prisoner

I have not sinned
against a god nor man
nor woman
harmed no beast
—cared for Mother

why do I suffer
these sins of others
the revenge of Man
sins against me
—why am I prisoner here

admit they say and
confess – to what
I did no wrong
I harmed no one
—and yet I’m here

yet I am punished
forced – I sit alone, told to
feel some shame and
remorse and
—guilt for my breath

my dignity
my humanity
they took all from me and
I suffer – I do – I am alone in
—my pain without sympathy

why am I punished
made less than
human – no son of god
son of man
—fuck it all – fuck them all

try harder they say
love this god they pray
why must I see their way
It’s their way I’ll suffer
—the goodness of Death

prisoner by bill reynolds. 5/31/17

Look around. Mind what you see.

The Paradox of Love – Joan and John

This is my second post in a series about the paradox of love. It is a little different in that it’s about a man I’ve met, and a couple in love. I’ve included two of his poems.

Let’s answer this question: What is the best hoped-for outcome of any relationship?

Even Grimm’s Fairy Tales don’t finish with the “and they lived happily ever after” fantasy. The best we can hope for is, until death do us part. Barring the end of the movie The Notebook, murder-suicide pacts, or certain accidents; someone gets left. And we are often made miserable by our loss, about being left without someone we love, or about how that happened.

I don’t know John Gorow well. We attend the same writer’s group. John’s an old timer in the group; I’m new. He agreed to allow me to publish the story he related to me, and the poems he wrote. It is a remarkable and inspirational story. His poems are wonderful.

Joan and John Gorow met in 1969, when both were recovering from divorce. Prior to their marriage in 1972, Joan told John that she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). According to John, Joan’s health setbacks did not begin for about 28 years. Since 2000, her MS was a problem. Then came breast cancer. While treatment led to a full recovery, a Parkinson’s diagnosis soon followed, in addition to her worsening MS.

For approximately 15 years, John was Joan’s constant companion and full-time caregiver. As Joan’s health continued to deteriorate, the burden on John increased. In response to that challenge, John wrote the following beautiful, heart-wrenching poem.

***
CAREGIVER
by John Gorow

Time moves on
Inconvenient impairments become life altering
Legs don’t do what she wants
Hands have difficulty holding things

Normal chores are no longer normal
Cooking becomes dangerous
Washing dishes is impossible
Clothes can’t be carried to the washer while using a walker
The vacuum can’t be pushed
Self-worth begins to fade.

The one who has been cared for must now give care
She has cooked for me
It is my turn to cook for her
She washed our clothes
I will do the washing
She kept our home clean
I will try my best

It is assumed we all can dress ourselves
That is no longer true
Showering on her own can’t be done
No more going to the bathroom by herself

Memory slips – confusion arrives
What day is it?
Where are we?
I need patience
We talk, and then we laugh – I cry on the inside

Kids tell me to get help
I finally do – one day a week
Who is it harder on – her or me?
I get some freedom – she does not.

Caregiving is tough
Better than the alternative
I want her as she was
It will not happen
But then again, I do have her

(October 17, 2013)

***

Seven months ago, on October 22, 2016, John no longer had Joan with him. Since then, John has suffered and struggled with his pain. He wrote the following poem to directly address grief in response to the prompt: what brought you to your knees? In the fifth stanza, he directly addresses the paradox of love, vis-à-vis his grief.

***

GRIEF
by John Gorow

Who are you, grief?
Why do you pester me?
You have dropped me to my knees.

I knew I would have to deal with you,
But is it forever?
You keep lingering in my life.

I think you may be gone,
Then you grab me once again.
My laughs turn into tears.

Others have told me about you,
But you don’t behave the same with all.
I can’t determine when you will rise again.

What a paradox.
I have tried to hate you,
But without love you wouldn’t be here.

I know we will take the rest of my journey together,
So I must accept you.
That acceptance will be slow.

You should know
I will no longer dread the tears you bring me,
You will need to accept that.

