My father came to the homeplace in 1916 when he was nine months old, so that his mother might survive a difficult childbirth. He was expected to die. He lived, stayed on the homeplace, and his mother’s sisters, his maiden aunties, raised him. He stayed and became a poet himself, among other talents and skills.
My father is the most generous and practical of poets. He writes for people and occasions and gives poems away to bank clerks, medical receptionists, shop assistants, and grocery check-out ladies. As a result, he has quite an unofficial fan club for his poems that are typically rhymed and metred.
Over the decades Pop saw how changing fortunes, changing times, worked their changes on the land. One day he felt a compulsion to express his feelings about this, but could not get anything to rhyme. So, he just wrote down his thoughts on the back of an envelope. Years later, as he cleaned out his old notes from labor negotiations, he found these scribbled thoughts.
When he started reading his find to his oldest daughter Julia, physicist and poet, she said, “Daddy, that’s a poem.” He suddenly realized that he had created exactly what he was trying to express, and it didn’t need to rhyme. This was a landmark in my father’s poetry. Here is the poem, “Our Heritage,” by Erwin A. Thompson.
by Erwin A. Thompson
Persimmon, sassafras, and ash
Reclaim the land that once was theirs.
“Submarginal”, the experts say.
Once, hillside plows were used to turn
The fertile ground.
It nurtured, and produced the crops,
Sustained, with money crops, and food
They didn’t have a guarantee of annual wage.
Their maps, drawn out with pointed sticks
In sand, or smoothed out dirt.
The farmers now—
A different breed,
No time to milk a cow!
The streets of older towns,
The Indian trails, and wagon roads,
Grown up with old time mansions
On their winding path.
Us younger fellers ask:
“What makes this street so crooked?”
“Well, you see—Old Abe Prentiss’ barn stood there.
Couldn’t put a street through a man’s barn!”
The wharves where riverboats tied up are gone.
The River, still a master highway, carries on.
No more, the steamboat, fired with coal or wood,
The safety valve tied down.
The diesel tug chugs on,
The coal, the wheat, the oil—
The lifeblood of our nation.