THE GLASS CUTTER
The meetinghouse was no place for art.
Plain walls and clear glass
were better to focus the mind
on the spirit born in simplicity,
brought forth from the Inner Light,
and spoken in the still, small voice
that need not announce itself
So, too, with daily life.
When he became a man
he was told: pursue a trade,
go into business, take up farming.
Do good, practical work.
The Meeting taught him
that God’s beauty was in all things.
He saw it everywhere—
in blades of grass bent before the wind,
in the colors of the sky throughout the day,
in ripples on the surface of a pond.
All the world was art to him.
So he became a glass cutter,
beveling simplicity’s stark edge,
etching grace as lines and patterns
into vases, bowls, and glasses,
each refracting spirit and light.
WHEN FREMONT LEFT THE FARM
Gene Ratcliff, Marshall County, Kansas, 1874
We knew the day would come
when the darkness that troubled Father
would become too much for Mother to bear.
Father had another of his spells,
then, without word, was gone for days.
When he returned, silence hung heavy
as the air before a summer storm.
Tension built like thunderheads over the prairie,
then released in a storm of words
between him and Mother.
John and I took our younger brothers
out to the shelter of the barn.
Fremont fetched his bag;
said it was time to move to town.
I don’t blame Fremont for leaving.
I would’ve left, and John too,
except Mother needed our help on the farm
especially after she told Father to leave.
I see Fremont when I go into town.
He says he doesn’t miss the farm.
I told him it’s calmer now that Father’s gone.
But it’s different, too—
like corn stalks flattened after a storm.
WHO AM I TO MINISTER UNTO FRIENDS?
William Ratcliff, Skimino, Virginia, 1778
What wisdom do I have
that will be fitting for Friends?
Though on occasion I speak in Meeting,
I am no different from the others.
My words are plain and simple.
Who am I to minister unto them?
O Lord, I strive to follow thy path,
but I do enjoy a pipe and a pint with friends
when in Williamsburg on business.
I do not always keep the Sabbath.
There are days when I prefer
to worship in silence at the helm of my boat.
Lord, how can I minister to Friends
when even I stray from our discipline?
And yet, Friends have expressed faith
that I can minister to their needs.
Did not Jesus turn water into wine?
Did he not enjoy dining with his friends?
Perhaps the Meeting seeks not a saint,
but one who understands
the temptations that we face;
that we can find the Spirit in daily life,
and in that way come closer to the Light.
Michael Ratcliffe is a geographer, living and writing between Baltimore and Washington. His poems have appeared in various print and on-line journals, including The Copperfield Review, Free State Review, Deep South Magazine, and Kumquat.