Giving Thanks: My Friend John Peslak
Tell me it’s not creeping Alzheimer’s, not encroaching old age and weepy sentimentality for that which won’t come again. Isn’t it okay at Thanksgiving to take a longer look back and be grateful? And laugh? And . . . okay, maybe remove my glasses and pretend to rub something from the corners of my eyes?
A couple of weeks ago, the Hardin-Simmons Cowboys’ Head Soccer coach Dan Heger came up to me at noon in the HSU Fitness Center to talk about John Peslak. Dan was a student here when I was a new faculty member, when John was also new. Dan was the star goalkeeper for the HSU soccer team. He was drafted to play for the San Diego professional soccer team (I think I’m remembering this correctly) and left HSU before graduating. Dan later returned to finish his degree. Like all of John Peslak’s students, Dan reveres John for what he taught about being attuned to the Mystery of life, its beauty and grace.
Dan mentioned the short narrative I sent the Hardin-Simmons faculty and staff back in September when I was inviting the faculty to share their stories in the Light Standard. This was the scene in which I cracked the “Shoeless Joe Jackson” bat in spite of John’s warning against my laughing at the likely consequences he believed I always chose to ignore. Dan told me he had adapted for his soccer players one of Dr. Peslak’s mystical, spiritual stories—the story John told about playing centerfield in high school and making the greatest catch his coach had ever seen.
John was in shallow center when the batter hit a rising line-drive that John immediately knew would be over his head, so he turned and looking straight ahead, ran full-out for the centerfield wall. About twenty strides from colliding with the wall, John extended his glove arm and rose into the air as if he were winged. The ball fit perfectly in the webbing of the glove. At this point in his story, John would pause, and in a reverent voice, say an angel had told him to raise his glove. John never saw the ball. He trusted the angel.
I told Dan, yes, I knew the story. It was my favorite of all John’s narratives. I worked the scene into a poem I wrote after John died in August, 2002.
for John Peslak
Even as the small and thin were rubbing sticks
and banging rocks to see if what they didn’t yet know
as fire would leap into the dried twigs and crusted leaves,
and warm them like the light and sometimes in the dark
the women, there was one who walked out from the cave
into the snow and rain and wind carrying scent of bear
and wolf and fox, lifting a human mane of black hair
flaring in the rising gale, riding this sound felt and heard
and seen only by the one who spoke the names hawk and eagle.
Not for him the stick figures on damp clay walls,
the two-dimensional renderings of running through forest
with sharpened stick and rock and later bow and stick
with feathers, later sitting atop the horse like a god.
This one who moved at ease along the edge of rock
roared with angry, joyous waters, laid an ear to the belly
of earth and listened. Owl and elk and red-tailed hawk.
He saw and touched, walking as if to move were a gift
and temporary, a dream to be sung to those who could only
carve the song into walls, knowing they were blessed
by the singing.
He is the one standing in shallow center field
waiting for the crack of ash, hearing in that sound
the voice of wind moving through tops of ancient
pines and oak, the whisper of tall grass, the rush
of water tumbling over water, and turning his back
to the others contained within the geometric progression
from home to home, is running like no cave dweller
could ever believe, running to arrive at that point
where rising from the earth, glove arm stretched high
as if a signal for the downbeat of wings, he makes the catch
and continues in flight . . . no limits here, no time,
no lines drawn in chalk, nothing but the song, the story,
the maker of stories.
Fink, Robert A. “Shaman.” Tracking The Morning (Poems). San Antonio: Wings Press, 2005. 78-79. Print.