You can stay with me,
But I will slowly rise from my knees.
I will move forward, but not forget.

(May 18, 2017)

***

I want to close this post with the same line John ended his email to me. It’s a beautiful one-line poem of five words.

“I miss her very much.”

***

As we look both ways and mind the gaps,
let’s not forget that some of us are suffering.
Let us love and support each other, and at all times, let us cherish those we love –
paradox or not.

 

From Pleasure, Pain

This is the first in a series of blog posts about what I see as the paradox of love. This essay is my answer to the prompt, what has brought you to your knees? I’m not sure where I’ll go with this. Maybe you can help. Ask me questions, or prompt me in some direction. Please keep in mind, this is merely my take. Feel free to provide yours.

Nothing begins, nothing ends,
that is not paid for with moan;
for we are born in other’s pain,
and perish in our own.
~ Francis Thompson

Twenty years ago, I started using the phrase it’s all about how we feel. Normally, I’d caveat such a mantra by claiming it only applied to people without mental health issues. In this case, I think the words apply universally. How do you feel?

Love is the highest standard we have for caring about others. In literature, movies, music, religion, and in our daily lives; our obsession with love is obvious. It’s poorly defined, extensively written about, and grammatically misused; but love is everywhere in the English language. We want to love and to be loved. It’s our ultimate pleasure. How sweet love is.

I embrace love, but I fear pain. Pain can take over my body. Excruciating physical pain has brought me to my knees. It’s absurd that such pain may be helpful as it travels my nervous system from its source to my brain. Pain is abnormal. Even though we all experience pain, it’s not supposed to be there unless something is wrong. Pain is a symptom more useful to doctors than to me.

As bad as physical pain is, emotional pain is more devastating. In extreme cases, mental grief often leads to thoughts of suicide. In physical pain I might say, I want to die; but, I never intended that. I only wanted the pain to stop. On the other hand, people in emotional agony can be dangerous.

Our vulnerability to emotional pain is greatest when we love someone. When we love another person, we grant that person more power over us than any god or demon. Still, we choose to love. Not just willingly, but aggressively with passion and desire. Why? It’s like we can’t live without it. If anyone does live without love, we consider that sad and dysfunctional.

Love has brought me to my knees in two ways. First, the wondrous and joyful pleasure of experiencing love has led me to my knees with happiness. Be it romantic love, love of parents, love of children, grandchildren, or friends; the wonderful state of love takes away the dark and gives light.

Second, love has dropped me in pain, in fear, in a depressingly dark, hateful passion. Love betrayed leaves behind lifelong scars too deep to ever completely heal. The end of a romance, the betrayal of a friendship, the dismissal of a parent we love, the suffering or death of a child; each of these may, and perhaps should, put me on my knees. Such pain and agony from the dark side of love makes me question the value of life.

There may be recovery or even pleasure at the end of the tunnel. Time may mend love betrayed. Still, our human nature forces us to look back into that dark tunnel, into that abyss of pain and suffering. We remember. Do we dare to ever again risk pain by making ourselves vulnerable? Do we face the agony of finding ourselves desperately miserable because we loved?

Why do we do it? Would you, could you, live without love?

That’s a paradox of love. We know the risks, the vulnerability, and the potential to suffer. And yet, we still seek out love and take the risk. How do you feel now?

Even when we look both ways and mind each gap, we will experience pain in life.

“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you.
You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”
― Bob Marley (20 years after his death, which means he never said it. True, nonetheless.)

The youtube poem below is worth hearing/reading, and I think the Love Hurts song by Nazareth is worth a listen.

 

NaPoWriMo #16 (No AtoZ on Sunday)

This poem is about underground coal miners – people who did, or do, very dangerous work. My father and grandfathers were three. This is also about life in our home when Dad still worked in the mines.

