The Taxman Cometh

15 Apr


Ah too quickly doth the annuls fly to bring this day to you and I
Whereby we weep and wail and cry … the Taxman’s at the door!

Originally posted on Writing Odds n Ends:

The Taxman Cometh

by L. Stewart Marsden

Like a Stokerian villain
the taxman slides, glides about,
yet fully in the light of day
this monster wields his way
where all can see,
and all do know the slow anemic pallor
that is left when this blood sucker
has completed leeching all he can
in his dire plan to take and leave discarded carcassi –
you and I, with deadened stares,
stripped of our where-with-alls,
fall quite strapped and reeling from the shock.
Till, once again, a year from now
the taxman shall return and knock.

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
The taxman.
The taxman who?
You knew the taxman cometh.

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 14 April, 2014

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You never got it, I never saw it

15 Apr

You never got it, I never saw it

By L. Stewart Marsden


You never got it,

You never saw it,

Your eyes were focused somewhere else

On something you thought was what you wanted;

Perhaps it was

What you wanted

And was not what was given.


I missed it,

Didn’t get it,

Thought that what I gave was the best

And found out it was far from

What you were looking for,

Something more

Something different . . .

I totally misread it.


My best wishes to you

That whatever it is

And however it fills

You will find  . . .  whatever it is

That will occupy space — the void that you have

And you will come to rest

In the place you desired

Above all else

On the other side of the fence.


Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 15 April, 2015


Tempers Fugit

14 Apr

Tempers Fugit

By L. Stewart Marsden


Through my years on this earth I have been amazed at the quick conflagration of emotion. All types of emotion. Anger, lust, sorrow — the merest spark sets them off as though each was pure ethanol. Sometimes there are no bystanders to get singed in the explosion. But sometimes there are.

My surprise is not only regarding others, but myself as well.

I remember when I was a Tweener — twelve or so. Acne-ravaged, hormone-driven, I was attending a Boy Scout Camporee. These were gatherings of hosts of Scout troops within a council to camp and show off and compete various skills. Campsites, fire building, cooking, lashing, signal flags, personal fitness. Rough and tumble hearty competition Lord Baden Powell looked down upon with great pride.

It was night, and dozens of troops were huddled about campfires that spit sparks into the chilled night air. I was restless, and was spying other troops in order to see how they were set up. One or two Scouts from my patrol — the Flaming Arrow patrol — trailed behind.

For no reason I veered through a campsite and through the actual campfire, stomping on the glowing oak and pine coals with my heavy-soled hiking boots.

“Hey!” yelled one shadowed scout from the unit. “What’re you doing?”

I carried a walking stick — a low-hanging branch snapped from one of many pines populating the camping area. The scout approached me from my backside. I gripped my stick and swung it around behind me, striking the kid in the face, slicing his cheek.

Blood immediately spurted. More scouts from the unit burst from tents to his aid and some ran at me. I took off into the shadows and darkness, my minions close behind. The shouts from the attacked unit fading as I dodged into the surrounding forest and headed back to my unit. I felt like a marauding Mohawk, my painted face and balded head infused with a warrior’s mentality.

I could not begin to tell you why I did what I did. I was both mortified and elated. My heart thumped a thousand times a second, and I felt such power surge through my pubescent body.

On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

No problem with the physically strong part. Especially with the element of a hidden weapon and utter surprise. I didn’t think about what God and my country thought about my actions. I was Presbyterian, and pretty much everything about God was preached in a vague Scottish brogue from the pulpit by Dr. Watts. Scout Law? A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

Twelve. Like the Twelve Commandments. Or was it ten? Okay, then two were extra. So I chose to drop kind and courteous. Worked for me.

If you have never felt the infusion of anger run throughout your body and mind, to release mind and control to the rage of a tsunami, you have not lived. You cannot understand the anger and lack of control — or rather the submission to the control of something so large and overpowering that to resist is pointless.

Have you?

Sure you have. You, the corporate executive. The tenured school teacher. The pious Sunday School teacher. You all have.

And if you were truly honest, you would admit to the exhilaration that abandonment results in.

The problem, of course, is the aftermath. The clean-up.

I took the woman I was head-over-heals in love with to a party. A house filled with people I sort of knew, but felt no real connection with. The music was loud, the rooms elbow-to-elbow crowded. The alcohol flowed generously. The cigarettes spewed noxious and delightful clouds of smoke which hung in the air.

My woman disappeared. I began to search for her, and climbed a staircase to the second floor, where I found her with several other party-goers who were sharing joints. Their eyes were half-lidded with content. A lava lamp pulsed and glowed from the corner of the room, beating out red-hued light onto the ceiling.

She looked at me and smiled, and extended a short snub of a joint to me and beckoned. “Come join us,” she urged, her brown eyes glazed and inviting.

But the invitation had the opposite effect on me, and I exploded in anger, left the room, descended the stairs and bolted from the house.

She followed.

“What’s wrong?”

I couldn’t say. Everything was wrong. This was not me! This was not her!

And I slapped her. Open-handed across her face. Hard.

And I left. Left her hurt. Left her alone. Abandoned her. The person who caused me heartaches during my Senior Dance at the school I attended when her mother drove her home. The woman who looked like Sophia Loren to me. Who played Bonnie to my Clyde. Who grabbed me in the back seat of my car one rainy afternoon and pleaded with her eyes to go further.

But I loved her. I could not see her as a sexual object. The Playboy monthly playmate who extended across a three-page color spread. Smiling. Promising. Tempting.

When you love someone, they are angelic. They are pure. They are perfect.

So at my advancing age I still wonder at those rivers of lava just beneath the surface. How they poke through a fissure in the crust of emotion — spew fire and bile that arcs and illumines the night air. What is that? Why is that?

Do you know what I’m talking about? Scratch the surface. Just a little. I believe you do.

Where does that stuff come from? Do you know?


Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 14 April, 2015

The Old Wives Tale

9 Apr


The Old Wives Tale

By L. Stewart Marsden


The story goes two old wives — biological sisters who were both widowed — lived up on a southern slope just east of Table Rock in Linville Gorge. It also goes the two were distant relatives of the Linvil family who had settled in the area sometime in the 1700s. The two were seldom seen away from their cabin which overlooked the gorge from its perch. Therefore they were seldom seen at all.

An approach road snaked back and forth along the northern face of the Flat Rock ridge and ended in a dirt turnaround where few visitors parked. The last mile had to be made by foot.

Pastor Handley of Three Forks Baptist Church made the trek twice a year — in the fall to make sure the old women had enough provisions to carry them through the winter, and to split cord wood for their cast-iron stove — and again in the spring to make sure they were still alive.

He would stay several days splitting the wood, which had been hauled up earlier by locals who used rickety flat wagons and mules. The sisters always paid in cash. Rumor was they were fabulously wealthy despite their choice to live modestly.

The sisters had bequeathed a tin metal box with unknown contents to the church and it was generally accepted that Pastor Handley’s trips were to ensure that happened when the two finally died. Old as they were it could be anytime.

That metal box was also the source of much speculation amongst the area mountain folk. Only Handley and his predecessors had seen it. And the wood haulers on one occasion. It was where the sisters kept a lot of cash, and was stored under one of their beds. Did it contain anything other than cash?  Lumps of gold? A rare coin? Or perhaps a stamp from the 1800s? Un-muttered were opinions why should the church get the tin box and its contents. Some thought they were as worthy as the church of the box contents.

Two who held the opinion were Caleb Hilliard and his friend Dwayne Settles. Both hapless ne’er-do-wells always complained about their strings of bad luck. Each had pretty well determined their nonfortuitous futures through a series of bad choices fueled by hooch and weed.

It was during one of these inspirational meetings at the Dog Skin Café the two landed a scheme to find out just what was in that tin box of the old wives. And if the contents was valuable, how they might relieve the women of its possession.

“All alone! Them biddies is all alone up there, Dwight!” Caleb slammed his mug of beer on the table, slopping some onto the table. “It would be so easy! I wonder it ain’t been done before this?”

Dwight picked carefully though a plate of fried pickles on the table between the men.

“How you know there’s a tin box at all? Or if it has anything of value in it?” asked Dwayne wearily, grabbing a fried pickle slice and crunching down on it. “They could be just a couple old white chicks with nuthin’ to their name!” He dragged on the nearly smoked Camel pinched between his fingers, blowing a cloud of death to the side.

“Dude — I personally know someone whose cousin knew someone who was once a member of the church the old bats used to go to. She told me that person knew a guy who helped the previous pastor go up and chop wood for them. Now, if a pastor goes to all that trouble to help somebody, there’s got to be somethin’ in it for him!”

“Yeah,” agreed Dwayne. “God do help them what helps themselves.”

He took the salt shaker and generously sprinkled the platter of fried pickles, spilling some on the table.

“Don’t spill the salt, dude!” Caleb spurted, pinching the salt and tossing it over his left shoulder.

“God, man! You a trip! Talk about superstitious!”

“Yeah? Well the other day you walked completely the other way when you saw that black cat coming out of the alley.”

“That’s different. Cats are evil. Black cats? Of the devil!

“Hmmm. Okay — we’ll hike up this Friday night. I got a pop-up tent we’ll pitch for the night and catch them by surprise in the morning.”

“Why not go ahead and do it at night?”

“You crazy? No telling what they got up there — could have guns, even. Daylight. When we can see ever-thang proper.”

“So we gonna pop ‘em?”

“What —? Naw, man! Finding the tin box is plenty enough. They don’t know us, anyhow — and it’ll be months before anyone finds out about it.”

“Won’t they call the law?”

“Doubt if they have a phone. We’ll cut the line if they do.”

“Will we tie them up? Gag ‘em?”

“They’re so old I don’t think we’ll need to do that. And besides if we did that and they didn’t get loose, they’d probably die. I don’t want murder on my conscience.”

“But won’t they go for help?”

“Last I heard they are in their eighties — maybe nineties. They go for help it’ll take ‘em two days just to get down the trail to the road, and another day to the nearest house!”

The men laughed together, and Dwayne rose from the table and drunkenly mimicked a decrepitly old person walking. He sat, and they clinked beer mugs to seal the deal.

Caleb reached in his pocket and pulled out two acorns. He slid one on the table to Dwight.

“Put this in your pocket.”


“Good luck. Not that we’ll need it — but why risk it?”

Dwight grabbed the acorn and rolled it between his fingers. He grinned broadly at his friend.


Which is how Caleb and Dwayne ended up trudging to the old wives’ house on a moonlit Friday in August. The moon had a waxy pallor and was not robustly yellow or reddish as with a harvest moon.

“Hope you brought your rain gear,” said Caleb, nodding toward the orb. “It’s gonna rain tomorrow. Pale moon.”

The two traveled in silence most the way. The area was a popular hiking spot, and Table Rock a great vantage point from which to view the Linville Gorge. They had to be careful on account with the full moon they could run into several hikers. A moonlit gorge was a great temptation to photographers, and Caleb did not want to show up in the background of a picture in a magazine.

Half-way up the trail the two began to relax. Caleb pulled a silver flask from his pocket and took a long swig when they stopped to rest. He pointed at the moon above them.

“Ya know a full moon’ll cause a man to go crazy.”

“Not to mention bring out the werewolves,” responded Dwayne, taking the offered flask from Caleb and tilting it back for a drink. At that moment a distant dog howled. “That’s bad luck, right? Someone’ll die before morning?”

Caleb snickered. “Pure superstition, Bud.”

“My dad said if you plant your high crops during a full moon, it’ll pull ‘em out rich and full. And if you plant your taters and carrots during the new moon? It pushes them deeper and they grow bigger,” said Dwayne, wiping his lips.

“And your dad was crazy,” laughed Caleb.

“Maybe he went crazy during a full moon,” returned Dwayne, adding and eerie sounding oooh-weeeee-ooooh.

“More’n likely from the moonshine.”

They climbed until they could see the top of the ridge. A thin ribbony strand of smoke wisped up from the other side of the mountain, illumined by the moonlight. Caleb searched and found a cleared area off the trail large enough for their tent. In a few minutes the nylon tent popped up like a half bubble, and the two threw their backpacks inside.

“I’ll build a fire,” offered Dwayne, bending to find twigs and brush to burn.

“No fire,” snapped Caleb. He pulled a decaying log from the underbrush and sat down, pulling out a bag of weed, and rolled a joint.

“Ahhhh!” he said with a satisfied puff. “Tomorrow our luck is going to change!”

“Definitely,” agreed Dwayne, taking the smoke from his friend and sucking on it. “Definitely.”


As Caleb predicted, the morning was misty and cool because the prevailing winds were from the north and west. The morning light, the hard ground and a nearby murder of crows interrupted their deep sleep. Hungry, they cracked open packages of beef jerky and gnawed the tough meat in silence, then repacked their gear. The summit of the ridge was only yards away, and the trail led back down the southern slope a few hundred yards before the cabin came into view.

