Musings about life on Earth in all its aspects…

Category: Memoir

Konza Journal 2017 Issue Now Online

The 2017 issue of the Kansas Area Watershed (KAW) Council annual publication, Konza Journal, is now online. I was fortunate to be asked by editors Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and Ken Lassman to participate as a contributing editor and also as a featured photographer (photo essays on Birds, Insects, South Africa, the Changing Faces of Water, and Landscapes). Please check it out. Essays on Climate Change by Ken Lassman, the Cretaceous oceans of Kansas by Mike Everhart, poems by Annette Hope Billings, April Pameticky, Dennis Etzel, Jr.Victoria Sherry, and Janet Jenkins-Stotts, Olive Sullivan, and Kansas Poets Laureate Kevin Rabas, Denise Low, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Eric McHenry, and Wyatt Townley.  Videos by Stephen Locke, and a marvelous essay on language and sense of place as it relates to the prairie by Cindy Crosby.

There is so much more I can’t fit all the links here, so just go to the Konza Journal page, browse, and enjoy.

-Roy Beckemeyer, September 28, 2017

September Segue

A week into September and fall sneaks in a hint: small yellowed leaves drifting from trees in ones and twos and threes so intermittently that they almost don’t register.

They might as well be the sulphur butterflies, flitting goldfinches.

Everything else, after all, is still vibrantly verdant; the shades of green multitudinous, the number of leaves converging on infinity. Then comes the morning when you step out the door into a new 5:00 a.m., one that is bracing, the air still yet brisk, the world suddenly sharper, more clear; Venus hovers in the east, honed to brilliance.

By afternoon and on into evening the cicadas will continue to have their monotonous say, squelching all our preconceived notions about the harmonies of Eros. And so we balance here for a while, in this time both of and between summer and fall: the harvest moon still weeks away, baking-hot afternoons still a distinct possibility; yet the world is winding down, turning summer’s abundant and almost astounding fecundity down from a full boil to a slow simmer.

~ Roy Beckemeyer, September 8, 2017


My Interview by Miranda Erickson Kendall of the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library

Thanks to Miranda for her interviewing skills.

Here is a link to the interview:

Please join me and Leah Sewell on April 26, 2017 at the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library’s Poetry Month event.


Roy Beckemeyer, April, 2017

Two “In Depth” Pieces for Whispering Prairie Press’s Blog

Pleased to kick off Whispering Prairie Press‘s “In Depth” blog series with two items on aspects of the craft of poetry: One on the use of epigraphs ( and the other on Poetry and Memoir (

Hope you link, read and enjoy.


  • Roy Beckemeyer, 23 September, 2016

Three Short Non-fiction Articles in KONZA: A Bioregional Journal

Here are links to three non-fiction articles that appear in the 2016 issue of KONZA: A Bioregional Journal.

  • Roy Beckemeyer, July, 2016

A Christmas Memory in Poetry – “Christmas Interregnum”

Thanks to Nancy Julien Kopp for her reminder to us all to write down our Christmas memories for our children and grandchildren. Here is my 2010 poem, “Christmas Interregnum.”

Looking like the last
Of the three Magi
My brother trudges through snow
Behind our two sisters.
His left mitten
Trails behind,
Tethered to him
By yarn the color
Of the cedars of Lebanon.

A rookery of nuns
Awaits us in the schoolyard,
The black of their
Black and white habits
Stark against the white,
The white blending with the snow.
Black veils over white wimples
Make them look like
The penguins in our geography books.

Morning Mass is full of the smells
Of evergreen boughs and beeswax,
Incense and wet wool,
And the lemony oil our mothers used
To wax the pews.
We stand, sit and kneel
With our hands folded
While the snowflakes
Studding our caps and coats
Slump and melt,
Beading our clothes with droplets
That briefly encapsulate
The warm light of Christmas candles
In their round cold wetness
Before dripping off
To puddle on the slate floor.

Through ice-sparkled
Schoolroom windows,
We watch the wasted brilliance
Of winter’s first snow;
Having to go to school
A whole half-day
Before the holiday vacation
Is penance enough
Without this purgatory.
But the wait for morning recess
Is just a small preview,
A preparation,
A prediction
Of the longer wait awaiting us
On Christmas Eve.

At last Sister Michael takes up
The hand bell.
Holding it in both hands,
She fills the hall
With its brass reverberations
And we are rescued,
Resuscitated by recess.

The ceremony of pulling on
Still-wet coats and mittens,
Ear-flapped hats
That tie under our chins,
And squeaky-wet galoshes,
Is completed in record time.
We all know that
Snow down the neck
Awaits any slowpoke straggler.

Facing an untrodden school yard
In black rubber boots
Is like having
A clean white page of paper
And a newly sharpened
Ticonderoga # 2 pencil in your hand.