During my early teens, the mining business shut down in northeastern Pennsylvania. This was due to the Knox Mine Disaster in the late 1950s and the easy, cheaper, and cleaner use of oil to heat homes. Today, most coal mined in the USA is exported, but the industry continues to decline. Only 30% of electrical power in America is produced by coal.

Old coal mine entrance. A dark abyss.

Nearer My Hell to Thee
By Bill Reynolds

Before leaving the daylight, and going into the pits,
They look deep into the ground, to the soul of the abyss.
The blackest of blacks, the darkest of darks, and danger,
The dank abyss peers back as men descend into nature.

Far below ground, the mine was there lurking, waiting;
That dangerous, disgusting damnation of sound,
For some small wages, they go into that hole far underground.

Deadly it was and deadly it is, they never know when…
Many wives cried at the loss of their men,
Who died in the gut of the deplorable depths.

It was frightening work miners chose, those jobs that killed.
Black hard hats on heads, mining lamps on to cut the dark,
But still never safe. In denial or not, it was dangerous work.

Blackjack and Brass Knuckles same as my father had.

Father was, and so were both grandfathers, miners all.
Walking home through muddy fields and dark alleys,
Dangerous on pay days; all cash in their pockets,
With blackjacks and knuckles, maybe a gun.

He’d push open the gate, then let it slam with a thud.
Dad would stomp up the stairs and in the back door,
It was always the back way after a day’s work.

Covered with coal dust,
The sweat of the labor, and the stink of the mines;
Smoking his Camels, always coughing and coughing.
But he was my Dad, and it was always like this.

I remember Dad much blacker.

Everything filthy, his clothing all rotting,
Black on his skin, and in his gray hair,
He didn’t know about the black in his lungs,
the deadly back dust was glued on hard, but not to his soul.

White at his eyes and over his lips,
he’d set down his lunch pail. No hugs, no kisses,
just “hiya,” and not much of a welcome.

His coat and his cap, and his boots all come off.
Trounced upstairs to the bath, footsteps pounding the way,
Transformation, about to take place.

In cold water each day, he washed coal dirt away,
From his face and his hair, his neck and his chest,
From his waist to his feet, but not from the rest.

Nothing could wash the coal miner away.

Not the water, the union, the beer, or smokes.
Not on the inside, from his throat nor deep in his lungs.
Black dust in his body and in with his blood.

In a coal mine.

It was always the same, until the disaster.
Miners to work, to suffer and die.
Returning to homes, dirty but to homes they came.

Then one day, the depression set in.
The mines all shut down, proud miners, no work.
One day it all ended and everything changed.

Miners laid off, the mines were all closed.
Oil was king, and nobody noticed.
No more abyss, just a new kind of dark.

If you not yet sufficiently depressed, watch this.

Mind the gaps and look both ways.

F – Freedom and Fairness (NaPoWriMo #7)

F – Freedom and Fairness (NaPoWriMo #7)

What do I want? What do you want? How do you want life to be? What will you do? Equality, fairness, and love should guide us. My friend, Karen, asked me to write a poem about freedom. I did. It has a dark shadow, but the shadow has a crack in it, so the light gets in.

We didn’t start the fire refers to the Billy Joel song, Timothy Frances refers to Leary, the beast is the oppressive government, Tom down is to be subservient. In terms of rhythm and rhyme, this thing is all over the place. 

The Freedom Dream is Dead
by Bill Reynolds

What do I want to do?
I wanna be happy.
I want you happy, too.
My dream is a happy world.

Imagine that.

How do we want things to be?
Let’s be fair, and hopefully free.
And just, and true, and honest, and imagine…
For all, equality and rights
With love we can see, for all brothers and sisters.
Life is not fair, but are we?

Imagine!

What is this happiness we pursue?
In all fairness, what can we do?
Freedom? Liberty? Is that all?
Equality? Justice, et al?

Can you imagine?

It’s just a damn dream for too many.
And our dream is dying the fastest of any.
One million paper cuts, delivered with slashes,
All hope is lost, the beast burns us to ashes.

