On Holy Places – St. Stanislaus Sijo

I’m lucky to live near one of Maryland’s oldest and (in my opinion) most interesting and varied State Parks: Patapsco Valley State Park.  The park is long and narrow, running about 32 miles along the Patapsco river from Sykesville, MD down into Baltimore City.  The Patapsco Valley has been called the cradle of the industrial revolution in Maryland and a history of mills and railroads intermingles with a remarkable natural beauty.  Nature has reclaimed much of the land, but the past still hides in the woods, waiting to be discovered like buried treasure.

One of the more remarkable slices of hidden history can be found in the Daniels area of Patapsco.  Daniels was once a thriving mill town that was abandoned and then wiped (mostly) clean by floods from Hurricane Agnes in 1972.  In that section of the park, you can walk along the remains of Alberton Rd. into the “heart” of the town where the mill workers lived.  You can still see old foundations, walls, abandoned cars and appliances as well as a few more intact structures. One of the more hidden and intriguing of those structures are the remains of St. Stanislaus church.

It can be found up a hill from the river, on the Baltimore County side.  From what I’ve read, St. Stanislaus Catholic church was struck by lightning in 1926 and burned down.  Today, only a partial shell of the stone church is still standing and it’s almost completely obscured by trees. Not much remains now; a few partial, stone walls and a small, overgrown cemetery.

The first time I stumbled upon it, though, it was clear that, even in that state, St. Stanislaus was still being used as “holy ground.”  In one of the last standing corners of the church was a small shrine of sorts.  There were candle stubs, a “tapestry”, and a journal recording the thoughts of the “pilgrims” that had visited.  There was a kind of “presence” within those crumbled walls that was at once frightening, humbling, and beautiful.  The place demanded a kind of quiet reverence, not because of the grandeur of the structure, but because of the power it still held in the hearts and minds of those visitors.

The images of St. Stanislaus have stuck with me, and I often think of what makes a space “holy” for people. I’m sure it varies from person to person.  For some, it doesn’t require stained glass and organ music.  The colors of the fall leaves and the songs of the birds are enough.  I can relate to that.

All the above is a VERY long introduction to a Sijo poem I wrote that tries to condense all those thoughts into 45 syllables…

The church’s stone shell hides in trees
swallowed by the leaves and scrub
Building lost to lightning strike
congregation to river flood
In the last standing corner

candles burn. A new holy place

Sijo Wednesday!

Sijo (시조 – pronounced like she-jo) is a Korean form of poetry that has been likened to Haiku (in that it has specific structural rules). Sijo is traditionally 3 lines, each with 14-16 syllables.  There’s a break in the middle of each line, so it’s sometimes written as 6 lines each 7-8 syllables. The first line introduces a situation/thought, the second builds on that, and the third is usually a twist of some kind.

As an engineer, I found myself drawn to the technical challenges (and requirements!) of the form and have played around with it over the past couple of years.  Interestingly, I’ve found that most of the topics for my poems tend to be about my kids.  Go figure!  Parenthood can inspire in many ways!

Here are a some oldies but (hopefully!) goodies, posted here for posterity and critical review:

9/1/09
As we climb up the stairs for bed,
my son looks at the front door.
“Why is the door angry?” he asks
although he knows the answer.
I turn the knob with a “click!”
Now unlocked, the door is happy.

I once wished for super powers
to have great strength or to fly
My older self has new dreams
seemingly more improbable
All I want is the power
to put my kids to sleep each night

7/20/09
She’s too tired to fall asleep,
the baby in mother’s lap
Baby fusses, cries. Mom sings, rocks
A nightly battle of wills
Gradually they quiet, lost to sleep
Another stalemate

9/14/09
“You’re being the wrong Dwarf again!”
I reprimand my daughter.
She’s Dopey, or maybe Happy.
(At least she’s not Grumpy yet)
But at this time of the evening,
I just want her to be Sleepy.

