Poem for Craig

I wrote this poem when my great pal, Craig Walker, passed away in the summer of 2007. I was on vacation in the Adirondacks when I heard, and I carried those feelings for the rest of the week. In many respects, it was probably the best circumstance for me. We stayed in a cabin on a quiet lake, took long hikes and solitary kayak trips, built fires, read books, breathed deep. And while there, shaken by the news, I wrote this poem. It’s been stuck in my computer ever since. Well, we recently passed the first anniversary of Craig’s death and I still find myself “trying to remember everything.”

THE GREAT BLUE

for D. Craig Walker

I stopped sleeping through the night
after I got the message from Holly,
“Call me,” and I knew

I am awake in the Adirondacks
a pulsing dark pushes through the porch screens
and I’m trying to remember
everything

—–

out on the water there is comfort
the dip of a paddle in the lake
like two fingers in holy water
the presence of something we can’t name

you once said the best thing Mark Twain
ever did was to get Huck out on the water
that whole symbolic spiritual/psychological everyplace
and it is here I find myself on the sixth morning
now that I’ve grown accustomed to this new loss
my body adjusted to the weight of it, the heft of it,
the heave-ho of hauling around a heavy heart

I come upon a Great Blue Heron
the solitary predator at the edge of the marsh
prowling the muck, I drift very close
its physical shape I see as a musical note
how the green legs collapse like folding chairs
the S of the neck, the plumed head cockeyed
the Great Blue drives a spear into the water
comes up with a fish crosswise & swallows
I push away at last, return to the cabin
knowing I’ll see you again in my sleep

—–

you should have become a wise old man
you should have hung around
it is all we ever craved from you,
more time, we could never get enough
of you

with you it was the pleasure of good conversation
as simple as that, the fine art of shooting the shit
‘till the shit was shot and the cigarettes smoked
the uncanny prolonged aerial back-and-forthness of it
like a game of catch — the ball just flew!
as Roger Angell writes, “never touching the ground”

—–

and so we set out on our final night
my daughter my wife and I
we three on slender craft & crazy hope
to find again the Great Blue
on the vast impossible lake
we paddle out

I want them to feel what I can’t explain
the near clarity of that wild creature
but we turn back,
the lateness of the hour
the press of things not yet done,
the coming dark

on our return
it swoops overhead
hugs the shore
& alights not fifty yards away
like an honor bestowed
a gift offered
one last chance

and so softly we narrow the distance
draw closer
but something in its eye flickers
a movement, the wind kicking up
perhaps a distant calling, who knows,
and it rises again
on those great gray wings
aloft & gone & full of grace
and we try to remember
everything

2 comments

  1. Susan White says:

    I, too, was a great friend of Craig’s. I live in Kansas City and worked with him at Hallmark. I count him among my most treasured friends and keep his picture close at hand. Still. Our friendship, too, was unique and powerful. As you wrote, there are no doubt many of us. Just today I came across a paper copy that I have kept of the Scholastic announcement in the NYT. D. Craig Walker 1944-2007 Brilliant publisher, cherished friend and colleague, and the man who made us laugh until we cried.
    Your poem, The Great Blue, is very beautiful. What a pleasure to come upon it.
    What a pleasure to think about Craig. Thank you.
    Susan White.

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