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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

Monday, November 28, 2005

Dream Pony

Revised 12-04-2005

The dark, dappled Shetland tugged against a short lead-rope as he was pulled up the three side steps of the church platform. Everyone's eyes grew as wide as the pony's, blinking thigh-high beside our pastor who raised his hand for silence.

"This beautiful pony," Pastor Sedalia said holding back a warm laugh, "is going home with one of you next week—to keep."

Eyebrows rose in pleasant shock and smiles ricocheted through the pews until our pastor laughed out loud and again raised his hand to speak.

"That's right," he continued, "This pony is the grand prize for whoever brings the most people to next week's revival meetings."

(Much could be said about the decline of evangelistic "revivals" in the latter part of the 20th Century, and even more could be said about the methods used to revive them, but that is another discussion. This story is not so much about reaching out as it is about things out of reach.)

"Our speaker is coming here from his ranch next Sunday, and he’s eager to see who will be taking this pony home."

All around me heads nodded in approval, and I looked up to see if my dad's was among them. He simply patted my ten-year-old knee and smiled. Hope was alive.

I began studying the prize just twenty feet away. There beside the pulpit, the pony pranced nervously in place with twitching knees and trembling lips—the way lots of folks do when they stand in front of a church. He was scared. Fortunately he was escorted to the side hallway (beyond our eyes but not our nostrils) before making it obvious just how scared he was.

In spite of that fair warning, and in spite of the fact that we lived in a suburban grid of tightly-woven streets* and patch-pocket yards, I wanted that pony. Five minutes prior I had no thoughts of a pony. Never before had I considered owning one, but it was clear to me in that moment that a pony was just what I needed, and I had a whole sermon in which to daydream the possibilities and solve potential objections. By the invitational hymn, I was pretty sure I could fit a pony comfortably in the corner of our single-car garage—if we moved the bikes...and if Dad would leave the car outside... and if we moved his tool cabinet… and found a way to hang the lawn mower on the wall... small matters really. This could definitely work.

For some time, Mom and Dad had begun driving separately to church. (Mom liked to talk till the last friend left and the roast was burnt; Dad was less talkative and especially liked Sunday dinner. Driving two cars basically saved their marriage.) My older brothers and sister and I usually hung around after church and rode with Mom. Today was a special case, however, because step one of my strategy was getting Dad’s okay to have a pony (and step two was getting Mom’s help to win it). So at the last amen—Boom— I shot out to the car and waited on the front bench seat for Dad. We were still in the parking lot when I began my pitch. Dad laughed and patted my knee just as he had done in church.

"Whoa! Tom. Hold your horses—or pony—I should say. I'm glad you want to try to win, and there are lots of people we can invite to the meetings. That’s the important thing, but let's say you did win...where would we put a pony?"

"I knew you were going to ask that," I smiled, and I proudly told him about my plans for the garage. (In hindsight, I'm surprised Dad didn’t shoot down my boyish brainstorm. Perhaps he knew the difference between a moment and momentum and saw the value of letting this moment play out—a parental skill I wish I could say I've modeled more often in life.) Dad patted my knee again for a pause.

“Let's say you win the pony, and let's say we move the bikes and lawnmower, the cabinet, the car and all that... How big a stall are we talkin’ about here?"

"I was thinking the left half of the garage—maybe less—but it should include the side window so he could put his head out."

"But... that pony is a lot shorter than a horse, Tom. The window would be too high."

"Maybe we could lower it—no, that wouldn’t work and it would look dumb." I said, retracting my own idea before Dad had to. (He had thus far not used the word “no,” and I wanted to keep it that way.)

We turned into our driveway and pulled up to the chain-link gate that opened to our small backyard. (The twelve feet between houses left little room for drivers to open their door, but the passenger door cleared the neighbor’s house by a good twelve inches or so. That’s what I mean by a “tightly-woven” neighborhood—it’s like “close-knit” without the comfortable give.) I jumped out, opened both sides of the gate, and walked them shut behind the car.

