Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Six Grandfathers (poem)

Introduction to “The Six Grandfathers” – Where This Poem Started

Several years ago, I wrote a poem titled “Ozymandias In Reverse”. The poem told of a person traveling in the desert who came upon great carved stones lying about on the land, and a great tower built of these stones. The person wondered how these great building stones and tower came to be. The poem was an attempt to take the idea of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” and turn it on it’s head. It wondered if a great structure, rather than falling into wreck and decay with the passage of time, could somehow come into being, could come to greatness with the passage of time. The narrator in “Ozymandias In Reverse” comes to realize that the reason the great stones and tower are there may not be due to the power of the hand that shaped and built them – they are there because they withstood the test of time. It was everything else around them that had worn away. The stones that remained had proven their worth.

Then I saw a beautiful picture of Mount Rushmore, a picture taken from the air, showing Washington’s face in profile. His face was like the prow of a ship, gazing out onto America. I had visited Mount Rushmore many decades before and had an image of the monument in my mind, but this picture struck me differently. Instead of us looking at the figures on Mount Rushmore and wondering about them, what do those figures think when they look out at this land? 

Then another question came to mind – what about the figures that are missing from this monument? What about those who lived on this land for millennia before the Europeans arrived?  These great figures from our past – whether they are present in granite or in spirit – what do they see when they look out at their country, when they look at us? That’s where I started.
North Andover, Mass.

The Six Grandfathers

Under the sky, bright with the crown of sunrise, the land sits dark, waiting.

Alone, the night still around me, I stand in the Dakota park, watching.
At first light, I see a land and sky newly made, washed clean by the night’s hard rain.
From afar, four colossi gaze, their dawn mountain serene above the plains.
Hidden from my eyes, guarding the native land and sky, two other faces reside.
On the mountain, with the four, the Warrior and the Healer-who-sees still preside.

The faces of the four, my eyes do plain receive.

On the inner eye, the two of the spirit fall.
I gaze at them, all these times, alone in this common hall,
yet to my mind, do their words and deeds conceive?
Here is what I lack, pray tell me how? How to know these six?
They answer me quick, an easy fix. Turn around the scene.

[compass North]

The eyes of Washington keep watch from the mountaintop, 
    as if our soul to measure. 
A gift from the sculptor, an offering from his workshop, 
    the visage whole, he sees. 
The ancient humors show themselves, in proper measure handsome  
the sanguine, the melancholic  
the ready hope and slow anger, leavened by patient earn’ed wisdom. 
How to see what he sees? 
Turn around the scene.
I follow his gaze, as he surveys the far countryside of time.
I follow his eyes, wonder at their demand, 
do the people and this land 
still earn the temper of this man?

[compass East]

Jefferson’s eyes look east to the sun, as if ever to the new day open.
With authoring words he wrote, not with his own, but the creator’s pen.
His words still ring true through the world, self-evident,
for all who would gather in the light of the new day.
But his life left many in chains, left a bell still ringing in the American night,
a bell of warning, of time lost, of pain,
of old scars from the lash, of shackles that remain. 

My eyes travel with his, with history our guide.
On our own corps of discovery from above,
I fly with the author across the great divide.
On my return, I see anew the same land he loved.
Our history near, I hear his words echo in me.
Standing here, I am left wiser but less happy.

[compass South]

Lincoln guided a nation through the wilderness of war,
our Abraham.
I follow his eyes to the south, to freedom and justice for all, to a new country.
The United States.
He told us why we fought, and what was right. 
Although his sepulcher journey passed into the night,
we have the hope of this man, his still living words, eloquent.
His eyes look to us
to complete, to dedicate, to consecrate, to hallow
what his words inaugurated.
His eyes look past me, still brooding over this land.

[compass West]

T.R. defends the land. He looks west, great vistas in sight 
There he fought the good fight.
His big stick diplomacy had its day,
but here is what stayed:
He opposed the narrow few, spoke for the common man,
and a gift that was new  
He bound us to a vision of the common land,
to protect our true nature 
from our own careless hand.

