I don't know if I've mentioned how similar Don, the fellow who just died, was to my Gavin. But he was. They were both artists, both intellectuals, both thin to the point of gaunt with angular faces and very short hair. And I found something rare, several synchronicities maybe, where these losses collided.
I drove up to Don's second memorial service last night, the art world one that he would have wanted, in the same city as the hospital, the hospital where Gavin was treated, and the trip brought back some memories and I got lost and it was dark and it's a fairly scary quaint little city. As I walked in late, a poet friend, who I'd reconnected with at Don's first memorial, was telling this story:
"A few years ago Don's good friend and mine, Gavin O'Shaunnessy, died, and at his memorial service, I wanted to read a poem, 'A blessing,' by James Wright. I didn't do it, because I thought I'd give other folks their chance, and they had other things to say, but after the service Don and I were talking and he mentioned there was a poem he'd wanted to read but hadn't [Don did get up and speak, but conveying a message from someone else]. The poem he'd thought of was the very same James Wright poem.
And I'd like to read it now for Don.
By James Wright*
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more, they begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
The crowd of art world people let out one of those fawning gasps they do, sated, like clockwork, after every profound conclusion. I might have let out some air too: I was being touched deep within.
What justice, what finality, that I was able to hear that poem last night at last, to eavesdrop on this distant conversation between two friends with whom Gavin had such rapport and such shared priorities. We never say closure, and frankly I don't buy it, but what a gift that was.
Then I got on stage and shared my own funny little memory of Don and how he tied his necktie one day (he and Gavin were both anal retentive, but Don would win in any showdown), and how kind he had been to Short Stack and I after our loss. How we stopped by once after seeing the Nutcracker nearby, and they'd connected, him looking so much like her Daddy and conquering a brief spell of fear of male strangers. How the last I remember of Don was my daughter's little feet padding after him down that long hallway. A fond afternoon at the time of day when a child can be so fragile, but she looked up at him with trust and interest.
The hallway where, three years later, as fate would have it but I didn't mention it, he lay alone, breaking down, for two whole days after a stroke.
Thank you, Don.
And when I sat back down the woman next to me mentioned she'd lived in the apartment just downstairs and had heard those small footsteps that day and wondered.
It was an evening of blessings.
* (Poem is totally copyrighted)