I’ve finally put the finishing touches on an old poem, which I wrote about a friend and the trip we made one day from Brooklyn to Staten Island. It was a place we could get to by ferry (five cents back in the day – can you believe it?) or by car or bus over the Verrazzano Bridge.
On that day in the 60s two teens, one old enough to drive, saturated in Catholicism and Judaism, got their first taste of Tibetan Buddhism and the Tibetan Book of the Dead in the overgrown hill-top garden of a modest Tibetan monastery. “Cool.” Imagine how exotic that seemed to us. We had to pull out and talk about all our – mostly wrong – impressions of Tibet, Buddhism, and the Himalayan Mountains. The monks were kind to us and – I suspect – more than a little patient.
I’d packed a lunch and later we ate on the beach and talked about everything with the intensity and certitude that only teenagers have. After examining the monks’ love-worn copy of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, mortality quite naturally factored into our discussions. I think at that point in our lives our own mortality seemed more theory than reality.
We flew along the freeway yesterday under
a cold coastal expanse of cerulean ceiling.
It reminded me of you and how we dusted
the vaults of our minds to rid them of fear
and the old lexicons of grief and guilt, the
whalebone girdles of unfounded faith and
common conventions, saccharine and sticky.
I thought of that one sea-green day we spent
under just such a sky in a land far away and
how we changed your name then, reframed
your story to tell of hope and not despair.
You sketched flowers blossoming in the dust
of a spring that promised but never delivered.
Now we don’t speak of men but of cats with
their custom of keeping heart and claws intact.
We tell ourselves stories in rhythms that resound
in deep sleep. Soon now the ancient calls to
feral festivals will still and the time’s arrived when
our only play is in the margins, fate hanging
from our skeletons like Spanish moss on old oak.
It pleases me that life’s passage spins into poemed reliquary and
a memory of the pink peau de soie I wore to your prom that June.
© 2012, 2014, narrative and poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; 2014, photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved