New Poetry from David Jackson

Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash
Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash

This post contains a few poems I wrote over the past few months.

Let me provide some context.

I am no poet.  The urge and ability to compose poems came to me quite unexpectedly during a time of intense isolation.  COVID restrictions have limited the social interactions for all of us; for me and my wife they were even more intense because we lived in a senior residence.  My wife’s diagnosis of a rare and aggressive cancer 2 ½ years ago made that isolation even more extreme.  The demands of medical exams, scans, treatments, and then daily care taking as the disease progressed caused the world to slip away.

My only time away from my wife was a walk in a beautiful regional park.  Alone on the trails, daydreaming, feeling the pulse and rhythm of my leg muscles, words would emerge in my mind.  It was surprising.  Being able to put the words onto a page was helpful to me as I navigated the daily uncertainly of full-time care taking.  We knew what the end would be, but we had no idea when, how long, or how much physical and emotional pain we would experience.

My wife died peacefully at home with me by her side three months ago.  It was a good death.

Also, a year ago, just after my wife had completed chemotherapy, we were forced to evacuate in the middle of the night as the Glass Fire approached our residence.  That midnight evacuation was on the night of Kol Nidrei.  The following morning, safe in my daughter’s home, we recited the ancient

Unetaneh Tokef prayer: “Who shall live, who shall die, who by fire, who by water?”  These ancient words, previously considered an empty ritual, were now a dreadful reality.  I knew in my bones how vulnerable and fragile I was.

As I emerge into a new stage/phase of life, I find I have a deep wish to keep death close.  I don’t wish to ‘get over and move on.’  Soon after my wife’s long illness and death, my brother also received a diagnosis of cancer.  After a few weeks of concern that it might be a death sentence, it was determined to be quite treatable.  Since then, I call my brother every day.

I have felt that somehow my isolation of dedicated care giving for my wife over the past 3 years has prepared me to be a loving care giver for my younger brother.  I have a deep sense of what I cannot control but what I can be present for and with. We are now closer and more intimate than we have even been.  It was her death that opened this portal for me and him.  Striking.

As I learn to live as a single person in this next phase of life, I am coming to understand that I have many selves within me.  I am not a single coherent integrated personality.  I have layers.

One layer is a rational analytical humanist.  My pre-frontal cortex helps me control my emotions, resolve conflicts, and complete daily tasks.

Another layer is my active subconscious, expressing unresolvable paradoxes and fears, creating imaginative dreams, full of symbolic meaning.

Another layer is my physical sensual self, attuned, if I pay attention, to the rhythms, colors, intricate designs of the natural world.

The attached poems seem to come from different layers of my many layered self.  As I age, Wisdom may not be attainable, but being attuned to my layered self may make each day alive.  Even with death hovering, we are commanded to ‘Choose life.’


This Grief

Composed Day 5 – July 1, 2021

Experienced Day 3

— David E. Jackson

 

This grief is not sadness,

nor sorrow.

This grief is a force forming within me

a storm – its solidity swirling erupting from deep.

This force grows steadily into a looming wave

crashing onto my rocky abandoned shoreline

splashing into my vacant visceral spaces

releasing projectile spray that plunges into every

nerve, muscle, sinew, and synapse.

Tremors, streaming tears, throat chocking sobs

overtake my physical being

ebbs and flows unanticipated unregulated

successive waves of intensity into relief / exhaustion.

This force – its own dynamic

mocks my intentional efforts to control

or understand.

May I have the sense and strength

to let it be – let it fill and shape my being

let it take me along the path to transformation.

This grief is a blessing

my crooked path to soulful existence.

Where there is deep grief,

There was great love.


Why Did You Take Her From Me?

September 7, 2021

David E. Jackson

For hours now I had been chanting

ancient prayers and melodies.

Words – their meanings – didn’t matter much.

I don’t believe in an anthropomorphic God

but the melodies stirred me.

Sound of the Shofar

over and over again

three cycles of three notes in three rhythms

ancient calls with deep resonance

moving me focusing me

The final long blast

mesmerized me

my eyes could see

sharp beam of sound

come right at me

like a laser to

pierce my heart

it was physical – that piercing.

Words I could never imagine

my conscious cognitive self saying

emerged from deep within

formed and took shape

curled around in my brain.

“How

could you take her from me!”

“Why

did you take her from me?”

I demanded to know.

Of course,

no answer.

as I awakened to my conscious self

trembling sobbing

surprised and shaken by my demand to

a non-existent God.

Humans alone

abandoned to death and grief

demand answers

knowing

there are none.


Rising Tide and the Human

September 21, 2021

David E. Jackson

Slack tide dead tide*

thirty minutes ago

the very lowest level when

mud flats extend to the horizon.

Water in tide pools

still as glass

Human was calmed.

