Alma Rolfs – Poems

Poems written by Jeremy's mother, Alma Rolfs:

 

Preface

Through Your Eyes

Bungi Jump

Carp Diem

The Rescue

Walking

 

Preface

Dear Jeremy,

I have been writing poems for you.

 

Long ago I read in

“The Death of a Nobody”

that final death occurs

when someone still on earth

has the last thought

of the one who has gone.

 

You were somebody.

 

Like the dinosaurs

who so captured your imagination

you lived, you existed,

you left your mark.

In the African kingdom of Lesotho

the national television station

exists in its design

because of you.

 

You are still somebody.

 

Other somebodies

Who have not met you

may see these poems.

You will live.

You will be known.

 

You will still be

somebody.

-Alma Rolfs

 

Through Your Eyes

Tonight, writing a poem for you,

I looked up a word

in your Sesotho-English dictionary

and a photograph fell out.

 

I see a wide, dry, golden landscape,

lone tree in the foreground,

long shadows across the grasses,

dusky mountains in the distance,

a rainbow softly dissolving.

 

Thank you Jeremy

for taking this picture,

for slipping it carelessly into a book

and forgetting, so I could find it

years later and cry

to receive such a gift:

to see the world once more

through your eyes.

-Alma Maria Rolfs
December 2002

 

Bungi Jump

Since the moment of my arrival

we’d been sparring, only half-joking

about your crazy wish to bungi jump

at Victoria Falls, finally concluding

I had no right to ask you not to do it,

you had no right to ask me to watch.

 

But of course I did, and still can,

since for one hundred American dollars

you got not only to throw yourself

upside down off the bridge

between Zambia and Zimbabwe,

plunging over the gorge the rocks

the rushing Zambezi river,

suspended between life and death

merely by rubber bands

attached to your boots –

but to keep it on videotape.

 

After the jump, the slow swaying ascent,

you bought a dark green T-shirt with

“Bungi, 111 metres, Victoria Falls, Africa”

modestly embroidered on one sleeve.

I wear it. And sometimes when

dark relentless mind seeks

to fill the gap between laughing

together in the little rented car

and waking out of blackness

to hospital lights and strange faces

telling me you “didn’t make it”

 

I wrench away to see instead

your strong young body

freeze-framed forever, bravely

hurling itself toward the horizon.

I hear you yodeling in pure wordless

bodily pleasure, the boundless

exhiliration of plunging but not hitting

bottom, conquering gravity,

bouncing on air above the gorge

the rocks the river.

And I am glad you did it.

 

Carp Diem

For Jeremy, who seized it

 

In the forest preserve the river has flooded its banks.

Ponds of brown, ice-skinned water fill the dips

and valleys where spongy earth can absorb no more.

 

The paths are streams, the leafless trees emerge dreamlike,

ringed with graying mud from pools of sludge

where melting snow joined with river-flood,

 

leaving on the forest floor a few thin creeks and great bowls

of slushy dirty water awaiting transformation,

to evaporate softly into spring, or ooze to soggy ground.

 

Suddenly we see it, a flash brilliant as fire in the center

of a pool of sodden dun-colored mud, a solitary carp,

glowing like igneous rock at the earth’s core,

 

not knowing it is trapped, can never swim back,

can never leap to safety over dried earth, broken sticks

and fallen branches, can never return to the mother-flow.

 

With a glance we understand, you step in, groping,

searching through debris, a rusty can, a paper cup,

you try and try with branches, fallen winter-dried leaves,

 

Your stripped-bare legs breaking thin ice, shivering,

Bare hands reaching, the fish slithering away, hiding

deeper and deeper in the sludge, desperate, until finally

 

you have it, wrapped in mud-soaked young man’s jacket

now held tight against your chest, you are running barefoot

over rocks and logs and branches, the dogs suddenly

 

leaping after you, chasing splashing joyfully behind you

through muddy water to the high swift-running river,

to freedom, to life, the captured carp instantly

 

swimming away, that stupid, beautiful, fiery golden fish

simply swimming away and never knowing what we know:

that you loved its life, and fought for life, and won.

-Alma Maria Rolfs

November 2002

 

The Rescue

February 1985

 

“What was that?!”

