Tag Archives: home

Kansas (Vignettes of a Journey #6)

Only in sleep I see their faces,

Children I played with when I was a child.

Louise comes back with her brown hair braided,

Annie with ringlets warm and wild. “Only in Sleep” by Sara Teasdale

Nostalgia is one of the biggest emotions that hit me when I am home. Half of my time at home, I spend reminiscing and walking around old haunts or digging through shoeboxes of letters and photos and school papers. The above poem brings a lump to my throat as I think of my past visit home.

It was a memorable visit, filled with out-of-the-ordinary happenings, not all that were nice.

After traveling home from Reach, I got sick the first week. On the last day of March, it snowed enough to cover the ground and then it all melted by noon. The next week, my nephew fell off his horse and broke his wrist and we had high winds almost every day. The following week was windy again for a few days and then we had some really warm windy weather, along with hail, rain and then again, some snow! The day before Good Friday a gas plant in Haven blew up and some people could see the flames from our area. The last week I was home we had about one nice day, and the rest were cold and windy.

I loved the snow we got, though, even when others were quite glum about it. And there were other highlights to offset the unhappy surprises. My nieces and I took a little trip one day to the library and to the Dutch Kitchen. Sara and I spent a day at a coffee shop together and I also joined her at work one day. Our family got together for Good Friday, and Mom and Dad and Sara and I went out for supper one evening. I got to help at a community sale one Saturday, attended baptism services at our church one Sunday, and listened to a school program the last evening I was home. I visited my grandma’s grave one afternoon. Most Mondays I went with Aunt Miriam to the doctor where she did lab and chemo.

Wednesday evening before I left was a perfect spring evening, and my nephew Eric, the one who had not broken his wrist, and I went horseback riding. We saw 5 turkeys, one deer, and another animal that we decided was either a coyote or a mountain lion, both of which have a tail, a tawny color and a loping run. Both of us hoped it was the latter, but we weren’t close enough to make sure. Friday before I left on Saturday, I went with Grandpa and my Aunt Miriam and Dad to the doctor. In the evening, my nephew Davon, the one who had broken his wrist, came over with his .22 youth rifle and we went bird hunting in 40 mph winds, shouting to each other over the howl. I shot at several birds and was always secretly glad that I hit none. Somehow, shooting things does not have the same appeal as it used to, but I did pray that Davon would hit something and he did.

This time, saying goodbye harder than it had been for a long time. The last two times I had been home, Covid restrictions made it complicated and difficult to travel back to Thailand, so the last few days of my time at home had been spent stressing about travel back. This time was different, with eased restrictions. It was also the first time I was home after grandma’s death. This made it harder to say goodbye to my mom, since she seemed smaller and whiter than before.

Saturday morning dawned rainy. I am always glad when it is rainy the day I leave, since it fits my mood. Before I left, I ran out to the apple tree and cut some blossoms that had just appeared overnight.

And then I left for Wichita in the middle of the endless Kansas wind.

The Hound Dog and the Tulips

There is something a soul loves about a tulip bed

Brave red warriors, fearlessly blooming

Tossed among the prairie winds and buried in snow;

I gaze from the edge and marvel at such courage,

Awed by first flash of spring.

Yet at this shrine of tulips there is another,

A more ardent worshipper than I

Who adores each day with consecrated whine.

Not worshipping from afar, or with holy expectancy,

But with sweet communion among the flowers,

(Where even I fear to tread) the ritual is completed:

Two turns and a twist, and a sigh of pure adoration

The long ears give a twitch and then– down she sinks among the glory

And from the crushed velvet red, spring rises like incense

Heavenward, and so it shall be forever,

For is this not called such — a tulip bed?

Meditations of the Aunt

For, lo, children are an Heritage of the Lord

As Arrows in the Hand of a Mighty One

Happy is he who hath his Quiver full

For they are like Olive Plants, the Offspring of Fruitful Vines;

They are the Laughter, the Promise, the Crown

The Ornament and Joy of Old Age.

But doth the Holy Writ have ought to say

Of when the Mighty Ones have Earthly Errands to perform

And leave all the Arrows and Olive Plants

To descend at once upon the Ancestral Home,

And Ought to say of the Sisters of the Fruitful Vines

That care for such a Quiver full in Times as this?

Nay, it hath Naught to say.

And despite all the Efforts on the part of such

The Arrows will ascend into Mulberry Trees,

And will splash in the Fountains on Winter Days,

And will, with great mirth, give rides in the Washing Machine.

