Running through the wheat fields with quickening pace;
Over the little swell, down through the draw,
Whoa, little pony, now whicker and paw!
Hold tight to the reins; little pony don’t run;
There’s green of the wheat field, gold of the sun!
Brown of the plowed earth, blue of the sky!
Turn around, turn around, little pony let’s fly!
Back through the wide field, on past the knoll
Down through the brown draw, tall grasses roll,
Back through the waves of ever-greening wheat,
Little brown pony has wings on her feet!
-Lori, April 2009
Every now and then I can write a poem that I look back and savor the imagery, because I managed to actually catch at least a fraction of what I saw and heard and felt. This is one of those few. Anyone who has experienced a Kansas spring and has ridden a spunky little pony in greening wheat fields should be able to relate.
I was about 9 years old when we got our first pony, Penny, after months or years of begging. She was a large, fat, copper pony with a mind of her own. She would be poky and slow upon leaving the farm, but as soon as you turned her around to go home again, her head would go up and it was all you could do to hang on as you went flying down the road. The one spring we let our cows out on pasture, so most evenings during that time, I would go bring them up for milking, riding Penny bareback. Springtime in Kansas is beautiful, green, and fresh. That was the inspiration for this poem.
Struggling with assurance of salvation was something very real that I wrestled with a lot as a teenager. This following poem was written at the age of 19 during a time I was facing some spiritual battles in that area. Today as I was looking at this poem again, I realized that while it was a relevant expression of my life then, with the current Covid/visa/lockdown/changes situation currently, I can also connect to it now as well. The poem is based off the verses in based on Isaiah 21:11, 12 and was published in my book,Echoes of Eternity.
O world invisible, we view thee, O world intangible, we touch thee, O world unknowable, we know thee, Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!
Does the fish soar to find the ocean, The eagle plunge to find the air— That we ask of the stars in motion If they have rumour of thee there?
Not where the wheeling systems darken, And our benumbed conceiving soars!— The drift of pinions, would we hearken, Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.
The angels keep their ancient places;— Turn but a stone and start a wing! ’Tis ye, ’tis your estrangèd faces, That miss the many-splendoured thing.
But (when so sad thou canst not sadder) Cry;—and upon thy so sore loss Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.
Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter, Cry,—clinging to Heaven by the hems; And lo, Christ walking on the water, Not of Genesareth, but Thames!
I was just 21 years old and a very intimidated, Amish student at Faith Builders Summer Term in 2011 when I first was introduced to this poem. I chose most of my summer term classes to build my teaching skills, but in addition to that I audited a course that turned out to be my favorite. It was called Poetry Appreciation, taught by a man called Jonas Sauder, who with his long beard and quiet unassuming way of speaking seemed a very safe person for this scared country girl. Jonas Sauder seemed to be a legend at Faith Builders. My friend Betty Yoder said that most people’s brains are either a mile deep and an inch wide, or an inch deep and a mile wide, but that Jonas Sauder’s brain was a mile deep and a mile wide.
I was mostly self-taught in what I knew of poetry. We had studied a little in grade school, and I had never attended high school. I had borrowed books on poetry at the library, and mostly just read poetry for the beauty of it, without analyzing it too deeply. So, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into the class. If an intellectual like this was going to teach us poetry, then I was sure to flounder. But the class turned out to be exactly like it’s name, “Poetry Appreciation.” Jonas had a way of presenting the poetry that made it seem unthreatening, tangible and real. And appreciatable. If that could be a word.
It was a small class, but I can remember only about 3 names of the students. One of them was my friend Jen Miller, and there was a Titus who looked exactly like what I imagined some melancholy 18th century poet might look like, and a Jewel who read poetry with a voice that was poetry itself.
I looked forward to Tuesdays and Thursdays because I could go to this class. It seemed like a safe haven for me, a very homesick Kansas farm girl.
