The year is about to end, with massive snows in Missouri and Ohio, across the midwest and, I suppose, New England and the northern tier as well. Here in Arizona I find time to complain about the lack of a single cloud in a sky that is, just now, the color of certain Navajo jewelry. I somehow find time to complain about 60 degree days.
It’s been a fine year, but just like every year there were hardships to overcome: cancer finally took my brother, and we had to discuss the possibility that Agent Orange, the deadly herbicide sprayed liberally all across South Vietnam 50 years ago, is causing my father very real health problems. And still I have to say, it’s been a fine year.
But we get through complications together, as friends and family, and my father’s sense of humor is still as large as a coliseum, my brother left us in such a state of grace that I can hardly find the words to describe it. I can only hope that I’ll be afforded the opportunity to depart with such grace. Phillip would laugh his ass off if he knew I called him graceful. But he was, and it was his grace that helped the rest of us get through his loss. A final gift from a man who always gave.
Just after the funeral I fell silent. I stopped writing here, tore up entire poems, and then stopped trying. I slowed down, reflected, and failed in a few glorious ways. In November, traditionally a good writing month for me, I didn’t write a word. I missed Robert Lee Brewer’s November Poem-a-Day Challenge, which I’ve taken part in the past three years. I abandoned dozens of poems. What I wrote resembled English 101 essays I’d written so long ago: disjointed, pointless, meandering. Interesting at times, but fragmented.
I know it always returns. In my case, a year like this takes many months of personal assessment prior to being able to put anything in some sort of order. I’m getting there, but it will be after the New Year before I find myself writing very much on point. And I’m okay with that, because it always returns.
And yet I managed to have several poems placed in various wonderful publications: the Virginia Quarterly Review, Grey Sparrow Journal, Foundling Review, and Scissors & Spackle (the last two will publish in early 2014). I made fair strides in organizing a new collection, tentatively titled Unusual Sorrows, slated to publish in 2014. So I suppose it has been a fine year, despite the challenges that tried to stain it.
Billy Collins once wrote: “The poets are at their windows,” and if the quote’s not exact I apologize. I’m too lazy to look it up. I suppose I’m cleaning the windows now, preparing to observe again and ponder upon what it is I’m observing. Once the windows are clearer, I’ll return to them full force.
So it has been a fine (enough) year. I visited with my daughter and granddaughter, and found out I’m going to have another grand-something-or-other. I walked around in Boston with my son, and rode the subway until we found Fenway Park, his goal during the trip. I drove my father and step-mother to Kentucky, then returned a few months later to drive their van back to Arizona with their 6,000-year-old dog. En route I got to see step-family in Kentucky, an aunt in Saint Louis, a throng (or was it a gaggle?) of cousins in Oklahoma, and an old friend in Albuquerque.
I continued to work with Holocaust survivors in Tucson, which had its own subset of highs and lows. And it was a fine year working with them as well, even during the lows. Our challenges in the Holocaust program were setbacks, but our victories were glorious.
I’m fairly certain – even as I dare search the future – there will be other years as fine, or finer, than this one. I’m still cleaning windows, but through the small portion I’ve cleaned I can see the pair of mourning doves that continue to visit my yard, and a nice slice of the Rincon mountains to the east where, just now, the sun groans to lift above its central peaks.
In an hour the sky will be turquoise, the doves will have disappeared. It’s time to return, I suppose, to the task of writing, because every point of return is shadowed by the journey that brought it about. A friend assures me I should write what I know. Just now I know enough not to complain.
Too much, at any rate.