On the middle shelf of the corner hutch in the second floor Margaret E. Baker Room of the Richard Calhoun Baker Guest House on the campus of Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, there sit six books. Wedged between Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Make Bright the Arrows and Davis’ Disraeli, stands Hervey Allen’s novel Anthony Adverse. It opens with a quote by Sir Thomas Browne: “There is something in us that can be without us, and will be after us, though indeed it hath no history of what it was before us, and cannot tell how it entered into us.”
In the beginning was the hill,
And the hill was long and arduous,
A continual rise that never wavered
And grew steeper close to the crest.
The hill was Part One, First Act,
Testing Ground, Ground Zero.
Here was the place
Where harriers were hewn,
The defeated crestfallen.
The hill divided the men from the boys.
Hah!—we all were boys back then,
Young and strong and fast and free.
And now we all are men,
Come home to pay homage
To the hill that broke and choked
And shaped and molded and melded
And burned and turned us
Into what we have become:
Older men, seasoned men,
Wiser men, and yes, tender men.
At the top of Moore Street
Stands stately Founders Hall,
Formerly “The Building,” edifice original
Of Brethren Normal School,
Now surrounded by a score of brethren.
Together they form this bucolic
Ivy League college devoid of ivy:
Swigart, Oller, Brumbaugh, Ellis;
Good, von Liebig, Carnegie, Beeghly,
North, South, Sherwood, Cloister.
Together we gathered this too early spring,
Hooded brethren huddled beneath
Wide umbrellas to ward off the rain,
To witness the thinclads stride
Round the circular track that runs forever.
Parker shattered Bailey’s 3K record
Set a mere two years before.
Woods bested her own by 19 seconds.
Mandley took first in the hurdles,
McCoy the hundred.
While across the field next the grandstand
An ancient yellow willow watched and wept.
Once we were young,
Our faces shone as these faces shine,
Once we dreamt dreams,
Ran hard, set records, slept well.
We have come back to this place,
To this spacetime dimension,
To witness the prowess of young men,
To applaud the strength of their stride,
To marvel at the joy on their faces,
To mourn the passing of their youth.
We have come back to this place
To bear witness of the world beyond its walls,
Stories of success, stories of defeat,
Stories of imperfect journeys
That render life perfect in our minds.
We return to minister to mind-lost mothers,
We come back to mourn fallen fathers,
We come home to bury our dead
And take our place in line.
Spring came a month early this year.
Snowdrops and crocuses, already withered,
Gave way to forsythia and flowering crabapple.
Patches of pink petals adorned the sidewalks.
We arose early and set out for morning coffee,
Sauntering down side streets
Baptized with cherry blossoms.
In the beginning there was the hill,
And the hill, high and holy, still
Rises to rocky outcrops that overlook
The river that courses through eternal time.
At the base of the cliffs along the river
Runs a set of parallel steel tracks
Along which we once in our youth ran
Till our toenails blackened with blood.
Once more we pause at the crest of the hill
And listen for a sacred whistle, long and low.
2012 © Brian T. Maurer