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QUINTESSENCE

Light

Haleakala, sunrise

11/10 again
by Lucille Clifton

some say the radiance around the body
can be seen by eyes latticed against
all light but the particular. they say
you can notice something rise
from the houseboat of the body
wearing the body's face,
and that you can feel the presence
of a possible otherwhere.
not mystical, they say, but human.
human to lift away from the arms that
try to hold you (as you did then)
and, brilliance magnified,
circle beyond the ironwork
encasing your human heart.

Dear A,

I learned of your death this week. I was stunned. Bereft is too small a word to describe the pained sensation of the absence of your presence on this planet. Others have said your death was a perhaps a gift, a release from a more difficult illness. But I know it was, and always would be, too soon.

You have meant many things to many people, A. Theologist, professor, mentor, friend, father, lover, student of knowledge. You had many gifts, but I deeply admired the way you opened yourself to others and gave of your heart. You had an ability to forge human steel. To hammer together that blend of compassion and conviction that made the people around you stronger and good.

To me, you were my friend. It doesn't seem so long ago that we first met through my husband Ken. As the leader of a small group of entrepreneurs struggling to do better, be better, in the often souless corridors of Silicon Valley, you became both mentor and dear spiritual confidant to Ken. When Ken became ill, you left the boarding line of a flight to Paris - leaving with your lovely wife on a much deserved vacation - and instead flew north to sit and talk with Ken at his hospital bedside. Who does this? Many of us think we would for our closest friends. You actually did. You engaged with Ken in the deep questions, the unanswerable mysteries. You sat with him and wandered into the dazzling light that is not enough time and too much time all in the same moment.

You hugged me and let me scream at God, angry and desolate to my core. You were large enough of heart to carry all these things. And when the time came, without qualm you accepted Ken's request to co-lead his funeral, along with R, another member of your close friendship circle. And that was just what you did for us.

In the years after when I was alone and raising our children, you were always there. My quiet cheerleader. A note arrived each year, remembering Ken on the day he left this earth. Generous always, you stood up on my behalf as I sought to reconstruct a future. I treasure one particular memory: A visit here, with M at your side. We lunched, shared a good French wine. I felt nurtured in your company. There you both were, the embodiment of love and completeness in the presence of one another, and I warmed in your light.

I like to think of you on the bay. Taking a break in the late afternoon sun on your sailboat. I imagine you looking up at the sky. Surrendering all the world's heartbreaks along with your own to the quiet painted layers of blue on blue that deepen to night. You walked your faith on this earth, A. Stood for all that is beyond our understanding and yet particular to each of us. Even me, devastated and angry. You saying to me simply, God is big enough for your hurt.

God has surely welcomed back to his side one of the finest men I have ever known. Your gifts to others shine here on this earth. Your leaving us has stopped the clocks. I think of W.H. Auden's poem, Funeral Blues, and these lines, Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun/Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood. To those of us fortunate enough to know you, A, you were everything that is good.

Love and friendship,
me

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Riding the Dream

"Riding the Dream," Cross-Country America, 2016

This week's post is in special honor of two extraordinary guys. My first husband Kenneth Grunzweig, and, his best friend, Perry. Ken died of lung cancer in 2003. A lifelong marathoner and long-distance cyclist, his unexpected illness and death was a shock and a terrible loss. Perry had been friends with Ken for most of their San Francisco years, and he is the godfather of our daughter, Kate. On May 7th, Perry and his fellow adventurers embarked on a cross-country cycling challenge: Los Angeles to Boston. Perry is riding in honor of Ken, an incredible tribute to their friendship.

Briefly, here is an excerpt of Perry's letter to his cycling mates, friends, and our family:

As an introduction, my name is Perry. I am 68 and Durango, Colorado has been my home for the last 20 years.

This bicycle thing got a hold of me at a young age when I ordered a new 10 speed bicycle from Birmingham, England. Shortly thereafter I achieved my Boy Scout Cycling merit badge and it was all down hill from there, so to speak.

The seed for a bike ride across America was planted by my very best friend and bicycle buddy, Ken. He and I were on a three week self-contained bike tour from Missoula, Montana to Jasper, Alberta. We were resting somewhere in the Canadian Rockies, looking at our 50 pound bicycles, when Ken said to me, " Ya know Perry, we could take a credit card and a change of clothes and motel our way across the country without all this shit we are hauling with us." We shared that dream and talked about it every once in awhile, but sadly, Ken died of lung cancer before we could make that ultimate ride.

