about the error of their way and the idiocy of their belief. (For example, they actually believe in “Global Warming”, and are stupid enough to base policy on what has been scientifically refuted, but that is a “hot topic” I had better avoid.)

Instead of going on for pages and boring your ears off, I’ll give a little example.

In New Hampshire farmers have always been free to burn the dead, dried weeds from the prior year in their garden in the spring. The flames kill some weed-seeds and the ash fertilizes next year’s crop. No permit was ever required. This still is the law, but now you have to fill out forms and to be officially called a “farmer”.

My farm has been a farm for 250 years, (perhaps longer), and I dug my first post-hole in its stony soil in July, 1968. Maybe the farm had never produced a profit from food, but it has produced a lot of delicious meat and vegetables, and I don’t need any bureaucrat telling me its not a farm if I don’t file forms.  But, because I’m a cantankerous old coot and can’t be bothered to jump through the hoops, I legally have the status of an ignorant immigrant from Massachusetts, who lawmaker’s figure cannot burn the weeds in his garden without burning the entire town down, and therefore need a lot of legal advice.

Who needs a permit before burning weeds in their own garden? And, if they are going to burn the town down, will a slip of paper and paying a fee beforehand (and maybe a fine afterwards) make the flames less orange? All the rules and regulations likely makes fires worse; (or at least they “burn me up”).

Who needs permits? I’ll tell you who. (Deep breath). Stupid people are who, hapless Flatlanders who need a nanny, before burning weeds. They grovel before Bureaucrats, needing a nanny for everything. They need a nanny to tell their own children right from wrong, and when I tell them I withdrew my own children from public school and Home-schooled them, they are horrified. How dare I disobey the “nanny”? I just tell them I trust my own judgement over that of an outsider who neither knows nor (apparently) likes me. I’d rather be free, than some slave-to-a-nanny.

But I will play their game if I must. Below I offer evidence I got the nanny-permit, and burned the weeds without burning the town down.

(Please notice the blue hose in the bottom of the second picture. If the wind had unexpectedly risen and the burning weeds had shown the slightest sign of going-out-control, I would have quenched the fire. This sort of common-sense is something nanny’s don’t admit ordinary people, [even mad poets like myself], have.)

Yet as I burned last year’s weeds in my garden, something odd occurred. I was officially off-duty, and not watching the children at my Childcare, but all the children gathered to watch me burn weeds. My staff, who must keep the children from being burned, also watched. And parents, arriving to pick up their children, seemed strangely in no rush to get kids in the car and hurry home. They too lingered to watch what has been done for 250 year:  A New Hampshire farmer burning last year’s weeds in a garden, creating an incense in the April air.

I seemed a sort of rock-star, even though I was doing something everyday and ordinary: Burning weeds. I felt like a rustic character in a glossy magazine, and perhaps I should pose, gazing in a picturesque way at the honking geese flying over, heading north

Politicians and Bureaucrats have a desire to be rock stars, [and therefore to get more votes, which leads to more funding and other-people’s taxes to play with,], but that was not why I burned weeds. That is not why farmers are farmers and why poets are poets. They do what they do for something different than popularity.

What is the difference? I’ll leave it to intellectuals more skilled with prose to say. Instead I’ll just enjoy the poetry and beauty God puts in every day and every weather and evey situation, a sweet sanity that heals, has nothing to do with money, and can’t be bought.

Sometimes, just to prove to the doubter in myself the poetry is there, I get into a binge of sonnet-writing. The following two aren’t that good; more like rough drafts or sketches; but they demonstrate there is poetry even in burning weeds.

As I burned all evidence that last year
I did not weed as I ought, it seemed strange
How people gathered. Fire brought me no fear
Of arrest, because I’d bothered to arrange
The “burn permit” bureaucrats want. (Perhaps
The fact I dealt with rules seemed so strange
That folk saw I’m serious?) (It seemed a lapse
In my poet’s-misjudgment?) (I’d deranged
Some accepted order of things, with my fire?)
All I did was burn last year’s tall brown weeds
And reveal my garden had an entire
Lower level, called earth. Such ashes feeds
Unplanted seed. Why did a fan club watch deeds
That I did? Are they all hungry for seeds?

