dVerse — Poetics — Ode to Charles Fletcher Lummis

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/ee/Charles_Fletcher_Lummis.jpg/534px-Charles_Fletcher_Lummis.jpg
Charles Fletcher Lummis 1897

Are orphans worthy? If so, how much?
To what purpose? Who is asking,
and who is answering
depends on so and thus.

Yet there he was an orphan,
determined to learn what was needed
to earn his keep
in a world where motherless children
are too often kicked to the curb
and blamed for their fate.

Mama’s memories soon faded
while Papa’s zoomed too clear.
The gentle touch of Mama’s hugs
clouded to uncertain dreams; where
Papa’s distance shortened, to shrinks
and flees from knuckle-rapping fear.

Aunt Jeannie, the town rebel,
smoked a big cigar and
burned her bra on All Saint’s Day.
She made him practice his poker face
and said he was really Geronimo’s son.
She got his vow to go out West
when his colleging was done.
He swore he heard Mama laugh with his aunt
as he stepped out of the city limits.

First stop Cincinnati, then he walked to L.A.
to the deserts of New Mexico to expose cartel slime.
From the Pueblo Nation’s welcome,
to a later menage a trois; later to become
a champion against “Indian Schools” and
for preservation of Spanish Mission landmarks.
Then off to ten months in Peru, to come back
to L.A. In solidarity with Cherokee, Sequoya,
and Hopi against Indian Agent Charles Burton.
From there he was a writer, poet, publisher,
City Librarian, temporarily blind, and a founder
emeritus.

At sight’s permanent fade, Mama’s face comes
close again, Aunt Jeannie beside her. He asks,
How did I do? Did I earn my keep in this world?”
They smile as they carry him home.

I first came across Charles Fletcher Lummis a few years ago, while reading, “The Library Book,” by Susan Orlean. Orlean’s book is an origin story for the Los Angeles City Library (and for libraries in general.) She does multiple mini-biographies in the book and Lummis is one that captured my attention. He was the Los Angeles City Librarian from 1905 – 1910, but he was so much more than that.

From wikipedia:

Charles Fletcher Lummis was born in 1859, in Lynn, Massachusetts. He lost his mother at age 2 and was homeschooled by his father, who was a schoolmaster. Lummis enrolled in Harvard for college and was a classmate of Theodore Roosevelt’s, but dropped out during his senior year. While at Harvard he worked during the summer as a printer and published his first work, Birch Bark Poems. This small volume was printed on paper-thin sheets of birch bark; he won acclaim from Life magazine and recognition from some of the day’s leading poets. He sold the books by subscription and used the money to pay for college. A poem from this work, “My Cigarette”, highlighted tobacco as one of his life’s obsessions.

In 1884, Lummis was working for a newspaper in Cincinnati and was offered a job with the Los Angeles Times. At that time, Los Angeles had a population of only 12,000. Lummis decided to make the 3,507-mile journey from Cincinnati to Los Angeles on foot, taking 143 days, all the while sending weekly dispatches to the paper chronicling his trip. One of his dispatches chronicled his meeting and interview with famed outlaw Frank James. The trip began in September and lasted through the winter. Lummis suffered a broken arm and struggled in the heavy winter snows of New Mexico. He became enamored with the American Southwest, and its Spanish and Native American inhabitants. Several years later, he published his account of this journey in A Tramp Across the Continent (1892).

Although they say a 2-year old cannot retain memories, he wrote a poem about seeing his mother just before she died:

Page One by Charles Fletcher Lummis
(1910)

Memory? What is it?
How should I know –
Who cannot say if yesterday
Was so or so?

Yet by night there visit,
Behind mine eyes,
Such Presences that live again,
Lost scenes and faces, but so plain
I wonder which is true, which lies –
Now, or so long ago….

They all are somewhere in my book
Unpaged, unindexed and forgot –
Yet now and then some consciousness
Of fluttering leaves awakes my look
And there are pictures long agone,
The years that were and now are not;
A day when Someone whispered ‘Yes!’
And the day my boy Went On.

But clearest, dearest of them all,
And oftenest that I know,
The old parlor there across the hall,
And Gran’ma’s faltering little call:
‘Your mama asks for you’ –
New England fifty years ago,
And I just turned two.

White shutters by the whiter bed,
And a whitest face therein;
A strong man pacing still and dread,
And the tall clock ticking, ticking slow
Where little boys must never go –
But now they led me in.

Thin fingers, like as petals, cling
Cold to a baby’s cheeks;
Big eyes so deep I cannot see –
Till stars come up in them for me
The shadow of a breath that speaks;
‘God keep my little boy!’ And then
Slow lids – and – Nothing.
And they bore me out again.

Laura is today’s host of dVerse’ Poetics.  Laura says:
Select ONE of our favourite poets (a celebrated or a lesser known one) and write a poem either

  • About them (the indirect voice, as exemplified in the first two poems)
  • those who choose the direct voice, might like the extra challenge of an ODE –

46 Comments Add yours

  1. Sadje says:

    Both the poem and your post are very touching Li. Thanks for sharing this amazing story

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Thank you very much, Sadje, he was an amazing person! Happy to share his story.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sadje says:

        You’re welcome! Indeed!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. rothpoetry says:

    A great poetic tribute Lisa. And a great backstory as well!