To say the cabin was old was an understatement. It seemed rooted into the side of the steep drop, with just barely enough leveled earth cut from the ridge. The logs the cabin was built of were dark with splotches of green moss and lichen tucked down into the rolled niches. No window was cut on the north side facing them, but a galvanized pipe protruded from the tin roof just above the wall. It was the source of the trickle of smoke they had seen during the night’s ascent.

As they made their way carefully down the muddy and rutted pathway, a shape jumped from the near gable of the cabin with a loud “screeeeeee!”

“Owl,” Caleb whispered. “Not a good sign, owl in the morning.”

Dwight reached in his pocket to withdraw his acorn. “Not to worry.”

A porch extended out from the front of the cabin, which looked south toward the gorge. The edge of the porch extended nearly a foot out over the edge of the hill. Years of wind and rain had eroded the earth supporting the porch underneath. The gorge itself was masked in thick fog, and the rising sun struggled just above the rise of the eastward ridge, dulling it to a feint roundish glow.

Caleb stepped up on the porch cautiously, as though his weight might send the entire cabin down into the gorge. He motioned to Dwight, who followed at warily.

The front of the cabin was long, and a single door with a battered screened door was its only entrance. Dirty multi-paned double-sashed windows bordered the door on either side. Two granny rockers, long since washed of their original coats of paints, graying on the far side of the porch. One of the chairs rocked gently with the wind.

“Hope no one was sitting there just now,” Caleb murmured.


“Evil spirits will sit in a chair if you leave it rocking,” he said, one eyebrow raised.


Caleb opened the rickety screen door, then knocked on the door.


He knocked again little louder.

“Patience is a virtue!” came a response from within. “I’m a comin’.”

The door opened back toward the inside of the cabin, and a very old and feeble-looking woman peeked around its backside.

“Whatcha want?”

“Mrs. Childress? Emma Childress?”

“That’s my sister. Didn’tcha see the sign?”

She pointed to the outside wall next to the door. A seran-wrapped note card was tacked to one of the front logs with a rusted and bent thumbtack.

“No Solicitation!” was scrawled in faded red marker.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” said Caleb as politely as he could muster. “I truly did not see that sign. So you are Mrs. Johnson, then?”

“Don’t matter who I am. I live here, and you don’t. Read the damn sign agin!” she ordered and began to close the door. Caleb nudged his foot forward to stop the door from shutting.

“Yes, you are absolutely right, ma’am. I do not live here. But I am not here to solicit you or your sister.”

“Then what are you here for?” she cracked back.

“Nothing much, Miss Nadine.”

“How is it you know my and sister’s name?”

“If you let me in, I’ll be glad to tell you.”

“That’ll happen when pigs fly!” she sneered, and opened the door wider and slammed it shut, the heavy door crushing Caleb’s tennis-shoed foot.

“Ow! Goddamn it!” he shouted, pulling his wounded foot out and hopping on the other. Dwight burst out laughing. “What the hell are you laughing at?”

“Let me do this,” he grinned, pushing Caleb aside. He knocked as politely as he could.

“Go away!” came the response from inside.

“Ma’am,” said Dwight sweetly, “I’m from Three Forks Baptist Church. I’m one of the deacons, and I have some bad news about Pastor Handley. I’d have called you before we came up, but I did not have your telephone number.”

“Ain’t got a telephone,” came the muffled reply. “What about Pastor?”

“Could you just open the door, please ma’am? It’s not the kind of thing I want to shout about.”

A bolt drew back from inside, and the door latch clicked and the door opened, this time with a short chain restraint evident at the old woman’s eye level.

“So?” she eyed Dwight. “You a black man?”

“Um — well, uh, yes I am, Ma’am.”

“They let a black man be deacon at the church now?”

“Well, yes Ma’am. They do,” he continued to lie. Certainly not at Three Forks Baptist, that is.

“That other man a deacon? ‘Cause ifn’ he is, he just took the Lord’s name in vain,” she said sharply.

“No, ma’am. He is actually a new convert. So he slips into the old ways a little. You know how that is. The New Man struggles with the Old Man.”

“Amen to that.”

“May I come in? Please?”

She hesitated, then unlatched the door chain and opened the door wide. Dwight looked back at Caleb and winked.

Dwight and Caleb eased carefully into the dark front room. Beside the two windows on the front, a side window on the east wall allowed the hazy morning light into the space. A flower pattern linoleum floor covered the entire front room, with a green shag throw rug under a shaker style coffee table that fronted two high-back Victorian chairs. It was a mish-mash assemblage of design and color, not indicative of taste nor affluence.

The bent lady shuffled and motioned for the two to sit down. She pulled a rocker from the wall up to the other chairs and carefully, slowly sat, the rocker dipping back with her slight weight, then settling. Dwight and Caleb sat in the two Victorian chairs.

“Well?” she asked pointedly of Dwight.

“Oh, yes. Pastor Handley died unexpectedly during the night.”

“Oh. Well, I did hear a dog barking in the full moon last night. I guess it was to be expected somebody was going to pass over. I’m glad the Pastor was a God-fearing man, at least.”

“Amen to that, Mrs. Johnson.”

“Now my Henry died on Christmas Eve right at midnight, so I know I’ll see him in heaven.”

“How’s that?”

“Gates of heaven are wide open on Christmas Eve at that time. Anyone that dies then goes straight through the pearly gates.”

“Oh, of course.”

“Now Emma’s man was a gambler and chewed tobacky. He went straight to hell.”


Caleb shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He felt something crawling on the back of his neck, and reached back and pinched a bug between his thumb and forefinger. It was a ladybug. He crushed it.

“That’s bad luck, you know,” said the woman, watching him with the bug.

“Superstition,” he remarked.

“Is it? So, I am awfully sorry to hear about Pastor Handley,” she said, turning her attention back to Dwight.

“Like I said, we would have called. But really? It’s more appropriate to come in person.”

“Nice of you. But you coulda waited. He died last night? Why the rush?”

“Mrs. Johnson …”

“Call me Nadine.”

“Nadine … I don’t know how to go about this other that straight out. Pastor Handley left a wife and six children behind.”

“Do tell!”

“Yes, ma’am. And you might know that the church is small, as is the budget. Why Pastor Handley was practically giving his service to the Lord for free.”

“I did not know . . .”

“Yes ma’am. He worked part-time at the hardware store down to Valle Crucis to help make ends meet. And his wife, Lord bless her, knits and sells hand-made wool sweaters to help feed those children.”

“I didn’t have children.”

“No ma’am. Well, here’s the thing . . . the congregation has got together to see what we can do for the survivin’ family — you know. But none of us is exactly flush with money ourselves. Times is hard.”