*******

I burned the evidence. I failed to weed
To the proper degree during the heat
Of last summer. I had the crazy need
To write sonnets. Such needs surely defeat
My desire to get fat. There’s no mystery
To why poets starve. My garden was proof
You reap not what you sow, but what you see
Fit to weed. My crop shrank under a roof
Of green which turned brown in frosts of fall,
And then stayed proof all winter that I shirk,
But this spring will be different. To all
I announce that this summer I will work
Beyond sonnets that help day-dreamers slumber,
And will grow at least one blasted cucumber.

LOCAL VIEW –Gloom’s Glee–

I am feeling a need to redefine the word “dour”, a word which which tends to fail to include a sort of gallows-humor I often notice in dour people, and instead dismissively defines the dour as “relentlessly severe”.

The simple fact of the matter is that life isn’t all sunshine, especially in northern lands. In fact just a few days ago I was texting with my youngest son, and it was 76ºF in New York City, where he was, while it was 32ºF just a five-hour-drive north, where I was, in New Hampshire. Now I ask you, is that fair?

Life isn’t fair. This is especially true if you are from the north and have blond hair and blue eyes. Certain racists blame us northerners for all the world’s problems. Believe me, we don’t need such gloom. The weather up north is gloomy enough without additional politics. We couldn’t survive, without a sort of gallows humor. Here is a dour sonnet:

The gloom returned, just as I expected.
New Hampshire’s not known for it’s sunshine,
Especially in April. One is led
To believe we’re deceived. A pet peeve of mine
Is that, ‘round here, a true “bolt from the blue”
Is the sun itself, ‘specially in April.
Sunshine’s not expected. Therefore it’s true
That people move here, and then like to thrill
About our Autumn foliage, but by
April they’re fed up. Good-bye ‘n’ good riddance.
If you can’t abide gloom, don’t even try
To live in the north. Instead have some sense
And seek some place full of camels and sand.
You’ve got to be dour to live in this land.

Yesterday we got a “bolt from the blue”, which was a sunny day in April. This usually has nothing to do with south winds. Dry winds come from the cold northwest, yet so powerful is the sun (as high in April as it is in August) that even though thawing ponds refreeze overnight, by noon you take off your coat under the hot sun. The problem is that the dry wind then swings around to the moist southwest, and clouds increase, and that hot sun vanishes. It is then that warm air gets as far north as New York City, but all we get is the chilling clouds.

A further problem is that the single sunny day with bright sunshine makes people crazy, especially if they are not acquainted with the dour truth of northern gloom.

I once worked as a landscaper for a wealthy woman from Virginia, and she became frantic in early April because the weather became downright hot, and we had no tomatoes planted. It took every iota of diplomacy I owned to calm the lady down, and to inform her that to plant tomatoes in early April is a bad idea, in New Hampshire. A week later, as I pruned budless roses in her garden in a snowstorm, she called me in to her warm, glassed-in porch and, with Virginia hospitality which I, as a dirty gardener,  was not accustomed to, served me tea and a delicious “five bean salad”, and also informed me, with a glance out at the falling snow, “You were right about the tomatoes”.

There was something about the begrudging way the good lady said “You were right about the tomatoes” that was very dour, but also makes me want to redefine the word “dour” to include humor. There was something very northern in her glance, as she looked out through her greenhouse’s glass to a world turning white. An extreme irony.

If truth must be known. the moment this gracious lady’s starchy, northern husband died, she vamoosed back to Virginia. Southern Hospitality does not feel at home in the north. But maybe I did teach her a bit about Northern Hospitality, which includes telling people not to plant tomatoes just because a single day in April is sunny.

This is not to say that I myself can’t be infected by April sunshine and be made insanely manic. Just a couple days ago I was guilty of buying a flock of peeping chicks for the children at my Childcare, but then discovering that, when I went out to dig post-holes for their coop, that a rock-hard semi-permafrost made digging difficult, only ten inches down in the dirt.

