Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Man of Good Heart

Today I learned of the passing of a good man. Dr. John Stone, one of our 2007 Georgia Writers Hall of Fame Inductees, passed away yesterday. I haven't heard all the details yet, but I was told that he was very recently diagnosed with cancer.

Dr. Stone was an unusual poet. By that I mean that he was a cardiologist by profession, but a poet at heart. He taught at Emory University Medical School in Atlanta for years, became an associate dean there, and was later their director of admissions. During that time he published In the Country of Hearts: Journeys in the Art of Medicine. These twenty-three essays discuss our literal and our metaphorical hearts and he argues that the physician and the poet make use of the same materials.

I met Dr. Stone for the first time in April of 2007. To be honest, I'd never heard of him, not really being a fan of poetry. That changed, however, when Dr. Stone stood up to accept his award. He read us two poems that day. The one that follows was the first. Called Visitation, it describes a visit with his mother, who is in her nineties, at her retirement home.


At Serenity Gardens, winter
has surrounded us. My mother's room
is way too warm for me,

just right for her -- with an extra sweater.
Outside, this uneasy year, her 93rd,
lurches through December.

She is surely serene in this place,
thanks to whatever goodness;
queen of the electronic piano.

Among my chief duties now
I have become her human calendar,
a stay against time, her reach for the past.

Each visit, we review the years.
We sit and we talk, fragile mother,
absent-minded son.

This afternoon, I assemble for her
some semblance of my long-dead
father, the only husband she had.

I tell her his story.
We study his photograph.
Do you remember him, I ask?

She looks again.
No, she answers softly. No.
But isn't he good looking!

She smiles. I chuckle.
In the gathering dark,
we cry a bit together:

I for what she has forgotten,
she for what I remember.

Hearing his soft voice, hearing the rhythms of his speech, made me understand the power of poetry. So much can be summed up in so few words, so few powerful words. In 2008 I purchased one of his books, Music from Apartment 8, and had him sign it for me. It reads "To Leandra, with gratitude for her friendship and in joy."

Thumbing through it tonight, I found this poem. It seems fitting and I'll leave you with it.

How I'd Have It

I'd have no flowers
other than Mozart

A suit -- blue --
not new, but worn

the knees
still in the trousers

for as long
as polyester is

And a fire
and someone there

to thrown on
the oak especially

for the last movement
of the Mozart

As for the mourners
let's have them enter

and pause and peer

over the side
and say mournful

things such as What
A Pity A Pity

And So Old, Too
And then exit all



Lauren said...

Wow...I have tears in my eyes. His poetry is beautiful!

calicobebop said...

That is incredibly moving. How lucky you are to have known him! A true renaissance man.

Leslie said...

Thanks for sharing these poems. They're lovely.

Katie in MA said...

I'm sorry for your loss. I'm sorry for everyone whose lives he touched. It seems as if there were many.

Susie said...

I think it's a true gift to hear a poet read his/her own words. Beautiful. said...

Well, how appropriate! Very well done, I say.
That was very special and I hope your post gets back to his family somehow. I'm sure it would be of comfort.

Burgh Baby said...

Thank you for sharing that beautiful poetry.

Laurel said...

Mmm... I like poetry. Thanks for sharing.

I heard a great quote the other day that seems appropriate: "We never touch people so lightly that we do not leave a trace."--Peggy Tabor Millin

Aren't we blessed when we meet someone whose brief presence on our lives touches us for good.

Shalet said...

Thank you for those lovely poems. I've not heard of him - I do think I'll be buying a copy of his work.

William said...

I worked at Grady for a couple of years and got to know this great but humble man.

I just learned of his passing this week and am remembering him on medblogs where appropriate.