My Top Ten Poems: #10 “The Past”

     Sometimes I think of the past as though it were a reel of film. A series of individual moments captured and recorded before being spooled up and shelved. A flimsy record of the past collecting dust deep in the cavernous recesses of some ancient library archive.

     Finding myself in this dingy and decrepit archive, I unspool the film and stretch it out with my hands. Holding up the film, I focus in on an individual frame. So that’s how it happened, I think as I realize the past to be different than the perceptions and beliefs I had formulated in my mind.

     Yes, that’s exactly how I think of the past. The past was a real place of free will and choices. A place of unlimited potential that slowly faded as the unrelenting progression of the present pushed over it and onward toward a new day. Thoughts like these are what led to the entirety of this little project of mine. Soon it too will be pushed over by the progression of time. Not yet, though. Now is the time for me to take a little stroll down memory lane by revisiting some of my earlier work by discussing my top ten favorite poems.

     In at number ten is the poem that started it all, “The Past”:

The Past

Only remnants remain,
Ruins and ghosts,
Trying to speak to us
Across a great chasm;
But we cannot hear
And must imagine,
Interpret, and reinvent.

     “The Past” is the first poem that I published on this site. As such it certainly deserves a spot in my list of the top 10 poems that I have written. Looking back at it now, I can certainly see why I decided to kick off The Past, Present, and Future with it.

     When I wrote it, I wanted “The Past” to be a piece that would both encapsulate the main idea behind my first collection and also be able to stand on its own. I opted for a short piece that illustrated the fleeting nature of the past. Indeed, the past is not a place that we can reach. That being the case, there is a quite a bit of imagination, interpretation, and reinvention in our understanding of it. That idea winds its way through my whole collection to a certain degree.

     Well, that’s it for now. Next month I’ll discuss poem number nine. In the meantime, feel free to perhaps spend some time thinking about the past and what it means to you.


Literary Influence No. 5: The Old Ways

        I like books that teach me something, which is why I loved The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot by Robert Macfarlane.  This book taught me that walking can be so much more than just moving from one place to another.  The Old Ways helped me to understand the concept of walking as a means of thinking.  As it turns out, the idea isn’t new.  As Mcfarlane explains throughout the book, it’s an idea that has been with us for a very long time: we’ve only forgotten it.  Still, though, paths from the “Forgotten Realm” crisscross our landscapes, and our minds.

        While reading the book, it was hard not to picture myself hiking along old paths, or sailing along old water routes with Mcfarlane.  Exploring these places in my imagination via Macfarlane’s words, granted me a reprieve from the life of a modern commuter.  There’s definitely something freeing about traveling on foot that is hard to experience in planes, trains, and automobiles.

        When it comes to my writing, I always like to include an element of the past.  As I alluded to in my poem “The Journey Begins…”, without the past we have no map to guide us on our journey.  Indeed the past is an interesting place to explore.  That is, if you can reach it (without pesky perception getting in the way).  My current project doesn’t delve as deeply into the past as my next will.  For now, though, the recent past is all that matters.  There’s still plenty of time to explore the worlds of long, long ago….

The Journey Begins….

Like a trip along the Icknield Way,
My journey began long ago
And contains many ghosts.

In the beginning, it was euphoric
Everything was new and exciting,
Even the missteps were intriguing.

My needs and desires were all met.
Companions surrounded me.
Worry, and fear were at bay.

Treading the footsteps of the past,
I slowly learned to navigate.
Some faces stayed, others changed.

In time, I found a path worth exploring.
With solemn and curious eyes I set out,
And left the past behind.

Like a ghost caught between two worlds,
Though, the past does not know how to die.
It haunts and guides me along my way.

Every time that I try to forget that it exists,
It reaches out and pulls me back.
“I am still here,” it whispers in my ear.

