Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

November 27, 2008

A Sunday Holiday of Fifty Negro Boys


A friend of mine bought an old house in Fitchburg, Massachusetts last year.  Inside one of the walls as if for insulation, was an old magazine, a publication called “The African Missions of the White Fathers,” which lists an address of 37 Ramparts Street, Quebec.  This particular issue is dated 100 years ago:  “First Year. No. 3.—March,.1909.”

Inside the periodical, and now shown below, is a letter sent from Uganda a year earlier than its publication.  It is not poetry, but I offer it for Thanksgiving Day from here in New England.  Yet, isn’t it more a letter to us from a brother?  And instead of talking about our grandfathers, isn’t he still talking about our children?  You’ll see what I mean.  I hope you enjoy it.  This grandfather/grandchild identity reminds me of, and for me, gives new meaning to the song, “I’m My Own Grandpa” written by Dwight Latham & Moe Jaffe in the 1940s.  Below the article is a YouTube presentation of that song, sung by Willie Nelson.  Aren’t we all one big family across time? 

Happy Thanksgiving, wherever and whenever you are.

Clattery Machinery


The African Missions of the White Fathers, March 1909 cover

The African Missions of the White Fathers, March 1909 cover



A Sunday Holiday of Fifty Negro Boys

A letter from Rev. Father Eug. Déry to his youthful brother.

Mitala-Mariya, March 10, 1908


Dear Maurice,

I am sure that at your age a holiday is much more pleasant than the few hours spent in the class room.  Let me then have the pleasure of relating to you some incidents of the long walk which my school boys enjoyed the day before yesterday.  This picnic had been promised sometime ago, but had to be postponed on account of unsuitable weather.

The long wished for day was finally fixed for the 7th. of this month.  I noticed that three or four days previous to this day, our boys attended school more assiduously, behaved somewhat better, and would work as never they did before.  Fancy, what a pity it would be, should any of these dear boys be prevented from enjoying so delightful an acting !

In the morning of the 6th. I sent one of the eldest boys to the chief of the Province, to ask him if he could give us lodging and board till the next day, a Sunday.  Kaima—that chief’s native name—informed me that he should be delighted to give us hospitality, and that he had ordered his people to prepare meat (!!…) and mashed bananas for their guests.

We started on Saturday evening.  The head of the file comprises a drummer and two flute players ; behind these is your brother, followed by his fifty urchins :  such are the rules of etiquette here in Uganda, when any great man travels (and the Fathers are great men here).

I forgot to mention a concertina.  The awful noise they made with it !  They are better drummers.  Our drum is a Feast Drum, the evening drum for singers and dancers.  They beat it with their hands, very softly and rhythmically, indeed.  Uganda flutes are simple reeds with four holes.  The natives do wonders with such poor instruments.

Whilst our musicians beat the drums, play the flutes and tease the poor concertina, the other boys sing songs and hymns.

After three hours’ walk—nothing at all for a Uganda party—the runners from Kaima arrive two by two.

“Kaima sends us to see you (atutumye okukulaba i)

“Well, how is he (Ao, atya) ?”

“He is seated, all goes on well (Gye ali, atudde).”

And while I receive Kaima’s messengers, he receives mine, hears the same greetings and answers in like manner.  It is a point of honor for a Muganda messenger to repeat exactly what he has been ordered to say, and to do it quick.  Therefore they must run hard, sweat, puff and blow till they reach those to whom they have been sent.

At length, Kaima himself is seen coming slowly with his drummers and flute players, and followed by hundreds of attendants and other subordinates.  There then rises a deafening uproar !  On each side the drums sound as thunder.  You must know that all the petty chiefs who accompany Kaima, have their drums, and that each drum is beaten in a different way according to the degree of the chief who owns it.  Now all the people on both sides shriek and shout until the two parties meet, and even somewhat longer, noise being a sign of joy.

Having arrived in the middle of Kaima’s people, every one made it a point of duty to congratulate me on my happy journey ; and Kaima, for the honor of having such a guest.  Meanwhile we reached Kaima’s chapel, which we entered to thank God by a public recitation of the “Our Father,” the “Hail Mary” and the “Glory be to the Father.”

