THE SCATTERING by Peter Cunningham / Still River Books (a work in progress)
"Hair by hair. things drop out".
said my father, a month ago,
the day before he died.
My home of 35 years
in Greenwich Village dropped away in September.
And my wife of 17 years.
who was my musical partner too
and now my health, my father, and my calf muscle just pulled,
limping as my last shot swished through the net
like a perfect poem
things drop in
just as things drop out.
I remember my daddy saying,
as we stepped into the low water dory getting off Kent Island,
"Wait, stop, I forgot my memory."
He had left his data logger back in "Fog Heaven"
so we scattered up over the rocks one more time before the tide left us stranded
floating back to a mother, a wife, our sons and brothers.
Then again, this autumn my own memory was lost,
now just a whisp on the web.
"Beijing to Salt Lake City" sounded funny on the e-ticket
"The RIver of Change", my Chinese students' film,
and Genpo's Buddhist transmission in the land of the Mormons
but what fell out was my hard drive,
I was a hero of the mosh pit,
thrown high in an old Maoist hall,
tossed into the lights and caught again
by a hundred Chinese students
students of the arts of advertising and persuassion
letting go for a night
flying high like my father did through the wild clouds
but my journey in the air
witnessed by no Westerner,
did it really happen.
and when the drive failed,
my pictures and film lost
did that all really happen?
day after Chinese day of effort,
like an actor the day after a great performance.
My New York Life
so rich, still here,
but then when the evening is over everyone
heads for their own bed.
Then my cell phone broke
connections falling away, scattered.
scattered in boxes across the universe.
when a client isn't ordering that
1978 print of Miles Davis that I can't find
it's a great relief
losing the accumulated burden of bearing history.
Dave Gahr died today, he was with me backstage in '78
as was Andy Warhol snapping pictures of stars,
I attended Warhol's funeral at St Patrick's Cathedral
where the Pope spoke this month
about the trust his priests had scattered
spilling fertile seed of faith across the empty pews.
Where is Daddy?
Where is Mommy and why does she forget?
Where is grammy and grandpa
and why are those old pictures not labeled
I've failed my ancestors
no memory, no children.
Lost and now drowning
in pictures that mean nothing
history slipping away
as neighbor's children invent new games in the old shed
outside this empty house in Grand Manan.
Driving back down the highway
south and west to Boston,
the chattering woman at the next table,
she loves her "Crispy Creme" ,
I think she gets all her information from adverttisements
She's getting "two extra credits" in "rehabilitation".
Who is the giver of this credit?
Nobody left to give me credit.
On the day before my father's heart stopped for the first time I sat him up in the big picture window of his office,
the computer meant nothing anymore, even the weather records didn't seem to matter,
he just gazed out the window at the coming spring without a hint of boredom.
I decided I would rake away last autumn's leaves from his view,
reveal the moss underneath with it's moist fuzzy-fresh luminous greens for his viewing pleasure.
I raked away the past,
I raked away the the dead dreams of last spring,
I raked and raked and when I looked up into the window I saw my own image on top of my father's staring out from his wheelchair.
It was a precious doubly reflective moment,
I, the boy receiving credit from the primary witness, getting credit for keeping properly the family property,
and me at the same time in the same window,
the adult giving visual entertainment to my helpless father,
a moment when our lives were in perfect balance,
a unity of giving and receiving.
The ambulance came to take him away.
They took me to the "Silence Room"
When I was a child my father would take me to play in the mud.
He loved diverting puddle water into a stream
or making drainage ditches for ocean waves that swept across the sandy beach.
When he died my impulse was to go to his stone-strewn woodland in Lincoln, Massachusetts and rake
paths through the previous autumn's leaves,
revealing the old rocks, the ones too big for the farmers to lift onto their walls,
left behind in the soil, sticking out from from the leaves like ledges in a falling tide.
Walking slowly along the paths that revealed themselves to me,
one and then another,
walking in the New England Stone Garden I would create for my father.
Last week all my joints began to ache, I thought I was Dorian Gray, my actual chronological age revealing itself on the occasion of my father's death, I thought I was suddenly dying of old age. Then I remembered from raking my father's path, the tick bite on my heart, the one I had no time to check as I prepared for his service.
At the hospital I was treated for the Lyme Disease by the doctor who had revived my father the night his heart stopped, mistakenly given him CPR and Intibation. Told in error that he was "FULL CODE" not "DNR". That mistake allowed our miraculous last day together, the one in which he said goodbye to his wife of 62 years and his three sons and in which he laughed himself into silence. The great silence. The yellow-blue silence.
Feeling better after a day of Doxicycline, I got into a pickup basketball game at the Celtics training center in Waltham. I've never seen a Celtic there, but on television they are winning, I however, on the first play too a gorgeous midrange jump shot, worthy of Rajon Rondo, it drifted gracefully though the cotton cords as I felt my calf muscle tear apart on landing. I had not only lost my father and my health, but now I had lost my leg! And have I mentioned the worst? No, that I shall not mention here but it is certain part of the great scattering.
And Debbie Geller's death. November while I was in China, sudden cancer, sudden because she couldn't afford American health insurance, BBC gave her access to British system when she was in London, but she was here in New York helping me create a book about our similar life experiences with people who write songs. Debbie died and there is a hole, silence where once there was a conversation or an after-midnight email on politicas or human nature. And then the penultimate loss, my accountant quit. Awful.
The Scattering is happening I I try to pick out the pieces of ash on the back of a napkin on the deck of a ferry running me once again away from my island home.
...where we will scatter my father's ashes this summer under copper fog screen where he collected the mist for 69 years.....
Bob's 'Home Poem' by Jaune Evans
Bob, this is your Home Poem
The poem you asked for
The one you wrote
Living your life
This is your hand-drawn map
The one etched in your palm at birth
Your poem of wonder
It is the moment of your conception
The one that flew you into the weather
Your first breath and first word
Your fingerprint and heartbeat
The way you signed your name and slept in your bed
The way you could not spell
The way your eyes brightened at a question
How you peered over the glasses perched at the end of your nose
It is the poem you learned to write
Building your own house on Rockwood Lane
Milking a cow on Kent Island
Catching the magic of fog
A lifelong thread of drops and dreams
Held in the weave of your simple screen
It is how you knew from an early age
Hands on hips
To look ‘up there’ into the sky
To hitch a ride where you really wanted to go
Flying on wings
Your birds and angels, your C-130’s
Riding those thermals, floating those vapors
So at home in the realm of your clouds
Bob, it is the love poem you wrote with Claire
The gift of deep looking you gave to Peter
The family laughter you made with Jim
The gentle strength you shared with Bill
It is the ancestral poem you lived
With all of the Cunninghams and Steinhardts, Pilpels and Brickners
The lines of friendship you wrote with the family of Tates
The fisherman’s house on Ingall’s Head in Grand Manan
The letters of caring you sent to Ernest Joy
Your covenant made with the Bay of Fundy
Seventy years of reading her tides and winds
Recording her secret language
Decoding her mystery
Yes, Bob, this is your Home Poem
Your two-word poem that rhymes
The one you asked for
While hitching your final ride
Flying you one last time into the weather
Your poem of wonder
The one you wrote living your life
This poem to carry you home.
3 May 2008