We’re all voyagers on an ocean of time and space. Our confidence is challenged by abysmal depths, fierce storms and mountainous waves. We are sometimes blown off course. And often we are discouraged by the paradox of exhausting effort with seemingly insignificant progress. Yet hope and faith are often renewed by the simplest things, like a companion’s fond embrace, the thought of a child laughing, the warm rays of sunlight breaking through a cloud after a hard rain, a lone seagull soaring overhead on a gentle breeze, or a light in the distance on a dark night. Constantly aware of our own limitations and vulnerability, we sail on, drawn by the allure of what we imagine, or perhaps cannot imagine, far beyond the horizon.
Stephen Stills and the Southern Cross © 2020 L.F. Massey
I laid a sheet of music on the kitchen table, picked up my guitar, and began to strum. As the melody and lyrics slipped through my lips, my mind sailed away on a voyage of fantasy and nostalgia. Got out of town on a boat going to southern islands. The lyrics took me back to the late 60s and early 70s when I was a young missionary in South Africa, trying to save souls, occasionally singing folk songs in a coffee bar, but often thinking of friends and cousins dying in Viet Nam. It was there I saw the Southern Cross for the first time, and as Stills expressed in his lyrics, I too wondered why I had come this way.
I’ve never had the privilege of meeting Stephen Stills. He and I are old farts today, both from Dallas (or vicinity), but living in different worlds. His world, as it has been for decades, a wonderland of music, stage performances and recording sessions. Mine mostly church ministry, university lectures, and writing, with a side of guitar and music that despite practice remains pretty far from professional.
Suddenly in my seventies, I find myself uncontrollably curious as to the meaning of Stills’ lyrics in Southern Cross. I have quoted them occasionally. But I wonder what prompted this piece of work overall. Was Stills ever a sailor? Were his words a poetic lamentation of a break-up with a girlfriend? If so, did she run away twice as one line suggests? Did he then and does he now feel that music is his true love, the ship of his dreams, and the safe harbor of his soul?
Last spring I sold my sailboat, still hoping to enjoy blue water sailing at some point in the future. It’s on my bucket list, but I know that dreams don’t always come true and wishes are often as empty as a rain barrel in the Mojave Desert.
Stills’ career emerged in California in the 60s, and the lyrics of Southern Cross may have come to him as he cruised to Catalina Island. Or maybe they popped into his head while daydreaming, or reclining in the moonlight on Venice Beach, gazing out over the rolling surf. Perhaps, like me, he watched too many episodes of Adventures in Paradise, tales of Adam Troy aboard the Tiki, riding the trade winds across the rolling azure of the South Pacific.
Stills has said that his lyrics were inspired by a song called Seven League Boots, by the Curtis Brothers. But he thought it drifted around too much, so he wrote new lyrics with a different chorus. It was to him a story about a long boat trip after the pain of divorce, and learning to draw from the power of the universe to heal his personal wounds. “I was given somebody’s gem and cut and polished it,” he said.
I know that analysts of poetry tend to replicate the clinical process of dissecting frog brains, as we did in high school, commenting on every fold of tissue and squirt of formaldehyde. Critics of the work of artists tend to sound much like a medical examiner’s rambling technical description of an autopsy’s gory discoveries. They often gloss over brilliant insight and intent, along with cleverly chosen and constructed phrases, and launch malicious pummeling with stones of denigration and scorn. Thus, otherwise beautiful and inspiring words from Poe or Keats, or Angelou, or Gibran, can be scrutinized ad infinitum, and reduced to a lifeless pile of paper and ink fragments like roach dung in a dark corner of an attic floor. But I would venture to say that critics fail to find many flaws in a piece like Southern Cross. It is a magic carpet that whisks away the mind to wherever it yearns to go, without judgment or critique.
So, I think back to the verdant forests of Zululand, the balmy air of Durban and the warm surf of the Indian Ocean, and I wonder why I chose to go that way, instead of another path, another direction. But I conclude as did many others before me, the path I chose back then, a road less traveled by, became the path that defined me, shaped me, enlightened me, led me forward— sometimes in sweet dulcimer tones and Siren voices, and sometimes with the sting of a cattle prod.
My voyage under the Southern Cross brought adventure and discovery. It provided much of my education, shaped my life perspectives, and in time gave me reasons to change perspectives. It gave me a devoted wife, three incredible children, three grandsons, and many faithful and supportive friends. It bludgeoned me with spells of intense heartache, but it also showered me with immense joy and unwavering love. It enlightened me and gave me peace. I thank God, I thank my lucky stars, and yes, I still thank Stephen Stills and the Southern Cross.
