Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on August 6, 1972 · Page 81
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August 6, 1972

Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 81

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Charleston, West Virginia
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Sunday, August 6, 1972
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Two Wheels and Ten Speeds ^v-'/^f-' · -~*V · -- ' mmTTr^ m ". * t V r · *V - · » . . -- - · ; ? · _ . - --jjSE^^J^f^s-'-;· ^ .___^ By Lawrence Zwart Of The Associated Press 6m CHARLESTON, W. VA. ABOtlT 20 MILES NORTH OF VICKSBURG, Miss. Welcome to my lark. Two wheels, 10 speeds, the wind whistling past my ears, the soft whine of my tires on the road. In town, the sleek ability to pass the cars that have been passing me. Sklnhying through. Eat your little hearts out. You need eight feet and I need two, sometimes less. A bike, and everything I need, and three weeks vacation, and 1,000 miles of open road, and freedom and the belief, the quiet belief, that biking is fun and not many people know it. Oh, I'm a recent convert, and it's not fun all the time. Every hill has its up and its down. But for all the work of the up, oh the lovely freedom of the down. Teaches you something you knew all along. My 1,000-mile lark wasn't much. The first American to cross his native land by bike was Thomas Stevens. He rode a 50- inch, 60-pound, high-wheel cycle across the country in 1884. Mine was a vacation on a 28-pound French touring bike. The only things Stevens and I had in common were two wheels and a devilishly slim, inflexible saddle. I spent 20 days on that saddle and I felt for Mr. Stevens. Most of my time is spent at the drawing board and brush strokes are not the heart-, iesl of exercises. The longest trip I'd taken before this one was 50 miles. But Manhattan breeds a certain nervous unrest. I wanted to follow Stevens' path. Friends talked me out of it. "I settled for something less. A shorter, more digestible trip down the Mississippi and across Florida, from Memphis to New Orleans to Tallahassee. My friends tried to talk me out of. that too. But it wasn't just biking. It was a chance to see some country, to stop, to draw and sketch and bring it home. So it was that I had the bike shop pack my Peugot and air-freighed it to Memphis, making sure "fragile" was stenciled on the side of the carton containing my $180 chariot. I met it in Memphis. You could no longer read the word "Fragile" on the crumpled, torn cardboard. I asked the freight attendant whether anyone had survived the crash. "We don't package them," he said with the air of a man who'd said it before. "Just ship'em." I called every cycle shop in Memphis, searching for a new front wheel and some missing parts. Curse the French, none stocked foreign parts. Might as well order a hot dog in Peking. But I reckoned without the new fraternity I'd joined. One bike shop gave me the name of Charles Finney, the president of the local bike club. Before I hung up the phone I had an offer of help. The night I arrived, the Finneys had just received a new 10-speed racer to replace Mrs. Finney's bike wrecked in a collision with a car. Bikers think of cars the way sailboat skippers consider powerboats. They smell, they're noisy and sometimes unnecessarily impolite. They cannibalized the new bike to repair mine. They made me send my combat boots home and buy tennis shoes instead. Then Finney took me to the outskirts of town, headed me into the 30-knot wind blowing north on Highway 61, and shook his head, "bad to day to start," he said. But time and tide impatient, I took off anyway. I'd picked my route because it followed the Mississippi south and water runs downhill. Right? Wrong. Somewhere down the road I ducked away from the driving rain and took refuge with some highway workers in an abandoned building. "How far is it to New Orleans? 1 " I asked. "Oh about 400miles down this hill." Thanks, wise guy. "Pretty strong wind," I said trying to dry out. "Sure is. Always blows north this time of year." Leaving my slain morale in that small, warm building, I mounted my metal steed and started down that hill, into the wind. I was just too tired to remember the end of that first day. But enough of that. I took to early rising because the wind was more likely at my back then and the sun was low in the sky and there was a newborn beauty to the' dew on the grass, the calm, cool haze in' the air. And people are more friendly then. Down the Mississippi, ducking the rain under a fourtunately placed barn roof, then back to the road again, thinking if I could cut down all the trees, I'd see the Gulf. High gear, time and land speeding by, weaving in and out of the dotted line on the empty road starting back at the staring cows. So nearly silent on my way no one knows I've passed. North of Vicksburg there are hills that look like the French Alps after the flatness of northern Mississippi. The town nestles among them, watching over the river and the old battlefield and the unmarked graves. And on my silent way I imagine that the cannon are alive again, and men in grey and blue charge each other and everything but death is real. And I stop by the silent marble-domed mosque, guarded by metal men on metal horses, and read the names in bronze, all that remains-of the blue- coated men from Illinois. South out of Vicksburg, the early sun glints off the black breeches of cannon overlooking the river and I think horsemen troubled this land more than I do. A car roars by and seems unreal. To me, the road to Natchez is not measured in miles, but by hours of grass, small animals, the sweet smell of the air. A flat tire brings me to. Broken glass. A shattered bottle. Not the first. So many thoughtless shards of glass "Shooting from vehicles is illegal," the .roadsign says. The old man who ran the- country store told me there was plenty of; game and some