Rich Banichar: A Steelworker’s Path to Poetry

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Rich Banichar. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Banichar.

SHELBY, OHIO – After decades as a steel worker in an Ohio steel mill, Rich Banichar and his wife, Bonnie, recognized the incredible need of the homeless in the greater Richland County, Ohio area and they got involved by collecting clothing and food for homeless shelters. Rich is a high school classmate of mine, and we reconnected a couple of years ago over the 50th reunion of our graduation and the loss of our classmate, Dan Dowds, who I have written about for before. Rich is a published poet and while that in itself puts him in a special category, he and his wife, Bonnie, are good people and have used their energy to help those in need.

One of the places Bonnie and Rich volunteer at is People Helping People, a humanitarian aid organization. Rich said, “There’s a place on the corner of Third and Bowman in Mansfield called the People’s Pavilion and they feed 365 lunches a year, every day and it can be subzero weather on Christmas Day and people are waiting for someone to come and accept food.”

The pavilion is an open-air, wooden structure that has the electricity to plug in crock pots and offers a warm meal. Through that organization, Rich got involved and was able to meet and talk to “really hardcore people that were sleeping under porches, in the bushes, living in their cars.” From that experience came his poem, Broken Bread.

Broken Bread

A drifter, matted gray hair escaping his woolen / hat, scatters bread crumbs to his feathered audience.

His cracked fingertips draw soiled lint among / the morsels of crust from his pockets.

His colorless work coat remnant of mass / lay-offs battles the winter winds.

He hasn’t heard a furnace kick on in / quite some time.

A valued guest of soup kitchens, he stashes / hunks of bread to share with sparrows and doves.

He nods his head, mumbles and consecrates / his gift.

“Feed the birds and you feed the angels”. / St. Francis of the streets.

His watery blue eyes / float sadness.

Grime accents the lines on his pale forehead / and thin cheekbones.

Why wash your face when you sleep on / filthy bedding,

The wind plays music in his ears. / The traveler stares past the ghosts of lost yesterdays.

He longs for the front porch swing of his childhood.

Broken Bread was published in Street Sheet, a publication of the Coalition of Homelessness, San Francisco, California. The Street Sheet, “publishes twice a month, reaches 16,000 readers through 230 homeless or low-income vendors, who are not made to pay for the papers that they receive, and who keep all the money they earn through Street Sheet distribution. Registered vendors can sell the papers for $2 a copy. All proceeds stay with the vendor.” The newspaper is paid for from donations and the COH is currently offering $40 for poetry submissions.

When I asked Rich how he found them, he said, “I Googled who accepts poetry on the homeless. Street Sheet came up and I called them and talked to people, and it was going back to the 60s. They’re older hippies and offspring of hippies and very down to earth and there’s no intellectual climb that you have to do to talk to them and many of them are former homeless people and this is a way of getting a little economic help.”

In Rich’s poetry, many of them have references to his Christianity. Faith has “Crying the Psalms of David,” Winds of November, “The chilling grasp of December strikes my door. / I cry out to my Creator, “ and Heat of the Night, tells us, “Drivin from the upper room, / prophets and angels of the alley / seek the flame of the Holy Ghost.” The last line in that poem is, “Who will kiss the leper.” I asked him about his faith and if he had ever been homeless.

“I’m a sober alcoholic and I went through some rough times with my alcoholism, and I was on the verge of it. I was heading that way, and I knew it, so I thought, you know either I do something now or God knows what’s going to happen.”

“I came from a Christian home, and we went to church. I went to Catholic school for eight years. Not only being an alcoholic but being the son of an alcoholic the childhood had a lot of bad times. Even though when I was actively drinking, you’re not living up to your faith, but I never gave up. It was always in the back of my mind that this can change, and that God was going to play a part in it, and he certainly did, so I have that background to draw from with other people in other situations.”

The first published poem for Rich was in Moss Puppy Magazine. The poem was about his beloved wife, Bonnie, titled Bonnie Lee. “They come out every quarter and there was the second edition, and they have a theme in love and romance. That’s where Bonnie Lee fit in. And, then to my surprise, it was nominated for another magazine called Best of the Net where the best poems of several books of poetry were put into one. I didn’t get to be in the Best of the Net, but I felt being nominated  showed me things that I belonged.” In my opinion, he certainly does.

Bonnie Lee

It’s cowboy hats and county fairs, / cotton candy, and teddy bears.

Moonlight kisses and summer rain, / parkin and a huggin on a county lane.

It’s tractor pulls and rodeo’s / barnyard dances and do-si do’s.

Apple blossoms and bumble bees, / bluebird skies and an evening breeze.

It’s you and me on a front porch swing, / holding hands while our hearts sing.

Candle lights and glasses of wine, / Looking in your eyes, you’re looking in mine.

It’s the tender touch and soft caress, / tasting your love is what I love best.

Part two: Murder, Mennonites, and 5,000 dozen eggs.

Beverly Stoddart is a writer, author, and speaker. After 42 years of working at newspapers, she retired to write books. She is on the Board of Trustees of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. She is the author of Stories from the Rolodex, mini-memoirs of journalists from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

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