Tag Archives: johnny appleseed

heartache incarnate

I posted this poem before, about four years ago. It reminds me of my brother. And of others, too. My mind keeps coming back to it. Maybe because it’s that time of year. Or maybe just because.

So here we are, 2011, the Thursday night before Mother’s Day. For the record, she did not have a good one. None of us did.

I read the poem again. And again. Again, until it is carved into memory. The lines that flow endlessly, beautifully, painfully through my heart are these: “You do what you can if you can; whatever the secret, and the pain, there’s a decision: to die, or to live, to go on caring about something. In spring, in Ohio, in the forests that are left you can still find sign of him: patches of cold white fire.”

Whatever the secret, and the pain, there’s a decision. You can go on caring. Maybe that’s easy for me to say—and maybe it’s not. It’s my decision, to go on, caring. I can’t make it for anyone else, but I won’t pretend I don’t want to.

This goes out to my loved ones, my tribe of true affections, who have struggled with this decision or have suffered the struggles of loved ones.

Perhaps I am selfish, but please, please stay. If you can.


John Chapman

He wore a tin pot for a hat, in which
he cooked his supper
toward evening
in the Ohio forests. He wore
a sackcloth shirt and walked
barefoot on feet crooked as roots. And everywhere he went
the apple trees sprang up behind him lovely
as young girls.

No Indian or settler or wild beast
ever harmed him, and he for his part honored
everything, all God’s creatures! thought little,
on a rainy night,
of sharing the shelter of a hollow log touching
flesh with any creatures there: snakes,
racoon possibly, or some great slab of bear.

Mrs. Price, late of Richland County,
at whose parents’ house he sometimes lingered,
recalled: he spoke
only once of women and his gray eyes
brittled into ice. “Some
are deceivers,” he whispered, and she felt
the pain of it, remembered it
into her old age.

Well, the trees he planted or gave away
prospered, and he became
the good legend, you do
what you can if you can; whatever

the secret, and the pain,

there’s a decision: to die,
or to live, to go on
caring about something. In spring, in Ohio,
in the forests that are left you can still find
sign of him: patches
of cold white fire.

—Mary Oliver

 

I need to go camping.

april again

Ohio_1990-12_007Jim died a year ago Thursday. April 26th. It’s been a painful week, watching the sad, and my resistance to feeling it. I did soften enough to feel at times, and the soft ache in my heart and dull pain in my chest were less painful than all my resistance, “the why should you be so sad” dialogue, the, “what’s a date anyway?” and the “if I give in to the sadness, will I drown?”

One thing that pulls me through my moods is the knowledge, the experience that that the pain will pass, and that simply feeling is often less painful than the mental fortresses I create to numb and avoid it. My fear that the grief is bottomless is daunting, though. Last November, when a meditation friend held me through fits of tears, my brother’s face floated back into my mind, floated back into perfect focus. I held my breath, as not to disturb his image. My friend felt this and said, “Breathe, you have to breathe. Keep breathing.” I did breathe, as I’m trained to do, but Jimmy’s face faded out when I took in new breath. That seemed harsh punishment. As if to keep living, I’m not allowed to remember. What if I’m not ready to forget? It’s ridiculous. We will never forget.

As I cried, she asked, “There, doesn’t it feel good to let it out?” Of course it did, and I released my body into her warm, round embrace. It also felt limited and superficial, as I knew her embrace was finite. I couldn’t go on there all day, or all year. But I needed to. I wanted the tears to flow away. Who has that kind of time?

John Chapman

He wore a tin pot for a hat, in which
he cooked his supper
toward evening
in the Ohio forests. He wore
a sackcloth shirt and walked
barefoot on feet crooked as roots. And everywhere he went
the apple trees sprang up behind him lovely
as young girls.

No Indian or settler or wild beast
ever harmed him, and he for his part honored
everything, all God’s creatures! thought little,
on a rainy night,
of sharing the shelter of a hollow log touching
flesh with any creatures there: snakes,
racoon possibly, or some great slab of bear.

Mrs. Price, late of Richland County,
at whose parents’ house he sometimes lingered,
recalled: he spoke
only once of women and his gray eyes
brittled into ice. “Some
are deceivers,” he whispered, and she felt
the pain of it, remembered it
into her old age.

Well, the trees he planted or gave away
prospered, and he became
the good legend, you do
what you can if you can; whatever

the secret, and the pain,

there’s a decision: to die,
or to live, to go on
caring about something. In spring, in Ohio,
in the forests that are left you can still find
sign of him: patches
of cold white fire.

—Mary Oliver