Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"Walk on air against your better judgement."


So wrote Seamus Heaney, the great Irish poet who died last September. I'm still wearing black. What a poet he was. He cast his net wide as far as poetry is concerned, but at the core of everything he wrote was his boyhood on a farm in County Derry. He writes about this reverently, in his Nobel Prize lecture, "Crediting Poetry." I think this image must have been the beginning of poetry for him:

“Ahistorical, pre-sexual, in suspension between the archaic and the modern, we were as susceptible and impressionable as the drinking water that stood in a bucket in our scullery: every time a passing train made the earth shake, the surface of that water used to ripple delicately, concentrically, and in utter silence.”

I know there was a world-wide dirge when he died, but I felt it should have been longer and louder and bigger. Something akin to what García Márquez received. 
                                                                 
Seamus Heaney
I can't write about Heaney with any authority. I'm just a fan. A grateful fan. So, instead, here's a link to Seamus Heaney reading one of his earliest poems, "Digging." This, too, takes him back to that farm in County Derry and to his admiration of his father and grandfather. And, knowing that he could never be their equal as diggers of sod, he must do something else.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Ceiling Leak


A few years ago, I awoke one morning in my New York apartment to notice there was a darkish bottle-shaped patch on my ceiling. It looked damp, and had that pre-drip hue to itthe ceiling not quite saturated yet, but almost. We'd had a violent thunderstorm the previous evening. So, I reasoned the person above me, an older lady who lived alone, had negligently left her window open. In came the rain, and it created a little flood in her apartment. Now I was seeing the results on my ceiling, water about to drip down. I got on a chair and had a closer look. Strange. I saw that the patch had a glossy, viscous look to it, not like water.

Then I noticed the smell. The only way to describe it is to say it was the smell of death.
                                                              
Which, in fact, it was. 

Later, the police forced opened the door of her apartment. They found the body. It was determined she had been dead for four days. I'll leave it to your imagination to figure out what that oily patch was on my ceiling. Maybe some verbs might help. Suppurating. Decomposing. Putrefying. Then some nouns. Intestines. Effluvia. Liquids.
                                                                   
Not the actual leak, but what it looked like

I passed the lady on the street from time to time. We never spoke. I don't think she ever had any visitors. What we had in common was that we both lived alone. It was then that I came face to face with how I might die.

Some of us will die with friends and family at our side, holding our hand and speaking words of encouragement as we begin the last journey to wherever we must go. Some of us will have a priest or rabbi or minister near, comforting us with words we have heard all our lives in churches or in synagogues. Others of us, though, will die alone, without a single person beside us, and rot in our beds, leaving a stinking smell as a reminder of our existence. I pray that someone is there with me, to hold my hand, and speak to me, as I die. The simple fact is, I can deal with growing old alone, but I don't want to die alone.