The Olive Plants spread themselves flourishingly,

As though strengthened by the Fertilizer of Chocolate and Peppermint,

That, like Stolen Waters, were eaten in secret, and oh, so sweet;

And all cease not to question about each and every Process of this Life and the Next

Until Silence is not only golden, but more precious than Gasoline.

Then, when the Arrows have been gathered from the four Corners of the Farm

And the Quivers returned and the Olive Plants packed away

And delivered to the Homes of each respective Tribe

The Aunts with Aching Feet both lay themselves down in Peace and sleep,

Praising God that such an Heritage was not seen fit to be bestowed on them

But instead, were granted the same as Paul, and as such are at peace to abide as him.

Once Upon a Spring Wind in Kansas

Has anyone else noticed

How the wind is in a hurry today?

I asked it where it was going

But it did not deign to say.

I even asked it politely,

When it loudly slammed the door

But it would not listen to me

It only blew some more.

It shouted in the treetops

And it yelled against the pane;

It sent the emptied garbage bin

Scooting down the lane.

It blew the wash right off the line-

The sheets were fodder for the breeze-

And one of dad’s Sunday socks

Landed in the trees.

It groaned and moaned in the attic

Till we thought a man was dying;

It wailed along the windows

Like a baby’s midnight crying.

It played all sorts of silly tricks

Like whooshing off the milkman’s hat

It blew the potted pansies south

And knocked mom’s tulips flat

Has anyone else ever tried

To tell the wind what to do?

I called it names and said it should stop

But it just said rudely, “Who me? Whooo-whoooo!”

So, I just stayed in all day

And wrote a poem about a nasty wind

The wind that tomorrow will turn around

To go racing north as fast again.

Obituary

How do you pen the life of a 100 years on a paper in black and white?

In the newspaper it goes like this:

“Was born, was baptized, was married to, and died.

Preceded in death, and survivors include….”

As if life could be fitted into a fill-in-the-blank formula.

There was so much more to her.

How do you include the way her wrinkly voice (yes, her voice was wrinkly too) would say, “Much obliged!” and how she would wave from the window as we left?

What about the way she loved her flowers and got up early to pick strawberries on dewy May mornings?

How do you tell how she would stay up late at night reading like a night owl?

How do you write about the years of farming, of eking out a living on a prairie riddled with drought?

Or the pink and cream mommi crackers she would always give us when we visited?

How do you write about her love for the birds and how she fed them faithfully and knew the names of each kind?

Did you write of the hours that she prayed for us, sitting in her chair on her orange and brown afghan?

Or about the time she chased the squirrel down from the birdfeeder with her rolled-up newspaper?

What about the years of the Dust bowl, how the storms loomed up over the prairie, and how the dust gritted in her mouth so thick she could scarcely breathe?

How do you include all she saw, from the Roaring 20’s to the Dust Bowl to World War 2 to the Vietnam War, to the age of technology and Covid19?

How do you pen a 100 years in black and white?

Born on the rugged prairies, a tiny Kansas sunflower.

A woman of prayer.

The essence of kindness, faithfulness, and generosity.

She lived. She died.

And she loved.

Medley

Spurred by a whim, I wrote this tonight. Imperfect, but it was satisfying to put together.

Tonight I was wishing that I could write some of what was moving inside of me, but as I was reading other poems, I felt that so much of what I was feeling was already written so well in other poetry. You know that moment when you are reading a poem and you come to this phrase and you are like, yes, that phrase! It says it exactly! It hits that spot. And you want to crow to the whole world that you have found that phrase, but often you sort of feel a bit silly after the crowing.

Anyway, I just took some of those phrases (and others for gluing the others together) and made a poem. I am not sure what the purpose was. Inspirational? Maybe. Humorous? Perhaps some may find it so. Creative? Yes, partly. Cathartic? Yes, I think so.

Here we are:

The ache of the twilight is upon me but I cannot speak

The words will not come.

But many other have already written them for me.

Come, let us see.

The day is done, and the darkness falls from the wings of night

As a feather is wafted downward like

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean.

Yet, I beg you, tell me not in mournful numbers

That life is but an empty dream

That the road less traveled by is no different than what it seems

That nothing gold can stay; that there is no rest even in Flander’s fields.

