(Yet Another) Poem Against Alzheimer’s

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End of a Monarchy

A simple story that I yearned to tell,
Just two, a boy and orange butterfly,
Enchanted by the lavish summer flush
Of lark and lilac, hollyhock and thrush.
+++He did not really know just why he wept.

At first it seemed a game of innocence
To chase the dainty kite around the yard.
Its random flight impossible to track,
Just as it drew in range it fluttered back.
+++He laughed as if this day would never end.

In time the butterfly would come to rest
Upon the sweet and fragrant purple bloom.
The boy would seize at last that prize he sought,
But saw at once he’d ruined what he had caught.
+++Tears dropped upon an orange, broken wing.

You brought, dear friend, all this to life on film,
The first production of your long career.
Quite primitive, for sure, it was, and raw.
We were not ones to dwell on any flaw.
+++For we were making art and we were glad.

We ventured forth for beauty, truth and love.
We vowed we’d float the Mississippi’s length.
We’d plumb our nation’s soul and sing its song.
We were so young and casual and strong.
+++And confident our time was all our own.

But life’s vicissitudes drew us apart.
There’d be no sequel to our maiden work.
We’d never float that river on a raft,
Nor join to sharpen one another’s craft.
+++No use to wonder now what might have been.

For time has caught up with your mind too soon.
The wings on which you soared are broken now.
Your free and fancy flight has turned to stone.
You’ve gone and left us lonesome and alone.
+++Too late I realized just why I wept.

(2020)


(Butterfly Photo by Justin DoCanto on Unsplash)

NOTES: In 1968, my friend and classmate Gene Marksbury played his new album for me, Bookends by Simon and Garfunkel. The duo’s album Sounds of Silence had been my very first record purchase a couple of years earlier. I was already a fan.

There had always been heartache, poignancy and disappointment in their music, but this new album took it further. It seemed to cover the whole span of life. Youth and young love, breakdowns of relationships, and — finally — the losses that come with old age.

The album ended with the admonition that has haunted me ever since:

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence. A time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories; They’re all that’s left you.

I have a photograph from that era long ago:

Gene Marksbury, Bobby Ball and Clyde Smith
From left to right: Gene Marksbury, me, and Clyde Smith

The shot shows us as we prepared for a camping trip on the banks of the Missouri River a few miles from our home. Gene is the one on the left and our friend Clyde Smith is on the right holding the rifle. Years before, we were members of the same slot car racing club and spent a lot of time together. In the insanity of adolescence, we had once tried to hold our own 24-hour Le Mans slot car race.

But by time of this photo we were all probably about 16 or 17, and primed for more challenging adventures. It was also about this time that Clyde somehow got access to a movie camera. He was already a talented photographer and he was eager to make a movie.

I had written a very short story for an English class and he decided that this would be the basis for his first film. The story was about a boy chasing a butterfly, catching it and then instantly regretting that he had damaged it beyond repair. I had called the story “End of a Monarchy.”

It was the most basic of plots, but Clyde recruited a younger friend to be the star and somehow wrangled an unfortunate butterfly to play the supporting role. And, to his credit, Clyde made it happen. It was shot on primitive, grainy, 8mm film, but when he was finished, he had himself a movie.

I was delighted, of course.

After high school graduation, Clyde and I came very close to going to the same college. We dreamed big about a future of artistic collaboration. But I received a scholarship from a different school with an offer I couldn’t refuse, and we went our separate directions.

I emerged from college a few years later armed with a B.A in philosophy and classics, and no serious plan for the future. What followed was a checkered career. Bouncing from fry cook to restaurant manager to salesman to journalist to copy writer to creative director … most of the time earning a living to support my family and my poetry habit.

Gene’s life took a circuitous route, but he ended up teaching college back in our hometown for a few years. He now owns a winery and operates a tasting room in nearby Glasgow, MO, overlooking the Missouri River. His Bushwhacker Bend Norton Dry Red is pretty tasty.

Clyde, meanwhile, headed out to Hollywood and forged a successful career as a cinematographer and director of photography. He made some real movies and several really cool music videos for Weird Al Yankovic. Clyde even won an Emmy at one point.

Clyde and I had not seen each other for decades. But three years ago my wife and I were in Los Angeles and I made a point of reconnecting with him. We spend a delightful lunch with him and had a wonderful time making up for lost time. We reminisced for more than two hours, and he reminded me of details about our youthful escapades that I had forgotten.

I did notice that Clyde repeated a couple of stories during the course of our conversation but didn’t think too much of it.

After we returned home, Clyde and I exchanged a few messages. But he soon stopped replying and I got busy. Sometime later I realized I hadn’t heard from him for quite some time. I remembered his seemingly insignificant forgetfulness during out lunch and began to worry.

Late last year I went to his Facebook page and my fears were confirmed. From information posted there, I learned that Clyde was suffering from Alzheimer’s and had declined rapidly. He was already in the later stages and had reached the point where his wife was no longer able to care for him at home and keep him safe.

