Sunday, April 13, 2008

Jack's Love Poem


I call him Jack, but that isn’t his name. Who has written one of the most difficult and dangerous and life-obsessed love poems ever written to God: His life. His marriage to Ethel, who died more than a year ago now. His life playing the organ through it all. Through all the grinding days. The days that wanted to grind him down to dust.

His life being the father to a Vietnam vet. Jake, I’ll call him. Jake who came back shockingly and completely changed. Who came back angry and destroyed and spooky and distant and inward and violent. It was as if he’d been turned literally inside out. As though he faced inward now and his heart and guts and liver and brain and blood vessels and muscle tissue and bones and nerves and ligaments were all that you could see.

It was as if he had turned his back on everything, turned away from everyone, become a different kind of being. A being who had hidden Jack’s and Ethels son away and had taken his place. Had replaced him. Permanently. This grotesque being fashioned somewhere else. A space alien who had removed their son and now was pretending to be him.

And then of course there’s Jake’s life, a kind of echo of Jack’s. He’s lived for years now with a wife with rheumatoid arthritis. A wife whose joints are disintegrating. Who can’t stand up for long without falling down and often breaking something. Who Jake takes care of as best he can. A wife whose mother died just a little while ago. Who lived with Jake and his rheumatoid wife for the last months so that they both could take care of her.

But back to Jack. The cut up. The spastic man. Who tells me the other evening about how when he would be walking down the street with Ethel and Jake and Ethel’s mother, he’d go into one of his spastic routines. His acting routines. Acting like he was having a spastic attack. Which he thought hilarious. Which struck his funny bone in such a way that he would just about fall down laughing to see the reactions.

His son would cross the street and walk parallel to them. He wasn’t interested in being associated with an idiot like his father. Ethel would move out, walking on briskly ahead. She also was embarrassed. But his mother-in-law. Her fancy was usually tickled. So she stuck around. She was happy to be associated with this hilarious idiot. This antic dolt. This man who was barely able to keep himself upright, hysterically laughing at his own idiocy.

The organist. Playing a glorious noise to God. Who began as a part-time preacher to put himself through college. Who was a clergyman’s assistant in the Army, after college, during the Korean war. Who came out of the Army to a job selling organs because it paid a heck of a lot better than preaching. Who then recruited for a business college, driving a thousand miles a week to prospect all the high schools in his territory. Who then gave lessons on organ and piano to young and old alike for years and years.

Who for a few years nursed his Ethel as she failed. And who now wonders what he’s doing here. Now that his poem appears to be finished. For good or ill or maybe a little bit of both, he says. Who wonders now just what the heck he’s supposed to do. Who enjoys a cigar now and then and a glass of Irish whiskey with ice and a splash of water.

Who is pleased to moan about the way things are. And who wonders aloud from time to time, after a cigar and a glass of whiskey, Now just what the heck am I supposed to do?

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