Saturday, January 28, 2012

Everything Is OK Just the Way It Is

For the past two weeks, I've been reading this poem every day, trying to understand why it drew me in, why it has stayed with me and won't let go. I've tried several times to write about it, to give it a context that would help articulate my feelings about it, and each time I deleted the words I'd written. They felt false. And then it dawned on me. I was trying to understand something that didn't need to be understood, it just needed to be felt.

"White Autumn"

She had always loved to read, even
in childhood during the Confederate War,
and built the habit later of staying up
by the oil lamp near the fireplace after
husband and children slept, the scrub-work done.
She fed the addiction in the hard years
of Reconstruction and even after
her husband died and she was forced
to provide and be sole foreman of the place.
While her only son fought in France
it was this second life, by the open window
in warm months when the pines on the hill
seemed to talk to the creek, or katydids
lined-out their hymns in the trees beyond the barn,
or by the familiar of fire in winter,
that sustained her. She and her daughters
later forgot the time, the exact date,
if there was such a day, she made her decision.
But after the children could cook
and garden and milk and bring in a little
by housecleaning for the rich in Flat Rock,
and the son returned from overseas
wounded but still able and married a war widow,
and when she had found just the right chair,
a rocker joined by a man over on Willow
from rubbed hickory, with cane seat and back,
and arms wide enough to rest her everlasting cup
of coffee on, or a heavy book,
she knew she had come to her place and would stay.
And from that day, if it was one time and not
a gradual recognition, she never crossed a threshold
or ventured from that special seat of rightness,
of presence and pleasure, except to be helped to bed
in the hours before dawn for a little nap.
That chair -- every Christmas someone gave her a bright
cushion to break in -- was the site on which she bathed
in a warm river of books and black coffee,
varieties of candy and cakes kept in a low cupboard
at hand. The cats passed through her lap and legs
and through the rungs of her seat. The tons
of firewood came in cold and left as light, smoke, ash.
She rode that upright cradle to sleep
and through many long visits with tiers of family,
kissing the babies like different kinds of fruit.
Always hiding the clay pipe in her cabinet
when company appeared. She chaired decisions
to keep the land and refused welfare.
On that creaking throne she ruled a tiny kingdom
through war, death of kin. Even on the night she did
stop breathing, near a hundred, no one knew
exactly when, but found the lamp still on,
the romance open to a new chapter,
and the sun just appearing at her elbow.

~ Robert Morgan  (1944, Hendersonville, NC)

P.S. After returning to it again this afternoon (don't you love the line about the clay pipe she hid in her cabinet?), I picked up the small blue card I had used as a bookmark. Turning it over, I realized it answered every question I had about this poem, and a lot of other things:  "Everything is OK just the way it is." 

The image is one I took last winter, about this time, in Moab, Utah.


  1. Wow! That's one of the finest poems I have ever read. So much there, and what a life to measure one's own by.

    1. I'm so glad you like it, George. It is rich with images and it certainly gave me pause for thought.

  2. In its way, the poem reflects a life of triumph.
    This strong woman lived and died on her own terms. What more could anyone ask?

    1. Yes, Janice, I agree. She made choices that were exactly right for her, and I love that about her.

  3. For me the poem reflects the bittersweetness of life. I would like to have a copy for myself, to return to time and again.

    1. Wanda, I see no problem with printing out my post, if you wish.

  4. I too love that poem, a story of a life well lived. Thank you for introducing it to me. I will read it again, too. And it will be easy to copy and paste it into a text window so I can do that very thing. It's so perfect.

    1. Yes, I'm a bit of a dinosaur, I fear. I still tend to think in terms of paper in my hands. :) Thank, DJan.

  5. My smile got wider and wider as I read. A beautiful tribute to an independent, book loving, pipe sneaking woman who lived a full, rich life...right where she was.

    Yes, everything IS okay just the way it is. Just the way it is. :):)

    1. Yes, Rita, right where she was. A full, rich life can realized anywhere. You certainly have discovered a multitude of ways to be creative and to enlarge your world.

  6. Teresa -- I do like the clay pipe mention. I would bet there are still some older women like that here in Kentucky. I especially like your photo that you took in Moab. I have stayed in Moab many times and find the place enchanting. One needs to read Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, maybe you already have, to understand how Moab used to be before the tourists came. A wonderful book! -- barbara

    1. I would sure hope there are, women with a strong sense of Life.

      Desert solitaire is among my favorites. It's what spoke so clearly to me as I spent spring after spring in that area. I still have a dear friend living in Moab who hikes at least twice a week among the canyons and shares his stories and photos with me. It is an enchanting place, indeed. I have several blog posts from last winter when I spent about three weeks there. I'm so glad that you are so familiar with it, too. It's nice to share our thoughts of these places with others.

  7. Your post title reminded me of my favorite passage from Another Roadside Attraction. In this passage, the character Amanda goes down to the river to meditate until she figures out how to prolong the lives of butterflies. After several hours, she comes back smiling and says, "The lifespan of the butterfly is precisely the right length." Lovely poem.

