http://www.record-eagle.com/news/local_news/lifelines-scarred-on-a-cold-october-night/article_76a64a8e-3df2-5c50-86bc-c79f63cb081e.html Go to this link to read Terry's October Traverse City Record Eagle column.
I left the football game after the band concert at halftime. The team I was cheering for was getting trounced, and I was cold.
I pulled out of the high school parking lot onto the street between the school and the football field. There were maybe 70 people lined up along the gravel shoulder between the asphalt and the grass. I wondered what was going on for a moment.
Then I noticed little glowing wands in their hands and mouths. Ah, the smokers, the outcasts forbidden from school property. There they stood banished to a narrow, ugly strip of land puffing away.
I could smell them through my air vents. I inhaled. It probably sounds weird, but I like the smell of second hand smoke…. outdoors.
Inside is a whole different experience. Indoors, cigarette smoke smells like dusty spider webs. The smoke sticks to my nose hairs, what’s left of the hair on my head and penetrates my clothes.
When I played football in high school, some of our best fans smoked right up close to the sideline. It was a whole different time. One of my favorite gridiron memories is the smell of second-hand cigarette smoke mixed with sweat, perfume, mud, cold grass, hotdogs, coffee and popcorn.
The crowd hugged the sidelines, and you could turn around and talk to the spectators during the game. My Uncle Mel smoked and helped run the chain markers. He was my own personal coach. If he saw an opposing player doing something tricky, he’d call me over. I’d stand there with cigarette smoke twirling around my helmet, and listen to him.
Moms and Dads prowled back and forth, offering advice and encouragement. The crowd was part of the game. My Grandpa and Grandma Wooten parked their car closer to the sidelines than the spectators are today.
Don Glowicki, a retired Elk Rapids football coach, remembers an opposing coach who chewed tobacco on the sidelines. Both my JV and varsity head football coaches smoked, just not during the games.
Andy Griffith smoked. All the beautiful women in the magazine ads or TV commercials smoked, or were attracted to guys who did. Rock ‘n’ Roll stars smoked.
But smoking was against the rules if you played high school sports. Talk about getting mixed signals.
When I was in my teens our football coaches were two of the most important men in my life. I wanted to be like them.
A friend and I got hold of a pack of cigarettes. I can’t remember if we bought them or if somebody purchased them for us. We hid our forbidden treasure in a plastic bag under the railroad tracks north of the Marion Livestock Auction.
Later I dug them up and carried them around on my Cushman motor scooter like Marlon Brando in The Wild One. I tried showing off for the guys by playing a game of pick-up basketball while smoking. That didn’t work.
It’s hard to dribble and shoot, let alone breathe with a lit cigarette dangling from your mouth. That was the end of my teenage smoking days, except for a true story from the same pack in this month’s poem.
Motorcycle Parable #2
Coach smoked Newports,
so I’d smoke Newports too.
I liked the mint-colored
spiffy boomerang shape
on the package,
and that sensual magazine ad
of the pretty woman
in her sexy-summer dress
pulled up above her knees
wading in the sparkling creek.
My parents were gone for the day.
I dug up my cigarette pack
wrapped in a plastic bag
hidden under the water tank.
I fired up my Cushman motor scooter.
In my imagination
it was a Harley Davidson
I stripped off my T-shirt,
lit up and rode off into the immortal wind,
posing over my handlebars
for the river goddess.
Without a windshield
the cigarette burned like a fuse
spraying tobacco sparks
all over my angel face
and hairless chest.
A painful quarter mile
down the rebel road
I pulled over
and put my cigarette sparkler out.
Lesson: Do not smoke cigarettes
while riding a motorcycle
without a windshield.
http://www.record-eagle.com/news/local_news/lifelines-a-brash-back-to-school-story/article_7a403333-935e-5762-8483-1693cf860232.html Go to this link to read my August 2016 Traverse City Record Eagle Lifelines column or see below. A Back To School Story
I was put in Kindergarten when I was four years old. Having an inquisitive mind, a wild imagination and troubled home life all worked against me. Plus, my teachers never figured out I was dyslexic. I didn’t test well and scowled a lot in the early grades. I thought I was dumb.
I wrote “Daydreamers” when I was a freshman in college in 1967. It’s the oldest poem in my collected works, The Stone Circle Poems released by Parkhurst Brothers Publishers. What a brash poem from my youth.
I first self-published “Daydreamers” in a chapbook. It became popular with professors of education during the 1970’s. Rumor got back to me from a student-friend that a professor had written the poem out on her blackboard for students to read. It speaks for a certain kind of student that still gets left behind.
Poems collect stories as they travel down the line, especially when you recite them like I do in schools, universities, conferences and festivals all over Michigan and the USA. After a performance session in Clare High School a sophomore girl named Leslie approached me and said, “I want to tell you something about your ‘Daydreamers’ poem.”
“What?” I asked.
“The teacher in that poem is my great-grandmother, and she wants to see you.”