“And what do you do, Mister …”

“Settles. Dwayne Settles — I’m sorry Ma’am. I should have introduced myself at the start.”

She was not listening. She was busy counting on her fingers after he announced his name. At the finish, she looked up at Dwayne with a worried expression.

“Your name has thirteen letters,” she said.

“Does it? I never knew.”

“So does mine,” she said with a smile.

“Okay. Um —“

“You want me to help out. Me and my sister. You want us to pitch in for the Handley family.”

“To put it bluntly, yes. I know that the church is in your will when you die …”

“It is.”

“But sometimes the needs of the church — of its flock — aren’t so timely, if you know what I mean.”

“We knowed visitors were coming. So I suspect this is all part of the Lord’s timing — which is always perfect.”

“How did you know we were coming, Nadine?”

“Two bees got into the house yesterday.”


“Unfortunately, Emma swatted them. But you two don’t appear to be evil.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Superstition,” broke in Caleb.

“Maybe so,” smiled the woman. “I would expect you would like us to step up our gift to the church, and maybe not wait until after we are dead, then.”

“We’re just here to see however you can or might want to help out the pastor’s wife and children. That’s all. If you can, great. If you can’t, we understand.”

The old wife stood and steadied her rocker with her hand so it wouldn’t move.

“Let me go speak to Emma and see what she thinks. She’s abed with the ague. Been trying to get her fever down for the past couple of days. Normally sliced potatoes work pretty fast. But then I seed a white moth in the cabin last night, so I’m more’n a bit worried you know.”

She walked unsteadily down a hallway to the back of the cabin and disappeared.

“White moth?” Dwight asked Caleb.

“Sign of death to come,” Caleb grimaced, raising his eyebrows.

As they waited they heard the women talking in low indistinguishable murmurs. A cricket began to sound from somewhere near the pot-bellied stove. Caleb also noticed a small toad hop in the direction of the cricket noise. All signs of good luck.

“You notice the ivy on the cabin wall outside?” he asked Dwight.

“Not really.”

“Well it’s all for good luck. The ivy, the cricket and the frog.”

“It’s a toad.”

“Same difference.”

“Get warts from toads.”

“Superstition. I’ll bet the beds run from east to west. North to south is bad luck.”

The old wife toddled back into the front room holding a metal box about the size of a large cigar box. It was obviously old, with black paint flaking along its edges, and a few dents here and there.

Both men stared at the old box wide-eyed.

“Emma and me were gonna give this to the church when we died. Pastor Handley knew that, as did those pastors before him. I think we’ve outlasted more than a few. Emma thinks it’s five, but I’m not so sure.”

She set the box down on the coffee table. Caleb leaned in as to take the box but Dwight shook his head slightly, indicating not to. Caleb sat back.

“I have been the absolute worst as a host,” clucked the woman somewhat perturbed at herself. “I have some molasses cookies Emma and I keep for guests. I’ll bring out a plate.”

“No need for that,” Dwight perked up.

“I insist.”

And she scuttled about the small kitchenette near the wood stove, and reached into a large clay jar for cookies she set on a platter. Pumping the handle of the water pump, she quickly filled a tin coffee pot and placed the pot on the wood stove.

“Now it’ll take just a little bit for the water to heat enough for tea,” she said cheerily as she carried the plate of cookies and placed them on the table next to the metal box. “Please!” she said, motioning to the cookies.

Both Dwight and Caleb leaned forward to pick a cookie from the pile. The cookies were hard to the touch. Dwight tried to bite his cookie.

“Ow!” he said.

“Oh dear! The cookies aren’t stale, are they?” she asked sweetly.

“No. I bit my tongue, is all.”

She smiled. “You know what that means, right?”

“I guess not,” Dwight answered.

“It means you’ve told a lie recently,” she laughed. “Aren’t superstitions funny that way?”

Dwight and Caleb laughed uncomfortably.

“You never told me what it is you do, Mr. Settles.”

“Right. Well, I am a mortician. That’s one of the reason I knew about Pastor Hendley’s death. I’m also the local coroner.” He bit into the cookie again, and again bit his tongue. But this time he winced, and avoided saying anything. When he looked up, the old wife was staring at him, a slight smile spreading.

The coffee pot began to steam and she noticed it and got up, again steadying her rocker.

“I’ve some wonderful raw honey I can add to your tea, gentlemen,” she said over her shoulder as she poured out the hot water into teacups and sank teabags into the cups.

“That’s fine,” said Dwight.

“Me, too,” said Caleb with some difficulty, having bit his tongue as well.

She carried the cups in on a tray, on which was a small oriental bowl with a top. A porcelain spoon protruded through a space in the bowl’s top. She spooned heaping globs of the thick honey into the cups, and handed each man their drink, and then a spoon.

Outside the cabin a sudden downpour ran through the gorge, and wind whipped the side of the cabin, whistling about its eaves and corners. Loose panes in the windows rattled.

“Oh, my! Quite a storm!” she said, smiling.

“You’re not having tea?”

“I’m not a morning tea drinker,” she smiled again. “Please … drink up!”

The men tested the drinks with sips, then drank them fairly quickly in the pervading silence of the room. The storm continued to ravage outside.

“Well, Mrs. Johnson,” Dwight announced as he carefully placed his teacup back on the tray, “may I assume this metal box is your gift towards the Handley family need?”

“You may.”

Dwight picked the box up.

“Do you mind if I open it?”

“Um — I’d prefer you didn’t, Mr. Settles. It should be opened with the leadership of the church. Don’t you think?”

“Yes, Ma’am. That’s perfectly fine.” Caleb smiled broadly from his seat and nodded in agreement.

The wind and rain whipped and howled outside.

“Mr. Settles, I’m going to insist you take my umbrella with you to protect you from the rain when you go. It’s really large enough for the two of you.”

“Oh no — we’re fine!”

“I won’t take no for an answer,” and she carefully crossed to the front door where an umbrella was propped up against the wall.

“All right, thank you Mrs. Johnson, we’ll take it. God bless you, Ma’am.” He stood along with Caleb, and picked up the metal box. The two followed the old wife to the door.

“Are you both okay?” she seemed concerned. “You seem a bit wobbly.”

“Wow, I am a little woozy,” Dwight admitted. “But I’m all right. Don’t worry.”

She opened the door and a gust of wind blew through the crack, knocking the umbrella to the floor.

“Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed. “Do you know what that means?”

“No idea,” said Dwight groggily.

“Nope. I do not know,” added Caleb, weaving a bit back and forth and picking the umbrella up.

