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Archive for July, 2011

They say that when you die, your entire life passes in front of your eyes. I think that as you get older, perhaps as you unknowingly approach “that lonesome valley,” your life passes before you, but it passes more slowly. OR NOT. Last night after the TV was extinguished, on my way to the bedroom, a poem/song came to me that I had written in 1968 but never published anywhere. Last night I remembered every word, recited them silently to myself along with the melody I had put to it.

I was working at LUM’S Restaurant at the northwest corner of South Grand at Seventh. I’ve forgotten her last name, but her (real) first name was Sandy. She was a Sandy I have not encountered since the summer of 1968, and she is not a married Sandy related to any of my friends.  We had some terrific conversations at work, I had written three songs inspired over the first month and a half I had known her (She did not know this.) and in July she agreed to join me for a Sunday afternoon  picnic at Lincoln  Memorial Gardens.  I don’t remember what we ate, but I brought the guitar I owned at the time, and we sat on a blanket or quilt looking at the lake.  Here are the words to the poem I remembered last night, that I recited to her that Sunday.

How Much of A Spade?
by Job Conger

Girl so beautiful, full of ideas,
Thoughts of the rational bubble and fizz
In heads full of easy conviviality,
Heads full of overflowing conjugailty,
Wanting to know inside your brain
What is needed to make a rain
Drop fall. How is it made?
How much of a spade can we afford to call a spade?

Thoughts of the intellect blossom and bloom,
Thoughts of the bent elect; prophesy doom.
Thinking is wonderful if done by those inclined,
Threading through to complicated chasms of the mind
Thoroughly in search of an intelligent conclusion,
Looking for an answer to amoralistic fusion
In life. Don’t be afraid.
How much of a spade can we afford to call a spade?

There is an answer for people who care,
For people with beauty for people to share
For people who want to find hope with a God,
For people who want to love more than a bod,
For people in need of a new revelation
And think they can find it in conversation
In twos before dreams fade.
How much of a spade can we afford to call a spade?

===========================

She loved the song and the other two. I gave her copies of the words, dedicated to her. Sandy told me where she’d be attending in Indiana and I told her I’d be at McMurray College in Jacksonville. We anticipated no problem writing to “student Sandy _(whomever)___  and reconnecting, maybe visiting, and we promised to write. The lakeside encounter was our first and last.

The point  of the poem was “Gee, we really like each other! How totally honest can we be with each other?” The reality, I would learn over the years, is that one is as honest as one can be while being polite and respectful. The question should have never been asked, but I thought asking it in a song would make it easier to consume. It was that.

One reason I didn’t try to find her was that I thought I had really not made much of an impression. She was polite, to be sure as we said goodbye, and I’m sure we continued friends for the less than a month before we departed LUM’S for college. More than a year later, I was back at LUM’S as assistant manager, and the night manager and I were remembering her. He was curious why Sandy and I didn’t go further than that one date. She had visited LUM’S while I was away at Mac, and had confided in him that I had made a BIG, POSITIVE impression on her. She wondered by I didn’t re-connect.  I’m wondering the same thing these days. I’m wondering that a lot.

Live long . . . . . . . . . and proper.

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An artist friend who plays with a music group “Hot Bag of Donuuts” would quarrel with my title here and recommend “How to Perfectly Ruin a Good Can of Soup,” but this is my blog, and I’m sticking to it. 🙂 This blog begins in 1967 . . . .

Flashback . . . . I’m driving my 1965 Buick Wildcat with a 225 cubic inch engine on my way to Kirkwood, Missouri. There’s a college there, and I’m carrying a pack of leads beside me on the front seat as I pull away from a fuel station in Hannibal where I topped the tank and picked up a bag of Corn Nuts to hold me until dinner. I sell Encyclopaedia Britannica out of a Springfield office not far from where I live, still with mom and dad, at 2016 S. Whittier. This is my first trip to the “Show Me” state.  I’ve never seen Corn Nuts in Illinois, and the concept intrigued me, so I bought a small bag for something like 35 cents.  They were crunchy, I liked the flavor, and I enjoyed munching half the bag on my way to Kirkwood.  In the course of my time with Britannica, I visited Kirkwood, Columbia (Scott  Joplin’s birthplace and home of the MO State Fair) and Hannibal often. Loved every minute there. Flash forward to July 18, 2011.

