A Northman's Reveries

A Northman's Reveries

 

 

Send me out into another life
                lord because this one is growing faint
     I do not think it goes all the way

                      --W.S. Merwin

 

 

In W.S. Merwin we admired not only the poetry but also the poet.

Which unfortunately can't be said for a lot of poets.

So many couldn't live up to the beauty and profoundness of their own words.

But then, truth be told, neither can I.

Alas, I am better on paper than in person.

...which I suspect is why many of us write.

 

 

[First posted: July 15, 2019]

 

          I needed my mistakes
    in their own order

to get me here

           --W.S. Merwin

 

 

Glad to be alive? Yes.

But it was a rough road getting to this point.

Not sure I'd want to make the trip again.

 

 

 

 

[First posted: June 17, 2019]

 

 

I received your email, and for the past two days
I've been trying to think what to say.
Words fail me--As you can well appreciate,
an uncomfortable state of affairs for a writer.

Yes, I will miss you.
Yes, I am sad at the prospect of your death.
Yes, I am grateful for our friendship 
and how it has enriched my life (and my writing)
over these many years.

But the words sound so trite when put down on paper,
so inadequate to the occasion, the anticipated loss of
a valued friend.

And then this morning, when out walking on my hillside,
I noticed the first signs of summer sliding into autumn:
One of the sugar maples is just beginning to turn,
signaling the changing of the seasons.

And once again I found in nature that peace
that stills the mind and fills the heart.
If I could, I would send you that peace.
As it is, I can only leave you with my sense
of gratitude for the many moments we have shared,
and a sad gladness that our paths crossed--
several times--on our separate journeys.

Godspeed on yours now. I will eat an orange in your honor
and whisper your name to the wind.

I guess that's what I wanted to say.
Farewell, my friend.

 

 

 

[First posted: August 22, 2018]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 O Lord,

We're grateful that we can come together as a family,
united in our love in spite of the misguided political views held
by some of our members gathered with us here today.

We hold hands around this table,
putting aside our differences,
confident that Your wisdom
will help them see the error of their ways.

We give thanks for the bounty of this table
and for our nation rich in its blessings,
now threatened by the idiotic policies being proposed
by a certain political party who shall remain nameless
because we have put politics aside on this day of Thanksgiving.
Really, you would not believe the asinine things they're considering--

What?

Oh, sorry, Lord. Margaret reminds me
that I can get a bit carried away in defense of
truth and justice and, heck, just basic common sense.

We ask that You bless this great nation of ours in the year coming
as we must choose between sanity and 
the catastrophic alternative offered by the other party.

We pray this in the name of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ,
who we know shares the same values as half of us sitting here at this table.

Amen.

...Margaret, why aren't there any knives on the table?

 

 

 

[First posted: November 26, 2015]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here might lie the source of all religions:
In such a sunset that takes one's breath away,
that pulls us out of ourselves,
intimating we are part of something far grander
than our tiny, temporary lives,
part of something beyond the mind's intellectual reach.

Perhaps our ancestors took it from there,
creating a God or gods or spirits,
to somehow account for this majesty and mystery
we sense but cannot explain,
yet feel we somehow must.

 

 

 

[First posted: November 7, 2015]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 











I would like to ask him what it was like to die that day.
Was he aware of it? Did he have any sense or intuition on that bright and beautiful May morning that This Was It? That his life had come to its end?

Or did it take him by surprise?
Or was one part of him taken by surprise, while another part knew, perhaps had always known, that it would be this day, this time, this place.

By the accounts we received, he went quickly. Collapsed to the ground. Heart attack. Sudden. And he was gone.

The location was fitting. Up in the lake country he loved. He couldn't have chosen a more fitting place to die. (Did you choose it, Dad?)

He was excited that last morning, Mom remembered. There'd been a landslide on the cliffs overlooking Lake Merwin, next to the family property. He wanted to get up there to see it and urged her to hurry and get dressed so they could leave. She wanted to put on her make-up.

"Oh, you don't need make-up. You look beautiful to me," he told her. "You've always looked beautiful to me."

It was unusual for him, that kind of compliment, and Mom remembered it. (Was that why you said it? Those words, were they your parting gift to her? They would sustain her for what lay ahead, she who never liked being alone.)

Years later I'd use them in my Tokyo novel. The ghost husband says to the old woman in her dreams: "My little wife, you are beautiful to me. You have always been beautiful to me."

As deaths go, it was a good death, immediate and over. Nothing fancy. No struggle. No grasping for one more day, or one more breath. No need.

It was a death worthy of you, Dad. A man who died at peace because that's pretty much the way he lived. Nothing left unfinished or unspoken. You'd said what needed to be said, what Mom needed to hear.
And then you could leave.

 

 

 

 

[First posted: May 26, 2015]

 

 

No words can soothe--only time can do that.
And memories that both remind and heal,
and the embrace of family and friends.

But mostly time, I think.

 

 

 

[First posted: January 27, 2015 ]

 

 

I was born just a few hours before the new year of 1948. So from the start, I have always loved beginnings.

And yes, yes, I know, such pre-packaging of time into "years" and "months" and "days" is contrived and artificial, based on an imperfect calendar no less (Leap year has always struck me as cheating.)

Yet there is, I think, within our humanity this love of beginnings, for each holds the potential for renewal and reinvention, possibly redemption, and maybe getting it right this time.

The journey that is one's life has many beginnings and many endings--it's not always easy to tell the difference--and if I am granted a conscious dying, then I plan to greet Death with open arms, telling him, "It's okay. I love beginnings."

 

 

 

 

 

[First posted: January 1, 2014]

 

 

 

 By the time I came to the Lower Columbia Community Action Program in 1999 as the new Community Services Director, I had been engaged in the AIDS epidemic for over 12 years. By then, I’d lost more than thirty friends, colleagues and clients to AIDS. I needed a change.

Friends expressed their concern for me, joking that I was moving forty miles and fifty years north of Portland, into the American “heartland” of small towns and small minds.

But I had already accepted that I’d be alone.

It didn’t come up until my second week, when I was meeting each of my eighty-plus staff individually. She came into my office, an older woman looking rather stern, I thought. We’d only just started, when she said abruptly, “I heard you worked with the AIDS people.”

The AIDS people. It was the way she said it, like the Sand people, or the Pod people.

“Yes. Yes, I have,” I said. “For a number of years.”

I braced myself to get an earful of what she thought of “those people.”

Her gaze dropped, her voice falling to a whisper. “My son has AIDS.”

I got up and closed the door, came back and sat down. “Would you like to talk about it?”

And as she told me about the family secret and the family shame and the family silence, and spoke of her own terrible isolation, I realized that I had come into the Heartland.

 

 

 

[First posted: October 6, 2013]