A Lot of My Poems Seem to be about Death and Dying
I am loving my life just now; that hasn’t always been the case.
When my kid was born with a ruined brain I wanted to murder the whole world starting or ending with myself.
When I found my stepson hanging from the back deck, knowing I’d have to tell his mother that he’d killed himself, I couldn’t imagine having the courage to pull that off.
All my life, I gambled and lost, sometimes winning, but the losing always hurt so much more than the winning felt good.
And worse, it took me a whole lifetime to even see that I was in the game.
Now, I live in the summers in a nice house up north and in the winters at a resort down south.
I’m not a millionaire but even better, we have all the money we need.
I drink scotch and eat steaks, pet my dog, make love to my wife, and I can walk through The Desert Museum, in Tucson focused on simply being there, relaxed, thinking about and wanting to do nothing more than what I’m doing:
I spot the javelinas in their expansive enclosure, looking fat and relaxed; Pig-skunks they’re called, but I see them calm and happy, animal versions of myself.
I drive my red Corvette or our almost new Acura and I write whatever I want whenever I want, and only death will ultimately interrupt the gentle, easy ticking away of my days.
For what it’s worth, it seems to me that in the end how a person stands up to that one thing, the dark approach of death, matters most because in the end that’s the only thing left.
A Shitty Poem
As you’ll see . . .
When we got the phone call that my wife’s sister Donna was on death’s door, we dropped everything and rushed to her bedside.
Well, my wife Patti did anyway; I dropped most things and waited.
That was two weeks ago. Donna has Down’s Syndrome and for a person with Downs, 55 years a very long life, yet she lingers on.
Some of her days better, many of them worse, but lingering, lingering, lingering…
A crisis has a built-in time limit during which it’s possible to sustain a high level of attentiveness, concern, and love.
I’m afraid two weeks is beyond that for me.
Now, I mostly just feel sorry for myself and angry at these selfish feelings.
Nothing is very fun, or relaxing and there is no way to talk about it, other than by whining in a shitty poem, like this one.
There are lots of reasons why a poem may be shitty, but I can’t think of many worse ones than feeling sorry for yourself that someone you love hasn’t gone ahead and died yet.
These days, for some reason the poems/writing just doesn’t come as easily.
This often happens after a rush of great days where it flows fast and naturally.
With my sis-in-law in hospice and the summer just past the halfway point of July 4th all is plodding now the dentist, the chlorine level in the swimming pool, car needs gas, lawn needs mowing, and a stretch of cooler weather has slowed my blood and imagination.
Not even Happy Hour is easy: Vodka? White wine? Scotch? Can’t decide and when I do it usually feels a bit off.
My 50-year high school reunion was last week and one of my very few old pals with whom I’m still in contact found my pic on the dead classmate’s wall with a dead classmate’s (Terry Troxel) name on the bottom of the image:
They had the right name but the wrong guy’s (my!) photo.
This little error is just about perfect for my mood and place today.
At least that’s something: things going wrong, but in so doing by still being alive I suppose that feels just about right.
Last Night I Dreamt I Was Chatting With Ken Kesey
He died in 2001
…who wrote the great American novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Although in real life I met him only once and we visited briefly, in this dream we were old friends and he was very kind and seemed as happy to see me as I was to see him.
Kesey led writers from the far western states, he was Oregon I’m Washington, to a style and voice of American writing that became our own.
My dream felt like a great gift, guiding me and helping.
When I woke-up I thought of writing a poem about talking to dead people in our dreams, you know, people we can no longer see in real life.
I knew Kesey would have loved this take on our time together.
This thought led to the realization that if I live long enough, by which I mean longer than most everyone else I’ve known or now know, I may have to go to my dreams to find anyone I’d want to talk to at all. And that people I admired and learned from and looked-up to, could be waiting there for me.
I think this kind of dreaming happens to a lot of people who live “long enough” (perhaps we can agree “too long”).
You know who I mean, ancient, wrinkled-up folks in nursing homes being spoon fed by underpaid and pissed-off people in starched white uniforms wishing they were anyplace else but there.
Thanks a lot Ken Kesey, for making me all depressed, although to be honest it WAS nice to get caught-up a bit.
And I’m glad your spirit has lived on to be there for me and for so many others.
Refusing the blindfold in front of the firing squad is about as good as it gets.
a little cultural, historical perspective might be in order
Pablo Neruda the great Chilean poet, on his deathbed had to watch Fascists walk into his room and hear that Allende his good friend and the president of his country had been murdered by these same thuggish monsters.
