Purging Paperwork

Here are some remnants from the second draft edit of my work-in-progress memoir.

I’m in the process of moving, and it felt good to purge these pages from my “working” tote. I’m taking a little break from the project in hopes I can go from a “shitty” first draft to a “not so shitty” second draft to a “totally mediocre” third draft—and down the line until I arrive at “somewhere near decent.” I’m afraid that could take me some time. But I will persist.

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Kerouac Poetry

I’ve been reading Jack Kerouac: Collected Poems, which includes the works Mexico City Blues, San Francisco Blues, The Scripture of the Golden Eternity and Book of Haikus. The Beat Generation novelist and author of On the Road inspired my writing of poetry many years ago. Kerouac, Langston Hughes and Charles Bukowski taught me that you didn’t need an MFA to write poetry, as their art sprang from life experiences. They showed me the power of raw and real voices and stories expressed in the form of free verse.

Kerouac’s collection has more than 600 pages of poetry, but I found much of it gibberish—stream-of-consciousness thoughts, rantings and Buddhist and Catholic references. Yet Kerouac also delivers heart-crushing beauty within the pages of this doorstop.

The poem “Hymn” appears in a section entitled Pomes All Sizes.

“Hymn”

And when you showed me the Brooklyn Bridge
in the morning,
Ah God,

And the people slipping on ice in the street,
twice,
twice,
two different people
came over, goin to work,
so earnest and tryful,
clutching their pitiful
morning Daily News
slip on the ice & fall
both inside 5 minutes
and I cried I cried

That’s when you taught me tears, Ah
God in the morning,
Ah Thee

And me leaning on the lamppost wiping
eyes,
eyes,
nobody’s know I’d cried
or woulda cared anyway
but O I saw my father
and my grandfather’s mother
and the long lines of chairs
and the tear-sitters and dead,
Ah me, I knew God You
had better plans than that

So whatever plan you have for me
Splitter of majesty
Make it short
brief
Make it snappy
Bring me home to the Eternal Mother
Today

At your service anyway,
(and until)

I also enjoyed many of the pieces in the section Book of Haikus. I believe Kerouac’s haikus do not follow the strict Japanese pattern of three lines of five, seven and five syllables.

Here are some autumn-related selections:

Late moon rising
—Frost
On the grass

Waiting for the leaves
to fall;—
There goes one!

First frost dropped
All leaves
Last night—leafsmoke

Crisp cold October morning
—the cats fighting
In the weeds

A yellow witch chewing
A cigarette,
Those Autumn leaves

Kerouac, Jack. Jack Kerouac: Collected Poems. New York: Library of America, 2012.

The book also served another purpose for me. Late last night I found a nail sticking out of the cheap wood paneling in the bedroom of my apartment. I was worried my son would catch himself on it, but I didn’t feel like going to the closet to grab my hammer. So I used the book to bang the nail back into place. Thanks Jack!

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Birthday Poems

I am celebrating my 52nd birthday today. And with each passing year, I feel the weight of mortality and the footsteps of death encroaching. It’s a presence I can’t escape, like Bergman’s grim reaper in The Seventh Seal.

In reality, though, you don’t need a birthday to be struck by that feeling. An impending sense of finality hits me every morning I awaken. But I also feel overwhelming gratitude when I am granted another morning, another day, another opportunity to create and share time and space and precious moments with loved ones.

A poem by the late poet Mark Strand seems fitting for this birthday and for this moment in time under COVID. To me it expresses the fleeting nature of existence.

Mark Strand, 1934-2014

The Coming of Light

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.

To Mr. Strand’s words, I add a few poems of my own, all focused on the unavoidable outcome of existence. They remind me to accept the inevitable while still trying to extract meaning out of a life that must cease one day.

Interment

I imagine the coffin lid closing,
the pine box being lowered into the pit,
shovels of dirt hitting the top,
and no one hearing me scream,
“Let me out. Let me out,”
as I realize I’ve run out of time
to make my life count.

What You Get

There is nothing you can do
to avoid becoming dust.
You can try to elongate your life,
but you will expire one day.

And whether cremated
or buried in the earth,
your body will not
survive this world.
Maybe your soul will
travel somewhere else,
but really, who knows for sure?

In this existence,
you are granted only two things:
Right Here. Right Now.
That’s all you get.
So make the most of it.

Awareness

How many people are dying
in emergency rooms
at this exact moment?
Right now, how many people are
exhaling their last breaths?
How many loved ones
arrive too late to say goodbye?

