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“You Can Close Your Eyes,” to the Music

January 26, 2016


Ginger Grapevine Boise 2011

A week and a half ago, I sat next to my friend Ginger on her bed. I had my guitar. I played a few songs that came to mind, and played some noises that were not songs at all, or at least were not songs moments before I plucked them out on the strings. I sang, or at least tried to. I had to let the lyrics lapse for spans of some of the songs. My voice was cracking, faltering under the weight of sorrow and crying. Music does that.

I had not cried as much as I might have in the days after learning–coming to the understanding that Ginger was facing the last illness from which she would not get better. There have been a few moments when I cried. In private. In those moments when I could not hide in the luxury of not being on death’s doorstep myself, nor peering into a cavern of the demise of my child, mom or sister. I never cried in front of her. But in this moment, amid the music, I was losing that protective barrier.

Ginger sat with her eyes closed most of the time, smiling sometimes. She was tired. Tired not just from the breast cancer and the harsh treatments for which she had become too weak, but from a very hard life–a life that was as hard and profound as the beauty into which she had grown some years after I met her.

Tired, she asked me to lay down next to her, with the big window above her bed letting in a sunlight that washed over us–her mom in the next room, trying to stay busy in the midst of the sparse contents of Ginger’s tiny apartment before their trip. (We will have more work, I suspect, another day.) A few days earlier, Ginger told me, “I’m going to Boise to die.” She was leaving.

She had left–done some sort of leaving–so many times before, in so many ways including ones that made me think I would never see her again. This was part of her personality and a (sometimes) necessary pattern for many of her friendships. She needed to leave people and to be honest, there were a couple of times when I needed her to leave. But this was different.

She seems not afraid of leaving–to die. I am not afraid. I don’t know what I am but full of sorrow and grief. Full of regret for fate’s sake and what fate has missed. The sadness seems to be a pretty constant companion these days, for this impending loss and a couple of other sorrows. But there are a few songs that have passed through my ears and from my mouth that seem to forcefully impose a vulnerability that both the situation and my subconscious demand.

She is leaving again. Going home, as they say., to some “far-off, and half-forgotten country,” a “shy yet solemn glory, my smallness could not hold.”



There is so much more to this story, her story. So much more than even the path of 25 years on which this friendship walked. There is so much more that is so much about how we live on this planet, how we treat people on this planet, especially our girl children. So much about gender politics, families (the great and the hard parts), society, addiction, love, hate masquerading as love, mental illness, extreme beauty, superhuman strength, maybe some angry treatise on the fake rescue of well-meaning men from the soul-crushing, violent patriarchy which has risen out of the feelings of threat from powerful female bodies, minds and souls that loom over our simple male selves. Who has time for all of that? We are tired.

Ginger will be gone in a few days. I asked her to leave me her superpowers. I ask myself if I am brave enough for them. I have to be.


“Music” by Anne Porter


When I was a child

I once sat sobbing on the floor

Beside my mother’s piano

As she played and sang

For there was in her singing

A shy yet solemn glory

My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked

Why I was crying

I had no words for it

I only shook my head

And went on crying

Why is it that music

At its most beautiful

Opens a wound in us

An ache a desolation

Deep as a homesickness

For some far-off

And half-forgotten country

I’ve never understood

Why this is so

But there’s an ancient legend

From the other side of the world

That gives away the secret

Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries

We have been wandering

But we were made for Paradise

As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us

With its heavenly beauty

It brings us desolation

For when we hear it

We half remember

That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields

Their fragrant windswept clover

The birdsongs in the orchards

The wild white violets in the moss

By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it

Is the longed-for beauty

Of the One who waits for us

Who will always wait for us

In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us

And wanders where we wander.



4 Comments leave one →
  1. Beth Mathewson permalink
    January 26, 2016 11:50 am

    Powerful reflection, Clarence. I read it aloud to my John. By the end of the piece, our eyes were brimming with tears. (We are highly sensitive people and our emotions surface easily.) From what we have witnessed, you have been blessed with sufficient grace to be as brave as you need to be. Peace to you as you mourn your friend.

  2. Mary Turck permalink
    January 26, 2016 8:56 pm

    Beautiful writing and heart-wrenchingly sad. My thoughts and prayers, such as they are, go with you.

  3. Barb Rose permalink
    January 28, 2016 7:34 am

    This is very moving Clarence and the poem really stirred me up.

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