It’s a cloudy morning. It’s supposed to rain today, maybe. We might get a thunderstorm. Nothing is all that definite except for me, and my cup of cold coffee. I’d microwave the stuff but have you ever drunk microwaved coffee? There’s something eerily still about the beverage once you bring the cup out. Like the molecules were vibrated into submission or something. Like a swamp creature might pop out of the liquid. Also, it’s a quite unsavory thing to do to a decent cup of coffee. Tastes like death. I’ll drink it cold, thanks.
I didn’t blog yesterday. Why, you ask? I got busy. Time management has never been my strongest skill, so after making new hats for about 10 hours, I looked up and, BEHOLD! Most of the day had gone by.
This January, two close friends and my wife lost people close to them. As a result, I have become more-than-usual introspective about death, and comforting those whose loved ones have passed on.
Two mornings ago, I drove The Lady to a co-worker’s house so they could carpool to the boonies and attend a funeral and a memorial service. I hadn’t seen her co-worker in quite some time, and since he also happens to be a good friend (as well as a main reason we moved to Virginia in the first place) I stepped inside the house for just a moment to offer my condolences.
He wore black pants, a dress shirt and a somber necktie, and was signing a sympathy card. He was shaking slightly, and seemed incredibly distracted. We exchanged pleasantries (I recall saying something about not working today), and quietly backed out of the house. I don’t recall even saying “I’m sorry for your loss.”
I’m not saying this because I was offended by it. To the contrary, I think I confused myself in the situation, realizing pretty quickly that I didn’t belong.
There’s the crux of it.
You don’t have to be a Christian, or even religious, to understand this problem. You want to help, but it seems as if death has erected a wall between you and your loved one. It’s not intentional. Grief can sometimes be so impenetrable—like swimming through Vaseline—that you are just extremely uncomfortable and getting nowhere toward your goal of comforting the living.
I’m sure I’m not the first one to experience this, and certainly not using the most flowery writing to explain myself.
Grief makes you an outsider. The best I can describe it is when I returned from France. People I loved would ask “How was France?” Yeah. How can you begin to describe the emotions accrued over a year’s study? The love, the passion, the anger, the loss, the happiness, the hurt, the language struggles, the minor cultural victories where you understood something you never thought you’d get. So you say it: “France was fine.” And France was so much more, but I’d bore you and probably even embarrass with the details. I’d have to describe my host parents, and Astrid, and Todd, and Solfrid, and Aurélie. I’d have to describe the school. How can I do all that in response to a three-word question? So, yeah. “France was fine.” I erect a wall.
Grief is personal. Running through their minds are all the experiences—good, bad, and indifferent—with the deceased. Grief makes sharing a tactile, hard thing, like finding a forgotten pin in a new shirt. Kind, probing questions seem trite and unnecessary. You don’t want all that bared until you’ve had time to process it all.
They say time heals all wounds. I guess that’s true. Maybe it takes a whole lifetime to share the experiences of a lifetime. To say anything more would be a gross discredit to the feelings of the person you want to comfort. Yet, to say anything less would be rude. Sometimes all that can be said is “I’m sorry for your loss.” Sometimes only silence and time can perform the rest of the work.
Old Ebenezer died late last week. Not the original. He was a work of Charles Dickens’s overactive imagination. However, you may have crossed paths with this modern day Scrooge replica, so I won’t tell you any specifics. Also, this is my story and not his. He’s too dead to care, and you’re too alive to be chasing down spooks. Continue reading Well, I’ll Be Scrooged!
I heard the lyric quite some time ago:
I always thought John Lennon’s randomness
And wit were best when he took LSD.
He wrote that line where “Man, you should have seen
Them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.” Amid
The cuckoo cast of Krishnas, corn-flakes, nuns
And eggmen stood the Gothic poet. Ha!
That Beatle makes me snort! Until today
I never knew–and never thought–that John
Might have a second meaning. I’d never heard
The dying tale of Mister Poe. Of
Course, John may not have known the tale, himself.
Was he just making joyful nonsense of
A roly-poly sixties mind’s caprice?
So, what I want to ask the universe,
(At least for now, as these things change from time
To time) is why, until today, I’ve seen
And heard no other sketch or song of Poe
Except the ones where he’s a soggy drunk.
You could call this an ode. Or Ravings, fueled
With doggerel. I’ll let you cast your vote.
To you, this may just be a zealot’s tale
Concocted by the minds who always taste
Conspiracy in every word. A loony-pill,
Force-fed to folks who need their human gods
To stink a bit less when they defecate.
You’ll hear the experts talk about his death:
A syphilitic mind, tubercular
Impairment of his lungs, or something just
As simple: like a weakened, love-drunk soul.
Or was his soul a normal one, that found
Itself inebriated with intoxicating drinks?