And that the struggle nought availeth. Just because

I am nobody (who are you?), does not mean that I have never

Slipped the surly bonds of Earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Or spent time alone in the night, on a dark hill

With pines around me spicy and still;

Or lived sad and strange dark summer dawns,

With the earliest pipe of half-awaken’d birds;

For I have loved hours at sea, gray cities,

The fragile secret of a flower…

Long have I known a glory in it all.

And yet, tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean

Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,

And thinking of the days that are no more

And, I must ask, does the road wind uphill all the way?

If so, let me rest here in these woods so lovely dark and deep,

While you come and read to me some simple and heartfelt lay

And these aches shall fold their tents like the Arabs

And as silently steal away.

(It was written quickly, and since it is not meant to be a masterpiece poem of any kind, I didn’t chew and meditate on it and edit it much, so if you have any ideas of more phrases that could be thrown in, I would love it. And I think I will write more of these in the future. For therapeutic purposes. )

I should leave you to guess where the lines came from, but I feel like putting the lines here without them really being my own is almost infringing on copyright purposes. I don’t know. But here you are:

The Day is Done, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tears, Idle Tears, by Lord Alfred Tennyson,

A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Road Less Traveled By, by Robert Frost

Nothing Gold Can Stay, Robert Frost

In Flander’s Fields, by John McCrae

Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth, Arthur Hugh Clough

I am Nobody, Who are You? by Emily Dickinson

High Flight, John Magee

Stars, Sara Teasdale

I Have Loved Hours at Sea, Sara Teasdale

God’s World, Edna St. Vincent Millay

Uphill, Christina Rossetti

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Robert Frost

Late Winter Night

Tonight, I was reading a few lines of Sara Teasdale’s in her volume of poems, Flame and Shadow. Her poems are always alight with vivid imagery, often of nature, and the few lines I read tonightabout night falling made me terribly homesick. Homesick for dusk at home, twilight in early soft June summers, or wintry landscapes and sunsets on snow.

Which in turn, both homesickness and poetry about the later parts of the day, made me think of a poem that I wrote when I was 17. This poem is not like Sara Teasdale’s poems in any way, but it always stirs a warm memory inside of me of late winter nights and a memory of my favorite thing to do as a child on those late winter nights: read in bed late into the night. (Come to think of it, it is one of my favorite things to do as an adult.)

The worst thing about reading in bed late at night was the fact that I did not have a lamp beside my bed. Why not, I am not sure, because I remember one year most of us got lamps for a Christmas present, but at the time I wrote this poem I lacked a lamp.

This meant that someone had to get out of bed and turn off the light before it was possible to go to sleep.

 Now, when you turn off the light as soon as you get up the stairs and then crawl into bed, there is no drama involved at all. But if you have been reading for hours, engrossed in your book in which you have just finished off the story of Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles, or perhaps White Fang, or The Prophet, or At the End of the Spear, it is impossible for a young (or old) person with a fertile imagination to turn off the light in an ordinary fashion. For one, someone might have sneaked in under the bed while you were busy reading. Or, something, who knows what, might be waiting out there in the hall just as you reach the light switch…. really so many things could go wrong.

If my sister and I were sleeping in the same bed, then an argument would follow about who should turn off the light, and it usually turned out that the one sleeping closest to the light switch would turn it off, if nothing else for personal safety reasons since having the other person do it would mean that person could easily land on you on the expedited return trip.

But it was worse when you were sleeping by yourself. There was no moral support or expectation of a warm, living human being lying in the bed when you returned from the turning-off-of-the-light. All the worse if there would be.

So, this poem was born.

Late Winter Night

It’s late winter night

And the snow is falling

 Brushing over barren trees,

The night winds calling.

Inside the fire’s warm

And I’m snug in my bed

Curled up with a book

The covers to my head;

Lost in a story

Or buried in a rhyme

The hour has grown very late

But I’ve forgotten the time.

The clock strikes again

 And it’s time to say good night

 It’s time to put my book away

 Oh! But what about the light?

It’s only five feet away

 But might as well be a mile

Even though the way I do it

Takes just a little while;

So many terrible things

 Coud happen as I go

Like hands that grab for my feet

Or pinch my little toe.

Or after everything is dark

When I’ve turned out the light

Suppose I made a jump for bed

And didn’t aim quite right?

 So many things could go wrong

 But the thing must be done

 So, I gather up my courage

And out of bed I run!

Take a leap! Switch off the light!

Come diving into bed!

Snuggle down into the depths

Pull the covers over my head

Take a breath and check around–

I think- I think – I’m in one piece still

Even though I stubbed my toe

 And hit the windowsill;

 And then I curl up in a ball

And wrap the overs tight

Sleep is coming, I’m drifting out

 Oh, late, late winter night!

-January 2008

From Echoes of Eternity

In Which She Addresses Some Frequently Asked Questions

On my recent visit home, I realized through various conversations how little many people know of what I am doing here. I realize this is a breach in my communication, since I have not done as well in communicating as I did several years ago. Below are some of the questions I am often asked as well as questions I am often asked from Thai people.

Are you in the mountains?

Many people know my dream of living in the mountains. The answer is, right now, no, I am not exactly living in the mountains, but I am surrounded by them. We live in a narrow river valley about 2 miles wide. Just behind our house, the mountains start again. Mae Sariang, the town we live in, is approximately 35 kilometers from the Thai/Burma border, but because of bad roads would probably take close to 2 hours to reach. Mae Sariang is about 4 hours from Chiang Mai and about half of that is through mountains. Many, many surrounding villages come to Mae Sariang for supplies and medical care. Mae Sariang is located in the Mae Hong Son province.

How big is Mae Sariang?

It’s a little hard to say since it is a district that is stretched out pretty widely, with about 7 subdistricts. The total population of the district is about 50,000, as of 2010, according to Wikipedia. The actual town, or municipality, of Mae Sariang, I would venture to make an educated guess of 15-20 thousand people. However, it is very difficult to see where the town starts and stops and where one village starts and stops, at times. Dotted all around the surrounding mountains are also many small villages.

Do you live by yourself?

No. My good friend Amy Smucker arrived in June. We teach together at the same school. Amy had lived in Thailand before this, so she was not a stranger to the language or the culture.

Are you paid or are you a volunteer?

We are both paid teachers, but we teach on half the salary normally paid a foreign teacher. This was due to a prior agreement, in which the school agreed to hire both of us for the price of one, since I did not want to live by myself, and the other schools I had contacted did not have the financial means to hire a teacher.

What subjects do you teach?

English. This is not English as we learned it in school, but English as a foreign language. This would be similar to students in America studying Spanish. English teaching in Asia is in HIGH demand and foreign native English speakers are seen as having magical capabilities to instill language abilities in students without even having to try. (This is a myth).

What age students do you teach?

I teach grades 10, 11, and 12. Amy teaches students from all levels between 7-12.

How many students do you have?

Approximately 600 students. This term I have 17 teaching slots. I meet each class once a week. Do I like this set up? Not necessarily, but they want each student to study with a foreign teacher once a week, because of the above-mentioned myth.

How big is the school?

It is the district high school, and students from other districts also attend. There are about 1700 students in the high school. This is the main school in the area that boasts grades from 10-12 so many students come from other areas. (Most area high schools only go to grade 9).

How long do you plan to stay in Thailand?

Indefinitely. In other words, until God says, Move.

What kind of qualifications do you need to work in Thailand?

To get a work visa, you need a bachelor’s degree in any field. To get a temporary teaching license, you need that degree. To get a permanent teaching license, you need a bachelor’s degree in education, or a Master’s in education, or another certification in education that is approved by the Teacher’s Council of Thailand.

Do you see James or Amanda often? (friends who are both from my home church and are both currently living in Chiang Mai.)

No, not very often. Under normal circumstances, Amy and I would be travelling to Chiang Mai once a month to attend INVEST meetings and church at IGo Christian Fellowship. Because of Covid restrictions that discourage travel, and due to the fact that we both work at a large high school that could be shut down were we to bring Covid to Mae Sariang, we have not been traveling to Chiang Mai for these meetings.

What are Covid 19 restrictions like there?

We are required to wear masks whenever in public. In Mae Hong Son, there is a 20,000 baht fine for not wearing a mask, which is over 600 USD. (Most Thai people do not complain about wearing masks since wearing a mask is something very cultural. If you are sick, or around someone else who is sick, or if you are driving in smog or dust, many Thai people will immediately don a mask.) In many restaurants or shops, there are thermometers to check temperatures, as well as alcohol gel that you are required to use before entering. Travel to high risk areas is discouraged, and quarantine upon return from those areas is not unusual. In some tourist places that are re-opening, negative antigen tests are required for entering for unvaccinated tourists. Students and teachers are required to wear masks when in the classroom. In public schools, all teachers are required to be vaccinated, as well as all high school students and vocational school students before Nov 15. Currently we are teaching online but plan to move back onsite after Nov 19.

