Musings about life on Earth in all its aspects…

Tributes to Charles Darwin’s Humanity

Today, February 12, 2020, is the 211th birthday of Charles Darwin. It was purely fortuitous that it is also the day that I read Albert Goldbarth‘s poem, “Prosopagnosia,” (pp. 25-26 in his 2017 book, The Loves and Wars of Relative Scale, Lost Horse Press). In the final stanza of this brilliant poem (google the title if you don’t know the word), Goldbarth celebrates Darwin’s human-ness while simultaneously acknowledging the way the scientist Darwin could shun human contact by enveloping himself in his work. Recounting Darwin’s grief at losing his ten-year-old daughter, Annie, Goldbarth speculates that Darwin might have assuaged his profound sorrow in the same way: “I think it was the worms / that calmed him. One night when the house was still, / he padded down to the billiard room where the worm pots were / and by the light of the paraffin lamp he watched them…” One of the reasons this poem resonated so deeply with me is that I had once managed to celebrate Darwin’s humanity in a similar way but in the relatively dry prose of a scientific paper.

I have long admired Darwin’s work and read much of his correspondence (Cambridge University Press), and many biographies, attempting to better understand the man behind the science. One of those books was Randal Keynes‘, Annie’s Box: Charles Darwin, His Daughter And Human Evolution (Fourth Estate, London, 2001). Keynes chronicled the interactions of Darwin’s family life, including the tragic loss of his daughter, and his scientific work during the time he was formulating and documenting The Origin of Species. In 2011, not too long after I had read Keynes’ volume, Michael S. Engel and I reported a study of the Palaeozoic insects of Alabama (Roy J Beckemeyer and Michael S Engel, 2011, “Upper Carboniferous insects from the Pottsville Formation of northern Alabama (Insecta: Ephemeropterida, Palaeodictyopterida, Odonatoptera)” Scientific Paper, University of Kansas Natural History Museum 44: 1-19). One of the fossils we described was this finely preserved pair of forewings of an insect that we determined belonged in the extinct insect order SYNTONOPTERODEA Laurentiaux, 1953:

We decided that this insect, the first new genus and species described in our paper, would be named in recognition of Darwin’s daughter. The name we assigned was Anniedarwinia alabamensis. Here is our statement on the etymology of the genus name:

“The new genus-group name honors Charles Darwin’s humanity by remembering his second child … Anne Elizabeth “Annie” Darwin (1841-1851). Darwin nursed his ten-year-old daughter through the final stages of her illness. Her death broke her father’s heart: ‘We have lost the joy of our household, and the solace of our old age: she must have known how we loved her; oh that she could know how deeply, how tenderly we do still…’ (Charles Darwin, 30 April, 1851: Keynes, 2001).”

So Albert Goldbarth’s poem brought me full circle, here on Charles Darwin’s birthday, back to thinking of how Darwin had nursed his child through all the stages of her illness, watching her weaken and fade, how this distraught father had struggled through debilitating grief to write the book that changed the way we understand the mechanisms of life on our world.


Roy Beckemeyer, 12 February 2020


Writing Exercises – An Example from Archives of The Wayward Poets

I have belonged to a poetry writing group, The Wayward Poets, since around 2010. It was formed by Virginia Hays and some other students of the late Helen Throckmorton’s poetry classes for senior citizens at LifeVentures, and named, I believe, by Glen Fisher. The group, with various members over the years, still meets weekly.

In addition to bringing either new poems of ours or works from our archives to share with one another, we usually do a writing exercise. In its most common form, we each contribute one or two words and are then tasked with writing a poem or paragraph of creative writing that incorporates each of the words. We then each read our composition.

Here’s an example, from 14 January 2016.

Words: Roy: shoal, theme; Susan: room, starlight; Pat B: intrepid, tremulous; Pat L: revoke, tyrant; Dixie: chip, pop; Joyce: swirl, spite.

