End of the Road (love poem)

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I once walked through a forest,
deep and cool and wild,
filled with awe and wonder
as if I were just a child.

I once stood on a mountain.
Ancient winds flew through my hair.
It seemed the world around me
had become a silent prayer.

But despite the roads I traveled
and all the ground I gained,
this empty place, this darkness
in my spirit, still remained.

I’ve walked a thousand lonely miles
and crossed stormy oceans blue
searching for a feeling
that I’ve found right here with you.

And I could tell a thousand stories
of what the earth, to me, has shown
but all the beauty of this world
falls far short of your own.

For there is no greater wonder
nor peace that I have found
than holding you in darkness
with your heart the only sound.

Your laughter heals my deepest sorrow
and your eyes, so kind and warm,
have become this torn ships refuge
from a bitter, raging storm.

The Attempt to Love

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My young love asleep beside me,
she does not feel my tear
fall into her dark hair,
innocently anointed by my silent aching.

We bury our despair
with television
Facebook
exercise
mindless activity
but in the silent hours
when the darkness has swallowed all distractions,
the demons daylight chases into the shadows
are released
to taunt and torment.

Any lie we have told ourselves
becomes inverted and mocks us.

Every careless word and action,
impossible to undo,
returns to us, and with them,
judgements.

And the fears we have not yet vanquished
tear into us like jackals.
Devoured alive.

Nowhere to hide.
No solace.
Only faint remnants of dying religions
murdered by logic.

Our only salvation
is in the attempt to love.

The Couple That Dances Together . . .

I’ve never been much of a dancer, but I don’t blame myself entirely. I grew up in the dark ages of dancing, when club-goers danced without any hint of choreography, no or very little touching, and without even looking at each other. I never saw the point of it. They may as well have been dancing alone.

But even then, I thought dancing should be what the name implies – a dance, two people blending together to make something beautiful, exquisite, transcending the mundane and ordinary, a synchronized celebration of life and love. (And yes, I know how corny that sounds.)

I would imagine dancing together like this helps a marriage, too. After all, a marriage is a kind of dance. As Garth Brooks sang, “I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”

Another country song claims “life is a dance you learn as you go” – symbolically jumping into life rather than standing against the wall watching others enjoy themselves. Organized, mutual joy rather than disorganized narcissism.

It seems dancing reflects the age. Maybe the lack of synchronicity and dances with actual names – the Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, East Coast Swing and Jive for swing dancing, for instance, or the Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Rumba, Cha Cha and Jive for ballroom dancing (to name a few) – is one of the reasons marriages aren’t as strong in the modern world as they were during World War II, the heyday of swing and ballroom dance. Synchronicity died, people became separated, more into themselves than each other, and so did marriages.

There’s something especially beautiful about watching older folks like this dance. They may have lost the athleticism of their youth but, after all the storms that inevitably come during a marriage, and the ravages of time, they’re still up there doing it. Dancing together. They won.

The Old Ball and Chain

 

 

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I was out walking with my daughters yesterday. An elderly couple nearby was walking in the same direction, but not side-by-side. The man was ten feet in front of her. A man standing in their path and holding a clipboard asked the husband if he would like to make a donation to some charity. The man abruptly said no. As they passed, the man said, “Okay. Well, have a great night. And by the way, there’s an angel walking behind you.” This was either a line he used all the time, or he intuitively knew a couple, especially an older couple, should walk together.

This was something my mother used to complain about when my dad was alive. He would always be blazing a trail, way up ahead of her. She would say, “Look at him. I could get mugged, abducted, or hit by a bus and he wouldn’t even know.”

Anyway, the old man’s response was, “What? Her? She’s no angel. That’s my warden.”

This could be perceived as a joke. There is often such playful banter between people who have been married a long time. Sometimes it’s just that – playful – but often, probably more often, it’s an indication of deep resentments. As Shakespeare wrote in King Lear, “Many a true word hath been spoken in jest.”