out-of-state hunters took to shooting from their cars. But he told me about a dirt turn-off up the road, a quiet brook, a place to hide and watch for deer, "and while you're at it, taste the water, sweetest water anywhere." I took the turnoff. The road was narrow and rutted by erosion. The forest closed off the rest of the world. I fell asleep. I never saw a deer, but the old man was right about the water. Natchez. It breathes of old beauty if you can forget the shopping centers, the gas stations, the highway. Below, the great brown river keeps rolling. The old sidewheelers are gone and now diesel tugs shoulder barges up and down the Mississippi. Baton Rouge and Louisiana and families combing the bayous for crawfish. And 1 remember how I used to hunt crabs off the south coast of Long Island on a Sunday afternoon. Nothing changes. People though, they don't seem to understand. Wherever I stop they ask, "You came all that way on that wheel?" I don't make many pit stops, just roll along, drinking a beer, munching a sandwich. Nice and easy. In New Orleans I took off three days and sketched and cycled around town and listened to jazz on Bourbon Street. And for a change I wasn't alone. The narrow streets are alive with cyclists. They fit right in. And finally Florida and the' wind at my back and the surf off my right arm and sleeping on the soft, sandy beaches. And then the most hateful thing of all, Tallasassee. Because it was the end. A thousand miles on a bike. And many more miles ahead. And no more time. ^ *·£:·: ' ' - TM.~,,A5j .. -\ . A '. * * .- . "T" '^,W*r J *:i ~^--^V.\ MM»X- · ·- *---Jb Three Poems of Marion Schoberlein Sunday Gazette-Mail STATE MAGAZINE, Augusts, 1972 By Arthur C. Buck (Copyright 1972, Arthur C. Buck) I have had the privilege of publishing several poems of Marion Schoeberlein of Elmhurst, 111., on the "Insights" page of literature that I edited for the Morgantown "Sunday Dominion-Post Panorama" from October, 1969, to March, 1971. Miss Schoeberlein had sent me a few of her poems in response to an announcement about "Insights" in one of the writers' magazines. Because I was immediately impressed by the quality of Miss Schoeberlein's poetry, I asked her to send me more of her work, even though space limitations in "Insights" precluded my publishing very many of her poems. In the correspondence that followed, I was really not too much surprised to learn that she was already an accomplished writer whose work had appeared consistently in leading journals and anthologies. Other editors, obviously, have also been strongly impressed by her style and her ability. A graduate of De Paul University, where she specialized in English, Miss . Schoeberlein is now a free lance writer of short stories, poems and articles. Her work has appeared in the "Harvard Advocate," "Atlantic," Chicago "Tribune Magazine," the "Ladies Home Journal," "Good Housekeeping," the New York "Times," and many literary periodicals, as wel! as in numerous anthologies published in America, England and Switzerland. In addition, several collections of her poems have been published: "The Whiffle Tree of Amethyst," by the Story Book Press of Dallas, Texas; "Poems," also by the Story Book Press, and a co-authored pamphlet, "In a Gold Bed" published by Candor Press, Dexter, Mo. The thematic content of her poems is not unique; themes have not drastically changed through the history of poetry. The major ideas celebrated in her poems have been celebrated by other poets many times: time, mutability, decay; maturity; lost love; return to childhood; religion; the role of the poet. These are the dominant thematic-ideas of her work; it is not the theme that marks her work, but rather the images that she uses to express those themes. I would like to discuss three of Miss Schoeberlein's poems that I consider representative of her work: "The Accountant," "The Guitarist," and "The Chinese Poet." Although they may seem to be poems about three different subjects, at least in one respect they are about the same thing, namely, the role of the artist. THE ACCOUNTANT Trapped by the beautiful mountain of figures He moves his pencil along the columns Looking for one perfect answer. He is like The poet after all; skillfully polishing Everyone of his numbers like a piece of Furniture inside a newly built house-The last figure is the star, the correct Conclusion to all his searching... like The poet he sighs then... having found the god Of numbers in his boiler of dreams, the calculator. (From the "Georgia Review," XVI, No. 3, Fall 1962. Reprinted by permission of "Georgia Review.") I wonder how many accountants consider themselves "trapped by a beautiful mountain of figures." That opening of the poem is interesting not so much because it tells us something about accountants but rather about poets. The simile of the accountant and the poet comprises most of the poem. The accountant, "trapped by a beautiful mountain of figures," searches for "one perfect answer." One must read these lines metaphorically: the "beautiful mountain of figures" may also be understood as figures of speech and other literary and poetic devices that must be at the command of the poet. On the literal level, "the one perfect answer" is the result of mathematical precision; but in aesthetic Perspectives terms, it alludes to Truth, or perhaps more exactly, artistic perfection. Does an accountant polish "everyone of his numbers," or is that expression more closely related to the technique of the poet, whose existence, whose immortality, depends upon the extent that he is willing to "polish" or refine his work? The last figure used by the accountant is the asterisk ("the star"), which represents the balancing of his records. On the aesthetic level of the poem, the star represents the fulfillment of the artistic dream, the completion of a masterpiece. The accountant, we are told, polishes Everyone of his numbers like a piece of Furniture inside a newly built house. Has anyone ever said more about the work of a poet in so few words? THE GUITARIST Play, Me Notes of Frozen Honey, Take me back to Spain and its thousands of red skirts, Dancing, flowers, Let me sit in the patio again And sun myself while You strum and grin that knowing Spanish grin of yours. Play me a poem of love in the shadows, Play me a sad poem of love that is lost. Then let us walk to the twilight cathedral And you can strum to the Man on the Tree. You can play Him the song of the beautiful peasants, Ring the last lonely bell for His cross. Play, Mr. Notes of Lions and Shadows, Play like the dark, tad clown that you are, On top of the Hurricane, life, Say of the wild fields of sex, Sing of the magic gone long, Whisper, oh whisper Me home to old Spain. Nostalgia is perhaps the dominant chord in "The Guitarist," with its emphasis on happy and pleasant experiences in Spain in the past, but secondary chords of lost love, cynicism, and artistic creation are also evident, as they are in many of Miss Schoeberlein's poems. Artistic creation is suggested in the association of the guitarist with the poet: Play me a poem of love in the shadows, Play me a sad poem of love that is lost. This poem is typical . of other Schoeberlein poems with its rather pessimistic and cynical implications, i. e., there is no happiness in the present, only in the past; any love that is beautiful must be a lost love, a love in the past. Notice the emphasis on "love in the shadows," as if love is only an illusion, retained only in its after-effects, in memory. Or perhaps we could say that only the guitarist (the artist) can perpetuate the memory of a beautiful, lost love, that any deep experience can be understood only in terms of a work of art. THE CHINESE POET Sad, yellow face like n sad yellow flower Nods to the wind and says, "Yes" to the rain. He is thirsty and dreams of purple wine. He is hungry and dreams of sugar cakes. Summer forgot to come into his dreary life. Winter was his eternal friend and father. Sorrow flowed into his bucket of milk, Pain was a temple he continually lived in. Even his prayers could not change... Even his heart that sang like an oriole... He with the song of the bird high inside him Was like a new pearl beside his pots of rice (From "The Western Humanities Review," XV, No. 4, Autumn 1961 Copyright 1961, WHR. Reprinted by permission of WHR.) "The Chinese Poet" echoes the familiar theme of poets and artists alike--namely, that of the two worlds most people seem to admit, the temporal and the eternal, the artist must necessarily sacrifice one for the other, the temporal for the eternal. It is a familiar theme, yet still the masses of men can never fully comprehend the 'significance of it; they wifl never really understand the artist at all, for the masses live in their own worlds, with emphasis on present pleasures and physical sensations. What can the masses of men grasp in the artist's attempt to find Eternal Truth? The title, of course, is deliberately misleading: the poem is no more about a Chinese poet than about a Hungarian poet or a South African poet;.the poem has nothing to do with nationalities at all. The use of "Chinese" gives the poem an exotic background and places the subject matter of the poem at a distance, so that the presence of the actual poet of the poem-Miss Schoeberlein-will seem remote. I submit that Miss Schoeberlein is very much like the Chinese poet of the poem: the opening line can very well be associated with the pervasive sadness of her poems. And when we talk of opening lines, who can depict the poet more succinctly and accurately than Miss Schoeberlein does in the opening two lines of this poem? Jad, yellow face like a sad yellow flower Nods to the wind and says, "Yes" to the rain. The paradox in the life of a poet is that he must live in the two worlds, temporal and eternal, at one and the same time. The two worlds are suggested in the second stanza of the poem, which must be read on the two levels. The poet is hungry and thirsty for food and drink, for he must eke out his own physical existence on earth, barely appreciated or supported by the society as a whole, as Franz Kafka so capably reveals in "The Hunger Artist." But of even greater significance, those lines suggest the poet's thirst for knowledge and his desire for artistic perfection and aesthetic elegance that are really symbolized by the dreams of "purple wine" and "sugar cakes." The- drabness and difficulty of his life on earth are depicted equally well in the third stanza. Note that "time" is revealed in terms of "Summer" and "Winter," but these words are suggestive rather than literal. In effect, Miss Schoeberlein is saying that the poet's life is "always" dreary, in youth ("Summer") and in old age ("Winter"). "Summer" and "Winter," therefore, are also associated with the poet's life: the absence of summer suggests that the poet's temporal life is a life without joy and pleasure, for he must deny the ordinary pleasures of life if he is to capture the eternal values. The "eternal" presence of winter reinforces the image of the poet's mortal life as one of coldness, difficulty, and despair. "Even his prayers could not change . . ." is another line that shows Miss Schoeberlein's acuteness of perception. To me, "prayers" ; connotes artistic inspiration and aesthetic desire. The poet knows, and has always known, that the pleasures of ordinary men are definitely rewarding and that sometimes they even lure the poet away from his goal; he also knows, however, that if he swerves from the one world to the other, from the eternal to the temporal, if he, in fact, rejoices in temporal pleasures, he can no longer be a poet. If he ever indulges in the "pots of rice" to the extent that he will neglect the eternal world for the temporal, he can no longer be a poet To be a poet is to be forever sad. CHARLESTON, W.VA. 19m

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