What impressed me most about Jason was his ability to live the conviction that Wallace Stevens posited about poetry’s capacity to serve the same function as religion. As William Carlos Williams said, “While it is difficult to get the news from poetry men die miserable deaths everyday from lack of what is found in its pages.”
Jason Shinder’s death, as tragic as it may have been, was not miserable. Until the day he died he worked tirelessly on the anthology. I learned as much from him as disciples learned from Jesus. When Death slapped him around he turned the other cheek and recited a poem like this one:
When the doctor inserts his two fingers
into my mother’s rectum, the pupils of her eyes
move like blue-fish under the ice in a bucket
before they are carried away.
I am climbing out of a well and offering her some water.
I am picking up her body which weighs
less than her clothes, when the doctor rubs his fingers
against the swollen tissue of her small intestine
like the torn blouse of a lover.
Already the air on her lips is like bread crumbs.
Already the white bones of her skull soften.
Already the moon is sticking out of her left eye.
I am hiding in the right ear of my mother.
I am running like a criminal through the streets of her body
trying to return everything I ever stole.
What I love about this poem, besides its transparency and sentiment, is Jason’s ability to enter into his mother’s body in an effort to convey his love for her. “I am hiding in the right ear of my mother…trying to return everything I ever stole.” He honors two commandments in one poem. He honors his parents and returns the goods he stole from them, another example of the efficacy of poetry to serve as religion.
Four years ago today my father passed away. He was a great man, larger than I’ll ever be even though he stood four inches shorter than me. It was Jason’s poem that inspired me to write the poems in my book, Swimming From Under My Father. And so today, I was reflecting on them both and wondering when they’d visit my dreams again as they often do.
When they do I pray I’ll have the wherewithal to enter their dream bodies, return the things I stole and share a line or two of poetry. I owe them both so much it’s the least I can do.