There I was…: by Tom McClellan (1941 – 2013)

This poem will remain posted as a memorial to poet Tom McClellan who passed away in August of 2013. A reading of the poem can be heard by clicking on the player below:

 

There I was in the madhouse again,
That summer you remember as the one it didn’t rain
So long the paper ran front page ads for the record-breaking

Drought. Every morning I’d stare into the hard hot sunrise through
Brown tinted shatterproof ––
Your brain finally tells you the crepe myrtle blooms
Eight stories down are really pink despite your eyes.
One day the clouds at last

Gathered low and dark and spat spare droplets on that mirrored barrier ––
Then summer’s fever broke, and I watched my tears
Land and gather thick and run down what kept me from feeling

Rain.

Copyright Tom McClellan 2001 ~ all rights reserved
To read more poetry and prose by Tom McClellan, visit his blog HERE.

A second excerpt from Tom McClellan’s “Reflections from Mirror City”

In celebration of the life and creativity of my father, Tom McClellan, who passed away this last Saturday, August 3rd, I will be publishing some excerpts of his work. The following is an essay from his book “Reflections from Mirror City” a partner to the one I posted on Aug. 7th.

 

Reflections VI, E – Father’s Day

(An earlier version, “On the Death of My Father,” appeared in the Texas Observer)

When my father died, I felt, more than anything else, relief.  A long battle was over for him. He had fought to live a long time, and for eighty seven years, including rehabilitating himself from strokes both small and great, he remained victorious.

And a long battle was over for the two of us.  My most frequent critic was at last silent.  Never again would I be told that, whatever I was doing, it should have been something else.

My mother eventually put this problem with my father in a homey Scott County context.  She said that the Taylors, my father’s fam­ily on his mother’s side, always felt called upon to give advice, whether it had been requested or not.  I realized that thirty years of bitter arguments could have – and should have – been resolved with laughter.

And he could not accept a gift, at least not from me.  I was inevitably told I didn’t have that kind of money to spend.

Finally, each sought from the other what he gave.  I wanted more respect, while he wanted more love.  I wanted more distance, as from a cactus, while he wanted the closeness that his prickly nature and my sensitivity made difficult.

But there was more to us than that.  I respected him for the man he was, and he loved me for the son I would always be.  I can remember him, bent with age, barely able to stand, reaching an arm around my shoul­ders to tell me he loved me.

He liked one of my essays well enough to give it his highest accolade, “That’s a classic.”  I don’t remember which one it was now; but if the man who could quote Bobby Burns’ “A man’s a man fa’ a’ that” from start to finish, and who snuggled me down between him and Mom to read aloud Carl Sandburg’s volume on Lincoln, “The Prairie Years,” for a bedtime story—if Dad liked it, I figured it was probably OK.

After he died, I got out all the letters he had written to Mom from overseas during the Second World War and read them to her.  Captain McClellan longed for nothing more than to be out of the frozen muck and away from the cannons’ roaring, and home with his wife and child in the warm Texas sun.  He wanted the scene he had left.

But of course he could not come home to precisely that.  Peacetime brought its own struggles, and the ideal fam­ily that memory must have built had never been.  His only son was an oedipal four-year-old, rather than an admiring two.

To an extent our difficulties with each other rested on that foundation, and I have had cause since to wish that in understanding our central dilemma I had also resolved it.

Like any other man worth his salt he changed and grew as he aged.  I saw the man who had walked through a German bunker counting corpses of enemy soldiers jellied by the artillery barrage his battalion had delivered, saw him gaze at the body of a ground squirrel he’d nailed with a pellet gun and suddenly weep.

As his end drew near, his very age provided the distance I needed.  When he fulminated now, he was simply an old man blowing off steam.  And he became more vulnerable, still crabby but soft-shelled. We seemed to have reversed roles at times.  A veteran of some very foreign wars myself, I had become the callous one, he the sensitive.

But he could still hurt me if I didn’t keep my guard up.  He once confessed that his life seemed to him to have been a paltry thing indeed, and I answered with a letter filled with praise, listing his accomplishments.  He had fought for his country, he had taught farmers to farm, he had taught and counseled high school students, he had taught poor and disadvantaged adults. Rather than allow strokes to disable him, he had struggled to regain control of his brain and body.   Later he characterized it as the obituary I had written.

There we were again, at odds.  I had offered him a gift, and he had refused it.  He had offered me an opportunity to laugh at myself, at us, and I’d bristled instead.  In retrospect I wish I’d  been tough enough to admit the truth of his charge—it was an obituary of sorts—but not so tough as to retort that he was about due for one.  The bent and weakened frame of an old war horse invalided in pajamas commands def­erence and kindness.  Especially when you remember that figure with an arm around your shoulders, telling you he loves you.