While paying $11.32 cents for about three gallons of fuel at the Handy Pantry between “work” on the edge of the world and the airport where I’m setting up an aviation museum, I encounter a display of Corn Nuts offering “two for one” with the coupon displayed there. This is not my first encounter with Corn Nuts since 1967, but my first encounters had pretty much sated my yen for them until last week. So I bought two bags, and in the course of munching them at “work” for lunch the next two or three days, decided I’d be good for another 44 years before eatiang another.

BUTTTTTTTT. . . . . . I couldn’t just walk away from food, not like have done with the unopened loaf of bread that’s been sitting on my kitchen table since last April. I was not going to waste that precious Corn Nut commodity! True, they are a little more of a challenge to break down into something I could swallow than they were back in 1967.  Today I don’t have most of my 1967 teeth and the ones I purchased since were not made for Corn Nuts consumers. What to do?

I decided to keep the “barbecue flavored bag of Corn Nuts” or bag of barbecue-flavored Corn Nuts, if you prefer, at “work,” and take the “original flavor” bag home. I resolved to eventually finish those at “work” and to add those taken home Wednesday night (last night) to a can of my favorite soup: Campbell’s Chicken Gumbo — EXCELLENT SOUP btw.

So after setting the pan o’ Gumbo on the stove at medium heat and adding what was left of the “C’Nuts” (If you are even slightly dyslexic, I DO NOT ADVISE using that contraction under any circumstance!)  into the pan and stirring. Then I returned to the basement where I’d been doing laundry awhile. 

Fifteen minutes later after putting the load that would dry and overnight down there into the dryer, I returned upstairs to the kitchen, literally following the aroma of what promised something akin to corn chowder.   When I removed the top of the pan I was greeted with the sight of boiling, cauldron-like Corn Nuts on top of the Gumbo. They covered the entire top of the surface (as Yogi Berra might say) like a layer of decapitated yellowish baby mouse heads and looked just as appetizing.

Fifteen minutes later “dinner” had cooled on my living room table to the point I could at least sip something from a soup spoon, and I did. It was a little salty, but not too bad. Five minutes later, I tried a spoon full and regretted my attempt to salvage the Corn Nuts because I had clearly “squandered the Gumbo” if you know what I mean.

I don’t give up easily (or easily give up, if you prefer) with food. I had some wine close by, and I figured I could eat darn near anything if I could wash it down with Burgundy.

Wrong again. The C’Nuts were worse than Cheetos left in a open bowl on a summer day: no flavor, hard to chew sans CRUNCH, and a waste of jaw muscle! I grabbed a small dish and began filtering the C’Nuts , depositing them onto the dish and savoring what remained. But the return on the effort was pathetic on balance. I ate less than half the pan. Fortunately, the open jar of Peter Pan crunchy from Monday and Tuesday dinners remained where it always is until I have to buy a new jar of “dinner,” there was plenty remaining therein and plenty of Carlo Rossi (Burgundy) to boot, more accurately, to drink.

So I finished the ordeal with peanut butter and Burgundy, a lamentable but acceptable meal under the sub-nominal circumstance. I am growing accustomed to the fact I can no longer receive the long-savored Public Broadcasting Television station on my “‘V,” to coin an abbreviation, and frankly I’m as happy away from the bleeping thing as I am watching it. I submitted to three hours of extremely unimpressive sitcoms on ABC while trying to read the latest  The New Yorker while half tanked on Rossi and went to bed early for Pete’s sake. I was hot and angry, and vice versa, the story of my life, I suppose.

I slept very well.

Live long . . . . . . . and proper.

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refreshments during my July 23, 2011 presentation at Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site

Song of Johnny Appleseed
by Job Conger
written 2:00 pm, Wednesday, July 20, 2011

He was born in Massachusetts in one seven seven four.
His father fought through the Revolutionary War.
Independence took root in the soldier’s first son
In the days of President Washington.
At age 18, he left home and began to wander west
With his younger brother Nate, and they were put to the test:
Through harsh Pennsylvania winters without horses and estate
They persevered to the frontier and a better fate.

(chorus)
He ran with the rabbit and slept with the stream
As he lived his bold American dream.
And from his true devotion to a loving creed
Came the harvest of legendary Johnny Appleseed.

