Thursday, April 19, 2012

the lost trapper

Each time the soprano and the tenor
Kneel and sing to each other,
Somewhere else on stage the baritone
Is about to die.

The Alaskan trapper finds
Blood on his arm, his radio
Dead, and new snow
Falling on the branches.

I don't know why the grasshopper
Doesn't try to wiggle
Out from the bird's claw,
But he doesn't move.

Just forget the idea that
Someone will come and save
You whenever cedars begin
Making that low sound.

~ Robert Bly 
from Talking into the Ear of a Donkey

I was sorry to hear, via David Sanders‘ “Poetry News” in Prairie Schooner that the poet has Alzheimer’s. His daughter, Mary Bly, told Minnesota Public Radio:

You know he’s very happy. So… not very happy but he’s happy. So I’m very grateful that he’s not experienced the personality changes that sometimes accompany that sort of loss. But it’s sad, it’s very very hard for someone whose life is made up of looking at a tree and turning it into a poem – so your whole life flows by you in words – to not be able to manipulate words is a terrible thing.

At Minnesota's "Poetry Out Loud" in 2009 (Photo: Creative Commons)

For a good part of my childhood my dad was working on short prose poetry. And he used to make us – the children had to do it along with him! Our dinners were often made up of impromptu poetry readings. So in a way this was my tribute year to him, too, because that’s the kind of writing he did when I was growing up. He worked very hard on very small sets of words.

…My stepmother was talking about watching a video of him – and he sparked with ideas all the time – and he hasn't lost his sense of humor so he said “I like that guy!” And then he said “I wish I knew him.” So it was very hard for my stepmother in that moment. But he’s both recognizing what’s happening – his sense of humor is not gone at all – and acknowledging that life has different phases.

I met up with Bly again decades later at Stanford in 2008, but by then I was different and older, and he seemed curiously (perhaps deceptively) the same, although his hair was pure silver, and he seemed more a grandfatherly figure to the students. He turned to the young poet wannabes and cackled conspiratorially, “You can’t tell this to your parents.” Of course, he was a parent by then, and so was I, so the comment seemed oddly nostalgic.

I spoke to him privately, during a break in the class, and told him of our meeting decades ago. For a moment our eyes met, and he seemed curiously vulnerable, aware of the mask he was wearing that had somehow grown to him, the name and fame he carried like a heavy backpack, and could no longer put down.

~ from book haven