What organization do you work under?

We are working under the English for Life team (EFL) which is a part of the larger INVEST team (IGo Network of Volunteer Educators Serving Thailand). INVEST consists of EFL and Wisdom Tree, as well as teachers working at the skills center. INVEST, in turn, is a ministry under IGO, Institute of Global Opportunities.

Are you allowed to share about God openly?

In our school, which is a government school, if someone asks me about what I believe I answer directly, but I do not openly evangelize or present the gospel, unless someone asks. Outside of school, I am more free to do so. Our desire is, however, to be a bridge for the local church to evangelize. Through relationships we build in school with people who are interested in learning about God, our desire is to be the bridge to bring them in contact with the local church and support them in discipling and teaching.

What kind of church do you go to?

We go to a small Karen and Thai church not too far from our house. It is a small house church, and the preaching is done in Thai and translated into Karen for older members of the congregation. A few of our students also attend. We are very blessed by the servant attitude of the pastor and his wife, something that is not always found in Thai churches where position and power are coveted.

Is this your final landing place?

I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think so. I love Mae Sariang and its melting pot of people from the surrounding villages but my desire is to move deeper out of town into the mountains and work in a place similar to Saohin, where I had done my internship. However, I feel like Mae Sariang is the place where I can build connections and research other opportunities, as well as work until I have won my permanent teaching license.

What is the weather like?

There are 3 seasons: hot, rainy, and cool. In the hot season, temperatures go over 100 F, with usually no rain for 4 months. This is often when burning is done in Northern Thailand and Myanmar, which culminates in smog that hangs chokingly over the mountains. The rainy season in Mae Sariang is heavier than in Chiang Mai, with lots of flooding on the mountain roads that lead up to villages. The cool season I would imagine is similar to Chiang Mai (where the coldest is in the lower 50s upper 40s) but that depends a lot on the elevation of where you are in the district.

How fluent are you in Thai?

This is an awkward question for me to answer, but I answer it honestly. I am fluent. Not on a native speaker level for sure, but I can trick people on the phone. I also do some translation, although not nearly as much as I did as a student and living in Chiang Mai where there was an abundance of foreigners.

Are there many foreigners where you live?

Before Covid19 hit, there were tourists who would pass through town on the Mae Hong loop route. Few would stay for more than a day, but they were in existence. These days, though, if Amy or I see one in town, it is news that we share over the supper table, “Oh, I saw a foreigner today at the 7-11.” Or, “I saw a farang driving past Tesco.” Fluent English speakers are rare to find. Of course, Amy and I talk English to each other, but sometimes we throw in Thai, as well as the occasional Dutch word. When we find Thai friends who speak English fluently, it’s refreshing to be able to converse in English, not that we don’t enjoy speaking Thai, but to be able to converse in one’s own language is a treat.

Frequently asked questions from Thai people:

How long have you been in Thailand?

About 7 years.

Are you half Thai?

Nope

How long do you plan to stay in Thailand?

Until God leads me somewhere else.

Why on earth do you live here when you could live in America?

Well…..I…  where do I start?

Can you eat ________________? Fill in the blank with any kind of very spicy food.  

Probably.

Can you speak Northern Thai?

Some. Not much.

Can you speak Karen?

Very little

How much do you pay for rent?

3000 baht a month (100 dollars)

Do you send money home to your parents?

No.

Do you miss your family?

Yup.

Do you have a boyfriend?

Nope

Why don’t you have a boyfriend?

Cause, ummmmm…..

Do you want a boyfriend?

Well, I mean, I ……

Do you want me to introduce you to my uncle?

Ummmm, don’t worry about it.

Any more questions? I would be glad to hear them, whether awkward or non-awkward.

Mommi

My grandma is old.

She has always been old, to me.

I remember going to her house one day when I was 4. My mom was going to Hutch. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to go to my grandma’s house, or Mommi’s house, and play with the Berenstein bears in the log cabin that Doddi built.

She was old already, back then.

She was already old when Doddi died from complications from open heart surgery when I was 9.

She was old when I went to Thailand the first time over 8 years ago. And she has been getting older every time I come home again.

And each time I leave, I say goodbye for the last time.

Every time I see her, she is a little bit smaller, a little bit whiter, and a little bit thinner. But she is always, always as sweet and kind as ever. This last time is like that, when I go home for my visit.

My grandma is old. She has always been old, but now she is older than ever. She is 100 years old. She sleeps on a hospital bed and eats her meals from her chair. My mom and my aunts take turns staying with her every night and day.

