These are poems I have written to aid in dealing with the loss of
persons important to me. Hopefully they might assist others who are
dealing with grief and loss and accompanying personal experiences.
ACCOUNTABILITY - OR NOT!
So, Who is it who holds the tools
that carve emptiness?
Allowing absence of my father
after hiding him in the hospital,
slowed down from speeding about.
A moving violation, I guess.
Myocardial infarction, infraction?
Called on the referee himself;
whistled to a stop!
Not just a sliding pivot foot
but this one systemic?
And this time the call was on him!
Erasing my music teacher sister;
(no more notes...)
in just one breath;
after finishing dessert;
after completing her treasurer's report;
after recording the semester grades;
after being reassured that the
laser treatment of her eyes
was making her eyes better?
No more notes.
Arranging the painful,
between Eternity and Now;
through spring & early summer
pulling mother back & forth;
with no clear indication
of advantage for either side;
with her wanting equally
to sit up & breathe, or
to sleep & not awaken?
Who gets to decide
how, where or when
these events occur?
What is the relevant
response of meaning,
except to measure the vacancy
where my spirit resides
& remind myself that someday
I will also
reduce congestion here?
But not yet. Not today.
I can't trade wondering
for finding out
whether it is possible
to find out!
(Written late at night
in January 1999)
* * * * *
(Written after re-reading Hirshfield's
chapter in NINE GATES: "POETRY and the
Mind of Indirection" and e e cummings'
"six nonlectures" in February 1999)
It occurs to me that I have
lived quite innocently
in taking for granted
a reliably efficient
natural umbilical connection
to the sacred life-force
a sort of semi-permeable
membrane of the soul
constantly protecting me
filtering toxins while
elements of meaning
absorbed and assimilated
becoming who I am
allowing a free and
open to surprise and mystery
vulnerable yet unthreatened
by unknown directions
to be explored
creating an open
discovery over proof
similar to the lack
of necessity of
believing in gravity
for it to function
* * * * *
I may have gone on thinking
"DEATH IS FEARFUL"
But since Kubler-Ross insisted
the transition resembles
From: common caterpillar
To: lofty butterfly
while driving here tonight
I changed my mind some more.
I used to think of
was allowed to see
a new one
in my way.
So, I saw a
busy meteor, with purpose
demonstrating special energy:
tranformed, changed, released;
being seen anew;
renoticed and appreciated;
becoming, a bright, beautiful light.
Suddenly not seen.
Somehow still present.
[Written after Father-in-law's death, after
driving from St. Paul, MN to Rapid City, SD]
* * * * * * * *
REQUEST A SCENIC ROUTE
The trip is short, no matter where you've already been. It's easy to
get there, without a compass or any help from AAA. While growing up
I often went east on Highway 28, past the spillway bridge between
Lake Norden and Lake Mary. Off the main road, at the end, the gravel
and grass path turns to dust.
Once out of the car, you have the Swedish Baptist Cemetery eternally on
the right, across from a gopher-holed pasture pretending to be a lawn
since its conversion to church property.
To boost my trickling cash flow, I mowed the cemetery once a week. It
became a trim, life-size game board for future, live young visitors.
Adults would scold their children for jumping from marker to marker.
Aware that death cannot be skipped, they felt limited, like
injury-grounded gymnasts, able only to watch others know a
trampoline's thrust. They envied a child's resistance to gravity.
We navigated down the neighboring hills on toboggans and sleds,
imagining ourselves world-class bobsledders. Luckily avoiding small
haystacks, we stopped just at the edge of the frozen lake. Cold and
weary, we trekked back to town for sloppy joe's, chips, and hot
chocolate. This was a menu tradition second only to the "funeral
hot-dish" recipe posted in the church basement cupboard.
On the railroad bridge we fished away summer afternoons with
angleworms dug from Grandpa Larson's bed of lillies-of-the-valley.
Released from the day's chores, we took fantastic mental vacations
to exotic destinations. The town library's National Geographic
collection compensated for our not having slick travel brochures.
Chewing red licorice and drinking canteen water on the sun-warmed
railroad ties required no passport, dining car manners or tray tables
in their upright positions.
Careful to be home for supper, we left the bridge in enough time to go
door-to-door like out-of-uniform Salvation Army apprentices. We gave
away dozens of perch and bullheads from the burlap gunny sacks we
lugged on our bicycles.
Dad would wake me before dawn to hunt ducks on the pass between the
two lakes. So excited to be able to use my Uncle George's loaned
shotgun, I couldn't even aim straight. I scared the tourist birds who
mistook our lakes for a friendly rest stop on their pathway south.
Waterfowl, you know, have no AAA for direct routing.
Cousins and schoolmates trampled the reliably mowed grass corridor with
its memorized softball lines and dirt bases. We picnicked and played
tag or kick-the-can under those oak trees protecting our playground.
Their dark shadows signalled curfew like huge, gradual dusk rheostats.
Now I stood there, attentive and still, with just an occasional
shiver. A November wind wrinkled the lake. It said nature was there
first and would outlast all of us. She was durable force; independent
power; random energy.
Then it was quiet. The minister paused. He'd run out of things to
say, much like a conductor who has yelled a final "All aboard!" He
turned to place the urn with my father's ashes on its station platform
next to where someone had been digging. It looked to me, for a
moment, like the opening of a small tunnel leading to some miniature
journey. Then, I clearly remembered that there is very little
training for death!
(Written for Carol Bly's LOFT class in 1989)
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
AN ODE TO "LEFTY'S SHADOW
Ford "Lefty" Kiner left all of us
with his shadow cast
frequently, in various ways,
leaving stories of a competitor;
running races and bases;
pitching fastballs and yarns;
punching speedbags and slow opponents;
shooting waterfowl, baskets and pool.
There must still be marks carved
on the door frames of his houses;
our initials showing how tall we'd become
since the last time he measured us.
As embarrassed as we may have felt,
it was probably a perfect message
for the question of how each of us
might grow to "measure up";
not to compare, or be compared with,
each other or anybody else;
(after all, one's own initials
are only one's own initials)
but to each know in some small way
that since the last time we paid
attention to how we were doing
some improvement could be measured.
An invisible, unavoidable sense that Ford
would ask about, then smile approval on,
any reportable achievement
motivated us to compete;
not to repeat; not to exceed
what he and teammates had done;
but to somehow improve
our own performance.
A quiet legacy to be fulfilled
in important small increments;
a kind of accountability
toward measureable success.
The coach who had been a star,
briefly benched by ailments,
is on the "disabled list" no longer.
He's been called up from the minors.
I'd like to think that this week,
after greeting each other,
and anytime in the future, when
the new teammates both feel like it,
Ford "Lefty" Kiner will throw
a little batting practice; a few pitches
to "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio
to knock over the fence; into the stands.
With their crisp, new uniforms,
in full bright sunlight; no fake turf;
flexing their new whole
We might say they've been
drafted by the "Saints".
[By Levi Niemi in memory of my
Uncle Ford Kiner 03/13/99]
* * * * * * *
St. Paul, MN 55108