While looking up a related website yesterday, I came across The DonWatch Journal, an online journal which my friend Lou Ceci kept while his partner Don Flint was dying of a brain tumor. Don had brain surgery twice, poor guy, the first time for a hemorrhage and the second time for a massive tumor, even bigger than mine apparently (and mine was unusually large).
So after I’d read three or four months of Lou’s journal, it suddenly dawned on me what year this was all happening in. I went back to the first entries, looked carefully at the date, and realized with a start that Don had his first brain surgery about a day and a half after my own.
I’ve only known Lou a couple of years now and I never knew Don — except of course as his spirit and influence lives on in Lou — but I wish I had. I almost did, by maybe eight or nine months: It turns out that Don wrote articles about alternative medicine for WebMD, and my first job after surgery was a three-month stint as an interim senior editor at WebMD, probably less than a year after Don stopped writing for them. It’s not even impossible that I may have heard about him at an editorial meeting, if he was a regular contributor. But I don’t remember, it was too long ago. Part of my job at WebMD was doing the final edit of all the stories, or actually two final edits, because one of the challenges of that job was that I had to edit everything twice, once in our own house style for our website and then again in Associated Press style to send to CNN. I definitely remember that I was editing the articles for the alternative medicine section. So I was less than a year away from being one of his editors, not the one he would work directly with, but the one who did the final polish after his immediate editor was done.
Don Flint was a terrific poet. Lou gave me copies of three slim volumes of his poetry, and I like it a lot. Here’s one that Lou quotes in full on the website, so it should probably be okay if I do the same here.
A simple rock
tumbling down the
slopes of gravity?
the midnight sky?
A shiny needle
Or none of these,
but only a perceptual trick
in which the solution to
a simple math problem —
given velocity, mass
and direction —
is displayed in the sky
in such a way
that even smart people
wonder what it could
All I know for sure
is the belief
I hold about it in secret.
That, and the fact
the very last thing
it did in this world
was turn into light.
There are bits of other poems scattered throughout the journal, too. Some of Don’s poems are rather long and intense, especially the two at the very end of The White Crack, one called “Life Goes On”, which he wrote after his first surgery:
… What did happen, in fact, was that
a surgeon with a knife
saved my life.
But his competence couldn’t save my competence,
couldn’t save the me I’d lived so hard to be
all these years
in the belief I needed to be useful
in order to justify my existence.
So, what was the point of all that effort?
How will I survive now? I asked
when finally I was able once again
to think of really stupid questions.
But I’m willing now, even so soon after the fact,
which seems like only yesterday,
to chalk that one up as a learning experience,
since I am still alive
and happier being a disabled person
disabused of that notion, anyway. …
And another called “Rewrite #108”, which he wrote after he knew that the brain tumor was incurable and that he probably had no more than a year or two to live:
… The resulting poem
doesn’t have to be
a great work of art
to convey that
I’ve spent a lot of time
trying to figure out
just how to say,
“I wish you well”;
that’s how important it is to me —
that, while trying not to appear
merely clever, or, God forbid, deep.
After all, how deep can someone be,
who spends all his time
trying to live forever? …
There are a lot of shorter poems in the three books, too, often with a wry Zen flavor. One of my favorites, which I have taken to quoting in conversation every now and then:
can disguise the fact
there is no problem
to begin with.