patterns of ink
How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka
Sunday, October 25, 2015
Friday, July 17, 2015
I Have a Thing about Coffee Mugs...
"It’s a big decision,” he said with a slight smile.
"Find anything you like?" She asked.
"A coffee mug," I smiled.
She returned the smile and took my hand, "Been another five years has it?"
Monday, April 20, 2015
Tender to the Ground (Reposted from 2006)
Coleridge's simple definition of poety was "the best words in the best order." Many modern poets
would embrace a more pedestrian definition, but Coleridge's thought is not too far from Korg's 1966 book, The Force of Few Words. Even so, most poems, if taken as a whole, miss the superlative mark Coleridge set. They are not pure poetry from start to finish. Even if each line contains discernable poetic elements, most of the rhythm and flow and meaning of millions of attempts to "write a poem" fall short of truly distilled poetry of "the best words are in best order."
Take this poem I wrote in 1995. It was written from a broken grieving heart, and the sentiment is genuine, but I was somehow bound by sing-songy lines of good intention. Yet, there is a nugget of poetry to be found among the elements of otherwise poetic effort. Sometimes a single line can serve as a hook to hang a hat on and make something worth knowing and quoting.
First some background:
My father died in April 1995, now twenty years ago. My wife, two daughters and I lived in Iowa at the time and traveled 570 miles east to Michigan for the funeral. Some Iowa friends were watching our little Yorkshire terrier, Corky. They lived only two streets from our Iowa home and one night the little fellow ran off and went missing 'til the next day when they found him trembling at the back door of our house. It happened three times while we were gone. (We had never left him behind for any other trip, and he could simply not believe that we were not at home.)
He was never the same after that week without us. He had literally never left our yard in eight years, but he now knew what was beyond. In the weeks to follow, whenever we let Corky outside (as we had done without incident for eight years), he wander off into broader and broader circles of exploration. One night in May he disappeared, and the next morning we received a phone call from a lady who said his body was lying on her lawn near the street in front of her house. I've written about it elsewhere at POI, but my point here is that watching my daughter Kim work through the sadness of that experience just a few weeks after I had laid my father to rest, prompted these lines. Oh, they are sincere and there is rhyme and rhythm throughout, but the lines that come closest to "poetry" are these at the end:
"...in time, all those who watch and wait
...are tender to the ground."
The three words "watch and wait" may be a subconscious hat-tip to Milton's "stand and wait" in "On His Blindness." Twenty years later, I used the same "watch and wait" in this year's Easter poem, "Crossing the Path." (previous post).
Not until I scribbled those final two lines did I see the root-word relationship between being tender and tending something... like tending a garden. The word "tender" implies affection, as in "tender loving care" and "tender mercies." Tender also implies lingering pain. When we walk on a sprained ankle, we may say, "It's still a little tender," meaning the hurt is still there even as it heals.
To this day, 20 years later, "tender to the ground" seem to be the best words in the best order to describe how we the living feel while visiting to watch and wait and whisper as we preen a loved-one's grave.
Tender to the Ground
There’s a patch of ground beside the path
...that runs between the trees,
...and yesterday my little girl
...was there down on her knees.
Her hands held clumps of lilac,
...both lavender and white,
...and she carefully arranged them
...on the stones that marked the site.
The day before, at twilight,
...we laid our dog to rest.
She tried to whisper something
...but fell sobbing on my chest.
Yet on this second visit
...no tear had traced her face,
...and her eyes showed calm contentment
...for having touched the place.
There’s a plot of earth just off the road
...that runs down to the shore
...where one by one, we’ll all be drawn
...by some endearing chore.
We may kneel to leave a single rose
...or brush back autumn leaves,
...and we’ll ask how hands find comfort
...so near a heart that grieves.
But the same heart will remind us:
...such acts aren’t for the dead—
...they are "rather for us" the living,
...as Lincoln aptly said.
Whether seventy or seven,
...wherever love is found,
...in time, all those who watch and wait
...are tender to the ground.
© Copyright 1995, Tom Kapanka, Patterns of Ink
A few weeks after my father's funeral, our little family dog was killed and buried at the back of our property. Lakeside Cemetery, where my father (and now my mother) and many other relatives are laid to rest, is on the shore of Lake Huron in my home town of Port Huron.
Saturday, March 28, 2015
Crossing the Path
Back when I was writing more regularly, I tried to provide a special post or poem each Easter with embedded links (at the underlined words) that give context to each image.
These thoughts were prompted by a sermon and a note from a friend who reminded me that God always has a purpose for making paths cross. I have said phrases like "crossed my path" all my life. It typically means that the encounter was happenstance or unplanned. But when I saw the phrase in my friend's note, I saw the double meaning of "cross," and how Christ changed the lives of those who crossed his path (which was in fact a path that led ultimately to the cross).
There are many other illustrations of this truth. To name just a few more: think of how Jesus treated the Centurion, Mary and Martha, and tax collectors who crossed his path. From a human perspective, nearly all of these divine encounters with Jesus were "interruptions." This does not mean they were not part of the plan or that they caused our Lord to stray from His path or lose focus, for indeed, his path--his purpose--was to encounter people and change their lives. It happened again and again during His ministry and happens still today.
If your job or calling includes dealing with "people interruptions" that come through your door, how do you view those opportunities to reflect Christ? May these thoughts be a reminder to follow Christ's example regarding those who cross our path, even if they do not share our perspective (or even our best interest).
I heard a pastor say recently that 40% of our Lord's recorded ministry was initiated by an "interruption." In the case of Matthew, the tax collector, Jesus initiated the interruption by simply saying "follow me" as he passed.
Today He asks the same of all who claim to have crossed His path.
Saturday, March 21, 2015
Until a Limb
too close perhaps
to see the forest for the trees
or miss the slaps
of thoughtless branches in my face
let go it seemed
with little care of consequence
and no esteemed
perception that others followed
close behind him.
Branch after bending branch we trod
until a limb
snapped back so hard it lashed my eyes.
I saw anew the need for space,
but walked again,
this time seeing forest and trees
at my own pace
as stings gave way to speckled sun
upon my face.
April 2, 2011
Years ago I began experimenting with structured verse in a pattern of 8-syllable lines followed by 4 syllables in the next line. In this case I only rhymed the shorter lines in pairs. These lines were written in April, 2011, but I did not post it at POI until April 13, 2012. It is based in part on the experience many have had while walking behind someone in a dense woods... especially if they are following a person who insists his chosen course is the only way and those who follow must keep close rank. But when the one in front keeps bending branches to save his own face only to let them slap the face behind him, the hurtful pattern should be kindly pointed out so long as it continues. If the concerns fall on deaf ears, however, and the wrecklessness of the one in front continues, even the most forgiving scouts may be wise to choose a parallel path rather than be blamed for the endless quarreling over branches. The same sun will light both paths, and in time, the Son will make all things clear. Romans 12:17-21
Thursday, January 01, 2015
The Proposal: 35 Years Ago This New Year's Eve
The trees outside the window have grown. The horses in the pasture have changed. The curtains on the widow no longer complement the crushed orange velvet couch that sat there through the Seventies. The couch, thank Heaven, was replaced, and the banister in the background is now a warm wood where cold wroght iron was on that night in 1980. But the couple sitting there on the far left cushion of the couch that replaced the crushed velvet is the same, or should I say, they are the same two people.... if it is possible for people to be the same after thirty-five years.
That's how long it's been. Exactly thirty-five years this New Year's Eve. Late that night, after the church "Watchnight Service," we came back to Julie's house, and at about 1:00 AM, I proposed to Julie in the front room. I've written about it before here at POI.
There is another change in that living room in Waverly, Kansas. This change has also been true for nearly thirth-five years. On the wall to the right of the picture window is a large framed portrait. It's a beautiful bride-to-be in her wedding dress. I took this snapshot of it with my phone, and my reflection in the frosted glass created a soft glow around her.
The first picture was taken last week in Kansas. I plan to add to this post this evening....
Thursday, December 25, 2014
Christmas Blessing 2014
It is not really a sunrise, of course. It is a million processed pixels captured through a pinhole lens in my Iphone as we were opening presents this morning. The picture can be whatever you want it to be, whatever you associate with the blessings you tend to take for granted all year 'round until Christmas morning when you see them bright as day in the faces beyond the strewn giftwrap on the floor.
We are in Kansas, in the house my wife and her parents and two sisters have called home for forty-five years. I've written of it before here at POI. It's been a tradition to come here for Christmas since Julie and I were married in1980. (For most of our married life we rotated back and forth each year between Julie's parents and mine in Michigan, but for several years--since Mom passed away--we have come to Kansas.)
This Christmas was different than others we've spent here. It is not distance that makes this visit different, but rather an acute awareness of closeness: the closeness of hugs and smiles and the miracle of being alive.
It is that miracle that is masked in the photo above. Maybe the warmer hues of this second rendition called "Solar Flair" will give a hint of the reality behind the abstract.
Two weeks ago tonight it happened.
My sister-in-law Nancy was driving home from work. She reached to turn the knob of her radio, and her hand simply missed the knob. She missed and missed again. Her whole arm seemed numb. She pulled off the road and called her son who lived just a few miles away. Long story short... within a few hours she was in an ambulance headed for the local hospital. By late Thursday night, she was calling her sisters with the news: Brain tumor. Surgery soon. Please come.
Needless to say, Nancy's husband Eddy is a solid rock for his wife (his 6'4" height reflects an even bigger heart). The call to the sisters is a sister thing. The desire to have loved ones near when facing uncertainty reflects not a void but a fullness. I will simply say that Julie and I have both been blessed to be part of such families.
Julie's parents and other sister were there the next day, and Julie was there by Saturday. Surgery was Sunday, and all went well. The tumor, though quite large, was benign, and the surgeon was confident no further treatment would be necessary. That is our prayer. The surgeon was a short man and witnesses say that when Eddy gave him an extended and earnest hug when the ordeal was over, it looked like a scene from Schwarzenegger and DiVito in "Twins."
Nancy was released to go home three days later, and a week later she and Eddy her their whole family were with us sitting around the Christmas tree. I was taking pictures of the festivities when I found myself standing over Nancy's shoulder. I asked her if she would mind if I took a picture of her beautiful memorial to th Christmas blessing of 2014. She didn't mind at all. In fact, she said it felt very strange to pack for this short trip home and not need a blow dryer or curling iron.
Much of our conversation this Christmas has centered around the endless bits of good news that have stemmed from that initial bad news eleven days ago.
Blessings and beauty, whether as near as a hug or as far the rising sun, are all a matter of perspective and perceptions miraculously formed and treasured in the mind.
Merry Christmas to you and yours!
April, 2015, Update: It was a joy to visit Nancy and her family during a pre-spring break trip to her home. She has been back to work at the bank for more than two months, and fully enjoying their life there on their ranch. We were sitting on their front porch (in an old steel glider that used to sit under the tree in Grandma Great's back yard in Waverly, KS), watching the sun set, and she said "Isn't this beautiful, Tom?" And it was... everything about those moments was very beautiful. Thank you, Lord, for making it all possible! Here are two pictures from our time together:
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
In Memory of my Uncle Bob...
I have written about my Uncle Bob here at POI through the years, but the post that comes to mind is the one called "Cutting Hair" back in September of 2006. I've cut-and-pasted a much shorter version of that post below in memory of my Uncle Bob.
I’m not a barber, and I don’t stand at busy intersections wearing a sign: “Will cut hair for food.” It’s not something I do as an occupation or out of desperation. In fact, I have only one steady customer… myself. I’ve been cutting my own hair since high school.
I was thinking about it this morning: cutting hair is one of the subtle rhythms of life.
Somewhere in a shoebox at my mother's house there are pictures of my brothers and I crying while Dad, standing behind us in a white T-shirt, is giving us our “first hair cut.” From that time till the time we moved out of the house, the home hair cut was a way of life, a recurring ritual of sorts, for my three brothers and me (and for my Uncle Bob. He and Dad cut each other's hair once a month for many years). About once a month on a Saturday night (so we'd look sharp the next day for church), Dad would set up shop in our knotty-pine basement down by what had been a wet bar until we joined the Baptist church and converted it into a closet.
I remember climbing up on that stool and staring down at the checker-board tile, strewn with fallen brown and blonde tufts from my brothers' sheering. I can still hear the whispering buzz of the electric clippers and their clickity glissade across a comb-full of hair. The little sharp teeth of the blades tickled their way up my neck and around my ears. The steel blades were cold for the first boy in line and hot for the last. As the youngest (until Jim was born in '68), I was usually last. Sometimes the blades got so hot Dad would wrap them in a cold washcloth and sweep the floor while they cooled—then it felt like going first.
We didn’t mind short hair cuts when we were kids. These were the “Father Knows Best”/ “Leave it to Beaver” years, when virtually every male in America wore the same length of hair, a standard held since the dawn of modernity. Don’t believe me? Look in any yearbook or class composite through the mid-Sixties. Some brushed it back; some up; some down; some slicked it with Brylcreem or Score... but it was all pretty much the same length.
Short hair was a cinch—all of our role models had it: movie stars, pop singers, sports heroes, teachers—everyone! Highest on the list was my dad who got a “crew cut” when he joined the Navy and kept it all his life.
What we hated about hair-cut night was not the cutting of our hair but the interruption of our play. Because Dad's clippers didn’t work well with sweaty hair, he'd make us stop playing and “cool down” an hour before haircuts. It was that hour that we hated—the haircut itself was a breeze. In fact, the breeze from running up the steps and out the screen door felt twice as nice after a fresh hair cut.