11/22/09
We met, familiar strangers
No ties of blood or face or place
We are mismatched puzzle pieces
Each part of different pictures
Yet those pieces fit together
creating something beautiful

To learn more about Sijo you can go to the Sijo Poetry Website (of course there’s one!)
For a funny, modern take on Sijo I recommend Linda Sue Park’s book Tap Dancing on the Roof

Captain Noah Rescues Dad

“Sing the Rainbow Song,” she asked for what must have been the 1000th time.  And for the 1000th time, I obliged…

I don’t remember exactly when or why that song originally came back to me.  I’m pretty sure it was out of desperation that some long locked file cabinet in my brain opened up and out popped that song.  I have to say it’s probably one of only a handful to times I can think of when desperation led to something other than a desire to curl up in the fetal position.

As a bit of background, our son was not a good sleeper his first couple of years.  One of us (my wife or me) usually had to be in the room with him in order for him to fall asleep.  It felt like I spent more time laying on the floor in his room in the evening waiting for him to fall asleep than I did in my own bed.  Usually I’d try to sing him to sleep.  I had a repertoire that I worked through.  You know, the classics like Baa Baa Black Sheep, or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.  I threw in a couple of Sesame Street tunes like “Sing a Song” and “Somebody Come and Play.”  Those were usually good enough to get the job done.  One night, though, the standards didn’t work.  I tried a few other songs before hitting on “The Rainbow Song” (more accurately titled “Sing a Rainbow.”)

Red and yellow and pink and green
Purple and orange and blue.
I can sing a rainbow. Sing a rainbow.  Sing a rainbow, too.
Listen with your eyes.  Listen with your eyes.
And sing everything you see.
I can sing a rainbow.  Sing a rainbow. Sing along with me.
(repeat until child falls asleep)

The song was resurrected from my childhood.  It had been the closing theme song to a local kid’s show in Philadelphia called Captain Noah and His Magical Ark.  Captain Noah was the kind of programming that I don’t think exists any more.  It was a locally produced morning kid’s program hosted by Captain and Mrs. Noah.  They had puppets, cartoons and featured “art work” sent in by their young viewers.  I’m sure I watched it ever day, and that closing theme (sung by Andy Williams and originally written for the 1955 movie “Pete Kelly’s Blues”) stayed lurking in the recesses of my mind like some latent virus waiting for the most opportune time to re-infect it’s host.  And a most opportune time it was.  It silenced my overly awake son and successfully lulled him to sleep.

My son, a sophisticated 6 years old now, is now beyond Dad singing lullabies.  My daughter, however, is not.  At 3 years old she is a very consistent lullaby customer, and she always demands the same one from me:  “The Rainbow Song.”

I don’t know how much longer that will last, so I’m content to be a one hit wonder with her and give her as many encores as she asks for.  I’m not foolish enough to mess with a good thing!  The closest I ever come to believing that I have special powers as a parent is when I sing that song to her and it works it’s magic.  There have been times when she’s woken up in the middle of the night in a screaming fit.  Nothing will calm her down and she writhes in her bed or in my arms like she’s possessed.  To sing that song, and feel her relax.  To hear the sobs subside and then finally to see her calm and asleep.  That, my friends, is better than being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

So, thank you Captain Noah.  I’ll always be grateful for that unexpected gift you left with me those many years ago!

(For more information on Captain Noah and His Magical Ark check out this nifty Wikipedia article.)

“Risk is our business!”

I have a big poster in my office that says “Everything I needed to know I learned from Star Trek.” OK. That sentiment may not really true, but I think it is true that Star Trek presents many “learning opportunities” that, if not necessarily profound in themselves, at least get you thinking in more profound ways. So, I took a stab at a quick, 5 minute video describing what I call “the captain’s dilemma.” What I mean by that is, when you’re in a leadership position, you are asked to take on risks and responsibilities that can threaten the “balance” of the rest of your life. So, how much of yourself can you put into a job before you risk losing yourself?

To illustrate that dichotomy, I put clips from “Tomorrow is Yesterday” and Kirks rousing “Risk is our business” speech followed by a clip from “Balance of Terror” where McCoy, in response to Kirks worries about letting down the crew tells him to “Don’t destroy the one named Kirk.”

It doesn’t “solve” any questions, but maybe will start people thinking that those questions need to be addressed. I may add the video here, if I’m feeling brave and sure that Paramount won’t sue.