His Story in the Poems

 
    When my Aunt Edna died in 1983,

I sat on her porch about midnight and looked at a giant cottonwood in bright moonlight. It was just “big tree”. Only her story filled the night, and she was gone. I was thinking how changed my life will be—not knowing that the Davidsons’ small store and Mulberry’s post office were located in its shadow, or that the house they sold to Ira Wisely was—there. If I’d known that I would find a photograph, and listen intently as “Miss” Alie Davidson’s daughter Ida remembered fragments of Lena Pendergrass’ story..., but I got by that night, without knowing.


photo: a “view” from Edna’s porch, painted on wood by Mulberry artist, Eddie Pannell


    Marcel Proust, in Remembrance of Things Past, had written:


...capable of being used for this purpose—I felt jostling each other within me a whole host of truths concerning human passions and character and conduct. The perception of these truths caused me joy; and yet I seemed to remember that more than one of them had been discovered by me in suffering, and others in very trivial pleasures (every individual who makes us suffer can be attached by us to a divinity of which he or she is a mere fragmentary reflection, the lowest step in the ascent that leads to it, a divinity or an Idea which, if we turn to contemplate it, immediately gives us joy instead of the pain which we were feeling before—indeed the whole art of living is to make use of the individuals through whom we suffer as a step enabling us to draw nearer to the divine form which they reflect and thus joyously to people our life with divinities). And then a new light, less dazzling, no doubt, than that other illumination which had made me perceive that the work of art was the sole means of rediscovering Lost Time, shone suddenly within me. And I understood that all these materials for a work of literature were simply my past life.


and this:


Once she is dead, we hesitate to be different, we begin to admire only what she was, what we ourselves already were, only blended with something else, and what in future we shall be exclusively. It is in this sense (and not in that other sense, so vague, so false, in which the phrase is generally understood) that we may say that death is not in vain,

that the dead continue to act upon us.


    Six years after my vigil on that porch, Michael Busby kept his own:


On a Country Porch


In another season we planted

for a harvest which covered continents

like Kudzu vine

turning desert to rain forest, loneliness to                                                                         great joy.


Here is knowledge which moves like lightning

down the rod, safely the seed is sown,

a language of love brought powerfully home.

Tonight, in the sleeping hours, I sit on this

open country porch;


Watching the raiders moon rise

Like a great stallion on a distant horizon.

The wind comes warm from the South

carrying the sounds of cattle moving to water

in the night. Silhouettes moving slowly, like

buffalos in Spring country grass.


I am warmed by the knowledge that you

are shining tonight like a great star.

I breathe you in the night air

and understand this is not an easy path

we tread;

I am proud we walk it so well.

Listening, I hear many owls working the

hunting time or propagating optimistic nests.


In the deep woods night

A wolf calls its siblings, a little lonely

but that is the wolf way.


Across the fields of spring in the sleeping

hours, all roads lead here, to a place

where the seed is safely sown.


This is a place of strong sinew

and wise bone

and my little sadness is gone in

the blink of an eye.


So, it is.

We learn to move on.

A little lonely but that is the wolf way.

I know you are there.


           —by Michael Busby, April 24, 1989



    Michael, returning to Mulberry with his mother to visit his grandparents, and even to live with them when he was young, asked for stories to nourish a lost sense of self and place that later, through long evening hours, he crafted using words, seeking a figure to reverence and admire:



R. A. Hall


Grandfather,

seven years of silence is enough,

don’t you think?

Ten thousand bed sores and the timeless

groan of your woman soured by twenty-five

hundred days of deaf ritual must weigh on you.

How she once moaned under the taunt

proddings of her muscular farmer. Ten

times she   [ ... ]   bore the child.

Grandfather do you remember? You stare

silent holes in me. Are you ashamed, or proud

still? Grandfather do you remember? Let me read

your weary-eyed affirmation, a testament to life

and death, and perhaps life again.