“It means that someone is about to be murdered!” she said as the men sidled past her onto the front porch.

“Ah! Superstition!” returned Caleb turning to her on the porch, and opening the umbrella. Both he and Dwight grabbed the umbrella shaft, the metal box tucked under Dwight’s arm.

The wind blustered and the rain scattered across the tin roof loudly. The men turned one last time to the old wife, who was peeking out a small opening of the front door, about to close it.

“Thank you again, Mrs. Johnson,” Dwight spoke in a loud voice against the wind and rain. “You’ll never know what this means to us! God bless!”

At that moment, the wind, which had been blowing from the north, suddenly reversed its direction. The two men were holding the umbrella bent low into the face of the wind. A huge gust shot into the open umbrella, which caught the wind like a sail, pulling the two men, the umbrella and the metal box over the front edge of the porch and up into the wind whipped sky over the gorge. Up they sailed for nearly a hundred yards. Out over the rocky gorge below. Then as suddenly, the wind stopped, and the two ne’er-do-wells plummeted down like a wounded crow.

The old wife shook her head slowly and regretfully and closed and latched the door.

“Is it done?” came a voice from the back of the cabin.

“It’s done. That’s another metal box we’ve lost,” she said, turning back to the table to pick up the tray and its contents. “I think the mandrake honey is losing its potency, by the way.”


“Yes. If it hadn’t been for the wind catching the umbrella, who knows?”

“I’ll work on it in the meantime.”

“You do that, Dear.”

 Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 9 April, 2015


When I die

4 Apr

When I die …

By L. Stewart Marsden

To my children and grandchildren:
On watching the Wizard of Oz for the umpteenth time in my life


When I die …
Will Oz disappear?
Will violins go silent?
Will waves cease reaching distant shores?
Birds stop warbling the first day of Spring?
Snows not melt and flow to the sea?
Blue whales quit breaching?
Athletes quit straining to set a new time?
Scholars quit trying to learn even more?
Couples stop courting and cooing aloud?
Dreamers quit daring?
Teachers quit urging?
The good quit their doing?
The best things abruptly end for all time?
Perhaps for me.
But not for you.

Oz will glow green,
Adagios will play,
The shores of all lands will be lapped by the waves,
A winged chorus will announce each and every new spring,
And snows will refreshen the rivers and lakes,
The whales will continue to breach and to spout,
New sprinters will edge records further along,
And scholars plumb new depths of knowledge,
Couples will dance and taunt one another,
Dreamers will see beyond galaxies far,
Teachers play out their lives for their students,
And good things continue to spawn further good,
Making all things worthwhile till the end of the age,
For you and then once again
Perhaps me.


Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 4 April, 2015

The last supper plate

2 Apr

The last supper plate

A reprise of The Last Dinner Plate


By L. Stewart Marsden



Balanced precariously on the edge of the kitchen island,

the hand-thrown pottery plate, last of a set of eight place settings

seemed to beg for a bump — a careen — a jostle

to urge it and its contents down to the linoleum floor

where it shattered

in oh . . . so . . . slow . . . motion

and burst apart — uncountable shards of fired gray clay

skinned in thick Robin egg-shell blue

ushering the days of demise

where the we’s and the I’s dwindled down to

the me’s and the you’s;

the last blue glazed plate unmendable,


unusable for the last intended supper.


Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 2 April, 2015

The Pledge of Allegiance: who wrote it and why, how it changed through the decades and how controversial it remains

2 Apr

The Pledge of Allegiance:

Who wrote it and why,

How it changed through the decades

and How controversial it remains today

By L. Stewart Marsden

Pledge of Allegiance

NatPubSchCelColumbusDayBadge1892Driving my middle daughter to school the other day, she asked why public school children begin the day with the Pledge of Allegiance. A sophomore in high school, she thought the practice was out-of-line in terms of what she thought was worshiping a flag.

I confess I didn’t know much about how the pledge came to be. I knew that over the years it had changed — that the words “under God” were added later. On June 14, 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the resolution sponsored by Louis Rabaut, Rep-D from Michigan so doing. I was a little more than five months shy of turning age five.

So I grew up saluting the flag on a stick that protruded from a holder at the front of the classrooms and reciting the pledge as I knew it:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands one Nation under God with Liberty and Justice for all.

When a kid I saw the 1939 cartoon depicting Porky Pig struggling to learn the pledge. That was a hallmark moment for me, and is embedded in my mind. Porky fell asleep by a flagpole, exhausted and frustrated at trying to learn the pledge. The American flag waving above, he dreamed of a sit-down with none other than Uncle Sam. The eight minute forty-three second production is hard to find, and is otherwise segmented on YouTube — cutting out the Uncle Sam dream.

“You don’t know why you should learn the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag?” asks Sam. “C’mon over here and I’ll show you.”

What follows is a mini-survey of American history from the colonization of the eastern seaboard, to the Declaration of Independence, signing of the Constitution and westward expansion. Truncated and highly patriotic, the propaganda still stirs my heart. You can view the film at

The internet and Google opened vast information as well as very opinionated viewpoints on the pledge.

How did the pledge come to be? Who wrote it? How has it changed over the years? What is the controversy that surrounds it? Which state public schools still have children say the pledge, and which don’t?

I also wanted to know beyond the controversy of the reference to God, how do we stand as a nation on the assertions that this nation provides liberty and justice for all? If the pledge was first penned in 1892, what significance does that bear on liberty and justice for all though the decades to the present? Some form of the pledge has been in existence for going on nearly 125 years.


Francis J. Bellamy

Francis J. Bellamy

The origins — Francis J. Bellamy and — a money-raising scheme?

Francis J. Bellamy was about 37 years old at the time he penned the first version of the Pledge of Allegiance. As his father and uncle had, Bellamy served as a Baptist minister for about 10 years, and apparently due to his unorthodox views was asked to leave the ministry.

According to Israel Wayne in his post, The Socialistic History of the Pledge to the Flag,

“[Bellamy’s] theological views were far from Biblical. He refused to believe in the virgin birth, the resurrection or the ascension of Christ, and somehow erroneously insisted that Jesus Christ was a socialist, like himself. In 1889, Francis co-founded, under the influence of his first cousin, Edward Bellamy, the Society of Christian Socialists.”