One time I stay with her so that Mom can go to her cousin’s garage sale. I read from the Budget at the top of my lungs until Mommi has pity on me and tells me I can stop. Then I read through some of the 200 cards she received on her 100th birthday until Mom comes back to stay with her for the night.

She is starting to forget things, which is painful to watch, not so much because she is becoming forgetful, as would be expected for a woman of 100, but because she realizes that her sharp mind is not quite as sharp anymore and it bothers her. So, I try not to ask her too many questions about something that she might not remember well.

I give her a small handbag made by a team of ladies in Thailand. She is delighted with it, and keeps on commenting about it and saying thank you. “It’s so pretty that I won’t want to take it anywhere for fear something will happen to it,” she says. A minute later, she remembers and says almost apologetically, “Well, I don’t go anywhere anyway anymore.”

On my last day at home, I go over in the rainy evening to say goodbye. She is sitting on her brown chair with the colorful orange and brown afghan, eating her supper. Dorothy is there with her for the night. I sit down and we chat for a while before I say goodbye.

She is smaller than ever. I give her a hug and hold her hand for a bit, and then leave before the tears can burst from the floodgates.

The last I see her is as I drive past. Dorothy is waving, and so is Mommi, a thin white hand from the window.

I am glad for the rain streaming down the windshield.

A Bit of the Journey

A friend of my mom’s who used to live in Kansas recently reached out to me after coming across my blog. One of the questions she asked was about my journey in coming to Thailand, as well as my journey in writing poetry. I had already been tossing ideas about in my mind in relation to writing about the latter topic, and her suggestion got my mind rolling. What exactIy got me started writing poetry, or writing in general? It’s hard to say. Books, events, people, words of encouragement, God… all these things. Perhaps explaining in depth about all the details of what poetry means to me and how I began writing poetry would sort of be like taking all the beauty and mystery out of the story, like Carl Sandburg said. He said, “Roses, sunsets, faces have mystery. If we could explain them, then after having delivered our explanations we could say, ‘Take it from me, that’s all there is to it, and there’s no use your going any further for I’ve told you all there is and there isn’t any more.’ If poems could be explained, then poets would have to leave out roses, sunset, and faces…” Perhaps if every detail of our journey could be explained then it would lose its mystery. All that to say, here are a few bits and pieces of the journey.

In the first grade, I published my first essay. Miss Denise told me to write about our hobbies as a contribution to the school newspaper. Not only were we supposed to write about our hobbies, but we were to write why we liked to do them.

Mine went like this:

I like to bike.

I like to eat.

I like to sleep.

I like to bike because I like to.

 I like to eat because I get hungry very fast.

I like to sleep because then I don’t have to work.

Brutally honest and to the point. (Some of my editors probably wish I would practice some of that “to the pointness” again.)

In the second grade, I got in trouble with my teacher, who happened to be my cousin as well. I didn’t hear my class of 3 called to the table for our lesson, because I happened to be happily lost in a book, probably something like Dan Frontier or the Mr. T.W. Anthony Woo, or (shudder) the Hardy Boys.

I had to stay in at recess and put my head on my desk as a punishment.

In the third grade, I wrote a story. It was read aloud to the class and published in the school newspaper. It was of slightly better quality than my first-grade venture and was something about a boy who went on a hunt with his uncle.

In the fourth grade I got a new teacher. To the embarrassment of my older siblings, I again had hearing problems when I was lost in a book. Mr. Wes was slightly more understanding than the other teacher. Instead of punishing me, he came to my desk and got my attention. That was the year we had the new history books with the colorful, fascinating pictures of the American History. The history books were the frame for the historical fiction and the autobiographies that were donated to the school and devoured by my classmates and I.

In the 5th grade, my teacher set aside a class period each week for Creative Writing. During this time, we did all sorts of writing exercises, including one about a dinosaur wearing pink pajamas. We wrote descriptive paragraphs and stories and got feedback on our writing. The word counts of our stories rose along with the lists of ideas in our stories. Where at first 500 words had seemed insurmountable, we now found that it wasn’t enough to say what we wanted to say. The most popular topics were stories of the Underground Railroad and runaway slaves. My brother’s stories usually included either cattle rustlers or American Indians or cops and robbers or detectives or all of the above.