Then one day we read the poem, “In No Strange Land,” by Francis Thompson (who also wrote another favorite poem that I fell in love with at the age of 15, “The Hound of Heaven”). At first, the entire poem went over my head. I had no idea what it meant. Then, as we started looking at it closer, I grew to love it.
The entire poem is a paradox. In simple language, you might say, “The entire poem means that God and his angels are closer than what we realize.” Fish, in seeking the ocean, do not need to fly. Eagles, seeking air, do not need to come down to earth. So why do we constantly look for God in far away places instead of close to ourselves? If God could walk on the water in homely Galilee, what would stop him from bringing your lost cat back, or fixing your bad visa situation?
For me, the poem reminded me then that God was just as close in Intimidating Mennonite Educational Culture as he was in the in the barn where I scribbled down poetry on scrap paper while milking cows.
It reminds me of the verse in Acts 17 where Paul is talking with the Atheniens. He says, “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:26-28 KJV).
“Though he be not far from every one of us.” Perhaps there is more holiness in our everyday lives than we realized.
I told some friends recently that I think I will no longer tell people what my plans are for the next day or week or the next month. This is because after I tell them one day, I need to retell them the next day because of the constant change of landscape these days.
Instead, I will tell them after it happens. Like last week when I actually did get the chance to make a quick trip to Saohin.
Ever since the beginning of April, life has been a pretty consistent roller coaster. If that combination of words can be put together. I just found out yesterday that I won’t start work for another three weeks. This is because of the current Covid situation in Thailand. Schools in Thailand won’t start until June 1st but until yesterday I was told that I would be working from home and perhaps doing some online teaching. Then yesterday I found out it would not be so.
So. Here I am in Mae Sariang with three weeks of “vacation” in front of me. I will be filling those weeks with some informal teaching, some teaching prep for the upcoming semester, maybe a trip to Chiang Mai or two for visa purposes and to move some items still there. Otherwise, I will be weeding out the orchard behind my new house and trying to figure out how to crack up the coconuts that fall from the tree. Church isn’t really happening currently because of the half-lockdown the town is in. Most of the fun evening markets are closed, and even national parks are closed. Many of the mountain villages (other than Saohin) have closed off their gates to outsiders.
La la la la la…..
So I am trying to find the best way to use my time wisely. Maybe I should do a week of fasting and praying. That would save money, at least, for sure. Maybe I could try building furniture from the bamboo beside the house. Or study Karen.
One thing that I have been rolling around in my mind lately is my recent lack of immersion in good, deep literature. I attribute this to several factors, one my focus on language study, two when in college and on my internship I lacked the energy and time to read deeply, and three, bad habits. One of my goals for this summer is to stretch my brain in relation to good, English literature.
So, with this in mind, I have decided for the next week to post a poem a day. This might be a poem that I have previously written and/or published, it might be a poem I have freshly written, or it might be a poem written by someone else that I enjoy, along with a bit of an explanation of what the poem means to me. I do not pretend to be a great poet, or a great poet analyst. I like poetry that makes me think, but does not make my brain do cartwheels to figure out what the author is driving at. But I do enjoy sharing poetry that is meaningful to me, as well as hearing poetry from others.
I plan to do this for a week, but if I see that its going well, I might stretch it out to two weeks. I also have been a bit traumatized (ok, that’s too strong a word but for lack of a better one) by the constant changes of plans, and so I feel a bit scared to commit to a poem a day FOR SURE. So, I will say, barring a sudden trip to Chiang Mai or Saohin, a storm and a subsequent blackout, the sudden rising of the creek (very literally if I do go to Saohin) or a wave of dengue fever or any other insurmountable obstacle, I will post a poem a day.
And I would love to hear thoughts on the poetry from my readers.
Since I made the final move to town of Mae Sariang after finishing my internship in Saohin in the middle of April, I’ve spent the majority of my time in my house. This was mostly because of a third wave of Covid that spread over Thailand since the beginning of April. I spent a week in quarantine in after coming to Mae Sariang from Chiang Mai. This was the 4th time I’ve quarantined in my life (although two of those quarantines were less than 2 weeks long).