A sot. I think that every schoolboy knows
That Poe enjoyed his drink, and that he died
Beside a gutter full of vomit: a cautionary tale,
To scare young men who dare to take up drink.
If Poe, by chance, was waylaid by a gang
Of thugs, and dragged and drugged and dressed
To pose as local citizens at polls
(They called it “cooping,” a hundred years ago).
So let’s, pretend for just a little while.
Does it make any difference to us?
I wonder if they recognized the man
By looks or speech? I doubt that any fool
Could be so foolish as to kidnap Poe.
Not if they knew his popularity.
It wouldn’t mean, of course, that brawlers,
Buffoons or crooks would find a lesser joy,
Distinguishing themselves, by torturing
A famous poet rather than a farmer.
They likely threw him to the mud (the rains
Were hard that year), and trussed him up, and forced
A handkerchief of ether to his face, and filled
his veins with laudanum, and head with booze.
They made him wear another’s clothes, you know;
And then they dragged the sorry costumed man
To every polling place in Baltimore;
And forced their masquerade. “Now vote! And vote!
And vote some more!”
Oh, what a silly thing,
To make a poet vote, not only once,
But more–a half-a-hundred times. Did they
Not realize that poets need no date
Or special paper ballots when they vote?
Poe was on his way to Philadelphia,
But halfway there, he stopped in Baltimore,
For what, God (and Poe) alone know why. What we,
However, know from history is this:
They found the West Point Virginian fop
In baggy trousers and a farmer’s straw
Hat, lying in the filth behind a pub.
Poe died alone in bed, within four days,
Without his choices and without his mind.
They say the preacher cousin managed five
Or fewer minutes at his coffinside,
and then his thoughts and tongue dried up in sync.
The rains were hard that year, and kin was, too.
Would it make any difference to you
If writers chose to vote, instead of drink,
Themselves into an early, early grave?
You see how I’ve become the Coopers’ fool?
I don’t think I’m alone, myself. I should
have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.
Hold the lamp just up there, boy, and don’t move it, .
The deer’s just ahead, eyes all dark and unfocused and silent,
Against the line of fir. Can you see ‘im? It’s just a forked-horn.
He’s just a little thing. Oldest brother leans a rifle against the unrolled window,
And with a thump, The buck drops.
In a whoop, the creak of moving metal,
Three brothers climb out of the cab,
One with a gun,
Two with a Case knife,
All three sharing the jug of Canadian Mist.
The deer tongue slopped from his black muzzle like a wet sponge.
Hold the light on him! Hurry! Closer! We have to dress him out fast.
The forked horn never even noticed his own eyeless attrition.
They make short work of the deer.
It was, after all, just a little thing. It looked even smaller
Hanging from its legbones inside our garage,
Like a pink and white dog all skinned out, chest cavity open.
His head is loose, nearly unhinged, its tongue a ludicrous slug.
The grown-ups pass the congratulatory whiskey jug
Once around the circle, then twice.
My youngest uncle mussed my hair. I held the lamp, after all.
Now don’t go shouting all over school about this.
We wouldn’t want anyone to be getting ideas.
Strictly speaking, what we done, it ain’t exactly legal.
I nodded gravely. I’d held the lamp. I understood that night,
When I went to bed, it all made sense.
It’s surely not lying to say I did.
But later, when I am trussed upside down from the rafters,
Head facing greaseward, I want to cry cry out. My voice doesn’t work
As I try to spit the sponge-tongue from my esophagus.
I scream unutterable things as the red and blue lights spin
Around the garage, where my core has been split wide open,
My skin pulled from my body like a tight, wet shirt,
My entrails left behind in the huckleberry patch, high on a hill.
I try to tell them. I try to shout to my uncles. It is too late.
I’m just a little thing! I didn’t know the light would make anyone die.
I’m not from this place! Sacramento! Sacramento!
The brown denim sheriff—the one who, not six months before,
Had ordered my country cousins shot in the head for smoking dope,
Led me, his eyebrows and crew cut smirking at me all the while
To the his county jail, where lawbreakers go, and where they feed roadkill
To boys who hold the spotlight, until they puke on the cement cell floor
Right up until my mother flips the electrical switch and wakes me.
Big day ahead. We don’t want to be late for school.
I’m a sucker for nostalgia. I’ve always been moved by places, or remembrances, or scents, or sounds that transport me to another place and another time; usually a better one. When Granny Spurgeon died a few Februaries ago, I flew out to Oregon to say goodbye and share emotions with my family. In the rental car, during the drive from Portland to Gold Beach, I was overwhelmed by the sights and sounds on the Umpqua River, and over Humbug Mountain near Port Orford. So much green. Huge old myrtles, heavily mossed, down the river roads, made me remember Granny with a depth and poignancy that I would have never experienced if I were left to mourn her passing in Virginia.