by Thomas Davis
I name them: Sophie, Phoebe, William, Joe,
each one of them as individual
as early mornings in New Mexico
when shining light holds trees and land in thrall.
Joe, lost in circles only he can see,
and William, king of Legos, friend of friends,
Sweet Phoebe, bright as any sun, a sea
of light that’s always looking past the bend,
and Sophie, fledgling eagle nearing flight—
like William, first born, disciplined, and kind.
We’ve lost our son, and in our grief the blight
of memories assaults our days and minds,
but in our hearts grandchildren laugh and sing
and help us think we’ll know another Spring.
This is the last sonnet in the sonnet sequence I have been posting for the last several months. Kevin’s life (February 16, 1982 – July 23, 2010) was shortened by an unknown cancer that we only knew about for a few short weeks in June and July of 2010. Ethel and I traveled to Poughkeesie, New York to be with him during his last several weeks and was there during days of excruciating pain and small triumphs that ended in deep grief. The sonnets were mostly written as our beloved son lay dying as day passed day, and time’s march brought us, finally, to his death. They were written as my way of trying to deal with an impossible, unbelievable, unacceptable time. The last sonnets in the sequence were written after Ethel and I had returned to New Mexico.
Ethel has written extensively about this time too. The last poem she posted on fourwindowspress, “In the Night,” was written in a cancer ward hospital room. Some of her poetry foresaw the nightmare to come; other poems were written during Kevin’s illness. A few were written in the year and a half since we came home.
I hesitated to put these sonnets out for the wordpress world to see. Should you publish anything so raw and filled with horror and grief? In the end I am grateful I went ahead and started posting them. I am incredibly busy as Dean of Instruction at Navajo Technical College, all of us have responsibilities to our families, and wordpress can devour time, so I seldom answer the many many comments put on our blog. I have this need to try to say something meaningful, and that takes time, and if I spent that time responding to comments I would have no time to read other poets. That would make my life poorer. But the truth is that comments placed with love beneath each sonnet has been deeply moving. They have helped Ethel and I keep on keeping on, and though some days you wonder why we humans keep doing that, the answer is contained in words and voices that connect us to one another.
When this sonnet was written in August of 2010, I could tell the impulse to write sonnets about the sequence of events and emotions accompanying Kevin’s illness and death was waning as the inexorable demands of living kept dragging me through my days. When I sat down one evening and wrote it, I knew this was the last of the sequence, the reason, in the face of all our tragedies, we keep walking this good earth. A human life is not forever. We see sunlight for a day and laugh without realizing the joy we are experiencing, and then cancer or some other illness enters our lives, and we face the boundary we cannot see past. At that moment we have so little left. Pride and dreams of the future that have ticked out the clock of our lives mean less than they did before. Yet, the voices of those who have loved us and whom we have loved sound deep inside our humanity and become life’s reason, the meaning for who we have been and who we are at this moment.
I have been battling bladder cancer since it revealed itself this winter. My prognosis is positive, unlike Kevin’s, but this is a sobering time. Not only have we been with our son as he died, but my own mortality is as raw in my face as his mortality was as he slipped into a coma from which he never awoke. At such moments you worry incessantly about the closest people to you. You also wonder if you have left any legacy at all. You want to make sure the lives you have so deeply cared for are going to experience laughter that denotes joy they do not realize they are experiencing. Have you done enough? Has your life been honorable through your days? And you think about your father, who is gone, and mother, who still goes at the word, go; the love of your life; your now gone son; your wonderful daughters, and your grandchildren cusped on making themselves who they will become.
And inside your worry the New Mexico sun shines with the high desert’s magic, God’s magic, blackbirds sing liquid songs, you wake in the morning with your wife of 44 glorious years beside you, you know that you will talk on the phone to your daughters before sunset, and you hear your grandchildren in your head dancing through their prom night or chasing a kite bobbing high in a springtime sky, and you know that life is more precious than you have known and that when it is all over, you will know, in those last moment, that you have been loved and have loved. What else matters? What else truly means at the end of a long, glorious day?