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Selected Poems of

James N. Churchyard

26 October 2017





Youth. 3

Mom goes back to School 3

Maturity. 4

Fireworks Every Day. 4

Reflections on Falling Down. 5

Fireworks Greet a Returning Rocket Scientist. 6

Collective Nouns for Engineers. 7

Retirement. 8

My Mustache and my Career Change. 8

From Rocketry to Poetry. 10

At Dear Sister’s Memorial Service. 11

About the author. 12



1694 Santa Margarita Dr.

Fallbrook, CA 92028-1639


Copyright © 2017 by the author.


Mom goes back to School


I was just a toddler

when Mom went back to school.

We stayed (Mom, my two sisters and I)

at a motel in Tempe with a fenced in swimming pool.

We must have been there for several weeks

as she worked to re-activate her credential –

I don’t remember any other details.


Next we lived in a shared house

in Silver City while she took a class there.

There was a church up the hill

from the house.


Did we visit her one-room school

in the now ghost town of Cloverdale?

It had a big oak tree in the yard –

that is all I remember.


But when she became too ill

she had to abandon her goals.


October 2017


Tempe – Arizona

Silver City – New Mexico

Cloverdale – formerly New Mexico




Fireworks Every Day

Love – fireworks in the heart,

Music –fireworks in the ear,

Insight – fireworks in the mind,

Pain – fireworks in the flesh.


Read 2015

About this poem

This was written after an operation to remove my retroceccal appendix just before it would have ruptured.  That evening the nurse wanted me to sit up and dangle my legs off the bed – the most painful thing I have ever done.  Even after the immediate pain went away, for many years a change in the weather could really set me back.



Reflections on Falling Down

I fell down on Wednesday, 11/14/15.

The Corelle ware plate shattered into many pieces,

However the Pyrex bowl survived intact.

Others helped me up. I had no cane or other prop.

So I ate my lunch at the picnic pavilion,

Then found a broom and waste bucket

And swept up the pieces.

My knees exhibit several scars,

My right arm feels pulled ligaments

Moral – don’t do that again!

Look at my feet to see the obstacles there.

Keep brain in gear, don’t think too far ahead.

Pay attention to now – what else is there?

November 2015

About this poem

I was watching my goal, not the things in front of my feet, and did not notice the curb until I tripped over it – rather embarrassing for someone who had been that way many times.



Fireworks Greet a Returning Rocket Scientist

Flying back from El Paso to LAX,

After a successful Launch from Utah to WSMR,

We were greeted by fireworks – it was late on the Fourth of July.

As we descended gushes of fireworks

Rose from near and far to our delight.

Stars and fireworks were in our eyes

As we disembarked that splendid summer’s night.


About this poem

The only time in my life when I saw fireworks from above – a very different view on the process!

LAX – Los Angeles International Airport, California

WSMR – White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico



Collective Nouns for Engineers

When the going got tough

In developing our missile

Into my simulation lab they would come.

A mechanical problem?  Then I hosted

A clutch of mechanicals.

An electronics problem?  Then surged

A shock of electricals.

A software problem?  Then flowed

A heap of programmers.

A management problem?  Then followed

A gaggle of managers.

And helping to solve these problems?  Myself,

A pride of mathematicians!

9 April 2015

About this poem

In the throes of developing the Improved Tactical Air Launched Decoy (ITALD) my hardware-in-the-loop simulation lab was visited many times by different people as various problems surfaced.  Depending on the exact problem different groups of engineers would huddle to work the problem.  This set me to wondering about the nomenclature for these groups and so I developed the following collective nouns.

Clutch (like for chickens) of mechanical engineers

Shock (like a shock of corn) of electronic engineers

Heap (like a heap of sand) for software engineers

Gaggle (like a gaggle of geese) for managers

Pride (like a pride of lions) for mathematicians




My Mustache and my Career Change


The first Athena rocket came apart at launch

from Green River, Utah,

and pieces fell between the airport and the town

of Durango, Colorado.


Then we had a couple of successes

but then more failures.

Some of us swore to leave our

faces unshorn until success was ours.


But, after a short while, the other

fellows backed out –

I kept my mustache even so.


It never amounted to much,

never was pointed, bushy,

never had a handlebar

and itched my poor nose terribly.


Long after the last Athena

disappeared into the skies

I kept my mustache in its honor -

a worthy contributor to the

space era!


But now, after 50 some years

as a rocket scientist,

it is time to say farewell to rocketry

and shave the damn thing off!


And say welcome to poetry!

June 2015

Read 5/10/2016


About this poem

As it says, after 50 some years my mustache had never amounted to much and, was turning white, it was less and less noticeable.  So why contend with itches and inconvenience?  Shave it off, it never will be missed!

Athena – a four stage solid fuel research rocket launched in the 1960s to 1970s



From Rocketry to Poetry

No more differential equations.

No more orbital mechanics,

No more reliability and maintainability.

No more root cause analyses.

No more straightening out trajectories

bent crooked by the upper air winds.


Yes to beauty of thought and sound,

Yes to choosing words of comfort,

Yes to tears of joy from beauty and friendships,

Yes to tears of grief that come from living.

January 2016


About this poem

As in the poem about my mustache, I am looking forward to a change in life style.  I accumulated equal semester hours in English and mathematics, but now I am returning to English literature to anchor the rest of my life.



At Dear Sister’s Memorial Service

During the Reflection Period I shared two memories.


At one point our father had $4.00 to feed the family

(father and three children) for a week – there was no more money –

that was  it.  And she did it!


She spent her first college year at Trinity University

In San Antonio, Texas.

She came home at Christmas break and needed to study.

Ada and I had missed her terribly, but she needed to study.

We tried to catch her attention for her to interact with us.

Finally she told us “to get the Devil out of here!”

I looked at Ada, Ada looked at me, and the two of us got on either side of her,

Picked her up – chair, sister, book and all – and carried her outside,

Literally “getting the Devil out of here.”


At the top of her celebration program

She told us what she expected of us –

“I want an uplifting memorial service,

Not a sad, dreary affair.”

Did we obey her wishes?  Not her bratty brother!

He wept while giving both his reflections and had

To be held up at times.


And so, Dear Sister, farewell!

Read March 2017

About this poem

My sister Miriam was born 30 August 1924, died 23 February 2017.  The above is based on my reflections at the service on 4 March 2017.



About the author

James Churchyard was born and raised in Douglas, Cochise County, Arizona.  He took all the mathematics and English classes offered by the high school.  He then went to the University of Arizona in Tucson where he majored in English, mathematics and education.  He tried high school teaching but did not relate well to the students.  In the aftermath of sputnik, though, he joined the aerospace business and worked for many years as a rocket scientist.  He retired 16 September 2016 and has returned to poetry.