Paging through old copies from 1983 and 1984, I see names I know and, occasionally, pictures of friends who look much younger than they are now. (This is only to be expected, so why is it surprising?) When the former owner/editor brought me these and turned to the pages where my poem was printed, he asked, “Do you remember this?” How could I ever forget? Back in 1984 Peter called me at home in Kalamazoo, where I was living at the time, and told me he wanted to publish my poem (I tried to remain calm), asking if I would “mind” an artist’s illustration printed on the page with my work. Would I “mind”? Would I object to an illustrated, two-page spread for my modest submission? I was thrilled. Back then, I was years away from being able to call Leelanau County “home,” but it would be the home of my poem, and that felt great.
For old times’ sake, then, here’s the opening stanza of my poem, titled “Out in the County.” That’s as in Leelanau County, folks.
Some folks shed old lives as snakes
slough off their skins and never
give a thought or look behind
but come here and pretend to be
no more nor less than what they are.
The natives have no hiding place:
A country memory is long.
“Out in the County” was written in the voice of a old-time county resident. I’ll never be a native, but I’ve lived and had my bookstore here for 18 years now, and here’s the last stanza of my long “story in verse”:
They come for privacy and little realize
that that commodity is native to the city.
Rosa grandiflora hedges, redwood fences
by the sauna give illusion only.
Character reveals itself by look and deed,
and we will know their children as we’ve known
our neighbors of each generation in the town
and up and down each road and hill,
and with our knowledge comes not judgment
but forgiveness, tolerance, acceptance
of uniqueness, and the crazy, claustrophobic,
smothering closeness of a timeless family,
though open spaces stretch between our hearths
and wind howls plaintively against
the stillness of the country night.
The closest thing these days to The Small-Towner is the Dunes Review, very different in format and content but also excellent and currently (I’m reminding you) on special at Dog Ears Books in Northport.