My friend says I was not a good son
I say yes I understand
he says I did not go
to see my parents very often you know
and I say yes I know
even when I was living in the same city he says
maybe I would go there once
a month or maybe even less
I say oh yes
he says the last time I went to see my father
I say the last time I saw my father
he says the last time I saw my father
he was asking me about my life
how I was making out and he
went into the next room
to get something to give me
oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my father’s hand the last time
he says and my father turned
in the doorway and saw me
look at my wristwatch and he
said you know I would like you to stay
and talk with me
oh yes I say
but if you are busy he said
I don’t want you to feel that you
just because I’m here
I say nothing
he says my father
you have important work you are doing
or maybe you should be seeing
somebody I don’t want to keep you
I look out the window
my friend is older than I am
he says and I told my father it was so
and I got up and left him then
though there was nowhere I had to go
and nothing I had to do
-W.S. Merwin, Opening the Hand, 1983.
William Stanley Merwin of New York City, New York died in his sleep three days ago at his home in Hawaii.
Machado cares enough to try to explain to you how it is to be a poet; to be the poet he had to become. Poets fill all the roles of other human beings but their hearts and senses –the walled garden of their memories– are engineered differently than their neighbors, for it is to a unique purpose they are made.
My childhood is memories of a patio in Seville,
and a sunny orchard where lemons ripen;
my youth, twenty years on the soil of Castile;
my story, a few events just as well forgotten.
I was never a great seducer or Romeo
—that is apparent by my shabby dress—
but I was struck by the arrow Cupid aimed at me
and loved whenever I was welcomed.
Despite the rebel blood in my veins,
my poems bubble up from a calm spring;
and more than a man who lives by rules
I am, in the best sense of the word, good.
I adore beauty and following modern aesthetics,
I’ve cut old roses from Ronsard’s garden;
but I hate being fashionable
and am no bird strutting the latest style.
I shun the shallow tenor’s ballads,
and the chorus of crickets singing at the moon;
I stop to separate the voices from the echoes,
and I listen among the voices to only one.
Am I classical or romantic? I don’t know?
I want to leave my poetry as the captain leaves his sword;
remembered for the virile hand that gripped it,
not for the hallmark of its maker.
I converse with the man who is always beside me,
—he who talks to himself hopes to talk to God someday—
my soliloquy is a discussion with this friend,
who taught me the secret of loving others.
In the end I owe you nothing; you owe me all I’ve written.
I work, paying with what I’ve earned
for the clothes on my back, the house I live in,
the bread that sustains me and the bed where I lie.
And when the day arrives for the final voyage
and the ship that never returns is set to sail,
you’ll find me aboard, traveling light, with few possessions,
almost naked, like the children of the sea.
I’d like to thank every one of you for coming out today…for standing up one last time for a good and beloved man. For the ways you helped Pop grow into the man, the worker, the father he was…for the changes you wrought in his life…for reflecting his bright and loving nature in a way that caused him to cleave to you…I embrace you, every one.
My brother Wier broke the news about Pop’s passing followed close by a call from Torrence with the details, some of which I’ll share with you now.
Torrence and Pop were heading down to Boone for a visit with Torre and David that Thursday afternoon. They stopped to take a little break at the rest area just the other side of the North Carolina line. He’d seemed a little loose and weary walking back to the car so she helped him back in the passenger seat.
Buckled up and ready to go she hits that highway on-ramp and gives it the gas. 10…20…30… The world is a neon green Southern springtime…70 degrees and sunny. 40…50…60…
Now if you’ve driven with Torrence you know that speedometer kept on creeping up. 70…80…probably a healthy 85 before she backed off the accelerator. In my mind in this moment I like to envision Pop just kept on accelerating, achieved escape velocity, and sizzled out into the universe at 186,000 miles a second.
What struck me…what made the difference were Torrence’s description of that moment. Herself still spinning in the fresh, confounding vortex of loss she called and described Pop’s face as looking “so young…like he did when we first started dating.” She went on to describe the transcendent look of peace on his face, as if relieved of all of his burdens and doubts and fears. His final moments on this Earth –his deliverance from all uncertainty and suffering– you have to know were the second-to-last gift his maker ever gave him.
Now if you could go back in time and ask Pop at 40 years of age how he’d like to go I bet he’d have painted a scene not entirely dissimilar from the late afternoon of April 12th. Flying down the highway through a familiar, beloved world fairly quivering with renewal; with his lady-love at his side; with his final breath one of sweet Southern springtime air…if you knew him you’d know Hollywood couldn’t have engineered a more fitting finale.
We were down at the river house yesterday for a little lunch and some family time. I had hoped to find some time during my visit to bide a while in his domain…to meditate a while in quiet communion and seek out his spirit. My friends, to my shock and pleasure no such measures were required. Today you can not walk into their home without feeling the enduring glow of his loving presence…the quiet contentment of a watchful soul whose charges –Torrence and the living Rappahannock itself– are safely embraced by the courses in which they flow. I tried to feel bad for myself that I could no longer hold him but it became quickly apparent it is he who now holds all of us.
It is for that reason I now ask you all to set aside your sadness and fill your hearts with joy. Pop is not gone. He has simply transformed from light to light, and all that remains is for each of us is to shine.
“To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.”
-Michel de Montaigne; Complete Essays, Chapter XIX
“Followers of the Way, the Dharma of the Buddhas calls for no special undertakings. Just act ordinary, without trying to do anything particular. Move your bowels, piss, get dressed, eat your rice, and if you get tired, then lie down. Fools may laugh at me, but wise men will know what I mean.”
– Linji Yixuan, 9th c. China
A Buddha is someone who finds freedom in good fortune and bad. Such is his power that karma can’t hold him. No matter what kind of karma, a Buddha transforms it. Heaven and hell are nothing to him. But the awareness of a mortal is dim compared to that of a Buddha, who penetrates everything, inside and out. – Bodhidharma
“I feel sorry that I cannot help you very much. But the way to study true Zen is not verbal. Just open yourself and give up everything. Whatever happens, whether you think it is good or bad, study closely and see what you find out. This is the fundamental attitude. Sometimes you will do things without much reason, like a child who draws pictures whether they are good or bad. If that is difficult for you, you are not actually ready to practice zazen.”
— Shunryu Suzuki, Not Always So