[compass to the Land, compass to the Sky]

For those of us who came before, may the journey be told 
For those of us who hunted on plains and woods to the east  
For those of us who lived here a thousand summers, ten-fold  
For those of us who crossed the western bridge, before it returned to the seas  
two faces are hidden in this land, in this sky, never old. 

Black Elk and Crazy Horse, we know their names; 
their spirit winters in these hills and pines. 
Do they long to tell us of tribes, our kin, alive, not past? 
Do they long to tell us our story, our country, recast? 
I stand in darkness at sunrise, I stand here, held fast. 
Do they see one land, one history, one people, at last? 

[The Six Grandfathers]

I stand on their mountain, I look from their summit. 

I gaze to the compass points of spirit and granite. 
To the north and south, to the east and west, to the earth and sky, 
How to know these six?
At today’s first light, the six grandfathers reply 
Turn around the scene.

Their eyes measure and judge
with righteous anger, with sorrow and compassion, with justice and healing,
with hope – 
showing what was taken, what was borrowed, what was earned, 
and what has been given.

Our grandfathers guide us, 
there are four in books.
On this mountain, I see more than four; more directions are fixed. 
For our people, in our story today, on the mountain here, there are six.
From where I stand, I follow their gaze, they show me where to look. 

January 2018 North Andover, Mass.


"The Six Grandfathers" is the Lakota Sioux name for the mountain known today as Mount Rushmore. As "The Six Grandfathers", the mountain was part of the route that Lakota leader Black Elk took in a spiritual journey that culminated at Black Elk Peak. Following a series of military campaigns from 1876 to 1878, the United States asserted control over the area, a claim that is still disputed on the basis of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. Among American settlers, the peak was known variously as Cougar Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, Slaughterhouse Mountain, and Keystone Cliffs. It was named Mount Rushmore in 1885 during a prospecting expedition by Charles Rushmore, David Swanzey (husband of Carrie Ingalls, who was sister of author Laura Ingalls Wilder), and Bill Challis. (from Wikipedia).

For an account of the ongoing story of Mount Rushmore, read about Gerard Baker, a Native American, who was appointed as superintendent of Mount Rushmore by the National Park Service in 2004. Baker worked to bring the Indian perspective to the interpretive program at Mount Rushmore. The material at this link was researched as part of the Ken Burns special on the National Parks.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Shards of Dylan (poem)

Shards of Dylan

I feel the steel, it cuts me deep
Anyway I reach for it, it's real, it keeps
The touch I want so very much
The chance says take a leap
But I stay away, yes I live there
In my church, I say a prayer
What will I do tomorrow?

I turn to you, inside I burn
Tell me what I have to earn
I hope this doesn't take me down
Yet here I live, it's still my town
Tears and fears on the sinner's face
An empty room, a womb for grace
No escape, the door I cannot trace
But I see a frame, an open pane
I stare into the open air
If I go, I know not where
For still I face tomorrow

July 2017  North Andover, Mass.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Big Room (poem)

The Big Room
   Or an evening walk in the rhyming universe

The evening sky brightens outside, and draws light from my room.
The dogs, impatient at my feet, want to move, let’s leave this tomb.
I laugh, is the workday through? Their leashes on, and mine, undone,
we step into the outer room, now the realm of the setting sun.

It’s eventide, half-summer, as we step into the gloaming,
into that room with no ceiling, the three of us go roaming.
Into the warm quiet nightfall, we enter this swirling place.
Leaving our home, my dogs take me on a trip through time and space.

The fading light is stealing, background radiation, fleeing,
new stars and planets are appearing, pearls in a pink champagne sea.
As the swirling sky darkens, what’s left still ignites my brain.
It leaves me with this feeling, our familiar world is strange.

It looks as if I’m standing on the edge of an open field.
It looks like a man with two dogs – instead the infinite, revealed.
I feel the arrow of time, the sky aquiver with twilight.
My hand draws the bow of the Archer, his dart flies across the night.

In this room, my hand can reach to the edge of space and beyond.
From me to that star, I could skip a stone across this pond.
Can my spirit bear the lightness of The All within my reach?
Yet here I am, in the big room, dizzy, with dogs at my feet.

Overhead, there to the right, shines Vega, Mister Sagan’s star.
He had a billion or two to share, but this one was the door.
Twenty-five light years, a short step away, Contact was the book,
where Ms. Foster met her Dad, or an alien with a kindly look.

How can all this be so welcoming? It could squash me like a bug.
But it doesn’t seem so inclined  somehow it feels more like a hug.
A hadron glow still warms the sky, and the worlds around each star.
The radiation might be dangerous, but still, it warms my heart.

Summer solstice, June 2017, North Andover, Mass.

Copyright Mark Bohrer

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sgt. Peppers as it should have been...

With the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", it got me thinking about what should have been:

When the Beatles started the recording sessions of what would become Sgt. Pepper on 24 November 1966, two of the first songs they recorded were Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever. (The third was When I'm Sixty-Four, another song about their childhood growing up in Liverpool.) Because of the pressure to release a single, Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields Forever was released in February 1967 as a double-A side. Because their producer George Martin and manager Brian Epstein thought "it was inappropriate to require fans to pay twice for the same material", they left these songs off Sgt. Pepper. Martin later described the decision to drop these two songs as "the biggest mistake of my professional life".

So...if we "restored" these two songs to Sgt. Pepper, where would they go? I couldn't see how to place them on side one without completely re-ordering the album. But I saw one logical and artistic place: put both songs on side two, right after the first song "Within You Without You". As the new 2nd song, "Penny Lane" is a strong comeback after "Within You Without You". Then if "Penny Lane" is followed with "Strawberry Fields Forever", it's another good change of pace, and preserves the mix of Lennon/McCartney songs on the album. It also makes side 2 and the whole album much stronger in my opinion. 

Here is how I would include "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" on Sgt. Peppers. What are your thoughts?

Side one
Lead vocals
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"
"With a Little Help from My Friends"
"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds "
"Getting Better"
"Fixing a Hole"
"She's Leaving Home"
McCartney with Lennon
"Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"

Side two
Lead vocals
"Within You Without You"
"Penny Lane"
"Strawberry Fields Forever"
"When I'm Sixty-Four"
"Lovely Rita"
"Good Morning Good Morning"
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)"
Lennon, McCartney and Harrison
"A Day in the Life"
Lennon and McCartney

Side note: The issue for this version of the LP is length. Side 2 clocks in at 27:05 (up from 20:02), vs 19:50 for side 1. The standard LP mastering technology allows 23 minutes per side. LPs longer than 23 minutes per side are possible, and can be 30 minutes or longer, but with a loss of fidelity. So if these two songs were added, it's likely there would have been other changes to the song order, and possibly which songs were included!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Across The Knife Edge (poem)

Across The Knife Edge

Following the cold trail across the high country,
somewhere in front of us the other summit rises,
invisible in the icy windswept fog.
We must reach the safety of the other side
before the coming storm
reaches us.

Across the knife edge,
faster and faster we go
into the fog of the day.

Along the tumbled edge,
giant rocks make us twist and turn.
Some are hewn too large for us to step.
Faster and faster we go,
into the fog of the day,
into the invisible future.

Across the knife edge,
the path narrows as we climb,
but we don’t see it yet.
Why don’t we see it?
Hunting, hunting
for ground beneath our feet.
Will we stop or turn
before it falls away –
Why don’t we see it?
Hunting, hunting
for ground beneath our feet.

Across the knife edge,
into the fog of the day,
through the wind, ahead of the storm,
to the safety of the other side,
into the invisible future,
we race.

May 2014 North Andover, Mass.

Photo is by Dan McGinness
from his solo winter 2014 hike of Mt. Katahdin in Maine
Used with permission