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Harry Benoist Davis began writing poetry while growing up near the bluff-lined banks of his beloved Missouri river. He continued to write well into his eighties. This...
Harry Benoist Davis began writing poetry while growing up near the bluff-lined banks of his beloved Missouri river. He continued to write well into his eighties. This second edition of Songs Along the Missouri introduces previously unpublished poems and sonnets, many from his last twenty-five years, written while he served as a minister near Kansas City.
Deeply spiritual, yet completely accessible, Songs Along the Missouri encompasses many emotions including the ache for love lost or never experienced, the serenity of ice and snow, Davis's strong sense of place and belonging, and the gentle love of family. His poetry speaks of his profound involvement with community and family-Harry was one of six siblings who grew up in the Great Depression of the 1930s-as well as an almost mystic sense of place: along the wide, often turbulent, always majestic Missouri River.
TIME AND THE RIVER
Out of the north flows the river mysteriously,
Out from the source of the dragon-like storms,
Out of the fogs and the mist lands imperiously,
Roaring, or noiseless through prairie land farms.
Often the herders of sheep in the pasture lands
Pause to behold on a lowering sky
Watery sheets closing in on the valley sands
Drenching them all as a storm races by.
Eastward pursuing its course gravitational
Onward the river traverses the state
Named for and naming the stream inspirational,
Blending the charm they together create.
Splendid in springtime are sights which the river land
Gives to the child who, along by the shore,
Walks with bare feet in the cool-feeling river sand
Lifting charmed eyes to the gray bluffs before.
Pleasant in summer the willows adjacently
Murmur through leaves adding joy to the swirl
Of the gliding Missouri whose waters complacently
Delight a vacationing youth and a girl.
High on the bluffs after oaks suffer autumn-freeze,
Across-stream they cast a red show to enthrall
Parents exploring with children for hickory trees,
Walnuts or bittersweet, ripe in the fall.
When comes the winter and valleys are blanketed
White with the snow, and with ice in the stream,
Those who are aging and white-crowned hear trumpeted—
Time and the river are parts of one dream.
THE THRONE OF ROCKS
From on my throne of rocks I view
The bluffs that rise to the endless blue
From the river Missouri's banks.
For a moment I make them a monument
To a love as full as the firmament,
And from here I return my thanks.
THE DEATH OF ROBERT CHURCH
A plane cleared the Missouri with a loud
uprising as it soared into the grey
Oblivion of lostness in a cloud
Of kansas City fog across the way.
I watched, then gazed through rain and boisterous wind
Toward Trinity Hospital in mid-town
Where Robert Church, who long had been my friend
Lay with life's final curtain closing down.
As through the rain the giant plane soared on,
He left his runway, too, in unseen flight
Into a cloud-obscured and misty dawn
Beyond our help, our knowledge, or our sight.
I stand in a doorway from the lightning
And watch a cloudburst as it pours
From skies of a leaden cast
The miracle of rain in August.
Rain, though briefly inconvenient
And a spoiler to those who walk outdoors
Brings to us food and wealth and the brightening
Of a world fresh-washed and new.
Hold back, hold back, you flowing winds of time,
Too swift, too swift, the colors lose their prime
As bright October leaves which burn the sky
With crimson, gold, and scarlet soon shall fly
Before autumnal motion, wind and breeze,
And lie in scattered heaps beneath the trees.
One gladdened with a red oak's deep maroon
Must feel some pain to know that all too soon
This rich mysterious foliage shall be found
Below denuded branches on the ground.
Blow wild, blow wild, you winds of autumn blow!
Rain leaves, whirl leaves, in one majestic show!
Be gone, be gone, the last of summer's breath
And blow the flowers their first foretaste of death.
Make haste and bring the fruits of harvest in.
Creak, wagons, hauling grain into the bin.
Let be cleaned out and strawed the sheds where sleep
On winter nights the huddled flocks of sheep,
The lordly rams and all their docile ewes
That in chill spring their lambs they may not lose.
