Sunrise on Sunset Beach

TSS - Memorial Service, Sexton's House

On Poetry Offered at Marie Patten's Memorial Service, Sunday, July 30, 2017
    2The Sexton’s House: “Interlude: The Poet’s Traverse

After the graveside memorial service, we moved to the Sexton’s House for refreshments and a classical music program in memory of Marie. For the Interlude, I recited eight poems from my book, Journey to Embarkation, chosen to convey the broad movements of life.

Every life is singular. But every life plays out universal themes. Journey is a metaphor and an organizing principle for reflecting on a life. Here I divide the journey into three parts – departures, struggles, and arrivals. They correspond to three elements in the Hero’s Journey (though my own life has been anything but heroic).

1. Departures

We begin our lives, of course, with a departure from the womb. Typically we experience many many more departures – from childhood and adolescence, for example, and much later our own children’s passage from home. Most experience their parents’ deaths, the loss of friends, relocations. For this presentation, I selected my own retirement (“The Comfort of Fading”), my parents’ deaths (“A Farewell to Summer,” “Old Riverside Oak”), and a friend’s passing (“An Ode to Aralee”). Links to the poems and exerpts are given below.

The Comfort of Fading

… So I shut my eyes in warm sun
and drift down whole days.

The world is my back yard
the afterlife unfenced.

I wander a peaceable kingdom
where voices chant in strange tongues

from the distance of dreams …

A Farewell to Summer

… The wind blows which way it will
we do not know where
or why, and so let go only
        because we must
and claim that bitter prize –
our due share of reluctant wisdom…

Old Riverside Oak

… Springtime truth emerges
       from emptiness
with whispers of hope…

So we see now in part
but miss the unity beyond
that surrounds the void
       in a cosmic embrace …

An Ode to Aralee

… your essence awaits:

A brief note, held sweet
                against silence
echoes forever
        the memory of grace.

2. Struggles

Even the most prosaic lives experience struggles. These might occur during periods of transition. Some are relatively benign, while others can be more serious. Here, I chose two poems. The first is about a friend’s life-threatening experience during her winter cross-country trek near Lake Louise, Alberta (“A Way in the Wilderness”). Interestingly, this poem could be interpreted as an encounter with depression, which neither Susan nor I have experienced. My second poem offers encouragement for a life fallen short or caught in conflict (“Lessons for the Fallen”). Links to the poems and exerpts are given below.

A Way in the Wilderness

…While woods are lovely, dark and deep
when viewed from lodge
or well-groomed path,
sometime in life
will come a test

when woods turn into wilderness
when dark and deep
oppress the soul
when lovely turns
to creeping cold …

Lessons for the Fallen

… Then light your last candle;
make your way to no-man’s land
beyond the barbed wire and bayonet,
and sing your hymn on holy ground.

3. Arrivals

Departures and struggles often lead to the arrival of new life stages. A contentious world of strife and angst may unexpectedly open into a mellow season of peace and sweetness (“The Second Soul of November”). In these moments of grace, we can even look toward our final transition with equanimity (“Journey to Embarkation”). Links to the poems and exerpts are given below.

The Second Soul of November

…but fallen human spirit grows
new harmonies will soon take hold
November’s grace will seep inside
and ground the mind of greatness yet…

            …   to look with love
        on ice cold eyes, to look
        my last on open skies,
        to fill my lungs with light
      and dive.    

Journey to Embarkation

… And my bus will plow steady
to causeway’s end
beyond the mudflats
        where sea and sky
merge, gray and indistinct
                at Incheon.

My brothers, we are bodies
becoming spirit, forever drifting
mid-transit. We are always
        awaiting embarkation.
We have always already

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