Ol’ Duke, our erstwhile hunting dog, watched from his usual spot by the garage door. He hadn’t ventured out the open gate in years, but we kept it closed to maintain the illusion that he was still an able-bodied watchdog. He lifted his head as I approached... and he dropped it as I passed. There in the garage Dad stood surrounded by bikes. This picture did not help my case. Eager to resume the dialogue, I crossed to the window and tried to speak in a “carpenter” voice:
“We would definitely leave this window right where it is.”

"You're thinking,” Dad smiled, “That's good, but we could build a little platform up to the window and put the stall here where the bikes are--like this." He drew the stall with his hands in the air and paused. "There’s still a lot to think about, Tom, this is the easy part. We could build this in a day.”

"We could?" I squeaked, trying to imagine why it wouldn’t take longer—but more importantly… why Dad sounded ready to do it.

"Maybe two days, but like I said… this is the easy part. We haven't even begun to talk about caring for the pony—how much exercise it needs…how much hay it eats…where to store the feed…and where to haul the dirty straw and all the manure—we know he's active in that department." We both laughed.

"I'll find out all that stuff." I promised, straightening a bike as we spoke. "I know it's a lot of work, but I'd take care of him everyday AND find a way to pay for it."

"Believe me, Tom, I know how you feel. Remember. My brothers and I spent our summers out on Pearce’s farm. This sort of thing starts out fun—and it is—but there's a big difference between caring for a pony—as in wanting to have one—and caring for a pony—as in tending to its needs. It’s a responsibility, a daily chore—daily being the key word—365 days a year. It’s not like mowing the lawn once a week." He helped me straighten the last bike and added, "Keep thinking about it. There’s a lot involved and another question I’m not sure about: Can we even have a pony in the city? I really don’t know."

"The Hucks around the corner have a Great Dane—that's just as big as this pony."

"Pretty close," Dad agreed, "but it seems like there’s ordinance about farm animals. Let’s not worry about that detail right now. Let’s go get the roast out of the oven."

We finished setting the table just as the others came through the front door. The pony topic did come up at dinner—we couldn’t help but laugh about what happened in the hall, but other than that it wasn't mentioned the rest of the day.

At bedtime, I stared at the dark ceiling whispering different pony names. I decided on “Darktanyun” (which was how I pronounced the guy’s name from The Three Musketeers. I thought his name meant he had a dark tan. Many years later, I actually skimmed the book and saw the name spelled D'Artagnan. So I was wrong about his complexion all those years.) I whispered the name again into the darkness. Seemed like a big name for a pony. "If he weren’t so dark, I could just call him Tanyun," I thought, "I'll sleep on it."

Scrunching down in my pillow, my thoughts took a troubling turn: Dad's hunches were usually right. Maybe we couldn’t have a pony in the city. I'd seen horses on Main Street in the Memorial Day parade, but I’d never seen one in our neighborhood--not being ridden, not snacking on someone’s lawn, not corralled in a garage, not one...ever! (The absurdity of such a sighting did not occur to me, but a horse in that neighborhood would not only look out of place--it would look out of proportion!) I drifted off to sleep.

Somewhere in the night, I stepped into a dream that would stay with me for a life. I won the pony and kept him in our garage just as we had discussed. Strange though, in stead of dark brown, he was sort of tan with a light mane. (I’d always admired Roy Rogers' Palomino, Trigger, and dreams are allowed to shift from sense to nonsense at will.)

After school, I’d step out to the garage to see him. Evidently, we still weren’t sure he was legal, so we kept him out of sight. Each evening Dad came home from work and whispered from the back door: "Hey, Tom, how's your pony?" and I'd whisper back, "Great, Dad." Everyday, everyday, everyday I fed him and groomed him. Sometimes at night I let him graze the patch of grass beside the garage.

One afternoon when no one else was home, I opened his stall and straddled him --not to ride--just to sit there and pretend. I leaned over to see how close my feet were to the ground when he bolted out the garage door. I grabbed his neck tightly, but the rest of me vibrated like a short-strung paddleball on his bare back.

