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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 12, Number 2, June 2018
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Glenn Coats
Carolina Shores, North Carolina, USA


Mentor

This is the price of the years of thinking,
the casting and recasting of events
and the frantic pen scratching past midnight,
the hoarding of paper, the loneliness,
the pages accumulating while I myself shrink down.
                                                  —Josephine Humphreys

Our pick-up trucks may have crossed on the suspension bridge above the Delaware. I might have stood by his side as we poked through the chicken sale at Super Fresh. My wife and I could have waltzed close to him at the American Legion dance. Though he lived only six miles away, I never met Len Roberts; know him only from the pages of his poetry and articles in the local paper.

He lived outside the village and taught creative writing at the community college. Len liked to work on his property, trimmed the trees along the hedgerows, cut down brush with a tractor, planted vegetables in the spring, and split a pile of wood for winter. Married a few times, had a son who needed help in school. Most folks didn’t know he was a writer.

There are nine books of poetry. Each book is filled with poems that capture moments in a life, marriages and deaths, students and teachers, rivers and streams, love and loss. The poems about his parents are the ones that linger, ones I can’t forget. It is their story that returns in every volume.

Len’s mother works at a hotel, flirts with customers, goes out for a drink before coming home. Len sees her once, getting out of a long Lincoln behind the diner, sees her pull down her dress; stagger across the blacktop. Father drinks, can’t keep a job, walks around town peering in shop windows, shirt half-in and half-out, embarrasses the boy at football games and wrestling matches.

There are leaf patterns in the metal ceiling tiles, and in the darkness, in the flash of passing cars, the child sees wings, blinks and finds angels as the walls shake from loud voices and fists pounding tables and walls. Len is fifteen when he runs away from home to start a new life, odd job after odd job, one room apartments, school at night, the years of writing, years of baring his soul.

He died suddenly, mid-sixties, still teaching, still writing. I don’t know if the poems brought him peace or forgiveness. Len’s poems taught me to go on, to get up in the morning, walk across a cold floor, splash my face with water and start again.

autumn night
the silent pluck
of pine needles

sudden chill
the pull of stars
in all directions

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