Invitation to Poetry: Honoring Our Ancestors

Invitation to Poetry

Poetry Party #26!  I select an image and suggest a title and invite you to respond with your poems, words, reflections, quotes, song lyrics, etc. Leave them in the comments or email me and I’ll add them to the body of the post as they come in along with a link back to your blog if you have one (not required to participate!)

I’ll add your contributions all week and then I will draw a name at random on Friday morning from everyone who participates and will send the winner a copy of my newest zine Crossing the Threshold: New Year, New Beginnings. Feel free to take your poem in any direction and then post the image and invitation on your blog and encourage others to come join the party!

The end of this week brings the feasts of Samhain, Halloween, All Saint’s Day, and All Soul’s Day. It is a time of honoring our ancestors.  I love the image in the Christian tradition of the “Communion of Saints” or the “cloud of witnesses” — both speak to me of the depth of connection available to us with those who have gone before.  This week I invite you to celebrate your own ancestors, either as a group, or dedicate your poem to a particular person (human or animal in nature).  For this week’s party, I also invite you to email me a photo of this person (if you have one) to accompany your poem.

This photo was taken last March in a cemetery in Ipswich, Massachusetts when I traveled back to trace some of my maternal ancestors.



Sometimes, when a bird cries out,
Or the wind sweeps through a tree,
Or a dog howls in a far off farm,
I hold still and listen a long time.

My soul turns and goes back to the place Where, a thousand forgotten years ago, The bird and the blowing wind Were like me, and were my brothers.

My soul turns into a tree,
And an animal, and a cloud bank.
Then changed and odd it comes home
And asks me questions. What should I reply?

translated by Robert Bly

Submitted by Lizabeth at Whisperings of Motherhood


I perch lightly
At the edge of outside
I am lighter now than you could know
I wait for you here
May your path be smooth
May the thorns not trouble you
On your Way

-Mary Beth at Terrapin Station


Old castle tower
spirals to a settler’s view
in Winterset Park . . .
ancestors’ laughter echoing
between picnic tables and trees.

©Bette Norcross Wappner (b’oki)



Perching from above,
thorns no longer pierce your soul,
flight imagines wings….

-kathy flugel colle


no bird can fly
without opening its wings,
and no one can love
without exposing their heart. 

–mark nepo from “the book of awakening”
(submitted by Kayce at diamonds in the sky with lucy)


Prometheus  Father

He did not create
the Frisbee but brought it
to the family as a means
of sport and exercise. He
was the master of the flicked wrist
and cutting air. He made
his children wanting-
but not wanting enough.
Always control
and accuracy of the disc.

When he noticed his tykes
becoming his equal with the disc
Prometheus went out, purchased
a ping pong table and started the cycle
all over again.

-Tom Delmore at Crow’s Perch



Birds, wings, flight–are we all imagining the same experience?  Here is a song, a round, source unknown.  Found in a Libana songbook called “Fire Within.”

Be like a bird who halting in her flight on a limb too slight,
feels it give way beneath her,
yet sings, sings,
knowing she has wings,
yet sings, sings,
knowing she has wings.

I include photos of my mother and sister who both passed recently.  On November 1st we gather to remember them with a Memorial Labyrinth Walk and the dedication of memorial dove tiles on the Spirit Wall of our church.  I also include a drawing of the dove tiles which bear names of ancestors.

Mother: Louise        //            Sister: Kathleen

-Jenifer Hartsfield at South Texas Art League


They are mostly gone now,
Life’s fixed points.
Sanctuary from the
World’s rough hewn edge.

Mother’s embrace
To hush the tearful sob,
Father’s strong hand
To catch the fall.

Temporal things suffice.
A book or a place,
A solitary walk,
or time paused in blue.

-Andy at A Man Breathing


Youngest son of a poor rural family,
what made you take those steps?

One hundred miles to a life in London,
in a time before cars ate distance.

Was it fire in your young belly, or
too many mouths for your mother to feed?

How did you meet that rather severe
young woman who became half of you?

Did you think you would share fifty years?
Did you imagine eight children together?

What did you like to eat? Did you smoke?
Did you enjoy your long life, or not?

I want to put flesh on your bones,
emotion in your heart, thoughts in your mind.

I am greedy for knowledge of you that
facts and a photograph cannot give me.