Since then she has been able to move him into a care facility that specializes in such patients, but she reports that he no longer recognizes her, their daughter, their dog, or anyone elseIn 1968, my friend and classmate Gene Marksbury played his new album for me, Bookends by Simon and Garfunkel. The duo’s album Sounds of Silence had been my very first record purchase a couple of years earlier. I was already a fan.
There had always been heartache, poignancy and disappointment in their music, but this new album took it further. It seemed to cover the whole span of life. Youth and young love, breakdowns of relationships, and — finally — the losses that come with old age.
The album ended with the admonition that has haunted me ever since:
Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence. A time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories; They’re all that’s left you.
I have a photograph from that era long ago:.

I lost my mother to dementia many years ago, and this news about my friend has dredged up all sorts of grief and regret. I’ve been thinking of all the questions I wish I could have asked my mother when she still was able to answer.

I’ve been wishing that Clyde and I had stayed in closer touch since we left our Missouri hometown. I’ve been wishing we had had the opportunity to work together again.

I’ve been thinking of my past, my family, my friends, trying to preserve as many many memories as I possibly can.

I’ve been repeating Paul Simon’s lyrics in my head and wondering, when you lose your memories, what do you have left?

Love in the time of corona

Spring blossoms on our well-worn path

Familiar Ways

I choose to walk the old familiar ways,
To wend ways where I’ve put my foot before,
To gaze anew on views seen other days,
Which, though familiar, never seem to bore.

The changing light and seasons have their ways
Of making old things new: The light-laced hoar,
The first-flush, green-glow, bursting-forth spring days,
The growing tinge of gold we can’t ignore.

Each day, my dear, I choose afresh our trail,
The one we blazed so many years ago,
Eschewing other routes that might avail,
And hewing to the well-worn way we know.
Forsaking novelty need be no jail
With your face bathed in sunset’s golden glow.

(2016)


NOTES: March is arguable the most beautiful time in the Pacific Northwest. The days are growing longer. Yellow daffodils are rampant. And the ornamental plum and pear and cherry trees are exploding with pink blossoms.

In normal times, my only quibble with March is that it also brings on the dusting of alder pollen, which makes me sneeze. (Has anyone ever established a good reason for alder trees to have been created? I am skeptical.)

But these are not normal times. As with the rest of America and most of the world, we are in the grip of the global coronavirus pandemic. As a result, most of us have been largely confined to our homes, venturing out on only the most urgent matters. We are taking shelter in our homes like characters in some post-apocalyptic movie, waiting for the worst to pass.

We can still get out and take walks (as long as we observe the proper “social distancing” by moving 10 feet away when we meet passers-by.) Given our current semi-quarantined status, I don’t care how high the pollen count. I’m going for a walk to look at the scenery!

As I walk, I almost always take the same routes through our semi-rural suburban neighborhood making sure to include as many hills as possible. I’ve been walking it for years but it never gets boring.

In times like this, you take stock of what’s really important.

There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

 

Sonnet for Late Summer

The grass has turned to brown

Late Summer’s Sun

Late summer’s sun has baked the grass to brown.
The days grow shorter with each passing day,
Soon, autumn’s chill will make the leaves fall down.
All of this aching beauty will decay.

And yet I love the shadows’ slanting trace,
The once green grain gone golden in its rows,
And how I love the lines etched in your face.
It’s funny, as love ripens how it grows.

The number of our days we do not know.
No sleeper knows if he will ever wake.
So come, let’s join above, between, below.
My dear, let’s cause our fragile clay to quake.
Let us make love as if it’s our last go.
Let us embrace like dawn will never break.


(2015)

Notes:  T.S. Eliot said April was the cruelest month. I disagree. I think it’s August. The ground is parched, the foliage is showing its mortality, and it’s clear that we’ve passed high summer and we’re on the downhill slide. Nothing gold can stay and the highway dust is over all.

Extra credit to any poetry geek who can spot the homage to John Donne in this poem.

 

 

Daisy Time Poem

I married you in daisy time

Flower Time

I saw you first in jonquil time,
When you were bathed in grace.
You sat aglow with fire sublime,
And golden shone your face.

I loved you first in lilac time.
A bloom I plucked for you.
I wrote you verse with song and rhyme.
I hoped you loved me too.

I kissed you first in tulip time,
It must have been a sign.
The buds and we were in our prime
When your two lips met mine.

I married you in daisy time
On summer’s longest day.
We traded rings and heard bells chime.
We pledged always to stay.

Too soon we’ve come to aster time.
The days are shorter now.
Would stealing some be such a crime?
We’ll make it right somehow.

Should we endure ’til wintertime,
The time when flowers sleep,
Dreams we’ll share of a gentler clime
Where we no more shall weep.


(2016)

NOTES: I’ve been meaning to repost this one since spring. But on a recent walk I noticed daisies beginning to peak. Before daisy season slips completely away, I thought I’d better get on it.