The young fowls which once stretched out in the sun
And grew strong wings out in the pasture run,
Let be housed now from storms, enclosed in pens
To scratch beneath their straw-lined nests as hens,
While we within our wind-rocked homes defy
The face-benumbing blizzards of the sky.
ADVENTURES THAT MUST TRANSCEND TIME
Adventures that must transcend time
Are best preserved expressed in rhyme,
And yesterday, not far away
I went to see Augusta play
Our Matson team.
You stood with bat in hand as I
Came, watching sizzling balls go by,
And with that smile you greeted me
Who you alone had come to see
Or it would seem!
You had a pleasant day at bat,
Five hundred batted, for all that,
But on the field our shortstop keen
Was over, under, or between
Most balls that came.
You were not feeling at your best;
What should be fun became a test.
Dull, slow, and tired you seemed to me
But then, when worst, you'll ever be
To me the same.
I sat beside you on the ground
With known and unknown all around,
And joyed to have your teammates near
For nothing is to youth more dear
Than having friends.
Angelic are the ties that bind
Admiring comrades of the mind,
And strong the loyalty of youth
And rich the search for life and truth
Which never ends.
NELSON ART GALLERY
I stood in Nelson's Gallery of Art
And gazed upon a portrait etched in stone
Almost three thousand years before the Christ
And near five thousand years before our own
Showing a husband standing by his wife
Whose more luxuriant hair and finer face
Still bear their imprint on these latter days,
As we and our descendants see her there.
They lived and loved, and somewhere surely live,
And still endure as do their likenesses
upon this ancient slab of Nile-hewn stone.
LINES IN SWOPE PARK AT SNOWTIME
Wild winter whiteness, covering the park,
Stay hard, freeze hard, for soon it will be dark
And bitter cold will then preserve the awe
Of your pure whiteness from the threat of thaw.
Would we could crush forever to our hearts
This beauty, or preserve it through the arts,
That this horizon clad in crystal trees
And diamond-covered branches we could freeze
And could possess together in some hold
Where summer heat could not destroy the cold.
But since this is impossible, at least
Let us look long upon the fields and feast,
Lest we should in reflection and repose
Lose ever this white treasure of the snows.
Though the sun is farthest south of here
On December twenty-first, the year
Does not receive the full impact
Nor coldest days become a fact
until around the fifteenth day
Of January, records say.
This is the time we must appraise
The frigid joys of shortened days
And of the early falling dusk.
Now cardinals throw off the husk
Of sunflower seed on window sill,
And titmice flit in for their fill,
Exchanging beauty for a meal
And warming winter with their zeal.
LION OF JUDAH
As a little boy I heard the deep thunder
Heard it from the pulpit at Eureka
In the peaceful outskirts of St. Louis,
With the red-robed Christ in the window behind
Lending the sermon celestial enforcement,
Calling as a mighty lion to its young.
Out of Zion the voice of the Lord
Roared as the voice of a conquering lion
And I heard his call from my luminous pew
And forward I went to the altar kneeling,
Not once, not twice, but often returning
As the conquering lion of the tribe of Judah
Roared to its young, and the young lion heard.
Then I came to the voice of the roaring
And lent my voice to the mighty waters
And lent the young lion's roar to his elder's,
Took up the calling, renewing the voice
That to the generation around me
There might never be lack of the thunder,
That with the departure of him, my father,
Voice of the Lord to his people calling,
I the younger should see that from Zion,
Sounding to those of my nation hearing
Should be the roar of the Word of the Lord.
On Christmas with the children bundled warm
We drove up north with visions of the food
Grandmother had awaiting at the farm
Whereon their mother grew to womanhood.
Our Kansas City home on Cambridge Street
We left by Sni-A-Bar and by Blue Ridge,
Then where the freeway and Missouri meet
We paid our toll at the Paseo Bridge.
