Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Canticles for Robert Espindola

In the past few weeks, my favorite aunt and two friends have all been found to have cancer, some quite virulently, and all three are dealing with cancer in the neck and throat areas of the body. I don't know what it means, if indeed it means anything; I just note the compelling synchronicity. I wish all of them the best during their medical journeys, I will be keeping good thoughts for them, keeping them in my prayers, and hoping for the best possible outcomes in every case.

When I gave up my own life (and faltering corporate design career) to move back in with my father to be his full-time live-in caregiver following his diagnosis with colon cancer, caring for him for the last year of his life; when I then took care of my mother till she died less than a year later of complications brought on by Alzheimer's; and when, in between my parents' deaths, I was diagnosed with a serious chronic illness that had already decimated my health and well-being for probably two decades before it was recognized; and when, while still ill and weak with illness, I had to close down my parents' house, buy my own, and try to live my own life again; and, soon after, when my own chronic illness worsened to a severity that almost killed me, caused my health to be utterly destroyed, and which led to a journey of multiple surgeries to first cure my chronic illness, and eventually (I still hope) reverse some of the damages done to me—when all of these dovetailing journeys of cancer, death, multiple hospital and clinic and doctor's visits, when all of these things happened to my family and in my own life, I learned many lessons about endurance, about survival, about refusing to give in to illness and death, and about just getting through the bad days, nothing more, nothing less. When I had the first surgery, last year, I was promised my health would eventually recover, and I would get my life back. That still hasn't happened, not yet. I am still on my own medical journey. I'm nowhere near finished with my journey. I'm not "all over it" yet. I know the needles, the smells of medical care, the scars, the radiation burns, the weakness, the suffering, both personally, and through watching my loved ones go through it, and I know these only too well.

I know only too well that some journeys don't end, you just learn to be a traveler. You do what you have to. You go on. You get through it, however best you can. One day at a time.

So I feel a huge swell of empathy for my aunt and friends on their current journeys, both minor and major. The echoes in my own life of recent years are too loud to articulate—except in art, poetry, music—and sometimes all I can do is pray, meditate, hope, wish the best for those I love. I make art about all this as a way of coping with it. I write poems about surgery as a way of dealing with its aftermath. I make visual art directly involving the numerous blood transfusions and surgery as a way of owning it. I wrote numerous poems about my father's chemotherapy and treatments as a way of not going crazy with being his live-in caregiver. And this all feeds into my music, too.

It can make you feel utterly helpless to do anything, when people you care about are suffering, and you can't wave a magic wand and just "fix" it—at which point you have to learn even deeper lessons about acceptance of what is, just simple acceptance with clear vision and no filters blocking it, and go on from there. Life will go on, even after we die. It's what we do with our lives, with our brief time in eternity, right here, right now, that matters. Start where you are. The journey can begin in no other place.

And so, after hearing about Robert Espindola's probably major, even radical cancer surgery journey to come, I was moved to write the poem below. As it happens, it was one of those poems that came to me at white heat, with no warning, that wrote itself in the space of an hour, and which needed little revision. I will let it stand.

It's terribly presumptuous of me, I know.

Robert and I know each other only as acquaintances who meet on occasion. Each time we have spent time together, we have gotten along well, and I for one have always enjoyed his company, but I'm hardly a close friend in the inner circle. Yet he, as a poet and lyricist, and his partner, Robert Seeley, as a composer, have been a tremendous influence on me, inspiring me to throw my hat in the ring to write new music for LGBT choral groups. Last year I was commissioned to do just that, and that new music will be performed less than a month from now. "The Roberts," as we who have worked with them, and know them familiarly, call them with affection, have been responsible for creating some great new works for LGBT choruses, with many commissions, such as Metamorphosis and Naked Man, that are now standard repertoire in GALA choral circles. Personally, I would be content to follow in their remarkable footsteps, write lots of music for GALA choruses, and enjoy every moment of doing so. That's how they have been an example to me, and it's in the spirit of gratitude for their gifts to all of us, and hope for Robert's medical journey, that I wrote this poem.

It's presumptuous of me to write this poem, equally so to share it. Yet I say: we're all survivors. Sometimes we all need to vent, to scream, to get the horror and rage and anger out of our bodies. Even if we are voiceless because cancer has taken our very ability to speak, our throats, our lungs (as my favorite uncle's lungs were taken, also by cancer), we can still cry on each others' shoulders. Be well, regardless. No matter what.

Canticles for Robert


Orpheus of cancer
a journey to the underworld and back
of needles, disinfectant, hospital stink
sterile gauze, and protons flung
at tissue till it melts

Melts into airy dream
and feathers fall as though
unleashed by the magus
back into elemental formlessness
where books are drowned

Wings quiver on the lips of cliffs
where voices cascade into seas
much broader than we imagined
we in our little worlds
that had given up singing

All a poet can do today is warm
to find a fire in words that conjure worlds
you pull the fabric to the mirror
that concealed what could be seen
and make of it a mystery

Voices melt as throats row into heat
a canvas made of charism
a proteus of doubt
some needle made of dissonance
that melts a lover's hearth


My father melted into silence
further down this same journey
you now find yourself enroute
I too have known the needle jab
and copper stink of blood
the chemical fear and torment
of the unknown and unremarked

I am no great shepherd of
the matters of the world
I can only wish for you my dying father's
behest, which came to me an hour
after he had passed: he smothered me
in joy and laughed that it all
was so much better than he'd dreamed

but still myself walking the world with you
still scarred and scared and myself melting
still on an unfinished journey
where at last I've found my voice—

my perfect voice of love and melting
anger not irresolute
nor uncomplicated by a quest
not unlike yours, to make the world
a finer place through song—

my central wish for you is: more life
more life, much more, and dignity

take heart to know, no matter what:
mage, your song will remain heard
in the infinite ears of ocean, of desert
fragrant storm that ripples
out to every melody and merges:
that song itself can give its voice
that breath itself sustain us

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Blogger Unknown said...

As someone who has known Robert Seeley from childhood, (our fathers worked and played golf regularly and still spend time together); your words touched some of the deepest parts of my soul. I can see no presumption for writing and sharing your truth, pain and joy. I just want to say "Share MORE!!"
Kathie Sewell Leckey

12:03 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home