Thursday, April 3, 2008
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
A man has died.
A neighbor, a friend of my husband's, a father to two young girls, died last month. We are shocked, bewildered, sick.
I am trying to wrap my head around this death. I think of Wallace Stevens and his "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." The poet trying to get at the bird, changing the angles of his approach, making volleys at an impenetrable fortress.
A man died. A husband. A father of two girls, a neighbor. Randy worked with him closely a few years ago, considered him a friend, wondered at his recent distance. I waved to him once from the porch and gave his girls Halloween candy as he waited on the sidewalk. I only know him through death. The most bewildering of all choices. The agony he kept secret has exploded into a thousand pieces and is shared by all around him.
After Mary Oliver dodged a Florida alligator, she wrote that suddenly she "saw the world as if for the second time,/the way it really is."
The morning before we heard the news, Randy and I had a loud, brief fight, like a couple of lightning crashes. We yelled through the shower curtain, kept silent truce, shared a few neutral comments in the car, made up over lunch. But a few hours later, with the bad news rolling in my head and knocking in my stomach, our sweet life has a bright light shining on it. If all goes as hoped and I'm incredibly lucky, I’ve only got 40-odd more years with this family – my life is halfway done. And this shining man stands before me, choosing to be with us, choosing every day to stay. For that and the infinite pleasures, blessings and challenges we have yet to face, I am eternally grateful, again.
A man has died. My husband put together a video for the wake, pictures of a golden boy growing into a handsome man, clutched by family, by fraternity buds, by a beautiful girl turned bride, by children. Like the work of an undertaker or a surgeon, my husband is able to put his attention so close to the details of a larger thing that the pressing and difficult reality of the entire can be held at a distance.
"He was brilliant," says my husband. "But he was really funniest when things were at their worst."
A man has died. A poem about Icarus is read at his memorial.
". . . As he neared the ocean,/came close enough to wave to the startled fishermen in their boats,/he laughed,/and admitted/that even had he known/of the many failings of fathers and feathers,/he would have done it anyway."
I hear of this and for a moment I confuse Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun, with Apollo's son, Phaeton, who flew his father's burning chariot too close to the earth.
A man has died. A poem is read at his memorial. Poetry gives us comfort – we sink into the words, the examination of this tiny moment, here, now. The poet offers understanding, if not of the whole, but of some piece of it.
A man died. The boy-god has scorched us, but we must forgive him because he was a god, because he nearly set the world on fire and because he is gone.