Posted by: Peadar Ban | January 7, 2011

My Dead Friend

MY DEAD FRIEND
(For P.F.D., 1942-2011)

Wood carried by on the back of a truck
Horizontal.  Dead wood on a truck’s back,
A truck’s bed, a trailer carrying wood
Laid out, laid down, dead, speeding by, bound
Where I don’t know, factory, furnace, mill;
Dead wood, driven wood, logs laid out
Dead like my dead friend.

No leaves wave and weave on a windy night
Whisper in slight breeze or roar in wild gale.
No branches lace their limbs, trace thin streaks
Against faint moonlight.  No living things
Sing or swing or glide high or hide themselves
Behind now toppled trunks riding side by side
Dead like my dead friend.

Wood burns.  So will he to ash be burned.

Wood sings when plucked and played
Pounded, blown into or over, wood
Sings songs of silent stands
In valleys, by river banks, mountain sides.
Alive my dead friend sang before he died,
But dead wood hides in the walls we build
Patient stands like our fences still
Keeping in, keeping away, marking what will
Be separate; in and this, from out and that

Until they die like my dead friend
Who built his fence
And built his walls
And sang and died.

His cold gray ashes soon will lie
In the grave by his mother’s side
To wait the day when wood and world
And ash and dust re-knit will rise
To weave and wave on windy nights,
To sing and glide
Among the woods alive.

peg
January 7, 2011

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Responses

  1. ‘Tis a small world, Peter.

    I actually met Peter Dolan once, but just long enough to shake his hand and have a word or two with him. I can’t believe it was 40 years ago; it was 1971 and I was 13 or 14. Peter had come to San Francisco to screen the film, Song O’ My Heart, John McCormack’s sole starring cinematic effort. Several years previous I had discovered my grandparents’ and parents’ 78 rpm record collection, which was very heavy on McCormack selections. I fell under the spell of the elegant and expressive tenor and became obsessed, in the way young people can become obsessed about music. I collected his records and read everything I could find and became something of an expert, if not a scholar, myself.

    Song O’ My Heart had long been thought to be lost, so when I discovered that it was extant and that I would actually have a chance to see it, I was thrilled. My Mom and I went to the screening, which was meagerly attended. I was easily the youngest person there — by a decade or two — but I expected that. Nevertheless, it was a lovely evening. I remember Peter gave a little talk about the film and about McCormack’s art before the showing. It was encouraging to know that there were other aficionados of McCormack out there; in the days before the Internet it was hard to find people who shared one’s minority tastes. I thanked Peter for bringing the film to San Francisco and for helping to preserve the work of the great McCormack. But I was young and shy and didn’t think to get an address or number so that I could keep in touch with him.

    A few weeks later, I found a gatefold LP soundtrack album of Song O My Heart at the Tower Records store. I gathered my coins together and snatched it up. On the back cover I read that the rights were owned by the John McCormack Society of Greater Kansas City, which was connected with Peter Dolan. There was no address, but my Mom called long distance information (that was an extravagance back then) to get one, and with that in hand, I wrote to the Society. I wrote to them twice, but never heard back. Perhaps the ramblings of a 14 year old goof weren’t too intriguing, or maybe the letters just never made it into the right hands. Anyway, it is a shame I never got together with Peter on the Internet, where it would have been so easy. It would have been great fun to have discussions about the kind of McCormack minutiae that only another nut like me would care about. And I would have loved to have hoisted a jar with him and shared a song or two at a seisiún. Ah, the missed opportunities.

    I will pray for him, Peter. And, I’ll spin a few records for him too. Nearer My God To Thee would be appropriate, and I’ve always loved Mac’s recording from Christ on the Mount of Olives. Another beauty is Hymn to Christ the King – arguably the most high-fidelity recording McCormack ever made. For Irish songs, maybe The Snowy Breasted Pearl and My Lagan Love. And for opera, Tu che a dio spiegasti, one of Mac’s most underrated recordings — such a splendid legato combined with urgent passion; it is near perfection.

    I trust that Peter and Great John are in Neamh now, with Mac letting loose his hearty laugh, and maybe offering a few wee tips to Peter on the singing. Now that’s heaven!

    Your poem is a lovely memorial, Peter. You have the power of the pen indeed and have served your friend well.

    In Christ,

    Kevin D’Arcy


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