What becomes of things we make or do?
by Dan Stryk
Strolling through our neighborhood this languid afternoon— after reading essays by a man who’d left his Brooklyn youth, citybred young wife in tow, to settle like a foreigner into slow hours of an Appalachian farmlife on a hilly rise in southernmost Ohio / rough land he’d scrounged for years to buy, hoping past all odds to learn to plant and herd . . . then, finally, to write there — I think once more of my poet-father’s probing line I’ve dwelt upon for years. But, as time flows, in a changed way, encompassing my chosen life of teaching college in the Blue-Ridge South & settling into late years here — no longer just amused by that droll question posed in his poem set by a distant London “Duckpond” (which
then observes): . . . “that Japanese lantern by the bridge, / or from across the pond . . . / a drift of voices cultured and remote . . . . / The lantern maker, the couple chatting there, / would be amazed to find themselves [the subject of ] a poem.”
I gaze now at the mountaintops surrounding me (familiar distance of another type), & feel so oddly transient, at this moment, & yet happy to have tried to write a little & to teach some bold ideas in a slow but thoughtful life beside my artist wife Suzanne . . . after severing Midwestern roots & heading South so many years ago. BUT never severing the legacy of Lucien’s probing cast of mind (undaunted even now by a blind right eye, hands too frail to type, & a tricky ailing heart at 85). Yet, unswervingly, still questioning the WORLD at 85 — in poems strongly felt, but “gently strong”
& hauntingly restrained.
And as will become readily apparent in the following lyric, yet soberly political, group of poems he’s allowed me to share with kindred spirits at The Café Review (at this most fitting juncture of your own small liberally imaginative journal’s 20th Anniversary issue’s celebration of endangered survival — that true to the humane practice of those bodhisattvas so revered over his half-century span of translating Far Eastern thought for Western readers, Lucien’s ripened worldview has become more con-cerned than ever beyond what an individual artist might strive to “make or do,” or refine alone with his fear for our common WORLD’s survival, in this bellicose time of Iraqi Wars, homeland “terror,” nuclear proliferations, African genocides, opportunistic failure to protect the New Orleans “vulnerable” from “climatic devastation,” and, not least, our (“drill, baby, drill”) environmental insensitivity to all those endangered “ten thousand [living] things” which must share what we have sullied: the birds, the insects, earmarked trees — all that vulnerable array beyond sheer humankind.
And from such notions spring the poems which I type for him, after he recites them to me ardently (if, at times, with a slight tremor in his voice), across those distant airwaves, every weekend, when I make my ritual UK call to him & Mom (his trusted life-companion, Helen, a skilled wordsmith herself & matchless “verbal critic” for us both) . . . . And we’ve always quipped, to “dim our radiance,” that it’s really she who “has the knack.”
And such are the values, in these poems, which Suzanne & I will store forever in the satchel’s of our spirits . . . as, each year, we sink more deeply into our own place & ripening age, within this Appalachian hinterland from where we choose to view the greater WORLD from the brushy top of our backyard hill, that “dual awareness” of so many of my poems & her paintings — so much a part of what we’ve tried to “make & do” for over 20 years since leaving home . . . &, caretakers of his probing & his wisdom, have become.