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Archive for April 5th, 2011

In January 2010 the neurosurgeon diagnosed Linda’s Dad with glioblastoma multiforme (the most aggressive malignant brain tumor). The cruelest cut was that the first thing the cancer robbed Dad of was the evenings spent scratching physics equations on yellow legal pads – he was reworking relativity from the fundamentals on up, correcting the errors he’d discovered Einstein had made.

Park French was the most intelligent person I’ve ever met, and the most curious. He knew something about everything and everything about a whole lot of things. There was no particle of creation that was not a subject for his discovery and delight. And his greatest delight was sharing that knowledge. I would feel just brilliant when I sat beside him and he explained electromagnetism and the derivation of Maxwell’s equations. Park died on February 16, 2011.

Last fall I spent a Saturday hiking from Basin Creek up the Flat Rock Ridge Trail to the Blue Ridge Parkway. All the way I was thinking about Dad French and all the things he would have been teaching me along the climb. Here in our neck of the woods is a tree with distinctive buttery autumn foliage, seen commonly along the spine of the Southern Appalachians but not often elsewhere: Fraser Magnolia, first described by William Bartram in 1775 but named by John Fraser, a British collector of botanicals. I picked up a leaf to press for Dad. I had it with me when I read this poem at his memorial service:

Flat Rock Ridge Trail

 

With the Separate Leaves

The trail up Flat Rock Ridge this morning
       is ankle deep, the brittle season
of chestnut oak, cracked manuscript of maple.
Every scrape and scuffle calls out – I know
       you are listening.

Every long breath recalls the first time
you walked me through mountains
       to Kelly’s Pines, up the Allegheny steprock,
a raven’s perch and runes
you scratched there:
gandalf was here
In your company wonder
and revelation, ancient mutterings
       of dark forest, the language
of night deep as memory, stars
in our pockets.

For us you were all window,
all door; was there anything
       you couldn’t teach us?
Heat disentangling its waves
into particles, everything connected,
       every thing distinct. Listen,
they are speaking to us, the planets,
the separate leaves.

And you know we are listening.
We never wanted to learn
       this language of loss, dim path
grown narrow, but this morning the trail
crests above Basin Cove before
       it descends, and here at my feet
is something rare: I will save
an offering for you – let’s discover
       its oblate identity, trace
twin lobes at the pedicle, name it
Fraser Magnolia,

name it listening, seeing,
       name it revelation . . .
              wonder.

 

[the title is from the final line of the poem Hymn by A.R. Ammons: “and if I find you I must stay here with the separate leaves”]
 
 
 

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