Pink Calico

For Anne Gertrude Sneller, who told this Civil War era story of her Aunt Elvie (much more concisely), in her book 1964 book, ‘A Vanished World.’

How she afforded it no one could think!
Fold upon fold of calico pink!

A beautiful bolt, not grey, black, or brown
But coral pink calico, bought in the town.

In the days of the war cotton put on fine airs,
And hand-me-down dresses were all we could wear,

But one day our mother came back to the farm
With rosy pink calico under her arm.

‘Elvie and Sarah need dresses’ she said
And before us the calico fabric she spread.

And Elvie and I had never seen such
Glorious pink, it was almost too much!

And I saw in her eyes Elvie’s heart rise to heaven,
With the wonder-filled joy of a girl just turned seven,

As with love overflowing she stood gazing upon
The calico fabric as pink as the dawn.

‘Now, girls’ said our mother ‘it’s time supper was laid’
Then safe from the sun till the dresses should be made,

She put up the cloth in the closet to stay,
But we thought on it all of the rest of the day.

Carrying candles together we went up to bed
But eyes closed or open Elvie saw in her head

That glorious fabric brought home from the store,
And she felt that she had to just see it once more.

In the parlour our mother and father were sitting,
Father read by the fire, mother worked at her knitting;

Not a sound could be heard but the needles’ soft click
And the turn of the page and the clock’s steady tick,

When all of a sudden a scream tore the air,
Then scream after scream — father leapt from his chair

And mother in haste cast her work on the floor,
And they ran to the cries — to the closed closet door!

Throwing open the door they found Elvie inside,
Clutching her candle as in terror she cried,

For before her was lying, with flames rising higher,
The sunrise pink calico blazing on fire.

Father beat out the fire, mother took in her arm
The terrified girl, and she came to no harm,

Still she cried from her fright and for the calico too,
For the folded pink fabric was burnt through and through.

Then mother said ‘Hush,  you are safe, do not sorrow,
And I’ll look at the calico fabric tomorrow.’
But how she could manage it we could not think!
Work with those cinders of calico pink?

But she worked all next day and well into the night,
Piecing together the calico bright,

Cutting and measuring, matching the grain —
And on the table by morning two dresses were lain — 

And Elvie and I had never seen such
Beautiful dresses, it was almost too much!

Beauty for ashes was no fairy story,
For there it was lying in pink calico glory!

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For Richer for Poorer

For Richer for Poorer

I long to deck you with a diamond cloak
And see your smile shine in a golden ring,

As bright as sunlight when the dawn first woke,
And gleamed on every diamond dew-dropped thing.
I want to crown you with a diadem
Of silver lilies, and ruby roses shining;
With lapis hyacinth on emerald stem,
All through your dark brown forest tresses twining.
But now I’m strapped for cash, yet you are fair — 
Your clever fingers ringless, and your crown
A single rose set in your chestnut hair,
Which o’er your shoulders as a cloak falls down.
          Still, for your care shall all my strength be pressed;
          Now as my earnest, in my verse be dressed.

~Watchful

For Better for Worse

For Better for Worse

When I was young, I plotted out a course,
And all alone my mooring lines let slip;

I turned my helm, for better or for worse,
The way I chose, and sailed my buoyant ship
To seek through tossing seas the golden land.
And any ruin that I might steer upon,
By ruthless rocks or shallow flats of sand,
Would be my loss alone; and ventures won
Were solely mine in glory and in gain.
But now we two are bound, God grant me grace
Never to bring you drowning down in pain,
But help you look with me up to the place
    Where Jesus is, who hears our desperate calls,
    And helps us lift the other if one falls. 

~Watchful

Here is a link to my other sonnet based on the wedding vows.

