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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

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Take in Life
There where the breaking waves
are thin and seep into the sand
and nudge the dregs and driftwood
grudgingly back to land
(as most things in the end return),
I walked alone along the beach
to comb my take on life
at the water’s farthest reach.
And then on up a ways
I saw what seemed to be
a gray-and-white forgotten rag
washed up and wrung out by the sea.

Closer up and looking down, I shuddered
at a gull whose lifeless wings beside
moved only with the foam.
Cocked high his head, bill open wide,
as if to laugh and take in life
and celebrate the trout
he'd swooped and nabbed and gulped
headlong*... until he figured out
his catch indeed was caught,
but in a way he hadn’t figured in.
There, beyond his gaping jaw,
still flapping was the fin.

His open eyes looked horrified
and left no doubt he knew
that sometimes what we take in life
is more than we can chew.
© TRK Patterns of Ink, Copyright, 2007
Yesterday was a sweltering 90 degrees as my youngest daughter and I worked outside. when we were done we closed the four-mile gap between us and one of the beautiful beaches along Michigan's West Coast.) The water was refreshing. Coming in and lying on the towel, I remembered the opening lines of that Destin post in May and these older thoughts from a walk on a different beach long ago.

In the summer of 1981, I strolled past the north end of Lighthouse Park in Port Huron and came upon a dead seagull with an eight-inch trout lodged in its throat. I didn't take a picture but never forgot the image and obvious untold story.

At first glance the poem's title suggests "feel good" thoughts about enjoying life to the fullest, and it is about enjoying life from the perspective that as we "take in" life we must be careful what we take in. The poem is new but it's based on a journal entry from the 80's entitled: "Things I've Learned from Dead Birds." Catchy, huh?

There were two other lessons: one about hundreds of dead starlings my family saw along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. They'd been surprised by a late spring snow and couldn't fly as fast and as high as usual. We winced each time one hit our windshield. For miles and miles, all the cars kept hitting them until we lost count of how many we saw. The other lesson was about a bird I saw stuck inside a pipe.

I was painting a clothes-line pole and saw a sparrow inside the narrower cross pipe. He'd had gone in headfirst easily enough and inched along until he came to the first of four eye-bolts that went through the pipe (to which the lines were tied). The bolt blocked his way, but the same feathers that glided smoothly forward would not let him go backwards against their grain. There was no way to turn around. Who knows how long he lived like that, staring at the small round light at the far end of the pipe until his eyes blinked their last.

Sorry if this post seems a bit macabre [which means "dance of death"], but we can learn from all three plights. Sometimes our circumstances are beyond our control—like a late spring snow, but often we're to blame for biting off more than we can chew or not avoiding the places we shouldn’t go that keep us longer than we wished to stay.

Note: For those interested in words and how they mean, in the poem's first "take" {line 7]
take is a noun [i.e. "perspective"]; in the second, in is an adverb modifying take (life being the object of the verb); and in the third, in is a preposition [i.e. “in life” modifying the verb] rendering a different meaning. I wasn't sure about keeping the last four lines because they limit the poem's meaning to my conclusion, I'll keep them for now. *HEADLONG means both "headfirst" and "without adequate thought ": RECKLESSLY

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Blogger SusieQ said...

The words flow from you with such ease.

Lessons I have learned from dead birds: I am trying to figure out what I learned recently from a baby bird which had fallen into our window well and could not get out. I wanted to rescue it, but thought I shouldn't touch it with my hands in case the mother bird would reject it in turn. So I scooped it out of the window well with a tool of sorts. The baby bird went under a nearby bush for cover. Confident that it would survive and be okay and Mama bird would see to its continued nourishment, I went about my business for that day.

A few days later my husband told me that he found the baby bird in the yard. It was dead. But it had not been molested by another animal. Apparently the Mama bird failed to take care of it for some reason. Maybe she had died herself.

It was a disappointment to me, because it had felt so good to think I had rescued the baby bird from the window well and that it would have a chance to go on to live a full bird life after that.

I suppose the lesson I learned from this dead baby bird is that as much as we romanticize about things real life situtions do not always end in a storybook style. Sometimes they end with a thud that flattens our spirits.

