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