“I don’t know where she lives,” I answered.
“I’ll draw you a map,” was Leslie’s reply. Later that day she handed me a piece of paper with perfect directions to her great-grandma’s house.
My fifth-grade teacher, Louise Corner Furkey, still lived west of my hometown and north of the cemetery, but I didn’t visit her. My personal take on our two years together was that we had a personality clash. Plus, she was a good teacher and I wasn’t a very good student.
The next year I was back in Clare High School again. I didn’t have anything to do one night, so I attended a girls’ basketball game. At halftime while standing in the popcorn line, I ran into Leslie and her mother. We talked for a while, and Leslie’s mom said, “Please visit my grandmother. She really wants to talk with you.”
Well, I didn’t. Anytime I was in the area I forgot or ignored the request.
A few summers ago as Mom was rapidly declining from Alzheimer’s disease, my wife and I drove her to Marion to sightsee and visit her parents’ graves at Greenwood Cemetery. As we left the family plot, I noticed a new headstone close by. It was Mrs. Corner, my fifth-grade teacher.
I was wise enough by then to understand the favor she did for me by holding me back. I was finally in with the kids I should have started kindergarten with, and school became much easier for me after that. I patted Louise’s headstone and said thank you.
During a visit to my hometown I told this story to a class of sixth graders. Their teacher, Mrs. Fox, raised her hand. She told me her sister took care of Louise during the last year of her life, and that Mrs. Corner was very disappointed that I wouldn’t visit her.
Mrs. Fox’s comment made me feel pretty low. I realized I’d blown it.
I wish I’d had gumption enough to visit my old fifth-grade teacher, and take along a tape recorder like I use in the Elders Projects. I wonder what our conversation would have been like? What insights she may have given me about myself? What a lost opportunity. I’m sorry Mrs. Corner.
I failed fifth grade. My teacher said
I daydreamed too much,
that I didn’t pay attention to her
arithmetic, science, English, or history when
I should have.
Had her all over again
in the same room
with the same windows
to dream out through
the next year.
She said the very same
things all over again,
but I passed anyways.
New friends was all.
She’s still saying the same
things I didn’t care to listen to,
and failing daydreamers
inside the same room
with those same windows
I dreamed through
to way out past her windows
waiting for failures’ dreams to come true.
http://www.record-eagle.com/news/local_news/lifelines-stone-circle-spans-the-pond/article_5cda0fc3-c7e0-540a-8539-1f4f4ba75311.html copy and paste this address to see my June 2016 Record Eagle Lifelines column.
After calming ourselves,
we’d enter politely
through the jingling door
into the late Mrs. Alice Chapin’s home
now a memorial library.
It felt like church
only more relaxed.
From “Behind Main Street”
Recently I was invited to speak at my hometown high school. The visit was part of an ongoing tour celebrating my collected works The Stone Circle Poems, chosen as a 2016 Michigan Notable Book.
Along with other poems I recited “Behind Main Street”. It’s a story about visiting a dead pioneer lady’s house, which was our public library when I was a kid. The house isn’t the library anymore. Now there’s a somewhat new brick building on Main Street that serves the sacred purpose.
After lunch between sessions, a senior boy visited me. He wanted to know if the library poem was in my book.
He told me his family now lives in that house, and he wanted to buy the book. Not everybody’s home has a poem written about it. He hadn’t realized he lived in such a mythical place. Our conversation was one of the coolest parts of the day.
It’s National Poetry Month. To celebrate I’d like to feature some of the young poets from the area, who participated in my writing workshops this winter. They’re the same ages I was when I made pilgrimages to the Marion Public Library at 217 Pickard Street.
Ella Kirkwood (4th grade)
The Children’s House Montessori
Walking down the long staircase
to the beach. Hair blowing in the wind
like strands of rope.
I’m at the bottom.
The no trespassing sign
is swinging like a flag
on a windy day.
Water lapping at my feet,
a long walk ahead
and I’m half way.
I find clay sticky like Play-Doh.
I carry the clay down to the beach.
I’m at the pier.
I walk to the lighthouse
at the end.
The lighthouse isn’t flashing
like a firefly in the day.
I jump off the pier,
My splash is as big as a geyser.
I climb the ladder
eager for more.
Bryce Pyne (5th grade)
Bird On My Windowsill
The bird on my windowsill
was a strange bird.
just sat there
like a sturdy statue.
I asked the bird,
“Why do you sit there bird?”
With a flap of its wings
graceful as a swan
she uncovered tiny little eggs.
Now there are three more birds
to sit on my windowsill!
Devin Gallagher (5th grade)
Thunder roared like a train
as we traveled down the road.
Rain pouring like water falling out of a bucket,
the dangerous puddle.
We slid through the puddle
and fishtailed off the road
straight towards a row of houses.
My mom turned to get us straight,
slammed on the gas,
and our car sprung forward
like a fighter jet.