Ken died, but the dream did not. So with Ken in my heart, and with a photo of him front and center on the head tube of my bicycle I am going to ride our dream in his honor and in his memory.

My efforts to ride across America have been recognized by a private philanthropist, who, upon my successful arrival in Boston, will make a donation to the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (lungcancerfoundation.org)

My family and friends have been very supportive, some are amazed, and some think I should have done ride this 30 years ago.


I know you will understand when I tell you how moved I am by Perry's undertaking and fundraising in Ken's name. How deeply honored my kids and I are by Perry's tribute. Indeed, this ride is just the thing Ken would do. When Kate was born, he made her a tiny personalized American Express card. She had his heart, his wallet, and a ticket to her dreams, he said with a chuckle. Often, especially on a family camping trip, Ken would muse that his real idea of roughing it was the "nearest Hilton in the woods." In a summer during high school my son cycled with an adventure group across the country - porting his gear and supplies, camping coast to coast - something he would have done with his father had they the opportunity. David is cheering Perry on. We all are.

I know Ken will be Perry's guardian on his adventure. Keep him out of trouble and make sure he has fun. Ken, always funny, deeply loyal, adventurous, and courageous, knew how to cherish and protect the ones he loved. He also knew how to have a good time - even if he had a famously terrible sense of direction and zero skills as a camp cook, the man could be counted on to bring a great wine. He was the wit and laughter of the party. As you may know, Ken is the central subject of my 2008 memoir, THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOVE.

So here's to you, Perry. You've got the Rocky Mountains over your shoulder by now. And here's to the end of lung cancer - to all cancers. We lose too many of those we love too soon.
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A Crooked Letter

Olive trees shading a stairway to The Acropolis, Athens

PRAYER 26
by Eva Saulitis

Why? Why is a crooked letter, my mother-in-law used to say. She held
no truck with useless inquiry, superstition. Buck up. Be present.
Suffer

no fools, no dogma. When she died, I sleuthed her shelves. She read
everything - Buddhist philosophy, AARP magazine.
The Art

of Loving, Hawaiian poetry, books on aging, Asian painting,
and dying. She stopped short of a PhD in English lit, took acting. No

shrinking violet, she wore tennis whites on Sundays, permed and dyed
her hair various reddish shades, waited for her husband weekdays with

wine glasses frosted in the deep freeze.
You little ingrates, wait till your
father gets here. Protested his pollarding of her ornamental trees

in the garden. A closetful of peacock-hues to counter his muted same-same.
Years after he died, we found the glasses, the bottle of cream sherry still

frozen. She never gave his clothes away.
You better know how to laugh
at yourself, she said. Afraid she'd take me for the shrinking violet, the

suffering fool, tucked into the shade of a summer day,
why, my crooked
angel, I kept quiet, secretly studied her takings, finger along the spine of books

and facts. Her sons sang her past the last breath, hospital bed on
the living room's shag. In the mail we got her Hiroshima prints, a 1950s lamp,

a volume of bad Hawaiian poetry, costume jewelry, one conundrum - wooden
statute of mother Mary praying. To her tough and inscrutable hide, I offer up this day.
- 1.11.2013


Our days are a carousel of change and chances. We feel we are at last approaching some hard-earned purchase on the slope of our lives, only to lose our footing on the hard scrabble and helplessly fall away. We try again, we work at it, we latch on, and what happens next always surprises us. This haunting, intimate poem by Eva Saulitis, poet and biologist from Homer, Alaska, is from a book of poetry titled, "Prayer In Wind," published by Boreal Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press. The book's flap copy reveals to the reader:

"After a devastating diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, biologist and poet Eva Saulitis found herself gripped by a long buried childhood urge to pray. Finding little solace in the rote 'from the fox-hole please Gods' arising unbidden in her head, she set herself the task of examining the impulse itself, waking every morning in darkness to write poems, driven on by the questions: What is prayer? What am I praying to? What am I praying for? Who is listening? Each day's poem proposed a new and surprising answer as, over two years, she traced the questions back to her origins..."

What is comprised by this book of 58 numbered "prayer poems" is nothing short of a deep and openhearted song to living. To ancestry, geography, context, accident. To all that connects us to the earth and to one another; to the small stories that make us the quirky, eccentric souls that we are; to what we leave behind in the hearts of others and what we keep from those we love. It is never not the right time to pause in our ceaseless climbing and look out from where we find ourselves. Take in the expanse of life, the shadows of the forests left behind. What beckons on the horizon.