Now, I know the past is not to be ignored.
Without its ghosts, we walk blindly on our journey
With no map to guide us across the land.

by Cody McCullough


Photo by Cody McCullough

The Wasteland

I was born on the far end
Of a desolate wasteland
Endless miles of juniper, sagebrush,
Cheatgrass, and dusty Earth,
As far as the eye can see.

More than a century earlier,
Pioneers skipped over
Its rugged landscape
For the fertile soil of the
Damp valley beyond the mountains.

Thousands of years earlier,
Some of the first Americans
Skipped over it as well
For the path that would lead them
To the bountiful lands of the south.

Escapists, adventurers, and many others
Eventually called the wasteland home,
My ancestors among them.
Whatever their reason for coming,
They found one good enough to stay.

Living on the edge of the wasteland,
And in a sense Western society itself,
Is not for everyone.
So I left the wasteland one day,
But it refuses to leave me.

by Cody McCullough

Smith Rocks 2000 001

Photo by Elizabeth McCullough

The Intersection

The wheels of time slowed to a crawl,
As I stopped at the intersection
On a breezy day years ago.

It appeared like any other four-way stop.
Cars and pedestrians, all taking turns
Before going their separate ways.

Only later did I recognize the truth.
It was not an ordinary intersection.
It was, and is, the intersection.

Sitting behind the wheel,
I saw the events slowly unfold
For open eyes to see.

The family was to my right
A father, a mother, their children,
And the boy.

The family began to cross,
But the boy did not.
He stood there, alone and scared.

Safely across, the family began to proceed
As the boy solemnly looked on
Realizing his family was gone.

Soon the boy’s absence was felt,
As the father looked back and saw
The boy standing there alone.

His body so small and frail,
Longing for protection
From the frightening world.

The father motioned for the boy to cross,
But the boy hesitated, as he looked at the waiting cars.
With tears streaming down, he finally took his first step.

With his hands held up, motioning the cars to stay put,
The boy hurried across the busy road
To the stern looks of his family.

As time began anew, I saw that the boy was me
And recognized the intersection
For what it was, is, and always will be.

by Cody McCullough


Photo by Elizabeth McCullough

Falling Leaves

All things fade in time.
Like leaves falling from a great tree,
Our memories fade away too.
Each year being replenished,
Like new leaves budding on the great tree.
Old memories, no longer needed,
Wither away like last year’s leaves.
Even the great tree will fade one day,
And so does our mind.
As the tree begins to fade away,
I imagine, it can’t help
But be nostalgic
For the leaves of long ago.

by Cody McCullough


Photo by Elizabeth McCullough

The Humble Man

Ancient emperors
never understood
the humble man.

They sought to
control, manipulate,
and draw maps.

To them, ownership
was the only way
to gain wealth.

Those that lived
simple and humble
were weak.

War was the
only way to build
their empires.

The humble were
enslaved, or pushed
to the fringes.

Rent was paid,
and homage
was bestowed.

The humble man
was mocked
and ridiculed.

Empires flourished,
even when
all was stolen.

Eventually, emperors
and their empires
faded away.

Yet the humble man
knows, their imprint
still remains.

As new groups
seek to control
everywhere and everyone.

by Cody McCullough

The Footbridge

Our past is filled
With great stories.

Some are folktales,
Others accepted doctrine.

They offer a footbridge
Across the great chasm

That separates the past
From the present.

Believers and historians
Traverse the bridge daily.

Others stand at the chasm
And ask themselves:

Is the footbridge real,
Or imagined?

by Cody McCullough


Photo by Elizabeth McCullough


Constantinople stood for
Nearly one thousand years after
The fall of Rome.

Now it is an ancient ghost
Beneath the streets of
Modern Istanbul.

From the ashes of greed
The empire faded away
And London arose.

From the fire of a new rebellion
Royalty lost its grip
And New York arose.

The republic was reborn
And darkness would no longer
Conquer the land.

But in a new age,
Which is Rome?
And which is Constantinople?

by Cody McCullough