19/6/07 11:02 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I think our desire to care for creatures in need reflects a respect for life (it goes beyond maternal instinct because many men have it, too). It may even be part of what is meant to be created "in the image of God" and to "have dominion" over animals.
Strangly there is also a part of "man" (moreso in boys than girls) that shows dominion in the hunt (which I support). Less defensible are meaningless acts, like shooting a bird with a BB gun, which I've done my share of.
See All Call to Arms

Have you ever seen that great Andy Griffith Show episode about Opie killing a bird with his sling shot? Andy makes him raise the three abandoned baby birds. It's a powerful short script called Opie the Birdman

Hope those links work =)

19/6/07 3:13 PM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

A very good poem and a good blog entry with a moral or two.

19/6/07 6:43 PM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

No I haven't seen that particular Andy Griffith episode, but I like watching the reruns of that show at night as I am drifting off to sleep.

The first time my husband used his new BB gun when he was a little boy, he shot a bird. He didn't kill it. He only wounded it. But he said that he felt so bad about shooting that bird that he only used his BB gun for target practice after that. He has never taken up the sport of hunting for that reason.

19/6/07 8:54 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Dr. John,
Glad you like it.

I don't hunt either but Dad did when I was young. Michigan is a big "hunting" state. I have a few guns. I'm a decent shot, but I just don't hunt. Some friends live for opening day of phesant or deer season and feed their families all winter from their efforts. I'm fine with that.
I have a draft of a short story I started last summer called "Still Waters" about a guy who can't stand the thought of killing (even the vermin in his yard) but he becomes trapped in circumstances that call for a "knee-jerk" change in that position. I may dust off that draft and try to finish it this summer.

19/6/07 9:34 PM  
Blogger a brand new high school english teacher said...

I respect that gull for going for broke! He made a choice, true - one worthy of Poe - but a choice nonetheless. He reached for the moon, and now hopefully he's flying among the stars. I'll always keep looking for that big fish, but - with my mom's advice ever in my mind - I'll do so whilst watching out for all the little bones. Have a peaceful day POI. A

20/6/07 8:35 AM  
Blogger the walking man said...

I guess at times an animal will bite off more than the gullet can swallow or a sparrow will be curious enough to trap itself in its own chamber of death and nature sometimes will play a trick on a flock of swallows and they will hit the windshield as they fall.

That is nature, really animals doing what they instinctively need to do to try to survive; like a grizzly bear mauling a human that got to close to a cub, common instinct. Very well told piece about an unnatural cycle of natural events.

Yet people and choice is different, most don't think of the ramifications of what they bite off and whether it will choke them or not. Actually I believe that you can never bite off too much but rather can you manage what you bit or will you turn lunatic with frenzy?

I killed a rabbit once with a shot gun, never killed another piece of prey that way again. Always trapped them and sent them to their death with a knife, I felt closer to what was eventually going to be my dinner that way.

20/6/07 4:12 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

a brand new high school english teacher. I've got to think of a shorter name for you in replies. I guess ABNHSET will work. =)

If you had seen the size of this fish in his mouth, you would have shaken your head like "What was he thinking?" Although, like TWM said, animals operate more on instinct and in this case his wasn't good. On the other hand, people need a "can do" spirit and the ability to calculate risks.
In this poem,I wasn't referring to ambitious attempts at achievement (like a new job that may seem overwhelming). I'm talking about"invincible" foolhearty behavior that ignores the consequences (i.e. lust, glutony, alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, etc.)

I heard a sad account recently of a high school that awarded a diploma to the parents of a boy who had died of alcohol poisoning just two weeks before. That's the sort of thing I'm talking about.

You're right about animals "doing what comes naturally." Man has been given more than "animal instincts," however, and "to whom much is given much shall be required."
Of the three examples, the sparrow in the clothes line pole frustrates me the most. I tend to get a bit claustrophobic, and that would have been like this story from a few weeks ago
Man Dies Up-side-down in Drain

As for stabbing rabbits--I think I'd rather shoot the bugger not with a shot gun (all those BBs to clean out). I'd use a .22.

20/6/07 5:21 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

No time to write a comment, or to read (I will be back and read every word!) Wishing you and your family the best throughout the wedding. Get your hankie ready! My prayers are with you and I look forward to hearing all about it.