John Chapman was a tree man, proud and true,
And the apple was essential in the territory new.
It was cider and vinegar and sustenance for all
As the pioneers with dreams of their own heard the call.
It was a call to build a future, new villages and
Better lives for their children in the blossoming land.
Young John planted seeds that would grow to apple trees
With blossoms that would sweeten every springtime breeze.

(chorus)

Riding rivers in canoes through Ohio’s misty out-backs
Walking barefoot in the trails, following ancient Indian tracks,
He planted hundreds of apple tree orchards without fence
For the settlers who would follow three to ten years hence.
He returned to tend the little trees to make them strong,
Through the seasons of the decades that would come along,
And he never killed an animal to eat or in defense
Because a life of roots and berries simply made more sense.

(chorus)

He was a friend to the Indian, a friend to the bear,
A friend to the stranger, and he would share
With everyone he met, though he lived alone.
In his smiling, rugged manner there was not a selfish bone.
From a late winter blizzard, John Chapman caught a chill
In an Indiana glade where he was planting still,
At age 69 near old Fort Wayne,
And he died as he slept, without regret or pain.

(chorus)

His clothes were old and ragged, but his heart was pure
As the songs of Heaven’s angels and his dedication sure.
Though he left this world in 1845
The spirit of the “Appleseed” is very much alive.
May every modern-day dreamer, all builders bold,
Be inspired by the story that continues to be told,
For he loved without condition, and he lived without complaint.
He was a man and a myth, a legend.

(chorus)
=====================================

Happily the gathering took place in the dining room off the kitchen; not under a tent outside as anticipated.

I’ve been looking forward to sharing the story of John Chapman at Vachel’s house for about a month, and in typical form, decided to write a song about him the Wednesday before the big day. That Wednesday was also Poetry at Robbie’s (restaurant) in Springfield, sponsored by Springfield Poets and Writers, and I HAD to have a new poem. So, I KNEW when I sat down at my desk at work at 9 am Wednesday morning  I was going to write something about Chapman  to practice (read aloud to an audience of hummin’ beans is the more charitable way of saying the same thing) at Robbie’s by 5 pm. By the time 2:00 pm chimed, I had written the song lyric. By 5:00 when I departed work, I’d made probably 50 changes (little tweaks, mostly) and as I waited my turn to share from the microphone at Robbie’s, enjoying a tasty Hawaiian Salad,  at my table I made it 51 changes.While typing the poem on the computer I use for this blog, I made it 58 changes.  It resembles the original draft as a 1959 Buick Electra resembles a 1961 Chevrolet Bel-Air, but that’s okay because this version goes where I want it to go.

Two lines in the song were written by Vachel Lindsay and borrowed (appropriated, stolen, rapaciously purloined) from his poem “In Praise of Johnny Appleseed.” They are “In the days of President Washington.” . . . .and “He ran with the rabbit and he slept with the stream.” Thank you Vachel.

It was evident 2:00 pm last Wednesday, that I’ve crammed manymany words and facts into the production. Even so, I believe it succeeds nominally, though not optimally. As I gave a copy of the early version to UIS professor Ethan Lewis after the event, I laconically called the poem “a term paper that rhymes.” He replied “I’ve never read a term paper that rhymes. This will be a first.” and thanked me for the copy.

While accompanying myself on guitar, I spoke the verses and sang the chorus at Vachel’s House today, and I will probably do the same at my October 22 presentation at Poetry in the Parlor at his house.

I wrote the poem with children in mind but hoping parents would explain some of the phrases, and in my plan for a focused dialogue with the audience (which did not happen) I intended to lay some foundation for the song. There are two minor historical half-truths which I committed to keep it simple. I would have written a different poem for adult readers, and perhaps some day, I will. I hope you like “Song of Johnny Appleseed” just the same.

"Springfield's oldest living folksinger" at play at Vachel's House

Live long . . . . . . . and proper.

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I subscribe to a fine poetry blog which shared a fine poem by an author I respect too much to mention by name. Part of her fine poem read as follows: “I have a job that ruins my wrists and two children.” Pardon me for appearing to know too much about this person, but I cannot believe she would stay long at any job that harms her children. No conscientious mother (or father) would, I’ll wager. Perhaps she just landed the employment and is hoping to be promoted up from the tasks that harms them and her wrists. Maybe she plays violin but not that well, so her children have the “leave the building” option if they are subjected to that kind of torture for long.