I see it, Grandfather,

a seed memory of wagons

come to Texas, your wide-shouldered

father, the homestead, yes, Grandfather,

I read your eyes.

There lies your big-breasted bride:

wifely chores, hell no, hard-driving woman

of love; she took you time and again,

your equal in those cool nights, holy life,

blessed fun.

Yes,

the valley was yours then:

righteous farmer, all bills paid before they

came due, a good harvest in fall.

Your hands all paid, rushing to town whores

or revivals. Not you, Grandfather, off to

Smokehouse whiskey, and another year past,

goodcheer 1928, goodcheer.

Oklahoma,

after the years of tears.

The overseer of resettlement. At least

your children weren’t hungry. You still

held the homestead, as your brothers shuffled

in jealous rage to buy from the government,

their elder’s land.

But,

Edna and the children loved you and made

you laugh.

You would survive, Grandfather.

After seven years of silence, you can smile,

deaf and dying, forever proud.


(1961)


                                                                                                photo below: Mike (back, left) at cousin Derrell’s birthday party (1960)

Night of the Goblin


Halloween—we rushed out doors

And stole away past Dusk.


The gang would meet

To Trick or Treat

And sip a bit of wine.


When dares were called

We’d throw our rocks;

Windows crashed and shattered!

How we ran in mock retreat

From salt-shot’s harmless banter.


Warming up, we’d steal some bikes

And cycle fast across the Town. Oh the Shows!

And how we stared at old Madge, the Virgin Strip-Tease Dancer.


“If we’re caught we’ve had it;

My Pop’s a Cop, you know.”

We were caught and oh the shock as Goblin’s

Heads did roll.

The morning brought the Lad’s lament,

Bruised Rumps and Long Faces,

Though Honest Folk we’ve since become,

A credit to this Nation.


The Goblin Gang has since grown old.

We’re Lawyers, Machinists and Priests.

We walk our children on this night,

Vigils to protect, and Keep the Peace.


Towards the End of 1978


I finish my Masters, and feel proud.

I search for employment while

I work in Steen Library,

receiving all the new books.


It is pleasant work, though

librarians must be the strangest

herd I’ve yet discovered.

I wonder if they name their children Dewey

or L.C.

Few of them read, many gossip,

others seem scared by a Puritan’s

silent search for something lost or

misplaced. They seem like people

destined to die young. They are afraid

of each other. The State pays them little and

analysis must take most of their pay. I can

not imagine them outside the paper cathedral,

in the Sunshine, or naked. I do not want to

work in the Library much longer.


In Early Fall


I march through the suburbs

to the Dead End Sign.

For once I had the courage to say, No-You lie;

and I march on.


Under the Fence, and I’m lost in the woods.

Listen, the builders’ hammers die.

Even the bulldozers’ road seems timid here.

Today is rediscovered, it is quiet, cool and good.


But the concrete will come.

The Pastures, creeks, and gullies must die.

The Cattle go to slaughter.

The Country Tribes vanish, and with them goes

the courage, seldom found even now, to say

No-You lie.


There will be no place to march

for peace in Texas.

Where shall we turn to quiet the assembly

line’s din?

Will we find solitude in the stable of the dozer?

What hospital, pharmacy, or medical specialist

Can heal our wounds then?


Dawn for the Fool


These are the faulty lines of Romantic lies.

These are the memories, not real, blurred,

soft with time.


Will these words pay the rent?

Keep us from calling loud and low for

help from friends and family?


Traps, stupid fool,

are laid in these lines.

Just who are you, what qualifies

your existence?

Beggar of Time, you no longer listen,

no longer see—except through filtered

visions—a poet! Ha, fool, fool, fool.

Feed your family on rhyme.

Pay the water bill with meter.

You work in the library—with old women and Fags!

You’ve got a long list of books to buy.

Ha—pay for the groceries with books.