If his wife would have laughed, I would have thought their relationship was healthy and this was just another part of the act old folks develop. I’ve known old couples like this and their comedic repartee was so amazing, I suggested they should “take their show on the road.” This was not such a case. She was not smiling, and obviously embarrassed and saddened by his comment. He looked at me and smiled, expecting support from another male. He didn’t receive it. I now am at risk of having my membership with the men’s club permanently revoked.

You see, I can’t stand men, of any age, who treat their wives like they were somehow forced to get married, and treat their children as if they were also forced upon them. They courted the woman, they asked her to marry him, they had children with her, and yet somehow she becomes “the old ball and chain” as time passes, and the children are even resented for preventing the man from doing whatever it is he thinks he would be doing if he were alone. It’s the worst kind of victim mentality.

Sure, things can go a little sour. That’s life. But real men don’t whine, they adapt. They don’t verbally abuse, they stay or they leave. And if they stay, they don’t allow their character to become worse. They don’t blame the people they chose to be with, or the children they willingly created, for their own unhappiness. Of course, the truth is the flaw was there all along. It didn’t begin after the wedding.

This is especially pathetic with old people, like this man, who was grossly overweight, by the way. I mention his weight because my first thought after his comment about his wife was, “What would you be doing if you weren’t with her? Are women throwing themselves at you constantly, and you can’t act upon it because of your wife?”

Maybe I’m out of touch. Maybe mean, old, fat guys are the new hotties.

Men are something else. Always imagining that life would be better if they were single. I didn’t get married until late in life, partly because of all the negative programming from married men who would say things to me like “enjoy your freedom while you can.”

Freedom. And what’s the opposite of freedom? Slavery and prison. That’s what I began to associate marriage with. Men are wolves, but to be happy, to find peace, we must become sheep. Not wimps. Soft. Sensitive. Loving. The lone wolf out in the wilderness may be romantic at twenty, but it’s pathetic after forty. Our hearts must soften, and if we let them, a wife and children are the best ways for this to happen.

The old man’s comment, “That’s no angel, that’s my warden” was true. He just had the roles reversed.

Just Live (poem)

Just Live

There once was a bright, young boy
who thought and thought all day
and rarely joined his little friends
when they went out to play.
Even when he would come out,
his mind would keep on turning
and while all the others laughed and played,
his questions kept on burning.
Like “Where did I come from?  Why am I here?”
and “Where will I go when I die?”
Very big questions for such a small boy.
Unanswered, his childhood flew by.

A young man sat on a sunswept beach,
away and apart from the crowd.
You see, he was thinking quite serious thoughts
and their laughter was far too loud.
His nose in a book, he just couldn’t hear
the young girls when they’d call out his name
and though the sun shone so very brightly above,
had no time for their foolish games.
No, there were too many doors to unlock
and so many knots to untie
like “Where did I come from?  Why am I here?”
and “Where will I go when I die?”

A middle aged man sat on the same beach,
a place he had come to know
as somewhere to ponder his life’s many why’s
though the answers he still didn’t know,
when a feeling of emptiness, never so deep,
filled his heart and made him afraid.
He thought of the voices of friends, long ago,
but could only hear silence today.
Then he thought, “Oh, my God.  Half my life has slipped by
and still, no solution is near.
I think I’ll stop trying to figure it out
and for once, just be glad that I’m here.”

That day, his eyes opened and though nothing had changed,
the world became bright, rich and new.
And as he lay back to blend with life’s colors and sounds,
the great sky never seemed quite so blue.

An old man lies on a bed, close to death,
but not worried, not sad or afraid.
He smiles at sweet faces, gathered around
saying, “Please Grandpa, don’t go away.”
He says, “Don’t be sad.  I had a life full and rich –
something not many can say.”
But their young eyes were still pleading, scared and confused
so he searched for the right words to say . . .

