Tag Archives: Michael Ratcliffe

Michael Ratcliffe

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

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.

 

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.

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Michael Ratcliffe

David Sang in Welsh Today

Phebe Williams, 1856, as she and her husband, David, and a small group of fellow Mormons travel eastward from Utah to Kansas. They had already crossed the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains the year before, as part of a group of Welsh Mormons migrating to Utah.

David sang in Welsh today—
faced the rising sun and sang;
his voice, so strong and clear,
we stopped our work and listened,
the women by the breakfast fires,
the men hitching up the mules,
even the soldiers escorting us—
all stopped and listened to him sing:
Arglwydd, arwain trwy’r anialwch—
Lord, lead me through the wilderness—
O, his voice, like a sweet fountain flowing,
clear and strong across the prairie.
David sang in Welsh today—
how good to hear him sing again.

He never sang in Utah—
not with the other men
while working in the quarry.
He would not join the chapel choir,
saying he could not sing
while the Saints were in darkness;
would not sing as long as humble Saints
were forced to give their possessions to the Church;
to work first for the leaders,
and then for themselves.
This was not the Zion we expected,
the communal life he preached in Wales.
He would not sing while the Church
preached polygamy,
or all the temple rites,
or blind obedience to the priesthood.
He would not sing while rule in Zion
was no better than the ironmasters’
grips on the valleys of South Wales.

And when we left Utah
traveling east through the mountains,
still he would not sing—
No sounds that might help
the Destroying Angels find us,
no praises sung to heaven above,
no songs to ease the hiraeth we felt—
the longing for life back in Wales.

David sang in Welsh today,
faced the rising sun and sang.
We stopped our work and listened,
and then a rising chorus,
the men hitching up the mules,
the women tending the fires,
voices rising in harmony—
pilgrims of poor appearance,
singing in this barren land.
We felt our anxious fears subside,
and the spirit of God and hope flowed through us,
like the River Jordan in the desert.

David canodd yn Gymraeg heddiw.
David sang in Welsh today.

Separated in Death, Even as in Life

[John Ratcliffe and Mary Townsend Ratcliffe, Gaylord Kansas]

Separated in death,
even as in life—
her seven sons laid her to rest
in a new grave,
moved from the farm
to what became the family plot
when he died—
John at one end,
Mary at the other,
and between them a space
as wide as the schism in their lives.

What were the sons thinking
when they buried their father
and reburied their mother?
Why did they move her
from the farm she plowed
out of the dry Kansas soil?
Did they envision them all together again
embraced by mother and father?

Or, did they keep them separate
out of respect for her,
with themselves someday
shielding her in death
from the disappointment
and hurt that he caused?

In the end, the sons are scattered—
all the generations scattered—
and in the family plot
only a few remained to fill
the space between the graves.

So lie John and Mary:
separated in death, even as in life,
and nothing carved upon their stones
to tell us they were once together.

________________________________________________________________

Michael Ratcliffe is a geographer, residing between Baltimore and Washington. His poems have appeared in The Copperfield Review, Do Not Look at the Sun, Three Line Poetry, The Little Patuxent Review, and You Are Here: the Journal of Creative Geography. He can be found online here.
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Michael Ratcliffe

David Sang in Welsh Today

Phebe Williams, 1856, as she and her husband, David, and a small group of fellow Mormons travel eastward from Utah to Kansas. They had already crossed the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains the year before, as part of a group of Welsh Mormons migrating to Utah.

David sang in Welsh today—
faced the rising sun and sang;
his voice, so strong and clear,
we stopped our work and listened,
the women by the breakfast fires,
the men hitching up the mules,
even the soldiers escorting us—
all stopped and listened to him sing:
Arglwydd, arwain trwy’r anialwch—
Lord, lead me through the wilderness—
O, his voice, like a sweet fountain flowing,
clear and strong across the prairie.
David sang in Welsh today—
how good to hear him sing again.

He never sang in Utah—
not with the other men
while working in the quarry.
He would not join the chapel choir,
saying he could not sing
while the Saints were in darkness;
would not sing as long as humble Saints
were forced to give their possessions to the Church;
to work first for the leaders,
and then for themselves.
This was not the Zion we expected,
the communal life he preached in Wales.
He would not sing while the Church
preached polygamy,
or all the temple rites,
or blind obedience to the priesthood.
He would not sing while rule in Zion
was no better than the ironmasters’
grips on the valleys of South Wales.

And when we left Utah
traveling east through the mountains,
still he would not sing—
No sounds that might help
the Destroying Angels find us,
no praises sung to heaven above,
no songs to ease the hiraeth we felt—
the longing for life back in Wales.

David sang in Welsh today,
faced the rising sun and sang.
We stopped our work and listened,
and then a rising chorus,
the men hitching up the mules,
the women tending the fires,
voices rising in harmony—
pilgrims of poor appearance,
singing in this barren land.
We felt our anxious fears subside,
and the spirit of God and hope flowed through us,
like the River Jordan in the desert.

David canodd yn Gymraeg heddiw.
David sang in Welsh today.

Separated in Death, Even as in Life 

[John Ratcliffe and Mary Townsend Ratcliffe, Gaylord Kansas]

Separated in death,
even as in life—
her seven sons laid her to rest
in a new grave,
moved from the farm
to what became the family plot
when he died—
John at one end,
Mary at the other,
and between them a space
as wide as the schism in their lives.

What were the sons thinking
when they buried their father
and reburied their mother?
Why did they move her
from the farm she plowed
out of the dry Kansas soil?
Did they envision them all together again
embraced by mother and father?

Or, did they keep them separate
out of respect for her,
with themselves someday
shielding her in death
from the disappointment
and hurt that he caused?

In the end, the sons are scattered—
all the generations scattered—
and in the family plot
only a few remained to fill
the space between the graves.

So lie John and Mary:
separated in death, even as in life,
and nothing carved upon their stones
to tell us they were once together.

________________________________________________________________

Michael Ratcliffe is a geographer, residing between Baltimore and Washington. His poems have appeared in The Copperfield Review, Do Not Look at the Sun, Three Line Poetry, The Little Patuxent Review, and You Are Here: the Journal of Creative Geography. He can be found online.

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