I feel on top of things for July 21st but it is taking all of the spare time I have.

Blessings to you and your family!

20/6/07 8:13 PM  
Blogger JR's Thumbprints said...

It's amazing some of the things we get ourselves into. The key, for me anyway, is to not look back. What's done is done.

20/6/07 11:19 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Once again, another great poem. I've been gone for a while due to my sister's wedding (which was on the 16th - maybe I'll post a picture.) Anyway, I know you didn't want to discuss this yet, but we will definitely be praying for your brother and his family. Glad everyone is okay. Ironically, there was almost a disaster at the wedding reception when a candle fell over and burned a hole in a table cloth. Luckily several people saw it happen and were able to douse it with water before it got out of hand. At my own wedding, I burned a hole in my veil. I thought it was funny at the time, but when you think about all the hairspray - yikes!
Anyway, sorry to get off the subject of this post and for giving the father of the bride more things to worry about!
Julie in Colorado

21/6/07 11:40 AM  
Blogger Tracie said...

Wonderful WONDERFUL poem.

Know that my family will be praying for you and yours in the coming weeks! Keep us posted if there is anything else we need to pray for. :O) The wedding will be great and Dave will take some great video footage for you no doubt!
In Him..

21/6/07 1:32 PM  
Blogger Donnetta Lee said...

Hello, Tom: I enjoyed this post very much. We do tend to bite of too much, don't we? And then we're surprised by it. As I get older, I'm trying to do less and less of that. Nothing left to prove, I suppose.

Regarding stories about birds--
Hubby told me that not too long ago a small black bird (crow??, not sure the type) flew in through the open screen door of the lanai on our house in Florida. Poor thing was disoriented and couldn't get out. He flew all around the "cage" of the lanai getter more and more flustered. Finally, fell into the swimming pool. Hubby got out the pool net (used to clean bugs and little things from the water)and scooped up the poor bird. Before he could get him to the door, little bird flails around and gets out of the net, hiding behind a chair. Hubby opens both doors to the lanai and eventually, the little guy finds his way out--just walks out. In the meantime, hearing his cries, a small group of the black birds gathered outside of the lanai, appearing to wait for him. Little bird seemed fine and flew away with the rest.

Just an interesting bird story! Wish we all answered the call to come to the aid of one another as quickly...


21/6/07 2:18 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Tom...I never carried a gun while i was on the road so slitting their necks was kinder than hitting their heads against a tree until the skull crushed but that's not what I wanted to say...
the next installment of my naval experience was posted a couple of days ago and while it mostly describes the ship and our quarters it was my first time at sea and is definitely written with the language in mind. "I Finally Made It to Sea" don't know how to do the link thing so *shrug*

21/6/07 4:17 PM  
Blogger ...Kat said...

I came here from LSG.... and your posting about the horrific fire....so sorry to hear about the loss, so glad that the loss was not of any lives. Very classy poise shown by your brother... and looking to the future.
Good fortune to all and best wishes for the wedding.

now for the "critic" in me as regards the poem....
constructive I hope to be and any objections are just subjective and personal and perhaps unique to my persona.....

word play.... delightful and beloved by lovers of words....and used by poets
but I think it heavy-handed to point such out... and to stress it with italicized print as well

(as most things in the end return),
superfluous observation to me which distracts from the lovely build up of the previous imagery

comb? perhaps you get this from beachcomber but it doesn't work for me
better would be: take on life

rung? did you mean: wrung
(and even though the w is silent it still is a visual alliteration as well as a rhyme

would "shuddered" be more apt?

Trout is the common name given to a number of species of freshwater fish belonging to the salmon family, Salmonidae.
...the use of trout makes me think freshwater...but in the piece I visualize the ocean...so it feels odd here

the figured out/figure in seems too precious for such a serious situation, trivializing it

then the more than we can chew seems moralistic and juvenile....kind of a bathos

from Kat...who does not imagine herself a POET by any means

21/6/07 5:57 PM  
Blogger ...Kat said...

Hi! and thank you for the visit!