-Tess at Pilgrim’s Moon

Photo is of Tess’ great grandparents


Winter sneaks in without warning
Quietly taking hold of what lives
Mighty trees once bursting with life
Are merely skeletons clawing at the heavens
Flowers full of beauty and perfume
Now void of color and reeking of mildew
All from receiving winters cold kiss
Nature’s plush carpet so green and soft
Is a tangled brown mess hard as ice
Just reminders of winter’s unforgiving hug
I still have color
I still have strength
I still have a choice
I will not let this winter break me
I choose to sing
I choose to soar
I choose to live

-Steve Newcomb


Atop a grey grim
reminder of loss
Alites a brilliant blue
reminder of life

-Rebecca at Difference a Year Makes


Little Blue,
little Blue, with
rusty white belly and
black beak and feet
make your way
through the cemetery
to my heart
down my street.
Little Blue,
I will meet you there
and we can gage

death together, oh! And
bring me blue feathers too
that I may fly, fly with you
high above the granite
past the bramble

Little Blue
remind me of those gone by
who have blessed me
without knowing
they are the wind
with which we fly
the hope by which
we are carried
little Blue,
little Blue.

-Martha Louise Harkness


Mary Queen of Scots

It is rumored from whom

I am descended, it says here

Questa famiglia originaria della Scoizia

E nobilissima in molte citta,

Ed e divisa in molti rami

The Barone family, my family

Originated from Scotland

Mary’s son King James VI of Scotland

Became King James I of England

King James great grand daughter married

The King of Itlay

It is noble in many cities and

Is divided into many branches it

Had many fiefs and illustrious men in court

In the magistrature, in the army

And in the church it was

Conferred high chivalrous honors and

Was vested with the holy orders

Of Malta from the 15th Century

It includes, as branches, the Counts

Of Casola and the Marchesi di Liveri

The title was granted in 1710

To the celebrated literary figure Domenico

Director, San Carlo Opera, Naples

Praised even by Giambattista Vico

In an assembly of praise of him

Made by the Academitrician in 1735

The family is listed in the Registry of Neopolitan

Feudal families and numbered among

The patricians of the Republic of Marino

The Republic was represented in Lisbon

By the Court of Casola and Marchese di Liveri

By Napoleon Barone son of Marchese Pasquale

Who had as his grandmother Maria Filomarina

Of the Principality of Bocca

Title to Alfrede Domenico Barone

Held from 1869-1952 also as the Count

Of Casoli in the Registry of Nobility

Melchizadek descendant of Pasquale

And likewise Alfred my father

Or so the story goes there is

A castle and a title

Or at the very least a story

That belongs to me in Italy

I write to know

Bruce Barone


For my parents, Vail and Gardner Read, and for all my other beloved dead, this poem by Marge Piercy, which I read at my mom’s memorial:


Long ago on a night of danger and vigil
a friend said, Why are you happy?
He explained (we lay together
on a hard cold floor) what prison
meant because he had done
time, and I talked of the death
of friends. Why are you happy
then, he asked, close to

I said, I like my life. If I
have to give it back, if they
take it from me, let me only
not feel I wasted any, let me
not feel I forgot to love anyone
I meant to love, that I forgot
to give what I held in my hands,
that I forgot to do some little
piece of the work that wanted
to come through.

Sun and moonshine, starshine,
the muted grey off the waters
of the bay at night, the white
light of the fog stealing in,
the first spears of the morning
touching a face
I love.  We all lose
everything. We lose
ourselves.  We are lost.

Only what we manage to do
lasts, what love sculpts from us;
but what I count, my rubies, my
children, are those moments
wide open when I know clearly
who I am, who you are, what we
do, a marigold, an oakleaf, a meteor,
with all my senses hungry and filled
at once like a pitcher with light.

-Marge Piercy

(submitted by Cindy Read)


With You
A remembrance for Hazel, my grandmother

With you I watch the juncos
and put out suet on cold winter days.
With you I work the soil and plant the beans
that will snap and steam.
With you I pinch the spent petunias
and my nose tingles
as their sharp scent fills the air.
With you I roll out pie dough
and set aside pieces for younger hands
to roll and pinch and learn.
With you I make these my prayer offerings.
With you those offerings will linger as sweet incense,
swirling and rising in the halls of the King,
for all eternity.



I am the son
of twelve hundred years
as far as I can know
by these parchments in my hands
saying the immense lenght of Time
teaching me the countless lives
who ran along Time’s paths
wearing my same name
bringing me the myself I am
stone by stone
minute after minute
flight over flight

I am the poor unworthy son
of noblest Beings who knew for true
what Wingness and Nobless are
whose memory teaches me by the day
step after step
dream over dream
as far as the myself inside me can know
how to be a Noble Being
living together with all Beings
no matter waht wings they have
and thinking I am none
when facing their Noblest Beingness

I am the last lonely son
of an endless quest in search of the Being
for being finally taught
what the Perfect Flight is
I myself try with my whole Being
to teach at my best
squeak by squeak
wingstroke by wingstroke
seastorm after seastorm
what the path of flight through Time is
to the new Being wearing the same name
my daughter.



