One of my favorite Chinese poets, Li Po of the T’ang Dynasty, drowned while sailing his little sailboat on a sparkling river. He drank too much wine and fell overboard trying to kiss the moon’s reflection in the water. You can laugh, but Li Po has written thousands of poems that still live on 1200 years later.
I don’t think the protagonist of this month’s poem, Shoot the Cat Osborn, was a poet, but his reputation still resonates in Marion, Michigan. He is a legend of the village, although no one knows his real name, nor much about him.
I don’t like his nickname, and everyone is dead who remembers how he got it. For me, it’s tinged with violence.
Four generations of my parents on Helmboldt’s side lived in Park Lake where Shoot the Cat was directed in the poem. My great-grandparents probably knew him.
Park Lake is now a ghost town. Many of my ancestors are buried there in the small cemetery.
When I cross the region, I sometimes visit their graves. I also like to revisit the railway tracks.
My grandparents lived in Park Lake and my mother, sister and two brothers were born there.
I spent a lot of time growing up in this endangered place.
As a child, I loved to run a quarter mile to the tracks and watch the trains go by. I always walk on the rails and pick up railroad spikes.
It is not easy with such tight ties. It’s easier to walk on the rails, but I’m older now.
My balance is not as good as it used to be.
My family had a scary time just south of Ghost Creek. Coming home from Park Lake at night, Dad always slowed down and turned off his headlights as he approached where the railroad crossed Caesar Road.
One night, he slowed down and turned off his lights just as a train was storming.
Thirty feet closer and my family would have been ghosts.
Poet Bard Terry Wooten has presented and facilitated writing workshops in schools for over 30 years. He is also the creator of Stone Circle, a triple ring of boulders featuring poetry, storytelling and music on his property north of Elk Rapids. Learn more about www.terry-wooten.com.