Whoa-o-o-o-o-o-o…” my voice pulsated into his ear, but he just kept hobbling back and forth in strained pony steps, pinging from fence to fence. This frantic jostling about was considerably less fun than I had imagined. I felt nothing like Roy Rogers—in fact, I looked more like a Little Rascal in a flickering matinee, and I only hoped no one was watching. Finally the pony staggered into the garage exhausted, and I slumped off and stepped away, a sadder-but-wiser horseman. From a distance, I could see that his coat and mane seemed brown again.

Just as Duke no longer cared to pass our open gate, I too was cured of my curiosity and never tried to ride the pony again.

That would have been a good time to wake up, but like Dickens' Christmas Carol, the dream allowed much time to lapse and saved its worst for last. One afternoon some time later, I was sitting on the front porch watching an ant on my arm when Dad came home and asked: "Hey, Tom. How's your pony?"

"Huh?” I blanked, and then I thought, Oh, that's right. I own a pony. “Ahh...Fine… He’s fine, Dad.” I assured him, but I hadn't checked on the pony for days. After Dad stepped in the front door, I snuck off to the garage and caught up on my neglected chores. This happened more and more frequently as the dream went on. After a while, even Dad forgot to ask his routine question. Several dream-weeks later, I went out to the garage to get my bike, and over there in the corner was a sad looking pony that I hadn’t fed for who knows how long.

"Oh, that's right… I own a pony." I moaned. I grabbed a shovel to muck out the stall and stacked as much hay as would fit inside. In spite of my guilt, I kept forgetting I had a pony until I happened into the garage and saw it. Each time I was in deeper denial and deeper manure.

Years before these pony thoughts, I had once asked my great grandfather why the goldfish in his pond were bigger than the ones in my teacher’s bowl. He told me that they can only grow as large as their confinement allows. In this unfolding dream, the reverse effect was true. Each time I saw the pony, he was slightly smaller--he was shrinking! Near the end of the dream, he was as short as Duke and as gaunt as the Ghost of Christmas Future. The last time I saw him, I was almost afraid to peek into the stall. He looked up at me with his big brown eyes, and his dark quivering lips seemed to be mumbling something. I nervously leaned closer to hear what he was saying, and from nowhere a faint whisper echoed...
“How’s your pony?...How's your pony?... your pony?...”

"I don't want a Pony!" I shouted, sitting up in bed!

My brother Dave wrestled himself from his pillow. “What are you talking about?”

“I don’t want a pony,” I said again, softly.

“You’ll never have one, so go back to sleep.” He rolled over to face the wall adding, “Debbie Kay is gonna win that pony and everybody knows it…she wins everything.”

Just like that, the dream had ended in every sense of the word.
I just sat there in silence, letting my eyes adjust to the shades of gray. I let out a sigh and plopped back in my pillow, happy that I did not own a pony.

Looking back on it now, the whole ordeal is strange in many ways—not just the dream but the reality. The church meetings were good, we invited plenty of guests, and Debbie Kay did win partly because she brought the town mayor. He may have been the one who told her she couldn’t have a pony in town, but I’m guessing it was her parents. At any rate, the pony was sold, and she was given a cash prize in its place. Considering I'd only seen him those two minutes on stage, I learned a lot from that pony.

I never told Dad about the dream—never told anyone 'til now—he would’ve felt bad about it, but all he was trying to say that day was: Be sure to care for what you care for. That’s true of ponies and people—anything that needs attention and attachment to thrive.

I do think there was something else going on that day. I think Dad was looking beyond my unlikely odds to a dream he had of his own—one that made mine more possible than he dared say at the time. I really don’t know. I do know that within a year we bought some land out in the country. And in the years to follow, we cleared its fence rows, hauled its timber, raised a barn, dug a well by hand, and eventually moved into the house we built, brick by brick, on those fourteen acres—an acre for every year we had lived on those tightly-woven streets with the patch-pocket yards.
Dreams are a good thing to have.