Ask of life again, Why?

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Carries a Notebook


THE IDES OF MARCH
by C.P. Cavafy (1911, translated from the Greek by Stratis Haviaras)

Guard well against the grandiose, my soul.
But if unable to curb your ambitions,
pursue them reluctantly, and with caution. the more you
progress, the more skeptical and aware you must be.

And when you achieve your full powers, A Caesar now,
assuming the distinction of a man of eminence,
be ever mindful, when you go into the street
(a master, conspicuous by your devoted entourage)
should someone from the crowd approach you,
someone called Artemidoros, to urge upon you
a letter, and to implore: "Read this without delay,
it concerns matters of grave importance." Don't fail
to pause; don't fail to put off any speech or affair;
don't fail to push aside those who hail and bow down to you
(you'll see them later). Even the Senate can have patience;
and without delay read the crucial message of Artemidoros.


I happened upon this poem of Caesar by Cavafy, and was struck by the parallels of fate, unheeded advisement, and the consequences of murderous secrecy and destruction then to what grips the world today. History offers the careful reader both preface and epilogue. What then will we do with the pages lived in between?

This is the week of Purim, the week of Easter, and a week of unthinkable violence as the world once more suffers an obliteration of peace. We do not know what time will reveal, or history finally discern, but we do know humanity has tread this path before and does so now with trepidation. How do we preserve life, accommodate our differences, and embrace good over evil? As I despaired of an answer, and wondered if the world was in fact lost, I came upon this poem by Denise Levertov in her book, "Sands of the Well."

FLOWERS BEFORE DARK
by Denise Levertov

Stillness of flowers. Colors
a slow intense fire, faces
cool to the touch, burning.
Massed flowers in dusk, crimson,
magenta, orange,
unflickering furnace, gaze
unswerving, innocent scarlet,
ardent white, afloat
on late light, serene passion
stiller than silence.


More sacred than a prayer, this sacrament of the earth. Hymn to the beauty and miraculous wonder of all things given to us without reservation, lost at a terrible price. The more than and greater than that is the natural world. What can you or I do? What change might we be? What hope might we bring forth from our grief and sadness at this terrible human loss and pain, the senseless murder of the innocent?

Be the witness. Hold to the good. Sing of hope. Attend to nature's life-giving promise, her time and seasons. Remember, remember the love.

And finally, this poem.

THE POET ALWAYS CARRIES A NOTEBOOK
by Mary Oliver

What is he scribbling on the page?
Is there snow in it, or fire?

Is it the beginning of a poem?
Is it a love note?


We are all poets of change and belief. Work the world. Record your wonder and gratitude. Learn from the lost innocence of the beloved, and the hard wisdom of history. Above all, give attention to what matters. Nourish love, family, all light. Place beauty in your heart.


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Nothing Is Lost

Wedding Day, February 18, 1989

Permit me a moment, will you, of reflection and tenderness. Share with me the memory of a great and kind man. On this date, twenty-seven years ago, I married Kenneth Grunzweig. Were he still alive, tomorrow would be his 73rd birthday.

There were many years between us. As if Ken traveled the world once, and then traveled it again just for me. Ken's charm and brilliant wit were legendary. His inner grace and his capacity for compassion and loyalty endure in the hearts of those who knew him or called him friend. Since his passing, in 2003, I find comfort in the knowledge our children tenderly honor him; and that they have lived their lives in a way he would be proud of. I am grateful for the beautiful imprint of exuberant joy he left upon our souls.

The hidden pearl in the oyster, a marriage is nurtured in mystery. Its secret intimacies unique to its ways, and redolent in this sensuous imagery from Barbara Howes.

A LETTER FROM THE CARIBBEAN
by Barbara Howes

Breezeways in the tropics winnow the air,
Are ajar to its least breath
But hold back, in a feint of architecture,
The boisterous sun
Pouring down upon

The island like a cloudburst. They
Slant to loft air, they curve, they screen
The wind's wild gaiety
Which tosses palm
Branches about like a marshal's plumes.

Within this filtered, latticed
World, where spools of shadow
Form, lift and change,
The triumph of incoming air
Is that it is there,

Cooling and salving us. Louvres,
Trellises, vines -music also-
Shape the arboreal wind, make skeins
Of it, and a maze
To catch shade. The days

Are all variety, blowing;
Aswirl in a perpetual current
Of wind, shadow, sun,
I marvel at the capacity
Of memory

Which, in some deep pocket
Of my mind, preserves you whole-
As a wind is wind, as the lion-taming
Sun is sun, you are, you stay;
Nothing is lost, nothing has blown away.


There is grief. Disoriented yearning. The stunned understanding of wordless truths life sings deep in our souls. My love letter to this man, my warrior of fierce heart, became the memoir published by Broadway Books in 2008, "The Geography of Love." This was our story, the landscape of unforgettable relationship. And his story, a road of stunning loss, and courage. But where does the wounded heart turn?

DECADE
by Louise Gluck

What joy touches
the solace of ritual? A void

appears in life.
A shock so deep, so terrible,
its force
levels the perceived world. You were

a beast at the edge of its cave, only
waking and sleeping. Then
the minute shift; the eye

taken by something.
Spring: the unforeseen
flooding the abyss.

And the life
filling again. And finally a place
found for everything.


Something new roots slowly: a raw unfamiliar perspective. One that is not grief. Dark and strong as steel and forged from loss, yes. But also rare, intricate and fine. Frost on a windowpane. The human heart, a dragonfly in amber. Through the years I have grown stronger in my conviction that all living energies are connected, and nothing is truly lost. Memory, indelible if fleeting, will always find us. . . a scent in the air. We have only to know love.


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Walls


WALLS (1897)
by C.P. Cavafy

Without pity, without shame, without consideration
they've built around me enormous, towering walls.

And I sit here now in growing desperation.
This fate consumes my mind, I think of nothing else:

because I had so many things to do out there.
O while they built the walls, why did I not look out?

But no noise, no sound from the builders did I hear.
Imperceptibly they shut me off from the world without.


I want to tell you the story of a girl, in her mid-twenties, who died this weekend. She was brought into a trauma center Emergency Department in the afternoon, by her friends, who hadn't noticed soon enough she was no longer breathing. Her heart had stopped. Perhaps for too long. Heroin, and valium. They abandoned her then; without leaving even her name. They never came back.

The hospital staff brought her back three times: holding her pulse, holding her to life. My daughter, working emergency CPR, said she was too thin. You felt her ribs cracking beneath your hands. The girl did not make it. My daughter came home from the hospital that night and cried. She's just a medical student, after all. Her own age...the feeling of the ribs...the futile effort. No one wanted to give up.

I said to my daughter, Let's call her April. I think she loved the spring.

It was just a feeling I had. Imagining the probable story of addiction, aloneness, moments of yearning for the walls to come down, to do and see and be all that might be waiting in life. This girl, I felt, believed in spring. Believed in a spring of her own some day. I listened to my girl pour her heart out, knowing she would never forget this young woman.

No one should die unknown or unnamed. Let's call her April, I said. I think she loved the spring.

April is not an unknown. Not to me, especially not to my daughter. I do not know if anyone mourns April. I don't know if her soul is headed into the earth or to a desired rebirth - a chance to try again, better. Perhaps she has simply run her race; ended the life that somehow was built around her, without ever looking over that wall. But I do know she will not be forgotten. Not by us. And I hope if you're reading this, not by you. Say a little prayer for April, will you? Put a flower in a vase perhaps. Light a candle, read a poem.

And if you encounter a wall, or someone trapped behind one - step around it, look over it, lend a hand. For April.



*In keeping with applicable medical privacy regulations, any identifying information has been removed or changed - GB

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Detail

Meadow thistle below the Bridge of Primasole, Sicily

DETAIL OF THE WOODS
by Richard Siken

I looked at all the trees and didn’t know what to do.

A box made out of leaves.
What else was in the woods? A heart, closing. Nevertheless.

Everyone needs a place. It shouldn’t be inside of someone else.
I kept my mind on the moon. Cold Moon. Long Nights Moon.

From the landscape: a sense of scale.
From the dead: a sense of scale.

I turned my back on the story. A sense of superiority.
Everything casts a shadow.

Your body told me in a dream it’s never been afraid of anything.


Fall, with its passion-drunk, scorching ignitions of color that burn across the landscape, slows, as the cold deepens, into mysteries of poetry. Perhaps a yearly melancholy. Acceptance of the inward-looking self. In the quiet hours, poems, themselves fog-like tendrils of smudged meaning and obliterations of shape and form, mirror the mists threaded among the cattails along Latah Creek. What is there, and what is unseen. A landscape recognized; another of illusion and shift.

"War of the Foxes" (Copper River Press), Siken's long-awaited follow-up to "Crush," winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, states on its book jacket, "Filled with truths and fabrications, the poems in War of the Foxes investigate the fallacies and epiphanies inherent in any search for perfect order or truth. Violently romantic, Silken’s poetry takes the self and turns it, over and over, in an unsettling conflagration of thought, dream, and speech."

Forking over the compost of the self. The hunger for a philosophy of truth.

Detail of the Woods. This opaque, aching poem speaks of lost love to me, and to the singularity of our physical existence in the world. The body, the solitude, the death. And yet the heart. Timeless, nested, connected. How can we be of one truth while only home within the other? Siken writes,"Everyone needs a place." We exist in finite dimensional space, yet we live, we find solace, "inside of someone else." This is true and bleak beauty. A juxtaposition of limitations and boundarylessness. A hypothesis that what we are is both less and more than we know.

The imagery of this poem haunts me. A box made out of leaves. Both suggestive of a coffin in the earth and the closing in of a vast unfamiliar forest around our narrator, defining his solitude, his existential isolation. I turned my back on the story. Haven’t we all, at one point or another in our relationships, done the same? Accept the fact, discard the myth. Abandon the intangible and dwell on what is real. A sense of scale.

Lastly there is our awareness of the loss imprinted within the loss. The decision to let go, to forget. To excise our attachment. Cold Moon. Long Nights Moon.

A heart, closing.


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One Common Level


THESE ARE THE CLOUDS
by W. B. Yeats

These are the clouds about the fallen sun,
the majesty that shuts his burning eye:
The weak lay hand on what the strong has done,
Till that be tumbled that was lifted high
And discord follow upon unison,
And all things at one common level lie.
And therefore, friend, if your great race were run
And these things came, so much the more thereby
Have you made greatness your companion,
Although it be for children that you sigh:
These are the clouds about the fallen sun,
The majesty that shuts his burning eye.


I have been greatly affected this week by the dominance of Nature over the circumstances of my small life - the consequences of what we cannot control. We live, in this century, with confidence we are masters of our universe. We build and destroy, take and consume, break apart and redesign nearly everything we can place our hands and minds to. Humans, for better and frequently worse, seem designed by Nature itself to be master manipulators. Free to practice partnered husbandry with the Great Creative over all things biological, physical, and material. If somehow, in the days of Earth, we overstep, waste, or falsify the better outcome, are we to blame?

My answer is yes. If we know the risks even as we commit our transgressions, we are rolling the dice on a complex ecosystem. (And here I am thinking of the recent EPA toxic river spill in Colorado.) What we have taken for granted in our schemes to command the planet have the exact atomic weight and fragility of the diverse elements of life: what takes so long to create, and mature, can be destroyed in an instance by violence, tragedy, or disease. But Nature is renegade. Stand witness, as I have this week, to the perfect storm that is drought, lightning, and wind as it ravages the wilderness with fire...natural disaster strips away the illusion humans are the field marshals of our planet. Nature, too, can destroy as even-handedly as it constructs. The difference between what humans do, and Nature, is the imbalance of response. Man destroys and abandons, Nature destroys but rebuilds.

Last night, in the darkness in the parking lot of a mountain bar, a group of young men began a circular argument fueled by ego, alcohol, and simmering teenage resentments. Their voices rose and their language dissolved into a brute Morse Code of the F word. I felt the sheer destructiveness in their youthful unchanneled energy - human aggression so poorly employed it reached, by theatrics alone, the level of fury – a tornado of pointless and violent engagement. In these forests, some of these raging fires were started with a flung cigarette, a careless campfire. One human animal, aware of the risk yet balefully inviting danger – out of boredom, an abuse of power.

I’m not sure how all these thoughts are connected, but to say that this morning at the beginning of the Priest Lake Triathlon, men and women of all ages and abilities stood shivering on the cold sand at the edge of the lake as the organizers of the race led a benediction to the beautiful wilderness, expressing gratitude for the shift in winds that lessened the smoke for the athletes, expressing their hopes for the fires to end. The race leaders thanked the wilderness for the chance afforded the athletes to test their mettle in harmony with nature. This, the face of the benevolent co-creative.

Lightning, fire.
Cigarette, fire.
Humans, challenging themselves in the arena of the outdoors.
The fragility and the power.
The presumed survivability of the planet.
Until something goes horribly, irreparably wrong. Until we remember what Yeats wrote a hundred years prior - “all things at one common level lie.”

This century - now - we face the challenge to rise above; to identify and engage in better solutions to our weakest tendencies. To lend a hand to the wilderness, to step back from greed, to sheath our axes.

