Poetry from the past

Our Q-C Writer’s Meet-up Group meets twice a month. For last Monday’s meeting we were “assigned” to either bring in for discussion any favorite poems by others or share some we had written. Which presented an interesting dilemma for me, so forgive me for “backing into” an explanation…

In college, more years ago than I care to remember, I was an English major. My first job after college was to teach high school English. So, at the time my creative brain was steeped in literary traditions, which, of course, included poetry. As a result, I took a whack at writing some poems…

But then I left teaching and went to work as a newspaper reporter, which meant that, like a billiard ball that gets hit by another, my trajectory was deflected onto a non-fiction track and away from a poetic path.

Through the years that non-fiction path continued to prevail – reporting, editing, putting together business plans, writing how-to books on small business management and marketing. In the last few years, however, my literary path has veered toward long-form fiction – my Ro Delahanty novels – but no more poetry was ever attempted.

So, I had to dig out a battered old three-ring notebook from a back bookshelf to find some hand-written samples of my poetic efforts from back then (we’re talking late-60s here). While many were sophomoric in content and forced in their poetic style, here are two I thought weren’t too bad and that I was happy to share with my writer friends last Monday and with you:

Strangers

we were strangers at their door
we were strangers in their house
though the language of our tongues
was the same, the gulf
of separated ages forced
our voices up too high

though there was between us
the only real touch of
immortality men can hold
small annoyances and smaller slights
made us strangers in their house

Night Driving

bright swatches
flash past
like an artist gone mad
in phantasmic confusion
a town at most
a rest stop at least
on the empty night road

thrust ahead
in a bright white semi-circle
like a punch that keeps going
into yielding darkness
which cannot be lost
and cannot be caught
on the empty night road

dappled grey
mossy lush
like a feathered tunnel
into somewhere
the soft underbelly
of the trees
on the empty night road

glowing yellow
squares of advice
like trite wise nuggets
cast up on the edge of experience
given and taken
too fast to be read
on the empty night road

© 2018 Dave Lager

Ro’s Rage – Chapter Seven: Birthday dinner Monday, May 15, 1995

Monday was a weird day. It was Ro’s thirteenth birthday, which she’d spent at school in the detention hall on suspension, but then that night had her celebratory birthday dinner with her brother, Patrick, and Kate and Mike.

Mr. Collier, when he met with Ro and her parents at the beginning of the day, had emphasized that the school could not condone fighting even if it might seem to be justified, and so had said Ro’s punishment would be a second day of in-school suspension – it would be up to each of her teachers if they wanted to allow her to make-up for any missed work – plus a month of after school detentions, which would carry over into the next school year. No one needed to say it, but everyone knew it was a fairly light penance − they would find out later just how light.

Of course, for her birthday dinner she’d chosen her favorite pot roast with noodles and for her birthday cake German chocolate. It was a Delahanty household tradition that the birthday celebrant got to pick their favorite meal for Mike to cook.

They’d barely started on the dinner when Patrick proudly announced to his sister, “You know, sis, you’re something of a hero at school.”

Ro rolled her eyes: “You’re kidding!” If anything, she’d kind of hoped at best her classmates would shrug off the incident as just another school fight, or at worst think she was stupid for taking on the three bigger boys. Years later, when she did become a cop and saved a fellow officer’s life in a shootout with some bad guys, she would still be uncomfortable with the “hero thing.”

“Every kid that’s ever been bullied by those morons,” Tuck said, “which is probably half the student body, loves you for kicking their butts.”

“I don’t know if I really kicked their butts,” she protested. “I think if Coach Forester hadn’t gotten there when he did they might’ve kicked mine.”

“Well, that’s sure not what most of the kids at school think,” Tuck said.

Mike glanced at Kate; there was a silent exchange of agreement on their parental position in the matter. With a wink at Patrick, Mike reached over and took his daughter’s hand: “As parent’s we know we’re supposed to tell you something like you shouldn’t be fighting, but the fact is, Ro, we’re really kind of proud of you. You stood up for your friend that was in trouble… And took the responsibility for the consequences.”

Ro shrugged. “I…,” she paused, searching for the right word, “I couldn’t not do something,” she finally said, emphasizing both “not” and “something.”

Kate chuckled. “That definitely would not have been you,” she said, emphasizing her “not” as well − she knew her daughter.

“You know they really came down hard on Fencik,” Patrick said. Billy Fencik was the ninth grader and the one who had instigated the incident.

“I thought that stuff was supposed to be kept private,” Ro said, adding, “Do they know about me, too?”

“Oh yeah, it’s all over the school. You know there’s no such thing as secrets in a school… He was suspended for the rest of the semester, which means he will miss his finals and will probably have to go to summer school to make-up the credits if he fails any classes. He’s on disciplinary probation and was declared ineligible for sports all of next year.”

“Ouch,” Ro said, knowing not being able to play football at the high school would be the far more onerous of the punishments.

