A Joyful Circle – the Final Lineage Poem

A Joyful Circle – the Final Lineage Poem. And so we come full circle in this series of Lineage Poems. Like medieval astronomers who took the earth to be the center of all things, so does our ego create the illusion that this individual life is the central point of reference in the infinite sweep of time and generations. Past, future, and at the fulcrum, this single life. And I suppose it couldn’t be any other way, however flawed this cosmology of self.

As I write this, I’ve been down for two weeks struggling to recover from pneumonia. It’s honestly been a frightening time. In an earlier post, I mentioned that my only brother died a short time ago, of lung disease as it happens (https://oldbonesnewsnow.com/2022/03/19/sunrise-and-sunset-the-wheel-of-life/.) So losing the ability to breathe triggered both fearful memories and simple animal fear. Just today, it finally feels like my breathing is softening, and the air is beginning to flow.

And also just today, our next grandchild has begun the long, messy, painful, risky and extraordinary process of pushing into this world.

A joyful circle. I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it

And I pray that I will have many, many, more to experience

Little boy, I weep with joy at the prospect of meeting you!

All love,

Jeff

Grandson, Son, Husband, Father, Father-in-law, Grandfather, Ancestor

backcountry touring in Canada February 2020

Two closing poems to bring this home, the first from several years ago

old man

in the wild untended fields of my heart
sits an old man. the day is late but warm 
and the low-angled light spreads like butter 
over the tall grass. his beard is white

gone beyond gray, and his hair, long and thin 
shifts with the wind. he wears a multicolored vest 
stitched with threads of silver
and his boney white feet 
sit bare upon the land

his hands, held still on his long legs, bear the scars 
of a lifetime of choices -- he sits beyond judgment 
beyond expectation -- he’s been waiting 
for a very, very long time 

he breathes as I breathe

his blue eyes are clouded now 
from having witnessed a life 
while in the distance the witches’ voices 

rise in round to the beating sound of his heart
he has always known this song
 has always known all 
of the songs 

we are each of us sorcerers 
all singers of one single 

deathless song

with Sara atop Kilimanjaro, October 2020

And a final word written very recently

only that

they say it’s our habits, habitual tendencies
that are reincarnated, like a wind
blowing through a window left open

in a newly constructed house. and this
makes sense to me – I haven’t suffered enough trauma
in this one life to be as confused as I seem to be

so I must have swept these old wounds
into the womb with me, an intangible blanket
of familiar mistakes to keep this newborn warm 

 now, as I stare down this narrowing hall
I pray to whatever powers there be
to allow me to direct more precisely
the next go-round

when the last breezes blow
and this basket of bones finally fails
may only one thing pass into the next life--

may I carry forward only 
the tender warmth of my fingers 

as they touch the cheeks
of those I have loved most in this world

that

and only that



May these words be of benefit to all sentient beings
grandpa Jeff with his best girl Sawyer

To explore more poetry with buddhist themes, click here:https://www.shambhala.com/buddhist-poetry-a-reader-guide/

A Mother’s Love, a Son’s Regrets – Fourth of the Lineage Poems

A Mother’s Love, A Son’s Regret. Looking back, it’s clear that I’ve written more about my father than I ever did about my mother. Fathers and sons I suppose. But she was also the quieter, smaller one of the two. I always had the sense that she chose to hold herself close, always to defer.

September 11, 2001

We drove her from Florida to Chicago on September 11, 2001. The world had suddenly erupted in fire and all flights had been cancelled. We convinced Hertz to give us a van and we drove for three days across a silent, empty America. Her dementia was pretty bad by that point, and she repeated over and over and over, “Where am I going?” “Why do I need to go?” I didn’t have a good answer then, and I guess I don’t now.

A Mother’s Love, a Son’s Regrets

Margaret Ruth lived in a nursing home in Chicago from 2001 until her death in 2004 from simple old age. I’ve posted before (link immediately below) about my sadness that I failed to attend properly the end of her life, allowing her to die alone in the night when it was pretty clear that it was her time.