But even before

the words had leapt

unbidden from my lips

or the dark blur streaked

the edge of my vision

I knew

 

that squawking

sound of terror

that harsh repeating cry

was a captured bird

 

watched hunted tracked

pounced upon

and swiftly brought indoors

by Joe-the-cat, long-legged,

small-headed smart-aleck Joe,

shiny black lap-sized panther

living in our house.

 

Rushing shouting after him

with relief we saw

the small tight zipper-mouth

release its hold –

felt the thrum of beating wings

the sudden feather-fall

the frenzied urgency

of the captured cardinal’s flight,

staggering through motionless air,

window to closed window,

wall to solid wall.

It seemed forever.

At last, plunging

through the curtain folds,

it made a shuddering fall,

hopped out of sight.

 

And then the rescue:

my almost grownup son,

your young expansive hands

– half boy’s, half man’s –

closing with firm and

infinitely tender strength

around that frantic

beating heart.

 

Purposeful as a pioneer

making his way west

you marched

with your delicate charge

through the open door

and beyond.

 

For a breathless moment

you were fused:

time pausing

bird and boy

absolutely still

under the lamplight

surrounded by snow

your arm straight out

the trembling creature

poised unbound

on your steady

open palm –

then a wild and pure

diagonal to heaven –

and the crimson bird

was gone.

 

From the door I saw

your happiness explode

like winter fireworks

your arms flung upward to the sky

I thought whole flocks of birds

might spring from your open fingers

and fly soaring

toward the stars.

 

Leaping and prancing

your exuberant feet grow wings,

scatter diamonds in the snow,

feather the crystal air

with exclamation points

of light. My own heart

swelling like a bird’s,

love crowding my throat,

blurring my view

of you and the lamp

and the snowlit night,

in this luminous moment

your freedom dance

of pride and joy is for me

as miraculous

as flight.

 

Walking

Still in shock and tears they told stories,

your Peace Corps friends gathering

to comfort each other, comfort your father,

haggard from grief and sleeplessness

and travel, while I lay in a South African hospital,

trapped in traction and a merciful morphine haze.

 

Laughing and crying they told stories

of your humor, your perseverance,

your selflessness and generosity,

your famous “to do” lists marked “done”,

the people and animal photos all over

your walls, your laughable attempts

at baking, the yeasty muffins exploding

in the oven, the dinosaurs on your desk.

At the Christmas party, dancing, you had

exclaimed “I’ve never been happier!”

Someone thought we might hear one day

your voice on the wind as she still heard

her beloved brother’s voice – you

reminded her of him. Your father

told your story: the murdered sweetheart,

the long journey through darkness,

the need to bring good out of evil.

They had not known. When a friend

confessed her fear of loving and losing again,

you had replied: “If you truly love,

love is never wasted.” Another, stumbling

and choking on tears, recalled turning to you

so discouraged he was ready to leave.

“Going on,” you told him, “is like

learning to walk with an artificial leg.

It’s not you, it feels all wrong, but you put it on

anyway, you lean on it, it holds you up,

and little by little it works and then

one day you realize you’re walking.”

 

I remember your first walk outdoors

after her death, hunched in your black

overcoat, the fear lying thick as vaseline

upon your skin. Later we walked in the woods

through a dozen changing seasons.

Gradually, you talked, you opened

again to music, you took pictures at the zoo,

you traveled to see your sister,

recorded it all in sounds and images,

you photographed the world once more.

Animal images reappeared on your

childhood walls, as they had when you

were ten, before Dr. Who and the rock stars.

Prehistoric reptiles crowded your shelves,

dolphins swayed above your desk, where

you sat endlessly writing poems, stories, letters,

the final college paper it took three years to

complete. More often, you left your door open.

You refused to eat anything “raised to be

slaughtered.” Instead, you ate nachos in bed,

watched bad science fiction, laughed out loud.

Collecting dinosaurs, you explained

you needed that vast perspective, to know

in a thousand years all traces of you and Heather

and her murderer would be equally vanished.

You dreamed of the Peace Corps, applied,

went to Africa, grew ever more alive.

You told me you had never felt so young, so open.

The last sound I heard from you was laughter.

 

I’m walking, Jeremy.

I miss you always. I walk. I tell stories.

Held together with metal bars and screws

my body learned to move again,

to see me through. Following you,

I strive to truly live.

With every step I am sustained

by images of you.