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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Poem: His instrument

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His instrument

In this early morning dark
I am unused to the sound
of the old rasping clock that hangs
on the wall until it is shipped
to our son. It is a banjo twin
of the one our girl already has —
gifts from their grandpa,
my father-in-law, who is still
living, though altered
from when he collected time
pieces, wool-serge-suited for work.
He wound keys of all 74 clocks
before driving off in his ‘77
Lincoln, back when he had both
kidneys and a five-bedroom
colonial. His meticulous fingertips
have plucked pendulums
into motion, rotated arrow-hands,
and shut doors with
miniature country paintings
on glass, housing hollows
of time that keep tapping out
the rhythm of a heart,
strumming the quarter hour,
radiating his timbre now into
our many houses across
the land, long after
he has fallen asleep, flanneled
in his corduroy chair,
snug in the apartment where
he'll drift off until the end of time.





banjo clock image found here
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34 comments:

Friko said...

At first I thought "lucky boy and girl", but perhaps your poem is a poem, not a telling of a family story in a poem.

Whichever kind of story it is, you have told it beautifully; one man's timekeeping radiating across the lives of his descendants.

George said...

Heartfelt, beautiful, and moving, Ruth, a poem that will undoubtedly be treasured as much as the clock by your family and their descendants, including the one whom you call "poppy seed."

Ruth said...

Friko, it's a true family story as well as a poem. When my FIL had all his clocks going in their house, it was quite a cacophony of chirps and chimes. Thank you for reading, and for your kind words.

Ruth said...

Thank you, George. You now have me thinking about another child's book about great grandpa's clocks, another volume for Poppy Seed lining up in my bookshelf of stories to write and illustrate. I wonder if any of them will happen ...

hedgewitch said...

Time seems kindly here, both in the collecting, the understanding and the sharing of the timepieces, and in the unstated march of it through the poem from Lincoln to easy chair. What more appropriated gift from a grandfather than a piece of time? Another beautiful piece, Ruth.

hedgewitch said...

"appropriate" not appropriated. Yeesh.

Ruth said...

Hedge, thanks for reading and for your kind words. Aging is tough. We watch and live through it with our parents, and ourselves. I think it's hard for my FIL to see these clocks go, but it must feel good to know they're hanging on so many walls and sitting on so many shelves in all of our homes.

erin said...

this! this! just this past weekend robert and i were travelling roads just to travel and see. we happened upon an immense yardsale, things bought at auction or estate sales. we purchased a photo album. in part, it felt like a rescue. it felt necessary to witness. the other morning robert was looking at the photo album and then at a framed photograph of his parents, then the album, then his parents. he was in conflict, it seemed. he wanted to give more attention to those he knew. but i said in excitement, robert, you know them all! they are all of us! every photo, regardless the country, the age, they are every man, every woman, loving and hoping and failing and dying. we are everyone! there is no closer to the truth by person. each person is the truth, all of our truth.

this is what you've give us here, ruth. this goes much beyond time. time doesn't mean a rat's arse, really. it's an illusion, a gear, that has us passing one another, but what beauty that we get to pause and say hello, what fine hands you have!

xo
erin

Bruce Barone said...

Speechless; so beautiful.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

This is very beautiful, and touching, Ruth. Beautiful. Loved the look-back at when he went off to work in his Lincoln.........now commander of his armchair........a lovely read.

Louise Gallagher said...

This is beautiful... and... it beats a special note for me. My father, who passed away in 96 collected clocks. We too had a home where ticks and tocks and chirps and cheeps and cuckoos and chimes beat the hour and quarter hour. It was a cachophony of sound and to this day, I still love the sound of a clock ticking.

It brings me peace.

As your poem does.

Thank you for this. My heart beats a song of gratitude.

Jeanie said...

Oh, Ruth -- they are apart, the clocks with Peter and Lesley. What a gift, what a heritage to share with them. And what stories those clocks could tell of a life in your husband's childhood home. I, too, have "doors with miniature country paintings on glass" but I'm not sure I could have ever turned that phrase so gracefully!