*Note: That afternoon after the triathlon concluded, the winds picked up in the mountains and the fire danger evacuation levels were raised as the fires crept closer to the one exit road and the lake itself. We were evacuated from the mountains and drove south through gusts of dust and fire smoke - arriving home overwhelmed with apprehension and humbleness, stunned by the size of the forests facing annihilation. As of this writing, the Tower Complex fires are continuing to grow in acreage, and the rain, sporadic, has failed to beat down the winds or damp the dry tinder. Over two hundred men and women are battling, in hand to hand combat, the forest fires in Washington. Men and women doing their best under the most dangerous of circumstances. Warriors for survival.

I offer my thanks.


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Synchronicity

Ostia Antica, Italy

For whom and to whom in the shadow
does my gradual guitar resound,
being born in the salt of my being
like the fish in the salt of the sea?

- from "Songs," Residence on Earth, Pablo Neruda

I was born on the 22nd of September. Today is the 22nd of July - the day my first husband, Ken, passed away...and birthday of my second husband, Greg. Reverberations pass through our lives - touched by this one number, 22.

A strange and mysterious, sad and joyful tumbler of emotions accompanies every July 22nd for me. I am twinned in both my past and my present on this one, extraordinary day. Acknowledging loss while acknowledging joy, aware of what is missing and what is found. Greg was aware of the synchronicity of these dates before I was. We had just met; Greg had read THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOVE and he texted me that day, wishing me peace and comfort, as he knew my son and I were out at Ken's gravesite. Greg never told me that day it was also his birthday, which speaks to his sensitivity and respect for Ken's place in my life, although later it caused me some remorse as his birthday should have been something to celebrate. If only I'd known. Would I have believed it? Would the shared dates have shaken me?

Since our marriage, Greg and I, as well as my children, dance in the complex realities of this date. We've embraced it as uniquely ours. The anniversary of Ken's death is etched on July 22nd, Greg came into life on July 22nd, the 22nd day is the day of my birthday in the fall...it seemed natural that going forward we would chose the 22nd day of any month as our choice for important events and decisions. We married on the 22nd of April. My daughter schedules major exams for this date (she is taking one today), and my son releases new music projects whenever he can on the 22nd.

How fitting that last night my beloved Ken was spoken of in the course of a writing workshop I taught at Auntie's Books on memoir - and I came home that same night to share and celebrate the class with my dear Greg. Today, Greg's birthday, is full of joy. We celebrate the doorway that opened between our lives and loves, and the powerful synchronicity that is for us, the number 22.
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In A Given Day


WHAT ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO DO ANYWAY?
by Jack Ridl

Trying to know what to do is difficult
enough, let alone knowing what to do

anyway. I could take that at least two ways,
maybe more. For example, I could take a walk,

even a long walk and I would expect to walk
through the woods or a field or a park or downtown.

But what if i take a walk and instead just kept
the walk to myself, kept it here amid all the indecision

about where to take that walk? I might pop open a Coke,
kick off my hiking boots, put on a smoking jacket,

and pile up some Jane Austen and some Henry James,
just pile them up. And then maybe I'd talk with you

even though you are no longer here. It could be like that,
or maybe it is like that. And at night the sky would be full

of the same stars as the night before last. At least it seems that way.



Jack Ridl, midwesterner, poet and professor, dedicated this poem to John Bartlby. But what he means us to know at the end of our reading is expressed in the last three lines. A man misses his friend. And this sudden, shattering absence measures, for our poet, the width and depth of the gulf between the tenuous temporal and the fixed eternal. Our poet glances upward. Stars. In their infinite lives, so much longer than our own, they fill the night, evidence of continuum. Today like yesterday - is it not full? But he feels the difference, our poet. A light has dimmed and changed the sky.

Anyway.

Ridl's poem begins in the physical. In the body of the poet and what he will do with himself. The living, and the no longer living. Failed by the futility of action, unable to find release in the movement of his muscles and breath, the poet moves into the hypothetical, the wondering, the hungering, the intimate. Again he returns to what is physical as he seeks comfort in the presence of what still is. Stars. Stars that remain the same, yet that some, now, do not see. Is it still as it always is? "It could be like that,/or maybe it is like that."

We know absence. We know loss. Take a walk. Or not. Boots on, or not. Books...or not. Thinking about the thing and internalizing the thing that thought signifies. Where do we go with vastness? An endless night? How does the heart embrace space too big for words?

What are you supposed to do anyway?
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