A Memorial Reading For Ed Galing
by Alan Catlin
The last Sunday of the year is the traditional poetry service at the Schenectady Unitarian Universalist church. I signed up at the last possible moment this year and faced a dilemma as to what to read. As I told the congregation, when you have tens of thousands of poems choosing one that was appropriate is extremely difficult. Generally, when I don’t know what to read, I read the last piece I wrote which was to be a poem as epistle, in memory of Ed Galing, who had recently died. As with others of my correspondence friends, a letter poem seems the most appropriate way of paying tribute; addressing the person directly as if writing a letter they would actually read. Every year, on vacation, I write a post card to Dave Church from Block island, as I did when he was alive. I see no reason to discontinue the practice now that he is no longer here to read it. He is alive to me in my heart and always will be, as will Ed.
The problem was, my last poem was not finished yet; his passing is still too new for the kind of distance needed to write the kind of poem he deserves. Instead I tried to find a piece that Ed would approve of. As I said to the congregation, Ed was a simple man, a humble man, who wrote up until the day he died. Apparently that included letters to many he felt closest too knowing the end was near. I wrote back to Ed right away, after receiving my last from him, thinking you never knew which letter would be the last one. Ed was 96 after all, the poetic grandfather I had never known. As I pointed out with reference to the previous reader, who read a poem by Wordsworth’s ships passing in the night, our letters crossed in the mail.
Ed embodied the virtues that I consider the most important in a man: he loved simply and well, especially his family, his beloved wife, Esther, to whom he was married for 67 years and whose death he never recovered from. He knew poverty but it his spirit knew great riches and with that in mind I read the following poem dedicated to Ed Galing, 96.
Love in a Time of War
You can see them, the pregnant women, the nursing mothers,
the lovers holding hands
Their ears wired for sound, one thousand songs for liquid days,
a herald angel’s apocalyptic ode
And for some, the bombs are falling now, all the highways are
mined, the mangled fields are as unsafe as any road
The bombs falling are an aphrodisiac, the shock and awe of love
among the ruins; all their exposed flesh burned where it is
Even when the war is ten thousand miles away
Ten thousand miles or five thousand, it makes no difference, war
is simply something just beyond the horizon and love is what
happens right here
Right here where the black hawks are flying, where the bombs are
smart, the missiles guided, precision piloted reminding us it
is not so much how the bombs are directed but where they land
And who they land on that matters, distance is a factor in a time of war
In a time when we have come to love the bomb more than we love our
fellow man, more than we love ourselves
Maybe, what we know is not love at all but something more primitive,
something bestial and impure
Something that causes us to believe that we are no longer descended from
Angels, unless the angels are the exterminating ones, the kind that
fly on the wings of stealth bombers that inflict their death, unseen,
Consider what they have wrought;consider the light from burning cities as
a celestial event, a fireworks display, a celebration for the dead, for
love in a time of war
Love in a time of war is all we have.