We glanced down on the legendary stream
Whose cold December flood is little changed
From rural boyhood's recollected dream
Though seen now with the background rearranged.
Missouri's greatest tower, the Power and Light,
Its color-changing dome now stilled and gray,
Which after dark provides the city night
Its most esteemed electrical display,
The City Hall whose grand ascending shaft
Sweeps upward past the mayor's lofty nest
And forms a walkway in the winter's draft
Whose view of all the city's is the best,
The Court House which one sees across the street
Made famous by the song, "The Twelfth Street Rag,"
Where upper jail cells and cold courtrooms meet,
Where abject inmates feel the long days drag,
The two great buildings of the Telephone,
The old one's ghostly tower now just a part
Of a communicating system grown
Beyond the bounds it planned for at the start,
The new library building where the Board
Of Education's architectural mask
Conceals an ancient literary hoard
To cast new light upon the current task,
And to the east of these the massive hulk,
The building which the federal government
Has thrown up with its monolithic bulk
Against an unbelieving firmament,
The Muehlebach in whose Presidential Suite
The Eisenhowers and Trumans found their rest,
And where the kaw and the Missouri meet,
An airport flinging planes against the West,
The Auditorium whose games and bouts
Attract great throngs, which also forms the stage
Where culture, art, and pageants by the Scouts
With politics and circuses engage,
The high Fidelity, whose tall twin towers
Above the maze by roads and rivers crossed,
Whose clocks, so seldom right, suggest the hours
Which our swift-flowing lives so soon exhaust,
The Commerce Tower whose sheer illumined height
Embraces sky-high dining joys by day,
Or, viewed from Briarcliff, throws out on the night
A galaxy of light across the way,
All loomed above us hymning to the skies
Their giant concert wrought in steel and stone
As we drove northward toward the joy that lies
In cherished fellowship and love alone.
Our children live inside the city's bounds,
Yet love their fond grandparents' welcome farm,
The Holt estate which holds within its grounds
Just north of Galt, a rich ancestral charm.
Though generations pass and cannot stay
And time sees city skylines even move,
Though new ones rise, all things shall pass away
Except mankind's remembrances of love.
MY AUTUMN TREE
This is the last day of October
And never in the world, it seems,
Was there more beauty everywhere
With trees aflame, bushes on fire
Crimson vines creeping over
Scarlet branches, and still some green
To let the Christmas colors
Glow, bright upon a single bough.
There is a tree I call my own
A tree maroon with red so rich
As to astonish all who look
Ahead and glimpse its beauty
Like a precious stone within the woods
Which border Highway Fifty in
The place where Fairway Drive conjuncts
And where we have to stop to join the traffic flow.
We look ahead
Straight into this red tree across
The traffic perpendicular. Each autumn
That brief stop allows a glimpse
Of this old oak so deeply red
That this eleventh year I glow within
With more appreciation than I knew
Eleven falls ago when first I saw
Its wonder and pretended it was mine.
May second is my day of birth,
A time when here and there on earth
The lilacs are in bloom.
How happy when each blue grenade
Explodes in bloom, and if it fade
There is a touch of gloom.
Some lilac bushes used to be
Behind the farmstead home where we
Once lived outside Saint James,
And on my fourteenth birthday they
Provided background for our play
Like Moses' bush in flames.
A generation with its years
Has passed us by since we with tears
Were taken from the charm
Which we had known through months of joy
Where in a lilac yard a boy
Enjoyed a woodland farm.
Yet through the years I still recall
The times when lilac bushes all
Brought forth their purple mirth,
As in that legendary May
When Mother brought the second day
A Sunday boy to birth.
One could scarcely imagine a cloud
Of cardinals in mass
Red in the sky,
Or hearing explosions of loud
Redbird twitter harass
For Nature provides a parity,
One lone-crested darling,
Scarlet in song,
Equaling in its rarity
Blackened skies of starling
Or sparrow throng.
This morning looking from the door
To watch the glow of daylight pour
Across the woods that edge our lawn,
I saw a fox against the dawn.
