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Archive for January 21st, 2022

[with 3, no, 4 poems by Paul Jones]

Oh well . . . life goes on . . .

No it doesn’t! Who ever said that? At least not on and on and on. And the problem is not growing old, the problem is everyone around me is growing older.

I’m biased and I know it – too many all-nighters in the ICU knowing my patients will never wake up, will never breathe again without that machine. Why choose to prolong those hours? Too many weekly visits to the nursing home, my patients who will never again chew, swallow, recognize, understand, smile. Why choose to prolong those days?

Still, when you are breathing and smiling there’s a huge hurdle to leap before you’re willing to talk about how you want your body treated when you can’t breathe or smile. Easy to put off making that living will when you’re in the midst of living; too late when you’re in the midst of dying.

Last year I spent a few weeks helping Dad update his and Mom’s will and estate. Gather up mounds of papers, talk things over, scratch heads, and then the final step: spending a morning with their attorney to nail it all down tight. Just because most politicians are attorneys does not imply the converse, that most attorneys are self-infatuated power-lusting villains. Not at all. Dad’s attorney, Ms. S., treated us like family. Like she was the cousin who knows a whole lot more than we do but who can explain it in a way anyone can understand.

To describe two hours with an attorney as a pleasure? Well, yes indeed.

As a family doctor I never found it easy to talk to my patients and their families about death. Necessary, yes; essential, yes; never easy. Perhaps it’s the taboo that if you name something you give it power over you. But a last will and testament is all about death. If you’re not going to die, don’t bother making a will.

Ms. S. talked with us for two hours about death, straight up, matter of fact. I learned a lot about what Dad and Mom want for their own final days and for a legacy to their children. I learned that Dad, in the right place and time, is willing and even anxious to talk about his death. We left the office smiling, arm in arm (figuratively as well as occasionally literally, 95-year old knees and all).

Of course, Dad still vows he’s going to live to a hundred. At least he’s got one helluva estate plan.

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Seventy Three

When in time frost found me, leaves were gone yellow
or fallen or few on branches or fallow
fields. Limbs were empty choir lofts. Youth’s bright birds sang
then left before the cold November must bring.
I found myself in twilight, the glow on snow
or rime on those brown stems or white wisps of breath
– how many more before death plants me below? –
But here I can see further, here my life’s breadth
forms a vista. Here where flames once leapt, grey ash
is heaped, warm still from what past fires I’ve known.
Still all this going is not completely gone.
Something of those late bird songs will stay, will last.
What we see in age makes all we love more strong,
knowing what we love we leave before too long.

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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I’ve always been a bit in awe of Paul Jones’s poetic gifts. Envious even. Not only because he can make rhyme so damn modern but even more for his capacious breadth and depth. What an imaginative reach! I’m not reprinting To a Tuber here but read it and you will become convinced that the potato is within all the vegetable kingdom most elegant, elevated, and worthy of praise.

So I knew before I ordered my copy of Paul’s new book Something Wonderful that it would be, and it is. The sly wit is there, waiting to pounce, but also heartfelt longing and wry uncompromising looks into personal finitude. You don’t really discover why the cover is covered with 19th century illustrations of bats until page 80 and the title poem. Take the time, make the trip. It’s worth it.

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Ireland Seen from a Porch Swing in Hickory, NC
+++ — for Adrian Rice

Ireland is a country without porches.
What they call a porch is just an entry.
No one sits there watching for neighbors
walking by with their electric torches.
Their voices, soft as blossoms, gently
fill humid summer nights with rumors.

Over there, secrets are shared in the pubs.
From unsteady high stools, the stories, tinged
with irony, rise easily as smoke.
New worlds are created by old words spoken.
even the weightiest tales take on wings,
if only whispered above the hubbub.

But here, the slow news is told by moonlight
in the lazy tease of an August night.
Too often tea, iced and sweet, is the drink
that greets the blink of stars through the dark
as our voices wander, each twang distinct,
in the dog-starred nights and the torpid days.

It’s ghosts that bind us across our weathers,
that tie the lilt and slur of daily sagas
told inside and out, in bars and open air,
to some episodic common drama.
They appear here and there, vivid and stark,
in talk that reweaves their spells in the dark.

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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Still Waters

I am still, waiting
for the one moment
that old Eastern sages
say gives absurdity
an absolute clarity,
the moment multiple
bald monks chant to induce.
They say the Way is
like water. It will work
its wonders at due time,
the way water always
breaks up rocks, turns them
into sand, but will not
be transformed itself.
Being water, it’s
already what it needs to be.
Winter and ice
merely redefine water.
Wind, when it works, only works
on the surface of water.
When fire meets water,
water is sent to heaven
but fire just becomes ash.
Water like saints returns
to perform its steady work.
Sleet, snow, rain or hail –
even fog – are water’s
temporary bodies.
In time, water will be
all part of one huge sea.
Water will save us all
in time. In time, they say.
In the meantime, be water
as best you can be. Me?
I am still waiting
for all waters to become
still, to run deep, and
clear a few things up.

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

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Saint of the Trees

What is the proper sacrifice
To please our Lord, the Saint of Trees?
I asked the ferns for their advice:
What is the proper sacrifice?

“Lie here and dream of paradise,
Sink into the soil like the leaves.
That is the proper sacrifice
To please our Lord, the Saint of Trees.”

Paul Jones
from Something Wonderful, Redhawk Publications, © 2021

 

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2014-07-13 Doughton Park Tree

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