Late in life I struggle against my insignificance
When I should enjoy the freedom from performance before an audience.
Applause is happiness but if they withhold applause, embarrassment.
When Da Liu put me to work crunching hexagrams and spreadsheet numerology
Instead of ghost writing his books about T’ai Chi for longevity
I was humiliated but freed. No need to interpret
The Chinese master’s wisdom or endure his disapproval.
All this happened in an apartment on 110th St. when I lived on 111th.
I wonder if Da Liu lived to 100 like he predicted. