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In my words, May 27 – June 2


I am sorry, but it’s been a sad week pretty much from beginning to end. Days went from chilly to hot. The allergies I’ve been avoiding all spring kicked in and I developed a sore throat where every swallow’s felt. Friday, I went to a poet friend’s reading; he’s going to have a book published in 2014, but has a quickly developing brain tumor, and may not live long. His wife, his publisher and his friends arranged the reading at the rehab center where he’s staying. We gathered in chairs on the lawn. Elevated trains rattled by overhead louder sometimes than the voices of the poets, but we happily stayed and listened. I read a poem too, but was confused and read the last page first, then the first page last. Everyone liked that. Wil stood up at the end, pushed himself up from his wheelchair. “What do you want, Wil?” we asked. Wil said, “I want to stand.”

Memorial Day was good. I went to Cherry Hill where my nephew Matthew and his partner Marc live in a beautiful old house they are fixing up. The house is as comfortable as a good poem, each room worked on until it’s done; all you have to do is sit in it and look around. When Matthew was a little boy, he made a pond with lilies and frogs in the backyard. In his backyard now, where we sat and talked, I saw a bed of carnivorous pitcher plants and Venus flytraps, plants he used to keep in an aquarium when he was a kid, behind glass. I had to smile. Do we change or stay the child?

Matthew and my sister Cathy


Thursday a friend of mine died after a twenty year battle with cancer. I got the phone call while I was teaching class, hiding my grief. It’s hard to see people when they’re alive; they’re always moving, kind of blurred and changing. The dead just lie there; it’s different. I easily saw Grace. She dove into a lake and started to swim, a perfect crawl, out to the middle and then back in, without a pause, getting out shimmering, dripping, standing there happily wet. When you’re breathing in rhythm with your stroke you can go on. Grace breathed in rhythm with her stroke. I think that’s why she lived so long. The last time we talked, she said, “I’m not afraid, I’m not bitter; I’m grateful to have lived.” It’s the people who say, “Thank you,” who get into heaven. Farewell and hello, Grace. A friend remains a friend.

Grace and her daughter Regan

Sonnet 88

At the wedding not only the living
but the dead are also here and all those
who aren’t born yet, here I suppose because
there are more of them than us not living
with sea and pines to the right and the left
ghost relatives and babies yet to bloom.
Life is a garden seeded by the groom.
At Pat and Grace’s wedding I was Best
Man. There I gave a toast about the love
that had brought all of us together
a love that’s still bringing us together.
I see old friends Tony and Sylvia
sit, the past present. Here comes the bride. Wow!
It’s all the same and yet it’s not somehow.



Yesterday, Saturday, I walked across Manhattan from my place to the Apple Store at 9th Avenue and 14th Street, and then walked back, about four miles in all, but a flat, flat walk. I’d planned to take the bus, but then when I didn’t see one coming, I thought what the heck, and started to walk on all the diagonal streets, past what used to be Saint Vincent’s Hospital, where I used to go a lot during the AIDS crisis because so many friends ended up there, and I thought about that, as I wended my way in the heat toward Gray’s Papaya at 6th Avenue and 8th where I did get a hotdog with sauerkraut, onions and mustard. There’s no longer a Barnes and Noble across the street. I thought for awhile about Tuli Kupferberg who often ate a hot dog here taking a break from selling his poems on the corner. Walking home, I went through Tompkins Square. On a stage that had been set up, performers I didn’t know were doing sound checks. It was the Howl Festival. Years ago I would have been involved, but now I’m not. I’m out of the loop.


As I walked, I saw roses that looked like what we called wild roses where I grew up. The first song I ever wrote I called Wild Rose; it was about unrequited love, which I spent most of my twenties suffering from. I fell in love for the first time in 1970 in East Lansing, Michigan where I lived for awhile with friends who were either going to school at Michigan State or hanging out enjoying the college town. Bill was a curly haired adjunct economics professor who also played bass in a local rock band. We’d pussy-footed around for a long time, spending every day together, then one late afternoon, walking by the river, Bill, who was 9 years older, 30 to my 21, proposed we make love. “Let’s ball,” he said and I took him back to my place comfortably happy for the first time in my life because I kissed the truth and the truth kissed me back, kissing so much indeed that my lips were sore as the first rays of morning light came through the windows. The birds had already begun to sing and I couldn’t tell the difference between the singing and the kisses. Soon, me being me, wanted to go back East yearning for Philadelphia and eventually New York. When I asked Bill to go with me, he asked me to stay with him, but I returned East utterly depressed. For about a year I suffered every minute and was very furious. It was years before I realized I left him.


Wild Rose

When I remember how it used to be
I get the taste of dry wine on my tongue
and I wonder what it was went wrong
You were never something I did just for fun
You were never something
that was here and then was gone

Sometimes I get so lonely
I want to feel you going in me deep
Sometimes I get so strung out
I don’t know what to give or what to keep
Then I wish you were a hummingbird
I wish I was where you came to sleep

When I remember how it used to be
it makes me feel so sad
and I wonder what it was went bad
I know you never needed me
but you were all I had

My love was like a wild rose
closed its petals in the rain
You came like the morning
unfolding me again
I don’t think there’s another one
who can make me feel the same
No, I don’t think there’s another one
who can make me feel the same


Ah, Time, where do you go? The future’s not happened, the present is lived and impossible to hold onto like a lover or a nephew or a friend. Life’s intangible. Maybe I’m wrong though. Soon I must wake up Akram so he can go to work. While he bathes and dresses, I’m going to take a knife, cut up onions, potatoes, jalapeños, steak and sautée that in pan to be served with iced tea, radishes and warm tortillas, which are cheaper than chapatis. Certainly making dinner I have to hold and gather things together, making many into one (lunch), so I must be holding onto life in the here and now, right? Or is life holding me? And which one of us lets go?

I’ve been working on a poem for many years. It’s almost finished, I can feel it. I approached it this morning with dread because I wanted to do something good. When you’re writing, you’ve got to make it look like the inspiration’s just rolled off your tongue not been sweated over and beaten into form. Reading’s hard enough; it must feel effortless for the reader to go on. Here is W. H. Auden reading an earlier version of his poem In Memory of W. B. Yeats. I have retyped the poem to fit this earlier version. It has some extra stanzas that Auden later (and I think wisely) edited out:

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique.

And

What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day

in this earlier is

Oh all the instruments agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

A poem is organic, always capable of change, at least until the poet’s dead (and even after that his or her editors might have something to say).


In Memory of W. B. Yeats

I

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
Oh all the instruments agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

Oh all the instruments agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

II

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all.
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still.
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its saying where executives
Would never want to tamper, it flows south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

III

Earth receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Till persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

2 Comments

  1. Posted 4 Jun ’13 at 4:44 am | Permalink

    Very nice page, Don. Not that that’s exceptional for you, but this one made a mark. I like the slow walk, as yours was to the Apple Store, oddly enough, of the mind as it wends it away through things, places and memories. Delicate. A transfusion of Good. Gary

    • Posted 4 Jun ’13 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      Thank you so much, Gary. You are very kind. Your comment is beautifully written.

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