I am glad to meet another Box Turtle enthusiast
(as well as another lover of words)

Last year i decided to keep track of any turtles i come across here on my country property... to photo their shell markings for identification...
and to name them.
so far: Abner, Bertha, Cindy, Darla, Edgar

and I am awaiting a "F"ifth... would you like the honor of suggesting a fem and masc F name for this future turtle?

I have a label on the blog "turtle" if you care to see the gang

21/6/07 7:22 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I can totally understand why a mother of a bride-to-be in a few weeks is behind in blogging. Thanks for stopping by. Keep us posted. I'll do the same when we're on the other side of our big event. =)

21/6/07 7:52 PM  
Blogger Josie said...

Tom, lovely poem. And somehow a better picture than a photograph. It's hard to watch our fellow animals getting themselves into a "jam" isn't it? We can identify with what they're feeling. I once had a squirrel trapped in my house, and he did a great deal of damage before he died of fright. I felt so bad when I got home and found him, and saw the mess he had made in his fear. But there was nothing I could do for him. I guess it's a lesson about curiosity as well.

I was so sorry to hear about your brother's fire. My gosh!! What an awful thing to happen. But I'm glad to hear that everyone is okay.


21/6/07 8:01 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Great to see you out and about between your fishing. I'm really enjoying your videos but I do hope you pick up a pen again (or keyboard as the case may be).

Hope things are going fine there in Colorado. Thanks for coming by.

Thanks, Tracie!

I knew you were in Florida. Glad you're still reading when you can. There is nothing more "tense" than working with a wild inside. They kind of panic and then they seem to say "Okay, I trust that you are not trying to kill me." It may have been a grackle. They tend to flock like crows but are smaller.

Thanks for letting me know. I somehow missed it, but just read it a while ago. Great post. Keep 'em coming.

21/6/07 8:04 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

You have some of the funniest interactions with animals there in your suburban forest. Thanks for your thoughts.

Well back to my "Honey do" list. The work of a father of the bride is never done. I'm just kidding. The women are doing most of the work. I'm just getting the "man" stuff.

21/6/07 8:18 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Welcome first-timer to POI.Thanks for coming by and making yourself at home with the helpful constructive suggestions. There are lots of other lines of verse in the archives. Feel free to comment on those as well.

Considering that I love words and writing and taught English for about 20 years…I am a horrible speller and missed those two homonyms. Good catch. Fixed ‘em. Thanks...
Each time I post a poem--especially a new one-- it changes every day for about a week as it crystallizes. I wrote this first draft Sunday. Re-wrote it Monday night, and posted it Tuesday AM. But I've tweaked it several times since. I never consider a post “untouchable” until they're published in “hard copy.” Many of the things you mentioned are in previous drafts and this feedback helps me rethink some of them. Discussing works in progress is one of the things I miss about the classroom.

I know some natural poets and I envy their gift. I am a person who sometimes includes “poetic” elements in writing and sometimes experiments with “free verse” narrative like The Wedding Book [scroll down to April 1] or structured form like The Experimental Sonnet; or rigid and precise like My Father’s Hands and All Else (which Lone Grey Squirrel enjoyed); other times I toy around with subtle irregular rhythm and rhyme (as in these lines).

Line #7 of the hand-written draft says “in search of what God only knows”. One of the drafts had “to comb my take on life,” but I changed it to “to comb my take in life” (knowing the correct preposition is “take ON life” but wanting to use the title words. How’s that for un-poetic rationale? Note the change. Titles should not dictate word choice.
The italics were a bit didactic and not needed by my readers. They too are gone except at "figured out" and "figured in" where they help the reader know how to stress the terms as a pair.

Nice use of the word “bathos” and in this context it is indeed a compliment to the first 24 lines. I realize the last four lines add a sort of Aesop’s fable tone, but the bird's eyes really did look like he knew he'd made a mistake. The issue I weighed with those last 4 lines is that “chew” doesn’t apply to seagulls who swallow their catch whole, but that part is about people. Hmmmm?
Trout can be either fresh or salt water so I'm okay with that since it was a trout, and though it was Lake Huron not “the sea,” sea is more universal. People who have seen the ocean-like Great Lakes may forgive my generic use of “sea” because we call the bird in question a seagull not “lakegull.” =) Besides I needed the rhyme.