“Terry and Wade,” the two eighth graders that had participated were Terry Beamer and Wade Hafner, both of whom Patrick knew, “got a week’s suspension, a month of detentions and are also on disciplinary probation next year.”

Ro’s penance was indeed easy by comparison.

Next: A tai otasha body throw?

© 2018 Dave Lager

Ro’s Rage – Chapter Six: With Principal Collier Thursday, May 12, 1995

An African-American, Driscoll Collier was a bull of a man, reflecting his days as a championship wrestler. Everyone at Kennedy knew his story: He’d been a kid with a chip on his shoulder at this very school soon after it had opened and had more than a few times visited this very office, only then on the “bad boy” side of the desk.

But Coach Forester talked him into joining the wrestling team and had taught him how to constructively channel his aggression; Dris had eventually won a state high school championship in his weight class and gone to college on a wrestling scholarship, where he’d also won several championships.

He was seated behind his desk with his hands folded in front of him. His face was impassive; only a raised eyebrow suggesting concern and maybe even disappointment, but no obvious anger.

“Be seated,” he said to Ro, with a nod toward one of the chairs in front of his desk, then added, “Please tell me what happened out there on the playground, Miss Delahanty.”

Ro described the altercation, leaving nothing out except how enraged she’d been. She tried to tell the story in as precise detail and as objectively as she could. She imagined herself as a cop on the witness stand in a courtroom being asked to describe some situation.

“So, you were fighting?” Driscoll asked.

“Yes, sir,” she said. Ro didn’t see any point in trying to deny it or blame someone else.

“Why?”

The question kind of confused Ro, as she thought the answer was obvious. “My friend was being bullied. I had to protect her.”

“It didn’t occur to you to look for a teacher to stop the boys?” They had once had an assembly about bullying and there were posters around the school, both of which emphasized that if you witnessed bullying the first thing you should do is find a teacher.

“I…” She almost said, “I didn’t see one around,” but knew that, in fact, she hadn’t even looked. “No, sir,” she said, then added as a small measure of justification, “My friend was being hurt.”

“Were you mad at the boys, Miss Delahanty?”

The question really threw Ro for a loop, as it hit too close to home; she wondered how he knew. “Yes, I was mad,” she said, then added with more force than she’d wanted to, “I had to do something!”

“Regardless of the consequences?”

At first Ro thought he was talking about the consequence of her getting into trouble, but then he surprised her by adding, “There were three of them, all bigger than you, Miss Delahanty. Didn’t it ever occur to you to be afraid? What if they’d turned on you? They might well have beaten you up…”

Ro stared at the principal for a moment, perplexed by both the unexpected direction their conversation had taken and by the specific question.

Finally, with a brief shrug she admitted, “I guess I didn’t think about that.”

Collier stared back at Ro for a moment; she thought she almost caught the hint of a smile in his eyes.

“Are your parents here?”

When she nodded, he said, “Please ask them to come in.”

When Ro, Mike and Kate – Kate did not acknowledge in any way that she had known Dris Collier for years, as they were both members of the Illowa Community Chorus – had sat down in front of Collier’s desk, he said, “As I’m sure you know, the school has very strict rules about fighting, even if it might seem justified.”

They nodded.

“Tomorrow is Friday. Miss Delahanty will report to this office at the beginning of the day and will spend it in the detention hall serving an in-school suspension. I would suggest that she bring plenty of material to read or study, as there is no talking or socializing in detention. I will ask that at least one of you return with her first thing Monday morning and we will talk about what happens next.”

Next: Ro is a hero around school

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Revelations

“The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order, a timetable not necessarily — perhaps not possibly — chronological. The time as we know it subjectively is often the chronology that stories and novels follow: it is the continuous thread of revelation.”

Eudora Welty (1909-2001)

I constantly ask myself as I write: What will this chapter or this anecdote I’m about to share reveal about Ro Delahanty and her world?

Ro’s Rage – Chapter Four: Outside the principal’s office Thursday, May 12, 1995

When they got to the principal’s office, Coach Forester directed them to take seats in the waiting room, Ro and Atti on one side, the three bullies on the opposite side.

“I suggest you call your parents and ask at least one of them to come down here. If you have a cell phone, you can use that. If not, you can use the one on the counter there,” he said, pointing to the long counter behind which sat several administrative workers. They barely glanced up from their tasks, rather used to seeing miscreants waiting to go before the principal.

“I’ll be right back,” he said, disappearing into Collier’s office.

Atti first called her mother at work, who promised to come down to the school. Then Ro, using Atti’s phone, called Mike, who she knew would be home by now, probably starting preparations for dinner.

When Mike answered she barely got out, “Hi, Dad…,” before he interrupted her, “What’s wrong, honey?” Not only was it unusual for her to call him at this time of day, but there must have been something telltale in her voice…

Not quite sure what to say next, she paused for a second, then just blurted out, “I got in some trouble at school today.”

