John Chapman, a survivor of World War I, was hired to work on our dairy farm in 1930. He came to grips with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“shell shocked” as it was known in his time) and wrote about his struggles in a journal found in debris from the dairy barn he had been hired to build. John wanted to hide from memories of war, choosing the barn loft, a cathedral space far removed from the sucking mud of the trenches. My novel, The Way Back) contains this poem that describes how he stormed heaven’s gate, and emerged victorious. I call it
So tired from dragging my memories,
Like heavy stones weighing me down,
I came to hide and warm the small thing I call my self
In the loft of the barn
In this high place I observed life
going on without me
Safe while I tried to bury my secret sack of rocks
dark stones stained with blood and tears
in the sweet hay smelling of my youth.
But like an avalanche, they rolled out unbidden
into the strange light of this cathedral,
to be tumbled into gems,
that I polished into words.
An offering for the tabernacle
on the altar of the barn.
Nothing lasts they tell me.
People move on, boards and beams decay.
But the words I’ve chosen, symbols of my meaning
are released as am I.
Free to create as the winds of change blow through me
And to give it all away again, keeping nothing.
Larger, ever larger as the “I” melts away like a dying ember,
Consumed in living.