Mirage © 2016 L.F. Massey
I’ve never been any place where others have not already been.
But I have seen those places with my own eyes, and then
I searched there for treasures others failed to seek.
And I thought upon them, and drew conclusions, some possibly unique.
I have challenged beliefs and convictions of others,
And realize some truths are hard to discover.
I have asked many questions some have asked before,
And I’ve found a few answers that eluded many more.
As I ponder life’s problems and difficult solutions,
I understand the frailty of human resolutions.
For all that seems immutable, words engraved in solid rock,
Are but shadows shifting toward the night in movements of the clock.
Nothing in the finite world has the capacity to last.
All things new will soon be relics of the past.
Our perceptions and convictions, visions and noble quests,
And all we know for certain are but a mirage at best.
(dedicated to anyone with a loved one away on tour of duty)
Windows are made for looking through, and I’m looking forward to the day
When I see you walking up the steps─ coming home.
Doors are made for walking through, and I imagine you standing there,
Waiting at the door─ coming home.
Being apart so very long is terribly hard to bear,
And I never know what’s happening, or what you’re doing, and where.
The nights are long and my anxious heart beats heavy
Each time I think of you, and wonder if you are thinking of me too.
So I pray for you, that with God at your side you will never feel alone.
And I wait for you, and I imagine seeing you through the window.
Then upon a gentle breeze I can almost feel your presence,
Walking through the door─ coming home.
L.F. Massey 2013
I cannot help but grieve family ties forever broken.
Life’s precious gifts shattered, healing words left unspoken.
Love is sometimes buried in earth and left to decay.
Like drifting continents, hearts once bonded push each other away.
Resentful words and bitter actions drive them apart.
Yearning for restitution against unyielding stubborn pride,
Each mourns internally, and seeks comfort in the memory
Of a mother who died of a broken heart.
No one can justify the pain they inflicted on her, or each other;
Resentful jibes hurled like stones from distant cover.
And as the end approaches they eagerly claim her belongings,
Pretending to value them as priceless works of art.
Sadly, inside a coffin lies the shell of a woman,
Who whispers from a silent and broken heart.
Heads bowed, they stand solemnly around her grave.
Join hands while a stranger thanks God for the gifts she gave.
But sisters and brothers, whom she treasured above all others,
Once closely knit, now sadly remain a family torn apart.
And they grimly turn and walk away with the legacy they inherit;
The memory of a mother’s broken heart.
Lesly F. Massey 2014
(from the perspective of a cow , like David’s 23 Psalm is from the perspective of sheep)
The Lord is my wrangler, what more could I need.
He makes me lie down in the shade of mesquite trees.
He leads me along the edge of a quiet creek.
He calms me down when I’m edgy and restores my confidence.
He nudges me along the right paths, because he knows the way.
Even though I walk through the valley of prickly pear and rattlesnakes, I hear his voice and I’m not afraid.
My wrangler can do anything, and he rides close by my side.
He protects me from rustlers, and with his lasso he draws me back into the herd.
He lays before me a bundle of hay while coyotes howl in the darkness.
He makes clean cool water flow from the ground. My feed trough overflows.
Surely I will enjoy sunshine and green pastures all my days, and I will graze on the Big Ranch forever.
Lesly F. Massey 2013
Home should be a place of refuge from all the storms of life.
It should be a forum for openness and exchange,
where family members can talk freely about joys and concerns,
and help each other find solutions for problems, free of tension and strife;
Home is where no one goes to sleep angry, harboring resentment or bitterness,
or lingering doubts about self-worth;
Where the circle of love never shuts anyone out;
Where no one is neglected, taken for granted, or forgotten;
Where members do kind things for each other, not out of duty,
but naturally in a spirit of devotion;
Where words of appreciation, gratitude, and congratulations are shared freely and often;
Where every accomplishment, collective or individual, is celebrated;
Where every hurt is soothed and every weaknesses and failure forgiven,
with loving encouragement to keep on trying;
Home is where everyone is allowed space to think, to grow, to be alone when needed and wanted,
and to be an individual without being punished for it;
Where different opinions are welcomed and considered thoughtfully;
And where all are quick to defend, slow to accuse, and eternal in loving commitment,
not just to the family as an entity but to each member of the family as a person of great worth.
This image of home is the cradle of human vision, our first taste of the paradise of God,
and the incubator of all that is noble and good.
If such a home is not reality for you, then try to envision it,
and strive for it in faithful endeavor until it becomes reality.
If you did not inherit such a home, then build one for yourself, and for those you love,
and welcome others into the circle.
© 2007 L.F. Massey