Again according to Wayne, the socialism Bellamy and his cousin espoused was the belief that the federal government was to be depended upon and revered. A far cry from communism, wealth and its accumulation were not

Edward Bellamy was far better known than Francis due to his writing — and especially for his novel Looking Backward 2000 – 1887 (1888). In the 1930s the book was touted by such luminaries as John Dewey and Charles Beard as “among the two most influential books published between 1885 and 1935. Some economists ranked it just behind Marx’s Das Kapital as most influential book on economics published in the nineteenth century. Mark Twain was fascinated by the book and invited Edward Bellamy to visit him. William Dean Howells said that it moved the nation more than any other American work. (Howells eventually became a socialist who followed Tolstoy’s type of Christian Socialism.)”

Francis joined the staff of Youth’s Companion, a family magazine owned by one of the members of his Boston congregation.

                “Assigned to the magazine’s promotions department, the 37-year-old Bellamy set to work arranging a patriotic program for schools around the country to coincide with opening ceremonies for the Columbian Exposition in October 1892, the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World. Bellamy successfully lobbied Congress for a resolution endorsing the school ceremony, and he helped convince President Benjamin Harrison to issue a proclamation declaring a Columbus Day holiday.”

Part of the plan for the ceremony was a pledge, which remained unwritten until the very last.

Daniel S. Ford, the magazine editor, assigned his nephew James Upham and Bellamy to create the pledge. Bellamy was to create the work, and Upham to market the pledge to sell American flags, a fund-raising effort to support the magazine and other of Ford’s work.

Later Upham challenged the authorship of the pledge when it gained national attention, but Bellamy’s son was able to produce documentation establishing his father as the true creator.

 Why was a pledge necessary?

Wayne lists six reasons Bellamy and others embarked on the enterprise. It should be noted that Wayne represents a more conservative Christian point-of-view.

  1. To embrace the federal government as the panacea for all social ills, and the need for “unreserved trust and dependence on the State.”
  2.  The financial motive of selling of flags. “By 1892 the publication had already sold flags to approximately 26,000 schools, but Ford was convinced that they had not yet exhausted the market. Ford commissioned his staff to sell a flag to every school in America. The task was to encourage the NEA to tack on an official “pledge to the flag” for the celebration of the then upcoming National Public School Celebration for Columbus Day, thereby ensuring nearly universal participation in flag ceremonies (and thus, flag sales).”
  3. By playing on patriotism in his marketing of the Columbus Day celebration, Upham successfully infiltrated the NEA (Bellamy was chosen as the chairman for the celebration) and saturated the public school system. Financial motivation aside, the long-term effect impacted what had previously been student memorization of parts of the Constitution, which eventually waned in favor of pledges and patriotic songs.

                “ … most schools that used to have students memorize and recite sections of the U.S. Constitution, The Declaration of Independence or some other founding document from America’s inception, did away with teaching students what American law says, and focused only on oaths and vows. Now when nearly all students pledge allegiance to the Flag, they think the phrase “wall of separation of church and state” is a stated tenet in our Constitution on which the (Democracy) stands, with tolerance and diversity for all.”

4.  Promote the need to fund government schools. Wayne comments that underfunding had been and remains to be a prevailing symptom of the plight of public education.

5. With the division caused by the War Between the States still a rift in the nation, Bellamy wanted to assuage old wounds and promote unity.

6. Government officials felt that a pledge would serve to create a rock bed of loyalty among the rising tide of immigrants.

 “If new immigrants from foreign lands had felt hope of finally being accepted into a nation that looked past skin color and offered “liberty and justice for all,” they would have undoubtedly been disappointed by Francis and other Pledge promoters views on non-white citizens. Not only did the NEA not offer integration of blacks into the “public” schools until 1966, Francis himself said the following, “There are races, more or less akin to our own (author’s note: he means Anglo-Saxon), whom we may admit freely, and get nothing but advantage from the infusion of their wholesome blood. But there are other races which we cannot assimilate without a lowering of our racial standard, which should be as sacred to us as the sanctity of our homes.”

It took Bellamy about two hours of concentrated effort to write the pledge.

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands —
one Nation indivisible — with Liberty and Justice for all.


Said Bellamy of the words chosen,

 “It began as an intensive communing with salient points of our national history, from the Declaration of Independence onwards; with the makings of the Constitution…with the meaning of the Civil War; with the aspiration of the people…

 The true reason for allegiance to the Flag is the ‘republic for which it stands.’ …And what does that vast thing, the Republic mean? It is the concise political word for the Nation – the One Nation which the Civil War was fought to prove. To make that One Nation idea clear, we must specify that it is indivisible, as Webster and Lincoln used to repeat in their great speeches. And its future?

 Just here arose the temptation of the historic slogan of the French Revolution which meant so much to Jefferson and his friends, ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity.’ No, that would be too fanciful, too many thousands of years off in realization. But we as a nation do stand square on the doctrine of liberty and justice for all…” []

 The original delivery of the pledge prescribed specific body motions . . .

                 “The original Bellamy salute, first described in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, who authored the original Pledge, began with a military salute, and after reciting the words “to the flag,” the arm was extended toward the flag.

Students_pledging_allegiance_to_the_American_flag_with_the_Bellamy_salute At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” At the words, “to my Flag,” the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side. [The Youth’s Companion, 1892]

 Shortly thereafter, the pledge was begun with the right hand over the heart, and after reciting “to the Flag,” the arm was extended toward the Flag, palm-down.

 In World War II, the salute too much resembled the Nazi salute, so it was changed to keep the right hand over the heart throughout.”


The controversy over “under God”

Why did Bellamy, a minister, omit the words “under God” for the original pledge? It seems at first glance ironic. Yet with the background on Bellamy’s socialistic views, the omission becomes more understandable.

Again, Wayne asserts Bellamy’s and those behind the movement dedication to a secular government. The inclusion of “in God” would have been antithesis to that state.

The pressure to add “under God”

Dwight_D._Eisenhower,_official_photo_portrait,_May_29,_1959Dwight David Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, but he was first in two religious regards, according to a PBS article God in America. He was first to write and recite the prayer at his inaugural ceremony. This remains a singular distinction. He was also the first president to be baptized while in office.

“Nobody goes through six years of war without faith. That doesn’t mean that I adhere to any sect. A democracy cannot exist without a religious base. I believe in democracy.” — Eisenhower

Reared in Kansas, Eisenhower’s parents were members of the Brethren in Christ Church, a Mennonite derivative.

Of his inaugural prayer, Eisenhower said,

“. . . there was embedded in me from boyhood, just as it was in my brothers, a deep faith in the beneficence of the Almighty. I wanted, then, to make this faith clear without creating the impression that I intended, as the political leader of the United States, to avoid my own responsibilities in an effort to pass them on to the Deity. I was seeking a way to point out that we were getting too secular.”