Wake up, fool—Take hold, fool—Listen, fool,

comes down out of orbits of Romantic self-pity.

Playtime is finished.

It’s time to achieve something bankable.

Earn something you can eat.

Slave of Fancy—it’s time to go to work.


Open Letter II


Remember, at Seventeen

Our journey with John out West.

I nearly bought it climbing Deer Mountain.

You were the first to the top

via the dangerous ascent.

I was angry and ashamed.

You were the better man that day, and many since.


I remember when, at Fourteen, we wrecked Mom’s car.

I followed you from the wreckage into the woods by the turnpike.

We were lousy liars and I threw many a Sunday

Morning paper to pay for that comradery.


I remember you stood beside me

on my Wedding day, Best man in regal pose.

I remember wild nights of killer dope and Big Red,

Tamer times these grown up years.

We drink Heiniken late at night from

cool green bottles, talking about nothing

and all things which truly matter. You are

My Friend—I remember all our highways.


Melanie

July 25, 1984


In Mid Summer

you travel north toward Taos,

Ms Taylor’s old highway friend....


A return to the Sixties highway song,

a respite from international banking

and petty office feuds.


You approach

a city of angels,

a borough of peace,

nestled in my dreams.


In winter you were there,

strong in love and laughter,

an encircling planet

turned slowly my way.


This Knowledge is a melody

played freely,

a world of quiet contemplation

and gentle winds.


I had forgotten happiness

until you called me to you.

Since that time

so far we’ve come,

a Spring wood song

an owl’s strong call.

I shall join you soon

in the high mountain country.

Close to God we sleep warm

and joyously.


Together we journey.

Together we blend.

As husband and wife in all seasons and times we happily spin.



                                                                                                photos: (above) with Melanie in Colorado

                                                                                                           (below) ... on their Wedding Day

To Cody at Christmas

December 2, 1984


So there you are, my friend.

Do with it as you will.

May you always walk with light.


Oh, one last thing, Cody;

If you follow this code

do not expect any medals, parades, or

great recognition.


The great accomplishments in life

are achieved in relative obscurity.

Progress is defined not in miles traveled,

titles or battles won—rather it comes

in an instant, a blind flash, a private

moment, on your private road to

Damascus. You may not even be aware

of it for a time. But such an instant

changes your life; when the line

is drawn you will know instinctively

where to stand. Most likely you will

stand alone, but this is only illusion.

He who stands at such times is

never alone.

Rejoice, live long and prosper.

Good luck and Godspeed.


From a finally happy man

you have not met as yet...

Merry Christmas.


Somethings


Somethings I just don’t understand?

Like my Las Vegas father, drunk with

liquor and power.

His real sons are the business, which

silently heeds all his commands.


My brother and I

will search always for

the Knowledge of our

real father, our teacher, our church.


Las Vegas father, because of our Mother

we are strong honest men.

We are decent and have the

courage to despise deceit.


But all of that aside,

we wonder:

Will you ever know us, Papa?


Epitaph

February 7, 1989


What I would hope to have them say:

That he was a good friend at all times;

That he had a gift for listening as well as for gab;

That he taught by example;

That he enjoyed himself even when times were difficult

and you had to scratch the skin to find a grin;

That he made a difference, and knowing him

changed one’s world view for the better;

That those he loved knew it always;

That he was thankful for the living, the laughter and the loving;

That he enjoyed the simply being;

That he thanked you all for sharing in his time;

That there is courage found in all things worth the doing,

and that adventures still abound.



Meeting Henry

January 8, 1990


I was told I have cancer last Friday.

Over the weekend I met Henry,

my guardian Angel.


“Henry, I want to live,” I said.

“So live, Michael.”

“I think I want to open a restaurant

called the Dancing Bear near T.C.U.

Good food and a place where a poet

can read with joy and gusto.”

“It’s a good idea, Michael, in love and life,

make it happen!”


