Happy New Year everyone! I hope your holidays were a blessing to you this year. Mine were a little rough this year because they were the first ones I experienced without my dad who passed away last May. “Four Score Years Ago,” however, is a sonnet I wrote six years ago to commemorate my mother’s 80th birthday, which was on January 8, 2017. A “score,” by the way, is an archaic word which simply mean 20 years. A few months after her birthday that year, the poem was also published in a literary journal at the University of Baltimore called Skelter. Four years ago, Mom went home to be with Jesus. I miss you and dad both today—but take solace in knowing that you are celebrating together in heaven with the Lord!
A Little Bit about “Fall Risk”
As a blind poet, the things I look at every day look pretty much the same to me. But fortunately, since I did not go completely blind until later in life, I can still conjure up visual images from my memory from the things I once saw to use in my poems. But I must admit that I do indeed miss seeing that everyday poetry that exists right under our noses as we go about our daily business. For example, the title for my poem “Fall Risk” came to me immediately after my wife, Amanda, described the bracelet to me that the nursing staff at the hospital had attached to my father’s wrist, which I later describe in the poem, “where the letters in the phrase Fall Risk blaze black / against the amber face of your bracelet” (lines 12-13). At sunset that same evening, which also was the winter solstice, Amanda and I went on a walk together. During our walk, she described one of the most beautiful skies that I had ever heard, which I turned into these lines from “Fall Risk”: “Just beyond solstice’s greedy, falling shadows, / strips of yellow ribbon still wrap the sloping sky, / surrounding twilight with cotton candy clouds” (19-21). Not all imagery, however, no matter how intriguing, will work in our poems. For me, the imagery must connect with the content or themes or contribute to the movement of the piece. For instance, during our walk that night, Amanda also pointed out a pizza that someone had dropped next to our neighborhood dumpster. Initially, as a result, these lines found their way into my poem: “Its sauce like blood splattered on December asphalt.” Even though I loved that image and wanted to expand on it, after my final edit, I deleted the line. It just did not work. I would not be surprised, however, if it did not crop up in a future poem. On the other hand, I was able to use the cotton candy clouds to transition into a childhood memory about my father: “Remember cotton candy, dad? Remember? / At the circus? How I picked at its beehived hairdo” (lines 22-23)? Sadly, dad passed away on May 20, 2022, just six months after I was first inspire to write “Fall Risk.” We miss you, dad. But I know that you are with Amanda and me as we go on another winter solstice walk tonight.
Book Signing December 10
Book Signing on Saturday, December 10, from Noon till 2:00 PM
His Way Christian Bookstore
56 Mountain Road
Glen Burnie, MD 21060
On Saturday December 10, 2022, His Way Christian Bookstore in Glen Burnie, MD, will be hosting a book signing for me from Noon until 2:00 p.m. Copies of two of my books of poetry will be available: Seeing Through Blindness and Leaves of Prophecy. My wife, Amanda, will also be there with me. Her first book will soon be released about her eye condition, nystagmus, called Life with Nystagmus: 10 Questions Parents Ask Me. If you are in the neighborhood, please stop by and say “hello.” We look forward to seeing you.
-Matt and Amanda Harris
A Little Bit about “Flashbulb Memory”
In short, flashbulb memories are memories that detail specific activities that occurred in one’s life during a significant or traumatic event. I wrote “Flashbulb Memory” in a poetry writing class during my first semester at the University of Baltimore back in 2015. In the spring of 2016, it was also published in our college’s literary journal, Skelter. For the assignment, our professor wanted us to write about our earliest childhood memory, which for me was the assassination of John F. Kennedy—also a flashbulb memory…And, yes, I know. I’m old. Don’t remind me. What is your earliest childhood memory? If you get a minute, please share it with us.
From the Age of Rock to the Rock of Ages
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Jerry Zengler was the lead singer in a popular Maryland rock band called The Lemon Lime. During that time, Jerry’s band was climbing the staircase of Maryland’s rock scene two steps at a time, hearing much applause while playing at such venues as The Hulabaloo and The Jaguar Club. After Jerry won the best lead singer award at a battle of the bands’ contest, featuring over one hundred bands, the pinnacle of his rock career culminated on February 16, 1969. On that Sunday evening, he and The Lemon Lime shared the stage with Led Zeppelin in the old Baltimore Civic Center.
Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is arguably one of the best rock songs ever written. Some of its lyrics even wax existential, with such lines as these: “Yes, there are two paths you can go by / But in the long run / There’s still time to change the road you’re on.” At the same time, however, I doubt if Robert Plant, Zeppelin’s lead singer, intended to express the idea of repentance when he penned those words. But as for Jerry, after having lived the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle for several years, he felt a void that gnawed at his soul like a bull dog chewing on a bone, and realized it was time to change the road he was on.
