"I got so interested in the art of folks I majored in it. The school is so big I can't get out of it."
I was pulled over by a carload of poetry police recently on my way home from the Kalkaska Elders Project. The authorities accused my themes of weaving all over.
One officer said, "Your poems are too easy to understand. Couldn't you be more complicated? And why do you write in other people's voices? Don't you have anything to say? Could we see your poetic license please?"
I reached inside my mind. My memory shuffled around and found a quote by Walt Whitman. I pulled it out and said "I contain multitudes." "What?" the officers asked.
"These poems aren't about me," I answered, "unless you believe all things are one. I think life is complicated enough. Even Robert Frost felt the basic activities of everyday life had hidden meanings."
The poetry police eyed me with suspicion. They waved me off with a warning, "Put more significant symbols of meaning in your poems."
"Okay," I lied.
The symbols and meanings in my Elders Poems appear organically like morel mushrooms. They're just not easy to see if you're looking too hard. My poetry pick-up cruised home to Stone Circle Drive.
Below are some folk poems from the Kalkaska Elders Project. This one was made possible mostly by the Kalkaska County Library, and SEEDS. All the interviews were done by SEEDS students.
On another note, Stone Circle fires up this Saturday. Please join us to listen, or polish up those poems. A film crew is coming next summer from Barcelona, Spain to shoot a documentary for our 30th anniversary.
Betty Dunham (81)
My tongue was attached wrong underneath
when I was born.
They used to call it tongue-tied.
I had trouble nursing,
and couldn't talk well.
I learned to swear in Norwegian,
before I could speak.
I would go to the barn with grandpa
to milk cows.
If he got mad at a cow
he'd swear in Norwegian.
I was three when somebody discovered
that attaches the tongue
to the floor of my mouth
Six months later,
the night my brother was born
the doctor came to deliver him.
Dad grabbed ahold of me
and held me tight.
The doctor opened my mouth
and clipped the membrane.
There was blood all over.
They say I used some real bad swear words
Grandmother wasn't very happy about this.
I've had a loose tongue
Richard Walker (80)
I grew up on the south side of Chicago.
The stockyards were on the south side
when I was young.
We were laboring families,
not white collar.
There were marvelous forest preserves
right in the city.
We visited one by streetcar.
Streetcars were red with yellow trim,
a little longer than a school bus.
They had a headlight in the center,
and ran both ways
twenty-four hours a day.
Kids called them red rockets.
On Sundays I'd go with mom and dad.
You'd see all these ethnic picnics
with all kinds of different food,
the Polish, Germans, Italians
and later the Mexicans.
People were having a wonderful time.
My parents didn't drink alcohol.
I'd think, "Look at all those people.
They're so happy."
I got quite an education.
Later I learned
it wasn't such a bad way to be.
Bethel Larabee (83)
Everybody had cattle,
and I was thought of as the local midwife
I helped a lot of calves be born.
When you see four feet coming
at the same time"¦nothing can be born that way.
You have to reach up inside
and turn the calf.
You've got to have two feet
coming out right side up.
I helped deliver Holstein triplets
who wouldn't have lived
if I hadn't been there.
I figured she was going to have twins.
Milking cows by hand,
they stood beside each other
and you sat with a cow behind you.
When a calf gets pretty well developed,
I kept getting kicked in the back
from the left side.
You know there's an extra calf or two.
Calves are carried
on the right side.