Poems stir reflections on hope, preciousness of life


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Not long ago, I wrote a short poem about a bird and emailed it to Tom Sexton, a recognized Alaskan poet. He replied with his own poem, also about a bird, that he’d written a day earlier.

While my poem remains close to home, his looks out to the troubled world and ponders the future. While different in scope and tone, both poems conjure thoughts about the preciousness of life and the troubled times in which we live. First is my poem, then his:

 

The traveler

A small bird

flew into my window today.

I gently stroked

his soft, bent head,

asking God

to bring him back,

then watched his small life

ebb away

on the cold concrete

of my deck.

Fall is coming

and already

leaves are flying

in the wind…

…but not nearly as far

as this sparrow’s gray wings

took him in his short life.

 

Fall Migration

Just after dawn, yellow birch leaves begin

to fall on the island where friends have a cabin.

Their young daughter’s raincoat is on a hook

above her boots and a stack of coloring books.

There is enough misery in the world to fill

the lake with tears, enough to make it spill.

My thoughts while I watch a yellow warbler

on a twig flare like a match then disappear.

To be here just after dawn, it must have flown

all night over peaks covered with deep snow.

I feel a stirring, a faint hope, in my heart

that our journey is also out of the dark.

 

While Tom Sexton’s poems often purvey a mood of melancholy, there is a ray of optimism in the final lines of “Fall Migration” that somehow, like the warbler’s transit from dark into light, humanity will navigate through these difficult times and reach a better place. Perhaps where love, mutual respect and the intrinsic value of life are universally embraced.

Many would say this is an idealistic view considering the complexity of global problems — terrorism, political and social upheaval, economic instability and environmental challenges. But for a long time, I’ve believed that it’s better to start from a point of hope rather than despair, from a positive position as opposed to negative.

It seems to me that individually and collectively, dwelling on thoughts of gloom and doom actually beget those very things we fear: doom and gloom. To me, throwing up our arms and condemning the world as an irreclaimable train wreck is an easy out — an abrogation of our responsibility as stewards of this planet to try and make things better in any way we can.

There are no quick and easy answers to the turmoil in Syria and Egypt, or for that matter, any of the insidious problems that plague the world. But I believe everyone, in their own way, can make a small contribution in moving us toward a better place.

Some ways to do this include investing in a highly educated citizenry; staying informed on current events and issues; carefully choosing political candidates and getting out to vote; maintaining contact with our elected leaders at all levels; volunteering in the community; assisting in aid for humanitarian relief organizations, whether foreign or domestic; and last but certainly not least, nurturing our families and building strength from within.

I often think of the John Lennon song, “Imagine,” and wonder how many people have the ability to conceptualize a world of peace.

Many people will affirm they believe in the power of prayer, or what researchers at Princeton University prefer to call the “power of intention.” Whatever you wish to call it, I am convinced it is a powerful force.

For some time I’ve believed that if more of the world’s 7 billion people began to think positively rather than negatively — thinking that peace was possible — we might just nudge ourselves closer to that dream.

Despite the wars and widespread human suffering during the last century, some historians believe the world is gradually becoming less violent. Granted, such a statement is difficult to accept, given the horrific images brought into our homes nearly every day by 24-hour television news.

But even more miraculous than the fact we exist on this small planet 93 million miles from an average-sized star in one of the outer arms of the Milky Way galaxy, is that most people still believe there is more good on the Earth than evil; and that somehow, some day, good will prevail.

I was saddened by a small sparrow that flew into my window and died, and Tom Sexton was uplifted by the sight of a migrating yellow warbler. Every journey, including those of the heart and soul, begins with small moves.

Like Sexton, I, too, harbor hope that eventually human civilization will inexorably move toward the light.

 

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer and columnist who lives in Eagle River. To contact Frank: frankedwardbaker@gmail.com.

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