Monday, August 1, 2011

To remember and walk on again.....

In A Motel Parking Lot, Thinking Of  Dr. Williams 
                 --by Wendell Berry


The poem is important, but
not more than the people
whose survival it serves,

one of the necessities, so they may
speak what is true, and have
the patience for beauty: the weighted

grainfield, the shady street,
the well-laid stone and the changing tree
whose branches spread above.

For want of songs and stories
they have dug away the soil,
paved over what is left,

set up their perfunctory walls
in tribute to no god,
for the love of no man or woman,

so that the good that was here
cannot be called back
except by long waiting, by great

sorrows remembered and to come
by invoking the thunderstones
of the world, and the vivid air.


The poem is important,
as the want of it
proves. It is the stewardship

of its own possibility,
the past remembering itself
in the presence of

the present, the power learned
and handed down to see
what is present

and what is not: the pavement
laid down and walked over
regardlessly--by exiles, here

only because they are passing.
Oh, remember the oaks that were
here, the leaves, purple and brown,

falling, the nuthatches walking
headfirst down the trunks,
crying "onc! onc!" in the brightness

as they are doing now
in the cemetery across the street
where the past and the dead

keep each other. To remember,
to hear and remember, is to stop
and walk on again

to a livelier, surer measure.
It is dangerous
to remember the past only

for its own sake, dangerous
to deliver a message
you did not get.

I have pondered this poem long and long since reading it over the weekend. I love it too much to weave my own impressions into it. It must stand alone, this poem, like the past it describes. It made me think of a special photo from that past, the one above.

The photo shows my grandparents' beloved home at 17th and Topping in Kansas City, Missouri. My grandmother, Nellie, is the woman standing in the group of three -- there in the middle -- directly behind the woman seated. My young uncles, Jim and Marshall, are standing on the porch. Their baby sister, my mother, would be born some years later after the family had moved to Berkeley, California. 

Have you done this, GoogleMap former residences belonging to your family long before you were born? It fascinates me. Here is a screenprint of 17th and Topping as it looks today. The driving view shows an older neighborhood with someone walking on the sidewalk but even the older homes existing there now are newer than my grandparents' house, which is long gone, and the walker captured by Google has no idea the house or my grandparents ever existed. I do not know on which corner their home and acres of property were situated. I like to think that some of the trees are offshoots of those my uncles climbed back in the early 1900s....

To hear a portion of my Uncle Jim's recorded memories of his boyhood at 17th & Topping, click memories lit the corners of Jim's mind: the old home and a horse named Teddie.

But, as Wendell Berry's poignant poem cautions, we must be with the past for only a moment to hear and remember . . . to stop and walk on again to a livelier, surer measure. Now, if only I could believe that today will be that it would seem easier to leave this moment..... 



Freda said...

Wendell Berry is a new poet to me, and there is a lot to think about in this poem. The photo you have chosen to go with it is just perfect. I've moved around houses too much to have an attachment to any one property, and our present house is only 30 years old. We are up an unmade up road so are only on the edge of some of the google photos. I'm off to google Berry to see what I can find. Many thanks

mythopolis said...

The poem is quite provocative, for sure. And I was reminded of the last stanza of a Dylan song:

"Leave your stepping stones behind,
Something calls for you.
Forget the dead you've left,
They will not follow you.
The vagabond who's rapping at your door,
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore.
Strike another match,
Go start anew,
And it's all over now, Baby Blue."

Rob-bear said...

What a delightful poem. Thank you for sharing it.
An interesting creature, the past. Part of who we are, our soul's background, but not our current context. Those two must somehow be woven together, in order for us to move on.

Fireblossom said...

Lydia, I just love that photograph. It's a feast! Kansas City in the summer must have been, as it is now, brutally hot, and not only does that house have no air, look how much clothing they all wore in those times! That long black skirt looks so hot, and I don't mean in a good way!

Those old houses had so much character, though. I can hear the sound of shoes on those wooden steps, and wonder what critter might have made a home behind the latticework, under the house. There's the wraparound porch, so windows could be opened even on rainy days, and a cross breeze could at least be hoped for, without letting too much sun in.

How relaxing it must have been with the sound of the leaves in those trees rustling outside. And naturally, a railing like that would be irresistible to kids, for standing on, especially for something so exciting as a photograph being taken!

What a treat, Lydia. Looking at the modern image, it's lost something, even while it has gained. Don't you think? Thanks for this very cool post!

naomi dagen bloom said...

How fortunate you are to have this family photo. Some years ago I began collecting vintage images probably to fill the space in my own history.

Did you know that this probably was taken by an itinerant photographer? These men would alert a community to that they would be around the neighborhood. On his arrival, the family would gather, bring outside special possessions--often a sewing machine.

Your family has arranged itself in a typical way for these photos--using the porch as well as the front yard. Wonderful!

Lydia said...

Freda~ After reading your comment I too googled Berry because I realized I knew little about him personally and was familiar with only his poetry. Great bio he has. I do love his writing so.

Mythopolis~ Tears. I adore that song. Have never "heard" it quite as clearly as when I read the lyrics in your comment.

Rob-bear~ Wow, I loved your comment and your description of the past. Fantastic. Thank you.

Fireblossom~ Your words had a way of bringing that image into a nearly tangible experience. You bet that black skirt would be hot, and not in a good way! But the house is, as you mentioned, situated to make the best of a draft and shade from the trees. I think they were very happy there, probably had a happiness born of sweet simplicity that we cannot truly fathom.
I agree that the modern image has lost something, especially the scene captured by google-earth. There is a kind of despair on the street that was hard to look at.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful, soulful comment.

Naomi~ I am so glad you came by to let me know about the itinerant photographers of that era. No, I did not know about them. It makes sense now that my grandfather (or any other men) are missing, as they would have been in their offices. As my grandfather was not a photographer I already was sure he was not behind the camera. What an illuminating tidbit of information you have added to this scene from the past. Many thanks.

izzy said...

Hey ! I haven't had time to visit much lately- Thank you for taking the time
to read and encourage. It has been a stressful summer, now I am hoping to improve on that!
I do like Wendell Berry, Thanks for posting- Be well!

Dee Newman said...


One of my favorite southern writers . . .

Have you ever heard Wendall Berry read any of his works? His stories read like poetry as well.

I clicked back to listen to your uncle Jim's boyhood account of Teddy and his time at 17th and Topping. It makes me want to try and find the recordings I did with my parents before they died.

Thanks for sharing, Dee

Lydia said...

Dee~ You know, I never have heard Berry read any of his works. It has been a couple of years since I listened to an author read. Thank you for the tip on Wendell Berry.

I think it is wonderful that you have recordings of your parents' memories and hope you find them (and preserve them). Thanks, too, for listening to my uncle Jim's clip. Much appreciated, Dee

Lydia said...

izzy~ Quite a few people have admitted to this being a stressful summer. I am sorry that is true for you. (Been about middle on the scale for me, and I look forward to autumn, my favorite season.) Thinking of you and wishing you soothing days ahead.

The Cherry Road School Project said...


I ran into you on the Jane Fonda blog and decided to check out your blog. I'm a writer and I live in Portland, Oregon!

Here's me:

Lydia said...

Cherry Road School Project~ Wow! This is exciting to connect via our having both visited the Jane Fonda blog. I really appreciate you leaving a comment and your link, which I will follow...right. now!



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