Beauty Is Still With Us
I heard the news early yesterday afternoon that the poet, Jake Adam York, had suffered a stroke at the age of forty. Because of my own recent stroke, I have statistics at the ready. Of all the people under the age of fifty-five who suffer a stroke of unknown causes and who have no risk factors, forty percent have, as I did, a patent foramen ovale, a hole between the atria of the heart that allows blood to shunt from the right atrium to the left where a clot can travel to the brain. That hole can be closed, as mine was a week ago today in a successful procedure. My recovery has gone well. Tomorrow, I’ll be able to run again and to resume full activity. For these reasons, I felt confident that the news about Jake Adam York would be better in time, but, alas, our own stories are not always the stories of others. I was stunned to find out that by nightfall this incredibly gifted poet had left us all to soon.
Sometimes, as Wordsworth wrote, “the world is too much with us.” The world in all its ugliness: the school shootings in Newtown, CT, all those young lives taken before they could see how far they could reach; a poet leaving us to feel the empty space of all the poems he’ll have no chance to write; a million other individual tragedies every day that escape our knowing, and yet, of course, we sense their existence—how could we not?—through the thin veil that separates us from the arbitrary collision of circumstances that make up our living and our passing.
This sense of impending loss makes what we do in our lives all the more necessary; it makes what we create all the more beautiful. A story, an essay, a novel, a poem. A painting, a piece of music, a perfectly cooked meal, a performance. A kindness, a favor, a decency, a prayer. Whatever we have within us to announce our connection to one another. It’s important to remember at these times of loss that beauty is still with us, and we are here for one another.
So I’ll close with this poem from Jake Adam York, and his reminder that “what’s hidden’s never hid.” Until next time, blessings. . . .
Not even a father yet
my grandfather leans against
the grille of his ‘46 Packard,
new chrome blinding
even in black-and-white.
His white slacks billow
like a skirt in the wind.
His hair is perfectly still.
The war is behind him.
The road winds up from the farm.
One cornhusk hand
slips from the fender
and into the fingers
that ghost his fingers,
the thin, delicate lace
that haunts his hems.
The more I look, the more
he looks like someone else,
ringlets massing in his hair,
the gaze gone strangely tender,
the smile now doubly bright—
bright as the rings on his finger
casting what they cannot hold,
as if ready to part, to say
what’s hidden’s never hid
but beating like a second heart,
a second pulse in the pulse
that runs through everything.
Oh so true; so hauntingly true.
It is, indeed, Ruth Ann–just like the thin veil between the generations that I know you feel.
York’s voice has been quieted too soon. Hmade a beautiful and unique contribution to poetry in dedicating his words to the many lives lost in the struggle for civil rights in America. His eloquence that so honored others will be missed.
May your holiday be blessed.
You’re so right, Maureen. Thanks for calling attention to York’s work in the service of social justice.
I find so much resonance in the last verse that begins “what’s hidden’s never hid” and the hallmark of your teaching, Lee, about that hidden part of our characters that is there at the outset and rises up through the story.
Bren, I take from that last stanza the coexistence of lives and worlds.The veil between is, of course, very, very thin.
“It’s important to remember at these times of loss that beauty is still with us, and we are here for one another.”
A truth, beautifully expressed.
Thanks, Richard. These are certainly strange times in which we live.