Part of our home barbering ritual was the fact that my dad and my Uncle Bob (who also sported a crew cut for decades) cut each other's hair. Those two crew cuts kept them connected during the years when life's road widens and siblings tend to lose touch. Every month or so we'd drive to our cousins in Marysville an hour away. (Or they would come to our house.) The rhythm of cutting hair kept our families close through two decades. I have no doubt that was one of the reasons those two brothers kept crew cuts long after hairstyles changed... and oh, brother, did they change.
Some say it was The Beatles who introduced “long hair” to my generation. It's true that the Fab Four were derided as “mop tops,” but if you look at the pictures from their early years—the Ed Sullivan-“I Want to Hold Your Hand” years—the Beatles’ barely had enough hair to shake to the rhythm of “She Loves You Yea, Yea, Yea.” It took several years for longer styles to become common. The Beatles arrived when I was in 2nd Grade—not until I was in junior high, did some of my peers start “growing” their hair, and not until high school (in the Seventies) did the hair length on guys range from “clean cut” (a shrinking minority) to shoulder-length-or-longer / down-to-there hair (usually worn by the “hippie freaks,” “burn-outs,” and heavy metal rockers in my school). That may be unfair, but it was my perception at the time.
This was the peak of the Viet Nam era, and by then long hair had become a political statement, my generation's way of flippin' the bird at previously held values (simply because they had been previously held). In the early years of the hair-length debate, it was a fairly accurate means of “profiling” one’s attitudes. It may sound like Archie Bunker, but the stereotype was pretty consistent: If you were a pot-smokin,’ McGovern-voting, veteran-bashin’ Pinko, you had long hair. If you were still hoping the best for Nixon ,you had shorter hair—not Opie-Taylor short…but you were probably showing plenty of ear.
By the time my oldest brother Paul hit high school, we were contemplating an appeal to Dad. It was my sister Kathy who went to bat for us. “Dad, could you leave a little more hair on the guys? She’d stand there like a supervisor at cosmetology school pulling at our uncut hair telling Dad which parts to leave alone and which parts to "only trim." The look she was after was called “soch” (pronounced like the first syllable of social). To our surprise, Dad agreed to leaving more hair on our heads: "Hey, I don’t mind cutting hair every other month.”
Unfortunately, in Dad’s mind this simply meant giving us haircuts short enough to last two months before his anti-Beatles feelings kicked in and he revved up the sheers. So my brothers and I began secretly cutting each other's hair. By trimming our hair behind closed doors, we could keep Dad's clippers at bay for months. When my brothers went off to college, I simply did it myself with the help of a mirror. That's how this "cutting my own hair" thing started. By 1974, when I went off to college, I had it down pat.
Throughout my college years, I continued cutting my own hair as needed. I'll never forget one Saturday evening when I was walking my girlfriend to her dorm. At the end of the walk, she smiled and said, "You cut your hair today didn't you." "Did I take too much off?" I asked. "No, it looks fine, but there's a big clump of hair in your ear." I reached up and pulled out a wad the size of a GI Joe toupee. It had been there all afternoon and evening. She just wasn't sure how to tell me.
That's the main drawback to cutting your own hair: you have to be sure to clean up the area and yourself afterwards to keep the ladies happy. My wife hates seeing the bathroom sink until I have cleaned up every last strand. I don't blame her. Other than that, the art of the self-haircut is a useful skill. It has saved me roughly more than $6,000 over the years (which has in turn been spent by my wife and daughters on hair cuts). But cutting my own hair is not just about saving money; it's about perpetuating the ol' home hair-cut tradition. It's good to keep some things going.
To this day, I have no regrets for honoring my father during those "short hair" years. The styles eventually came back around, and in looking at my pictures from high school and college, I'm glad I missed out on the worst "bad hair days" in modern times. As a less fortunate friend of mine once said, "If you remember the Seventies, you didn't experience them." I remember them vividly thanks to my dad, and compared to the crew cuts he and my Uncle Bob wore, I was really styling back in the day! [That is a picture of me in the rear-view-mirror of my 1965 Oldsmobile Delta 88 taken circa 1978.]
I don't want to sound morose, but when my father died in April of 1995, and I stood there at his casket before they closed it... I reached up and stroked his gray crew cut once and then again and again. In our early years of shared life, he had done that often to his young sons, but I had never done it back...touched his hair as if to say "I love you," but in that hour it seemed a very natural thing to do. His hair was upright and perfectly in place as it—and he—had been all my life.... It was soft, very soft against my hand.