As for my dream? It is dead.
We fought all for naught.
Now I feel a dread.
Selfishness won. It owns us now.

I can’t imagine.

Resistance is failing, the world is darkening.
Evil and greed are the name of the game.
Profit and loss the new moral code.
Money is god, ready for more of the same.
The worst from the beast is yet to be told.

Imagine died too.

We didn’t start the fire, we can’t put it out,
Feel the heat from the rich man’s ire
Burning a hole in my hopes and desire.

Timothy Frances, where are you now?
To destroy this beast, please tell us how.
Or do we Tom down, and let it go on?

My dream may be dead, but I will go on!
Resist, resist, resist, fight for rebirth.
Resist until we have new life on Earth.

Imagine a future, resist to the end.

Look both ways and mind the gaps.
Life has no guarantees, but we can work for fairness.

 

E – Elegy Poem for Mom (NaPoWriMo #6)

An elegy is a mournful poem. I wrote this elegy regarding the loss of my mother, more than 25 years after her death. The elegy is one of the oldest poetic forms. It’s identified by what it says, not how it says it.  The Greek word elegeia means song of mourning, and is often included in classical Greek tragedies. E-words used: enshrined, essence, ecstasy, eyes, end/ended, and even.

Missing Mom

The day Mom died, I stood there and cried.
To the surface my guilt came out of my eyes,
Beside her deathbed, letting go of our life.
Her suffering had ended, and I was alone.

No person is perfect, no human unsoiled.
Enshrined mother’s love, was sunshine to me,
‘twas the essence of my childhood memory,
My loss just the same, never again she will be.

She’d lived a rough life, through to the end,
But she loved me as only the mother to son,
That unconditional love, will never be done.
Only her death could end our last day.

Alone. Just alone.

Her voice and her scent, ecstasy to me.
So much I still miss them. I can still see.
“Hiya,” she’d say, to even the worst.
As kind as she was, so how she asked me to be.

Mom we still miss you, your face and your smile,
The sound of your voice, the look in your eyes.
Never again, will you be for us to see.
The loss that brings a sadness, one forever I’ll feel.

Mind such gaps, look both ways, and remember love.

C – Collaboration Poem (NaPoWriMo #4)

This poem is a collaboration poem written by my daughter, Julie, and me. We both worked on it. In fact, she initially wrote the first part, as a poem to me. It is not renga because it meets none of the normal forms. It is simply two people writing a poem to each other and collaborating, so style and form are free. One could look on it as a duet, or father – daughter billets-doux (love, or sweet letters). Ardor means enthusiasm or passion. My portion is italicized.

Dewey and Dad
by Julie Barber and Bill Reynolds

You are my father, tried and true
And you my daughter through and through.

You know my heart, my feet and hands too.
Some even say I look like you.
From birth and to your life throughout,
I’ve been there for you, without a doubt.

There was a time when things were harder.
I hope I’ve grown and become much smarter.
If we could go back, I’d want you my daughter.
Together we’ve grown older with ardor.

My father, wiser by the day…. Always profound things to say.
Sharing our life keeps misery at bay.

I look to you when the answers are grey.
You say, “let nothing get in our way.”
You heart and your talent come into play,
Find peace therein, as you work away.

Go out and write and use your talents
It will give your life more sense and balance.
Your words are like clay, your pen is your pallet,
Your life is your muse, your mind is your mallet.

Get off your ass and do it already
The world is uncertain, and time is unsteady.
It’s your life to live, you should live it as heady,
Be happy my child, ‘tis all worth it, you’re ready.

The fact you’re so far away makes me sad
But I’m more than proud and grateful you’re my dad.

She’s Julie, but I call her Dewey

Forever you’ll be my daughter to me,
A lifetime of love, we certainly have.

My daughter, our love surpasses all distance
No oceans divide us, our minds unite us.

As we see one to the other, it will always be,
You rank above others swimming the sea.

Mind the gaps, family, love, friends, and the important things in life.
Look both ways, and all around.