My poem:

“The theme
is starlight,” she laughed,
“the ceiling is
scattered with
diamond chips
and swirls of galaxies.”
The room fizzed
like pop, and,
in spite of himself,
he smiled, imagined
himself intrepid,
facing her tyrant father,
saying “I revoke
your parent’s license,
sir!” No more
tremulous tiptoeing
when he went
to her door to pick her up.
He left his fear
in the shoals, grasped her hand,
and took sail for
the deep waters
of young love.


Posted 28 May, 2019 by Roy Beckemeyer

Happy Birthday, Miles

Miles Davis (May 26, 1926-Sept. 28, 1991).

Miles Davis would have turned 93 today. He died 28 years ago. I can’t remember when I first heard him on the old console radio in the tiny unincorporated village in Illinois where I grew up. I had discovered jazz about the same time I discovered Elvis. I wasn’t musically sophisticated but had grown up with my mom listening to big band music and the popular music of the day, much of it set to the wondrous songs of the Great American Songbook. Jazz set something off in my head, though, the complexity of the rhythms, the unexpected directions, the strange departures from the melody line of those great old standards after the familiar opening measures.

I bought my first jazz album soon after I got my driver’s license, in 1957. I worked part-time at Piggly Wiggly, so had some loose change to spend, and could get to the other local towns where records were sold. There were never a lot of 33’s, especially jazz, but I can still remember finding Cookin’. Some of you will recall how it was. The 12” records in their colorful sleeves stacked at an angle on the counter, the way you had to pull them upright with one hand, page through them with the other. That album really stood out, the bold and thick black lines of the almost abstract drawing of a trumpeter’s face, his right cheek, his hand wrapped around the trumpet, fingering the keys. I know my hands were shaking when I found it. A real jazz album there in that dime store! You readers who grew up in the age of music sharing and the internet will never know how it was back then, how finding an album like that in backwater small town America was like finding buried treasure.

Miles Davis had been one of my first discoveries as I learned the names and sounds of jazz listening late into the night to my radio, turned down so it wouldn’t wake up my brother or sisters. His muted trumpet on ballads was lush and soul-stirring to a newly romantic teenager just beginning to think more seriously about girls. I almost wore that album out within a couple months of buying it. No big hi-fi system in our house, just a portable cube of a record player with a heavy arm and dull needle. But I learned every note, every beat of the songs, and to this day I can hum along with the soloists. Some of Miles’ most famous albums were still in the offing then: Kind of Blue in 1959, Sketches of Spain in 1960, Seven Steps to Heaven in 1963, In a Silent Way in 1969, Bitches Brew in 1970. But Cookin’ was the disc that hooked me.

I came of age in those years, graduated college, got married, joined the Air Force, became a father. And I did it all to the soundtrack of Miles and Cannnonball and Bruebeck and Jamal and Monk and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross and Mingus. And it all started with that first LP.

So Happy Birthday, Miles. You had one helluva journey through life and music, and I was pleased to get to hear you as I went through mine. I still listen to you now, all these years later. I listened to Cookin’ again today. You never looked back with nostalgia on what you had accomplished, always looked ahead to what there was left to do. I kind of do that, too, like to try new things and keep learning. But I also like to go back to those days when everything you played was new and exciting. Thanks for the legacy.

—Roy Beckemeyer, May 26, 2019.



Here’s a short review of Cookin’ I wrote and had posted on my old (now defunct) website, windsofkansas back in 2005:

COOKIN’ (Miles Davis).  Miles Davis – Trumpet; John Coltrane – Tenor Sax; Red Garland – Piano; Paul Chambers – Bass; Philly Joe Jones – Drums.  Prestige OJCCD-128-2 (P-7094).  Produced by Bob Weinstock, recorded in Hackensack, NJ, Oct. 26, 1956 by Rudy Van Gelder.

Tracks: 1. My Funny Valentine. 5:59; 2. Blues By Five. 9:59; 3. Airegin. 4:24; 4. Tune Up/When The Lights Are Low. 13:08.

