Friday, August 13, 2010

Some Poetry for a Summer Afternoon


Cicadas sing their late summer song
through thick air.
It's a time when skin sticks to plastic seats
and flies hover around eyes
and dart near noses.
Dogs bark intermittently,
pausing to scratch incessant itches,
marigolds yell in tones of orange,
and dahlias dally along garden borders.
Barefoot country boys
squeeze creek-bottom sand between brown toes.
And the Muses inspire poets to write sentimental verse about August.

Copyright 1998 by Sharon Kirk Clifton

Blessed Is the Father Who Fishes

Blessed is the father who fishes,
for he can teach his children patience,
that incredible waiting and watching
for bobbers to nod in affirmation of a hit,
to dive in confirmation of a bite.
Then, when life requires patience,
this father's child will know
to chew on a stalk of sourgrass and wait
until the time is right.

Blessed is the father who fishes,
for he can teach his children honesty,
even when bait swallows bait
and the stringer weighs more than the catch.
Then, when life offers temptations
to turn fingerlings into lunkers,
this father's child will know
that honor is worth more than transient praise.

Blessed is the father who fishes,
for he can teach his children to see,
not in the superficial sense,
but in a way that not only sees
but understands hidden lessons
of trout swimming against the current,
of geese winging toward warmer climes
before winter's chill sets in.
Then when this father's child faces storms of his own,
he'll recall lessons of wings against the wind
and will stay strong.

Blessed is the man who fishes,
for he can teach his children to listen
to quiet things,
like the plop! of a bullfrog into a lake of glass
or the sound of a smooth stone skipping over ripples,
the whir of a dragonfly's wings,
the buzzing of a cicada,
and his children will be quiet 
when the still, small voice of God speaks.

Blessed is the man who fishes--
and blessed are his children

Copyright 1987 by Sharon Kirk Clifton
[This poem won first place in the National Federation of State Poetry Society's Winner's Circle Award]

I must tell you the story of "Blessed Is the Father Who Fishes."
In 1987, I was concluding my first year of teaching. One of my colleagues in the English department had asked to read another of my poems, "Blessed Is the Woman Who Knows of Apples," for a Mothers' Day program at her church. The congregation loved it and asked her to read one dedicated to fathers for their special day the next month. She came up to me in the cafeteria, where I was on lunch duty.

"Do you have a poem for Fathers' Day?"

"Well . . . uh . . . I don't have one, yet, but give me time to work on it." She smiled and nodded as she walked away. As I walked around the cafeteria, trying to catch someone launching ripe olives at a classmate, I thought of Bob a dear, Godly man from my church.

Bob loved to do five things: tease my teen daughters, play harmonica (he had a whole suitcase full of them, and he won just about every competition he entered), roost and crow with his buddies over coffee at Richards' Restaurant every morning, fish daily (even when he had to use an auger to drill through thick ice), and eat the fish he caught. And everything he did was "as unto the Lord." 

Bob was the inspiration for this poem. By the time my duty sentence for that day was finished, so was the poem. I typed it up and handed it to the teacher to read on Fathers' Day. 

A few years later, I entered it in the national competition cited above. Shortly before Bob went off to go fishing with the Lord in Heaven, I visited him and his wife. Framed and hanging on the wall, right above where he would sit on the floor to clean his catch of the day, was the poem.