    Like

    1. msjadeli says:

      So glad you liked it, Dwight. Thank you very much.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. rothpoetry says:

        You are welcome!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice biography captured in poem form.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Thank you very much, TJS.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. robtkistner says:

    This is absolutely fascinating Lisa. Your writing is excellent, and you have introduced me to man, and a feat, I knew nothing about. Thank you my friend… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      I just finished reading your Snyder poem. It doesn’t surprise me you would enjoy learning about Charles Fletcher Lummis 🙂 My pleasure to introduce you to him, my friend.

      Like

  5. What a wonderful story you share with us about Charles Fletcher Lummis. I had not heard of him but you described such an exciting adventurer. I too can remember an incident when I couldn’t have been more than a year old, Strange, isn’t it? I loved his poem at the end of your post ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Christine so glad you enjoyed learning about him. Yes memory and how it works is a real mystery. I also love his poetic style.

      Like

  6. Wow; this is like an enchanting history lesson, Lisa. Love it.

    Sincerely,
    David

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Thank you, David!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. K.Hartless says:

    This rich history makes me want to read more of Lummis’ words. Thank you for sharing his story so eloquently.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      I know what you mean about wanting to read more of his work. You are very welcome.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Sunra Rainz says:

    This is wonderful tribute to a wonderful man who I must now read more of! I think I’d have got on great with Aunt Jeannie 😀

    I love the last lines where he asks how did I do and they smile and carry him home – beautiful ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Thank you very much, Sunra, and I agree about Aunt Jeannie 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This was an epic poem – a bio woven seamlessly and sprinkled with Lummis’ tears and laughter – loved especially that last clincher of a stanza – and appreciated all the background and intro to this poet

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Laura, thank you very much, for your comment and for the prompt that inspired the poem about Lummis 🙂

      Like

  10. Ingrid says:

    You really took me on a journey here with your fascinating poem Lisa, and the example of his poetry you provided just about broke my heart. Definitely one to come back to!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Ingrid. He has a way with words.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ingrid says:

        I am such a bag of emotions after reading all of the tribute poems!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. msjadeli says:

          I just finished reading TJS’ one on Howl and the wartime one not long before. I know what you mean 😦

          Liked by 1 person

  11. Helen Dehner says:

    I had not known Mr. Lummis’ poetry … so glad you chose him and introduced us. Your verse is exquisite, Lisa., left me wanting more from you .. and him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      🙂 Helen thank you very much.

      Like

  12. Your poem captures the spirit of both his bio and his poem.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Can you imagine walking from Cincinatti to L.A.? I need to read the book he wrote on his adventure.

      Like

      1. In less than five months, and in those days!

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I must admit I had never heard of him, but you gave him his bio in this excellent post…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Thank you, Bjorn.

      Like

  14. sanaarizvi says:

    A wonderful, wonderful tribute to Charles Fletcher Lummis 😀 your poem makes me want to learn more and more 💝💝

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      So happy to hear it, Sanaa and glad that you do.

      Like

  15. Hearing him for the first time and your poem introduced his life and heart beautifully, Ms. Jade. And i must add that your opening verse is the most profound i’ve read today:
    Are orphans worthy? If so, how much?
    To what purpose? Who is asking,
    and who is answering
    depends on so and thus.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Thank you very much and glad you connected with the poem and the person behind it.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. memadtwo says:

    You certainly caught the flavor of both his life and writing. Excellent, both for information and art. (K)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Kerfe, thank you. There is a museum that he left behind that I would love to go out and see sometime.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. writingwhatnots says:

    A lovely homage to a man who sounds fascinating. Another poet to follow …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Thank you. I would have loved to have met him.

      Like

  18. sean@bogie says:

    You describe a remarkable character.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Thank you, I tried to capture his essence and what motivated him.

      Like

  19. lillian says:

    This is AMAZING! Both the poetry and then the notes you add at the end to explain who he is. What an amazing man! I was enthralled with him through your poem….you absolutely made him come alive. And I am even more enthralled with him after your notes about who he was and his life.

    Side-note: when my husband and I were dating in the late 60s, he was on a geology field trip and sent me a special postcard…you took me down memory lane. He pulled bark off a beech tree and wrote to me on one side; on the white outside bark part, he put my address and a stamp. It got to me hundreds of miles away! I still have it in a scrap book that has special acid free and archival pages and clear sleeves. So I really related to this man! 🙂
    REALLY enjoyed this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Thank you so much, Lillian, for your thoughtful comment and I am delighted your husband won your heart through a neat little romantic trick 🙂

      Like

  20. What an interesting man! Love this, Lisa!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      🙂 So happy to introduce you to him, Sara. Thanks!

      Like

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