My first jazz album, and one that I played over and over again.  It made My Funny Valentine one of my favorite songs, and Miles’ muted trumpet almost defines how this tune should be performed (…well, ok, Coltrane’s version in his album named My Funny Valentine is pretty good, too).  Red Garland’s intro is clean and precise and delicate, and Miles comes in mellow, his solo giving way to Garland.  Blues By Five opens with Garland riffing the melody and building into Miles’ open horn bouncing around the melodic line.  Coltrane’s solo roughs the tune up a bit and then Garland’s clean, short notes tinkle out, each distinct, none overlapping, almost as if he was using vibraphone mallets.  Paul Chambers takes a turn, Garland comping sparingly in the background.  The rhythm section joins together and trades back and forth with Jones solos until Red closes by revisiting the melody.  Airegin, a Sonny Rollins composition, is fast and Miles changes the pace to medium hot.  Coltrane keeps the pace and blows out a flurry of notes on his solo.  Tune Up/When Lights Are Low is really fast, a blowing session for the horns that gets your blood pressure back up a bit.

5 Stars – A nostalgic favorite of mine with the classical and lyrical version of a classy Rodgers and Hart song. Reviewed 9 November, 2005.”


Planes and Planets

Yesterday, on the morning of the last day of winter, March 19, 2019, around 6:30 a.m., the minuet of the planets was on impressive display across the southern sky. Venus, nearly due east, was just clear of the horizon, still inching its way toward the sun and a coming period when it would be lost in the dawn’s glow. Saturn was arcing up into the east by southeastern sky, halfway up into the line of trees along our street, and bright Jupiter was brilliant in the southeast, nearly clear of the highest branchlets of the tallest elm. Admiring the progression, I drew with my extended arm the arching path of the ecliptic across the sky and found on the western horizon the approaching moonset of morning.

I love seeing the morning sky unfold, the planets moving amongst the background of the Zodiac’s constellations, contemplating the way our Solar System is spread into a flattened oval racetrack of planets, nearly all spinning, like the Sun, counterclockwise (as viewed looking down from the earth’s north pole),  all coursing in a clockwise path around the Sun, this dance shaped by and in honor of the conservation of the angular momentum of some five billion years of glittering, whirling evolution.

~Roy Beckemeyer, 20 March, 2019

Skies Scattered with Stars

Living in a large, well-lit city means losing sight of the stupendous night sky. I think something fundamentally wrong with our worldview comes with that absence. We no longer see ourselves as part of something so much bigger than we and our dazzling civilization. We no longer see ourselves and all we have built as minuscule specks in the midst of a seemingly infinite world; we and our lives become all too important, become foremost in importance.

I grew up in a small town, back in the days when the dark was complete: black velvet, deep and light-absorbing, with stars that crystallized out of the depths of that absence of light, that sparked and glistened, that led you to believe you could never count them all. And in summer, our home galaxy arched up from the southern sky across the bowl of the heavens, waves of phosphorescence, stars and star systems dense with color and brightness. Small wonder that we spent so much time outdoors, our eyes directed skyward.

Back when our son and daughter were in elementary and high school, we spent most of our summer vacations backpacking in various mountain ranges in the western United States. We loved to hike above tree line, and camping up there always left us awestruck at the immensity of the sky, at the unparalleled clarity. The whole night sky took on a three-dimensional feel. Those vacations were healing for many reasons, the night sky one of them.

Our kids and their kids are now well along on their live’s trajectories. It has been many years since my wife and I experienced the night sky; with old age and infirmity and absent-mindedness we let things go, complained to one another about not having seen the stars for so long. The acceleration of our perception of time contributes to that feeling of something valuable escaping us, I believe, and we finally made our minds up to find a dark place and enjoy the sky, buoyed on by the prediction of clear skies (except for the smoke from the California fires), a recent new moon, and the waning days of the Perseid meteor showers.

We drove thirty miles out of town, found a place to park (too close to the highway, but traffic was sparse enough that it worked out), and reclined on a blanket beneath the starry night. It was good for our souls. We gasped to one another about how magnificently the Milky Way wound its bright swath across the sky, identified barely remembered constellations and planets (Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars were arrayed along the ecliptic like beads on a necklace), and felt how we are certainly all too finite (an idea acknowledged recently by an untimely death in the family), felt blessed that we could still take this all in through these old and less than perfect eyes.