The Goatherd & The Wild Goats

No cloak, no fleece upon that day sufficed;
The penetrating wind through every coat
Blew rain straight to the skin, as cold as ice.
It fiercely flogged a goatherd and his goats
Exposed upon the open mountain side.
But, oh! their joy to see a deep, dark gash
Cleft in the rock— “Come on!” the goatherd cried
“It’s snug and dry — I’ll feed you oats and mash
In comfort while it rains.” The soaking goats
Pursued their master through the cloven stone,
And huddled, dripping, eager for the oats,
But soon they sensed that they were not alone.
A herd of wild goats had come before
To shelter in the cave from that same rain,
And when the goatherd saw these many more
He made a different plan about his grain.
With hopes his flock to double on that day
He called to them “Fresh Oats! All you can eat!”
But for his faithful flock a stalk of hay
As sustenance for each he reckoned meet.
Yet when the sheets of rain had ceased to fall,
The stranger goats all scampered  from the cave;
“You false ingrates!” the outraged goatherd called
Is this your thanks for all the food I gave?”
“Why should we join your flock?” the goats then bleated,
“We’ve seen quite clearly how we would be treated.”
the-goatherd-and-the-wild-goats

Picture of a Dusty Mountain Road

To step into that picture-tile
On gramangrampa’s fire-place
And walk along a dusty mile
(Upon the path my hand would trace,
When I was young and of it’s height,)
And see what lay beyond that bend
Which turned away, out of my sight,
And not to find a final end,
In summer day without a night,
Of Spanish-Californian light,
This was my dream of deep delight.

~Watchful

On Reproof

The other day I felt like someone was reproving me.

Can you think of an example of someone criticising your behaviour?

If you’re having trouble thinking of an example of reproof in your own life, take the little example of someone disapprovingly honking at your driving. (This example may only work in places like Oregon where honks mean something.) Or think of being pulled over by the police. I think the implicit criticism in being pulled over (along with the fact that they have guns and power to throw you in jail) contributes some to the emotional intensity of interactions with cops. The interaction begins with an insult.

It’s not fun to be criticized, judged or reproved. There’s just a sting in being told you weren’t good enough. But thinking about the burning sting of judgment, a thought came to me that made me feel happy.

There is the fact that a criticism or a reproof can help one repent and improve. But that’s not the thought that made me feel happy. Still, a criticism, whether it is kindly meant or not, can be helpful. The Bible says “He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding.” (Proverbs 15:32) and “A fool despiseth his father’s instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent.” (Proverbs 15:5)

This raises the question, though: what if the reprover is wrong? I suppose you should take into account who is correcting you (does he hate you?), but I think the main thing is to not be so overmastered by pride that you can’t hear or consider any criticism. Your pride and prejudicial favouritism toward yourself will skew your perspective. Is it possible for you to look at the criticism objectively? Sometimes people do criticize you for doing right, and you shouldn’t just be so “humble” that you change course. On the other hand, the fact that criticism can be wrong shouldn’t give you the excuse to disregard every criticism. That would obviously show an overweening prejudice in favour of yourself. Does it even make sense that you would always be right, and others never would?

But why do we all have this prejudice toward ourselves? Why are we willing to justify ourselves rather than others?

It is for the same reason that reproof stings.

Of course, proximity over time makes us fonder of people and things; we burn when anyone or anything that we are familiar with is criticized, and who have we spent more time “with” than ourselves?

But our self-justifying instinct is not merely because of a familiar fondness for ourselves — the kind one might have for an object, a place, or an institution, such as the Chicago Cubs or Chicago itself. It’s not just that out of the billions of people through history you choose to favour yourself and justify and defend your actions because you are most familiar with yourself and your circumstances. It is because you are yourself. You willed and performed the deed(s) in question.

When someone criticizes your actions the sting is mostly not in a sense of affront for who you are in terms of your raw material — who you are as an object; the sting is in the criticism of what you have done with the lot you’ve been given. The sting is not “you failed in your basic composition, by being born a human” but rather “you took your raw material as a human and with your own individual agency messed up.” Such a criticism is the most deeply personal. You You YOU messed up.

And that’s where the happy thought comes in, You are a You.

That core being who messed up. A being with agency who can be blamed. One who can will, and choose, and mess up. You exist. And out of all the figments and fragments that exist, you got to be an “I”; you got to be a human. An indivisible individual with agency. A little lower than the angels.

Pinch me. It sounds too good.

Take a deep, sweet, thankful breath.

Who Hides the Flavour in an Orange Slice?

Who hides the flavour in an orange slice?

Not the growers cooperative —
Planning and managing the crop day by day,
Not the truckers —
Bringing the produce from the groves far away,
Not the marketing men —
Working to tell us what folks like today,

And certainly not me.

But I take one from a basket full,
Peel off the fiery coat and taste the fiery core,
And discover a little universe, never touched before
In the tiniest vesicle.

~Watchful