Did Neruda think, “All my life’s work has been futile, My poems weaving love of country, friendship, rivers, pine cones, erotic attachments, all of it, everything, wiped away by these killers approaching me now?”
Or did Neruda simply close his eyes and breathe slowly, evenly, a calm windless ripple across and over and under his flesh?
In the knowing that life has a beginning, a center And an ending. As do all things, as do, All things.
Pablo Neruda’s Death
He lay in his hospital bed, body riddled with cancer, His friend Allende had just been murdered by CIA-backed fascists, Who were now walking into his room. What did he feel and think in that moment? Because it was Neruda, I’ll bet it was pride and honor and the knowledge that this kind of departure was more than he could have hoped for. We all have to leave one day. Refusing the blindfold in front of the firing squad is about as good as it gets. In all ways and in all things.
RSVP (to my H.S. 50th year reunion)
Sometimes a simple, “Sorry, nope, I don’t think so...” won’t quite do the job...
Bitter Bierce wrote “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and was the “old gringo” in the movie Old Gringo and disappeared chasing stories and glory in Mexico where he went to check out Poncho Villa. But much more, he also wrote The Devil’s Dictionary and he was a true life Western Yankee version of Twain’s Confederate Rebel. Both these geniuses preceded Sartre in their firm and certain conclusion that “Hell is other people.” My 50th year high school reunion approaches (less than two weeks away) with its Friday night jam session and dance, its golf outing and the big wrap-up of a Sunday picnic and get-together “For the whole family.” I’ve received outreach phone calls and messages from several old classmates I wouldn’t recognize in a field of three unless the other two choices were young or people of color. In fairness they wouldn’t recognize me either... ...and a horrible truth is that I’d probably go to this thing if I knew I was being lauded for my amazing achievements: Becoming an author with a book that sold lots of copies, and winning a big award, and being invited for brunch at the White House as an invitee to The National Book Festival. Again, if I knew that I’d be singled out as some kind of hot shit, big shot, WINNER at this reunion of 70-year-old people I kind of once knew 50 fuckin’ years ago, I’d probably go. Which brings us full-circle back to my earlier assessment of Bierce and Twain and Sartre’s perfect analysis, to wit: Hell really IS other people, myself included as that other to all my former classmates.
So many people have lived those lives Thoreau described “of quiet desperation.” And a bunch of elderly survivors of this nightmare, my classmates from Shoreline H.S. 1966, are meeting to lie to one another about how great it’s all been out there loving Jesus and their grandkids and blissful in their “happy marriages.” While out here sitting at the edge of Walden Pond, I judge them and find myself oh-so-superior for absolutely no good reason at all.
As he approached his 70s Buk wrote a poem, more than one I think, about getting a free steak at The Sizzler just for being old. . . . . . My 50th year H.S. reunion is week after next. A giant non-free steak, golf outing and “jam session” with dancing at a country club near the old neighborhood. I’d rather have my face pressed hard into the red-hot frying pan at The Sizzler, turning me into a medium-rare treat, than go face all those nearly 70-year-old ghosts of my teen nightmare memories. And yes, you can take this as my RSVP.
Approaching my 75th & Year's End
Two poems of aging that feel as true today as ever and always...
Approaching my 75th
Life is generally more understandable to me, or at least it feels that way.
My time divided between remembrance and hope, between my past and my future while simultaneously always trying to hold onto the eternal present which is all any of us ever have.
Shit! Listen to me playing wise old guy. (Laughing out loud).
Whatever legacy I leave however great or small will be wiped away by time and distance. Lincoln once said, “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here.”
These are his most famous words and about the only thing the world does remember about that place/day/time.
If yer reading on in anticipation of added meaning and value; forget about it — I’ve just given you the best I’ve got. Whether it’s enough or not isn’t going to matter much in the end.
As we come to the end of this difficult year. it’s hard not to feel a deep despair at the twisted ways our country has turned: facts: irrelevant, truth subject to preference, and ideals, justice, fairness, ethics…mine are right, and anyone who disagrees is wrong.
Hard not to feel despair, in fact, impossible.
Yet the air feels so cold and crisp today, almost as if it doesn’t care what kind of madness we are making.
In the high wind, miles above the dirt and seas, nothing is listening to us
and there is no such thing as time: neither past, nor now, nor ever.