My house and I get along well, but there are times when you need something else besides a house and a Tukay to talk to. Even after getting out of quarantine, it’s been hard to feel like a part of life in Mae Sariang since the town is in a half-lockdown. I missed a friend’s wedding because of quarantine. I keep in contact with the few friends I knew before I moved here, but it’s hard to make new friends with the level of social activity going on. I was also feeling disappointed after giving up my trip to Saohin that I had been hoping to take on May 1. I felt like with the Covid situation the way it was and me not being back from Chiang Mai a full 14 days, as well as having been in contact with a Covid-infected person (although it was over 14 days by then) I simply didn’t feel comfortable with making the trip. While Saohin has not closed down, many mountain villages have shut off contact with the outside world.
When I had been up in Saohin on my internship, Kru Paeng had asked me if I wanted to take one of the cats when I left. Kru Paeng was moving to another school after the semester ended and she wasn’t going to be able to take the cats with her. At the time, I couldn’t commit to taking care of a cat since I was going to be traveling back and forth from Chiang Mai for part of March and part of April.
Last week I started thinking. I was now settled into my house, or getting there. I was tired of being by myself all the time. I was tired of talking just to the Tukay. I wanted something furry and warm and alive.
Why not see if I can get the cat down now, I wondered. I messaged Captain Joe since his police unit was coming down at the end of the month.
“If I get the children to catch the cat, can you bring it down or arrange for someone to bring it down?” I asked.
“Sure,” he replied. I messaged one of the children, but she obviously wasn’t able to connect to wifi since she never replied. I also messaged one of the teachers that had traveled up during break to take care of some things. And then I waited, wondering.
In the evening, Captain Joe messaged me saying they hadn’t found it yet, but the next morning he said he saw that Kru Taum had caught the cat. Kru Toon sent me a picture of the little gray cat. “Is this the one?” he asked. He stuck it in a bag and brought it to Captain Joe. Captain Joe put it in a box and wrote my number and name on it and gave it to Captain Chatri and P Boy to bring down to Mae Sariang.
I got a call in the evening that they had arrived and went to the police station to pick up my cat. As I expected, she was pretty upset. She had clawed a hole in the side of the box, so when P Boy put it on my bike, he put the hole on the top side so she couldn’t come out. I drove home, itching to turn around and see if a gray cat head was sticking out of the hole behind me, but I resisted the urge.
Kru Paeng had told me to keep her inside the house for a few days until she got used to her surroundings. “Take good care of her,” she said. Kru Paeng loves her cats a lot, and I knew I would feel very bad if something happened to her. Before opening the box, I closed up all the windows, or at least partially since only two of them have screens on them.
The cat came out disturbed. And she stayed disturbed for most of the evening, to my chagrin. There were a few moments when I would hold her and she would be quiet, but for most of the night she prowled the house, mourning and meowing, while I tossed and turned in my bed, chasing elusive sleep.
I woke around 6:30 to a silent house. Good, she’s finally quiet, I thought, but I decided to get up and check anyway. A lumpy feeling of worry started in my throat as I started to check the house, and it had plummeted down to the bottom of my stomach by the time I was finished.
There was no cat in the house.
I investigated and found hairs between two of the glass panes by the porch window. I didn’t feel much pride in my investigative skills, however. I walked outside and called. No cat. I walked to the neighbors. House after house, I stopped and asked if they had seen her. House after house, they said no.
I came back home and cried. I used to cry over cats when I was 5 and still cried over them when I was 15. I guess I still cry over cats at 30.
I felt terrible. I thought of all the work that Captain Joe and the teachers and Captain Chatri and P Boy had gone to to bring the cat down. I thought of Kru Paeng and how much she loved her cats. I thought of how much I had been looking forward to having some furry, warm company.