Now still water becomes

ripples

such a soft sound

lapping at the edge of the sand,

Human was soothed.

Mud flats

slip beneath the surface of the sea

teeming beings buried in mud are again

engulfed within their life-giving liquid.

Soon ripples become

waves

white caps even

pounding onto the beach.

A thrill vibrated through the human.

Human feels Joy.

“Come in. You’re welcome,”

He/she/they whispered.

* The moment when the tide turns and changes direction, the current ceases, and also changes direction. This moment of no current is called slack tide or dead tide. You can have a high slack when the tide reaches its maximum height or a low slack when the tide reaches its lowest height.


Glass Wildfire Evacuation

“It happened to me.”

Experienced: September 21, 2020 (Kol Nidrei Night)

Composed: October 9, 2020

– David E. Jackson

In Sonoma County CA

‘this worst year ever’

I paid close attention

to wildfires and evacuations.

In just this one year

three major wildfires

raged near me, but

never came too close.

I was very cognizant

of the real danger and destruction

but a “head in the clouds” denial

reassured me:

it wouldn’t happen to me.

This time –

it happened to me.

Late at night

after Kol Nidrei services had ended

the first warning

a loud urgent siren sound

from my phone

woke me up.

A small fire had started

to the north east

still 37 miles away

no evacuation warnings or orders

near me.

Two hours later

wildfire had jumped the highway

moving south west towards me

Should I go,

Should I wait,

should I go,

should I wait,

my wife wants to go.

I say, not yet

still secretly hoping

“It won’t be me this time.”

Time to go, I realize.

This time it’s me.

I don’t wait for the Mandatory Order.

Out into the hall

brief hushed comments with neighbors

in the hallway

anxious inquiring confused faces.

It’s dark, very dark.

Slow steady exit onto local road

full of cars bumper to bumper

crawling along away from the fire smoke ashes

drivers acknowledging other drivers

letting each other onto road from driveways

with silent gestures

relieving some anxiety

ashes visibly falling onto my windshield

like bright white snowflakes in winter.

eerie the ashes

confirmation that this time

it has happened to me.

90 minutes later

I arrive at daughter’s home

ushered into downstairs den

couch already made up for us

with sheets and pillows.

My body starts shaking,

waves of imperceptible tremors vibrations

I utter barely comprehensible

expressions of gratitude.

“You have to keep me safe,”

I say to her.  “I’m old,

I don’t know if I can keep myself safe

anymore.”


Coda I

Yom Kippur the next morning.

with my daughter by my side

via Zoom on a tiny screen

we chanted:

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed –

how many shall pass away and how many shall be born,

who shall live and who shall die,

who in good time, and who by an untimely death,

who by water and who by fire,

who by sword and who by wild beast,

who by famine and who by thirst,

who by earthquake and who by plague,

who by strangulation and who by lapidation,

who shall have rest and who wander,

who shall be at peace and who pursued,

who shall be serene and who tormented,

who shall become impoverished and who wealthy,

who shall be debased, and who exalted?

But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severity of the decree.

Ancient Words

once shallow ritual

now – a shattering reality.

This time it happened to me.

I am not immune.

I am old.

I am not safe.

If only it were true that

“repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severity of the decree.”

The natural world – wildfires, floods, hurricanes, pandemics, disease, old age – do not respond to human beliefs in repentance, forgiveness, morality or justice.

But I do so wish it were true.


Coda II

Rosh Hashanah – September 6, 2021

Not Even One Year Later

I did not know it then.

How could I have ever known?

Glass Fire was

1 month

after chemotherapy.

Cancer metastasized

7 months later

My beloved wife of fifty years

9 months later – not even 1 whole year later

took her last breath, and

slipped away from this world.

As the Ancient Words proclaim:

She did not live.

She died by intractable disease

in good time

after a full life

at peace, serene.

now at rest.

I was by her side.

She reached out to hold my hand in love

from a semi-conscious state

from her deep subconscious soul being

thirty-nine hours before

she slipped away from this world

away from me.

She was loved beyond words.


Coda III

September 16, 2021

Yom Kippur morning

A full year

since

waves of imperceptible tremors

shook my body

since

I uttered barely comprehensible

expressions of gratitude.

“You have to keep me safe,”

I say to her.  “I’m old,

I don’t know if I can keep myself safe

anymore.”

Now again

with my daughter by my side

via Zoom on a tiny screen

we chant the Ancient Words.

This time

my granddaughter

sits between us

listening to the Ancient Words

cuddling her mother

dozing with purring beloved

cat on her lap.

Now

this time

this day

we are safe.

May we be inscribed

In the Book of Life and Health

For one more precious year.

1 Comment

  1. You say you are not a poet. I must respectfully disagree. What a poetic tribute to your wife, to your faith and the power of love. May your memories bring you comfort.

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