You lenses, that take in all the blossom
Of the day, bringing home
Your own reflection, your lissom,
Brown and waving Kodachrome,
Your glassy mirrored view
Of a self too fragile to be fun—
A face too faded to be the you
That sprawled beneath the agile sun,
That flourished here before the chain link
Framed the bay, before the net
Went up against the ink
Of time and spray, against the threat
Of light, the blink of birds,
Of children on the dated shore—
You lenses, shimmer in the shaded words,
Always in the words, that dance, and break, and soar.
I started thinking of what Joe Stelmach meant by his drawing of his glasses, looking back at us from his great distance, and of course it’s an opportunity he’s given us to look at ourselves and our directions in life with the greater clarity that we assume Joe now enjoys.
So in my case that’s about words, how words survive death, the way Joe’s ink does.
I wrote this poem on Waikiki Beach, a very touristy place where I had, ages ago, my first inkling of how much I loved the tropics. Even now, sitting at the Tropics Bar, Waikiki can do nothing wrong.
I know Joe loved the freedom of Long Island, of the beach air, of the eel grass, his version of my tackier tropical environment.
My old beach haunt now has a kind of batting cage around it, which someone put there recently to keep out the charming sugar birds, who perch on tables and tilt their heads, figuring out what sort of generosity or hunger sits in those padded seats. The cage keeps out people like me, but it hasn’t stopped the birds, who saunter around on the ground and walk into the cage the same way some people still do.
So our youth is eventually threatened by grotesque developments that gradually wall up the views which recall our youth and define our age. You can’t go home again, and I certainly couldn’t, because my home had been replaced by a human birdcage.
It’s those wonderful birds who design the cage we live in. But the birds disappear, the view erodes, and every memory that we’ve had there disappears. It’s only words, or in Joe’s case, ink, the last untouchable symbols of the spirit, which pull the ocean through those small wired holes in the cage.
We need glasses to see the photos, the Kodachromes, of our distant youth shining through the thickening grid of that cage. Joe provided glasses so that Bonnie, and Daniele, and Diana could see their own past, so they could look forward with Joe’s eyes into the future, and so that we can look back on Joe.
Tropics Bar, Waikiki
May 12th, 2014