“When I was young, I had so many worries and fears
and questions I couldn’t get by.
Then one day I stopped fighting and searching in vain
and decided to live till I die.
I traveled the world, drank in its wonders,
found true love in a good woman’s eyes,
had beautiful children, life’s sweetest reward.
Each one, an incredible prize.
Now, one journey ends and another begins
and I was right to be patient and wait
for the mysteries that plagued my troubled, young mind
can’t be solved on this side of the gate.
So do one thing more for me.  Know your own beauty.
Always stand strong, proud and tall.
And think of my passing not as the end
but as the summer becoming the fall.”

Mark Rickerby (c) 1989

Marriage – The Road Less Traveled

I read recently that more and more people are choosing not to get married. I also read that in 2013, for the first time in American history, there were more divorces than marriages. So marriage really is becoming the road less traveled, but I’m not sure that’s a good development for individuals, particularly men, or for society.

The actual title of that Robert Frost poem is The Road Not Taken, and that’s almost what it was for me, until I spent nine years courting a very committed woman. We’ve been married now for almost ten years. She deserves a medal for everything she put up with. To say I had “issues” is like saying the devil is not a nice guy.

Albert Einstein said, “Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably they are both disappointed.”

Seems old Al was wise in more ways than one. 

It’s no secret that marriage is sometimes difficult. Of course, it is. But much, much harder is loneliness. I know. I stayed alone – well, unmarried, anyway – long past the average marriage age for men. In fact, for six months of my 27th year, I was backpacking through Europe, determined to be the Old Spice man with a girl in every port. I didn’t even think about getting married for another ten years. I think it’s safe to say I was a tad commitment-phobic. 

Right up until I walked down the aisle, I was terrified, mainly because I’d had the misfortune of witnessing a lot of passionless marriages, and listening to the men in those marriages say things to me like “hold on to your freedom” and “sow your oats, kid” and “ah, to be your age again.” They reeked of despair, so the message was absorbed deeply into my adolescent psyche – marriage is death.

When I was sixteen and becoming obsessed with girls, my father took me aside for “the talk.” I thought he might say, “Listen, son. Women are people, too, and you should respect them. Don’t lie to them. Don’t cheat on them. Someday you’ll regret every hurtful thing you say or do.” That’s what I needed to hear; what every boy needs to hear. But what I heard instead was, “They give you their vagina and they want your soul.” For good measure, he then added, “Keep ’em guessing” and “If I was your age, I’d be screwing myself stupid.”

My dad was always joking around so I never really knew if he was serious or not, but it had the same effect. So for that reason and the 1001 other factors that determine our character, I made a career out of chasing women around, often at the expense of more noble and worthwhile pursuits, and hurt a lot of decent women in the process. Partly because of all the men who were either obviously miserable, or revealed discontent through admiration of me and my youthful freedom, I equated marriage and fatherhood with pain. Positive role models apply to marriage, too.

I think I also resisted marriage because I was afraid of the choices I would lose by choosing. Who doesn’t want to hold on to the delicious irresponsibility of adolescence? That island between childhood and adulthood when nothing is really expected of you? When you have all the time in the world? I had the same problem with career that I did with women. Making a choice would mean forfeiting something else, mainly freedom. Doing one thing would remove the freedom, though merely theoretical, to do anything. 

When I finally did choose a field of endeavor, writing (the last vestige of scoundrels), not trying hard enough when I was single was easier, too, because nobody was watching me. Now, everything has changed. Nothing has ever challenged me to rise to my potential as a writer (and every other conceivable way) more than the sweet, trusting eyes of my two daughters looking up at me. Though they are probably only thinking about what we’re going to do or eat or which toy they’re going to play with next, I see a lot of questions in those eyes. Questions like, “What college are you going to be able to afford to send me to, daddy?” and “Are you going to give me anything to brag about at Show and Tell, daddy?” and “Are you going to do a better job than your dad did, and his dad, and his dad?”

Yeah, it’s pressure, but it’s the kind of pressure that crystallizes thought, steels resolve, and laser focuses purpose. 

Then there’s the love. Dear God. The love.