“Oh?” He didn’t actually have to say, “What kind?” as the question was clearly implied.

Ro took a breath to buy some time and to work up the nerve to just say it, “Uh, I was in a fight.”

While she hadn’t consciously thought of how Mike might react – surprised, mad, worried? – what he did say was rather unexpected, “That’s kind of serious. I’m pretty sure the school frowns on fighting.” Except he said it calmly, like it was neither a surprise nor a big deal. Then added, “Who did you have a fight with?”

She briefly explained about Atti being bullied and that she’d gone to her friend’s defense.

“Three boys…,” he said; it was more of a statement than a question, but then added with some concern, “But you’re okay?”

“Yea, Atti and I are fine.”

“I expect they want me to come down to the school, right?”

“Yes. I’m waiting to see Mr. Collier now.”

“Okay. I’ll call your mom and we’ll be right over.”

After about ten minutes Coach Forester emerged from the principal’s office, and, pointing at Atti, said, “Mr. Collier would like to see you now.”

Atti glanced at Ro, then rose and went into the office followed by Coach Forester. She was in the office for another ten minutes. When she emerged, Coach Forester pointed at one of the bullies that had been holding Atti, “You’re next.”

Sitting down next to Ro, Atti took her friend’s hand. “I told him exactly what happened. I can’t believe they’ll do anything to you,” she said.

Ro smiled, but it was a something of a rueful smile, because she knew the truth. “They have to, Atti. I was fighting; it doesn’t matter why.”

A few minutes later, Coach Forester called in the second boy that had been holding Atti.

It was while that kid was in the principal’s office that Mike arrived, followed soon after by Atti’s mother, and then Kate. Of course, there was a big huddle of adults and children, with Atti and Ro trying to tell their story to their respective parents, but half the time talking over one another.

While this was going on, the big kid, the one Coach Forester had called Fencik, was called into Mr. Collier’s office.

When he left a few minutes later Coach Forester said simply, “Miss Delahanty, your turn.”

Next: In front of the principal

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Please join me tomorrow at READ LOCAL

I’ll be sharing some insights about my Ro Delahanty novel characters and reading a chapter from my new Ro novel, “The Berlin Riddle”

This event is sponsored by the Bettendorf Public Library and Midwest Writing Center.

It is scheduled for 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Bettendorf Public Library, 2950 Learning Campus Dr.

Apprentices

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

Every book I read teaches me something new about writing, even if it’s what I don’t want to emulate.

Please join me next Wednesday for Read Local at the BPL

This is a short excerpt from a chapter in “The Berlin Riddle” that I’m planning to share at the Read Local event next Wednesday evening (Aug. 8, 7 p.m.) at the Bettendorf Public Library. I hope you’ll come and join me, it should be fun.

“Jee-sus Christ, investigate shots fired?” Corporal Mel Schreiber, Armstrong Two-Three, snarled to himself. “It’s a goddam war zone!” Frowning, he added, “And what the fuck are those idiots shooting at?”

An “investigate shots fired” call usually meant one round someone had discharged by accident, or maybe several usually fruitless attempts to kill a raccoon invading somebody’s backyard.

But what he saw as he crested a small rise on County Road T was insane! They had parked a big pickup across the road’s shoulder, its brights illuminating a narrow strip of pasture, maybe seventy yards wide, and a stand of timber beyond.

There were four of them literally blasting away at the wall of woods. Even from not quite a hundred yards away he could tell two of the shooters were firing stubby, AR-style weapons, the rapid muzzle flashes a dead giveaway. Another seemed to have a more conventional rifle; slower muzzle flashes. And one, the closest to him, was using a large-frame, semi-automatic handgun, like a .45.

“Shots fired earlier…” Schreiber reasoned to himself. “What I’m seeing now… Damn, these guys have gotta already put dozens of rounds into those woods.”

Closing the distance to the shooters, he glanced to his left at the woods several times, trying to spot any visible targets, or worse yet, muzzle flashes from return fire – a firefight; a really scary thought! Nothing.

Reaching for his mic to report he was “on scene” and investigating, a flash off to his right caught his attention. Vaguely aware he’d been passing a farmhouse, he now saw two small lights too close together to be a car coming down a long drive toward him.

“Just what I need, some farmer on a four-wheeler coming to investigate,” but then he understood, “Uh, it’s probably this guy’s pasture they’re shooting up.”

Dousing his siren, he figured he was now close enough to the shooters they should have heard him, although they did not seem to have noticed, he made his call-in. He also asked about his back-up and was told One-Nine was en route, ETA two minutes.

Delahanty, good! he thought. Although he wouldn’t admit it out loud, he’d been among the deputies skeptical about female cops. However, after taking down four perps single-handed and saving a fellow deputy’s life in the process a few weeks ago, he figured she had “big brass ones,” again something he couldn’t dare articulate because it wouldn’t be PC… But, she did have his full respect as a cop.

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