*If you click on the link at "streets," our house and garage is below the "k" of Buckhannon on the east end of the street. If you click on "backyard," ours was the middle yard with the tree (and no car in front of the house.) Below is an entry from my brother Dave who had a different take on the day the pony showed up in our church. Dave is an excellent storyteller in the spirit and tradition of "tall tales" of old. He's even better to hear in real life--ask my kids.

© Copyright 2005, Patterns of Ink, TK

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Dave's Take on "Dream Pony"

Upon reading my brother Tom’s recollection of the day our pastor brought a “prize pony” to our church, I couldn’t help but share my slightly different perspective on that day and that time in our lives. This is an slightly revised version of the draft I sent him.

The first set of hymns had already been sung, and Pastor was talking about some stuff in general, which was usually my cue to stare down at the tile patterns in the floor between the pews. Just then he announced some “fantastic news for every kid in the auditorium.” In my head I was hoping that they had cancelled the youth choir practice for that evening and that we could all stay home and enjoy Bonanza. I liked Bonanza, especially when the entire family was sitting around the old black-and-white TV. Tom would fix popcorn, he was the official popcorn maker. He, and only he, knew just how long to keep the kernals on the stove without the slightest hint of being burned. Sunday evening always seemed like the best evening of the week on those rare occasions when circumstance allowed us to stay home [or more often at Grandma's house] to enjoy it.

(Whenever the slightest hope of not going to Sunday evening church arose, there was always a twinge of guilt hanging over us because Dad was a deacon and we had to get back for the evening activities. Sunday evenings were always ruined by the hustling and bustling of trying [trying to enjoy the "day of rest" to the fullest and then racing off to church. Our three or four hour ordeal started with youth choir practice, then “Young Peoples” meeting, and then a sermon from either the bus minstry guy or one of our young upstart preacher boys.)

Pastor Sedalia was still talking, as everyone’s eyes were drawn to the platform, “This beautiful pony will be going home with one of you next week—to keep. “That’s right. This pony is the grand prize for whoever brings the most people to next weeks revival meetings.Our speaker [Bill Rice III] is coming here from his ranch next Sunday, and he’s eager to see who will be taking this pony home.”

I looked over at Tom who was squirming with delight in his seat. My older brother Paul didn’t seem to hear what the pastor had said. Mom just sat motionless in the choir loft silently thinking about who she needed to talk to after the service. My dad, folded his arms and put one finger over his mouth. He gently tapped his lips and raised one eyebrow. I could see what he was thinking. He knew he would never have to worry about taking that pony home unless one of his children performed a miracle.

The pastor continued, “ Our speaker will also be giving free sign language classes to all who would like to join. So that way we can further the Gospel to our deaf friends.”

Oh, great, I thought just one more thing Mom will have us doing. I just knew it was going to wreck my time schedule. I actually had no schedule for my life and that was the best schedule a kid could have. You just sorta go through every day enjoying the day as it magically unfolds before you.

The pastor continued, “Who would like to be a part of the free sign language classes? They will be held every evening an hour before the revival service starts.”

I stared at my mom who had turned her head to the lady next to her. I knew what was coming. It was as though my eyes zoomed in on her mouth and I could hear her voice whispering in my head, “I have a deaf cousin,” she was saying, “and you know, I can sign the whole deaf alphabet to him, but I’d love to learn more.”

I watched in disbelief, as her hand shot into the air in response to the preacher’s question.

Time seemed to stand still. She waved it for all to see then gave me a smile and mouthed, “You are really going to like this.” My heart sank into my stomach. Mother was always trying to get us involved in something that we actually had no business doing. It really didn’t matter, I suppose, because we tended to miss the first half of the anything Mom attended with us. (Something she did improve upon later on in life—I guess it really is never too late.) Being chronically late was usually frustrating, but whenever we got stuck going to some church thing we didn’t really want to do, there was always that faint ray of hope—if we were lucky, Mom was in charge of getting us there.

Back to the pony.

