“My goal used to be to get back home to live. Then it became to get back home to die. Now it’s just to get back home to be buried. But just my luck the hearse bearing my body will probably wreck and burn between here and Fort Smith, and my ashes will be scattered over the lone prairie by the danged Oklahoma wind!”
“According to the Bible, when Jesus returns to this earth He’s gonna land on Mount Olivet in Jerusalem, Judea, in Israel. But when I rise to meet Him I’m comin’ up outta Mount Tabor (Methodist Church Cemetery) in Selma, Arkansas!”
In this week’s post I offer two poems that I wrote ten years apart in 1970 and 1980 in response to the popular quotation by Southern author Thomas Wolfe, “You can’t go home again.”
Each of these poems relates specifically to the question of whether I, an exiled Arkie of the Covenant, can ever go home again.
Is it really true that you can’t go home?
Will those golden days never come again,
When that barefoot boy ran joyfully
Down a country road in the April rain,
To that two-room school where he learned to dream,
While the raindrops beat on the windowpane,
Till the sun on high
Drives the clouds on by
And the lark sings in the lane?
‘Neath the old oak tree by the front yard gate,
How many hours did he spend?
In the dust and dirt making farms and roads,
Playing cars and trucks with a laughing friend,
While the sun sinks down and the cattle low,
The night birds call and the shadows creep,
And the evening breeze
Sighing through the trees
Lulls a happy boy to sleep?
‘Cross a dusty road from the general store
Sat a plain white church in a shady grove,
Where the old folks sang that sweet refrain
That told so well of a Father’s love,
And a gentle lad gave his heart to God
When he felt the touch of a Mighty Hand,
While the years go by,
And the old folks die,
And the lad becomes a man.
In a photograph a tender face,
Rosy cheeks and a dimpled chin,
Curly hair and trusting eyes,
And a sweet and bashful grin.
Was that really me?
Did he really live?
When did that simple lad become this man?
If it’s really true that you can’t go home,
Can I ever be me again?
If it’s really true, and I can’t go home,
Can I ever find me again?
October 29, 1970
The poem above, which I wrote in 1970, won honorable mention in a Tulsa City-County Library poetry contest. I wrote the following poem in response ten years later while living in Sapulpa, Oklahoma.
Yes, you can go home,
You just can’t go back.
Time never runs in reverse.
The things that are past,
Are done and passed,
For better or for worse.
So, I must go on,
I must press on,
Time and tide wait for no man.
Through the tears and the strife,
For the rest of my life,
I must do the best that I can.
Ah, but some sweet day,
Some glorious day,
I believe when I get to heaven,
That I will find me,
For there it will be—
Selma, Arkansas, 1947!
October 29, 1980