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Sunday, August 26, 2018

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My family in Buffalo, N.Y. visiting my cousin, Alan, and his parents. That's Mom, Ricky, me, and Peter, with Robert, the tall teenager, in the back.




Two Weeks and Three Days Later

Ah, Peter. My housemate, my best friend, my brother, died of a vicious metastatic cancer on August 9th, 2018. I drove him to the oncologist on July 17th for his biopsy results and his doctor gently told him that he couldn’t cure his cancer; it had metastasized to his liver and Peter calmly opted for hospice care. The doctor approved his decision. Having seen how Peter had suffered in the weeks leading up to this appointment, and having seen how my brother struggled to make the trip across town with me and sit in the waiting room and the doctor’s office with dignity and grace, I understood that his days of leaving the house for medical attention should come to a stop. I drove us home as carefully as I could, but seemed incapable of smooth braking and we both winced every time the car jerked again. He tried to comfort me.

So then there was a bit of time. His close friends came by with homemade soups and smoothies, yoga music, essential oils, and a foot massage (Sandy and Lisa), a wonderful Saturday night dinner (Katrina and Roger) from one of his favorite restaurants, with extra soup offerings from our Chinese place, (he loved the egg drop soup and Katrina brought some by every few days after that as long as he could eat) flowers, love and comfort. And he told his friend Victor, who has a house-painting business, to paint the house white. He’d have a big white tombstone, he said, because he wasn’t going anywhere. (Peter hasn’t. His ashes are here and if I ever leave this house, I’ll bury them under his bedroom window.) Christine, the hospice nurse was so good, so kind. Thank you, Covenant, for sending her to us. My brother Robert was here for Peter’s last week in his body. Robert left Philadelphia for Florida sooner than he’d planned and came as soon as I said “we need you now.”

Peter and I, eighteen months apart, grew up together in northern New Jersey, in a town called Ramsey. Robert was the oldest and Ric, who died in 2008, the youngest. We lived for the first 10 years there in a G.I. neighborhood. Two to six kids in every house in our development, fathers who commuted to NYC for their jobs, and in almost every house a mother who stayed home. Some of my most vivid memories of Peter are of playing in the woods, skating on the pond, practicing for circuses and parades around the neighborhood. Peter was the director and producer, ringleader of the circuses, inventor of new adventures. He’d usually take a backstage role and give his friend Cormac the Tarzan part or whatever, and I either played Jane, or, my favorite, the monkey. I could write a book about my brother, and maybe someday I will, but the pain of missing him is acute right now and I think I’ll close this down now.

First, though, I need to thank you. For comforting Peter with your cards, calls, and visits, and for holding me up during the worst of the last three weeks before he left us, and for your wonderful support since. I was so sure I’d go first, you see. Peter was the one who knew how to take care of things, do things. I cooked, collected stray cats, read, and wrote poetry. But my brother Robert, my cousins, neighbors, all of you that I haven’t met except online, but feel that I know well, and my dear friends will help me. I’m learning to ask. Later today, a Sunday, Phyllis and Paul will pick me up for dinner at Richard and Sandy’s. Lynne cooked me a delicious dinner on Thursday and listened while I talked and talked and talked, Chris took me shopping for a rug for my dog yesterday, and a  neighbor cut down a branch that had fallen too close to our fence. Soon, I’ll get back to the Unitarian services I love and maybe find I can begin giving back, eh? One line of poetry, by Czlaw Milosz, has nestled in my thoughts again: “There is no one between me and you.”


Saturday, January 13, 2018

This is in my book, To See Who's There. I'm a descendant of immigrants, too.


Strength & Luck


       There’s no food in Ireland for Patrick Kennedy. He slogs with the other starving over the wintry road to Kingston port, hands the man his bit of coin earned working with the lordship’s horses. And up the gangway to ride the groaning bucking ship across the Irish Sea. Near to frozen in the open air he hears screams from the freezing below decks. A rotten beam has cracked, shattered, broken the back of a mother. The damn ship docks in Liverpool’s crazed harbor with sloppy, exhausted triumph.
       So Patrick’s in amid the shoving, bellowing, crying mass of countrymen lost in the dirty alleys snaking from wharf to dark city. A churchwoman offers bread and weak ale, saving him, he supposes—he’s that hungry. To sleep then, in a heap where he stumbles. The night brings him a dream of his father, still lively and digging up stones. Morning and an English pulls him by the arm back to the docks, signs him on and so he’s a stevedore—him, a boy whose life had been stallions, mares, and colts. Liverpool smothers in coal ash and fear’s roiling anger.
       When Patrick’s had enough of the place and the place has had enough of him, he scrimps the fare (gone low it has for the thousands and for the shipping lines wanting to carry them) and boards a steamship bound for New York City. At least that’s what they tell him—he can’t read the paper ticket, but he’s paid for it and takes his chances.
       The crossing is hell plain and simple, the only good being the end of it— a hundred or so poor souls with typhus ferried to hospital on Ward’s Island. His luck with him or so he thinks, he’s in the mass of them crowding down the gangplank. A cursing bastard in uniform grabs him by the neck, pushes him onto a cart. By sunrise he’s in uniform himself.  Patrick’s a private in the Union Army. Whatever the hell it is, whatever the hell the fight is about, he holds a rifle and boots too big for him are on his feet—he is in it now.
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       Because Patrick Kennedy survived the potato famine, the refugee frenzy in Liverpool, the rats aboard the City of Manchester, and the American Civil War to raise a family with Catherine, née McCarthy, I am here to write these things down about my great-great grandfather, born in Dunganstown, Wexford County, Ireland, 1836, dead in Richmond County, Staten Island, New York, 1888.

Monday, December 04, 2017

One poem is brand new, one is in my book, To See Who's There

Lucien Pissaro, 1916
Time Change in Florida #2

Sapped, yes. But not finished. Not yet.
So what if I mostly live in my head?
Who says I have to be out running around
improving body income outgo technical savvy?

The dizzy awe of a Southwestern canyon at my feet,
a clean expanse of sunlit snow, a seat at a small iron table
on a terrace near a bridge spanning a shady canal, a few ducks. Yes. I do yearn,

but fuck that. The wizardry of Greek goats on the cliffs,
the exquisite calm of Prince Edward Island, conquests and seductions—
random delicious recollections lively and reasonably true live on
in Whitmanesque abundance, drifting, thundering, startling.

Come to my sunny room. We’ll lie in my ancient bed,
sing German Lieder, dance the pavane.
Come to my spacious room. Help me get this right.

The Painter, the Actor, the Piano Player
1.
As fast as that I wake to astonishing desire.
I’d met you just once, but for them
(them the drained students trying to relax)
you are the stranger in the room,
(the room the shabby basement cafeteria in the old Juilliard building).
I can summon the flip of my belly as you stride to my table of dancers
(the room holds its breath) enfold me, kiss me (sighs)
and I refill here and now with that first taste of delicious knowing.
2.
A phone call about a blind date who will meet me
on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art primes
me for the man who has picked such a place.
I’m early, filled with notions.
From the top I scan the city crowd, see you bound up
the proud staircase straight to me. How did you know?
Your talk’s all of a failed audition for Antonioni’s “Zabriskie Point.”
At twenty-five you’re too old, but still you buzz because the great director
has seen you now and maybe... We walk south on 5th Avenue.
As we enter Central Park at 72nd St., the next two
and a half years have begun.
3.
You arrive thirty-five minutes late (the first time I forgive you).
I’d raced downtown to my two rooms on 14th Street from Lincoln Center,
sweaty from ten hours in dance studios, desperate to shampoo my oily itchy head. Cleaned up seconds before your knock, I undo the police lock.
Your tweed jacket white shirt curly wild red/brown hair round blue smart eyes tall skinny grace punch me in the heart so that my chest contracts.
Did I gasp?


4.
A fast heavy rain lowered a bough of the too tall old rose bush.
One pink bloom is done for but the other holds its fat shape.
The greens outside my window quiver. My wild Florida garden
applauds the sky; thousands of leaves have had their fill. All over
is bright gray light. I’ve been working at my French writing desk
with its view like a painting. My brother and I have landed here together,
each single, each quiet.
I applaud my young men. See us painted by Chagall.
Three times in four years I stepped off the cliff to ride the currents.
While aloft I danced, bounced, sailed, dove in winds, rains, heat and cold
like I’ve not known since. Just turned eighteen, almost nineteen,
and twenty-one, I flew over and through New York City
with you and you and you. Whoosh!
Who pushed, who pulled? No matter.
My hand, your hands gripped tightly until one of us loosened, let go.
Ah, July’s fierce sun is back, but the greens no longer thirst
and will not droop for hours.

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