Friday, February 14, 2014

Scream Coy At Wandering Walls (A Gift That Lasts)

Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words. --Plautus

It’s Valentine’s Day, and three years ago on this holiday, I got the greatest gift a person can ever get ... a wonderful baby girl. This past week as my wife and I picked out several gifts for our daughter, everything seemed to fall short. Sure when she opened her presents, she was amused by the toy and loved the book and looked adorable in the new outfit, but what’s really memorable about any of it? (I’m being philosophical here because, of course, she’s still too young to remember—or really appreciate—it anyway.) It’s just something that has been on my mind, brought forward by the gift that my nephew Kyle Knapp had sent to Ava on her birthday last year ... a poem. A very special poem.

“For Ava” arrived in an email with a pithy note that offered no glimpse into the lasting lines that followed. In a very humble and almost apologetic tone, he wrote, “Hey David, I'm broke as shit, but I wrote Ava a poem. Tried to call you guys. –Kyle”

For Ava

And of course, hooray!
Held for us in somber halls
With seldom cheer
In horrid weather,
Still, and so, we’re unimaginably happy!

We can break down to dance
We can scream coy at wandering walls
(Like the impression of you I cherish the most)

The tables are kicked out
And the joy is all around,
Smeared with everything in the universe that’s colored in crayons

And we’re all so wrapped in wonder, or bliss
That life ponders,
And wonders why
The asterisk of the bower
Doesn’t spell out your name
In crude italics

I think we’ll be friends
In fact, I’ve seen it...
If crazy old men can sometimes imagine the future
We’ll go swimming, and share our dreams at breakfast
And reframe the pictures,
That first cast me and your father.

I’m poor!
And strangled and held still!
But I hope that on your birthday,
Since I can’t offer you a real present
You’ll remember my words.

Love you kiddo,

I look back at my response that now seems so … ordinary. I wrote: AWESOME! Denise said "how sweet!" Means a lot, Kyle. Thank you. That was special. ~David

I’m glad I capped “awesome” and added my wife’s heartfelt sentiment but it was written by a tired traveler who was once again on the road for another job assignment. I would probably network on the Internet for an hour after dinner and then go to bed. So the full weight of his gift—in the moment—remained largely unrecognized. His email arrived at 7:14 pm that night and I’m grateful at least I spotted it right away and sent that thank you eleven minutes later. When you have lost someone, sobering experience has taught me, the tiniest of details can bring the largest amount of comfort.

Since I can’t offer you a real present

Words meant a great deal to my nephew, bordering on the spiritual. As a writer, I can’t think of a better present to offer. Words. Distinctive. Sharp. Memorable. Of all the Christmas, birthday, and other gifts I have received and given over the years, what really stands out? I can think of a handful: the prayer my dad had handwritten on the occasion of, I believe, my 8th birthday, the entire set of Hardy Boys books for Christmas in 1980 that skyrocketed my interest in reading (and that Kyle would borrow twenty plus years later and contribute to his own tutelage); the home shared from my in-laws after the loss of ours; and this past Christmas, the sweatshirts adorned with Kyle’s verses.

This is not to say gifts purchased with careful affection aren’t or can’t be special. It just seems too easy to forget that often the best gifts are those crafted from the hands and heart of another—the ones that don’t have the sticky remnants of a once-attached price tag. Kyle’s poem—a “rhythmical creation of beauty in words” as defined by Poe—to Ava, well, it will be remembered long past any present he could have bought. A very real present, and I’m sure in time, Ava will come to appreciate his words just as I do.


Smeared with everything in the universe that’s colored in crayons

Aside from our contribution in keeping Walt Disney solvent with our purchases for Ava’s birthday this year, I pulled out a piece of construction paper, and with her mom’s help we drew a picture of our house and happy family. Denise sketched the home because she’s pretty good at that, and I took care of the sun with beaming rays and trees, which I’m not so good at, but I can make it resemble the intended. Artists we’re not! The drawing’s not much, but, then again, it’s everything. And Ava loved it, deciding which stick figure is Daddy, which one is Mommy, and which one is her. And knowing her great ability in using childhood imagination, later she will take that drawing, place her little toy people on it, and have them playing with our stick figure family in the yard under the trees.

Kyle would have been endeared by Ava’s imagination. When he had replied to my email, he'd certainly made use of his … I smile at his offbeat sense of humor and give him the last word:

I'm glad that you guys liked the poem, it’s all I could think of to do. It’s definitely a bit rough drafty. I want to discuss this novel I'm writing at some point. I'm on chapter 4 and I'm pretty confident that I can get through a full length piece this time. Maybe you can sell the s--- out of it and we can both retire, dig a moat around the property and fill it with exotic sea-dangers (like an octopus or something).

Best thoughts,


Dyer Wilk said...

That's a wonderful poem, David.

Glad to see you and the family enjoyed this special day.

David Cranmer said...

That we did, Dyer. And because kids love snow the gods rewarded with 17 inches of the white stuff. Snowmen, tunnels, and castles came to life. Yep, a good day.

Ron Scheer said...

Not just words, but chosen words. That is the gift of the poet. (Happy Birthday, Ava!)

Charles Gramlich said...

A gift of self.

David Cranmer said...

Ron/Charles, Amen.

A Cuban In London said...

What a beautiful poem, mate. You made my evening! :-)

Greetings from London.

Mates said...

What I love about this poem is that my son realized for the first time what a wonder a child can be. He was amazed at his own feelings. This is both a joy and a sadness to me. Thanks David for the post and bringing such a beautiful amazing gift into the world, Ava Elyse Cranmer!
Love you.

David Cranmer said...

Thank you, London! I'm glad it left an impression and I appreciate you stopping by.

Mates, I'm so appreciative that he took the time to make this special, enduring gift. I was reading Celebrations in the Ossuary this morning as I worked on the novel and "The Greatest Loss" jumped out at me again. The way he summed up his friend's life was nothing short of amazing. And with "For Ava" he has a similar accomplishment. This wonderful moment in time.

Oscar said...

A saddening but very uplifting poem. As Ava grows and matures, you'll be pleasantly surprised with what she remembered.

David Cranmer said...

I'm glad to hear that, Oscar. It would be nice for her to remember him.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

David, thanks for this lovely and touching post. I enjoyed reading about your baby girl and Kyle's wonderful poem for her. An affirmation that families are the most important thing in life.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Gosh, David. So touching. May every little girl have an uncle who writes a poem for her. So sad.

David Cranmer said...

Prashant, And sometimes we don't comprehend how important families are until its too late... or maybe we do, but the wrong cards were dealt.

Patti, Kyle was her cousin. but, yes, every little girl or boy should have such a caring relative. And one that frames the memory in such poignant and lovely words.

Sarah Laurence said...

Happy birthday to Ava! Your nephew gave her the best gift. I love that line: "Smeared with everything in the universe that’s colored in crayons." Talent must run in the family. Lucky girl!

David Cranmer said...

One of my favorite lines in the poem, Sarah. And thank you for the kind words.

Sheila Grimes said...

Just got up here and read your post, gosh ... brings so many emotions to the surface. Beautiful poem my Kyle...Love His Aunt Texas!