When I reflect on how we become more and more creatures of habit as we age until we threaten to shrink to nothing more than a collection of predictable behaviors, it seems less likely to me that we are indeed posses­sors of that much-advertised divine spark.  I even wonder if we mortal wrecks are sal­vageable at all, and if so, why the Almighty should bother with us.  I guess the love of Him who knows truths about us closer than the dirt dug from under our nails, nearer than the seat of our unperfumed underpants, must outshine human love by a good half-mile.

But even simple human love, without divinity or angels to help it, beaten and twisted like iron banged straight at the forge’s mouth, even that seems to me at times enough.

+++

 

Elysium: by Tom McClellan

 In a continuing celebration of the life and creativity of my father, Tom McClellan, who passed away this last Saturday, August 3rd, I will be publishing some excerpts of his work. The following is an excerpt from his blog posted on May 14, 2011.

Elysium

We came at last to the middle of nowhere.

Homey, suburban, not alien at all.

A side yard between two houses,

Where children often play,

Untouched by growing pains or war.

“The Elysian Fields, or the Elysian Plains, were the final resting places of the souls of the heroic and the virtuous.” (Wikipedia)

+++

An excerpt from Tom McClellan’s “Reflections from Mirror City”

In celebration of the life and creativity of my father, Tom McClellan, who passed away this last Saturday, August 3rd, I will be publishing some excerpts of his work. The following is an essay from his book “Reflections from Mirror City”:

Reflections VI, A – Valentine’s Day

December 21, 2009 

Dear Family and Friends,

I was given respite this morning from the grey, vague bird of grief that’s been after me since Mom died.  First, I woke up deciding to take the day off from will hunting and concerns of probate, the mailing of death certificates, how best to handle the estate.  Next, when I got to the all-­nighter for coffee, one of the regulars, whom I know well enough to call by first name and tell him that my mother had died, said, “I know where she’s gone, and it’s a better place,” which led to our talking about out-of-body experi­ences.  He’d been officially dead for ten minutes in Presby­terian ICU.

Unofficially, he looked down on his body, felt sorry for whoever that fellow was, sensed that he was being judged, told “There’s no reason for you to be afraid,” enveloped by a spectrum-spectacular light show that became a tunnel through which he traveled at the speed of light into a black void, enveloped by a brightness like looking into the sun–then found himself back in his body where people were jump-starting his heart with fibrilators.  And his body hurt.

Just before he reentered his body, he was told not to forget what he’d been through in the Beyondness.  Despite the speed at which he traveled through the tunnel, he could see that “It was kind of like bars.”  Another man who’d been through the tunnel asked me, “Did you notice – those walls are woven of light.”

For me, the brightness in the beyond is Light, a sort of supernatural neon that leads into a source of pure Love and Joy, brighter than the sun.

For my fellow I-Hop regular, the Light was a source of Peace.

We agreed that if you could base a theology on such experiences, it would be as simple as Star Wars mythology. There is a Force in the universe with a bright side and a dark side.  You can be with it.  We are here to learn to love and love to learn.

My coffee communicant and fellow graduate of trips into Beyondness had a distinct feeling of being judged, the sense that he could have gone some other where. During his time in the service, he had nearly been killed and just as the common phrase says, seen his life flash before him.  Maybe he got the visual the first time, the mental the second time.

We also agreed that the experience is very nondenominational.  You make certain choices with regard to God. Whether you are a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Baha’i or a Buddhist scarcely matters, much less whether you are baptized by total immersion or by water dipped to trace a cross on your forehead.

You make certain choices.  I had chosen for the first time to pray, not by rote but by faith in a God I did not know was there–you know, Pray.  And, as a result of those decisions, I asked the Universe where love comes from, then found myself traveling through rings of Light out the back of my head into a five second glimpse of what my fellow traveler got the ten-minute tour of.

And the answer was, “God is Love.”  Simple question, five-second trip–including a float over trees and rooftops, glimpsing my rooftop outlined in Light, then back in my body with–simple answer.

You make certain choices.  A poet friend of mine was in his twenties when he entered the Light.  He and his roommate had argued to the point where they decided to let the dis­agreement go and meditate.  The meditation brought them both into Light and connectedness.  “Did you see that, that light?” he asked his roommate, who answered, “Yeah.”

“For days afterward,” said my friend, “I could not make a mistake.  I skidded through a red light once, and I’ll swear, the cars parted to let me through.”

