FIVE MYTHIC POEMS
Up Lake Shore Drive, I ride on my charger, black as a deep cave.
You don’t see me, commuter, too dull with science.
Onto Hollywood Avenue, then Ridge Avenue, then onto Clark Street.
Children see me. Ignore me. They know.
If you are a dancer, a painter, a singer,
don’t look my way. You have eyes,
but I will lash them with my whip of human spine.
Onto Granville, then to Paulina.
Up the street.
I arrive. You die.
Note: The Dullahan is a sort of Irish version of the Headless Horseman. I wondered how he’d do in present-day Chicago. Quite well, I discovered.
Born John Chapman,
called Johnny Appleseed,
better name: Johnny Appleorchard.
Father fought at Concord as a Minuteman in 1775.
A nurseryman and a missionary, Swedenborgian.
Planted orchards not seeds.
(NOTE: Apples grown from seeds aren’t tasty
but good for hard cider.)
Primitive Christian, coarse raiment. Pot on head for hat. Barefoot.
Preached The New Church for a floor to sleep on.
Admired Indians, was admired.
Affection for animals, even insects.
Mosquitoes blown into a campfire and burned up — he put out the fire.
Knew he was “Johnny Appleseed.”
Different dates of death.
I watched the cartoon 40 years ago and thought him odd.
Like some John the Baptist.
Like some hayseed Zeus.
I saw the children’s books and thought him over the edge.
Like a looming Santa to the baby.
Like the ripple of electric current in the room.
Like Abraham with his knife.
Oooooh, the Lord is good to me,
and so I thank the Lord,
for giving me the things I need,
the sun and the rain and the appleseed.
The Lord is good to me.
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.
Note: The idea of Johnny Appleseed walking across the country throwing seeds seemed to me, as a child and still now, to be very odd. The facts are odd as well. There was the mythic figure, and the real-life figure John Chapman. They were contemporaries — and each strange in a particularly American way. I tried to capture some of this as well as the missionary aspect to it. That’s an old Swedenborgian hymn at the end. And the 1972 cartoon mentioned in the second section can be found here.
I answer the door. The bear is there. He says, “Fear not.”
He is cold and wants a fire to sit by.
In he comes.
Snow White raises her eyebrow as we brush the snow off his fur.
We play with him. We tickle him. We cover his eyes with our small hands.
He leaves in the morning.
And comes back each night during that long winter.
Mother likes him.
“I must go away,” he says in summer. “A wicked dwarf is trying to steal my treasure.”
Some days later, my sister and I find the dwarf caught in a tree by his beard.
We cut the beard and free him. “My beautiful beard!” he yells.
All summer, we find the dwarf in one danger or another in the forest and save him.
He is always angry with us.
Now, he tells us the bear is going to kill him.
The bear appears.
The dwarf says,
“Eat the girls!”
The bear kills the dwarf with a single swipe of his claw.
Snow White raises her eyebrow as the bear turns
Note: The Rose Red and Snow White story is one of nearly 300 legends and folk tales in the original two-volume edition of the fairy tale collection by the Brothers Grimm, published in the early 19th century. Anyone familiar with the story will notice some liberties I’ve taken with the tale, especially with its ending. The Snow White of this tale, by the way, isn’t the one of the Disney movie. That Snow White is in another story.
Sosondowah was a silly man.
Yes, he was a stalwart hunter. Yes, he had been honored by Dawn to guard the heavens.
But, seeing me come out of the water of the River, he grew starry-eyed
and stupid with lust.
He should have stayed at heaven’s door.
He should not have turned himself into the heart of a bluebird to visit me.
I welcomed the bluebird to my clearing.
He should not have turned himself into the heart of a blackbird to visit me.
I welcomed the blackbird to my blanket.
He should not have turned himself into the heart of a giant nighthawk.
I trembled when the hawk grabbed me in his talons and took me up to the sky,
up to the planets,
up to his bed.
Dawn saw this and grew angry.
She struck me with a pure ray of the Sun.
And, of a sudden, I was the Morning Star,
lodged on the forehead of Sosondowah.
He longs for me but cannot see me, ever again.
Note: Gendenwitha and Sosondowah are figures of Iroquois mythology. She was a human being. He was the sort of human-like god who would have been comfortable on Mount Olympus. Like many stories of mythology across the cultures, Gendenwitha is the innocent one here and ends up paying the price for somebody else’s weakness.
The Birth of the Buddha — 11.22.1949
I shine as gold.
My blue eyes glow.
Seven steps I take,
a lotus in each footprint.
Pointing to the sky, I say:
“I am born for the welfare of the entire world.”
The shock again.
The pain, weight, edge of body.
Find again the balance.
Find again the rhythm.
Chuckle at the impossibility.
Chuckle at the simplicity.
Note: I’m Catholic, not Buddhist. Nonetheless, I found “Little Buddha” to be one of the most spiritual movies I’ve ever seen. It contains a charming and transcendent scene of the birth of Siddhartha, who became the Buddha. That story is repeated in a book I happen to be reading right now, “Women of the Way: Discovering 2500 Years of Buddhist Wisdom” by the wonderful writer Sallie Tisdale. These are descriptions of what those present saw. But what was it like for the baby himself? And how was his experience like mine, like everyone’s? (I was born on 11.22.1949.) I also find endearing the many descriptions of Buddha laughing and smiling.
Patrick T. Reardon
The poems Rose Red and Gendenwitha originally appeared in the Silver Birch Press Mythic Poetry Series, posted from October 1 through November 30, 2014.