Friday, July 7, 2017

Giving Advice

(This is an early work by my grandson, Thomas, who has moved on to more serious artistic endeavors ... but I still treasure this piece)

I had a boss, many, many years ago, who repeatedly expressed his concern about "putting out the fire" ... that is, discouraging creative thinking and constructive effort.

He avoided that perceived hazard by not riding herd too closely on his employees. He didn't afford them free rein, of course, but he did want them to think for themselves, to offer suggestions and constructive criticism.

His admonition, "Don't put out the fire," stuck with me long after. It finally begged me to put it to paper. In doing so, I visualized an old man, quite unlike my boss, teaching a rank beginner how to build a fire and to keep it going.

The old man is the narrator, and there is no two-way conversation: We don't hear anything from his young pupil, obviously a good listener. 

There aren't even any quotation marks in this piece. But, despite that violation, I think it works.

I think the poem works on two levels, and I like that.

The poem:


Now be careful, he said,
or you’ll put out the fire,
the spark, the flame,
the desire that sprang up
and wavered, waiting.

Fan it too much, or pile on
more than it can handle
in its early, struggling,
starved-for-oxygen stage,
and it’s a sure goner.

Neglect it and it’s doomed,
too. Oh, it may flash up
and dance in the darkness,
but it’ll soon burn out,
without some new fuel.

It takes a gentle touch,
the hat back and forth
just so, a sure eye watching
for signs that it can
stand alone, in its own heat.

Remember, he said, plopping
his battered hat back on,
how it was when you started,
how you needed that touch,
that sweet warmth of success.
© 2001
(originally published in Kaleidoscope)

Today's word: success

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