Here’s a link to “That I Would do Betterhttps://oldbonesnewsnow.com/2020/05/10/that-i-would-do-better-poetry-poem-mother-regrets-mothersday/

Margaret Ruth, age four on the far right, 1921

I own that regret. But there’s also the regret of perhaps never having really known her. So here are two pieces that speak to missing the life of one who loved and raised me. Perhaps I could only see this as I creep into my older years myself. First, the mystery of seeing off one who once had been the entire world.

When the World is Lost Forever

childish things


we stood in a circle around the grave
some read poems while some 
chose silence. the funeral director

placed her ashes in the ground
while the redwing blackbirds sang 
among the corn. we'd always assumed

that she could fly, but then we
were only children, and eager to cling
to childish things


A Mother’s Love, a Son’s Regrets

And second, upon seeing her in the nursing home, a shadow of who she’d once been and wondering if (or perhaps knowing) we’d missed something essential over all those years.

margaret ruth

old woman, what have you done with her?
she was here when I last looked. now 
there's only you, a remnant, your mind 
approaching the capacity of experience 
cycling back upon itself, the tape skipping, catching 
rewinding as we speak. your face has been chiseled, 
deep lines cut into spotted flesh surrounding pools 
of sadness in your eyes. 
                                        
I can see into the depths 
of that water -- here rest the old ones 
in images black and brown, a diminishing succession 
of farmers’ wives standing resolute at the arms 
of sitting dead husbands. here are young brides 
with radical curls, high collars and narrow waists 
holding round-faced war-babies smiling at the camera. 
here is a mother reading soft words to soft children 
in light fading into dreams—ah Margaret Ruth 
we were for each other 
and we never really knew


The author at age one with his Mother Margaret Ruth, 1958

Here’s the link to first Lineage Poem – A Joyful Noise https://oldbonesnewsnow.com/2022/01/09/a-joyful-noise-root-music-of-the-heartland/

Here’s the link to the second Lineage Poem – One the Way to Heaven, Over Ohio https://oldbonesnewsnow.com/2022/01/16/on-the-way-to-heaven-2nd-lineage-poem-over-ohio/

Here’s the link to the third Lineage Poem – Welcomed by the Land, Redwing Blackbirds https://oldbonesnewsnow.com/2022/01/24/a-father-returns-home-welcomed-by-the-land/

For more poems speaking to mothers and motherhood, click here: https://www.poetry.com/psearch/mothers

All Poems, Text and Images are © 2022 jafink/oldbonesnewsnow.com

Welcomed by the Land – A Father Returns Home

The third in a series of Lineage Poems: Welcomed by the Land- A Father Returns Home. My father left Hancock County Ohio after the war and barely looked back. But when he died in 1986, there was a plot waiting for him there. A farmers’ cemetery tucked among the cornfields, rows of family names eroding into nothing up a small hill. Later, my mother would join him there, but this poem is about his journey home. And the Redwing Blackbirds in the fields, and the ribbon of asphalt leading there. About an Oldsmobile, and the memories of a boy, now a no longer young man.

Click here for the first poem in the Lineage Series: https://oldbonesnewsnow.com/2022/01/09/a-joyful-noise-root-music-of-the-heartland/

Click here for the second poem in the Lineage Series: https://oldbonesnewsnow.com/2022/01/16/on-the-way-to-heaven-2nd-lineage-poem-over-ohio/

photo credit – the Audubon Society https://www.audubon.org/

A Father Returns Home:

redwing blackbirds

redwing blackbirds 
flash like fire in the sun, the Olds 
sailing and sailing over waves of blacktop

clicking past fenceposts, the boy 
peering from the back seat trying to count 
but it’s too fast to keep up 

such a small hole for a man that size 
tough to fit eternity into a space like that 
maybe space like time is collapsed by death

they say at the margin space and time 
are the same thing. tell me, if you could choose 
would you disappear in order to last forever? 

