Friday, December 4, 2009
Feature: Michael Henson Day 6
the smell of gunsmoke drifted up from the valley.
She knew the smell
from the smell of it on the jackets of the men
when they came in from hunting.
But now it drifted up in gusts.
And the sound of guns rolled up in ragged volleys.
And now, a pounding at the door.
A man with a rifle slung over his shoulder.
It was barely dawn.
She did not know this man
and she would not open, so he shouted through the door.
No time, he shouted. You must go, he told her.
Into the mountains, he told her. Take the children.
Where is my husband?
No time, he told her.
Take the children. Please take the children.
Where did they take my husband?
But the man was gone to the next house,
pounding at the door, shouting,
Go. Go now. Take the children.
The least of the children was crying in her bed.
Mama, the others called. Mama. Mama.
Hush a minute. Let me think.
She put her shawl across her shoulders
and stepped into the lane.
Other women stood, also in their shawls.
Her neighbor stood with her big white feet
on the bare black frost.
She would have asked her,
Where have they taken the men?
But the guns spoke first.
The little guns spoke
and the big guns answered
and she knew she could not wait.
To the oldest, she called,
Dress the baby.
To the middle one, she called,
Dress yourself. Help me pack
The pictures. Only the pictures.
Nothing else. We are going to the mountains.
Quickly now. Quickly. Papa come to us later.
Do not argue with me.
Do not cry. Quickly.
And so they left.
The children cried they were hungry. They were cold.
Hush, she told them.
Do not argue with me. Do not cry.
The small guns popped and the large guns sputtered.
Do not look, she told the oldest.
We have no time to look.
The smoke of the guns gusted to them,
but they did not stop to look.
She asked herself,
Where can we go that they will not find us?
Wordlessly, the women hiked
and the children hiked the mountain road.
An hour, another hour
and the woman did not dare look back
until she reached the crest of the road.
There were paths, here,
that would take her deep into the mountains.
But she glanced back, quickly.
The small guns were nearly silent now.
The smoke that rose now
was not the gray smoke of the guns.
The cloud she saw, that black torture of cloud,
rose, she knew, from her village.
only for a moment,
And the salt of her tears
ran into her mouth.
© Michael Henson
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Q: Share with us an experience that has enriched your writing/poetry/creativity.
A: I’ve always been inspired by the outsider artists, people who are not employed as artists, who must create under circumstances which don’t say “artist.” My grandfather, Homer Leander Henson, was one of these. He was one of those powerful uneducated people Whitman speaks of. He worked all his life at various trades, but he also played the fiddle, the guitar, the harmonica, and the mandolin and he and sang “My Darling Nellie Gray.” He’s always been an inspiration to me. But the most enriching experience was that of seeing my mother and father create common objects. My mother knit sweaters and my father built cabinets with a great deal of care and attention to craft. I have a bread box my father made and it’s a wonderful piece of craftsmanship. All the joints are secure, it’s lovely to look at, and it keeps my bread fresh. It would be nice to think a poem I write could be as lovely and useful as my father’s bread box.
Q: What advice would you give beginning poets/writers?
A: As if they’ll listen! I actually have an essay on this which I will gladly forward to anyone who wants to see it. The gist of it is to pay close attention to the craft. That means discipline; it means study; it means practice. It means a lot of reading, a lot of writing. But it also means spending time with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and the mothers of children. It also means telling the truth, as near as you can find the truth. This calls for discipline and courage, which is the stuff of heroes. My heroes are nearly all writers.