The pent-up pressure
Of seventy-three kids
In single-file best-behavior
In the nun-lined hallways
Propels us out the door
And down the steps
Into a jostling chaos
Of splendid, snowy exuberance.
Soon snow angels
And snow-tag wheels
And names written in snow
Are everywhere and the snow
That isn’t packed down by feet
Is filling up boots,
Being rubbed in faces,
Rolled into balls
Or flung into the air.

By the time Father Schoen arrives.
Smelling of cigars and mothballs,
With the cold outside air still clinging
To his black clothes,
Our splotchy red cheeks,
Still cold as snowballs,
Are the only sign of recess
Remaining in the classroom.

He will quiz us on the Catechism,
Twisting the cheeks of those
Who can’t answer correctly,
Or quickly enough,
Between his thumb and index finger,
Marking them as the reddest
Of the red cheeked students
Of St. Anthony’s Parochial School.

At long last noon arrives,
And with it St. Nicholas,
Appropriately announced
By Sister Michael’s bell.
His red vestments and red mitre
And golden crosier
Light the classroom
Like a blazing Yule-log.

He gives us each a gift:
A brown paper bag
Holding a juicy fresh orange,
A polished red apple,
A candy cane,
And a picture of the Nativity scene,
Blessed by St. Nicholas himself.
Then he makes the Sign of the Cross
Over our heads with his
Ringed right hand,
Blessing us as well.

Going home, we can no longer tell
The street from the sidewalk,
The sidewalk from the yards,
And after a block
It is so cold
That the snow does not melt
As it falls thickly onto our treat bags.
Children drift off
In all directions,
Bundles of dark wool,
Against the bright whiteness.

My brother calls out
“Wait for me”
To my sisters;
His mitten is again
Tobogganing behind him
As he catches snowflake
After snowflake
In his small bare hand,
Delighting in each unique,
Christmas treasure.

The air is full of snowflakes,
Full of the smell
Of the freshly broken orange in my hand,
Full at last of the promise,
The certainty,
The familiar and longed-for
Reign of Christmastime.

by Roy Beckemeyer, December, 2010

Posted December, 2015


Prayer Card Poems – In Loving Memory

In Loving Memory

In Loving Memory

Size seems about right. It’ll fit in anyone’s shirt pocket so they will be able to carry it around, run it through the laundry by accident, and then finally forget me, wash off any residual grief. Symbol has me stumped. Jayhawk, WuShock, Flying Billikin, maybe an airplane or a dragonfly or a corkscrew. Yeah, let’s go with the dragonly. It looks sort of like a cross and will be both natural, fitting, and as close to religious as I got. Should the photo be studious or serious or happy? I don’t know, but I think I would like a shit-eating grin (forgive me, Father) so everyone who looks at it wonders what I was up to. I would like to write the poem, and since I don’t know when I will be needing the card, let me do the custom text now:

Small town boy met small town girl raised
small town kids hiked and travelled and
moved to the city and built airplanes and
made wine and square danced and acted
pretty much like an adult most of the time
and then like a kid for the rest of the time
and was in love for nearly the whole time
and right up to the end for sure and went
to church as a kid and young man and hopes
and prays that won’t keep him out of heaven
since he did try to be and do good but that
doesn’t work according to some theologists
and so pray for him if you think it might do
some good, ya’ll, if you want to and have
the time, otherwise don’t worry. Amen.

And please look through those 1500 images in 20 different categories and find a nice picture of the sky. I always liked sky pictures, and there was sky everywhere I ever went.


– Roy Beckemeyer

Maybe you had to go…

Maybe you had to go, finally. Those months hadn’t been easy. You would tell us how your toes curled when the nurse took bone marrow from your ribs with a needle and syringe. It was just like you to make light of the most dreaded but commonplace part of your days. I remember reading you articles I had written for my high school newspaper, sitting in the waiting room waiting for them to bring you back from a lab, looking out your window at the factory-like austerity of the hospital building while you napped. St. Louis was not a place for any of us. We belonged to the small towns we lived in and the farm fields that surrounded us. We should have been out running trot lines, cleaning catfish, hoeing weeds from rows of beets, picking peaches with juice running down our chins.

We had just finished up sawing the slab ends we had hauled from the sawmill and stacked them in the shed the day you got the call. We had cut enough wood to get us through the winter, and we should have felt content, confident ready for the cold wind and snow. Then Doctor Wilson on the phone. I remember you and mom going into your bedroom for a long time after you had talked to him. You came out and tried to explain what was happening to us, but we had never even heard the word leukemia before. And no encyclopedia entry could have prepared us for what the word really, truly meant: Mom’s red-rimmed eyes; the both of you gone for weeks on end, you in St. Louis, the three of us at home with grandma; the nights we would spend hours on the phone calling your friends and asking if they would go to St. Louis and give blood for you.