Here are two less than wonderful images I took with my camera. Both show the southern sky, the Milky Way. In the first, Mars is the bright spot of red light to the left. Saturn is visible over toward the right, a little higher in the sky than Mars, and located just at the right edge of the brightest patch of galactic light. The second is cropped in on a tighter portion of the sky, Mars out of view, Saturn now the brightest object visible, and there are two faint meteor tracks visible well over to the right of Saturn and nearly directly above the telephone pole. These, of course, do not capture reality very well. I only hope that they inspire you to stay up late some night soon, drive out beyond the lights of your city, town, or homestead, park, find a grassy spot to loll on and recapture your childlike awe at the wonder of skies scattered with stars.






























~Roy Beckemeyer, August 12, 2018


Redolent and Baroque

I have always loved words that are rich in sound and texture, words that resonate, that contain in themselves some raw element of their meaning, unusual words that add spice to a poem. I keep a list of them in my notebook and look at them every so often for inspiration. Of course, they can be overdone, unless used by a master like Albert Goldbarth. So for the rest of us mortals, it is wise to use them sparingly, in simple, short poems at first, where they can stand out without overshadowing.

So, here’s an example. Titled “God rode by,” it is a short poem I wrote and first recited at a jazz/poetry reading where a jazz combo improvised around the poet’s words. Not sure about the poem’s origins, but as a kid I repainted my bike every spring. I would go to the hardware store, buy a small can of some appealing color, brush it on, oil up the chain, and the next day I would be off riding toward adventure on a spiffy new steed.

Two words in this poem were taken from my list of Special Words: redolent and Baroque. I had used Baroque before. It is an adjective meaning “of, relating to, or having the characteristics of a style of artistic expression prevalent especially in the 17th century” (Merriam-Webster). So it is fairly easy to use and fairly straight-forward for the reader to interpret. Redolent is just a lovely word. It starts out with you pursing your lips (“reh”), touching your tongue on the roof of your mouth for that hard “d,” pouring that “oh” out over your tongue, then rolling it and “len” around, then your tongue goes to the roof of your mouth again for the more sprightly “tuh” at the end. Its primary meanings relate to exuding a fragrance or aroma; I used it in terms of its secondary meaning, “conveying an aura,”  “tending to suggest,” or “evocative” (Merriam-Webster again).

Here’s the poem:

God rode by

on his bicycle today.
It was painted red, a rich shade,
redolent of Baroque oils,
reminiscent of the candle-
lit cloth of de la Tour’s
Penitent Magdalene.

“Nice paint job!” I called.
“Thanks!” He yelled back.
“Can’t stop now.
Maybe later.”

He turned, noticed
the pothole in the road,
swerved around it with
a certain grace
I could only describe
as Divine.

This poem begins with the preposterous and presuming image of God coming by my yard on a bicycle. I then make sure that things are a bit more serious by setting his choice of colors on a more celestial scale. Notice that the line “redolent of Baroque oils,” can actually be read as relating to aroma, especially if you have ever painted with oils; it brings to mind the mellow odor of linseed oil rather than the sharp smell of the turpentine that would be used to thin the kind of enamels you would use for a bike. I went on to elaborate on the imagery, referring to a specific painting by a Baroque artist, and added what I hope is a touch of humor in that the painting is titled The Penitent Magdalene (since she was a central figure in Christ’s life). I then took a turn back to the ordinary, taking it on myself to congratulate Him on the bike’s appearance, then noting again at the end that He has, even in these ordinary endeavors, extraordinary abilities.

Here’s an image of de la Tour’s The Penitent Magdalene (click on the image for an enlarged view). The painting can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.


~Roy Beckemeyer, July 12, 2018

Making the Poems You Read Your Own

My good friend Dan Pohl teaches English at Hutchinson Community College and writes delightful poetry. He also knows how to truly own a book of someone else’s poems. I first got to know how Dan approaches a new book of poetry when he showed me his heavily annotated copy of my first book, Music I Once Could Dance To (Coal City Press, 2014). Dan reads with a pen and notebook, usually in a deck chair or comfortable easy chair, tea or coffee at hand. And he really digs into each poem, Thinks about it, underlines words and phrases that catch his attention, adds little notes and side comments and does research on unfamiliar names or places. He finds things in poems that have meaning to him and jots them down, there on the page.