I decided not to listen too much to the words of the people I talked with about the cat. Some were very blunt. “Oh, you’ll never see her again.” Some were more encouraging, yet I felt like they were only trying to make me feel good. “She’ll probably come back tonight. She’s just checking things out.”
I prayed. Oh yes, I prayed. But on a level of 1 to 10, my faith scored in at a 2 at the most. The disappointment was just too big. Being low on sleep didn’t help matters either. I never operate well on low sleep.
That afternoon, after running some errands and meeting up with some friends, I felt better. I decided to read some books on my kindle and relax a bit, but for the life of me, I could not find my kindle. One of the worst parts about living by yourself is that when you lose something, you automatically know that you were the only one who could have mislaid it. There is no subtle blaming of anyone else. Even worse, when you mislay your phone, there is no way to ask someone to call it so you can find it. And I lose things. A lot.
As I sat there, thinking I had searched every possible place it might be, I prayed. God, can you please just help me find this? Right after the prayer, the thought flashed through my mind. God doesn’t even care about bringing your cat back. Why should he care about your kindle?
Then I looked up and saw my kindle on the bookshelf in a slightly obscure spot where I had laid it while cleaning that morning.
It was an encouragement. Maybe God did care.
That evening I was sitting in my living room. I was getting more used to the idea of a catless future, because I didn’t really want to think about getting another animal after the first one ran away.
Suddenly I heard a slight noise at the door, a faint meow.
I got up and looked out.
And there she was, the little gray runaway cat.
I picked her up and sat down and did the next natural thing.
The poem below was written in January 2009 at the age of 18. Or that’s the date I have on it, but I think I actually wrote the first draft a few months earlier in August of 2008. Recently, I opened up a copy of Echoes of Eternity, the first book of poems I published. I realized that few of my poems in that book had ever been published on my blog. Even though I feel like some of them fall below par (and I cringe when I see that), I also realize that there are some really good ones in the book. Also, there are a few that never really were good friends with me (for instance, they never seemed to quite say what I wanted them to say, or sound like I wanted them to sound) but when I returned to read them years later, I find that they are much better friends than I ever thought them to be. Below is one of those, called “Home,” mostly because ever since I left the village, homesickness has been harder.
The heat of the day has fled with the coming of the darkness. The sky is clear tonight, with a bright moon coming up in the east. I know it is east even though my head tells me it is north. The last few evenings have been busy, with little time to spare for things like writing. Kru Paeng asked me if I could make cookies for the children for their lunch. Enough so each can have two, she said. That is 160 cookies. By the time I finished four nights of baking, I had the recipe down in my head and cooking over a fire much more efficiently than the first time I did it. No more burnt cookies. Or barely. A brand-new thicker pan donated to the school from visitors on Sunday helped a lot. Still it took a long time to make them, and it didn’t help matters when Captain Joe came over and hinted broadly that he would like some. They were served at lunch this morning and were a hit.
So, now that the cookies are past, I write.
The days are still lengthening, and the heat gets stronger with each passing day. The smoke has lessened which lets the sun’s rays come through. In the afternoon, the teacher’s office which is made of wood gets breathlessly hot. There is not enough electricity generated by the solar panels to run a fan, I guess, so there is not even the comfort of a fan. At night I sleep with the windows wide open, careless to the fact that a loose buffalo might stick its head in the window some night, as it did to a previous teacher. The cats take advantage of the open window and jump in and out during all hours of the night.
