Today, April 21, 2017, is the eve of Robert’s sixteenth YEAR’S MIND, that lovely ancient church word for the anniversary of someone’s death. Gear: the Old English word for “year,” and mynd for “mind.”
Every year since he died in 2001, I revisit the countdown hours. (“Now, this evening, we are having our last meal (cheeseburgers)…”) until the Woodstock Rescue Squad arrives at 4 a.m. the next morning and moves him onto the gurney in a seated position so he can breathe. Six squad members carry him upright to the ambulance. “You look like Caesar being carried aloft on his litter,” I told him.
We had one of our worst fights in Rome, in the mid-seventies. It was so bad we almost cut the trip short and went home. I didn’t even know he was mad as we were strolling among crumpled buildings and emperor statues. Until he suddenly exploded: “I bring you to the great ruins of the world and all you can see are the CATS!”
If you want to have a strange linguistic experience, go to Tegan Blackwood’s You Tube recitation of the Old English poem, “The Ruins,” in its original language. The whole thing is mesmerizing, this shy young twenty-first century woman looking worried and introducing herself as “me,” and then drawing herself up and launching expertly into a totally other English.
Rutgers Professor Aaron Hostetter founded an ambitious program to make new translations of Old English literature, and here is the freshened opening of “The Ruin,” which is thought to be an Anglo-Saxon elegy to the Roman ruins of the city of Bath.
These wall-stones are wondrous/crumpled by calamity/these city-sites crashed/the work of giants corrupted…
In our later years, Robert Starer and I visited the ruins of Whitby Abbey and were inspired to collaborate on a chamber opera, “The Other Voice,” about the reign of Abbess Hilda and her discovery of the poetic-singing gifts of a herdsman called Caedmon. The musical score with text is published by Selah Press.
Tomorrow I will go up to the Woodstock Artists Cemetery and sit by Robert’s stone and consider mortality and even picture my bones lying under a stone next to his. Why is it comforting to know that we are all ruins in progress?
I can’t completely answer why. Ancient Rome is a ruin (still overrun by well-fed feral Roman cats), and Whitby is a beautiful ruin on top of a hill, and, yes, even the White House, who has so far survived noble and ignoble inhabitants, is a Ruin in Progress.