Jerry’s detour from that path occurred when a gentleman from a local church knocked on his door one afternoon. Always looking for an opportunity to amuse himself, Jerry opened the door and invited the man inside. When the fellow started to tell Jerry about Jesus, and about how God loved him so much that He sent His Son to die on the cross for his sins, Jerry lit up a Marlboro and blew smoke in the man’s face. Undaunted by Jerry’s smokescreen, the man continued,
“But Jesus didn’t stay dead because God, His Father, raised Him from the grave. This is the gospel,” the man declared.
Jerry opened the refrigerator door and reached for a can of Miller Beer, then hesitated and closed the refigerator and sat down at his kitchen table and took a drag from his Marlboro that burned in the ashtray. Only this time, he did not blow smoke in the man’s face. But instead, he listened, as the man quoted these words of Jesus, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
“You better leave now, mister” Jerry told the man. “I got better things to do than sitting here all day listening to you.”
“Thank you for your time,” the man said. “Here’s another verse I would like for you to ponder, ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death’” (Proverbs 14:12).
Within minutes after the man left, Jerry butted his Marlboro and realized that he needed Jesus. He dashed outside to try and find the man. Spotting the gentleman as he was about to knock on his next door neighbor’s front door, Jerry said,
“Hey, mister, I need to get saved.”
The man walked over to Jerry, looked him in the eye, and quoted this verse, “’For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 6:23). Do you believe that you are a sinner, young man?”
“Yes sir, that’s a fact,” Jerry said.
“We all are sinners, son,” the man said. “And furthermore it is our sin that separates us from God and ultimately will put us in hell. But Jesus took care of that separation for us on the cross. All we have to do is receive His gift by repenting from our sins, which means to turn away from them, and by believing the gospel, that Jesus died on the cross to forgive us for our sins and that God, His Father, raised Him from the dead. There’s nothing we can do to save ourselves. Our only hope is in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Scripture says that ‘Whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved’ (Romans 10:13). Are you ready, Jerry, to call on His name, the only name under heaven by which a man can be saved?”
“Yes, sir, I want to get saved right now.”
“Then pray with me, Jerry,” the man said, “and ask the Lord to come into your life. Dear Jesus, I know I’m a sinner and would be lost in hell without You. I turn from my sin and ask You to come into my life and forgive me. I believe You died on the cross to save me from my sins and that God Your Father raised You from the dead. Thank You, Jesus, for giving me Your free gift of eternal life. Amen.”
Jerry may have once opened for Led Zeppelin; but for the past 40 years, he has been opening for Jesus Christ. Shortly after Jerry surrendered his life to Jesus, he became a preacher. But not your typical every-Sunday-pulpit-preach-to-the-choir kind of preacher. No. Jerry first preached Jesus in the trenches of prisons throughout Maryland with a jail ministry that he started. For 20 years, he preached a simple message of repentance and Jesus crucified and raised from the dead. Hundreds of inmates responded to that message and surrendered their lives to Jesus, who gave them true freedom and His free gift of eternal life. Jerry never took a nickel for preaching. He supported his family as an iron worker in Baltimore, right down the street from where he once shared the stage with Zeppelin. He believes that since Jesus freely gave the gospel that he also should freely give it. For the past 20 years, he has preached that same message to thousands of truckers at God’s Trucking Ministry in Jessup, Maryland. Jerry likes to kid around with the truckers and say, “I know many of you have been pulled over by the police and given a ticket. Well, today God has pulled you over and given you a ticket: a ticket to heaven through His Son, Jesus Christ.”
I have known Jerry Zengler for over 30 years. I, too, once lived the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, even though I never played in a band. When I was a young man, shortly after I surrendered my life to Jesus, I met Jerry at a church one Sunday morning. I was long-haired and visually impaired, an outcast, having recently been diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), an incurable eye disease that leads to blindness. But those things didn’t seem to bother Jerry. We became friends, and he soon discovered that I, too, had the gift of evangelism. He took me under his wing and taught me how to articulate the gospel of Jesus and to share His love with the world. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
“And if you listen very hard the tune will come to you at last….”
A Little Bit about “Our First Year Together”
It is the best of both worlds when your spouse is also your best friend. I now live in both of those worlds because of you, Amanda. Several years before I met you, I began praying for a wife. Almost every day, I would ask Jesus to prepare a woman especially for me, a woman who would
love me despite the challenges Usher Syndrome presents, a woman who would get me as a poet, a woman who would understand when I asked her to tell me what she sees in the gutter because that’s where poetry often lies. Since I am not the typical everyday guy, I knew you would not be the typical everyday gal. And that is what I love most about you. By the way, back when I was praying for my future wife, I was also asking Jesus to prepare me for her. After we met, you told me that you had been praying a similar prayer as well. He answered both of our prayers when we married on October 30, 2021.
Although through no fault of our own, “Our First Year Together” was not the Hollywood, romanticized version. They seldom are; that is because expectations and reality are often at odds. As we look back on our first year together, however, we know now that the script Jesus wrote for us to follow will help sharpen us for where He will be taking us in the future: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). I love you, Amanda, and am looking forward to what our second year together brings. By the way, the chocolate chip cookies are delicious! Thanks for baking them for me, my Ruth, from your Boaz.