He supported Rabaut’s legislation to add “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance early in his administration. The looming Cold War with Russia created an atmosphere where religious leaders throughout the nation were up in arms so to speak . . .

In this 1950s Cold War atmosphere, it was not difficult for [Billy] Graham to equate patriotism, loyalty, and the quest for happiness with a Christian ideal. The response to threats abroad

and turmoil in American society … was an awakening of religious impulses.” (Billy Graham, A Biography, by Roger Bruns)

The bill to add “in God” to the pledge was signed by Eisenhower on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.

“From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country’s true meaning. Especially is this meaningful as we regard today’s world. Over the globe, mankind has been cruelly torn by violence and brutality and, by the millions, deadened in mind and soul by a materialistic philosophy of life. Man everywhere is appalled by the prospect of atomic war. In this somber setting, this law and its effects today have profound meaning. In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”

Will they? From that day forward? For how long?

On June 27, 2002 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California voted 2-1 that the Pledge of Allegiance, specifically the words “under God” violate the Constitutional separation of church and state. If allowed to stand, the ruling would apply to schools in the nine states covered by the 9th Circuit. (

MichaelNewdow0207The decision was made in the case of Newdow v. United States Congress, Elk Grove Unified School District, et al. filed on March 8, 2000 on behalf of Michael Newdow and his daughter. The court ruled on June 27, 2002 that the pledge violated the Establishment and Free Exercise of Clauses protected by the Constitution because of the words “under God.” It therefore could not be recited in public schools. The court further held Newdow could challenge a practice that interfered with his right as a father to direct the religious education of his daughter.

The Elk Grove school district appealed to the Supreme Court on April 30, 2003. The court granted the petition to consider if Newdow had standing as a noncustodial parent to make his challenge, and if the school policy in fact violated the First Amendment.

On June 14, 2004 the Supreme Court announced its unanimous judgment to reverse the 9th Circuit’s decision. The court reasoned (in a 5-3 decision) that Newdow “lacked prudential standing” to challenge the school district’s Pledge of Allegiance policy in federal court because he was concurrently involved in a California family court dispute with his daughter’s mother, and because the mother stated that she wanted their child to recite the Pledge as worded with “under God.” The five justices ruling against Newdow’s standing did not address the constitutional question. Justice Scalia recused himself, and the remaining three justices concurred with the majority opinion to reverse the 9th Circuit Court, but dissented on the issue of standing.” []

For many who hold to more conservative religious views, challenges to the inclusion of “under God” are more than irksome. For others, these two words cause much consternation over the issue of separation of church and state.

To this point Congress has done much to protect and make the phrase immutable and invulnerable, putting into law only the President may make changes to the pledge. However solid the state of the pledge, all is irrelevant if the pledge is not uttered. And where it has been recited most often throughout the decades is within public schools at the beginning of the day across the United States. That has changed.

According to a March 23, 2013 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the number of public schools that practice reciting the pledge is waning.

Turns out, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance has become passé, considered by some to be an outdated and unnecessary ritual with a constitutionally questionable religious reference and false promises of liberty and justice for all.

Others skip it just to save time.

At Alvarado Elementary in San Francisco, students used to recite the pledge when there were daily morning assemblies. Now they don’t.

Todd David’s fifth-grade son knows it in Spanish and English. His second-grade daughter doesn’t. “When I said it to her, she said, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about, Dad.’ “

It’s difficult to know what percentage of US public schools still follow the tradition of saluting the flag and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Memes abound on social networks. Blogs do too.

states_pledge_mapA whopping thirty-six states require public schools to lead recitation of the pledge.  Another six states give schools the option of requiring it.  Clearly, it’s absurd to claim that “we no longer
do” the pledge.  Further, many who have objected to the pledge being used in public schools (which isn’t quite the same as being offended by it) have done so because of the phrase “under God,” which wasn’t part of the original pledge at all.  It was added in 1954, sixty-two years after the original pledge was written, during the fear-mongering era of McCarthyism, when invoking God was a handy way for those with political ambitions to prove they were hard on Communism.  My own father grew up saying the pledge without the “under God” insertion.  Anyone who is advocating a true return to tradition would more sensibly call for a return to the secular version of the pledge.


Back to my daughter’s thought that saying the Pledge of Allegiance might actually be the same as worshipping false idols — clearly a no-no in the Old Testament. Does that, then, apply to modern-day Christians?


In his blog, Benjamin L. Corey says yes.

“Should a Christian recite the pledge of allegiance at all?“

Admittedly, I never once asked myself this question until the last year or two. Once I really started to consider the issue from all sides, I was actually really disappointed that it had taken me so long to actually see this issue for what it was. In the end, I have become convinced that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is something that a Jesus follower probably shouldn’t do.


At the other end of the spectrum, editors of Got support the pledge:RNpledgememe

There is nothing sinful about saying a pledge, as long as the pledge does not take away from our commitment to the Lord Jesus. The Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States certainly does not contain any wording that would usurp the authority of Christ in our lives. The Bible, therefore, does not forbid the pledging of allegiance to our flag.

A pledge is a formalized promise, and there is nothing wrong with making a promise. When a couple gets married, they exchange vows, pledging faithfulness to each other—in the old phrasing, “I plight thee my troth.” When a witness takes the stand in a courtroom, he promises to tell the truth. And when a person lays a hand over his heart and recites the pledge to the flag, he is promising loyalty to his country, recognizing that we are all “under God.”



Once again, it seems that strong belief either way is the result of thinking about it. A wayward dalliance for many. People with too much time on their hands. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Like trying to correct a slice or hook for a golfer — or helping a basketball player overcome poor performance at the free throw line. Don’t think about it. Don’t — as a mentor of mine would often say — cogitate on it.

The controversy and the angst over the Pledge of Allegiance is a wonderful example of those freedoms and liberties the very same pledge espouses. You and I have the freedom to disagree over whether “in God” should be included, as well as whether or not public school children should either be remanded to or have the choice of repeating the pledge each school day.

As my dear brother-in-law often says, “Ain’t America great?”



Celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering the Americas. Columbus Day.
But it’s ironic that the debate centers on a reference to God that an ordained minister left out. And we can be sure that Bellamy, if he was like most writers, would have balked at anyone tinkering with his prose.
“Edward wrote novels including, Looking Backward 2000-1887 (1888), a critique of American capitalism and its sequel Equality (1897). Edward depicted the year 2000 as being the date that competitive capitalism would have been stamped out in favor of what he called a “cooperative commonwealth.” The theories in the book inspired many “Bellamy Clubs,” which led to the formation of a Nationalist Party, that advocated the federalization of public services. In 1891, Edward founded the “New Nation” in Boston, an organization that for some time promoted his leftist views. Edward had other interests, such as psychic phenomena, which he explored in some of his writings, but for the most part, he limited his novels to socialist concerns.”
“During their lifetimes, Edward Bellamy’s name was much better known than Francis’s. Even today, with almost the whole nation reciting Francis’s Pledge, perhaps more people know the name of Edward Bellamy, although neither are recognized by the vast majority of Americans.”
“… Nationalist movement. Francis worked as a lieutenant in the campaign to nationalize the American economy gradually and peacefully. Occasionally Edward and Francis were mistaken for brothers since both were involved in Nationalism and were only five years apart in age.”
 “In 1935, the philosopher John Dewey and historian Charles Beard ranked Looking Backward among the two most influential books published between 1885 and 1935. Some economists ranked it just behind Marx’s Das Kapital as most influential book on economics published in the nineteenth century. Mark Twain was fascinated by the book and invited Edward Bellamy to visit him. William Dean Howells said that it moved the nation more than any other American work. (Howells eventually became a socialist who followed Tolstoy’s type of Christian Socialism.)”
 SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT Torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm to extinguish Religious discord, by proscribing all difference in Religious opinions. Time has at length revealed the true remedy. Every relaxation of narrow and rigorous policy, wherever it has been tried, has been found to assuage the disease. The American Theatre has exhibited proofs, that equal and complete liberty, if it does not wholly eradicate it, sufficiently destroys its malignant influence on the health and prosperity of the State. If with the salutary effects of this system under our own eyes, we begin to contract the bonds of Religious freedom, we know no name that will too severely reproach our folly. At least let warning be taken at the first fruits of the threatened innovation.6 Though these words were penned by James Madison over two hundred years ago, they resonate with equal clarity today. The locations may have changed, but the religious bloodshed continues. Madison’s cure for this disease was simple: the greatest protection against religious strife and bloodshed is to guarantee equal and complete liberty for all with regard to matters pertaining to religion. It is this guiding principle that serves as the foundation of the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. The insertion of the words “under God” by the “Joint Resolution to codify and emphasize existing rules and customs pertaining to the display and use of the flag of the United States of America” (the “1954 Act”),7 and the continued governmental “suggestion”8 that these words be repeated daily in our children’s classrooms, is an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of conscience of every Atheist.


24 Mar


By L. Stewart Marsden


You dare demand fair?
All equal and the same?
All share the time and place and then
No losers in the game?
And no one wins?

You dare demand fair?
Where seas are flat and oceans calm
Where winds that blow are soft and safe
And all ships head into the sun?
No waves
No clouds
No treacherous reefs
No storm-streaked nights of gale-sized strife
And all sail easy, harbor-bound
With nothing dangerous ever found?

You dare demand fair?
Where roads and trails are flat and straight
And easy to the leg and foot
Where nothing tests nor challenges
No sweat
No strain
No loss
No gain?
No mountain ranges sharp nor steep,
No pass to wind through valleys deep
Nor vistas gained from thin arêtes?

You dare demand fair?
It would be the most unfair
To make things equal everywhere
And you would never have to dare
Or quake
Or doubt
Or shake your courage up to face
An unfair path
Or stormy sea
Or overwhelming adversity
To strengthen you and your resolve
To carve your character and your fight
So you have victory through the night.

You still demand fair?

 Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 24 March, 2015


When I was a kid …

17 Mar

When I was a kid …

By L. Stewart Marsden


When I was a kid …

We played in the creeks

Where we hunted for tadpoles, and crayfish and more,

And splashed all about in our skinny bare feet;


When I was a kid …

We’d ride miles on our bikes

From dawn until dusk, all over the town

And we rode whenever and wherever we liked;


When I was a kid …

Tall trees were the best

For climbing and building our tree houses and clubs

And eat peanut butter crackers at the top in our nests;


When I was a kid …

We drank from the hoses

Played “King of the Hill” on the steepest of yards

And caught fireflies blinking at night near the roses;


When I was a kid …

We played roll-a-bat

Or Red Rover, Red Rover, or Capture the Flag

And our moms would all holler to see where we’re at;


When I was a kid …

On Saturday morning we went to the movies

To catch up on Buck Rogers — get scared by Lon Chaney

In Wolfman and DraculaReturn of the Mummy;


When I was a kid …

We’d lay flat and look up,

Imagine the clouds were a barnyard of hens

Or a horse or a cow or a quarrelsome duck;


When I was a kid …

Oh, when I was a kid …

The games that we played

And the things that we did …

Are gone now forever and never will be;

How I wish you could live just one single day

When you played and you did all those things

Just like me.


Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 17 March, 2015

Say it ain’t so …

12 Mar

The March 16 issue of “Sports Illustrated” arrived today, and on the right side of the cover about midway down length-ways is the lede “Crisis in the Triangle.”

Two articles dig into the latest ACC controversies that effect UNC athletic programs, and Duke’s basketball program. Both are revelatory.

Coach K figures prominently in the report on Rasheed Sulaimon; and the most revered coaches (yes, including Dean Smith) in Chapel Hill history are under the microscope as well.

Of course, all good and true Blue Devil and Tar Heel fans will decry “Foul!” Typical media. Blatant banter.

A quote in the UNC article credited Smith for stating “No matter what universities tell you, they make significant admission allowances for athletes . . . No college team that has made the Final Four over the past 20 years has had a starting team made up of players who got 1,000 on their college boards.”

Surprised? No duh! Big universities. Big athletic programs. Big bucks for the schools. Big pressure.

And I always thought Johnny Dawkins was a Rhodes Scholar candidate.

Who is being hurt? You? Me? Why, a tight Duke-Carolina game is incredible entertainment! ESPN depends on college sports! Restaurants, bars, sporting goods and shoe retailers count on March for a madness that will fill their coffers!

I have a friend I used to work with who would come into work singing his favorite self-written ditty: “I only want to hear GOOD News!”

That’s what we all want. Just a little good news. And now Sports Illustrated has to go and screw it all up.

Duke. And Carolina. My God! Almost as bad — dare I say it — as the ancient ruins of Mesopotamia that are being so callously dismantled by the crazies.

Not really. It is, after all, a matter of perspective. And perhaps our perspective on the importance of mere games is what has got this whole thing so out-of-whack. Like the ancient Romans who filled the Coliseum — let the games continue, despite the effects on society and our culture.

Has the exposé on Ivy League athletic programs come out yet? Just wondered.


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