Roger’s eyes were expressive, perhaps the only windows to his soul outside of his poetry. Few words spoken, fewer feelings shared. But he made his presence known. Until he could not.
I remember his easy smile, the sway as he walked, the lean of his body, fingers twirling the red ponytail behind his ball cap, stained with the sweat of summer and the challenge of life itself.
On this day, Saturday, March 19, I join many others who gather to say goodbye — his mom, his brother, and his greater family of friends who have never forgotten despite the passing of time. And his son. Jhett, a boy of 4 when I last saw him, is now twentysomething and about to graduate from college. Philosophy, he said, when I asked about his major. When his Dad and I hung out, Edie Brickell sang that philosophy is the talk on a cereal box.
What I am…here — standing before Roger’s son, a young man with the same present eyes, the same easy smile and the same lean of the body — is empty. I want to sit down and learn everything there is to know about the past 15-plus years since I last saw him and his dad, since those of us here all buried his mom and I moved up north away from Missouri, away from the sadness that lingered in the muggy air.
But no words come.
I listen with tears in my eyes as friends read Roger’s poems. Here in this small F.O.P. Lodge, on this dark, rainy night of the supermoon, I hear Roger’s voice in my head, and I see him in my memory, reading to us once again. It is now, in this moment, when I feel the sting of pain and allow the sadness to rise from the depths where I stuffed it away so many years ago.
Many of us sit here wearing white baseball caps in his honor, not Detroit Tigers caps, but ones emblazoned with a blue Old English “R,” the back of the cap reading: The Poet Roger Kirschbaum, 1962-2011.
It still hurts as I read one of my favorite poems of his, “Cycles — for the Buddha,” in which Roger writes:
“…When the earth has watched the labor of seasons
roll our deeds up against
the weight of consequence
we’ll once again accept the pain,
into another lifetime
thankful for a chance
to love our sisters and brothers
as we should have loved them
too many lives ago.”
That love, between him and all of his friends, was too fleeting. I understand the reflex to walk away when the emotions get too strained, so as to not disrupt the status quo. I walked away silently from most of the people in this room long before Roger sensed the end, spending his final days in Oregon, his liver no longer able to cope with the iron that once kept him strong.
Walking away, and staying silent, are carved in my family tree, as well. I sit here now, about to move away from Minnesota, wondering how it feels to live in one place all of your life.