'/> Uncommon Hours: 'Elegy for Francis': One Year Later
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Friday, February 10, 2012

'Elegy for Francis': One Year Later

Francis David Sommer
May 12, 1983 - February 11, 2011
  Elegy for Francis
(On the first anniversary of his death, February 11, 2012)
Bob Sommer

In the tangle of cottonwoods along the stream,
I discover, after standing a moment to watch,
the subtle movement of quiet life within the nettled branches,
barren now in February, the month when you were lost.

Nothing is right with this scene.
February should be cold, but it’s not.
A tepid chill, as if winter could not
make up its mind to be cold, as if
it got lost among the wars and disasters
that are now the season of our lives.

A year with neither flow nor rhythm―
we laughed without joy and wept in sorrow so deep
it altered our very nature, transformed us
into new and unfamiliar beings, strangers to ourselves,
like winter, which is no longer itself,
changed forever from the season we knew,
into a volatile thing, frightening in its mildness,
harsh & oppressive when it is cold.

One could pass the gray cottonwood grove in full stride
& never notice the dark-eyed juncos and
black-capped chickadees flitting among the branches,
or the rustle of squirrels and rabbits in the dry leaves,
but they’re there, sometimes gone before
I spot the place they were, so well do they blend into
the impenetrable jumble of boughs and branches,

As you are, some days, when the flash of your
silhouette appears across a room or in a passing car,
and my pulse quickens & I shudder
with a terrifying rush of hope
that dissolves before it becomes itself, the thing it is,
like winter, which is here but not here,
present, yet absent. This is how we suffer,
in the presence of your absence, the winter that isn’t winter,
for what will spring be without ice and snow,
without deep and lasting cold to preserve the life that must sleep,
or signal to others, those bluebirds and finches I’ve seen,
that they don’t belong here now and should be gone?

Farther on, along the path, the glare
from the pond as the sun rises
is nearly blinding. A gaggle of geese glides
over unfrozen water, which ripples in countless
starry flashes of light—false light
that should reflect from crystalline snow and gray ice―
so the geese appear in silhouette too,
cardboard cutouts of themselves. (Why are they still here?)

I’d like to tell you how the shimmering light
and graceful motion of geese on the water
offer the promise of hope, of a new beginning,
or maybe inspire a serene spiritual image
to lift my mood and liven my step;
oh, but that’s too maudlin for you, too sentimental;
too laden with the phony glow of a Hallmark movie―
soul-candy, I’d call it. You’d like that.

No, your ‘spirit’ inhabits us in surer ways,
in memories we keep, stories we tell;
in the new people we’ve become
by knowing you in this new way.
We keep you with us as the cottonwood grove
keeps the quiet life within, the rustlings
and flittings, the persistent flow of change,
as seasons change, not from one to another,
but each within themselves.

You taught me to hear the earth breathe,
and so it does, & so do we, with you
to sustain us as life persists. Through us
you live; as we breathe so do you, quietly,
as you inhabit this strange and awful
winter of our lives.

© Bob Sommer 2012
Also posted at CounterPunch

To learn more about Francis, please visit The Francis D. Sommer Memorial Fund for Homeless Veterans.

1 comment:

  1. I too 'see' Francis periodically in my day to day activities and often, smile when I think of our Pine Bush visits and later on our adventure in RMNP. Your elegy is both insightful and touching and although we're in the bleak mid-winter, it's thoughts of people like Francis and the many good folks that have had their lives touched by him that there's much to look forward to as the sun continues to rise and warm us each and every day. I will never forget my godson.