By this time, the pony had been led up the stairs and onto the stage. He was being tugged by a small framed, red-headed fellow who had been hired by the church to fill a “catch all job.” It’s not that he wasn’t a hard worker, it’s just that I sometimes feared he was being taken advantage of by everyone who meandered in and out of the building. When your job description is vague and your list of bosses long, life can be rough. At this moment, however, he seemed proud of the fact that he’d been given the odious task of coaxing the small stallion up onto the stage. This was his “fifteen minutes of fame.”

The pastor made some gesture to quite the crowd and just as he opened his mouth to speak, the silence was broken by a sound—a sound which is familiar to every fifth-grade boy who is able to place the palm of his hand in the pit of his arm. It sounded like a large balloon that was losing air. It was elegant and yet it was some how barely perceptible. The sound was slightly deadened by the clump of gray hair which hung from the pony’s posterior, but I knew everyone heard it. I knew that sound. If this were a locker room full of boys they would have erupted in laughter. But this was no locker room. This was a sanctuary where baptisms and alter calls took place. It was an omen of things to come, but we didn’t know that. I looked across the aisle at my friend and he held his fingers over his nose and wrinkled his face. I really had never heard a horse flatulate before. I would have been embarrassed. The pony, however, seemed so nonchalant about the whole thing. I was impressed by his composure.

My brother Tom seemed to be frozen in time as he watched the pony prancing near the preacher on the stage. He jerked his head back against the halter and gave his shaggy main a tired toss. I studied the animal and realized that there was no way that this pony, in his present physical state, could carry my weight. He was no match for Trigger. Trigger was the beloved horse of one of my television heros. He probobly wouldn’t look as cool as a palimino raring up on his hind legs in all of it’s splendor. It’s huge powerful muscles rippling as it threw it’s hooves into the air. No, this was quite a different picture. This pony which had sleep dripping from both eyes, a belly which hung nearly to the floor, and knees that were as swollen as an old lady’s knuckles was quite tired.

Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I thought I might like to have the pony. However, the longer I studied the situation the more I realized that I had about as much of a chance of winning that pony as I had of actually getting store bought milk at home. Which is another story in itself. We never had store-bought milk. Dad bought powdered milk and we had to mix it with water. If you were really a “good milk mixer” you could add a little extra water and make it go further. Why mixed milk you ask? “Well, after all it is six cents a gallon cheaper,” was dad’s reply. [Maybe he meant the Sanilac brand of dry milk was about six cents cheaper than the Carnation stuff. Either way, I sometimes found the rationale as hard to swallow as the mixed milk.]
And so, deep in my heart, I knew that that pony would never see the inside of our backyard. This is why, I began to rationalize why I didn’t need the pony. So, while I sat there, watching this story unfold, I came up with a few really good reasons why participating in the contest was probably not a good idea and should, at any cost, be avoided by anyone in our family.

The first good reason was a girl name Debbie Kay. She was very competitive. In all the years that I had attended church she had somehow managed to win every contest that was ever held. There was the yearly “bus route” contest, the “memory verseses” contest, and the “Bible School” contests [and when she got older, the Campbell’s Soup lables contest]. Needless to say, I and my sibblings would always get the same lecture from dad on the way home in the old Plymouth Fury.

“You know,” he would start, “Debbie deserves a lot of credit. She works very hard, and she’s going to make it in this world.” Then he would look in the rear view mirror at me and our eyes would meet. I’m not sure what the look was for. The older I got the more I could tell when he was steering me toward a “nice girl.” For being so good with details, Dad seemed to overlook some things about the girls he hinted at for me—like the time he recommended I ask out a rather stout framed “beauty” with a well defined mustache who had been riding our church bus since age thirteen. I fortet her name but remember getting punched by her a couple of times. She packed a really hard punch.

The second reason I knew my family should never own that pony was Alex. Alex was our pet parakeet. In reality he was less of a pet and more like a prisoner of war. The difference between Alex and a prisoner of war was that a prisoner of war was fed at regular inetervals, at least once a week. We got alex in the early fall of 1958. He had escaped from someones cage and thought he had it good when he landed on my dad’s old Bell Telephone truck. Dad kept the telephone truck parked on the side of our house when he came home for lunch. My dad was a very logical man. He’s the one who came up with naming the found parakeet “Alexander Grahm Bell” in honor of the old green truck and the inventor of the phone.