The boys were next shown into a large reed house whilst I was introduced by Kaima himself into his own Palace.  I should like to give you a description of this palace ; but it would require too much space.  An idea, however :  here is the chief’s own hut ; there the cots of his attendants ; on the right side, a kitchen ; on the left, a large hall for the chiefs of the Province to meet, each Monday ; a little farther, a similar hall for strangers.  All this is surrounded by a reed hedge, with a number of inner hedges, the object of which is to separate one dwelling from another ; a real labyrinth !

Kaima is one of our first and most faithful Christians, and has been through every persecution.  He was the kings’ great gunsmith.  Like all the high-bred Uganda chiefs, he has cut more than one ear, and killed many a man.  But since his conversion to our Holy Faith, he has become very kind and engaging.

Do you remember the spectacles I asked you for ?  They were for Kaima.

The fact that my boys had heard before me, at our arrival, that an ox had been killed for us, was a subject of great joy and, mark well, they made it no secret.

The following morning, before sunrise, every body was up.  Sunday, was a great day for Kaima, because a High Mass was to be sung for the first time in his chapel !  In fact, even low Masses are seldom said in that place, being too far from the Mission.  But could the whole Mitala school spend Sunday at Kaima’s and have no High Mass ?  I should not be able to express the joy Kaima and his people felt.

After the service, a long program of sports.  The Blacks are so fond of sport !  Foot races, trotting matches, wrestling, etc. etc.

Now and then Kaima would leave us and go to inspect the kitchen work.  When all was ready, he himself gave orders for the distribution of the food.  Seated in the armchair, a large basket of meat was brought before him.  A tremendous business to perform, and a most important one too, on account of the number of guests to serve.  Every one must say before he leaves the place :  What a dinner I have had !  I have never eaten as I did to-day !

A whole leg of beef was portioned for the Priest, the Mukuru, your brother ; for his school boys, another leg ; for the chiefs, a shoulder ; for the village boys, the second shoulder ; and the remains for the Chief’s own household.  Nothing is lost, not even the bowels.

To all this meat Kaima added numberless baskets of Matoke (mashed bananas).


Kaima, his wife and two of his daughters

Kaima, his wife and two of his daughters


The sports were suspended and our people served from baskets.  No plates, nor knives, nor forks were used.  Every one ate well, having found the Mmere (food) delicious.

Soon after, the sports were resumed.  The first item of the new program was a rope tied to two trees ; to which, pieces of string with meat for the skilful to catch and eat.  The boys were placed under these baits and had to jump and catch them with their teeth.  Try to do that, Maurice, and tell me if it is an easy feat to do.  Of course, some were successful ; but what faces they made !  It was enough to make you die of laughter.

Towards evening, by torch-light we proceeded to Kaima’s mansion to thank him for his very kind hospitality.  Drums, flutes, voices and…concertina sounded in praise of that great chief’s liberality.  Now and then I expressed my gratitude to him according to the custom of the country :  “How well you have cooked !  Many thanks :  Ofumbye nno webale!” Or again :  “My boys have eaten exceedingly well:  bakkuse” And though relishing the compliments lavished upon him, he seemed not to have heard me in order that I might repeat the tickling address.

We took leave early on Monday morning.  According to the custom of the country, a great number of Kaima’s servants accompanied us till we reached the Mission, and remained for some hours with us.

You may well understand what a remembrance my boys will have of their visit to Kaima.  One will tell his friends that he was fed there with meat ; another that he got a double ration  …I not less than they shall remember that picnic ; “Johanna, if you do not work better, we shall go to Kaima’s without you !  …”

Eugène Déry, W. F.   






November 23, 2006

Over Emily Dickinson’s for Thanksgiving: 16 Poems


Emily Dickinson




A Bird came down the Walk

            A Bird came down the Walk–
            He did not know I saw–
            He bit an Angleworm in halves
            And ate the fellow, raw,

            And then he drank a Dew
            From a convenient Grass–
            And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
            To let a Beetle pass–

            He glanced with rapid eyes
            That hurried all around–
            They looked like frightened Beads, I thought–
            He stirred his Velvet Head

            Like one in danger, Cautious,
            I offered him a Crumb
            And he unrolled his feathers
            And rowed him softer home–

            Than Oars divide the Ocean,
            Too silver for a seam–
            Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon
            Leap, plashless as they swim.



