Father, mother, and brother Bill,
first love, some others, none named Jill,
upon my life’s way walk unfulfilled,
following me over another hill.
Old friend, best friend, only one,
I said “See ya, I gotta run.”
Next call I got was from his son,
so now my list of friends is none.
In every case, including romance,
we parted in some macabre danse.
When I look back it is askance.
You see, I never got that chance.
What chance you say? I thought you’d know,
at least by now in my tale of woe.
But in stringing rhymes I ain’t no Poe,
just a sad old poet name of Joe.
All these regrets have made me cry.
It’s too late, see, after they die.
But if you should go first, or I,
let me at least wish YOU goodbye.
Sorry, I threw some slant rhymes and extra beats here and there into this piece. But this poem came to me because recently I’ve had a closer brush with my own mortality than I cared to brush. It’s a small part of my relative absence (compared to the Prolific Joe you know) from this space for the past several months. I never got the chance to wish these people I loved goodbye before we parted, one way or another. Just my youngest brother. So I decided to get ahead of the possibilities, just in case one of us trips on a rainbow, so to speak.
If I had the sun and moon
as flashlights to plumb the depth
of our well of sorrows,
would you be able to see its bottom?
And if I had a line as long
as all the ones I’ve written
put together, could we reach it?
Why would we want to, though?
There’s nothing there but
choking sadness, such that
even if we stood on the bones
covering its floor, neither the dead
nor the living could hear us call.
So I think it’s time we climbed
above our despairing memories,
not hiding them, but keeping them
near as reminders of what love,
even unspoken, looks like.
We could try to fill that space
of sunken dreams with all that love
we shared with the lost.
So be well, dear heart, look to
your right, left, ahead and behind.
We’re together in this, and not
so alone as you think.
1. Try not to think of them.
2. Try not to think of them so much.
3. Try not to think of them on weekends.
4. Try not to think of them in public.
5. Try not to think of them when you’re alone.
6. Try not to think of them in the rain.
7. Try not to think of them in the shower.
8. Try not to think of them when you try watching TV.
9. Try not to think of them when you try reading.
10. Try not to think of them when you look up at the sky.
11. Try not to think of them when you look down at the sidewalk.
12. Try not to think of them while eating.
13. Try not to think of them when you can’t eat a bite.
14. Try not to think of them while you’re writing.
15. Try not to think of them while sitting in front of a blank screen.
16. Try not to think of them even though you know you can’t.
17. Try not to think of them when they’re all you can think of.
18. Try not to think of them at all.
19. Try not to think of them.
20. Try not to think.
21. Try not to.
Today is the first day of the month I’m trying to write a story a day with Julie Duffy and her Story-a-Day folks. The first prompt was to write a story made from a list. I did one a few years ago about my last day of working and first day of retirement. I was stuck because I’m in a rough emotional patch right now. A month and a half ago my oldest and closest friend died. On Thursday his wife called me to see how I’m doing. Not well. Then today I watched Meghan McCain eulogize her father and my sister-in-law posted a photo of my youngest brother’s grave on another holiday without him. Let’s say my emotional scab has been ripped again. And so I wrote this story. It’s funny (not in a ha ha way) how sometimes you realize the love you had for people only when you lose them. Or maybe you realize how much they loved you. And you can’t stop thinking about that for a month and a half or years and years. So you do your best to get by with the thought of them always there next to your consciousness in your head and heart. And sometimes you just cry.
My spiritual heart sank deep, the physical one following, after so many others’ had gone silent before me. It barely treads above the surface now in the well where I could usually touch bottom, where I always poured my sadness, where the real indigo-to-midnight melaina kholé steals the light from my eyes, where my being sinks more each day. My fear is the only way I’ll escape is for the well to overflow with sadness, the dark madness that drowns and buries you before you even begin to die. And I can’t take on any more, it’s weight pulling me deeper with each handful of their graves’ dirt I grabbed on my way down. I’d call for someone else’s hand, but my voice has become a rasp, a scraping jet-black sound like a crow’s shadow against a stormy night’s cloud. That’s about all I can see from this tunnel of up to down, a dimming light, a day-to-day fight to recall what day today is, if day it is. And so I float, my face to what might be the sky, might be the last look at your eye, as we each search for the man who once straddled the penumbra, where light at least shone upon half his life.
Poem #20, a prose poem (C’mon, Joe, it’s a friggin’ jeremiad) whose only brightness might be a here-and-there sneaky rhyme, an expression of what sometimes happens when the losses pour in higher and faster than you can bail them out of your well of sorrows. I know these things, and sometimes these days I get so tired.
They’re falling all around me now,
the large and small, old and young,
so many that it feels like
the rains in Spring, their passing,
the sound of water dripping,
falling off the eaves of my heart.
And still I’m here, chronicling
what I don’t think I want to know.
Is there a light you lope after?
Or do you fly like a moth until then?
Does the light, all of it, just go out?
Not a flicker, nor a dimming. Just…
These unusual secrets my raindrops
took with them when they fell,
even though I watched and listened
when some of them did.
It wasn’t just a ping on a tin roof
followed by a plop in the muddy puddle
of their mingling with earth.
It was natural, gravity winning out
over angels’ wings, the wings that wrung
these showers from those clouds,
that rat-a-tatted on the corrugated
prayers you huddle beneath,
that collect on your cheeks and spatter
the blessed mud of their ashes
on the shiny shoes you only wear
in this spate of rain.
There have been just too many over too short a time, and I can’t take any more.
in his hand.
flat and gray
He gives her
Here, all around
fat and gray