Perhaps she did not say what she meant. I believe that if poets would say what they mean to say and, conversely, mean what they say, there would be fewer potential poets turning away from the language these days. It takes a determined intellect to persist, to read through the fog of poets who don’t say what they mean.  But as some might suggest, if poets say what they mean, aspiring poets would understand them, would find them accessible to even the least-informed of aspiring hearts looking for literary “Matterhorns” to conquer. Poetry maintains its exclusivity, in part because poets entertain themselves by being careless to the extent that typical readers cannot understand them. Such poets thrive on the support of readers who pick up the general point of their obfuscations which ensure their exclusivity and you know something? That’s good enough, and if you disagree that’s just T.S.!

 Many believe poetry is about what you say and less about how you say it.  These well-intentioned hummin’ beans are entitled to their whatchamacallits, but I am wherever. Or, perhaps more to the point, I am not among them.

Don’t misunderstand. I am all for dialects and similes and metaphors. I understand a rose can be peach-flame over green, knowing full well that a rose by any other metaphor is still a rose.

Don’t get me started over misplaced “onlys.” 

Don’t get me started over “in” and “into.” Too many patriotic Americans don’t know there is a difference between running in the shallow tide and running into the shallow tide. Those who do not know will never get a Christmas card from me.

Poetry is tough enough to understand without a bunch of careless faux-sophisticates fogging up the scene. Let’s say what we mean!

Live long . . . . . and linguistically properly.

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Springfield Poets and Writers occasionally  arranges for poets to visit Prairie Art Alliance’s H.D. Smith Gallery at Hoogland Center for the Arts or Gallery II about two blocks north on the west side of Sixth Street, and write a poem about a painting that inspires them. A red ribbon is placed near each painting selected by a poet, and the selected artists agree not to remove the selected paintings someone wants to purchase.  We then invite the world to a reception and public event where poets read what they have written while each painting or sculpture is displayed in an easel nearby. Here is the picture that inspired me to write a poem that was part of the big event  at H.D. Smith, Thursday, June 29.

"Peppers" an acrylic painting by Pat Kreppert. Photo by Job Conger.

Here is the poem it inspired.

A Deliberate Presence
(A Beautiful Woman)
by Job Conger

The harvested fruit
will enter my world
riding my tongue
with the grace
of Genghis Khan,
with the subtle nuances
of a ball peen hammer.
And I am a man
preparing to be
assaulted by peppers.

Arisen from siesta
in Ciudad de Springfield
I have wandered, drowsy in the fog,
to the warm veranda
to revive for the rest of the day.
I shall ingest a right hook to the senses
from this deceptive, deliberate fruit
whose bright hues
invite with a lie,
a plain-spoken patina
over darkest intentions,
riding the sunny serape-topped table
through the serenity of the day until I arrived.

And I am a man
who delights in
toying with tempests,
wallowing in the virility
of my capacity for self-abuse.

I will eat the peppers
and I shall prevail, eventually,
and I will stagger out of the maelstrom
of the senses alive,
revived, ready for what comes next.
It is not for the overwhelming heat
that I engage the kaleidoscope of terrors on green stems.

They are the aphrodisiac,
the catalyst to mellow mirth
fulfillment and redemption
when I conclude my little pre-amble
cut with a knife.
— I am a man —
And they are not the whole
but the way to the whole,
to the complete cosmic interface
I shall savor
when I drink the pitcher
of tequila that will lift my soul,
and ride the magic carpet
of the sunny serape
that will take me home!
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I wrote the poem at my part-time job Monday, June 27 and revised, then tweaked it until two hours before I read it to an excellent audience. The applause was overwhelming! It was the first time I have heard anyone shout “BRAVO” after the reading or reciting of any poem. UIS professor Ethan Lewis told me it was the best reading of one of my poems he as heard. Needless to say, tequila could not have made me feel any better about life than that reception.

I could not have written the poem without the most excellent catalyst and inspiration of Pat Kreppert’s fine painting. Thanks to all attended last Thursdays Poets and Painters, and thanks to you for reading this poem and post.

Live long . . . . . . . . . . and proper.

 

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