We get from the Beyondness what we seek and what is appropriate to us, at that time.  For the poet this satori of sorts was a matter of being twenty, and it became for him another town along the road.  For me, at thirty-two, it was a religious conversion that tore my marriage to shreds.

And a presagement of a Beyondness into which I gaze from time to time–I’ve seen my wife of sixteen years become a body of Light for a moment walking down the hall; and on my tongue felt the great silent power of that Sun Invisible in the form of a communion wafer.  We get what we need from the Beyondness.

My cafe companion, in hit late forties, received from Beyondness a preparation for moving into it.  “You can go back to school,” he said.

And we agreed that such experiences are watershed experiences.  You don’t forget them any more than you forget your first love.  You are changed in no small way.

Faith comes easily afterward.  You have no fear of death.

I thanked him for reminding me of that part.  I had been missing Mom so much I’d forgotten where she is.

+++

 

Biography of a Bipolar: by Tom McClellan

Reposted from IPM 2MXI in loving memory of Tom McClellan
(23 September 1941 – 3 August 2013)

Biography of a Bipolar

At first friends share the ecstasy that comes before the burn:

“That night he was going crazy everyone

was too drunk to care.”

But after years all learn:

“His conversation grew brilliant and alarming.

Students were frightened by his lecture on Hitler.”

“He wrote the most pitiful letter;

though I was not angry, he spoke of us fighting.”

“His religious notions, never stable, flowered

into oddity; his judgment went haywire.”

“He was barricaded in his room in his skivvies when the police came;

he was surprisingly polite.”

The poet obligingly provides snapshots from hell:

“I meditated Detachment and Urbanity but the old menacing

hilarity was growing in me.”

“What use is my sense of humor when the brain blinks

like a radio station rapidly distanced?”

“I lay there secured but for my skipping mind.”

After the delusions pass, he lacerates his soul with reason:

“Seven years ago Bloomington stood for Joyce’s hero and Indiana for

the evil, unexorcised aborigines, while I suspected myself

The Holy Ghost.  The glory and banality of it are corrupting.”

The poet’s wife learns to suffer a fool who falls in love

with students, madhouse nurses,

any woman but her:

“I don’t think he realizes the damage.”

New drugs offer old hopes of Panacea:

“To think of all that suffering for lack of a little salt in the brain!”

Theories suffer the usual changes:

“Recent research shows mania’s a summertime dis­ease,

perhaps an excess of light.”

(Robert Lowell)

This poem is excerpted from Mr. McClellan’s book: Reflections From Mirror City

 

 

Reflections VI, D – Mother’s Day: by Tom McClellan

A guest post for Easter from writer, IPM poet and essayist Tom McClellan

Dear Son,

You’ve done yourself proud at Officer Training School.  Acing your course work and being the first to be selected Group Leader—Congratulations!  You said you want to adopt me as your second father—You make me proud to think of you as a son – “My Son the Marine, Warrant Officer Burton.” That has a nice ring to it.

Official spring began two months ago, about the time real spring had peaked in an explosion of azalea blooms along Turtle Creek.  Now spring continues cool and wet through the Ram and into the Fish.

Now shines the sun of spring,

And honeysuckle’s scent

Soaks air washed by the rain.

The proof of God’s as plain

As sunlight through the leaf

Exposing cell and vein.

Your mother and I had our first date on Mother’ Day, 1979.  We ate at a Mexican restaurant and saw the movie “All That Jazz.”

Over the next year Carolyn became the Home I so much needed.  We were married, as you probably remember, about one week before our first grandchild, your daughter, arrived.

Before we were married, Carolyn asked me if I was in love with her.  Being in the process of recovery from a passionate relationship that had ended in divorce and, for me, a trip to the madhouse, I had no trust in being in love.  I told her, “No, but give me five years and I’ll fall in love with you.”

It didn’t take that long though.  We went to a dance some months later, and the memory of Carolyn in a sunshine yellow dress with flowered wrap—she’d made both herself—head thrown back, abandoned to the music—That is a memory I’ll carry with me into eternity.

In His Love,

Tom

This piece was excerpted from Mr. McClellan’s memoir: Reflections from Mirror City”.

Physics and the Cheerful Machine: by Tom McClellan

This poem in its written form has disappeared from this website. If you want to know why, click HERE. 

This written version of this poem can be re-discovered on Mr. McClellan’s website HERE.

Copyright Tom McClellan 2012 ~ all rights reserved

To hear a reading of this poem, click on the player below:

To read more poetry and prose by Tom McClellan, visit his blog HERE.

