POETRY BY SHIRL A. STEWARD

Blackbird's Landing

To my birth brother Ralph
to you, who finally earned your wings.

Ralph Edward Teague,
62 years young,
November 23, 1944 - March 17, 2007

 

  I barely knew you
my brother of birth
Yet, a thousand tears now drench
my saddened heart,
as they did once before.
Here . . . in the now, you are where
I can no longer pull you back.
But, then, so long ago, hope still glimmered.
You were not yet gone from this world.
You were, in flesh, alive and breathing.
That spark of consciousness that made
you uniquely you, though, was missing . . .
your mind's awareness gone dormant
seemingly deep in sleep.

I am so sorry, dear brother, 
I could not stay to be there for you.
I could not bare standing by watching
as you dangled alone, frozen
in that forever state of limbo . . .
Often, as I looked into your eyes,
I thought I spied a glimmer of a smile,
And, so I would sit beside you,
wondering where you were,
the physical you there
and the mental you not,
lost somewhere, they said,
inside illusions of your own creation.
It was all so surreal.
You hung, it seemed, by a thread on
the very edge of existence,
content to remain in the distance,
in a world so far removed,
no other dared try to comprehend or venture in.
Such big words . . . those were
paranoid . . . catatonic . . . schizophrenia.
Yes, that was the diagnosis.

And, I did hear all the many words
they used to label the younger you
and your twin, so awful those words were
"slow" "retarded" "stupid" "dull in the head"
The words, they ripped through me
as well as you . . . deep into the soul
for as the saying goes . . .
but for grace of God, there go I.
In us all, left . . . deep scars
in the flesh of the heart.
And, it was then you first went inside  . . .

I wondered how you'd ever come to survive.
with your window to world
darken by the cruelty of those making
game of your child-mind charms,
so pure, innocent and oh so fragile.
I pray someday these souls pay penitence
by living for a day in my brother's shoes,
 A bit of human kindness is all he asked.
How can anyone ignore that
which hits so deeply in the heart?
And, why did Ralph have to die
to find that needed compassion?

Still, there is another story here,
and so sweet it is to retell.
Once upon a time, 
I was your little sister,
and you, the knighted older brother
complete with white-winged stead,
this honor bestowed from your mastery
in the playground of the artist,
with your brushes, canvas and imagination
such great art did you conceive.

As kids, it seemed we rarely
ever got the chance to play.
too much life going on
Still, I was the tomboy
who tended horses at the ranch
and only played with guys,
I fell a bit climbing trees and
got thrown by the mare
in all those rodeo rides,
I sure got punched more than my share, too
yes, you did indeed love to fight.
With all the aches and pains,
sometimes it wasn't so much fun
except, of course, . . . until
that one very fated day
so fondly now recalled . . .

I found you hiding, with
both pencil and paper in your hand
Ah, so what was this . . .?
you were very busy drawing and
such a wonderful surprise
did my eye next surmise,
magnificently drawn male and female figures,
amazingly perfect in every detail.
So nice, it was, watching you work,
it soon became a habit.
One day, though, you rushed
to conceal your treasures
from mother, a bit too late I'm afraid,
screaming her expression of disgust,
she demanded 'that trash' be destroyed.
As you hung your head in shame,
fresh tears moistened both our faces.
We were most careful from then on
though the sting of her condemnation
had burned a bit too deep.

I've thought of those days so often since then.
Your talent continues to inspire me to reach
for my own heights of creative mastery . . .
I didn't care what any of them said.
to me, you were a genius.

Where could it have gone from there
with the right mentors and encouragement,
I can only surmise and dream . . .
Instead of being there for you and Rob,
teachers used and abused you for your talents,
building stage sceneries,
drawing and painting mural after mural,
you and your twin must have decorated
every spare inch of wall of that damn school
But, the chapter of the nightmare ended
when mother so abruptly pulled you out.
To my knowledge, neither one
of you went forward with your art.
I can not blame mother.
She did what she felt was right.
An abusive, loveless childhood didn't help.
Nor did a bigoted judgmental man as father.
For me, such a childhood was a great gift
for I learned much from contrast and denial
but to you, my brother,
it was a leap of perception just too great.
You pulled back . . . went
inward, inward and more inward
Until . . . finally a thread snapped.

But joy did reign for you, dear Ralph
at a wonderful place called Blackbird Landing,
built amidst a beautiful park reserve sanctuary
It gave peace to your last years,
No greater gift than this could you have received.

I can't help connecting the name
of this amazing place, Blackbird Landing
to the Beatles song about this same bird,
Many can relate to this song's symbology.
And too, it helps me see my brother . . .
in a new light that healed my heart as well.

He finally awoke from his long sleep
to find God's creation totally 'alive'
everywhere abounding at Blackbird Creek.
(Paraphrasing from the song . . .)
He looked up to the sky.
His broken wings, finally healed,
he learned to fly,
He looked into his heart.
And, used his sunken eyes
to finally see the truth inside . . .
Realizing that . . . All his life
he'd been waiting for that final moment to arrive . . .
the moment, when the blackbird takes to wing
with a new found song to sing
and finds himself
soaring high . . . flying free.

By Shirl A. Steward

Written and Copyright 12/29/2009

To Ralph and Robert, the twins

 

 

Ralph lived the final chapter of his life at a Blackbird Landing home adjacent to the 500 acres of incredible wetlands, ponds, and forested habitats known as Blackbird Creek Reserve.  It, in turn, is part of the 1200 acre Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve.  Ah, what a wonderful gift to have the run of such a beautiful paradise of nature.  I can't imagine ever finding a more peaceful and perfect spot to spend one's last days. 

 

 Words to Beatles song "Blackbird";

Blackbird

  Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see.
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free.

Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.
Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

photos from park reserve sites listed above

Last revision 5:23PM January 1, 2010

 

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