I always like to see what he writes about my poems, as I find it fascinating what other people take from my poems. Some of it I knew was there, other things I might never have seen or suspected. So I gain insight into my writing that I can’t get any other way. As a result of seeing how Dan approaches reading, I have been trying to up my game and get much more involved when I approach others’ poetry. I have a long way to go before I get as good at this as Dan; he has had a lot of history and experience at this.  I can’t yet formulate how to do this: it involves a bit of critique, a bit of free association, a bit of self-psychoanalysis, I suppose, and definitely a deep background of reading widely and voraciously.

Rather than try to explain the process, I prefer to illustrate it with a few examples of how my poems look on the page after Dan has read them. These examples are from my latest book of poetry, Amanuensis Angel (Spartan Press, 2018), which contains ekphrastic poems inspired by abstract and other artists’ depictions of angels.

This is the first poem in the book, “Angel of Chaos.” It was inspired by a Salvador Dali painting.

This poem, “Jacob and the Angel,” was inspired by Sir Jacob Epstein’s sculpture depicting a scene from Genesis, Jacob wrestling with an Angel. Epstein’s figures were massive, and reminded me of sumo wrestlers, so I keyed off them.

Look these over, and note how Dan goes off at times to wherever the words or images lead him. To Japanese characters, sketches. He notes questions that arise when he reads, makes his own interpretations. I hope these few examples will inspire you to grab a pen or pencil from your desk and a poetry book from your shelf and own someone’s poems using Dan Pohl’s marvelous annotation techniques.

Good Luck and Good Reading!

~ Roy Beckemeyer, May 28, 2018

[My book, Amanuensis Angel, and other of my books are available on my Author’s Page.   Dan Pohl’s Anarchy and Pancakes (illustrated by his daughter Jessie Pohl and published by Spartan Press, 2018) is available on Amazon.]

Stephen Hawkings 1942-2018

Stephen Hawkings passed early in the morning of March 14th, 2018, at the age of 76.

Here is my poem, “Cerebellum’s Fire,” from 2016. It won the overall poetry prize in the Kansas Voices competition that year. It is my small contribution to honoring Hawkings.

Cerebellum’s Fire:

The bold but dim-browed ancestor of ours
who first gathered up in glowing embers
lightning’s gift to man to light the hours—
the first true man none of us remembers.

The sight of Mongol ponies, wild and free,
sweeping, massed, across the wind-blown plains,
the dream of warriors following his lead,
that sparked Genghis Khan’s ambitious brain.

From the crucible of Isaac Newton’s mind,
revealed, from alchemy’s dim and gloomy gleams,
the way God’s planetary gears toil and grind,
bare and bold, and not the mystery it seemed.

From a body pinned in place by ALS,
in Hawking’s mind the bright universe expands—
this man who is all but motionless
sees how the world was born and how it ends.


~Roy Beckemeyer, 14 March, 2018

Update to Links to my Poetry Posted Online

In a previous edition of this blog back in 2016, I list poems and creative writing of mine posted in online venues through May 2016.  In this post, I provide links to work published between then and now.

~Roy Beckemeyer, January 23, 2018



Blue-winged Angel

“Blue-winged Angel” An ekphratic poem inspired by artist Carl Dahl’s porcelain “Blue-winged Angel, Female.”

You open your wing

explosively, as if cyclonic

winds had whisked your smalt-blue,

your Delft blue, your ultramarine blue,

your essential-essence-of-blue cloak,

had thrown it out as if it were

the only sky in all the world,

your un-pigmented body suddenly,

blindingly, lightning-white, and

cracked as if by thunderclap.

The vacuum left by that whip-

snapped mantle exposing breasts,

ribs, navel, thighs, letting us know,

oh, God, letting us truly know, that angels

are only all too human.



~Roy Beckemeyer


Artist Carl Dahl’s work may be found on his Website.