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Monday, October 6, 2014

A Heap o' Livin'

It surely can't be Common-Core aligned.  The poems are too sentimental, and sometimes delightfully humorous, for current-day critical acclaim.  This poet laureate of Michigan dropped out at seventeen.  Yet, I'll always be thankful that, despite the supreme unlikeliness of it, I stumbled upon his poems.   Sometimes Edgar Guest cracks me up; other times, he makes me cry.  All his poems are intensely perceptive and reflective of a man of incredible intellect, talent and outlook on life.  

So, here are some poems from his Heap of Livin'

"Mother's Glasses"

  I've told about the times that Ma can't find
      her pocketbook,
  And how we have to hustle round for it to help
      her look,
  But there's another care we know that often
      comes our way,
  I guess it happens easily a dozen times a day.
  It starts when first the postman through the
      door a letter passes,
  And Ma says: "Goodness gracious me!  Wherever
      are my glasses?"
We hunt 'em on the mantelpiece an' by the kitchen sink, Until Ma says: "Now, children, stop, an' give me time to think Just when it was I used 'em last an' just exactly where. Yes, now I know--the dining room. I'm sure you'll find 'em there." We even look behind the clock, we busy boys an' lasses, Until somebody runs across Ma's missing pair of glasses.
We've found 'em in the Bible, an' we've found 'em in the flour, We've found 'em in the sugar bowl, an' once we looked an hour Before we came across 'em in the padding of her chair; An' many a time we've found 'em in the topknot of her hair. It's a search that ruins order an' the home completely wrecks, For there's no place where you may not find poor Ma's elusive specs.
But we're mighty glad, I tell you, that the duty's ours to do, An' we hope to hunt those glasses till our time of life is through; It's a little bit of service that is joyous in its thrill, It's a task that calls us daily an' we hope it always will. Rich or poor, the saddest mortals of all the joyless masses Are the ones who have no mother dear to lose her reading glasses.


Can't is the worst word that's written or spoken; 
Doing more harm here than slander and lies; 
On it is many a strong spirit broken, 
And with it many a good purpose dies. 
It springs from the lips of the thoughtless each morning 
And robs us of courage we need through the day: 
It rings in our ears like a timely-sent warning 
And laughs when we falter and fall by the way. 

Can't is the father of feeble endeavor, 
The parent of terror and half-hearted work; 
It weakens the efforts of artisans clever, 
And makes of the toiler an indolent shirk. 
It poisons the soul of the man with a vision, 
It stifles in infancy many a plan; 
It greets honest toiling with open derision 
And mocks at the hopes and the dreams of a man. 

Can't is a word none should speak without blushing; 
To utter it should be a symbol of shame; 
Ambition and courage it daily is crushing; 
It blights a man's purpose and shortens his aim. 
Despise it with all of your hatred of error; 
Refuse it the lodgment it seeks in your brain; 
Arm against it as a creature of terror, 
And all that you dream of you some day shall gain. 

Can't is the word that is foe to ambition, 
An enemy ambushed to shatter your will; 
Its prey is forever the man with a mission 
And bows but to courage and patience and skill. 
Hate it, with hatred that's deep and undying, 
For once it is welcomed 'twill break any man; 
Whatever the goal you are seeking, keep trying 
And answer this demon by saying: 'I can.' 

"The Junk Box"

My father often used to say:
"My boy don't throw a thing away:
You'll find a use for it some day."
So in a box he stored up things,
Bent nails, old washers, pipes and rings,
And bolts and nuts and rusty springs.
Despite each blemish and each flaw,
Some use for everything he saw;
With things material, this was law.
And often when he'd work to do,
He searched the junk box through and through
And found old stuff as good as new.
And I have often thought since then,
That father did the same with men;
He knew he'd need their help again.
It seems to me he understood
That men, as well as iron and wood,
May broken be and still be good.
Despite the vices he'd display
He never threw a man away,
But kept him for another day.
A human junk box is this earth
And into it we're tossed at birth,
To wait the day we'll be of worth.
Though bent and twisted, weak of will,
And full of flaws and lacking skill,
Some service each can render still.

"Going Home for Christmas"

He little knew the sorrow that was in his vacant chair;
He never guessed they'd miss him, or he'd surely have been there;
He couldn't see his mother or the lump that filled her throat,
Or the tears that started falling as she read his hasty note;
And he couldn't see his father, sitting sorrowful and dumb,
Or he never would have written that he thought he couldn't come.
He little knew the gladness that his presence would have made,
And the joy it would have given, or he never would have stayed.
He didn't know how hungry had the little mother grown
Once again to see her baby and to claim him for her own.
He didn't guess the meaning of his visit Christmas Day
Or he never would have written that he couldn't get away.
He couldn't see the fading of the cheeks that once were pink,
And the silver in the tresses; and he didn't stop to think
How the years are passing swiftly, and next Christmas it might be
There would be no home to visit and no mother dear to see.
He didn't think about it - I'll not say he didn't care.
He was heedless and forgetful or he'd surely have been there.
Are you going home for Christmas? Have you written you'll be there?
Going home to kiss the mother and to show her that you care?
Going home to greet the father in a way to make him glad?
If you're not I hope there'll never come a time you'll wish you had.
Just sit down and write a letter - it will make their heart strings hum
With a tune of perfect gladness - if you'll tell them that you'll come.

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