In the 6th grade, I started to care about my grades and began to pour myself into school. I especially looked forward to the Creative Writing each week. Close to the end of the year, we entered some of our stories into the local library’s writing contest and I was dumbfounded when the librarian called and said that I had won second prize for my age group.

7th grade brought Rainbow Writing. Finally, I was away from Climbing to Good English and diagramming long, dry sentences and labeling adjectives and adverbs, and instead, let loose on creative assignments. We formed groups with the 8th graders and had Peer Editing Conferences. I struggled emotionally that year and found that writing could help me release and process. I think that was the year that we started being penpals with students from Sterling College. My pen pal was Rachel Wise, and I adored her. I found an outlet in writing to her, and to this day wish I could see those letters again. I started writing some poetry and was introduced to the names and work of some of the great American poets like Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe when I wrote a research paper on American Literature. Emily of New Moon and the Chronicles of Narnia became favorites of mine and influenced these early years of writing. That year I penned a poem called “Echo Dreams,” which was published anonymously in the school newspaper.

8th grade brought the Lively Art of Writing by Lucille Payne. I loved everything about that book. October also found my class of three sitting in John Mast’s living room. The first day I found out that we were going to write a book compiling his stories, I lay down on my mattress and tried to soak it in. It seemed unbelievable to a 13 year old. That year we read through the A Beka Themes in Literature book, and the poetry in that book came alive for me like never before. Poems like, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and Longfellow’s The Day is Done are some of my favorites.

 Life in the 8th grade was less tumultuous than 7th grade. It was full of promise and hope and I was incredibly sad when it ended. 8th grade marked the last of my school career (at that point) but I wasn’t ready for it to stop. I seriously imagined refusing to take my diploma on graduation day. (But then again, I imagined a wide variety of things).

After I left school at the age of 13, life was no longer marked in grades, but in years. 14 and 15 found me at home, mostly milking cows and memorizing lists of cow genealogies and sire attributes and the names, birthdates, and histories of every single cow. Without school, my brain had a lot of thinking space and needed something to stay busy. Thankfully, cows were interesting to me or I cringe to think of what else I would have swallowed up had I access to other things. I started to read through our set of encyclopedias but only made it to page 76 of the A book. I dreamed of writing a book and wrote out some plots but I rarely made it past the hatching stage of the story. Poetry was easier since you could do it in small amounts and then come back and rework it. Also, I am bad at grammar, and poetry gave me more poetic license than prose.

Around the age of 14 and 15, I began reading my Bible daily, especially books like Job and Isaiah and the Psalms in the KJV. The Word slowly began to influence my life more and more, and I would read it for the beauty of the words. Who wouldn’t fall in love with words like this? “And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me.” (Isaiah 49:2 KJV)

16 was the year I could finally join the youth group at church and have a social life. It brought a lot of growing pains and secret crushes and joy and heartache. I began reading and writing more poetry as a way of expression. Shortly after my 16th birthday I discovered Tennyson’s “Sweet and Low” and would recite parts of that and the “Charge of the Light Brigade” to my horse as I rode down miles of outback roads that summer. Like the verses in the Bible that I had discovered, I fell in love with the simple uncluttered rhythm and beauty of “Sweet and Low.”

Sweet and low, sweet and low,
         Wind of the western sea,
Low, low, breathe and blow,
         Wind of the western sea!
Over the rolling waters go,
Come from the dying moon, and blow,
         Blow him again to me;
While my little one, while my pretty one, sleeps.

While outsiders view Kansas as one of the most boring states in the USA, many Kansans are proud and appreciative of the unique beauty of their state. Whether it’s the seas of golden wheat, or the burnt orange and browns of the CRP, or the barren beauty of winter or the wind that Kansas was named after, I found my surroundings a goldmine for inspiration for poetry. Capturing the spirit of the prairie almost became an obsession at times. At 16 I penned “Dust and Wind.”

Wind, wind, endless wind

Fleeting o’er the fields

Dancing in, flying in,

One long roaring wave.

Roaring wave of dust and wind,

Of dust and wind,

Of dust and wind.

Whirlwind of the land

In one unceasing blow

Sweeping lanes and in each hand

One unending broom

Unending broom of dust and wind

Of dust and wind

Of dust and wind

Wind, wind, blowing wild

And talking to me now

Talking to its lonely child

Daughter of the wind

Daughter of the dust and wind,

Of dust and wind

Of dust and wind

I felt deeply, and still do, about death. The death of relatives, people from our church, and the parents of friends hit me hard. In 2011, I wrote this poem after a friend’s father was killed in a tractor accident, and another friend’s mom passed away after being attacked by a bull.

