September 1: Making Meaning from the Idea of Loss

Love brings inevitable loss. Winning brings the struggle to accept losing.

In the most recent issue of Poets&Writers, Edward Hirsch is interviewed about this month’s release of one of his new books, Gabriel, poems about the death of his twenty-two-year-old son. Hirsch says in the interview, “At the heart of poetry is the idea of death—that there’s something unbearable about it, that time is passing, that things are passing. And if you care about those things, you want to leave some record behind of what it felt like to be here. In that sense, the poetry of joy and the poetry of lamentation have the same impulse. In a poem about joy, you’re describing this ecsatic moment that you know can’t be sustained.”

With only a month to go before the playoffs, the Milwaukee Brewers today lost their sixth straight game and are no longer first in the National League Central Division after being in first place since early April. The commentator during today’s game was saying that “talent” is not the issue at this level; only confidence can carry them through to the playoffs. Do they have it?

A character in Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru [which means “maker”] Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, which I just finished, says something similer:  “Talent only functions when it’s supported by a tough, unyielding physical and mental focus. All it takes is one screw in your brain to come loose and fall off, or some connection in your body to break down, and your concentration vanishes, like the dew at dawn. A simple toothache, or stiff shoulders, and you can’t play the piano well. […] A single cavity, one aching shoulder, and the beautiful vision and sound I hoped to convery goes out the window. The human body’s that fragile. […] A cavity or stiff shoulder you can get over, but there are a lot of things you can’t get past. If talent’s the foundation you rely on, and yet it’s so unreliable that you have no idea what’s going to happen to it in the next minute, what meaning does it have?”

It’s the first of September, always a somewhat melancholy day for me. Even though it has been a gorgous day with goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace everywhere, things will soon fade.  We enjoyed the visit of our oldest daughter, son-in-law and grandsons this weekend, watching my grandsons turn over rocks to find big “fatty” earthworms which they then carefully returned to the creek we walked by. Our oldest grandson is just seven—the same age as I was when my sister died and when I took my first piano lesson. He too is taking lessons and as he played for me, he “conducted” with his right hand in the air while his left hand haltingly “read” the notes to create a song.

Though my “stiff shoulder” kept me from playing very much, I did play a few of the Rachmaninoff variations and then pitched some balls to the two of them outside. Frustration and how to deal with the idea of it are lessons they are just beginning to learn.

Tomorrow I attend my first day of training at Miller Park to be a “gate sweeper” just in case the Brewers do make the playoffs. Beginning this year, in the playoffs, the MLB has ruled that all spectators must go through metal detectors. And I will be perhaps one of those “officials” with “wands” confiscating, I hope, nothing more lethal than illegal cans of beer. But I do understand that there’s something about such large crowds these days that have the potential to become quickly dangerous.

Here is a new draft I’m working on about connection and isolation: the intensity we all feel at times to hold off loss or to make something out of the losses that have already come and will surely come again.


Murmuration at the Baseball Game

We come together, put down

our brats and beer to swell with support.


The wave starts at one end,

ripples, then undulates


‘til we become one living

thing. Were it possible,


we would leave our seats and heave

our collective self to hover


high above the diamond, an

angelic swarm of protection


surging, shifting, turning in

encouragement as one player


after another requires our help:

that pitcher with three


balls, no strikes, who

can’t seem to find the corners;


or that batter in

a month-long .203


slump who just can’t get

a handle on that changeup.


We would soar above, having

a ball: orchestrating, swooping, changing


direction on a dime with

our spontaneous turns and twists


as the separate men, below,

one by one, step


away from their team,

up to the mound or


the batter’s box, caught

in acute aloneness.

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