‘Old age’ is getting older

Published 10:08 am Wednesday, July 23, 2008

“Old age is the most unexpected of all the things that happen to a man.” — Leon Trotsky

I’m thinking “old age” is getting older. Looking back on my own life takes time perhaps chapters would be an easier way to visit the past. A week ago I was in Plainview, where a group of us go for open mic. Where we spend most of the first hour listening to the visiting published poet. Last Wednesday Joyce Sutphen shared her poetry. And who caught a ride with Joyce none other than Knowles Dougherty our former Austin friend. I think she said she picked him up on 150th Street, wherever that is.

I’m not sure she knew Knowles personally or had he just called her for a ride. Knowles didn’t read; he listened. He had with him one of her books, “Naming the Stars.” While answering questions from the audience a listener requested one she hadn’t read titled “At the Moment.” It reads:

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Suddenly, I stopped thinking about Love,/after so many years of only that,/after thinking that nothing else mattered./And what was I thinking of when I stopped/thinking about Love?/ Death, of course — what else could take Love’s place?/ What else could hold such force?/ I thought about how far away Death once/had seemed, how unexpected that it could/happen to someone that I knew quite well,/ how impossible that this should be the/normal thing, as natural as frost and/winter. I thought about the way we’d aged,/how skin fell into wrinkles, how eyes grew/dim; then (of course) my love, I thought of you.

She signed my copy to Frank… the name I used to sign up on the board. The name I went by at Schofield Barracks, in Vietnam, in California and Hawaii. It wasn’t until I moved back to Austin that I resumed Bob. My father’s name was Frank. I remember explaining the Frank/Bob thing to Carol Bly when did a workshop at the library years later. Over lunch she asked why the change to Frank. I said it was because all Bobs were nice. Carol replied “Not all of them!”

Betty Benner was along that night too and she rode back with the others and their hot rod driver. Betty shared some of her poetry, as did Krista Johnson and Tim. Tim’s plays have been performed all over the place even in New York. Krista Johnson has performed in the theater all over the place; last week at the college. She read. Betty has been published and also published the Millpond Journal with the assistance Kaye Hompe and Knowles Dougherty. Betty was also able to track down Vaclav Havel’s Summer Meditations where the Los Angeles Times called Havel “A leader who values civility, who can write and speak beautifully, and who has moral authority and compassion.”

When the poetry reading was said and done we walked over to the little bar/restaurant for a bite to eat and for me a glass of wine. Some had food and wine. When it was time to go I asked Tim Brennan for a ride back to Austin. He had come over alone. Tim is a poet and playwright and an English teacher who migrated this way from the Eau Claire area where he grew up, schooled and served time as a bartender. He grew up in a little town near with a trickier name.

On the way back I shared my story of what happened to this “Jungle Frank” upon leaving Vietnam. I have been trying to write this for some time now, first in long hand, the last several years working on a computer, re-writing and re-writing with “no direction home.” Telling this to Tim was like a catharsis and Tim was able to bear with it. He listened as I hopped around with all the different exposures that occurred that at times still haunt me.

Tim said “Chapters. You need chapters.” Something that made sense as I babbled on. As I think about it now I do have chapters but most of what I have written takes place before the craziness sets in. If I never get it written the way I want it written I will know that Tim knows the story.

Now for a closing moment I do hope this town is able to spring for some more bike racks. Austin is ideal for bike riding yet there are so few places to secure the bikes. It’s also a good place to walk and its healthy. And then there’s Wal-Mart.