What’s New Too…

Here are a few more updates to let readers know what this year’s IPM poets have been up to since February. If you missed the first ones, click HERE to find out what’s new with Gilles-Marie Chenot, Maxine Beneba Clarke and Chris Fillebrown.

Meanwhile…

Australian poet Brad Frederiksen has been posting a fabulous series of written and visual poems, photographs of natural and digital ‘ready-mades’ and other intriguing explorations of word/image/sound. My favorite so far is a jazzy riff on power-stations and paranoia whose staccato language had me running this one through my head to the tune of Miles Davis’ So What:

they say it’s a brown coal power station.
so what.
they say it “supplies approximately 22% of
Victoria’s electricity needs and
8% of the National Electricity Market”.
so what.
they say it burns 2,400 tonnes of brown coal per hour
and turns it into coolable hot steam.
i’m paraphrasing here.
so what.
    (excerpt from: it’s a power station. so what)

To see the image, the capturing of which this poem tells, click HERE for an epic visual commentary.

Italian poet Giacomo Gusmeroli kindly sent me a copy of his latest book Lucore d’acque which is a real joy, I’m hoping that someone will take up the project of translating more of his work. He tells me that he is busy at work on another book in which his IPM poems from this year will appear.

Danish poet Christian Stokbro Karlsen very generously sent me copies of his latest books, including “FJERNARKIV” from which this year’s IPM poem was selected, that have inspired me to try and learn some Danish. He’s currently working as an editor along with writing poetry for his next book.

After a serious illness in February and March, Texas poet Tom McClellan is back to his keyboard and editing engaging, round-table discussions on life, politics, and the nature of things via his e-newsletter (available by subscription with highlights posted at http://tommcclellan.wordpress.com/) while writing the occasional poem:

Holy Saturday, 2012
Sunrise and a trailed bar of cloud above
The blazing sun, a gold coin caught in the tree.
Across the sky another coin, the moon
… Chock full of hope and promise, glowing silver in the sky.

Some time later in the dawn
A brave falcon strides the wind
Like Christ forever on His way
Arriving all debts paid.

I’ll be back tomorrow with one last update on what the other poets have been up to. Happy reading!

"POWER" copyright Matthew Broussard 2009 all rights reserved
“POWER” copyright Matthew Broussard 2009 all rights reserved

Where are they now?

“It is this gesture towards real communication, offered in the midst of the flash-flood of information that our culture deluges us with every morning as soon as we open our eyes, that is being offered by the poets who will be presented over the next 29 days. An arbitrary flower in the midst of chaos for you, the reader.”

I hope that you’ve all enjoyed the 29 flowers that were offered from Australia, Brazil, Denmark, France, Italy, the United States, and Wales by way of Budapest.

International Poetry Month 2012 is over. The marauding hordes have left the library ablaze, the flood has washed away the ashes, the caravan carrying the last copy of the precious poetry collection has vanished in the desert; at least that’s what it feels like to me as I hit the delete key and erase the written versions of the poems.

Now what?

What remains is the oral tradition; I have made audio files of each poem available where the poem used to be posted when permitted by the poet.  When the poems can be found elsewhere on the web I’ve left a link. Anyone who is on my mailing list has a ‘fragment’ of each work. Perhaps, like the poems of Sappho, this is all that will remain.

I would like to extend my profound thanks to the following guest poets for their contributions:

Anonymous 2oth Cent. Poet

Matthew Broussard

Gilles-Marie Chenot

Maxine Beneba Clarke

Lee Elsesser

Chris Fillebrown

Brad Frederiksen

Giacomo Gusmeroli

Michelle Lee Houghton

Christian Stokbro Karlsen

Helen Martin

Tom McClellan

Benjamin Norris

Angel Raiter

Adina Richman

Liliane Richman

Tim Seibles

Octavio Solis


Some of these poets have blogs or websites where intriguing writing, images, or biographical information may be encountered. I encourage anyone suffering from poetry withdrawal to visit these sites by clicking on any of the names that appear in color. Others are tantalizingly unavailable, if you want to see more of their work you’ll have to hope that they come back next year. Of course my work that is or has been posted throughout the rest of the year is still here.

Thanks as well to everyone who has stopped by to read and comment on the poems either here or on Facebook. It has been a real joy to present so much fine poetry again this year. Now I have to start thinking about next year and get back to writing.

A presto!

Ceremony with Fire: by Tom McClellan

The written version of this poem has disappeared from this blog. 

To listen to a reading of this poem, click on the player below:

To read more work by Tom McClellan, visit his blog HERE.

Copyright Tom McClellan 2012 ~ all rights reserved