Saturday in CinCity. Ask Not...

Hubby texted me the other day while I was at work to tell me that he'd just seen our neighbor's name in the newspaper's obituaries. I, of course, thought,"no," it had to be our neighbor and friend's's father. Our friend was too young and we'd just seen him in his yard on one of our dog walking expeditions.

I was wrong.

Let me backtrack for a moment. For those of you with kids, you know this. When your kids start school, you basically relive high school all over again for the next 12 years or so. When the school is connected to the neighborhood parish, Our Most Holy Name and Lady of Perpetual Cooking, it's all intensified because you're all together for more events. The same old cliques reassert themselves and women who thrive on running every committee come out of the woodwork. The jocks take over the volunteer coaching postions. You get the "cool" parents, the performers, and the nerdier ones who help out with computer/technical details.

This particular neighbor was half of a couple who could be categorized with Sandy and Danny, the couple from Grease. They were high school honeys who married young, had a cute little family with 3 great kids, always available to help out with fixing a car or a roof, getting a costume together for the parish talent show, or putting a deck up and then hanging with you later to celebrate. He was the father of one of HoneyHaired's best friends. She spent a lot of nights and days at their home and we had much contact with them at the time because of it. The grrrls moved from their grade school into different high schools and so moved in separate circles, which seems a big deal for kids, but not so much for the parents. We remain on the same track together--getting the girls through school and now looking at colleges.

I don't want to write a eulogy about our neighbor, though our small corner of the world will be poorer for the loss of him, as much as I want to write about the surprise that Hubby and I felt, and I think the surprise that we all initially feel when we hear of someone's death. I know that people die. I see it every day and the local news is happy to describe it in technicolor and High Definition. It's that we were so surprised to see it in the neighborhood. It's like seeing your co-workers at a cousin's wedding. The,"What are you doing here??" feeling. Seeing people out of context. For hospital folks it's simply seeing people with real clothes on, or any clothes on to be honest. Seeing your patient's family at the grocery store. You just don't expect them to be there.

So that's it. No big revelation here. No pearls of wisdom. The Grim Reaper goes AWOL from the fourth floor of the hospital every now and again and comes in unannounced to people's homes. As Monty Python so perfectly puts it, "Well, that's cast rather a gloom over the evening, hasn't it?"

by Billy Collins

These are no pages for the young,
who are better off in one another's arms,

nor for those who just need to know
about the price of gold,
or a hurricane that is ripping up the Keys.

But eventually you may join
the crowd who turn here first to see
who has fallen in the night,
who has left a shape of air walking in their place.

Here is where the final cards are shown,
the age, the cause, the plaque of deeds,
and sometimes an odd scrap of news-
that she collected sugar bowls,
that he played solitaire without any clothes.

And all the survivors huddle at the end
under the roof of a paragraph
as if they had sidestepped the flame of death.

What better way to place a thin black frame
around the things of the morning-
the hand-painted cup,
the hemispheres of a cut orange,
the slant of sunlight on the table?

And sometimes a most peculiar pair turns up,
strange roommates lying there
side by side upon the page-
Arthur Godfrey next to Man Ray,
Ken Kesey by the side of Dale Evans.

It is enough to bring to mind an ark of death,
not the couples of the animal kingdom,
but rather pairs of men and women
ascending the gangplank two by two,

surgeon and model,
balloonist and metalworker,
an archaeologist and an authority on pain.

Arm in arm, they get on board
then join the others leaning on the rails,
all saved at last from the awful flood of life-

so many of them every day
there would have to be many arks,
an armada to ferry the dead
over the heavy waters that roll beyond the world,

and many Noahs too,
bearded and fiercely browed, vigilant up there at every prow.


  1. Always surprising when the GR pays a visit to a vital young adult. I remember hearing about a friend I went to high school with who dropped head in his shower at age 26. I don't think anyone ever got over that; not only for his youth but because he was a jock and we could not fathom him having a weak heart.

  2. Sigh. How sad. I'm sorry you lost a good neighbor. I'm sad, sad, sad that sweet family lost their husband/father. Death seems to show no favorites.

    But what an incredible poem. My list that I'm making of poets I learn from you is getting really long.

  3. I love the poem too, especially, "all saved at last from the awful flood of life." Not a concept you want to embrace in its entirety, but for some people it is such a relief...

  4. we are only on this earth for a short time and there are no guarantees, great poem for a saturday morn, take good care, jack c

  5. An extraordinarily haunting poem and post... you do write beautifully, this one hits home like a blow to the solar plexus, I'm winded, I'm reeling, I'm seeing stars...

    We just had news this week of the death of a friend in Beirut, 30 years old, a doctor and medical crisis expert with a rich and promising life to lead, cut drastically and dramatically short by cancer...

    I have no idea where your tastes in music run, but I submit for your consideration this version of "Death Don't Have No Mercy"...

    And Jerry Garcia, who shines here, is also no longer with us.

    If I may leave you today with an echoing poem ?

    . . Ancient Barometer . . (by owen)
    Time has come to a halt
    The clock has ceased its tireless ticking
    The barometer has taken over
    A changing of the guard of sorts
    The needle turns from clock wise to counter
    From "Fair Sailing" to "Under the Weather"
    On the ancient barometer
    Over the terminal bed
    The needle has dropped
    From "He is Dying" to "He is Dead"
    And tomorrow the needle
    Will continue dipping
    To "He is Buried, He is Gone
    The Rest of You Must Carry On"
    The ancient barometer over the bed
    Cried out for all to see
    "He has Lived, but He is Dead"
    Even the wounds
    On the silver-plated Christ
    Re-opened and bled
    But the soul of the beloved
    Has taken to his heels and fled
    To some place unknown
    Where only those called may go
    The barometer, ancient barometer
    Hanging silent over the bed
    Quiet as the endless rows of bones
    That line the Paris Catacombs
    Has not budged these thirty years past
    Frozen as a face carved in wax
    The needle fixed on "Stormy Seas"
    But rising soon to "Peace at Last"
    No breath no motion no heart to beat
    Like a long forgotten question
    One no longer needs to ask
    The ancient barometer
    Has given up the task

  6. I'm sorry for your loss. Beautiful poem.

  7. Your prelude is both pragmatic and apt. This does seem to be part of our process of being 'grown-ups". Hope we never get used to it completely. I don't think I want to be the lone survivor, under the roof of a paragraph.
    So much thought in both the Collins poem and Owen's echo. Sometimes your posts need longer perusal to appreciate all the nuances. This is one that I shall print out and read from time to time until I am satisfied that I have noticed every shadow of meaning.

  8. Robert Mitchum eclipsed by Jimmy Stewart...

    I am very sorry that your old high school classmate, good neighbor, husband, father, son, uncle, cousin, parishioner, coworker, and man died so young, suddenly, and inexplicably "out of context."

    I too will set aside the poem and hope that your neighbor's family will benefit from much community support.

  9. We all know death will come, but still it is always a surprise. I am sorry for your loss. xoxo
    P.S. There is an award for you on my blog.

  10. Out of context and too close to home. I'm sorry for your loss.

  11. Thanks so much for your kind thoughts and sympathies. For us, it's more of a loss that comes from being part of a community, although it has hit HoneyHaired a bit harderI think the whole parent thing tends to blur some emotional lines.
    Owen, your poem is very moving. I need to read it a few more times to let it all soak in and Jerry Garcia was simply put a genius. I offer my condolences to you and yours for the loss of your friend.

  12. Oh, shite, DBSO.

    So so sorry for the loss to you, honeyhaired grrrl and your whole community.

    I was just thinking today about this whole life transition thing, with my youngest moving on soon and no grandkids in the offing. Such a strange period in life--not that young, not that old. And some of us simply die too soon.

    Sending thoughts of comfort . . .

  13. nice poem to write and read... best regards from me

  14. Further proof that the 'corner stones' of our lifes don't have to be concrete or beton, but most of the time are living flesh as we, building more than life around them.
    Thank you for reminding me about this. Please have a nice Sunday.

  15. Oh my. I just read your short comments at my blog that told me you understood the words unspoken. Now to read this post, one of adjusting to news, followed by that amazing poem (Ken Kesey and Dale Evans, just ripe)... followed by yet another striking poem by Owen. All this followed our viewing a rented DVD tonight that now seems apropo to all said here, the movie being Passengers starring Anne Hathaway, not one that received grand reviews but one that, after it was over and my husband went to bed, was somehow the catalyst for the tears I've been holding for days after learning of the death of a former love. Whew.

  16. life is truely.. a fleeting thing. All we can ask is that someone notices when we're gone...

  17. My, you made me cry today...No need to worry, I needed to cry...So sad, so compelling, so real...


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