When I think back on Alex he was not a very friendly bird. In fact, he hated everyone. Every night he planned his escape while we slept. Given the chance he would attack any part of your flesh that accidently or intentionally made it’s way pass the bars of his cage. I always knew that given the chance he would immediately go for the eyes. On several occasions he gouged my hand with his beak while trying to put food in his cage. He always pretended to be asleep. The clue that you were about to be attacked was when he cocked his head at an angle and glared at you with his one good eye. Suddenly, it was as if you heard that strident violin stroke from the shower scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The attack that followed was nothing short of sharks in a feeding frenzy. And when he got out of his cell, he didn’t land on your head or shoulder like most parakeets. Oh, no, he swooped and pecked like his cousins in that other Hitchcock classic.

It got to the point where we didn’t know what to do with this vicious bird because of his surly attitude. Mom decided to put his cage in the basement, which was like a pitch-dark dungeon 95% of the time. And that’s where he served the rest of his life sentence and met his demise. As the saying goes, “out of sight out of mind.” Once in a while we ventured into the basement. Someone would say, “Hey there’s good ol’ Alex. Has anyone fed him latley?” The reply was usually, “I think it was my turn last month. Whose turn is it this month?” Unfortunatley, if it was my turn I never checked the schedule. Sometimes poor alex would go for weeks with out being fed. Tom did not mention Alex in his retelling of that pony dream, but this no doubt influenced that bizaar twist in his dream. “Oh, that’s right we have a parakeet” was not a dream.

[Some time later, when Alex had his first stroke, I thought he had learned a new trick and was literally lying in wait to attack, but he’d actually suffered a stroke—that was dad’s diagnosis. I figured we’d end up feeding him through a straw… but within the first day, he learned to drag himself around by his beak. “Amazing!” I thought, “he will still be able to feed and water himself after all.” It would be the first time we could actually put him on our shoulder with out having him fly off and play hard to get. A week later Alex suffered his second stroke and died. We burried him in a shoe box out near the old tomato plants.]

The third reason we couldn’t have a pony was Duke. Don’t get me wrong. Duke was a great dog. He wormed his way into the hardest of hearts. He was a watchdog “extrordinare” in that he would litterally WATCH strangers come into the yard, pillage our prized posessions form the garage, and not move a muscle. My ten-speed was stolen without so much as a bark. It got to the point where he too, like Alex, had had several strokes. It was sad. He could barely move his back legs. Some said we should “put him down,” but he’d had been with us for about fifteen years. That’s one of the hardest decisions a family faces—my point is… with Alex in the basement and Duke moping around the back yard, it would have been inhumane to take on another “pet.”

So for those three reasons, I knew my family should stay out of this contest, but I remember looking down the pew at my little brother. He had a goofy grin on his face, and I knew that behind his glazed eyes he was thinking of a trillion and one things that he would train the pony to do. Me? I was content with not having the darned ol’ thing. I was confident that Debbie Kay would once again win the contest and all would be well with the world: Dad would give me that look in the rear view mirror; Kathy and Paul would be in control of the TV set at home; Mom would never be on time for sign language classes; and as long as I left my homework at school… in my mind, it never existed.

Yes, life was good.

Tom’s brother Dave, guest writer to Patterns of Ink.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

My Father's Hands

I see my father’s hands in mine—
not in my clasp
but in the flesh and form and line
of span and grasp.
It’s not the look that came with age.
I see that when
my lamp-lit fingers press a page
or hold a pen.
But when my grip takes on a task
or holds a tool,
my palms and fingers seem to ask
if as a rule,
hard work alone gives hands their worth—
not just their pain.
If so, then sweat must mix with earth
as well as rain
to dampen new-sown dreams and seep
...into the soil
where hope takes root in things that keep
and call for toil.