Thanks again. Do come back. Your suggestions were valid and helpful. I see you've left another comment since I started this. Hmmmmm... "F" names for box turtles. Off the top of my head how 'bout: Figaro and Florence (which means flower) (or Fred and Fran if you like simple names).

21/6/07 11:00 PM  
Blogger J_G said...

I am a hunter and have hunted many different types of birds over the years and as I read your post about birds I'm thinking that you haven't assigned the worth of the different types of birds as I do.

I don't think there are too many Pennsylvanians that would complain about all the dead stalings on our Turnpike. There are just too many starlings.

I have mockingbirds that make a mess on my pickup truck mirrors and make a horrific racket, they are quite a nusance but very funny to watch.

I also have my "weeka" birds. "Weeka-weeka-weeka" is the morning song of the beautiful Nothern Cardinal. They are so loud for such a small bird. I enjoy their song very much. Their afternoon song is much different.

Then there are the Mourning Doves, I have hunted Doves for many years and they are very wary birds and can fly upside down with one wing in the rain. They perch on the peak of the roof of my house with their sorrowful sounding call morning and afternoon. I can imitate them and can keep them "talking" for quite some time.

One more, I have a cattail pond across the road from me. There are domestic geese and wild ducks there but there is a very interesting little bird to watch that can hold onto the top of the cattail and sway with the breeze like they were at some natural amusement park, the Red Wing Blackbird.

I have assigned the worth of certain birds for their songs, beauty and their ability to make a mess. They are all God's creation though and when I see the mockingbird standing on the mirror of my pickup truck singing all the songs of the other birds all I can do is look to the sky and wonder "what God was thinking" when he created this crazy but very talented bird. Then I turn on the hose and clean off my mirrors.

22/6/07 7:42 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I know it sounds awful to some people, but my Dad taught us to "classify" birds in much the same way you do. We were allowed to shoot blue jays because they raided other bird nests. We were allowed to shoot English Sparrows but not song sparrows. Grackles and starlings were fair game because they were noisy nuisance birds and tended to "flock" and threaten other birds and even people (like the crows in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds"). Starlings are not native to this continent; they came over on ships and "took over" some areas, so Dad considered them a threat to our bird population.
My brother-in-law is an avid boater and he hates seagulls because they swoop and pester all sources of food. He calls them "rats with wings." Like you said, they're all God's creatures, but we tend to value some more than others from our human perspective. As I type this there are two beautiful finches (a star finch and a Gouldian in a large Victorian aviary that my wife has here in what I've called our parlor.
This piece was more about preventable predicaments than the birds themselves, but I like how discussions take turns of interest. As always, thanks for coming by and for these thoughts.

22/6/07 9:00 AM  
Blogger ...Kat said...

TY for the turtle names.
Florence and Figaro.... operatic and are my choice
over the simpler pair.

In prose, a great wordsmith on birds: Pete Dunne.

The image of the bird on the sand in your piece reminded me of a story, a fictional account of the life of one bird....It was very moving...
and also spoke to most people's inability to see beyond and past to the pathos such can represent.


from his book More Tales Of A Low-Rent Birder

and I highly suggest his book Feather Quest as well.

22/6/07 10:42 AM  
Blogger J_G said...

Tom I guess that I am more of an outdoors person than anything else. I relate to my own predicaments through watching wildlife much like your illustration. My moods actually change just by being around wildlife and the birds are so much a part of my day. They seem to be a part of my rhythm of life. The heron is a very large bird but only eats a little at a time and it very careful about its surroundings. The Mourning Dove, a complete misnomer:-) Check out my blog.

22/6/07 4:06 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Don't feel stuck with those names, but I hope your next found box turtle is male. I like the thought of a turtle named Figaro. Sorry to read your dog ate those baby birds. Like TWM said, "doin' what comes naturally."
I'm not familiar with that author, but I'll check it out when things slow down after the wedding.

We were gone for two days. I read your post about those birds. Very nice. There was also a bonus discovery... a tri-colored beech! That's a special tree to our family...A Place to Play.

23/6/07 3:53 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I was testing links in comments (because I learned some did not work), and I saw that the "All Else" link about did not take you to that poem. Try this one: All Else

26/6/07 11:02 PM  

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