Sunday, September 11, 2016

Down through the years.

A fellow I know, a retired handyman who knows that I edit books and write things to make my living (such as it is), asked me a favor that everyone dreads, not just publishing people:

Would I look at a stack of poems he wrote? 

Oh, boy. 

What do you say? 

Most poetry is pretty bad. I ought to know, having written a few rivers of bad poetry myself. And I cautioned him right up top that I am not a poet except for some light doggerel, have worked on very few volumes of poetry, and that everything I know about the field says that unless your name is Maya Angelou you can't make a nickel on poetry, and she's dead. No agent, no publisher wants to look at poetry because no one reads it anymore. More people actually write it than read it, weird as that is to believe, but it's true; people who write it sometimes have little interest in anyone else's work. Poetry is not the neglected cul-de-sac of the book world; it is a neglected cul-de-sac that burned down, fell over in an earthquake, and got washed away by a flood so long ago that people have even forgotten it was ever there, or would care if they remembered. Poetry is a discipline of language, and a slovenly culture cannot endure it. Most of the time, neither can I. 

But this man once did me a favor that may have saved my life, more than a decade ago. It was a small act of kindness perhaps to him, but it has meant the world to me ever since. And this man began writing when his child died, not too long ago.

His child was not a victim of a terrorist attack, just a victim of a dread disease. But on this day, fifteen years on, so many others are remembering their children who were killed, and their parents, and their wives, and their husbands. 

This year I'm not thinking about the conspiracy cranks, or the many ways that memories of the day sneak up and devour my heart again and again. 

This year I'm thinking about Pat Flounders. Pat would have been 65 today. But in December 2001, she put a gun to her head and ended her life. 

Her husband had died three months earlier, having stayed behind on the 84th floor of the South Tower to try to help a coworker escape. 

Similarly, the husband of Prasanna Kalahasthi, Vamsi, was on American Airlines Flight 11 that murderous morning. "I'll be there before lunchtime," he told his wife on the phone before he left. In October 2001, Prasanna hanged herself with a nylon rope. 

September is not just the month of Patriot Day, of our remembrance. It is also Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

What do you say? You say yes. Of course I'll read your poems. (Which actually may turn out to be very good, like my friend's.) You say of course I've got time to talk. You follow tips like these. You can show your love as well as tell it. 

It may not be enough. Sometimes nothing can be enough. But we can try and we can hope.

No comments: