Not far from where he as born and raised (way back in the woods) there is a
lovely, and secluded, valley... a picturesque dale, nestled between those
ancient, blue-green and misty old hills of the Ozarks. On a gently rolling
hillside at the southeast end of this valley, there is (or there was many years
ago) an abandoned homestead. The rotten timbers, mildewed tar-paper
sidings and rusted, caved-in, tin roofs of an old frame house and outbuildings
were slowly being reclaimed... healed by tenacious laurel thickets and
persistent vines of wild grape and honey-suckle. After so many years, nature
has surely, mostly hidden away in her bosom, that decaying testament of a
failed human endeavor.
He does not know who once lived there. Neither does he know why they left.
But he does remember how an acute sadness lingered around those old farm
buildings... intensifying the natural beauty of the flora and fauna. Wildness
thrived there, prolific in those abandoned pastures, woods, and glades
throughout that quiet, and peaceful place. Today, when he thinks of that
valley, all its beauty is repainted in his mind with vivid detail, and that lingering
sadness resurfaces from within the recesses of his soul. Here was his first
real encounter with the fact of ultimate human futility, and cruel mortality... his
own mortality... still reflected in those remembered images of decaying,
dissipating old buildings.
Upon discovering that valley so long ago, he immediately claimed it for his
own. Not by right of ownership, he was then still a young man of sixteen years
who owned little of nothing. But, by right of discovery, in his heart, he claimed
that valley as his place of retreat from the society of his peers. At that time,
the reasons why he needed such a retreat were not very clear in his mind.
However, with the passing of time, comes... not necessarily wisdom... but at
least the ability to formulate more articulate explanations. Accordingly, he
now believes that the valley of his retreat was also the valley of his
He was then, and remains today, a mentally reclusive, introverted person.
One with a very real, although somewhat unnatural, fear of his fellow human
beings. He has never overcome this fault... which has caused him a lot of
heartache in life and love. Instead, he has become an accomplished actor.
Not an actor by trade, but nevertheless, one who plays the part (and plays it
well) of a hard working, middle class, suburban husband and father with all
the day to day social demands of the lifestyle.
Shakespeare taught us all so very well (those of us who take the time to
really read him) that we must... 'play our parts'. The classical genus of his
human dramas, brought to life by viable characters in tragedies such as
'Hamlet', speak to us through the centuries in ghostly apparitions... seemingly
to say... those with the most pronounced fears of life's realities must
somehow become the most accomplished actors upon life's stage. If they do
not, act (or even if they eventually do) will not their own fears naturally,
inevitably, precipitate their own destruction? A living, reasoning, being may
deny it... but the dead say nothing at all... unless, of course, they wrote it
down in prelude.
Old fears, like so much unnecessary baggage on a relatively short journey,
have their own way of never being left behind. In this case, because of old
fears, he has frequently felt an overwhelming need to retreat again from
humanity in general. But, most times, responsibilities to home and family
demands that any such retreat, by him, be in spirit and not in flesh.
Understandably, so many times over the years he has run away in dreams...
to hide in the remembered beauty of that secluded Ozark valley. If possible,
with the limited ability of mere words (and if you should care to listen) he will
attempt to take you there.
A normally small (but sometimes torrential) spring fed stream winds its way
across the valley floor. Beside the stream there is a hedge of honeysuckle
and wild rose mingled with thickets of myrtle and laurel. There is also an
occasional dogwood sentinel standing above the tangled vines of the hedge.
These flowering trees reoccur down the entire course which parallels the flow
of the stream (but in a much straighter line) to where the gurgling waters
disappear through a gap in the hills at the northeast end of the valley. This
hedge was once a fence row. But now the rotten posts and rusted wire have
long since disappeared under the prolific vegetation. In places where the
stream bends close to the hedge, the leaves and blossoms completely over
canopy the crystal clear waters of the limestone mountain valley creek.
On bright sunny days of late spring and early summer, when the hedge is in
full bloom above and beside the stream, the effect is a mystical, magical,
pristine artistry... lavishly painted upon the canvas of the valley floor and
fittingly framed by the greenish blue, hazy old mountains. On such days, with
a good breeze, the dappling of brilliant sunlight through the leaves of the
hedge, intertwined with fallen blossoms of honeysuckle and wild rose upon the
waters, create an illusion of shimmering diamonds on a silken robe of
intricately graceful lace. No mortal woman, however rich she might be, could
afford to be so arrayed. Even if she could, and would, if she were anything
less than the most ethereal, sensual and beautiful woman alive, she would be
overshadowed and obscured... or thought quite ugly... in the intense light of
such natural elegance.
The valley's overgrown fields, with wilderness patches of blackberry,
dewberry, and other briers, are a natural haven for cottontails and field mice.
These rodents, and many of their cousins, are here compelled to dance a
timeless ballet... 'life and death'... the only decree ever made by godmother
nature. Their partners in this dance are keen-eyed, sharp-clawed predators
of the sky, hawks and owls, and also, cat-footed killers of the earth, foxes
The hardwood ridges surrounding the fallow fields are home and territory to
numerous grey, and the occasional, red squirrel. During the day these tree
limb acrobats lay claim to their domain by variously and tenaciously barking
and chattering. While these day lovers sleep away the night, masked-faced
ring tailed bandits roam... always wary of stealth night-hunters... coyotes and
bobcats. But the real prince and princess of the hills, a whitetail buck and
doe, can be seen in the diamond dewed splendor of early morning... regally
prancing from forest to field. Here they feed and drink before lying down in
quiet repose upon a sunny southern slope, content to rest through the breezy,
whispering sleepiness of the day.
Such was the beauty of his valley, as he remembers it to have been in the
summer of his sixteenth year,1969. That was the summer of his first love. It
was also the summer of his disparity... because he was so shy and backward
(old fears) that he could not find the courage to tell her about his feelings of
love. To this day the lovely dark haired, dark eyed Ozark beauty who had
captured his young heart, knows nothing of the tortured hours he spent in the
seclusion of that valley... dreaming of her. She does not know because that
summer was also the summer of his leaving.
When he learned from his parents that the family would be moving, some
thousand miles away to a big city on the southeastern coast of the country, he
naturally fled to the haven of his valley. There he spent one last afternoon and
night, staying till midmorning of the next day, saying his farewells to the
magical place that he loved so much. All through that late summer night he
walked quietly, circumspectly, by the opulent stream. There, bathed in the
silvery glow of a harvest moon, he listened intently to the sound of the musical
waters playing with a symphony of night voices... ebbing, flowing...
harmonizing from the wild hills around him.
At first, his innocent soul demanded that he stay there forever, hidden away,
until death would allow his flesh and bone to dissipate into the soil... just like
the dilapidated old buildings of the abandoned homestead. But he knew he
would not stay. His fear of slow death by starvation was much greater than
his fear of a big city full of strangers. He did imagine himself as a ghost that
would haunt that lovely valley for all eternity. Then he felt a kinship with all the
ghosts already there. Not with fanciful Halloween spirits, but with the real
spirits of real people who had lived, loved, and dreamed there before him.
They surrounded him, those sad old ghosts. In the sweet delicious smell of
wild rose and honeysuckle he tasted the presence of those spirits. In the
ancient sounds of that Ozark night... the calling of a whippoorwill, the dying
shriek of a cottontail... he heard the silence of their hearts.
There, safe in the bosom of those old Ozark hills (hills as old and as wise as
creation itself) he dreamed. In the miracle of his dream the dark eyed beauty
of his first love, can hear for herself... the wild fearful beating... of his own
Many years went by before he had the experience, or the knowledge, or the
guts... to write down this poem. He read it once, aloud, before an audience
of about two hundred poets. The year was 1984... at a convention in Florida.
He was the first to read. As he approached the podium he could hear the loud
chatter of that inattentive crowd. He gazed across the faces of his fellow
poets until he found an elderly, and kind looking one, who was seated on the
back row. Locking eyes with that gentleman, he shouted at the top of his
The poets fell silent... and stared at him expectantly.
His gazed next singled out a middle aged and rather prim woman in their
midst. He spoke to her in a more normal, but projected, voice;
The silence grew. He then locked eyes with a dark haired, dark eyed beauty
seated on the front row. Wide-eyed innocence was painfully apparent on her
youthful and lovely face. Leaning forward, smiling slightly, he whispered to
her... just loud enough for all to hear;
The silence was absolute throughout his reading.
Abandoned field, where summer yields...
Wild roses fall to songs of larks...
The evening came, then nature stilled...
All night we walked that quiet park...
With sounds of night our thoughts did ring...
A tune that night, our souls did sing...
For we who live, but love have lost...
With hearts misplaced, we run the race...
Who lust for love, at any cost...
Then turn to dust, without a trace...
Our need soon dies, as all needs will...
So close sad eyes, and hearts be still...
In pain and fear, we shed those tears...
But tears are just, self-pity-ness...
So hearts be brave, these hateful years...
And shun each day's, cruel, loneliness...
Like shooting stars, our love and life...
so soon departs...
And quiet beats, our silent hearts...
The curtain falls, the show must close...
This tragedy has seen its light...
The dew won't heal a dying rose...
The final scene, eternal night...
We played this plays, most bitter parts...
Now quiet beats, our silent hearts...
All through the night this sad refrain...
Played quiet strings within our soul...
Until the fear, as broken chains...
Fell off, then we in wonder go...
As light once more came to the field...
Where roses fall, and summer yields...
The hedge grew diamonds born of dew...
With morning's kiss the sun arose...
And fleeting hope was born anew...
On wilted petals, of each rose...
Some loves and flowers seem all the same...
But soon no blossoms, here remain...
As love will thrive, just where love will...
So winter comes, and summer ends...
And like this field, our hearts lie still...
And wait upon, the warm, spring, winds...
A whispering rush, the meadow thrush...
on wings departs...
And quiet beats, our silent hearts...
First written in the winter of 1984. Edited and rewritten, early April, 2008.
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