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Spring Grief: A Tribute to Gerry Loose

Image courtesy of the author.

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Philip Larkin

it’d be good to be
smelling buddleia
when the time

Gerry Loose

In April and May, my mind and body bend toward plants—nursing them on a south-facing windowsill at home, before transferring them into a small plastic greenhouse on our allotment and, when they’re ready, carefully bedding them in the warming soil, enriched by homemade compost. Little feathery four-leaved beings: kale, chard, cosmos, and sunflowers, in need of protection from the cold, birds, and slugs. It won’t do to cosset them too much though; they need to be exposed to life’s roughness to some degree or they won’t grow strong. At home, I regularly ruffle them with my fingers, like the wind would, and turn them so that they have to curve the other way toward the sunlight. And I roll up the door to the greenhouse. Even so, once out in the open, probably less than half of the seedlings will make it, and years of gardening have taught me to adopt an attitude of optimism mixed with canniness and an acceptance of impermanence. I think of them every day.

No such care is necessary for the mature trees I am lucky to see from the window and which I commune with on my way to the allotment. Irrepressibly, they are bursting into leaf again, inducing cheerfulness and the desire to celebrate. May is my birth month and under the light-filled canapé of guileless green, death might seem the last thing to contemplate. But right in the midst of all this unblemished splendor, our friend, the poet Gerry Loose, died of a heart attack while out walking his dog in the woods on the isle of Bute. I like to think that he smelled bluebells, if not buddleia. The lines at the start of this article are from his poetry collection, fault line (Vagabond Voices 2014), which is inspired, if that is the right word, by the Faslane nuclear submarine station at Gare Loch in Scotland.

Gerry Loose. From vagabondvoices.co.uk

Another friend, Alec Finlay, wrote:

Gerrys work, as a poet and artist, was concerned with healing, justice, and the practice of radical kindness. He touched so many lives, as friend, mentor, encourager, and exemplar of the true good life, embodiment of the dharma gadelica. Together with his partner Morven, Gerry made real the tradition of the Japanese hut poets, sharing, growing, mending, laughing, living hutopianism, and writing with profound respect for nature. He was also a gardener, devoted to wildness, and an innovator, devoted to tradition.’

(Day of Access)

Gerry was one of the oldest friends of Sukhema, my husband, and it was very moving to witness his grief. He went to the hut that they shared to write a “last letter to Gerry.” In it, he wrote:

. . . And now? Now you’ve been dead nearly two weeks. And now I’m sitting at the table looking out to the apple trees you planted for your children and grandchildren, trees tilting towards the light. All green and long grass. The gunnera is coming back to a life you’ll not know. Not now. The new stove waits by the table to be installed, and always so much more to do in and around this Unfinished Hut. . . .

 I have a million memories and a filing cabinet full of spells. . . .

What have I left unsaid to you dear brother Gerry, now I can say anything and you can’t argue back? I can’t remember when we last argued or what we argued about. We did argue, sometimes just for the fun of it, taking the piss out of any sign of pretentiousness. No, I’m not going to take your flesh and bones to a mountain top. I know this was our promise.  Were we serious? Probably. It wasn’t a joke. We liked how the Tibetans disposed of dead humans. There are not enough birds of prey in Scotland to do the job. . . .

Gerry was one of my husband’s poetry mentors and collaborators and I hear him in this poem by Sukhema (aka Larry Butler):

Peace

              I’m nobody who are you
              are you nobody too?

                                                          Emily Dickinson

Doing nothing being nobody lying on the grass
beneath an old ash tree ravaged by winds and disease
with white clouds floating across the blue beyond

bird songs and the ever-rolling river filling the air
and cars too and dogs chasing balls being nobody
doing nothing in the sun    in the shadows    alone

What more could anyone want than this spring day
with a blackbird nearby eating bugs or worms 
and the sitka pine growing imperceptibly taller

and the love of being nobody doing nothing useful – 
just writing this as if the world will never end
as if there were peace in the Middle East      as if

being somebody      could make all the difference

Gerry, Sukhema, Alec Finlay, and countless other poets and artists face the many areas of social injustice and willful destruction of life on earth, while staying committed to creating lines of beauty. Their poems and lives are gifts that sustain us. This morning, when looking for the frilly heads of the baby carrots I planted out among the onions, which were supposed to put off the slugs, I couldn’t find a single one—they were razed to the ground. The Gaza Strip a heap of rubble. Global warming accelerating faster than predicted. And a good friend expecting her first baby.

This spring brings it home more than ever: We must tend to our grief, our fears and our outrage, using whatever means we have, artistic or otherwise, in order to live fully. And we must stay connected with each other, love each other, aware of the preciousness of this time we have together. Thank you, Gerry, for being so indomitable in your pursuit of the poet’s way.

believing

tomorrow will come –

all go to sleep

Gerry Loose

See more

in memoriam Gerry Loose (Day of Access)
Gerry Loose (Vagabond Voices)

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Small Losses and Great Grief

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