“Who Can I Turn To?”

“Who would you call in the middle of the night
if you were sick or afraid?” *

Shankar Vedantam’s question is mostly responsible for my mood this morning. You already know I’m up at 4:00 a.m. with my cup of coffee, dark chocolate, and Lucy curled up on her Orvis dog bed beside my writing table. And of course I’m writing in my Moleskine turquoise notebook, with my Blackwing 602 pencil. And by now you know I’m delaying sharing, confessing my mood, my maudlin, sentimental journey back, almost always back, to times and people I’ve lost or am losing, sometimes having said goodbye or just watched the person I love slip away. You also know I could not write “love” any other hour of the day, the night’s mist having lifted, and I’m almost (almost) ashamed what put me in this embarrassing mood is my having asked Alexa (Amazon Echo Dot) to play jazz pianist Beegie Adair and her trio’s interpretation of Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” And if that’s not enough, I can always feed my nostalgia habit with Ms. Adair’s “Autumn Leaves,” “Misty,” “Moon River,” “Over The Rainbow,” “Laura,” “As Time Goes By,” “Always On My Mind,” and “Unforgettable.”

And here’s what I have come to discover about why I started writing these Posts as if I’m posting letters to you, not like my forty-two-plus years of working on multiple drafts of poems to submit to literary journals and poetry-book editors in hopes of publication because that’s what we now-retired university creative-writing professors did to swell our vitas, secure tenure, and pretend people would actually read our poems.  And we would never, ever, have considered submitting such tearful soul barings as this, my post, my call to you in the middle of the night.


So who could have known I would be so comfortable in retirement that I could write you in my early dark, easing up close and asking, “Will you be my friend?”–what I have often used as the punchline to why poets mail out envelopes of poems to editors whose answer is, “No!” But not always.

Shankar’s October 14, 2019, NPR episode of Hidden Brain helped me understand why I’m not lost in retirement, why my Posts tease me into believing my baring heart and soul is good for me and, I tell myself, for you. Here is what Shankar said: “The researchers [those studying how ‘relationships can be both energizing in a positive way and calming when we’re stressed’] found that the happiest people in retirement are those who actively work to replace colleagues with friends.”

My new friends are the workers and the men, women, and, sometimes, children who gather Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the noontime meal at the City Light Mission. This is not to say I don’t miss my colleagues and students at the university, so I just now asked Alexa to play Beegie Adair’s “The Days of Wine and Roses,” and my mood’s more upbeat (the sun is also rising) even though this week I have grieved (I still cannot say “wept”) for university friends who feel metaphorically cast out on the street like my friends lined up for lunch at City Light, more than half laughing at their fate, knowing they have each other three meals each week, knowing the other half will be comforted or at least allowed to be sad and hurting together.

So now I’m requesting “If Ever I Would Leave You,” and you know the answer: “Oh, no, not in springtime, summer, winter, or fall. / No, never could I leave you at all.”

* from Shankar Vedantam’s October 14, 2019, NPR episode of Hidden Brain