Dec 2 2008

What’s beautiful

I just discovered that my former landlord–a man with whom I was both neighbor and tenant for over ten years, passed away last month. He was a Southern good ole boy, a Baptist and conservative and a bigot in his opinions although not in his actions. I was a hippie liberal atheist. We fought like dogs over issues and politics and religion, and earned a measure of respect for each other by never backing down from our opinions and by helping each other at a moment’s notice when help was needed.

He, or rather his wife, actually once inspired me to write a poem–an impulse that is about as rare in me as the moon traveling with Jupiter and Venus is in the night sky. So here, in honor of Jack Alford, is the poem:

What’s beautiful

Mary Lou stands, round-shouldered,
frail fingers tearing
bits of bread and tossing
them as far as bits of bread
can be tossed.

Gulls sail down white-winged
alighting only long enough
to snatch a crust and lift away–
as if the ground flung them
back into the air.

Beauty is not in the waves of white birds
wings bright in the sunlight
of a perfect morning.
Their beating wings and open beaks
frighten her.

Beauty is in her tremulous hands,
holding out scraps and crusts.
In the good money she spends
on bread she won’t eat
to feed birds she doesn’t like

because Jack–after sixty years
of providing for her–is laid flat
from knee surgery, drowning
his pain in glass after glass of scotch.
Because he likes to feed birds
and can’t.

When he can walk, he’d walk
to the ends of the earth for her.
And beauty is in her quick, forced tosses,
the frightened way she snatches
back her hand and ducks
under the wings, flinches
under their cries, stands
at the ends of the earth
for him.