Who is going to help me, (and those poor chickens), by slamming through permafrost with a bladed crowbar that weighs forty pounds? I’m getting too old for such nonsense. I became dour, as I contemplated my predicament, huffing and puffing.

Life isn’t fair. When that gracious lady from Virginia became manic she had a young, blond man appear to help her out, (me), but, now that I’m as old and gray as she was back then, what do I get when I become manic? I get blamed for all the world’s problems because my skin is too white.

No sooner did that grouchy thought pass through my mind when a very blond boy appeared to help me. (It is hard to blame him for all the world’s problems, as he is only five years old). (Also his ancestors came from Finland, which didn’t enslave anyone that I know about.)

LOCAL VIEW –Day Of Pure Sun–

 

How like a trickster is the April sun,
When for days it hides in purple gloom
Where a raw fog, complete with sleet, can stun
Even optimists towards discussing doom
And death, but then that same sun bounces up
On a day with no clouds. I’m made surly
And walk with a snarl to my coffee cup,
For that slap-happy sun’s suddenly early
In rising, beaming my bed so I squint.
And what’s that I hear? Summer birds singing
In the dawn? Robins are back. Shake the lint
From my brains. Prankster April is bringing
A day without clouds. A day of pure sun.
A day to make dour men remember the One.

As an old poet I’ve learned that the world of poetry is, at the very least, on a tangent point between the physical and the spiritual, and at times is farther off in an air-headed place that has so little to do with the physical that bill-collectors, and sometimes your friends and your parents and your spouse and your children may be irked by your failure to face “reality”.

What such well-meaning advisors fail to see is their “reality” is going to quit on them. We must face our worldly responsibilities, but a day will come when this world will fade. In fact it fades every day, when you go to bed exhausted. Even if you stay up to all hours doing your taxes, being very, very responsible in a worldly way, when you are utterly exhausted the world becomes utterly ungrateful, for it vanishes. But another “reality” is more faithful. Pragmatists disdain the other world as a mere “dream”.

I would like to encourage young poets by telling them poetry is not a mere “dream”. You young poets have bungled into a battle which is occurring on a sphere the worldly simply can’t admit exists. Yet it does exist, and you do do battle, even if it looks like you are just sitting and nibbling an eraser.

Want proof? Consider Beethoven. Music, to physical pragmatists, is a physical reality involving sound-waves and the physical ability to hear. But Beethoven became deaf. In terms of physical pragmatism he lost all physical reasons to produce sound-waves. Yet he not only persevered with his art, but produced music most musicians confess is astounding.  This is not possible unless a non-physical reality exists.

You young poets may have been tricked into poetry because it seemed easier to daydream than face the sweat of a Real Job, but at this point I have to inform you of sad news: Worldly responsibility must be faced, even if you are a genius. As amazing as Beethoven was, he still had to come up with the rent.

Now, before you young poets charge off into a rant about how unfair it is that Beethoven, who gave so much, had to scrimp to pay for shelter, (and how, by extension, it is unfair that you too have to pay rent), be aware Beethoven had his physical side. He loved a young widow he couldn’t marry because he was a commoner, and she would lose her children if she married beneath her class. Therefore much of the passion and tragedy in Beethoven’s music may have been born of frustration.

As long as we have any entanglements with the physical world there will be consequences. The only way to avoid dirty dishes is to give up eating altogether. Therefore young poets should expect interruptions. Be cheerful when asked to take out the trash. But do not be tricked into thinking the physical world is the only world.

LOCAL VIEW –New Chicks–

April in New Hampshire can make a man sardonic. It tends to be a cruel flirt, like a beautiful woman toying with an ugly and old man. A bit battered by winter, we do our best to make ready for spring, but mercy never comes until May.

This year I went out in the cold and skun my knuckles fixing the drive belt of the rototiller, planning to plant the peas, and cold rain promptly made the soil a swamp too miry to till, and so wet it would rot the seed. Not satisfied with that, April then changed the rain to falling slush not even the children at my Childcare much enjoy.

