Thursday, February 09, 2006

Wrestling 'Death'


Stefan died at thirty
just eighteen months after his wedding
and five weeks after the doctor
said the dreaded words:
“Terminal cancer.”

We sit in the hushed church
studying moments of his life
that flash, then fade from the screen:
- a family picture – recognizably 70s.
- Stefan at bat, white uniform, blue stripes
- a black speck on a white ski-hill
- a laughing circle of friends, feet propped on the coffee table.
- Stefan with a pretty blond smiling girl.
- Stefan and the pretty blond smiling girl - in wedding clothes
- Stefan and Gabrielle in scuba gear
- Stefan and Gabrielle in a kayak
- Stefan, looking thin, beside a kayak that sits on a workbench.
- Stefan, gaunt and bony, with pretty blond Gabrielle beside him...

At the front of the church
where the casket would sit
lies a long, gleaming, golden-brown, cedar-strip kayak.

His brother’s voice chokes
a eulogy of messy rooms
the kid who rode his bike where he pleased
their shared tradition of opening
each Christmas parcel under the tree
early, then carefully re-wrapping, re-taping.

But Gabrielle is strong
as she tells a love story
cut short:
“Want a kiss?” Stefan asked
the first time they met,
then handed her a Hershey candy.
“He loved photography; I was his favorite model.
He made me feel safe.
He began building a kayak
in his living room.
After we married
we embarked
on the of blending our lives
like putting together
a design of cedar strips.
The kayak lying here is five hours
from being finished.”

Oh God, why this sudden termination
of their earthly project?
There should be more pictures:
- Gabrielle pregnant
- Stefan holding their baby
- a family of kayaks.
At the very least,
couldn’t you have given him
five more healthy hours?

Or was there some enterprise in heaven
that needed exactly that man
and couldn’t wait
a minute longer?
Some pressing assignment on earth
that needs a woman
who has paddled
through an arctic sea?

Copyright © V. Nesdoly 2003

(Names are fictitious)


Writing this poem was my way of working through the images, emotions and questions I had on attending the funeral of this young man, our friends’ son.

That’s one of the things I like about writing poetry. If you wrestle till your thoughts are ‘pinned’ you come away from the experience with a sense of victory, and a piece of writing that is as much a thing as a painting or an arrangement of dried flowers is a thing.

My poet friend Darlene has just begun blogging. Her mother died about two weeks ago. She too has lately struggled with death and written about it here.


Julana said...

I'm sorry to hear about this sad death.
I used to feel like that when I wrote poetry, too. I haven't written it for a long time.

violet said...

It was sad.

Considering the breadth of the reading you do, I'm sure your poetry is better than you give yourself credit for. I'd love to read some of your past writings...

Julana said...

I posted a poem once and took it off an hour or so later. :-) It takes more courage than one would think to stick a poem out on the internet. :-)

violet said...

Yes, I understand that. It is a form of writing where one is more likely to uncover various unflattering things about oneself than some others. Poems that connect are first of all honest.

I am reminded of a quote in the book Writing Personal Poetry by Sheila Bender. It is from a conversation of Stanley Kunitz with Andrei Voznesensky.

V: It's a very difficult life, being a poet. Like going to bed on TV with everybody looking. Like keeping a diary for the world's eyes. You have to be open for inspection, reveal all the dirty and beautiful things that happen to you. If you hide something, it will kill your poems. Sometimes I think it's too being in a zoo.

K: But at least, Andrei, we're our own keepers.