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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Writing Death


Responding to one of my poems, the poet C. Liegh McInnis wrote: "Memory and language are truly the things that keep the existential from imploding us." (email to the author, April 4, 2017)  When McInnis reads, he goes to the core of the matter.  His fingers trace a new pattern in the molten lava of meaning. When he reads, he reads for real.   He provokes inwit.  How many times have I learned something new through the prism of his analysis of meaning and significance?  Frequently.  Always.

McInnis was referring to "Ending"

                                As they lay dying, my friends, implant

                                memory where grief would be a thorn;

                                a spirit toiled in longing just can't

                                occupy that sacred time; so torn

                                love lets dust come once to life

                                and soul become sage in the light.

the words I wrote in anticipation of the death of two friends, Clarence Hunter and Lolis Edward Elie.

Hunter died on April 3; Elie, on April 4; twenty-five years ago, my mother died on April 5.  Does the word "sage" in the final line of "Ending" refer to wisdom or to the herb indigenous peoples burn to purify the area where something must be done?  As I navigate the domains of loss and sorrow, I prefer not to answer my question.  Uncertainty is answer enough.  I prefer not to implode.

To avoid debilitating pity regarding the natural and necessary facts of death,  I write. People die.  Friends die.  Later or sooner, I shall die.  Ashe. Amen. Ashe.

On a panel at the 2017 Tennessee Williams Festival, one poet said he was engaged in getting over his self-righteousness as he deals with the new and great American autocracy.  Another panelist said his writing process involves frequent revision, writing from the dark into a light. "Ending" enters a light without revision.  The panel's moderator wanted to account for political threads.  Another panel member asserted that writers should listen more.  Having listened to cacophony since November 8, 2016, I urged that we writers who believe ourselves to be liberal attend  to conservative apologies for fascism, to the words that ordain the death of democracy.  Was the panel an  omen, a sign that I should find comfort in the possibility that death is the precise moment when everything happens? 

April 5, 2017 is my day of remembering, of obeying the laws of Nature and Nature's God.  I dry my eyes.  I blow my nose.   I recall how the goodness of my friends shaped my existential being. I write death into my life so that I might survive and become a poem.   I write to purify the air.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                                            April 5, 2017

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