Courage, humility, and heights

Courage, humility, and heights:

April is poetry month!

My thanks to Jeff Gundy for adding immeasurably to this post by allowing me to present his poem Stringer below.

Photo by KAP Jasa on Unsplash

When I (Greta) was five, I pedaled my tricycle all the way down Grandma’s many concrete steps in Berne, Indiana, gaining the scar I still have under my chin. It’s the place that one old-lady hair now wants to grow. But the feeling of joy I had just before I started down those stairs is still with me.

Later, the stair railing at our house in Akron, across the street from Mennonite Central Committee headquarters, called to me daily. Swinging all the way around that thing, daring the cement to jump up and hit me in the head was exhilarating. I’d climb the big tree in the back as high as I could go and look down with glee. 

On one of our trips with my dear husband, I walked up to the edge of a huge canyon in the Badlands and happily looked around as the wind buffeted my body. My husband nearly got hives and a heart attack.

What things do you do easily that others may find uncomfortable to perform?

Are we brave when we do things that we simply love–that take no effort, that do not overcome dread? 

Are we courageous when we are fearless, not only about physical challenges but about our place in the world? Are we ever safe enough, and do we have the humility to answer life’s call, if it changes?

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Jeff Gundy, Bluffton University professor—a poem from his collection:

Abandoned Homeland, Bottom Dog, 2015. http://smithdocs.net/harmony_series or https://www.amazon.com/Abandoned-Homeland-Poems-Jeff-Gundy/dp/1933964669

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

 

Stringer 

We were all asleep in America in 1970 when some farmer 

near Minonk needed a pole barn, and so we’d pile 

 

into Jerome’s pickup and drive out breathing his awful cigars 

and trying not to think how hot it would be by noon. 

 

A pole barn is money stretched and pounded thin, 

a wide high space closed in fast and cheap as possible. 

 

As it goes up everything is high and shaky. I don’t mind heights

if I can plant both feet on something solid. There’s nothing solid 

 

on a half-built pole barn. My palms are sweaty just putting 

this down. I was the young guy and so I clambered up and out, 

 

sat on one 2 x 4 stringer 12 feet up and took the next one 

Edwin poked up and wrangled it in place and nailed it fast 

 

and clambered even higher. My whole body insisted this 

was crazy.  Deep breaths and calm thoughts were useless. 

 

By noon I’d burned a week’s adrenalin, just not quite panicking. 

Coming down was incredible, like escaping the sabertooth, 

 

being pulled out of traffic. Two weeks and it was done. 

Two fifty an hour, college money, money to work with my feet 

 

on the ground, with my palms dry, money to live in a big old house 

and choose my neighbors. Maybe I am still asleep in America, 

 

maybe somebody is gaining. Somebody is ready to climb out 

on any truss or stringer for a few bucks. I would do it myself  

 

even now if I had to, if I was told to, if it was part of the work.  

 

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Jeff tells us more:

“I’ve never thought of myself as especially brave, and the climbing described in “Stringer” didn’t change that—mainly I learned that I really hated being that high with so little to cling onto, and I still feel the same way. But I suppose I did learn that when necessary I could do things I didn’t think I could, just by “not quite panicking,” as the poem said. I also learned that I needed to find work that didn’t require that particular bravery of me every day.

Since then, I’ve spent some time on ladders and scaffolds, and managed to get things done that way.

I keep thinking now that this sort of bravery I very much associate with things that need doing, not with standing out on cliffs or riding trikes down the basement steps. That seems kind of depressing—am I really so pragmatic? But there are plenty of thrills in the world that don’t require physical peril, and plenty of reasons to be brave that have nothing to do with climbing.”

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Jeff Gundy’s seven books of poems include Abandoned Homeland (Bottom Dog, 2015) and Somewhere Near Defiance (Anhinga, 2014), for which he was named Ohio Poet of the Year. His most recent prose book is Songs from an Empty Cage: Poetry, Mystery, Anabaptism, and Peace (Cascadia, 2013). His essays and poems appear in The Georgia Review, The Sun, Kenyon Review, Christian Century, Image, Cincinnati Review, Artful Dodge, and many other journals. He teaches at Bluffton University in Ohio, and spent a recent sabbatical at LCC International University in Klaipeda, Lithuania.

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Photo of tools (above) by jesse orrico on Unsplash

I welcome your comments: gretaholtwriter.com/blog. Please enjoy a few short stories on the Home page, as well.

{Thank you to my niece, Addie Liechty, for taking the picture above that is this blog’s featured image. Her blog is: https://addieswriting.wordpress.com.}

Best wishes and have a good week.

Greta

 

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Greta Holt

6 Comments

  1. Diane Gottlieb on April 19, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    Hi Greta. I loved the questions you asked at the end of the blog–great food for thought. Thanks! And loved the poem too.

    • Greta Holt on April 19, 2018 at 2:01 pm

      Leave it to a poet to make people ask questions, and Jeff is a good poet. Thanks, Diane.

  2. Susan Davenport on April 19, 2018 at 8:56 pm

    Wonderful blog, Greta. The story about your escapades made me cringe, but I could tell from your words how much you enjoyed them.

    I’m much more in tune with Jeff’s feelings in his beautiful poem. I probably would have kissed the ground when I got down, but he’s right. Sometimes things just need to be done.

    • Greta Holt on April 19, 2018 at 9:01 pm

      I like how Jeff takes us from the immediate moment to the larger questions of what we are willing to do to gain a better life and what we would be willing to do if we lost what we have. Thanks for your kind comment, Susan.

  3. Sheila Athens on April 21, 2018 at 7:52 pm

    Love the poem. Jeff Gundy’s words made me feel like I was up high on that pole barn myself.

    • Greta Holt on April 21, 2018 at 9:07 pm

      That is such a special thing about poetry. Prose works to do the same, but it must use many more words. Poetry cuts to the chase with beautiful imagery. Thanks, Sheila.

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