maybe it’s better to spread yourself out 
catch the wind and let it swirl you as ashes
straight to heaven. or maybe get an Olds

hold the jar out the window 
and go sailing over waves of blacktop
pop the cork and stream out the long dusty cloud 

that’s now filling your mirrors as you drive 
catching now on the wind, filling the sky 
until the sun itself goes black 

until the redwing blackbirds 

disappear



© 2022 jafink/oldbonesnewsnow.com

Back to the Earth

On the Way to Heaven, 2nd Lineage Poem: Over Ohio

the author with “Big Al” in Detroit in 1963

On the Way to Heaven, 2nd Lineage Poem: Over Ohio My father died of lung cancer in Florida in 1986. Always an angry man, he was supremely bitter about his illness, feeling like he’d been robbed of the retirement due a lifetime of work. At the time, I was buried in my own workaholic haze in Chicago, flying down on weekends to see him, then going straight back to the office when I got back North.

He was in hospice when I got word that the end was near, and was in a coma by the time I arrived. This poem tells the story of a real conversation, one I’ll obviously never forget. He was a hard man who was hard on his boys. As I enter my own older years, I resent the hardness less and less, and miss him more and more. I’d love to be able to talk with him one more time.

Here’s the link to the first Lineage Poem : A Joyful Noise – Root Music of the Heartlandhttps://oldbonesnewsnow.com/2022/01/09/a-joyful-noise-root-music-of-the-heartland/

Over Ohio

my mother called on Friday
to let me know his time was near
that I needed to come now.

he was not an easy man
either to me or to my brother
or to himself. my mother, 

simple loyal and kind was spared this,
or so I hope. he’d been in a coma 
for days when I went to sit with him

through the night, his cancer-eaten body
rattling its ragged breaths
in the pale blue light of the monitors.

unable to sleep, I watched him breath in
the darkness, then just before dawn
he woke and wanted to talk.

I told him he was dying
as if he didn’t already know.
and he asked me how much money I made 

(so he’d know, he said, if I’d be safe)
then apologized for smacking us boys,
and I told him it was alright

even if it really wasn’t. 
I left when he drifted back into sleep
or wherever it was he’d been waiting,

and caught the early morning 
flight for home. he died 
while I was 30,000 feet over Ohio.

sometimes I wonder – 
at that moment, which one of us
was closest to heaven?

© 2022 jafink/oldbonesnewsnow.com

Big Al on the driveway in Detroit, 1963

And here’s a link to more poems about fathers from the Poetry Foundation: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/collections/101752/poems-about-fathers

Wordless Love – the Sweet Experience of Loving an Old Dog

Sweet Jackson, the old black dog, asleep by the fire

Wordless Love

in this light-shortened night

I draw near the fire

with my old black dog.

neither of us

can keep our feet warm

anymore.

I place my hand on his ribs

and watch them rise and fall,

feel the beating

of his precious heart,

and know then the sharp dread

of the beginning of ending

of dissolution, of the warm

moist breath of emptiness,

of loss, of the exquisite fragility

of this simple, bottomless

wordless love

© 2021 jafink/oldbonesnewsnow.com

a brilliant day

 

V8.4984

 

a brilliant day

mountains, flowers, lakes

 

then a red truck pulls out blind

 

no time for thought,

tires screaming on hot blacktop,

the car sliding, too fast, too fast,

no room

 

a white face in the window

a man turning, surprised

 

we bear down, burning fifty

to zero in thirty feet and somehow

we slide right,

rock to a stop

just

short

 

the whole thing flashes faster than thought

 

the face glares at me,

slams his truck across traffic

and disappears

 

we look at each other

seemingly fine

no harm, no foul?

 

driving home, my right arm

shakes like current

sizzling in a frayed wire

 

in the dark garage

I close my eyes,

the hot engine ticking down in silence

 

 

our lives continue

 

 

© 2020 jafink/oldbonesnewsnow.com

such a fool

 

after all these years, you’d think I might have learned a thing or two…

 

ball

 

such a fool

 

what becomes of our memories

when we die? do they simply vanish

with the last flickering spark?

 

so many years of careful assembly

and rearrangement – why would the gods

invest so much in something so frail?