By spring everyone was exhausted, you of course, most of all. The slightest sense of optimism was in mom’s face the day she came home and told us the hospital staff felt you had improved enough for her to spend the weekend with us. I had fallen asleep sooner than I usually did, the comfort of mom’s presence downstairs bringing peace that had been missing. So although uncle Bud’s knock and voice outside our door in the middle of the night woke me up, it was her crying that brought me out of bed, shaking, with tears already clouding my eyes.

I know that she wished she had been there to hold you at the end. But I think that you knew what was coming, and had seen so much of her love those last months together that you wanted to spare her from seeing your final pain. I think that you wanted at the end to be by yourself, knowing that we who loved you were together in the home you had made for us, the place you longed to be but could no longer share. I think when you finally had to go, you knew you weren’t really alone at all.

– Roy Beckemeyer, 9 July 2013, Memoir Essay written as an exercise for an on-line class, “Seasons and Cycles: Sense of Place, Writing and Healing,” taught by Kansas Poet Laureate Emerita, Caryn Mirriam Goldberg. My father died of leukemia in 1958 at the age of 43, when I was 16 years old.
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In the Antarctic, krill, which means ‘whale food’ in Norwegian, sustain not only whales, but also penguins, seals, squid, fish, albatross, and other seabirds. These small, shrimp-like creatures represent the very cornerstone of the Antarctic ecosystem — processing the energy of the sun stored in phytoplankton (microscopic free-floating plants) and breeding by the thousands to provide an abundant source of nourishment for higher-order predators. Virtually all the larger animals of the Antarctic are either directly or indirectly dependent on krill.” – from Krill: Cornerstone of the Antarctic,

From my journal:

“Chinstrap Penguins at Bailey Head stream up the slopes in a continuous river of movement: swirls of penguins, freshets of penguins, long sweeping arcs of penguins, occasional eddies of penguins that hesitate briefly before continuing on.

Chinstrap 1

I point the viewfinder of my video camera into this chaos of penguins, then zoom in to focus on a square meter of black sand. I can cope with this small patch, analyze it just as I would a fluid flow problem. Establish a fixed reference volume and measure what goes in, what goes out. Thirty-eight penguins pass through my little box in two minutes. That’s nineteen penguins per minute per meter. The penguin stream here is about six meters wide. One hundred and fourteen penguins per minute passing this point, flowing uphill, uphill. Uphill to the chicks.

I change experimental techniques. One can also study flowing fluids by tracking the path of individual particles within the flow. I pan the camera back to the source of penguins, the rolling swells at the beach. Catch a knot of penguins at the water’s edge. Choose one. Watch the swell sweep it up onto the beach. It stands erect and steps. Step, step, step. Halt. Shake. Joins the flow: step, step, step. The penguin particle traces a path, a penguin streamline, up the beach toward the colony.

At this time of day, the net flow of penguins is uphill. Occasionally individuals or small groups can be found bucking the tide, going down toward the sea. Perhaps one in forty, one in fifty. Also going down the hill is a small stream of fresh water. The sea below penguin colonies seems always to be tinted, muddy, reddish, murky with suspended sediments of earth and guano: guano dyed pink with krill colors, organic krill dyes.


Krill fuel this system, provide the energy that pushes this flow of penguins uphill in defiance of gravity. Step, step, step. Each footstep like a meshing gear tooth in a machine. Lifting krill soup, krill stew. Kilocalories of krill being carried up in discrete penguin packets, levered up the hill step by step.

I first sit on the sand, then move to a rock further up the slope. I use my brain as a signal processor, filtering out the squawks, creaks and groans of penguin vocal cords. Filter out the rolling swish of water onto the beach. I focus on the background sound, the stepping sounds, the almost sibilant slapping of feet onto the ground. Step, step, step. The quiet, insistent background sound of energy going uphill, always uphill.

Chinstrap 2

I go with the flow. Climb the hill myself. The stream of penguins opens, parting to form a tear-drop shape of penguin-less space around me, as if I were a boulder in the stream. As I top the hill the stream begins to lose its identity, to diffuse, to disappear into the melee of the colony. Here raucous groups stand in the sun on the rounded slopes above the beach. Chicks beg for food, insistently pecking at adult bills. The chicks are of course the reason for all the commotion, all the movement, all the flowing river of black and white that stretches back across the sand into the distance. The penguins in the distance are barely distinguishable, but their rocking, pendulum-like motion looks like ripples on water, like the fine-grained capillary waves that dapple otherwise calm seas. Each roll, each bob represents a step. Step, step, step. Nearly countless feet taking nearly countless steps, right, left, right, left, a sound like light rainfall. As time passes and my memories of Antarctica fade, I know that it will be the memory of these soft sounds of penguins stepping slowly, steadily up the slopes of Bailey Head that will make this precious moment real for me once again.”

