Once upon a time, a long time ago, our local newspaper (Southwest Times Record) had a “PLACE FOR POETS” section. That’s where I saw my first poem in print and yes, it made me happy, but the day I recieved a “thank you” from my favorite… Professor and Poet Miller Williams is a bit more memorable.

I grew up with three brothers and one sister.

My brothers stayed busy playing boy games. Mine and my sister’s interests remained on the front porch in the summertime. We ignored the heat, entertaining ourselves with simple and “pray-like” activities. The game of “play-like” was ·important to us.

Some of our favorite things to do were: gluing discarded catalog and last year’s calender pictures that Marna saved for us, along with canned fruit and vegetable labels and presenting to her.

We discovered multi uses for the discarded carbon paper salvaged from the wastebasket of the Depot Agent’s Missouri Pacific Railroad Office; thrown away from the original freight bills and other railroad correspondence. The Agent’s face pops in my mind … clear as a bell, but his name has floated away.

Some days we were busy store clerks, learning the skills of Ms Jessie who clerked at Clark & Bailey … the Company Store, where everyone in the community shopped and where my sister and I traipsed down the dusty road just about every day for no other reason than to observe and visit with Ms. Jessie. The discarded carbon paper was ideal for writing credit tickets on the days we “played-like” store clerks … just like Ms. Jessie.

With name tags of the teachers we “liked the best,” pinned to our dress, we pretended to write assignments, grade papers, make colorful fronts for workbooks and get report cards ready to send horne for parents to sign. If my sister’s name tag read: M-I-S-S H-E-A-R-N, she would announce … Recess. Our “play like game changed to taking time out to shoot a few hoops of basketball, which happened to be a small rubber ball through a “clicking” wheel that daddy had nailed on the front porch for us. (We never owned a basketball.)

My favorite days on the front porch were constructing Mothers Day cards for Marna and Fathers Day cards for Daddy on their days. On the particular days … I was a poet! I composed and wrote four-lined poems to complete the cards. Mama would “overdo” it with appreciative hugs and kisses when we presented the cards to her. Daddy would quietly read his card to himself, gently hand it to Mama and say … “Put this away for me.” We both knew they were pleased.

Time flies … as time will do. In years passing, I never lost the desire to compose and write poetry, submitting from time to time.

During and throughout marriage, if there became a lull in housework and mothering, I continued to write. I became fully aware of the meaning of rejection, but that did not deter me. My desire was to see my poetry in print … to be a published poet.

On January 20, 1997 … President Bill Clinton’s second inaugural, Arkansas professor and renown poet Miller Williams, who had distributed literature for President Clinton when he ran for Congress and was a long standing friend of Clinton, stood proudly and read his poem titled “Of History And Hope.” There had only been two other inaugural poets before Miller Williams. Watching him read on TV, I was spellbound by his words!

Sometime later I entered a statewide poetry contest, winning second place with my entry titled “Oh, To Be Like Miller,” happy to receive _a cash award and privileged to see it published. Soon after I mailed Mr. Williams a copy of my poem, telling him the good news. I received a signed THANK YOU card from him, now framed and hanging on my wall. What pride I felt then and now. Just a simple, signed THANK YOU card, but important to me … as a politically proud and published poet!

I’ve lived my dream of being published, but my goal is to continue writing poetry and submitting ever-once-in-awhile and never forgetting when and where it all started … sitting on the front porch, with my sister, engrossed in our games of play-like.

Oh, To Be Like Miller

In print I read:

He came to his calling late in life

to “set” phrases and flowing lines on paper,

but weren’t his words … chosen … concealed in his mind

not always … but soon after birth?

A poet late in life or always a poet?

These are his chosen words

we’re all lonely and frightened and because of this

we reach out for one another inventing love

and as I watched and listened to his words …

this gaunt fellow, born in Hoxie

a small railroad town in the northeast corner

of Arkansas,

and knowing there have only been two inaugural poets

before him …

I ponder who I have been and where.

I’ve been lonely, I’ve been frightened

and in so many words coming to my calling late in life .

I too was born in a small railroad town in Arkansas.

Might I some day be called a poet … like Miller?

Mary Ann Gamble