My great-uncle Thomas remained in Inverness when his parents and 12 siblings emigrated to New Zealand. Within a few years he was killed at Gallipoli. My grandparents named their first son after him, and that little one died in infancy. On a visit to Inverness I was stopped in my tracks and strangely moved when I saw his name on a wall plaque commemorating the men of Inverness, so many of them young men, who died in the first world war. I don’t have a photograph.

I never met you
and I was moved to tears
when I saw your name

Lal remembered
her older brother always
and we heard stories

Thomas Gillanders
You were loved
You are remembered
You have family throughout this world
Rest in Peace

-Mavis at Set the Bird Free



Just a name on a family tree.
It seems so small
to represent a full life.

No sense of the spirit.
No sense of the struggle
that has been shared.

Yet, what matters most
is this unbroken link
with those who came before.

A carrying on
of invisible threads.
Lives and love connected.

My life, one day, will also
be hidden in a name
on the chart.

But, I will have passed the torch.
Someone, in years to come,
will see my name

and wonder about me,
knowing that my life and spirit
are still entwined with theirs.

-Pamela McCauley


North Shore

Today rather than people or places or pets, I’m stepping back to honor one of my own previous lives, still wondering how I followed got to this current here and where. Not that Ipswich, Massachusetts was quite point of origin, but for those years going up the shore at first from Boston and later from Salem on a summer Sunday afternoon, stopping at the Clam Box for fried clams and simply being stripped clean and purified by salty Atlantic air meant going home renewed and hopeful. During Holy Week before Robert and I were leaving the East Coast for the Left, senior pastor of the congregation I’d been serving took me to lunch at the Clam Box. I almost never regret any of the big choices I’ve made for longer than a split second, yet what could I have done differently that would yielded the life of service I prepared for? I don’t know, yet I do know “these things” don’t happen in 1st or 2nd world countries. So I dedicate this paragraph to Boston’s North Shore and commit myself to making at very least a virtual pilgrimage back, and filled with the bright hope of Atlantic sea air to retrace, refine and reinvent my own journey.

-Leah Sophia at This Far by Faith



Grief long past, only memories stir,
enhanced as I sit before a mirror.
My pale blue eyes, a heritage,
along with paler skin. Visions
of dark waves, an immigrant ship,
crossing wide miles carrying
a mother, father and two sons.
Buffeted by waves and fears,
comforted by dreams and hopes,
promises of a new land.
War was over, a chance to start anew.
Searching for familiar faces,
open arms of  welcome;
a man’s feet began to dance,
a woman’s cackling laugh erupted. 
A joyful warm reunion
on foreign soil that became
an eternal place to slumber,
while a bright blue bird bids
them rest with a lullaby.

-Rich at Pilgrim Path


My Nana Carol, my snooty grandmother
Middle child of the Governor, Mother was a poet
Graduated from college, married my grandpa
Joined Junior League and made crab muffin sandwiches
Walked on Chinese rugs, shipped by her Big Sister
(She a professor, youngest sang opera).

Lived on prestigious Country Club Boulevard
Volunteered weekly with friends at the thrift shop
Dressed like a rich woman, fashionable, tailored
Crocheted button bracelets, gifts for her friends
Journeyed to Mexico every cold winter
Bragged every so often, she was “High Episcopalian.”

So many secrets, my dear Nana Carol
Financed by Father, their well-placed brick housing
Tailored her wardrobe from “Nearly New” rejects
Scavenged their buttons to make her friends’ bracelets
Made a really “mean” soup with one fresh red tomato
Journeyed to Mexico, hopes for shock therapy
All that had worked for my sweetest of grandpas.

Dear Nana Carol, my loving grandmother
Leaving prestige, moved near us when Mom died
Wore tailored clothes to my three brothers’ ball games
Wrote us elegant notes on momentous occasions
Slipped me a twenty when my dad gave nothing
Called Silent Unity for hope in the darkness
Spoke to me always in a voice much more honest.

-Suz Reaney


Grandpa had a quiet manner about him,

a man of few words and many talents,

and he left a thin place for his family to enjoy.


In the middle of an inland lake,

on an island of only 8 acres,

Grandpa and his father built a cottage in the 1920s.

Three generations later, there have been

some additions and upgrades,

but it continues to hold a

special place in each of our hearts.


In his midlife years

he built a wooden boat in his garage,

held together by 5,000 brass screws

and his desire for precision.

For years she skimmed across the waters,

being the fastest boat on the lake in her prime.

But as Grandpa aged so did she.

For 20 years she hasn’t seen or touched water.


Yet rebirth is possible:

this winter she will be restored.

And we all have hopes that

next summer she will once again

be immersed in the water and

we will hear that familiar

hum of the engine that carries us

to a distance place and time,

to a thin place of memory and hope

where a bit of heaven and earth

become one in the body of water

that is like home.



-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

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