Grief can make you do crazy things, silly things. Grief feels like your whole psyche is seizing, like an athlete dehydrating during a race. It can also, in hindsight, make you see something in yourself that you might not be too proud of.
My father passed away two years ago. And it took every day of those two years for me to be able to type those words, say those words, and not tear-up thinking those words. That’s the grieving process, or so I’m told. Part of the process that I was most resistant to, was the idea that things would get better. I didn’t want them to get better, I wanted to honor my dad by being unable to smile and laugh and to miss him with every tick of the clock.
During the two weeks of planning services and walking around my hometown like a zombie, I had a melt-down with my family that I was powerless to stop. If a transcript existed it would be hilarious. I was having a reaction to the mention of a group of poets who might want to share their words during my father’s viewing.
After retiring from the New York Times, my dad found it tough to adjust, and was in some ways rescued by a local group of poets who met and called themselves The Red Wheelbarrow, in honor of the famous doctor poet William Carlos Williams, who lived and practiced in my hometown of Rutherford, New Jersey. My dad became a leader in many ways and found an up-tick of productivity in his writing when most people settle down. He published poems in their annual release and published his own book of poems, Zerilda’s Chair.
“You know, maybe they could say a few things.” my brother said.
“WHAT? NO FUCKIN’ WAY. I DON’T WANT TO HEAR SOMEBODY’S POEM ABOUT THEIR GENITALS. THOSE MOTHERFUCKERS DON’T KNOW HOW TO EDIT AND IT’LL TURN INTO A COFFEE HOUSE AT MY DAD’S WAKE. NO FUCKING WAY.”
Or something to that affect. I was reeling and sad, I wanted to cast myself as the person to bring the house to tears with my eulogy. Our local catholic church would not allow lay people to speak and only scripture could be read. I was angry that no one from the family would be able to use their own words.
The truth is, that, I, the professional public speaker, would not have been able to compose myself, and it was really a moot point. But, the idea that these poets would get the floor made me crazy. It was misplaced emotion to say the least.
I’m not much of a poetry fan. I love Shakespeare and I like the quotes people post from famous poets, but I don’t wrap myself in verse very often. I liked my dad’s poetry, because it was free verse and sounded like talking. I had never read anyone else’s poems in their anthologies. For that I’m sorry.
I’m also sorry that I had ill will for a group of people who helped my father find a place in the world after retirement. A group that still invites my mother to their functions and treat her like a first lady of poetry, since he’s been gone. I want to thank them all. I want to thank them for, in the words of my brother, saving my father’s life, giving him a purpose, an audience, and a community.
Long Live The Rutherford Wheelbarrow Poets. Thank you for being there for my family, and thank you for your words. For what are we without our words? We are silent, and poets don’t go out like that, they have something to say and they leave behind their words to help us navigate the rough waters of life. A lesson I am grateful to have learned.