Michael Ratcliffe



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

with ornamentation.

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.




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.




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.


About Copperfield

Since 2000, The Copperfield Review has been a leading market for short historical fiction. Copperfield was named one of the top sites for new writers by Writer's Digest and it is the winner of the Books and Authors Award for Literary Excellence. We publish short historical fiction as well as history-based nonfiction, poetry, reviews, and interviews.
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