Thinking about time, Misao Okawa, Van Gogh, and Delmore Schwartz

This week I am taking a short detour off of the poetic superhighway, perhaps into the philosophical ‘weeds’, but nonetheless, here’s what’s on my mind today. A news story that I read earlier in the month at first amused me, then it nagged at me for so long that I returned to the article for a re-read. My take away on the re-read disturbed me.

The article that I am referring to is one of many that appeared on various internet newsfeeds, as well as in the print and broadcast news media. It announced the birthday of the world’s oldest living human, Misao Okawa of Japan. Ms. Okawa, who on March 5 of this year, celebrated her 117th birthday, made her numero uno of the supercentenarians, a supercentenarian being defined as a person older than 110 years of age.

In any case, it was a ‘feel good’ article, and Ms. Okawa, who appears to be mentally sharp, and in good physical condition for a person of her age, had quite a lot to say to interviewers. Most noteworthy of her comments was one regarding life in general.

“It seemed quite short,” said Ms. Okawa.

I was stunned. If the life of the world’s oldest human seemed, “quite short”, what hope is there for the rest of us. As a time junkie, I calculated that Ms. Okawa was 57 years of age when I was born – a lady well into middle age at that time. Now in her later years, her she was telling us that, in effect, it had all passed very quickly.

Get it done, make the list, and make sure you get as much in as you can, because you only have your ‘allotted’ years. That’s what I take away from Ms. Okawa’s interview. If you want to write, paint, improve yourself, or travel to the ends of the earth, there is no better day to put a plan in place than today. If you want to build a cabin in the Rockies, ride a horse, jump a freight train to Calgary, or rekindle a lost romance, do it now.

Some of us are allowed many years, others of us few. Yesterday, March 30th, marked the passing of one who was allotted few years. It was the birth date of Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh was allowed only 37 years on this planet before insanity drove him to kill himself in July of 1890. In his wake he left a legacy of art that will survive him by millenniums (if civilization survives that long).

So this is where I am today, midway between Van Gogh’s birthday, and the first of April. Do I have a poem in mind for this occasion…well I do, but it’s not one that I wrote. It’s one of my favorite poems, and it contains one of my favorite poetic lines:

“…time is the fire in which we burn”

This line is from a poem by Delmore Schwartz, titled “Calmly we walk through this April day”. This poem describes an April day in New York City in 1937. I hope that you enjoy it.

Oh…by the way…
Ms. Okawa was asked the secret of her longevity.
She said, “I wonder about that too.”

Mahalo
ed

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Notes: on a final poem

write it fast
it’s your last

so to do it right
you’ll have to
drive out
to that truck stop
a few miles
outside of Harrisburg
PA
at 2AM
ignore the pain
enjoy the rain
find a booth
in the back by
the kitchen and ask
the blonde
20 year old heart-throb
to bring you coffee
and a cheese danish
for the road
and you tell her to
keep the refills coming
because you’re – ‘all in’
and heading for
the long haul

AND

it’s all uphill isn’t it?
like pulling
into Leadville, Colorado
in an 80 ton Peterbilt

so JUST

focus on that
laptop screen
and keep typing

after all

…you’ve been writing

for about seven decades
(haven’t you)…
so write a little more
(can’t hurt)

and
tell them how it is
out here on the edge

and most of all…
…don’t pull back
slam the throttles
to the fucking firewall

but
explain it carefully
to anyone
who will listen
and don’t let up
give it all you’ve got

for another hour

then

you can hit Send

and push this shit off
to that literary journal
in Indiana

 

and after that you can
drive back home
in the Subaru
and roll up
like you’re going
to live another
50 years
and park behind the house
beside the tomato garden
and
tiptoe in so you
don’t wake the dogs
and sleep
until
the Sun
says
no more.

reflections on a reduction in force, circa. 1996

you think
when you have a job
to go to…
…one that
requires that you
wear a necktie
and appear in
meetings with
corporate clones
as well as,
note-taking
corporate drones
and debilitated
veterans of
countless takeovers
…you think
to yourself
that it will last
for as long as you want
…a charade can last forever
and
you believe in your heart
…sincerely…
that the
goodwill pump
in your chest
will beat on
…ad infinitum
and after that,
you say
to anyone who will listen:
“sometime
around the year
two thousand seventy seven
I’ll abandon this madness
for my
ranch out west”

where you’ll
drink a lot
until late at night
every night
like you always have
and you’ll tell war stories
in the only bar in town
to half a dozen
late night
well-heeled patrons
and you’ll
paint
that barn in
the South Pasture
blood red
and write poems
and read Proust
and raise
Siberian Huskies

….and…
when daylight wanes
you’ll learn to love
the sunrise
and you’ll fly that
damned helicopter

and you’ll
go to the Calgary Stampede
one last time
and you’ll tinker with
that old Case baler
out in the shed
every night
after supper
until your fingers
get blue and numb
in the February cold
and then
one night
when you are drunk enough
you’ll pull out that laptop
computer
the one that
you’ve kept locked away
in the safe behind the stairs
packed away with your
forty five
…and you’ll look for him
the one that you ‘furloughed’
in 1996 (or thereabouts) to
see if he ever,
…regained his corporate footing
or remarried
or found his lost child
but ultimately to find out
…if he has
in some way
caught up with you
because
you know if you don’t
do it now
…in the end,
you’ll do it
eventually
on your back
looking up at the
sky

eternal return

maybe Nietzsche
was right

someday,
when they pull
the shades in the
rest-home in Hialeah
…when you are 97 years old,
you’ll open your eyes…

…and there you’ll be

…back

in Hibbing, Minnesota
and it will
ALL
start over…
… you’ll cry when
your third grade teacher
asks why your sister
is in jail
and why your mother
does her wash
at the Load-O-Mat
on Sunday
instead of attending
services at the first
Preysbeterian church

…and why your father
is still in Pensacola
and why your
Uncle Leo quit
the railroad job to
sell Amway
door to door

and you’ll NEVER

ask

the Army recruiter
about the job details
…and you’ll never
ask the landlady
who owns that apartment you will
lease
in South St. Paul
in September 1974
if the deposit
is refundable

and you won’t ask
that car guy in Mason City if the
cherry
Ford Econoline on the lot
has ever had, the
transmission replaced
you won’t ask
any of that

will you?