Thursday, August 16, 2018

"Chores: Milking" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

Chores: Milking
Lowell Jaeger

"Head in the Clouds" Ink & Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Each of the heavy barn doors had to be lifted
on its hinges to drag it closed, for which the boy
bunched his shoulders, huffed, and struggled.
And inside the dim, Dolly waited in her stanchion,
breathing slow, her puffs of steam rising past the hayloft
through shafts of moonlight, dust-laden air
roiling in the beams.

The boy froze — with bucket and stool in hand, listened
to the night’s howl, the creaking rafters.  Listened
to his heart’s muffled drumbeat, its persistent thrum.

In a flash, the boy’s daydreaming soul
lifted through the roof’s loosened shingles
to a mind’s-eye view of the farm, its little farmhouse,
windows lit and flickering.  Mother, Father, brothers, sister . . .
each of them sailing lonely in the sweeping black emptiness
of the same small rooms.  

                                    Till the boy felt like a far-off star staring
down, aching and afraid for something he couldn’t name.

And suddenly he was glad to have chores.  Awakened
where he’d landed again inside his shoes, inside
the familiar barn, smells of manure and straw, bucket and stool

still in hand, and Dolly fidgeting with anticipation.

Poet's Notes:  We discourage children from using their imaginations.  “Stop daydreaming!” we say.  “Get your head out of the clouds.”  We praise people who “have their feet on the ground.”  We frown upon people who get “lost” in fantasy.  “Earth to Lowell,” my mother used to say, meaning I’d drifted off somewhere far away in my imagination.

We don’t know for sure what the imagination is or where it’s located or why each of us has one in the first place.  The imagination lets us see things that aren’t there, hear people who are nowhere nearby or even in the grave.  Children, especially at play, obviously are more skillful in accessing the imagination than are adults.  I’ve read somewhere that at puberty most people move from the dreamy side of the brain over to the more analytical and logical side.  No wonder kids often find adults “boring.”

Picasso said he spent his life trying to remember how to draw like a child (see Editor's Note).  He knew that as an adult, he’d lost something important.  He wanted it back.  It feels so good to let one’s imagination soar.  In some ways I still feel like a child inside--maybe most artists feel this way.  When writing a poem, I can sit and stare into nothingness for hours. I’ll come back to earth eventually, and though it feels like I’ve only just recently sat down with pen in hand, half a day has gone by in flash!  Imagining requires a focused, concentrated effort.  Most people seem to think that imagining means just letting the mind float aimlessly, like a lost balloon blown this way and that on the horizon.  Not so.

As a child, sometimes my imagination scared me.  I’d rocket toward the stars, like the boy in the poem “Chores: Milking,” and I’d be seized suddenly with a panic I couldn’t name.  Maybe I worried I’d wandered off too far and I’d never find my way back. I’ve talked with many kids who tell me they have experienced this.  Small children can orbit the Milky Way while waiting in the lunch line. Children can ponder the meaning of existence while walking home from school.  This can be overwhelming at any age.

I was in seventh grade when I first heard Robert Kennedy’s words, "Some men see things as they are, and ask why.  I dream of things that never were, and ask why not."” Those words say a lot about the power of the imagination.  Do people with intact imaginations have a more stable hold on reality because they see past the illusions which limit most minds? It’s strangely pleasurable to think “out of the box.”

Editor's Note:  The precise quote attributed to Pablo Picasso is, "It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child."

"Chores:  Milking" was previously published in Earth-blood & Star-shine, and Verse Virtual.

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