Before I had a wife and children, I never knew how much I could feel. And I recalled (when I was willing to recall it) that among those husbands and fathers I met as a boy and young man, a few of them didn’t envy me at all. A few saw me as the little nitwit that I was. A few were . . . happy. One of these blessed few said to me, “Wait until you have kids of your own. You have no idea what happiness is yet.” I didn’t remember him until I actually did have kids of my own. The other, negative voices drowned him out. The last I heard, he was still happy. He and his wife were vacationing in Spain. Still dancing on verandas. It happens, even in this jaded world.

And I saw a movie once – I wish I could remember the title – where an old man was talking to a slightly younger man. The younger man was a movie star but the old man didn’t know it. The old man said, “You are successful where you come from?” The younger man answered yes. The old man asked, “You are rich? Famous?” Again, the younger man, obviously proud, answered, “Yes, I am.” The old man asked, “You have a wife? Children?” as if it was a given that he did. The younger man answered no. Surprised, the old man said, “Well, then you have nothing.” 

James Brown said it, too – “It’s a man’s world, but it would be nothing, nothing, without a woman or a girl.” 

A good woman makes a man better than he would otherwise be if left to his own devices. (I’m sorry, guys, but most of us are idiots. Probably not you, because you’ve read this far, but most of us.) 

My feet weren’t just cold as my wedding day approached, I had ice blocks on my feet. I was calling all my married friends and asking for advice. It was pretty pathetic. One of them said, “Listen, you’ve done the world traveling, skirt-chasing thing long enough. It’s time to do the husband and daddy thing.” 

Another said something similar – “It’s time to start a new chapter. What do you want to do – hit on girls at the gym for the rest of your life?” That sounded pretty bleak. I didn’t want to become the old guy at the nightclub who never grew up, the guy my 20-something buddies and I made fun of. 

Have the last nine years of marriage been easy? Hell, no. Have I became a much, much better human being than I was before, when I had nobody to answer to, or to prove myself to? Hell, yes.

I’ve learned how to laugh harder and cry deeper. And I’ve discovered perhaps the greatest lesson this life has to give – how much love my heart can hold. We had our first child for three years before introducing her to her sister, and we loved her so much, we wondered how we would have any love left to give a second child. But we learned that that’s not how the heart works. Love has no limit. It just keeps on expanding, like the Grinch when his heart grew three sizes. 

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(What a grouch. Definitely childless.)

If a couple has one child and gives him or her 100% of their love, having a second child doesn’t mean each child will get only 50%. Another 100% is created. (Who says we need to stop at 100%? We created that number and we can break it. As the great, three first-named poet Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy (and Willy Wonka) put it, “We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”) So if I have ten more kids, my heart will grow ten times bigger to make room for them. If life has a point, I think that may be it – to keep our hearts growing. 

I’ll end tonight with a song I wrote/sang about the delivery of our first child. It was nine months of misery for my poor, wee wife and I (especially her) but we received the Grand Prize at the end of it, and her love made her forget the pain so thoroughly, she went and had another one. That’s life in a nutshell – pain and joy all mixed up together, all the time.

But pain isn’t the worst thing that can happen to us. Nothing is. 

The song’s lyrics are below. If you’d like to sing along, you can hear the song at https://soundcloud.com/markrickerby/hallelujah 

Hallelujah

Well, I don’t mean to complain
but Lord what your mama went through.
I’ve never seen such pain
as I did when she was carrying you.
All I could do was look,
hold her sweet, little hand and pray.
I held tight to the holy book
begging the Lord not to take you away.

And now that it’s all been done
and you’re safe here with us today,
now that the battle’s been won,
there’s only one thing I can say –

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

When we’re opening a jelly jar,
I’m stronger than my wife
but it takes more strength by far
to carry and deliver a life.
I was filled with doubt and fear
but she had the faith of ten
and the first time she held you near,
she said she’d do it all over again.

And now that it’s all been done
and we’re watching you laugh and play,
now that the battle’s been won,
there’s something I just gotta say –

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

And how many worried tears fell
doesn’t matter anymore.
Yeah, we went through hell
but you were worth fighting for.

So hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.