Marcie said...

Such a poignant description of time passing from hand-to-hand and from one generation to the next.
Beautiful - as always!

Ruth said...

erin, I love just driving like that, along country roads especially. It is surprising what is out there.

I love what you said to Robert! I feel this way too, we contain one another. I was thinking this the other day when you wrote at your place (I think it was there) that you want everyone's voice to be heard, and I thought . . . erin, you give voice to many! and in doing that you give voice to yourself too.

And yeah, what is time anyway? It's an artificial construct. What the hell is a clock? While time pieces are beautiful, they can also be incredibly confining, limiting my mind. If I get annoyed that someone appears at my office door at 12:01pm, what's the matter with that time picture? A lot ....

Thank you, erin.

Ruth said...

Wow, Bruce, thanks.

Ruth said...

Hi and welcome, Sherry! I appreciate your very kind visit. It is amazing what we fit into one lifetime.

Ruth said...

Hi, Louise!

Picturing your dad, like my FIL, pacing through the house, winding clocks, setting the keys back inside the doors, tipping the pendulums back in motion ... their rapt attention and focus, it's a beautiful thing to behold. Thank you too.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Jeanie. One of the pleasures of aging is observing how our kids grow to appreciate the old treasures passed down through the generations. They remember items from my parents' house, emptied back in 1996, some of them here in our home. I wondered over the years if they would care to keep any of it, and now, they do want to as they are 30 and nearly 29, and already understanding the need for continuity, for remembrance. Of course these are not embedded in material things necessarily, but they can be sweet conduits.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Marcie!

Grandmother said...

Oh, those "poppy seeds" love stories. How rich to treasure a true family story illustrated by a real clock painting that hung on family walls connecting them over time. Please share it when you write it!

Ruth said...

Mary, thanks for the enthusiastic encouragement. Maybe I'll start a new blog with a Poppy Seed book series . . .

:-)

Susan said...

And time keeps marching on...beautiful tribute to the past and the future, m'lady.

Shari Sunday said...

I was going to say "beautiful tribute" but I see that has already been said. Well, it's worth saying again.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Susie. Time, and no time. Brevity and longevity, together.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Shari, again.

Brendan said...

A banjo clock is an odd, appropriate endowment in a family as musically gifted as yours - not that there's any real banjo there, but the shape and clockworks suggest familiarity with an instrument of time that works as clock, banjo and poem, all of them doling out the hours with pendulum, plectrum and pen. A sweet remembrance of the man who endowed so many clocks that would, of course, outlive him in all ways but memory. Very nice. - Brendan

Ruth said...

Thanks for coming and reading, Brendan. These are tender times, considering a life, looking at what rises to the surface. Makes you stop and think.

Pat said...

What a wonderful gift to pass on to the kids, as is your poem. I have a lump in my throat from reading this.

Barb said...

The passage of time. It's interesting to think of the young(er) man who collected these clocks that will now be heard by a third (and soon fourth) generation of his ancestors.

Margaret said...

Oh I love the sentiment of this piece! What a treasure they have inherited! The clock and this poem.

Lil Coyote said...

i could see this all so well Ruth
even hear the rhythm of the clocks in sync.
there's something about a man and his timepieces, or at least there was at one time.
and i love how softly the ending just rested so peacefully
Rick

ds said...

Bittersweet, this passage of time, and passing along of time, and gift of time. The transfer of heritage from one generation to another (conduits, yes!).

Beautiful reflections, Ruth. Thank you.

amy@ Souldipper said...

I wonder...did FIL obsess over each of the 76 being the correct time? That would be much more difficult to live with than the cacophony of defiant chimes, cuckoos, etc.

I imagine the fascination they would be for children.

Ginnie said...

This is beautiful, Ruth, of Don's father. I wish I could have heard what that ticking, chirping, chiming house had sounded like!