I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’ve written for most of my life, learning and perfecting what little skill and insight I have. This blog is part of my most recent effort to sharpen my writing and be an outlet for the little weird things I write. As I’ve been cutting on my scroll saw and moving towards completing my cross my mind has start to drift back to reflecting on my past and today I’ve updated my “Intertexual Andrew” page with a book that I’ll credit with disturbing my mind and directing my future towards getting a BA in English rather than one in engineering.
The book is, “The Voices of Man, Let us be Men.” Published in 1974, I read it in 1978 at a special high school English class while studying to take my GED exam. In that thin little volume are a number of great works of short fiction and poetry. Of course, I had read books before for school – some great works of literature But there was something that caught my mind. The one that sticks in my mind the most is this poem by Sterling A. Brown:
Thoughts on Death:
Thoughts of death
Crowd over my happiness
Like dark clouds
Over the silver sickle of the moon
Death comes to some
Like a grizzled gangster
Clubbing in the night;
Like an obstinate captain
Steadily besieging barriers;
To some like a brown adder
Lurking in violet-speckled underbrush;
Like a gentle nurse
Taking their toys and stroking their hot brows.
Death will come to you, I think,
Like an old shrewd gardener
Culling his rarest blossom . . . .
That last line is the one that changed me. The class was self paced and the teacher gave me a list of questions to answer about the poem in the form of a three page essay. I don’t remember the exact question but one was asked what did that last stanza mean. Well I had no idea – what was “culling” and what did a gardener and death have in common. They seemed like opposites to me.
At the time I insisted that I knew nothing of poetry and this was clearly beyond my understanding. I took the assignment back to the teacher and objected to the whole thing. She was used to working with impatient youths and quietly suggested that I look up each word in the dictionary. “Perhaps,” she said, “You’ll find enough meaning to fill a couple of paragraphs.”
Grumbling I opened the dictionary and found more than a few paragraphs of meaning. I found it’s not a morbid poem on death but rather a gentle, kindly wish for a friend. The old gardener, death coming for you, a rare thing, a special person not just an object but a blossom that was full of life and joy. The gardener doesn’t come in malice or anger but comes collecting the rare prizes of his garden.
It is a comforting thought and even though at 18 I didn’t really understand death, it was a change in my thinking. It was a new experience – to look at someone’s words and come up with a meaning for me without someone explaining what it meant. I can’t say I developed a deep love of poetry after that but it did open a door and I have found a few treasures in that world of verse.
I think I ended up writing more than three pages on that poem and the teacher liked what I wrote. Now I wish I had kept that paper but it is lost to time and all that remains is its memory and its impact.
It was one of many experiences that slowly convinced me that if I were ever able to study something in depth, it would be words, meanings and the stuff that can change worlds.
I moved from that little book to study electronics and computer software, earning certificates in different skills. On the job, I fix and tinker with things, but in my heart I am a seeker of words, stories and meanings. I am a fortunate man to have found a way, with the help of my dear wife, to take a couple of years off working and take time to puruse words and stories and meanings.
Until this year there has always been time – a tomorrow to delay into. There was always the tomorrow, the next month, next year that I’ll write my book or return to my studies. Even though my cancer isn’t going to take my life anytime soon, it has reignited a sense of urgency for words – reading them and crafting them. Since my diagnosis I have written more and more consistently than I ever have.
I am coming close to a point where I feel the need to take a leap at a more ambitious work. I have two projects in mind – one a work of fiction and one a work of fact. On my desk and in this computer are notes and outlines. In my mind are visions, fragments and hopes. There are many questions and doubts – can I do it, will my body allow me, will my mind be able to complete and will the effort have been worth it?
I don’t know – first I have a cross to finish.