Bio Note: Parkinson’s disease has necessitated many changes in my life: closing my law office, resignation from my university teaching career, retirement from my fifty-year church organist gig, driving, walking unassisted, feeding, bathing and dressing myself, even typing and accurately moving a cursor on a computer screen. But, though I now must struggle with all the changes my condition has imposed upon me, there is still poetry to read, to try to write, to share with my fellow poets. With my friend, Keith Badowski, I founded and am an editor for Brick Road Poetry Press, where we have assisted nearly thirty poets in producing and publishing their books. I have twice won the Charles Dickson chapbook competition with Requiem for the Unconvinced and Art of War, and have published one full-length book, Rich Man’s Son.
Begins at Home
I am such a wonderful person. Every other Wednesday afternoon, out of the goodness of my heart, and for no reason of personal advantage or any expectation of gain or reward, I read to a kindergarten class at a local elementary school. I put up with the little faces that brighten into smiling sunshine when they see me in the doorway, suffer having them call out my name as I enter the room, endure it as almost every one of them tries to hug me, pat me, rub against me, or shake my hand, each wanting at least a little piece of me. I force myself to smile when they show me “my new dress” or the latest missing tooth, or another points to his friend and tells me “Today’s Alex’s birthday and he’s” and then holds up a handful of fingers plus one as though that’s really a number I care the least bit about. And then, when I get ready to read, they all want me to “read my book!” “read my book!” and no matter what book I end up reading, when I sit down in the big rocking chair, they all gather on the rug around me, listen in wonder as I read what, most of the time, turns out to be a pretty interesting story, and sometimes when I finish, one of them will say: “you sure are a good reader, Mr. Self,” and as I leave, usually with a cookie in my hand, they call out their thank yous and rush to hug me, pat me, rub against me again. I tell you, it’s almost more than a soul can bear, but I put up with it because, like I said, I’m a wonderful person, and there is nothing in this for me. I do it absolutely out of the goodness of my heart and for no reason of personal advantage or any expectation of gain or reward.
Unbeknownst to the poet carrying his plastic bag of trash out to the curb for collection, his most fervent reader, most avid fan, and the greatest living scholar on the subject of his collected works, published and unpublished, is the trash man, who, on Tuesdays and Fridays, stops in front of the poet’s house and, rather than tossing the poet’s bag of trash into the compactor, reverently places it inside the truck for later excavation and examination, culling from its contents the garbage-stained crumpled-up pages of poems in progress, first drafts, revisions, revisions of revisions, final version yet to be edited, then edited through more drafts, revisions and revisions of revisions; and the trash man saves them all, lines them up in proper chronological order so he can see the act of creation from concept to completion and all the steps in between, which explains why, on those rare occasions when the poet makes contact with the trash man, one dropping trash off as the other picks it up, the trash man will sometimes say a word, use a turn of phrase, something vaguely familiar, suggestive, that causes the poet, back at his desk a few minutes later, to change a word or two, revise yet again a poem he and, unbeknownst to him, the trash man, are working on, writing together.
Co-authors was first published in Atlanta Review.
Did Not Do
We are haunted by things we did not do, wish we had done, wanted to do, but for whatever reason did not do them; and the remembrance, that forever not knowing, lingers, hangs in the air like the sword of Damocles or the smell of mothballs when we pry open the cedar chest where we keep so many of the things that haunt us, that go bump in our dreams: wild strawberries we did not climb the fence to pick and eat one hot summer’s day; doors we did not open, chances we did not take, gift horses we looked in the mouth, whose yellow teeth we counted and kept on counting until the legs gave out and the scrawny beast fell to the ground and died; words we thought but did not say, silence that haunts us night and day, temptation resisted, rued and regretted like ice-cream melted to a puddle in the dish; and that single strand of gold-flecked hair holds the sword suspended in the air above our heads, over our happiness, such as it is, haunted by things, by things we did not do.
©2020 Ron Self
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