God gave a Loaf to every Bird

            God gave a Loaf to every Bird–
            But just a Crumb–to Me–
            I dare not eat it–tho’ I starve–
            My poignant luxury–

            To own it–touch it–
            Prove the feat–that made the Pellet mine–
            Too happy–for my Sparrow’s chance–
            For Ampler Coveting–

            It might be Famine–all around–
            I could not miss an Ear–
            Such Plenty smiles upon my Board–
            My Garner shows so fair–

            I wonder how the Rich–may feel–
            An Indiaman–An Earl–
            I deem that I–with but a Crumb–
            Am Sovereign of them all–




He ate and drank the precious Words

            He ate and drank the precious Words–
            His Spirit grew robust–
            He knew no more that he was poor,
            Nor that his frame was Dust–

            He danced along the dingy Days
            And this Bequest of Wings
            Was but a Book–What Liberty
            A loosened spirit brings–



I bring an unaccustomed wine

            I bring an unaccustomed wine
            To lips long parching
            Next to mine,
            And summon them to drink;

            Crackling with fever, they Essay,
            I turn my brimming eyes away,
            And come next hour to look.

            The hands still hug the tardy glass–
            The lips I would have cooled, alas–
            Are so superfluous Cold–

            I would as soon attempt to warm
            The bosoms where the frost has lain
            Ages beneath the mould–

            Some other thirsty there may be
            To whom this would have pointed me
            Had it remained to speak–

            And so I always bear the cup
            If, haply, mine may be the drop
            Some pilgrim thirst to slake–

            If, haply, any say to me
            “Unto the little, unto me,”
            When I at last awake.




I had been hungry, all the Years

            I had been hungry, all the Years–
            My Noon had Come–to dine–
            I, trembling, drew the Table near–
            And touched the Curious Wine–

            ‘Twas this on Tables I had seen–
            When turning, hungry, Home
            I looked in Windows, for the Wealth
            I could not hope–for Mine–

            I did not know the ample Bread–
            ‘Twas so unlike the Crumb
            The birds and I had often shared
            In Nature’s Dining-Room–

            The Plenty hurt me–’twas so new–
            Myself felt ill–and odd–
            As Berry–of A Mountain Bush
            Transplanted–to the Road–

            Nor was I hungry–so I found
            That Hunger–was a way
            Of Persons outside Windows–
            The Entering–takes away–



I meant to have but modest needs

            I meant to have but modest needs–
            Such as Content–and Heaven–
            Within my income–these could lie
            And Life and I–keep even–

            But since the last–included both–
            It would suffice my Prayer
            But just for One–to stipulate–
            And Grace would grant the Pair–

            And so–upon this wise–I prayed–
            Great Spirit–Give to me
            A Heaven not so large as Yours,
            But large enough–for me–

            A Smile suffused Jehovah’s face–
            The Cherubim–withdrew–
            Grave Saints stole out to look at me–
            And showed their dimples–too–

            I left the Place, with all my might–
            I threw my Prayer away–
            The Quiet Ages picked it up–
            And Judgment–twinkled–too–
            Tat one so honest–be extant–
            It take the Tale for true–
            That “Whatsoever Ye shall ask–
            Itself be given You”–

            But I, grown shrewder–scan the Skies
            With a suspicious Air–
            As Children–swindled for the first
            All Swindlers–be–infer–




I worked for chaff and earning Wheat

            I worked for chaff and earning Wheat
            Was haughty and betrayed.
            What right had Fields to arbitrate
            In matters ratified?

            I tasted Wheat and hated Chaff
            And thanked the ample friend–
            Wisdom is more becoming viewed
            At distance than at hand.




It sifts from Leaden Sieves

            It sifts from Leaden Sieves–
            It powders all the Wood.
            It fills with Alabaster Wool
            The Wrinkles of the Road–

            It makes an Even Face
            Of Mountain and of Plain–
            Unbroken Forehead from the East
            Unto the East again–

            It reaches to the Fence–
            It wraps it Rail by Rail
            Till it is lost in Fleeces–
            It deals Celestial Veil

            To Stump and Stack–and Stem–
            A Summer’s empty Room–
            Acres of Joints where Harvests were,
            Recordless, but for them–

            It Ruffles Wrists of Posts
            As Ankles of a Queen–
            Then stills its Artisans–like Ghosts,
            Denying they have been–



One Blessing had I than the rest

            One Blessing had I than the rest
            So larger to my Eyes
            That I stopped gauging–satisfied–
            For this enchanted size–

            It was the limit of my Dream–
            The focus of my Prayer–
            A perfect–paralyzing Bliss–
            Contented as Despair–

            I knew no more of Want–or Cold–
            Phantasms both become
            For this new Value in the Soul–
            Supremest Earthly Sum–

            The Heaven below the Heaven above–
            Obscured with ruddier Blue–
            Life’s Latitudes leant over–full–
            The Judgment perished–too–

            Why Bliss so scantily disburse–
            Why Paradise defer–
            Why Floods be served to Us–in Bowls–
            I speculate no more–



One Day is there of the Series

            One Day is there of the Series
            Termed Thanksgiving Day.
            Celebrated part at Table
            Part in Memory.

            Neither Patriarch nor Pussy
            I dissect the Play
            Seems it to my Hooded thinking
            Reflex Holiday.

            Had there been no sharp Subtraction
            From the early Sum–
            Not an Acre or a Caption
            Where was once a Room–

            Not a Mention, whose small Pebble
            Wrinkled any Sea,
            Unto Such, were such Assembly
            ‘Twere Thanksgiving Day.



Prayer is the little implement

            Prayer is the little implement
            Through which Men reach
            Where Presence–is denied them.
            They fling their Speech

            By means of it–in God’s Ear–
            If then He hear–
            This sums the Apparatus
            Comprised in Prayer–



They won’t frown alway–some sweet Day

            They won’t frown alway–some sweet Day
            When I forget to tease–
            They’ll recollect how cold I looked
            And how I just said “Please.”

            Then They will hasten to the Door
            To call the little Girl
            Who cannot thank Them for the Ice
            That filled the lisping full.




‘Twas just this time, last year, I died

            ‘Twas just this time, last year, I died.
            I know I heard the Corn,
            When I was carried by the Farms–
            It had the Tassels on–

            I thought how yellow it would look–
            When Richard went to mill–
            And then, I wanted to get out,
            But something held my will.

            I thought just how Red–Apples wedged
            The Stubble’s joints between–
            And the Carts stooping round the fields
            To take the Pumpkins in–

            I wondered which would miss me, least,
            And when Thanksgiving, came,
            If Father’d multiply the plates–
            To make an even Sum–

            And would it blur the Christmas glee
            My Stocking hang too high
            For any Santa Claus to reach
            The Altitude of me–

            But this sort, grieved myself,
            And so, I thought the other way,
            How just this time, some perfect year–
            Themself, should come to me–

            It was too late for man,
            But early yet for God;
            Creation impotent to help,
            But prayer remained our side.

            How excellent the heaven,
            When earth cannot be had;
            How hospitable, then, the face
            Of our old neighbor, God!



Undue Significance a starving man attaches

            Undue Significance a starving man attaches
            To Food–
            Far off–He sighs–and therefore–Hopeless–
            And therefore–Good–

            Partaken–it relieves–indeed–
            But proves us
            That Spices fly
            In the Receipt–It was the Distance–
            Was Savory–



Unto my Books–so good to turn

            Unto my Books–so good to turn–
            Far ends of tired Days–
            It half endears the Abstinence–
            And Pain–is missed–in Praise–

            As Flavors–cheer Retarded Guests
            With Banquettings to be–
            So Spices–stimulate the time
            Till my small Library–

            It may be Wilderness–without–
            Far feet of failing Men–
            But Holiday–excludes the night–
            And it is Bells–within–

            I thank these Kinsmen of the Shelf–
            Their Countenances Kid
            Enamor–in Prospective–
            And satisfy–obtained–



Victory comes late

            Victory comes late–
            And is held low to freezing lips–
            Too rapt with frost
            To take it–
            How sweet it would have tasted–
            Just a Drop–
            Was God so economical?
            His Table’s spread too high for Us–
            Unless We dine on tiptoe–
            Crumbs–fit such little mouths–
            Cherries–suit Robbins–
            The Eagle’s Golden Breakfast strangles–Them–
            God keep His Oath to Sparrows–
            Who of little Love–know how to starve–





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