Ray Whitaker :: Three Poems for October ::


My Southern Legitimacy Statement: After moving west, I find that I to this day, compare things out here in Big Sky country to standards set by having lived in North Carolina for a lot of my life…. truly I do miss the enunciation of “Y’all” which ain’t hardly ever heard ‘round here; and the magnificent green hard woods of the Blue Ridge.”

Three Poems for October


The old walnut Italian trunk
a relic from the 1800’s
sits in my living room as a coffee table
it is just the right height to serve as a footrest
even as the top has the duty of holding the interests
that currently hold me dear.

Opening it, if you did
therein are relics of my lovely wife
she’s gone now, however there,
much of her sewing remains
the stitches, the filigree lace and buttons fill it
these are part of the pictures of my open chest.

On a whim, I pressed a large photo on a t-shirt
it is of an antique doorway,
one of many such to be found in Rhonda
this Spanish town has so many of these aged, beautiful doors
and this shirt has become (for me) a passageway
into the domain of introspection

so when I move from one place, to yet another
I see so many faces
the Italian cabinet-maker loving his woods in his shop
Sarah with her furrowed eyebrows whilst sewing
a widow’s eyes from orc artillery, the steaming contexts of a world so in need
all reside there in the doorway to my open chest

sitting now on the brown leather couch,
I put my feet up to rest on the chest

remembering what it was like to serve others

those many others in all my living.


Granddaddy loved telling us ‘bout
Cousin Caleb, what a musical genius he was…
Loved his mandolin better
than any woman he ever did meet.

Came home to ol’ Carolina and the family tavern
after the war ended,
well after the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg
an’ after Lee broke our hearts in April of sixty-five.

Cousin Caleb had a story about Ravens
that everywhere he went on his way back
to the family tavern on old log cabin road
he met ‘nother raven.

Caleb seemed to think that it was the same bird
at least it crossed his mind that it might be
the thing was, then he didn’t know how to tell
them apart, crows and ravens, I mean.

Everywhere he went, from town to town
crossing from Virginia back to North Carolina
another would be there
along every lowly stretch of road
to look him in the eye.

He didn’t march back with the regiment
wern’t no point to that anymore
the moving in step, pitching tents in rows
and lining up for chow. No point going further with that.

He escaped from Military scrutiny
on a moonless night, just walked away
walked until he couldn’t anymore
along a road that felt like going south was the way of it.

That’s where he found the old Muskogee Indian
or rather the Indian found him.
Walkin’ thru the canes by the Dan River
found him just in time. Warning him, thru his surprise
about the white-mouthed moccasin he was about to step on.

He took up with the Old Indian
and many of the next days they kept each other company
when the Indian told him about the legend of
their creation story that had ravens in it.

How they flew over the water
until turtle brought up enough land
from under the water
to come down and alight on.

The old Indian told him a way to tell them apart
was ravens spoke a different language than crows.
That a raven would pick one of the people
To bring wisdom to
And guide one of the people toward the light.

Speaking a different language, yes, the crow and the raven…
Raven is mystical and full of wisdom
ravens fly thru the grey mists
crow is more practical
stuck in the material village.

Well, Caleb couldn’t escape that raven
like he had escaped from his military service
the raven was following him
(He had decided it was the same one)
seemed to have the same grey-white feather under the left eye.

After a week of this,
the raven was talking to him regular like
like there was some sort of message
Caleb decided this was definitely a female
and named her Ruth.

Maybe they was messages….
not only just one message, maybe many.
She became by some strange occurrence, his conscience
a guide towards what
he was not sure a’tall.

That very mornin’ before the soaking rain
Ruth showed up and looked him up and down
excited, she seemed to say Something
like he should’t miss is her speakin’ it
like she was telling him what (or when) to be ready for.

It had taken him a few weeks in the hot summer heat
to walk his way back down to Coleridge
back to the family Tavern was his intent
walking barefoot in the front door, all wet.

It had rained all mornin’ before he walked in the door.
He was hungry,
and Momma sorta didn’t
(and sorta did) know him.
He was as skinny as she’d ever seen him.

Granddaddy said that it took Caleb some time
to get over the war.
He gradually gained his real weight back
tho, no-one understood why he always looked for those big crows.

A black man showed up from Alabam’
could sing and had a banjo, too.
The music were good, and folk came
just to hear the two of them play,
altho the beer was good that fall, too.

Turns out that Caleb had saved his colonel’s life
when the Union soldiers had broken thru
in the battle of Cedar Creek near the mountains of Virginia
tho, he never said much about that.

Caleb and that black fella became real friends
he hid him from the white sheets when they came by
those KluKluxers were dastardly in violence,
and Caleb Had had enough
of it from the war.

He loved that mandolin.
He had a special time with those big crows.
Seemed to listen to them and a new song would soon come
and the locals would come to the tavern just to hear it.

Sitting on the porch, feeling finally home
holding close the mandolin his Momma had saved
all those years for him
ever since sixty-one
When the 22nd Battalion of North Carolina marched away.

Thomas’ Battalion (that ‘ol 22nd)
went off to kill the yankees
off to the the blood and gore of sixty-two’s Fredericksburg
Where afterwards the Union dead laid in piles.

Granddaddy said that Caleb always looked surprised
when he played,
maybe he was ‘cause his fingers remembered
the lonely chords of Dixie Land
maybe it was ‘cause the raven told him what to play.



I have never counted all the books
there in the sometimes dusty shelves
I wonder about them, tho
even as they sit on the shellacked boards
each volume upright, a sentinel to print
pointing back in time to Gutenberg
then forward in the continuum to reason.

Why are there the divisions, those sequences that exist
like the body of work an author (like Clancy) has put out
or even why are there four sections in Collin’s “Whale Day”
with no explanation.

The bit of shelf forward of the books on it
is a great place to have the potter’s hand-thrown mug
given by my daughter                                                                                                      
for a long ago forgotten birthday
except for moving it to the right, or to the left
to get perchance to Bob Woodward’s “State Of Denial”                                              
which is a difficult read anyway.

Sometimes thinking that the eight-foot-long bookcase
proudly (from my perspective) made from 100 year old pine
holds two complete lengths of poetry books
is in sore need of a repair to the top shelf
as we had to get that cut off just to move it in, down the stairs
the amputation replaced lovingly by stacking books as needed
to accommodate the loved volumes on the top shelf

Theo comes down and checks on me
sees me in here, and his quick intelligence knows
I may be silent for hours here
and that a dog walk is gonna have to wait.

The books try to dance when the stereo is on
it resides on it’s own set of shelves on the opposite wall
where the cassette and phonograph grudgingly give space
to the newcomer, the dual CD recorder.
the books sway with the rhythms anyway
even tho the reel-to-reel spins in jealousy

in here there is a sort of adhesive

I can’t seem to become unglued from the big blue chair
while metaphor and allegory are doing the tango
trombone music from Marshal Gilkes croons to the allusions                                         
on the third shelf

illuminations come, and I am voluntarily incarcerated.