But who am I to talk of such…
hard work I mean…
I’ve not attempted half as much
as what I’ve seen,
and what I’ve done is only more
or less child’s play
(like completing a morning’s chore
that takes all day).
Occasionally, however,
I’ve had to rise
to the call of some endeavor
that otherwise
I’d never do…or even try.
And when It’s done,
I stretch my arms toward the sky
and setting sun,
and in the glow I almost see
my father’s strength—
his hands are there (or seem to be)
from an arm’s length.

(8/4 count)
© Copyright 1994, Patterns of Ink

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Experimental Sonnet

(Linked sonnet is at the bottom of this post)
For fifteen years I taught a high school British Literature class. The Elizabethan unit included a two-day study of sonnets that was a primer on form (iambic pentameter, etc.) and the introspective and expressive qualities of “the Renaissance man.” In my third year of teaching the class, while the students were reading silently several samples in the text, I sat at my podium and scratched out a sonnet of my own. Love is the predominant emotion of most sonnets, so I attempted to expose the destructive nature of its opposite—hate.

Satisfied with my experimental sonnet, I took it one step further by typing a supplemental handout with my piece sandwiched between Shakespeare's sonnets XVIII and CXVI, allowing the students to think they were all from the same period. They were to read each sonnet and summarize one of them on a separate sheet of paper. To my surprise, the students treated all three sonnets equally and many chose to comment on mine. The homework assignment was to begin (if not to complete) their own sonnet in the same form. Some groaned that they could understand sonnets but couldn’t “think” in syllables or write in such restrictive lines. "Think of it as a game. That's what I did."

It was then that I confessed that the middle sonnet on the page was one I had written while sitting at the front of the class. Their comments were kind, and for most of them, this was just the creative nudge they needed to get started with their own. The experiment was so rewarding that I did it for many years running. When I was transitioning from my classroom career to administration, I found some of the old sonnet assignments in the back of a lesson plan book. The sonnet itself is so-so—definitely not Shakespeare— but after all these years, I’m still pleased with the summaries the students wrote about it. I hope that they somehow remember as middle-aged adults what they ascertained that day as students. Here are some excerpts of their brief summaries:

“If hatred came slowly, hesitantly, to tear love apart, it would grow weak before it could finish. Love is hard to break if it has been around a long time. / Hatred isn’t trying to break love, just hurt the object, it [seeks to] hurt the owner of it…” Sarah D. 1984

“If people could only stop + think before acting in anger, then they would avoid hurting someone they love dearly.” Susan E. 1987

“I think the sonnet is describing marriage and how the hands that tie “the knot” [can be] those hands that tear the knot of love apart…. Hatred comes too easily for us. If only it would come more slowly, it would not tear us apart.” Diane B. 1987

“It describes how hatred can cut through the knot of love with words that hurt…words never to be forgotten… it makes one weep.” Mark H. 1987

“The person is wishing that there was a way to halt hate before it becomes destructive [and that] if hate did come, people would let it pass when they remember how much they love each other.” Larry F. 1987

“If hatred slowly came the love would withstand it, but instead it tears quickly, too quickly, and afterward there is much regret…” Chelle V. 1987

“We are supposed to love but it is hard because hatred comes at love strongly.” Bob S. 1987

“If people were slow to hate, the power to destroy love would be lost.…If they would remember the love, they would make up for the wrong instead of blindly wearing love away to nothing. Hatred grinds on your mind if you let it…. It would be so much better if only we would heed God’s commands to love one another and to be slow to wrath.” Heather C. 1987

If Only Hatred Came with Halted Hands

If only hatred came with halted hands
To pick and pinch and pull the knot of love,
Its power would be lost before the strands
Were loosed; REMEMBERANCE—like pow’r from above—
Would numb the fingers fast and make amends.
Old knots hold tight when time has drawn the ends.
But hatred never stops to touch the knot
That love has tied. O, no! Instead it grabs
In haste the jagged blade of human thought
And in a frenzied snap of time it stabs
And cuts in two the tie that binds as one…
Then stands agasp and weeps at what it’s done.
‘Twould easy be to love as God commands
if only hatred came with halted hands.

© Copyright: November, 1984, TK, Patterns of Ink.

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