Scheme of Things

Scheme of Things

Inside the Song. Where, how and why does a song descend into the soul, get taken up by the voice and offered to all Creation? She’s the source of great mystery- the jealous, fickle muse who graces us songwriters with Canto. I, above all, haven’t a clue as to the genesis of the creative process- I can only tell you that I hold on tight when I feel her enter me with offering- this seed or flirtation of inspiration- and enjoy the hell out of the ride and rush of the creative birth tunnel. Even if the process is labored or burdened by sadness or despair, there is always a sense of purging, of cleansing, of opening to a deeply intuitive place of healing and understanding.

That is exactly where this song found me, despairing over the impending death of my beloved father. It came pouring out of me in one sitting as I played the simple arpeggiated progression over and over and felt burgeoning waves of Spirit gather its minions around me, an army of ancestors urging me forward, holding me in an invisibly sweet embrace. Strange that the topic matter had nothing to do with dad, but all the longing was there, all the loss and even a whimsical sense of his armchair philosophy. Just a few days after I wrote this, he passed away after a long night of bellowing anguish. Not in keeping with Jewish tradition, he was cremated, but I played it at his memorial ceremony, sending him off with a flawed, raw, emotional rendering, hoping that wherever he arrived to, however he’d got there, he’d find his place in the scheme of things…

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                             SCHEME OF THINGS

blessed are the frogs that bless the earth
and for the mossy stones that form their hearth
and blessed are the honey bees that bumble flower to flower
and blessed are the blessings that befall us by the hour

in the Scheme of Things
you’ll find your place among kings
in the body temple rests your throne
no need for rings nor sacramental tidings
let thy lips bless the breath you own

I wonder if you remember the wild chamomile we shared
it floated all around us as you washed my hair
the eddies made a curious design
but by the time that we were done
they had flowed away each one by one

in the Scheme of Things
you’ll find your place among kings
in the body temple rests your throne
no need for rings nor sacramental tidings
let thy lips bless the breath you own

It sounds terribly morbid and glum, but for most of my life I had been unwittingly waiting for my dad to die. Anticipating his death since 9th grade when I was sent far afield of our Florida home to a prep school in Connecticut, all I knew was that he was older than the rest of the kids’ dads and that, from my teenage mind’s reasoning, I might never see him again. That kind of sudden isolation thousands of miles from home brought up all the PTSD/abandonment issues I had accrued as a ten year old kid during hell camp in the North Carolina woods- five weeks at the mercy of the receiving end of junior counselor Bobby’s hatchet- a gruesome story for another day.

That’s the thing about life, isn’t it? You just never know how and why things happen nor their immediate or lasting affect on you, for better or worse. I call it the Humpty Dumpty Principle; once it’s broken, there ain’t no goddamn Gorilla Glue in the world that’s gonna fix that shit. You know the story: All the king’s horses and all the king’s men/couldn’t put Humpty together again. Boarding school was supposed to be a privileged and highbrow head start towards a stellar Ivy League college career and a lifetime of superlative achievement and success but devolved rapidly into my complete undoing and brokenness, an irrevocable, unanticipated crossing of the Rubicon. I’d liken it to stepping on a land mine and getting a leg blown off-  like Gauthier, the middle school dean and disciplinarian, a Korean vet who hopped around campus on a wooden leg and had a funny swing-and-kick action when he stooped to give your misbehaving butt a swift paddling. Oh, yeah- let’s hear it for southern-fried public education in the eighties keeping it old school! Thing is, unlike a lizard tail, you can never grow back a leg once it’s gone. You can only hobble through life doing the best you can, scratching at the ghost of an itch at midnight and cursing the gods their favors.

Dad had always been there, of course; he just hadn’t been magnetic north to my prepubescent internal compass. I was a mama’s boy and had generally always sought mom’s favor and attention. But sometime between 6th and 7th grade it kicked in- the inevitable testosterone began pumping- and the production of tiny black hairs in armpits and genitals accompanied a newfound satisfaction in  humping my pillow. What had formerly seemed like scratching an insatiable itch was suddenly upgraded to freakishly transcendent, messy relief. Metamorphosis into manhood had begun, and with it, all the awkwardness and quandaries of a tadpole growing legs. Seemingly overnight, an intrinsic fog lamp had been activated, casting a spotlight on my dad at center stage. His words resounded a deep sensibility, the time we spent together became a precious commodity and an endless merry-go-round of questions and answers, discussions and contemplation.

Dad wasn’t exactly the picture of masculinity. I think it’s fair to say that mom wore the pants and had a more assertive, alpha oriented disposition than gentle, round-shouldered dad. With mom as the disciplinarian in a household in which go ask your mother was the mantra for everything, dad’s role was that of the great Sunday sage, the one who understood with his eyes and a nod of the head, the one who listened without judgement and gave thoughtful, compassionate advice in a calm, resonant voice. He was the carrot muncher, the gardener, the fruit tree lover, so satisfied to be elbows deep in potting soil, peat moss and manure. He was the dispenser of nuggets of worldly wisdom from across the ages- but mostly quoting your Grampa Leo– the immigrant Jewish patriarch who fled czarist Russia and was welcomed by Lady Liberty’s hopeful embrace just at the turn of the twentieth century. He felt such adoration and reverence for his father; it seems a thing of a past generation, encountered only in dog-eared sepia photos and proudly displayed leather bound genealogies. I’d say it was a lost art, this kind of allegiance to past, but I suppose it’s just one more thing that he passed down to me. Dear, sweet dad.

Death is a bit of a mind fuck, isn’t it? I got the call as I was putting the kettle on for coffee and could hear mom wailing in the background. My sister struggled to keep it together as she broke the news. Get here as soon as you can. I ran around bumping into things, trying to make sense out of something I had rehearsed in my head a thousand times. I wanted to cry so badly but couldn’t; I had already been crying for twenty-nine years. When I walked in and saw him, lying mouth half open and stone-like, I approached and kissed his cheek. It was cold and balmy. It wasn’t like him. In fact, it wasn’t him at all! That, for me, was the great take-away, in the most literal of senses. It struck me with a stunning veracity, with the great hollow thud of a watermelon hitting the ground from two stories up, that his being was no longer bound by the restrictions of skin and consciousness, that because he was no longer somewhere out there and could not be located in space and time, he could now more fully and deeply reside within me– a selfish notion no doubt- but all the same, a startlingly palpable sensation for such a metaphysical conundrum.

There is a final scene in the movie The Last of the Mohicans, the 1992 version directed by Michael Mann and starring Daniel Day-Lewis, in which the character Chingachgook looks out from a high cliff across the vast natural landscape and says a prayer to the Great Spirit in honor of Uncas, his murdered son. It’s a scene that, while grandiose in Hollywood style, gave me chills when I watched it and still when I think of it now. In some way I relate to Chingachgook’s sentiment- or what I imagine it to be- as he beckons to the grand panorama before him that comprises the realm of the Great Spirit to welcome Uncas into its fold. As if by being again united with the whole and not separate entities, our loved ones are present in a river bend, a foraging deer, a spawning salmon, a sunrise. It is a bittersweet victory, that of death, but it is a homecoming and a return to where we came from, to where we all one day will go. May I find you there, dad- in that glorious sunset that calls me home.

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