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Father's Day Post
18 June 2017

Typing with Bears

Typing with Bears

Not even time to set up my sun 'brolly, grab a decaf and blueberry scone, when a fellow in blue shorts and sandals arrives at the table. Grinning, he asks, "Are you ready for business?"

We toss a few jokes back and forth as I pop the Smith Corona from its tortoise shell hibernation. He speaks with an accent, and I learn that Don and his wife Nora are visiting California from the Netherlands.

Sitting next to my table in an Adirondack chair, gazing out to sea, a woman looks calmly across Jenner estuary, as if she were a visionary. I place my things beside her quietly, trying not to interrupt her meditation. She was there before I arrived, so I feel like I am intruding her space.

It takes me about 15 minutes to get set up; Don is patient with the ceremonial unfurling of the tablecloth, the pink azaleas, the box of clips and colored pencils I tote along for the kids when they want to decorate their poems.

Don asks, "What's the black telephone for? What kind of signal do you get out here on the coast?" I tell him that the performance aspect of Poetry du Jour involves a telephone call to someone special. I beg his patience.

Sharpened curiosity and pencils ready, we get going on his poem. I learn that he and his wife encountered a brown bear along a recent trail hike. I hear the word Yosemite. A friendly discussion immediately ensues about the kinds of bears that live in Yosemite. As we get the poem rolling with a few growling details, I learn that the bear encounter took place at Mt. Lassen. His wife doesn't like bears, brown or black.

I learn that the phrase "going south" is a term used by residents of Roosendaal who are going to parts of France on summer vacation. Little did they know, "going south" involved an encounter with a bear.

This tribute poem to Nora on Father's Day reveals that she is a painter who switches between acrylic and oil paint. She has composed paintings of fish drying on a clothes line; Amish gentlemen with long beards and dark hats.

Picking up the telephone, I spin the rotary dial a few times, and pretend to speak to Don's wife, who is sitting nearby. I tell her about the estuary and the sky at Jenner, and then I turn to Don and tell him that I have his wife on the phone. "She wants to know why you love her so," I say, thrusting the handset toward him.

He takes the phone and puts it to his ear. The tone of his voice lowers. He becomes serious. Dropping his easy-going laughter, he says to her how much and why he loves her. I keep my pen going.

Throughout my interview with Don, the woman (Martha) who has been sitting in the Adirondack chair next to us, begins to rise from her thoughts. She's been listening to my interview with Don and has become engaged in the process. She lifts her gaze from the estuary and becomes involved in this authentic interaction between Don and me.

Poetry writing opens me to human nature, and that is why I love to do this so much. Martha is now a part of the conversation, and begins to interact and laugh with us.

I learn from Don that, when he was a youth, he worked for months to earn 150 gilders to buy himself a typewriter. He bought it to learn the mechanics of the machine, not to write. The keys, space bar, platen, the bell—all these fascinated him. His fascination with mechanical things carries over to this moment with Poetry du Jour, a typewriter moment, tender.

Clackety-clack. In ten minutes, I put the poem in Don's hands. He reads it over, and then calls to Nola to come and listen to her poem. We take up our joking tone again—the tissue box nearby. By the time he finishes reading the poem, both of them are yanking tissues.

This process of writing poems for people draws them out, both for participants as well as eavesdroppers. It's a genuine, real-time exchange of thoughts and feelings. Both Don and I are caught off guard. Neither of us knows what to expect as the poem unfolds.

It's not so much the words of the poem, but mechanics of the inner typewriter that yanks on us. The four of us, during this poem's creation and reading, listen, however briefly, to the inner machine that captures the nature of our poetry.

Don's poem for Nora:

Poème des États-Unis

On our road trip
Portland to LA,
that brown bear
at Lassen trailside,
a rampage of paws;
our Christmas in June
at snowy Crater Lake
frees us, freezes us.
Vive la France
in your former life,
always good for us to go
south from Roosendaal,
our extraordinary

Turning now from acrylic
to oil paint,
the talents of your brush,
water fills a cup;
three fishes on
a laundry line,
men with dark hats
and frizzy beards
walk toward us
on the jeweled floor
of our 33 years.

Darling, I want to tell you:
though we've been together
many years, I've missed
the chance to tell you
I love you
many times. We will be
together to our last days.
What's that?
You're crying now?
I think you're crying
because I love you.
The scent of you
draws me near.

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