– Roy Beckemeyer, Deception Island, South Shetlands, January 31, 1998.


“I now belong to a higher cult of mortals, for I have seen the albatross!” – Robert Cushman Murphy, Logbook for Grace

From my journal:

“God seems to have graced some living things more abundantly than others. He was particularly generous to pelagic birds. Our days between Ushuaia and South Georgia on the open waters of the South Atlantic Sea provide ample evidence of this.

Storm Petrels are a case in point. They dash across the sea like frenzied ice skaters, like Bolshoi dancers. They stop in place and dap their toes into the water like ballerinas en pointe. They careen off again, rolling back and forth, back and forth. Watch them closely enough, long enough, with sure and agile enough tracking, and they will reveal their identity by way of their belly plumage: dark for Wilson’s, white with a black streak for Black-bellied.

Wilsons StormPetrel Photo Filtered

But it is the stiff-winged albatrosses that to me best reveal the sea birds’ special grace. The first species we encounter is the lovely Black-browed, with its snowy white head and stunning black stripe through the eye. These birds wheel and glide behind the ship showing off their natty black and white plumage from all angles. Later we see Light-mantled Sooty and Gray-headed Albatrosses as well, each with equally pretty plumage. They are much rarer than the seemingly ubiquitous Black-browed, however, and for that reason seem more precious.

Wandering Albatross Quick Sketch

Soon the Wandering Albatross appears. We see mostly immature birds of this species, which even in the adult plumage is somewhat drab when compared with the other albatrosses. But this bird’s blessings are not cosmetic, not skin-deep. The Wanderer possesses unimaginably efficient wings. Wings capable of keeping the bird airborne day after day after day, almost never needing to be flapped. Wings sensitive to the slightest nuance of wind, of updraft, of gradients in the boundary layer. This species’ grace and beauty are functional, structural, geometric, aerodynamic. This bird is the consummate flier, with slender sail-plane like wings that can bring tears of joy to the eyes of an aerodynamicist.

Wandering Photo

Occasionally bestowing on us a close look as they glide over our heads, these huge birds with their eleven foot spans more often skim the wave tops one or two hundred meters away. They are nearly always within sight of the ship, but not tethered in its wake like their molly-mauk and petrel cousins.

Wandering ALbatross SKetches

I have dreamed of seeing the Wandering Albatross for years, since reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner as a child. My desire only intensified when I became an engineer and read the works that document the astounding feats performed by Diomedea exsulans. In 1964 Clarence Cone of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science published a mathematical analysis of the energetics of dynamic soaring that showed albatrosses to be the original wind machines, able to extract energy from wind and wave with the clarity, precision and unerring control with which they maintain their attitude and position in time and space.

Cone Analysis SKetcvh.

In 1982 Colin Pennycuick made field observations of the gliding performance of the albatrosses of South Georgia and quantified their impressive performance. P. Jouventin and H. Weimerskirsch tracked Wandering Albatrosses using satellites in 1990 and determined that the birds made foraging flights away from their nests of from 3 to 33 days that covered from several thousand to 15,000 kilometers. Credible documentation of incredible feats.

Now I stand at the stern of the Akademik Ioffe, shifting my weight from leg to leg as the ship lifts and rolls on the swells of the Drake Passage, the wind whipping my cheeks with spume plucked from white-fringed waves. The surface of the sea is almost alive, in constant motion. I stand and watch them: Real albatrosses. Live albatrosses. Albatrosses sharing with me this position in time, this position in space, this raw and lovely intersection of nostalgia and reality.

Wandering Albatross Photo FIltered.

At the edge of the horizon a Wandering Albatross skims the waves. The swells reveal then hide, reveal then hide the bird. It suddenly wheels up above the plane of the water, dark against the leaden sky, showing me its perfect planform. The arc of its path brings it nearly vertical to the surface of the sea. There is a catching in my throat. The bird reaches across the water and captures a bit of my soul. I hold my breath. The bird hangs there in mid air. I have seen my albatross at last!”

– Roy Beckemeyer, Drake Passage, 22 January, 1998

My travel journal entries from a trip I made 15 years ago to Antarctica have long been posted on my web site I have decided to extract some of them and post them here on my blog so that they are exposed to a different audience. The text and rough sketches are from my Antarctic Journal. The schematic diagram is from the cover of “A Mathematical Analysis of the Dynamic Soaring Flight of the Albatross with Ecological Interpretations,” by Clarence D. Cone, Jr., Virginia Institute of Marine Science Special Scientific Report No. 50, May 1964. The color images are from photos I took on the 1998 Antarctic trip and are of a Wilson’s Storm Petrel and two different Wandering Albatrosses. I used Photoshop filters to make the photos look like paintings.