He walked out where the okra grows,
On past tomato plants in rows
Toward the denser undergrowth
Where larger elms lend shade to both.
He sought a meal of hen, but mine
Were housed so that he could not dine,
And as the red one vainly crept
Our cocks and hens securely slept.
But we within the city's bounds
Were glad that in escape of hounds
So wild a creature could contrive
To walk in beauty still alive.
In early morning, walking toward the church
Against a glaring sun that made one blind,
I held my hand before me that behind
Its shadow might be seen a half-grown birch.
Then suddenly I saw some young birds lurch
Out of the grass, into the air, to find
Some refuge in its branches from the ground
Of shoes and rocks, too near their former perch.
Against the rising sun I saw their wings
Translucent to transparent in the light
That streamed with clearness through their fluttering
As they flew toward a refuge from their fright.
At last may we, like these transparent things,
Rise up some morning, clear in heaven's sight.
This summer, nineteen seventy-five, has brought
No rain, and wide cracks in the earth
Yawn pleadingly for some late-coming draught
Of rain to end the present dearth.
I can remember nineteen thirty-six
When in the town, Defiance, every day
Wore the same glare and nature seemed to fix
upon the land its rainless parching sway.
But joyfully this rainy August dawn
Brought cool and damp-blown clouds across the dome
Of sky above our garden, and our lawn
And now pours floods of water on our home.
The winter struck in March its greatest blow
When on the eighth the flakes began to pelt
The earth with soft accumulation felt
By all who love the beauty of the snow.
With Spring so near it is a joy to know
Once more the wild barbaric beauty spelt
By drifts of pathless white which soon must melt
So flowers may bloom again and warm winds blow.
Then let the lessons of the seasons teach
us patience to await each changing time
And be enriched by ice as well as flowers.
And let our love for all of nature reach
The whole creation, sensing the sublime,
That all earth's wondrous beauties may be ours.
OCTOBER AT FOREST HILL CEMETERY
The trees turn crimson, red, and gold
In this autumnal time of burning leaves,
And Forest Hill whose cemetery walls
Enclose a maple-studded road which leads
up to its royal mausoleum crown
Has trees ablaze with flames on every bough.
Now must October lovers look amazed
To see such conflagration as they pass
Along Troost Avenue and hear the cry,
Silent but optically shouting, "Fire!"
And pause to watch the flaming bushes burn
And marvel that the trees are not consumed.
April rains, April rains, steady the downpour!
April rains, refreshing the world!
Miracles descending, bring with them gladness,
Share with us pleasure as we in the downpour
Wade shoeless the culvert at road edge,
Wet bare feet, primitive, enjoying
The rivulets through toes and over ankles
Steadily flowing. April rains, April rains!
There shall be food; there shall be flowers;
There shall be pasture. The colt kicks
High in the bluegrass. The cow gives
Nourishment for her calf and for us.
Women in cities glean in the stores.
Babies chortle in young loving arms.
The legs of the athlete bulging with strength
Soar high over bars, race swift on the turf.
Scholars, legislators, toilers, and presidents
All are sustained by the thriving terrain
Hailing the rains, the April rains,
All perfect gifts from the Father of lights
And the Father of love and of life and of food
And of April rains, April rains, April rains!
BOND AND TEASDALE
Today snowbound Jefferson City
Sees a Democrat inaugurated
Which seems to many a pity
With Governor Bond denigrated.
Young Bond, much too brilliant to fail
And a person attractive as light
Was edged by the forceful Teasdale
Who appropriated by right
Through a campaign in which he had put
With a virile and magnetic stride,
First a walk through Missouri on foot
Then a win on a Democratic tide.
These men, young and handsome and decent,
Bring hope through these river-crossed lands
That things future as well as things recent
Are in skillful, responsible hands.
Excerpted from Songs Along the Missouri by Harry Benoist Davis Copyright © 2011 by Harry Benoist Davis. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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