Last week I experienced the danger of the mountain slopes for myself. I was planning to visit one of my third grader’s home since she had been begging me to come for a long time. On the way, I stopped to pick up Dauk Gulab, another third grader, and was driving up a hill to the home of another student, Wah Meh, to take her along as well. When I first looked at the slope, it looked doable, but it was longer than I had reckoned. I was driving in 2nd gear on my bike and the engine started dragging. I knew from previous experience that I didn’t want it to stop on me, especially with a rider, so I shifted down into first gear. This was a mistake and I realized it even as I did it. Since I was revving the bike to keep it going in second gear, it now shot up in the front, and we flipped over backwards (or so it seemed. I don’t really think we went over totally backwards but that was the feeling I got.) This was the first time I had ever really dumped my bike on the slopes, even though I had had several very close calls before. What bothered me most was my rider. We were both unhurt and she was cheerily brave about it all, but I felt a lump of guilt and fear gathering in my stomach all evening long. It helped to find out later from Wah Meh that her mom had dumped her bike there as well, and Kru Taum told me that he had run out of steam on the same slope before. There was something funny with my bike now, though, when I shifted. The next day I looked it over and discovered that the bar where you rest your feet had shifted. This was coming in contact with the foot shift when shifting down. Kru Taum led the way to Kai Muk’s house where Kai Muk’s dad brought out a heavy tool and whacked it into place.
The cicadas are here. They come in full blast and their noise in the morning when I wake up around 6 is deafening. They are known to be a delicacy and come at a high price in markets on the plains. One school day I tried fruitlessly to help the 4th graders catch them using nets and plastic bottles on sticks. I didn’t catch even one. The other students crowded around talked all at once, as they usually do, “You want to catch jakajan (cicadas)? Then all you need to do is make a paste out of sticky rice flour and paste it on a piece of wood and then the cicadas will come and stick on them.” This sounded more confusing then ever, but I decided to try it out. Pa De Bue and Itim and Yaut came to help me make the paste. We mixed some sticky rice flour with water and boiled and stirred it until it was a thick, sticky paste. Then carrying the still hot pot between Itim and Pa De Bue, off we went. We started off with their being only about 4 of us, but as we walked down the road to the bridge, we kept on collecting more and more schoolboys, until there were probably about 10 of us altogether. I felt like we should be waving a flag and blowing on a bugle, such was the excitement in the air. First, we marched down to a dry creekbed and spread some paste on pieces of wood and some trees. Sure enough, soon there were some jakajans stuck to the paste. “It’s not enough,” they all proclaimed, so we trekked over a buffalo pasture to another stream where the jakajans had congregated en masse. Again, we pasted the white substance onto sticks and walked along the creek bed, thrusting the sticks into areas where the jakajans sat. Pretty soon, our sticks were buzzing loudly. We had taken along two plastic bottles with some water in them and before we knew it, the bottles were full of very sticky, very disturbed cicadas. Even though we could have caught hundreds more, we called it quits and headed back to the house. There several of the boys and I washed them and plucked the wings off the creatures. Then we mixed them with some seasonings and Yaut fried up the first batch. They seriously were really good.
The situation across the border in Myanmar gets continually worse ever since the coup in February when the army took over the previous government. Last week, Captain Joe brought over a report in English that the Myanmar consulate had written and sent to the northern parts of Thailand. He couldn’t make sense of it, so I summarized it. Basically, it was a defense of what the Myanmar army was doing in Myanmar against the protesters and those in opposition with the new government. Some people say they can hear the guns sometimes from across the border in Kayah State. The Burmese army has again shut off most of the internet service so those from Saohin who use Burmese sim cards for their internet are now without any service. (We are close enough to the border and far enough away from Thai phone service that many of the villagers, as well as the army camp at the border crossing buy Burmese sim cards for their phone service). This cutoff has resulted in the army officers needing to use the internet provided by the school and the police station. Last week we heard news that 5 important citizens from Kayah State were asking to cross the border into Thailand since they were in danger. In previous years the crossing was simply done but with Covid19 it is a much more serious endeavor. The army allowed them to cross over and right now, the refugees are quarantining in someone’s field. A day or so later, another request was made to allow 30 more citizens cross over. I haven’t heard yet if they would let them or not. I find it very interesting to be at this spot at this point in time. I have followed some of the conflicts in Burma for years and am very interested in the conflicts between the army and many of the minority groups. I would love to add pictures, but its quite impossible right now with the slow internet. This coming Saturday is the graduation ceremony. I will be heading down to Mae Sariang on Monday, Lord willing.