A Desolate Place

The extended holiday weekend has come to an end.  If the pile of merchandise orders which the Lovely Lady and I pulled and prepared for processing tonight hadn’t brought the hiatus to a screeching halt, the consideration of what tomorrow promises would have.  I am not elated.

Perhaps, the book I find myself perusing tonight has contributed to my melancholy.  Always enchanted by the hunt for a bargain, or a treasure, we spent the last couple of days digging through flea markets and antique stores.  One of the treasures (also a bargain) we came back with was this little book of poems, some famous, some obscure.  I have never really loved poetry, but these poems move me.  I am not sure if the book has brought on the pensive mood; perhaps it is the other way around.  Regardless, I have dabbed a tear or two as I read and re-read these old pieces of romantic twaddle.  Silly, isn’t it?  

We are emotional creatures, you and I.  The male of the species is reluctant to admit it, but there is so little difference between the sexes in this respect that it would be hard to prove any exists, save in the ways we show it outwardly.  I have thankfully reached a certain age where it is not considered as much of a disadvantage to speak of it anymore.  That said, I still have perfected the subtle movements necessary to wipe away, without drawing attention, the occasional stray tear which escapes unbidden in public.  I will not divulge what happens out of sight of others, including the Lovely Lady, lest all of you (her too) think less of me.  I am, after all, a Manly Man.  You know–a man who is comfortable in his own skin, but who doesn’t use skin care products.  Prefers large dogs to cats, and so on.  

The little blueish-green book I hold in my hand has a copyright date of 1945.  No wonder the poetry is melancholy.  The Second World War had dragged most countries into its deadly embrace for almost six years.  Millions died, including many civilians.  The world saw the horror of the Holocaust, and death marches, and near the end–the atomic bomb.  Victory brought hope, but many did not return home.  It was a melancholy time.  

Still, I sit and thumb through the pages.  Yellowed with age, they slide obligingly from one selection to the next without the need to lick my fingers, as most new paper seems to require these days.  The slight odor of cigarette smoke, perhaps a remnant of an earlier time when the dangers of that habit were unknown, emanates from the volume.  I don’t love stale smoke, but this doesn’t offend as I consider the possibility that a GI’s wife may have sat nervously with it as she awaited her love’s return.  She might even have shed tears at the sad wartime verses, or have smiled hopefully as she read the more cheerful children’s verses.  Passing the time in expanding her knowledge of popular literature, the moments may have slipped by more easily.  

I know–I know.  It could just as easily have been a spinster schoolteacher who turned the pages in her boarding house room at night.  Or, perhaps the farmer’s wife, sneaking a page in here and there as she labored to be ready for her husband’s return from the fields, tired and hungry, demanding his supper.  

How do I know it was a woman who read the little volume?  The frontispiece has the inscription, “To Ruth, from Joyce.”  I’ll never know who Ruth was, but there is a certain companionship with this faceless lady, as I read “The House by the Side of the Road,” penned by Sam Walter Foss, or “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer, evidently one of her favorites.  It is the only poem I see that has any marking on it, a simple check mark beside the dark black and white photograph of the poet.  (“Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.”)

And then, as I sit and think about the words I write here, I wonder why I bother to put them down.  I have no point to be made, no larger truth to offer tonight.  All I know is that I’ve felt this sadness before, perhaps a longing for something more.  You’ve felt it too at times, haven’t you?  

The preacher in me wants to preach, but that’s not what is needed tonight.  You’ve heard those words before, the sermons and the lessons.  Sometimes, there is simply an empty spot that wants to be filled.  It’s not a spiritual need, but just a little homesickness looking for a loving pat on the hand and a cheery there, there, reassuring us that all is still okay in the great big world.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow seemed to know exactly what was needed for such times.  I hope you won’t mind if I conclude with his words tonight.  Written a hundred and fifty years ago, they seem intended specifically for me tonight.  It is an excerpt from his poem entitled “The Day Is Done”.

Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently, steal away.

“And He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile.'”
(Mark 6:31a~ESV)

“Sitting here…. Can’t sleep. Beautiful evening, listening to the trill of giant frogs and tropical insects in the night…so familiar because I am home, and have heard it all a million times in the past. So very close to home, just down the road at the most beautiful homestead, with some of my most favorite people, ever…And lovely as it has been, I am feeling a little melancholy…maybe you can’t go home again…but, you can never quit trying.”
(Lisa Moye Picciandra, lifted from my feed on Facebook tonight)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved. 

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