Each day ushers in death—
and while we sleep,
smashed brains, shattered bones,
plugged arteries, faulty hearts,
cancer and other diseases
claim their victims.

We try not to notice.
We try to avoid the truth.
We rush about our lives,
never knowing when
our time will come—
until one day it does.

I can’t live like that.
I can’t avoid the obvious.
I need to face death daily,
to recognize it lurking, prowling,
ready to pounce on me.
This knowledge of death
creeping nearby forces me
to examine my existence
and ascertain if I am useful—
wise with my time or wasteful.

I accept the finite offering
of a limited lifespan—
what little measure
of time God has granted.
It’s up to me to make it count.

Outward Arrangements: Poems by Francis DiClemente (2021).

 

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Insomnia Poem

A bout of insomnia last night produced a short poem. At 3 a.m., my five-year-old son Colin and I were both wide awake. While he squirmed and rolled around in bed, I covered up to prevent getting struck by his flailing elbows and knees. And in the early morning darkness, these words came to me:

Manifesto for Dejected Artists

To create is to make something
that did not exist before—
something no one requested
and something the world
does not want or need.

And yet, you decided
to make it anyway.
So now it’s here for others
to accept or reject.
Either way, your job is done.

And I have realized from experience that if some lines, words, thoughts, characters or plots float in my head when I’m in bed, that I must jot down the ideas immediately or I will forget them upon awakening.

And on a totally unrelated note, here is a photo of Colin holding his pre-K diploma, which he received on the last day of school on Thursday.

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A Camus Quote

I am currently reading Albert Camus’s Notebooks 1935-1942, and I found this little piece of wisdom from the section May 1935 to September 1937. I thought it was worth sharing, and I hope you find some value in the words.

“One must not cut oneself off from the world. No one who lives in the sunlight makes a failure of his life. My whole effort, whatever the situation, misfortune or disillusion, must be to make contact again. But even within this sadness I feel a great leap of joy and a great desire to love simply at the sight of a hill against the evening sky.”

Camus, Albert. Notebooks 1935-1942. Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1962. Ivan R. Dee, Translation, Reprint Edition, 2010.

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Man Inside Nighthawks: A Flash Fiction Story

Here’s a flash fiction story inspired by the Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks.

I assume I was nothing before I found myself sitting here, staring straight ahead. But I don’t know for sure.

This is what I do know: I can’t move my head. I can’t smoke the cigarette pressed between the fingers of my right hand or drink the cup of coffee resting on top of the counter. I can’t touch the woman seated next to me or talk to the other two men.

This is my life. Suspended in warm, yellow light. Unable to move, locked in a soundless existence—no water running, fan whirring or grill sizzling. No sirens or street sounds beyond the glass.

Time drags on with no discernible shift—no transition to morning. Here night never ends.

Yet my mind still works. In fact, it never stops; I’m cursed with thoughts that run continuously.

I wonder: Why am I here? And where exactly is here? What purpose do I serve? Why put me next to these people and not give me an opportunity to interact with them?

Do I have a past? Did I exist before I became frozen in this moment—captured and imprisoned for eternity?

As you can see, I have nothing but questions that yield no answers. If only I could talk to the other people. If only I could pry open my lips and make a sound. Then maybe we could communicate. Maybe we could figure out our reason for being here. Then I could scream for help. But who would hear my voice and who would come to our aid?

If only I could stand up and walk around, stretch my legs and peek outside the window.

But then I would upset the balance of the composition. And so I will stay in place. Funny, right? I don’t have a choice. I can’t move even if I wanted to. So I’ll be here any time you feel like looking at me.

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Been Away Too Long

I’ve been so tied up with work, family and long-range creative projects that I have neglected this blog for far too long. I haven’t posted anything since January—not that anyone is missing my content.

But during my Saturday morning jog/walk in downtown Syracuse, I snapped a photo and composed a short poem. To me both represent the ephemeral nature of life. If I had not stopped running on the sidewalk to take the picture or pull out my mini notebook and jot down the poem, the image and words would have been lost.

The sun would have shifted or shadows would have altered the light hitting the buildings and the words would have escaped my mind. A good reason to always carry a smartphone, a pen and a notebook. You never know when inspiration will strike.

Morning reflection. A George Costanza pinkish hue. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Giving Up Admission

I can’t keep
it together.

I don’t have
the strength
to carry on.

Can I let go
and fall into
your arms?

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