“Henry, I’m glad you’re there/here.”

“Michael, I’m glad you hear.”

And so it was that I met Henry.


Meeting Dr. John

January 13, 1990


Dr. John is a tall drink-a-water

with a straight tongue and a fine sense of humor.

I wish I’d met him over a pitcher of beer

in some sane pub,

not at a cancer center.

My first time there,

everyone seems old.

Some don’t have long to go.


I’m angry.

What the hell am I doing here?

What do you mean more tests?

What do you mean no diagnosis—

still the great unknown mass,

the size of a tennis ball.

Where are those melodrama

Doctors when you need them?


Yes, John, I am, as you suggest, a free spirit.

Let us become friends and fighters together....

More testing.

Still, as one free spirit to another,

I want to piss in your trash can

and give you my best left hook to the jaw.

It becomes a matter of principle

and professional courtesy, you know.


The Healing Room

January 16, 1990


There is a room

I go to during the waiting,

a resting nest.


Surrounded by books I love,

Young Lincoln’s portrait,

and a painting of a Comanche

medicine man leading his band

across the plains.


The furniture is old,

a grandparent’s legacy.

There is a calm about this place

that helps me find a centerness

I require.


This is the room

I go to during the waiting,

a resting nest,

in which I curl

like a contented cat on a rainy day.


January 29, 1990

...

I must find my center,

the place, as T. E. Lawrence said, where

“nothing is written.”

...


February 12, 1990

...

I am afraid during chemo.

She holds my hand

and sees me safely home,

followed by

radiation twice a day;

I go to these alone.


I work for the healing, like a planting farmer,

accepting the grieving; I see the world from

the vantage of a great and lasting harvest....


My second month of knowing, I look

each day full in the eye and

know, I shall not die.

But I do ask, come quick my Spring....


At Night

March 15, 1990


After all it is almost Friday

and I cannot sleep.

I sit up after a week of storms,

thinking about things which are in mind,

wondering if they will take more tangible forms.


My cat sits in my lap

and it is a long time until the paper comes.

I sit on the front porch;

a night bird sings in a nearby Mulberry tree.


We listen with the ear of an opera fan.

I hear a song for a world at rest

on the edge of Spring.

We both find the nesting worthy of Song.


The Earth Tribe

March 23, 1990


On the crest above the valley

the houses stand,

representing the family Hall,

like fingers on a hand.


Farmers for a hundred years,

the family turned the soil.

Through wars and droughts and depression,

these hands have worked this land.


My kinsmen these,

proud people,

above the river’s flow.

These farmers on the border,

their wisdom grows,

like crops they plant in Spring

and harvest in the Fall.


The earth is generous to these

kinsmen known as Halls.


After the Thunderstorm

April 11, 1990


The Red River is a pitched battle.

It is here the heavens and earth heave to,

clashing like mortal lines of Blue and Grey

on Gettysburg’s second day.


We seek shelter in the middle of a long night,

Awed by the howling display.

Our solid world bends in the fray,

passage to the cellar a testament to angry

Gods on judgement day.


The cellar is a crypt

for the living.

Only the hiss of a kerosene lamp

and the wisdom words of my elders

promise daylight chores will remain.


After the Thunderstorm

we emerge from the earth changed,

alive to the world in a very different way.

Like a seed planted and warmed by the Sun,

we emerge from the earth intent

on new fruitions.


    1958 June 8:  (Gladys to Gregory on his first European trip)  ... I forgot to tell you that Mike nearly tickled everyone to death at Sunday School. Lester’s baby boy was to give the report at class time, so he stood up but said nothing.  Mandy kept telling him what to say, and Mike kept looking at him.  Finally it got on Mike’s nerves and he said out loud, “Well, why don’t you say it?”  Everybody nearly died laughing.... 


    At age eighteen Michael asked to bring a party of campers from Dallas to the mouth of Caney Creek. My mother wrote on July 12, 1973, not knowing that, young as he was, half his life had passed, already:


    Dear Mike,  I regret to be so late in writing this letter.  It was just yesterday that Clayton and I gave any serious consideration to all the facts involved in your camping on this place.... We feel sure that your group is a responsible one with competent sponsors, but this does not lessen our responsibility as hosts to the group.  After all, we do not know a single one of you.  It is unfortunate that we did not think of all this at the time you talked with us, but we didn’t.  As we listened to you, all we could think of was how nice it would be, and we felt pleased to be able to do something for you.  Clayton and I both hope that you will understand.  We hope that your friends will understand.  This morning Clayton was not able to stay up.  He is still very nervous and easily upset.  I hope that you can come by to see him, and that you will be able to make other plans for your camping trip.  Sincerely, Aunt Gladys


    When Michael died on July 20, 1990, aged thirty-five, I had my mother at home, out of the nursing home for five months, to care for her myself.  Cousin Derrell, close to Mike in years, rode to Dallas with me for a memorial service.  We remembered the Mulberry years.  Derrell was County Commissioner for our precinct then and later undertook a major restoration of Caney bridge to save it for additional years of service. Michael’s poem, “Thanksgiving,” celebrates his association with this special place....                                                                   


    I thought the woods near Caney bridge would be a better place for Mike’s ashes. “No, he planned everything.”  Weeks passed. Then Janice told me that spreading the ashes would be the next weekend, and only for those Mike had named.  I could come afterwards when there would be food.  All week I thought about this; something extraordinary was about to happen, and I’d been told to stay away.

    On Saturday the only help I had with mother was the home care aide who bathed her.  Between trips to the clothes line I watched the cars arrive.  After lunch, when mother was in bed again, I stood in the back yard behind a holly bush and watched.  A child walked stiffly toward the center of the yard over there, turned around, and went back to the adults, all looking at the sky.  I saw nothing, wanted it to be over, decided:  “I won’t go there again.”  Aunt Edna’s welcome had always seemed unconditional.

    Before his troubles began, I told Mike I was storing in the barn a small printing press belonging to a friend in Boston.  I talked about learning to use it.  It would be a “private press”.  The next week Mike brought a folder containing his poems.  My first idea was too ambitious: I would write an appreciation encouraging him to cultivate his gift, but time passed and I wrote nothing. Too many of the poems were inaccessible, I thought. 

    When the news first came, I knew it was too late.  My last visit with Mike was like this:  He and Melanie were spending the weekend in Mulberry with a friend who’d come from a distance.  When I entered the fireplace room, Mike was lying on the bed.  He sat up, more handsome it seemed for the weight he’d lost.  Melanie and the friend came from the kitchen.  I wanted to talk about “it,” to let him know I knew, but Melanie was on guard, so I turned to his books recently moved to new shelves in the room.  Proust’s three volumes, his life’s great work, were there.  “Maybe you don’t know,” I said, “but I’m the only person you’re likely to meet in Mulberry who’s read them all.  It took ten years....”  By now (as I hastened on) I was set to entertain.  No one asked what my reward had been.  Finally I left.  The next day was cold and misty, the last time I saw Mike.  He came to the kitchen door for the gate key to the river farm.  They wanted to walk on the sandbars with their friend.  I don’t remember where they left the key.

    On the day of the ashes evening came.  There would be a full moon.  Mother was back in her bed after supper.  The cousins’ cars were gone.  Only Melanie’s van and the friends’ van remained at the house on the corner.  I decided to walk up the road and “make an appearance” after all.  Melanie was lying on the bed in the fireplace room, her head toward the foot.  Beside her was a boom box; the music was baroque.  She sat up and greeted me.  “It’s done?” I asked.  “As he wanted?” She thought so....

    On the day of the memorial service she’d corrected me: I said, “I am glad he had you.”  “Not had,” drawing back. “I have him. I always will.”