Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Woodland Road with Travellers (for Kerry Schooley): Writing on the Death of a Friend


I've written several stories, poems, and essays about other people's--including my family's--experience of death, exploring ideas and feelings about grief, mortality, regret, loss, love, empathy, and many of the other things associated with it. I had never tried to directly express my own experience. I guess my own experiences were mediated through my attempts to express other people's feelings. Ultimately, the empathic exploration was helpful and sustaining to me. 

When my friend, Kerry Schooley, died suddenly and unexpectedly this fall, I was much affected. For the first time, filled with sadness, I attempted to write something. I was planning on reading it for the celebration of Kerry's life that we held at the Pearl Company, but, when the time came, I opted to read, not only some of Kerry's own work, but work which I felt reflected his vitality, curiosity, and characteristic mix of cynicism and a belief in endless possibility. 

Here is the nine-part poem which I wrote for Kerry and didn't read. Completely incongruously with regard to Kerry, it refers to a painting by Bruegel, though it is the first time that I've used 'shit' in a poem. I think he'd be proud of me.



WOODLAND ROAD WITH TRAVELLERS
(after Brueghel)

for Kerry Schooley


1.

they are small, walking away
the travellers with their burdens
men, women, the very old

they walk a road that was never a road
the travellers with their burdens
trudging through the shady wood

their children tramp beside them
or are carried in their arms
one girl with a moth instead of an eye

the distance invents itself with their moving
the dark arm of night, like a maitre d’s invitation
after you, Mesdames et Messieurs, after you

a woman with no legs but instead
a skirt of birds, and she moves like water
dark hair braided by tide

shit falls from a donkey
an old man carries a violin
they walk with only the leaves for song


2.

wind blows across the hemisphere
neither happy nor sad
old nor young

clouds and the rain from clouds
rain and the sound of rain
rain carried by the river and through
the stumpy hairs of grass

those who have become shadow
we call shadow because
bereft of shadow
we feel vivid
yet block the light

when it rains
surely there must be spaces where
the drops don’t fall


3.

in the distance
far behind the main characters
a bridge flows
a small stream

you stand beside it
the stream goes nowhere

empty villages, taskless dogs
abandoned rivers without thirst or laundry
the paint around us precise and forlorn

we try to hold the past inside us
but, as a man in a cart observes
at least one end of the donkey knows
it can’t last


4.

the woods both shadow and light
a road that isn’t a road
words that don’t say what they should

a red bird in the foliage of ribs
pumping a kind of flight
blood, thermal, song

broken tree
a stump-like tongue
sky a donkey-coloured half-shadow
moth-light in the eyes



5.

a crank phonecall from a tree

the horizon provides us with
‘a whole a new perspective’
the future converges
the sighing of leaves
the doorbell rings

an order for pizza that involves no autumn
but endless sun


6.

those in the kitchen whose minds travel
walking through forests
those who make toast and think of mountains
unwalking like forests

leaves which think of trees
the horizon which cannot exist except from far away
time itself a leaf

in nature, the scientists say
beauty is created through death

we make things faster
we make things slower

something about drawing a line
knowing you’ll have to cross it


7.

this is what it is to be living
the forest

I become a kind of geography

on a mountain
reach out

my hands go through
remembering.

I walk into the yard
sit on the grass and look up.

the sky has plenty.
what: clouds? geography? memories?


8.

I walk around and around.

the world a flaneur
not yet decided
which way to turn

my grandmother in her bed
her children, their children and
their children’s children
gathered
her breath
her breathing

in the garden
leaves
leaving

we hold her breath
breathing

9.

Bruegel: the traveler stands before
travel
a terrain to be traversed

wheeled vehicles and wayfarers
the final stretch of a woodland road
a luminous plain, a distant city

the traditional thoughts:
browns, greens, blue

a light-filled radiance
a rolling plain
coach teetering on the ridgeline

moth-eyes
a dip in the road
a steady course
low roads, turns, dead-ends
detours

the trailing darkness
a recent storm
fair weather ahead
light-filled pools

meanwhile the trees
sullen browns
struggling old oaks
green along the road


*

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