A poetic tribute to Shirley, the baker

 Yesterday, after I posted my blog entry about Owasco Lake, I was busily reading other people’s blogs when I discovered this gem, titled “The Infinite Possibilities of Life,” by the Lady in Read.” I love that title… the infinite possibilities of life… so I was very drawn to this blog post. I was also drawn to reading this because the Lady in Read loves books and writing and she sometimes suggests exploring poetic forms. This blog post was no exception.


But, before I talk about the super cool poetic form that the Lady in Read suggested, I need to talk about an experience that I had this past weekend. For quite some time, I have really enjoyed going to a small farm just around the corner from the apartment building where I currently live. Every Saturday during the growing season, there is a pop up market at the farm, run by Tom Thompson and his family.

At the farm, you can see chickens running around, a cat chasing (and sometimes catching) mice, really cool venders who sell things ranging from fresh eggs to organic soaps and herbs to kettlecorn to produce and baked goods and

jellies and jams. The jams and jellies are made mostly by Tom’s wife Wendy and her sister, Shirley. They are spectacularly delicious, and rather addictive, I might add.


This time, though, it was different. I had read on Facebook that there was going to be a memorial service for Shirley, who
 was the lead baker for the farm. She had a great talent with food. Everything that she made was delicious and she let the products speak for her, saying what she seemed to be a little too shy to say. Her baked goods and jams and jellies were sold at the farm, and her cookies were sold at the store at the Grand Island Welcome Center. Because I hadn’t been able to visit the farmers market for a few weeks, I hadn’t even known that Shirley was ill. It was reported in Shirley’s death notice that she died of a short illness.

I wanted to offer tribute to Shirley and thought that I should speak at the service. But, alas, I was too shy to say anything there. I couldn’t collect my thoughts to offer anything to say, so I let shyness take over. Normally, I can cover over my innate shyness but, this time, it wasn’t working.

Because I didn’t offer a tribute to Shirley there, I thought that I would offer it here, in the form of poetry. The poetic form that I’m using is the one described by The Lady in Read, the octo poem. When I researched the octo poem, I found out that there are two ways of writing it. Both techniques require a total of eight lines in the poem. The first one that I will share is all about describing a person or a person’s occupation. It does not have to rhyme. I will write this poem about a baker and will dedicate it to Shirley.

Remembering Shirley, the baker

Green is the color of the peaceful baker
The season of her joy is spring, when fruits for baking start to ripen.
She creates the delicious magic in her small kitchen,
even on days when the wind howls through the windows.
Then she wraps her sweater closer to her body.
She chops fruit on the kitchen table,
barely paying attention to the loud cheers as people in the next room watch an Olympic basketball game.
When she serves each person pie, they smile gratefully.

In that format, each line represents a different concept: color, season, room, weather, clothing, furniture, movie/tv show, food.

The second format doesn’t have as much of a prose poem type effect as the first. This one is called an invented syllabic verse. It is eight lines, and each line contains eight syllables. The rhyme scheme is A-B-C-x-x-C-B-A. (x lines are unrhymed). I will dedicate this poem to Shirley and the farm.

Chickens quarrel in early morn,
light bounces off of greenhouse walls,
farmer rises to start the day.
There’s a hole in everyone’s heart,
a beloved baker is gone.
Cat on porch nibbles off a tray, 
then naps beneath empty farm stalls, 
next to a barn door, old and worn.

Shirley Howard (1955-2021), presente. 


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2 thoughts on “A poetic tribute to Shirley, the baker”

  1. Thanks so much for your comments about my blog Alice.. considering your tremendous and varied skills, I do feel honored.
    And I had seen the two versions as well but stuck to the 8*8 for infinity day 🙂
    Love both versions of your poems dedicated to Shirley.. sure is a beautiful tribute to a wonderful person…

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