  8. I love Tom Robbins. I've read almost everything he's written, but most of them were many years ago. Thanks so much for that wonderful literary reminder! It's perfect. Love it.

  9. Sometimes a poem says everything and doesn't need to be understood.
    Archibald MacLeish said it well in
    Ars Poetica.

    A poem should be palpable and mute
    As a globed fruit.
    As old medallions to the thumb.
    Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
    Of casement ledges where the moss has grown -

    A poem should be wordless
    As the flight of birds.
    A poem should be motionless in time
    As the moon climbs,
    Leaving, as the moon releases
    Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,
    Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
    Memory by memory the mind -
    A poem should be motionless in time
    As the moon climbs.
    A poem should be equal to:
    Not true.
    For all the history of grief
    An empty doorway and a maple leaf
    For love
    The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea -
    A poem should not mean
    But be.

    You are right. There is something about this poem. I will read it many times.
    Thank you.

    1. farmlady, What a wonderful poem, with one beautiful image after another, and so appropriate to how I felt about this poem in particular. I thank you for including it in your response. Now, I have one I will be returning to again and again. This MacLeish poem really says exactly what I was feeling, but couldn't articulate. A wonderful lesson for me.

  10. Dang you, Teresa, I was dry eyed a few minutes ago. I think this, from what I know, will be your obituary and what a wonderful affirmation of a well-lived life. I love this line in particular, "by the open window in warm months when the pines on the hill seemed to talk to the creek..."

    You are unique my friend

    1. Thank you, Cletis. Perhaps this is what keeps calling to me, a recognition of myself.... That line is one that really sang for me, as well.

  11. I love the way her life endured, even after "ending" so often throughout the text. The final exit seemed justified and pure.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Hey t, Yes, pure. She made some good choices. There are so many good ways to move through life.

      How're you and Jesus doing? :)

  12. This is such a lovely poem Teresa, it's a quiet voice, and I loved...
    '...kissing the babies like different kinds of fruit'.
    Printing it out to paste in my journal I hope you don't mind. x

    1. Jane, I'm so glad you've printed it out. Hugs to you.

  13. Lovely balanced poem, with some telling images - I too liked the clay pipes.

    1. Hi Jenny, I love the images that are drawn so well by the writer.

  14. Dear Teresa,

    Thank you. No words beyond that. She lives in that poem.


  15. A description of a woman who was strong in mind and spirit. Doing what is necessary to keep family together and not accepting welfare. What may have looked like a simple life to outsiders was more riches of things that really matter and that she taught the next generations.

    1. CiCi, The poet depicted her so beautifully. Her knowing, as you say, "things that really matter."

  16. I love this. She lead a full life and deserved her time to herself. I so long for the day that I can retire and read as much as I want and sleep whenever I want. Three and a half years to go...some days I wonder if I will make it. But this helps "Everything is OK just the way it is."

    1. LadyCat, Yes, everything is OK just the way it is. It would be nice if work could be incorporated into our lives as a seamless whole. Maybe it is, it just doesn't always seem that way. :)

  17. Wonderful. beautiful poem! And yes "everyday is OK just the way it is".

    The writing makes you want to meet the character of the poem.

  18. Wild Bill, Many comments here reflect how very well-drawn she was as a "character." We do want to meet her, we feel we know her. She feels very real.

  19. A person secure in themselves, yes one I would want to meet pipe and all, we all should have our vices even if they are hidden away.

    1. Good Morning, Linda. Yes, Our secrets known only to us. ;)

  20. For over a year I've had a photo of a clothesline pole and a title for a poem-yet-to-be in my files: "A Season of Ordinary Days".

    This so beautifully captures the inchoate feeling I've wanted to convey in the poem. Perhaps, once I'm done enjoying this for its own sake, it can serve as inspiration for something new.

    1. shoreacres, Clothesline poles continually intrigue me. I have mentioned them in more than one blog. They seem to symbolize for me the beauty in the everyday and oh, lord, the smell of fresh sheets just brought in from the line - nothing quite like it. I hope to be able to read your poem one day.

  21. The story to me is of a black woman, perhaps a slave who has gained freedom and freedom she decides is home. It is a story to me of building a home and how the worse that could happen cannot destroy the essentials, the intercourse with country, with duty, with reminders even of her ability to remember the beautiful only when around her is the horror that is slavery and the clay pipe says this all, this addiction she has to the way she used to be, for it is not good to remember the slave years but still she does for she has beautiful memories of beautiful parts... addiction is an important word here. reading as though it was considered bad and now the pie. a sweet and wonderful grandma moses kind of poem.

    1. Nice of you to stop by. She certainly could be a black woman. I also saw that as a possibility. I enjoy seeing other ways of looking at poems. It's always illuminating. Thank you for sharing your response to this poem. "A sweet and wonderful grandma moses kind of poem," is lovely and so apt.

  22. I lived 10 years in Hendersonville, NC...I met a lot of elderly women just like this...

    Loved this. It needed no explaining...

  23. Akannie, The poet is from Hendersonville. Perhaps you knew that, though.