 

Love Poem for Independence Day

July 4th fireworks in Minneapolis, Minnesota

INDEPENDENCE DAY

The wind and you played in my hair,
++++You lambent in the moon,
The night arranged as by design,
++++Mysteriously boon.

Afresh the breeze and warm our hands,
++++So lately introduced,
Traced so gently new found lands,
++++From tyranny aloosed.

While all around with fire and bang
++++Our freedom was proclaimed,
A nation’s liberty was meant,
++++To us, two hearts unchained.


(1982)

NOTES: I didn’t want the July 4th weekend to pass by without reposting this modest little poem from the past. It’s become a bit of a personal holiday tradition.

You see, I celebrate the Fourth of July as a double holiday. I’m proud and happy to honor our nation for its exceptional on-going story. What a remarkable experiment in human freedom and self government!

Each year I also pause to remember that night many years ago when I discovered my role in an on-going love story.

My personal affection for July Fourth goes back to 1982, when a young couple snuck to the roof of the Calhoun Beach Club in Minneapolis to watch the fireworks. This perch, high above Lake Calhoun, offered a 360 degree view of the entire Twin Cities area. You could see several fireworks displays from there, both near and far away.

Not gonna lie … best fireworks ever.

From the poet to his love playing hard to get

Don't shield your limbs below nor lips above

LUMBERJACK LOVE

Though I am not a bearded man nor burly,
I love you with a lumberjack-type love.
The only axe I take in hand securely,
This meager pen across the page I shove.

Please treat me not so fickle nor so surly,
Don’t shield your limbs below nor lips above.
I aim to fell you skillfully and purely;
Each word’s to chip the bark around your love.


(1982)

NOTES: Seems like everyone’s felt like this at one point or another.

Van Morrison said, “I got hit by a bow and arrow, got me down to the very marrow.” John Lee Hooker said, “Baby please don’t go.”  The Bee Gees, said, “It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away.”

Who says poetry doesn’t pay?

THE PASSIONATE WRITER TO HIS LOVE

Come live with me and be my love,
Assured before you voice your fears
That we will meld as hand to glove
With tender wearing through the years.

How could I love another more,
Or ever you abandon me?
So come, our prospects let’s explore
Assay our hopes in honesty.

I’ll write old-fashioned poems for you,
The kind that sing with foot and rhyme,
To soothe your ear and gently woo
Your cautious heart in its due time.

We’ll stay abed when springtime rains,
And care not if it’s ever done;
We’ll pedal wooded country lanes,
And bask beneath a merry sun.

In lilac-time I’ll break for you
The heart-shaped leaf and purple bloom
That flourished when our love was new,
And filled the night with strong perfume.

Like hardy husbandmen of old,
Who ploughed and tilled the fertile soil,
We’ll give ourselves to labors bold,
And harvest children for our toil.

And when the winter of our years
Bespecks our thinning hair with snow,
We’ll stoke our fire against the fear,
Companions though the chill winds blow.

Relentless time moves on apace,
Time leaves its vanquished under stone.
But we can win at time’s own race
By choosing not to run alone.

Defying reason, let’s unite
To form a sturdy three-fold cord,
A braid miraculously tight,
Of bridegroom, bride and gentle Lord.

If my proposal your love stirs,
If this be your desire for life,
If to my faith your heart avers,
Come live with me and be my wife.


(1985)

Notes: In what has become a somewhat of a tradition, I share my proposal poem to Jan on the occasion of our anniversary.

I sprung it on her 34 years ago. Thankfully, she didn’t think it was too goofy, but she didn’t give me an official response on the spot. She made me sweat until the next day. We went out to brunch at a now-defunct Minneapolis restaurant staffed by hippies who hadn’t gotten the memo that the ’70s were over.

When I dug into my scrambled eggs, I noticed a folded piece of paper. It was grease-soaked and writing from the other side was showing through. I thought one of the yogi-fry cooks had lost his Sanskrit prayer in my breakfast. I was about to send it back when Jan urged me to unfold the note and read it.

It was her response. She had slipped her note to the waitress and had her hide it under the eggs. Jan had taken the last verse of the poem and turned each line around into an affirmative response.

Somehow we managed to misplace that grease-laden scrap of paper. Pity, it would have been a treasured keepsake. But I’m pretty sure her response went like this:

Yes, your proposal my love stirs,
Yes, this be my desire for life,
Yes, to your faith my heart avers,
I’ll live with you and be your wife.

 

I was delighted and didn’t mind a bit that she adapted my poem for her answer.

How could I mind? I had shamelessly ripped off the first line myself from Christopher Marlowe’s poem “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love.”

My proposal may not have been wholly original poetry, but it did the trick. She said “yes.”

The funny thing is … soon after that I wound up practicing direct marketing copywriting as my day job.

After my experience with this poem, I should have known I was destined for direct marketing. The poem was my very first direct marketing letter.

I got a 100% response rate. Retention has been solid, and long-term value excellent.

Thank you, Christopher Marlowe.