A More Positive Spin

posted in: Aging, Poetry | 0

Threads of kindness, with poems by Elizabeth Kerlikowske, James K. Zimmerman and Larnell Custis Butler. 
6 minutes


I feel like we’ve had a recent string of downer episodes — war, environmental disaster, mistreatment of indigenous people. Let’s break that pattern. I just read that World Kindness Day, celebrated Nov. 13, offers an opportunity to highlight good deeds in the community and the common thread of kindness.

We’ll begin with Elizabeth Kerlikowske’s poem from Passager’s 2010 Poetry Contest Issue “I Am a Friend to the D Right Next to Middle C.”

to curbed leaves waiting for the final pick-up,
to the yellowed pages of November,
friend to house plants, but a bad friend.

The coffee maker and recycling bin are my soul mates
as are the appliances, despite their accusative whiteness,
and more softly, flannel sheets and hand-made quilt.

I am a friend to the marble lamp and its shade
decorated with select autumn leaves (see above).
I’m cancer’s pal even as I dislike it.

I’m the bff of ceramic sparrows and (reluctantly)
my neighbor’s ladder, bird baths, bird feeders
and subsequently, squirrels.

I admire highway speed and washboard roads,
connoisseur of cast-iron stove smoke and just sawn wood,
oh, I’m indiscriminately intimate with any form of wood.

I’m chummy with the little lake, who washed my hair one summer,
and band-aids, but not “flesh” colored ones,
friends with the stuffed pheasants and the fox pelt.

I’m a big fan of the polyp on my vocal cord and sexy hoarseness,
sidekick of my artificial knee and crony of holly berries,
poison ivy and sudden, inedible toadstools.

Pockets are my comrades, even when they catch on doorknobs.
I’m tight with Palatino, Garamond, and Prairie Schooner.
My fingerprints practice the buddy system, but there’s still room for you.

“I Am a Friend to the D Right Next to Middle C,” Elizabeth Kerlikowske.

Ds and middle Cs remind me of James K. Zimmerman. After a career as a musician, Jim earned a PhD in clinical psychology. His poem “Little Miracles in the Dark” is about our need and our hope for kindness.

there is for each of us (hidden
in the burly wings of a wizened
oak or waiting for the next
light to turn green) a sniper
ready to take us down
with a single shot, our name
emblazoned on the shell

for some it is foreshadowed
by the howling of a gale-force wind
the screech of brakes slammed
so hard they start to smell of
burning flesh
or a wolf outside the door, dressed
to kill

for others there is nothing
but a subtle warming twinge
of guilt that crawls up the spine
and turns to roiling fire at the base
of an aging skull

or the clock-ticking vigil
of a restless summer night
quarrelsome crickets refusing
their first coffee break ‘til morning

and so we wait not wanting
to wait
not knowing how to do it
anyway, knowing only

that the deepest truth lies
in the darkest breath of night
too bright to be decoded
with eyes tightly open

for love or faith or simply sleep
a little miracle in the dark
to make the sniper hesitate
or even somehow miss the mark

James K. Zimmerman’s poem “Little Miracles in the Dark.”

Larnell Custis Butler is an artist and a poet. She used to sit in the park, draw pictures of the people she saw, and then write poems about the people she imagined them to be. We’ll end this edition of Burning Bright with Larnell’s poem “Amos Witherspoon is the Goodwill Neighborhood Auto Mechanic.”

Amos Witherspoon is an old man
With a generous spirit living
In poverty with a self-taught
Trade of fixing broken-down
Automobiles for people in the
Neighborhood who cannot afford
To pay Amos Witherspoon for his
Goodwill deeds of fixing their
“It won’t work” cars.

Amos Witherspoon house is what
He owns as well as a box of
Odds and ends [Tools] that he
Guards with special care to fix
The cars that will not run to
Take his neighbors to the places
They need to go.

Yet, everyone keeps an eye on
Amos Witherspoon because his
Trade keeps the neighborhood cars
Running throughout the streets
Of Baltimore City, Maryland.

Amos Witherspoon is always
Seen with his head and arms
Bent under the hood of a car
Giving a blessing to someone
In need.

Oh the delight you can see on Amos
Witherspoon’s face when the motor
Purrs after his hard work has
Been done.

At the end of each task, Amos Witherspoon
Sits down in his favorite yard chair, and
Drinks a bottle of Classic Coke.

He looks at the answered prayer request
Because he has kept a car going another day.

Larnell Custis Butler’s poem “Amos Witherspoon is the Goodwill Neighborhood Auto Mechanic” from her book of drawings and poems Improvise in the Amen Corner.

To buy Larnell’s book or James K. Zimmerman’s book Little Miracles or to subscribe to or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to passagerbooks.com. You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts and various other podcast apps.

For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.

Due to the limitations of online publishing, poems may not appear in their original formatting.