Shian Erickson (6th grade)
Boyne City Middle School
Imagine the sky
blue as the ocean,
speckled with Snow White clouds.
The sun gradually moving out of the clouds.
My sister’s face smiling,
I smile back.
out to the golden brown field.
The metal fence
sends a shiver through my bones
as I grip the wire,
pulling myself over.
The field smells of dry grass and fall.
We throw ourselves down
on the soft bedding of weeds and grass.
I throw my fragile arms up
stretching so far I feel I can touch the stars.
with her at my side.
I feel a knife
on my cheek as the icy cold air
whips my face.
flowing behind her as she runs
in front of me.
She slowly begins to stop.
She clamps her feet in the small clumps of dirt
in the golden brown field.
I keep running,
craving the feeling of being able to fly.
I creep up behind the small figure
standing before me.
I touch her shoulder ever so gently,
and whisper in her ear,“You’re it”.
The small flecks of silver in her blue eyes
twinkle like stars.
She whips around and I run.
I get the feeling I will run to the moon.
My March Record Eagle column...A tribute to the USS Franklin.
When I walked into the room it was obvious that Death was present. I was accompanied by two combat veterans who had invited me to interview an elderly pilot.
Slumped over in his wheelchair, the Lieutenant Colonel was waiting for us. The walls of his study were decorated with framed black and white photos of himself and his pilot buddies from the 1940’s.
In the corner was a large framed color photograph of the famous aircraft carrier the USS Franklin. Smoke billowed from its deck.
After a few minutes of formalities the interview began. The Lieutenant Colonel’s voice was a faint whisper. His wife often had to interpret for him.
Before we left, my veteran friends posed for a few photographs with the pilot. William beamed.
He passed away a month after I wrote the poem.
Lieutenant Colonel J. William Rogalski
The Marine Corsair Pilot
We were in the ready room
of the USS Franklin aircraft carrier.
I was a Corsair fighter bomber pilot
getting orders with my buddies
for the next flight.
It was March 19, 1945
a few minutes after 7 a.m.
Big Ben was leading a fleet of warships
50 miles off Japan’s coast,
preparing to launch a second day
of naval airstrikes,
the first of World War II
against the enemies’ homeland.
A few Corsairs were already in the air.
The head mechanic said, “I checked your plane
real close last night
and rechecked it this morning.
I found a bent pin in one wing.
If you take off,
your wing is going to flip
and you’ll go into the ocean.
Let’s go down the hall,
it’s noisy in here.”
As we walked towards the end of the carrier
a Japanese dive-bomber
was hiding in the clouds.
It dropped two 500 pound bombs on us.
One landed smack dab on top
of the ready room where we’d been
and penetrated the ship.
The other explosion ignited
36 thousand gallons of gas
and 30 tons of bombs.
We made it up above
to the ruptured flight deck.
Most men were lying down.
The concussion of the two bombs
was so intense
their ankles were broken.
Their feet were going in all different directions,
and some of the men were on fire.
Flames were 400 feet high
and smoke boiled into the sky.
Tiny Tims were whistling around
like birds of death.
Father O’Callaghan was everywhere
helping the wounded
and giving last rights.
He seemed to be in a trance
oblivious to the danger.
I was on the listing ship for three hours
helping pull men out of the flames
and putting out fires,
until the captain ordered all pilots off Big Ben.
The light cruiser USS Santa Fe
pulled up beside us a second time.
There was a small space between ships,
and the wounded were being carried across
on ladders with planks laid on them…
so I jumped the opening.
The USS Franklin was the most damaged ship
of the war
to not sink.
Eight-hundred and thirty-two men were killed,
and my Corsair was blown to bits.
On March 21
Big Ben left for Ulithi Island
under its own power
escorted by the Santa Fe.
After temporary repairs
both ships were sent home.
Twelve thousand miles later
on April 26
Big Ben dropped anchor at Gravesend Bay
near Brooklyn’s Coney Island.
After the war
I received the Purple Heart
with many other men
for my burns.
Father O’Callaghan was given
the Congressional Medal of Honor,
the only member of the clergy
to ever receive one.
This happened 70 years ago
and I’m 95 now.
I couldn’t make it to the ship’s reunion this summer.
I can’t walk anymore,
can barely talk or hold my head up,
and my back is bent crooked
from too many tail hook landings.
When whispering death comes
I hope it’s in the shape of a Corsair fighter-bomber.
I’ll climb up in the cockpit
perched above those gull-wings,
and take off one last time
riding that 2,000 horse power piston driven engine
and 13 foot 4 inch propeller
up through the clouds into heaven.
I’ll join my pilot-friends
you see in all these framed photos
on my walls.
Every October for more than fifteen years I’ve visited Boyne City Middle School for three days of poetry presentations and writing workshops. The sixth-grade Language Arts teacher, Dan Polleys, is a passionate believer in creativity and writing.
Terry Wooten, Poet Bard