Tomorrow some of the local Gould gang will be gathering at "509", my mother's apt in St. Paul (with the same street number as their old house back in Mendelssohn - 509 Arthur). It will be the first Thanksgiving in 65 years that she'll be on her own, without my father. Mary Ravlin Gould, the very talented not-famous painter, potter & general craft master, will be 88 next month.
About 25 yrs ago I wrote a long poem called "Grain Elevator", sort of a take-off on the "dream-vision" (this one featuring Ronald Reagan, Walt Whitman, my grandfather Ravlin - the grain elevator builder - & various infernal images including trains, pyramids and golden nuggets of dust). Anyway, the poem ends with this rather stylized Norman-Rockwell Americana coda, an old-fashioned Thanksgiving thanksgiving poem dedicated to MRG.
Your two clay whistle-birds
Are on the windowsill,
Ready for children's lips to share
Their flute-sounds with the real birds
At the feeder, on the other side of the glass;
You've always been the better maker,
Turning the years and years around
With muscular feet and fingers,
Clay speech rising from the wheel
To last this generation, and to serve
The next Thanksgiving – plates, bowls,
Pitchers waiting to ornament
Some simpler, lasting celebration,
Open house for the upright heirs
Of tender hills and anxious clay.
And where's that modest watercolor,
Lit with the cold and clear Minnesota light,
Of Granddad's granary downtown? Standing
Behind the rusted parallel of the tracks
And a row of poplars, crowded out
By warehouses and condominiums,
Its curving columns burgeoning now
Only with air and memory – and hidden
Wafers of petrified wheat, noon
Sunlight answering a lifetime's work
Just over the treeline and the crooked streets.
On a sultry day in late July
In 1961 – when I was nine – we stopped
In a little pasture beside the road,
Under the shade of clustered oaks,
With a herd of cows nearby,
For a picnic and a rest on our way
To visit Grandma's farm, and cousins
In Iowa City. And after the sandwiches
And sleepy talk, while the grown-ups
Snoozed among rocks and baskets,
I wandered off a little way
And found a squared-off family graveyard,
The gray slate leaning in the uncut grass,
Deep summer whispering from unfamiliar soil.
Maybe it was your voice I heard,
So long ago there in the aching depths;
Your voice, challenging me to find
That earthy crossroads – whistling word –
And lay Grandfather's brooding ghost to rest.