 

maybe instead we pass a kind of key

to those we leave behind

so that as long as they remember us,

 

our life’s collection

of learning and stories, heartbreak and joy,

remains connected, alive, flowing

 

in waves of what we call wisdom,

what we call beauty, accessible to any and all

with a beating human heart.

 

as I wander, hands in my pockets,

I absently jingle my enormous ring of keys,

and across the heavens the ancestors

 

and all of those who went before me,

rejoice at this music, beginning to dance and sing

at the warm pleasure of still being known.

 

then one by one, they look down at me

and start to laugh, shaking their celestial heads

in wonder, that despite a lifetime afloat

 

in this ancestral sea of wisdom

I insist on remaining

a complete and utter fool.

 

 

 

© 2020 jafink/oldbonesnewsnow.com

 

rising

Jafamfjaf

 

rising

 

either there are no angels

or we are all of us angels, rising

by degree. when I left you,

 

you were supported by pillows

billowing like clouds. now,

sitting on the plane

 

watching rain glaze the runway,

I wonder if you’re awake, your eyes

searching for familiar faces

you can no longer see; I wonder

 

if I will ever see you again.

 

gathering speed, we begin to climb,

both of us passengers, rising

alone, separately, together,

 

rising

on differently feathered wings,

rising

into radically different heavens.

 

© 2020 jafink/oldbonesnewsnow.com

 

 

 

enough

 

my only brother, Joe, died the day after I wrote this, at age 78. perhaps this is why so many of my poems recently have concerned death. voyage well my brother…

siblings 7.22.19 2904

 

enough

 

a poem arrived last night

so heavy with death I couldn’t lift it

and I couldn’t in good conscience

drop it on anybody else.

so for now, there’s just this –

an unseasonably warm spring day

robins building a nest on the porch

the constant quiet joy

of the good woman I married

nearly forty years ago. And for now

 

this is enough.

 

enough to hold me warm at night,

enough to allow me to ignore,

for a time, the pulsing sadness

that flows beneath the surface

of this happiness,

like blood beneath the skin

carrying its own form of richness

throughout this aging body,

even though I know that one day

this blood will stop, and with it must end

all of the sadness, all of the joy,

leaving only a space,

a sharp inhalation,

then a long vanishing sigh.

 

© 2020 jafink/oldbonesnewsnow.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isolation

IMG_9561

 

Isolation

(a partial inventory of things for which I grieve

in this time of pandemic)

 

Hugs and hands and friendly kisses.

A bar of soap in the dish, unremarkable and dry.

Going out to breakfast, pancakes and eggs, bacon

chatting with the waitress while waiting for you.

Driving to a meeting in town, boring, endless,

ordinary. College basketball. Baseball season.

Missing easy shots in tennis and losing my cool,

as if it mattered. Golden mornings passed

in silent meditation, my feet cold

on retreat, loving and being loved,

the soft sound of all of us breathing together,

as if it mattered. Being cold, being hot, wind,

rain, snow and sunburn. Sacred places,

Yosemite, The Grand Canyon, Dolomiti skies.

Cinque Torri at sunset, then again at dawn.

Parisian museums. Parisian meals. Parisian coffee.

Paris.

Venice in the morning. Eating gelato in Rome.

Eating more gelato in Rome.

Aging simply but still feeling young.

Not being classified as vulnerable.

Not being classified.

Not needing to sanitize the keys in order to loan the car

to my son. Seeing my sons. Holding them.

Seeing my infant granddaughter. Holding her

even if it still makes her cry.

The illusion of safety.

The familiar smell of my personal cocoon.

Never having to consider case counts, respirators

or exponential curves.

Believing myself to be harmless to others (or mainly so.)

Belief in a particular future.

The future.

The freedom to ignore a simple cough.

Taking a single breath for granted.

Believing that time is continuous, endless and free.

Ignorance of the gray man stalking the streets

counting breaths.

A committed belief in Death

as an abstraction.

 

© 2020 jafink/oldbonesnewsnow.com