What is a poor old man to do? Well, to start, he should write a sonnet:

This old farm needs some chicks. Not for profit,
For I’ll be damned if the eggs that we get
Will cost less than a store’s. In fact, my wit
Jokes we may get no eggs; it’s a good bet
We will only feed the foxes. Be realistic,
But still we need chicks, for their sweet peeping
Somehow makes an old grouch optimistic.
It sure beats twiddling thumbs. Though sleeping
Through summer has its appeal, and though fluff
Too soon grows feathers, and what was once cute
Grows gawky, and the reek of a pullet
Is a stink few like, such points are all moot.
I’ll get hammer and nails, bite the bullet,
And go out in the rain to build a hutch,
For the peeping of chicks puts hoping in touch.

I must say that, on a cold wet day in April, it makes a difference to children to have some new chicks to watch, under the cherry light of an infrared lamp.

LOCAL VIEW –Window to the Wet–

The beat and drench of the cold April wet
Strands me by my window, frowning distaste.
When young I’d push myself out and forget
All comfort, not for “fears-must-be-faced”,
But with my eyes filled by mad ambition.

With handsaw and hammer and reused, rusty nails
I would change the world, and no lack of sun
Or cold rain could stop me, but bluster quails
After fifty years of seeing I don’t
Change the world, but the world changes me.

The mud remains as muddy; mankind won’t
Change the climate; through my window I see
The same wet twigs holding crystal-ball drops.
The change is the same and the change never stops.

LOCAL VIEW –Vanished Trust–

As a “Child Care Professional” it is my duty to see to the safety of the small. And a mere 36 days ago, on March 1st,  the ice on a small local lake was a safe playground.

It is at this point, when the ice is four feet thick and you can drive a truck over it, that I abruptly call it unsafe, and the children are no longer allowed to romp on the smooth playground. I base my decision on a glance at the calendar. I refuse to even discuss my decree, though I will write a sonnet about my judgement a month later:

Just a month ago the ice was solid,
But at the start of March my trust gets thin
Before the ice does. Kids still want to skid
On the slick, but I forbid, with no grin
On my old face. I’m so dead serious
That kids, for once, obey. Something in my
Frosty eye warns them. A mysterious
Danger is dawning; they don’t dare ask, “Why?”
They just stay off the ice. In thirty days
The ice is gone. How can such a change be?
How can the trusted just go? This dismays,
If you’re stuck in your ways, but if you’re free
Your trust can adjust. It isn’t treason
When trust needs to face a lovely new season.

Thirty-five days later all that thick ice, that you could drive a truck over, is reduced to this:

It should be obvious you cannot drive a truck on the above lake, nor safely see a child walk on the water. The question then becomes: “On what exact day, between March 1 and April 6, does the ice become unsafe?”

I have done considerable research, risking my own life, and have plunged through rotten ice as far back as age 13, in 1966, (in chest deep water) and, on a pond shaded by hemlocks, as recently as yesterday (in ankle deep water). But such risk is my own, and the children entrusted to me should not be exposed to such risk, and therefore I expose them to a generalization, “Thou shalt not go out on the ice after March 1.”

Oh my Lord! The grief you can get for a generalization!  It may well be that the ice was safe after March first. And, if it was safe, I was “depriving” the children of time rollicking upon a delightful playground. If this is true, I hereby confess my sin. Perhaps I worry too much. But, if the children had played out on the ice a day too long, one might have fallen through the ice and died, yet, because I didn’t know the exact day, they may have missed  several extra days delighting on the ice.

If I was paid as “Climate Scientists” are paid, I might be be better equipped. All sorts of sensors would be deployed on the local lake. We would have a far better idea of the exact day the ice became unsafe to walk upon. It would only cost taxpayers X millions.

But my wisdom? My wisdom is free. I’ll talk your ear off, if you let me. I’ll only tax your patience. You can trust me. The wisdom of old men is like the ice: Free, but not forever.