No Words

She’s gone

Like a fragment from a weaving torn

Leaving you who have felt the sorrow born

Through ripping, tearing pain

And we grasp for words that are old and worn

And suddenly seem vain

I have no words.

They fail me when I see the sorrow

The endless aching of tomorrow

Stretched out over the years

I have no words that I can borrow

Only tears.

When I started teaching part time at the age of 20, I felt like I had found my happy space. My only disappointment was when my students weren’t always as excited as I was about the writing projects I assigned. As I taught English, I also began to get much better at it myself. That Christmas I read Jesse Stuarts The Thread that Runs so True for the first time. At 21, I had the opportunity to go to Faith Builders for summer term. As I had written about in this post here, I sat in on Jonas Sauder’s Poetry Appreciation class, which was the first time I really had a lot of interaction with other people who knew and loved and wrote poetry more than I did. It was there that while homesick, I wrote the poem, “Harvest Song.”

Harvest Song

And I must go down to the fields again

Through the shimmer of summer heat,

And walk through the waves of deepening gold

The oceans of ripening wheat;

Then I’ll stand on the edge where the grass still grows

Green by the amber shore,

And feast my eyes with a fierce wild joy

For the harvest is once more.

And I must go to where the sky is pinned

To the earth like an up-turned bowl

Where the hot wind sighs its searing breath

Against my face, and I’ll feed my soul

By the wide expanse of dying wheat

That moves and ripples and flies

And sings the song of my native blood

Harvest beneath the Kansas skies.

The next year at school, I did a poetry week with my students. At the end, I let the students choose a poem to recite at our program on the last day of school. It was interesting to see how each student chose a poem that seemed to fit their personality. Davy chose “The Turkey Shot Out of the Oven” (Jack Prelutsky), humorous and well-written. Micah stood at the front of the audience and recited innocently and soberly while his stick-out ears and wayward hair belied his innocence,

I did not eat your ice cream

I did not swipe your socks.

I did not stuff your lunch box

With rubber bands and rocks

I did not hide your sweater

I did not dent your bike

It must have been my sister

We look a lot alike

(I Did not Eat Your Ice Cream, Jack Prelutsky)

Javin read “Little Brown Pony” with a bridle in hand. And Jessamy in first grade recited,

The fog comes

on little cat feet

It sits looking over harbor and city

on silent haunches

And then moves on.

(Fog, by Carl Sandburg).

I started talking with friends about the possibility of publishing a book of poems. I had seen some compilations that sparked the idea, and after a few years of thinking about it, self-published a book of poems called Echoes of Eternity. Beulah Nisly, my mom’s cousin, agreed to donate her photography to the book. I have sweet memories of the fall of 2012, selecting the photos and discussing poetry. Her photos were exquisite and evocative. She captured Kansas in such a way that sometimes it felt like it would be better to leave the poem out.

The book came out in the spring of 2013, just a week or so before I traveled to Thailand the first time. Bad timing. Could I do it over again, I would do many things differently. One of those things would be finding someone to edit it more critically, but I had few of those kinds of mentors to turn to.

After moving to Thailand in 2014, I kept on writing, but perhaps more sporadically. During my college years I struggled with writing academically because I felt encased in rules and regulations. I hated it. College and living in another culture took a lot of brain energy, so there were times when I wrote little poetry. In December of 2019, however, I compiled a “tradebook” of poems, which was much less ambitious than my first venture, (I had more sense and less money) but with better quality poetry. This I titled, Through a Glass Darkly.

There you are, a taste of where and why and how I came to write poetry. I think I used to write poetry as a young girl because I loved the cadence and the imagery and the thrill of being able to take an event or a feeling and express it in words that touched my own heart. As I grew older, I wrote it more prayerfully. These days in addition to that, I find myself writing poetry as a way of reaching out to God in the empty and lonely spaces of my life. It’s a way that I can pray without really even knowing what I am praying for. Sometimes after I have written it out, I can finally understand what I really was feeling. And often only then feel relief.

Even after writing this, I find myself hesitating to publish it because it feels like when people write something like this, they write from the viewpoint of someone who has already arrived. I don’t think a poet ever quite arrives. And even as I write that, I realize I also hesitate to call myself a poet. But now, after throwing all political correctness and sensitive conscience to the wind, I will publish it. This is simply the story of an ordinary person who loves words.

photo credit pixabay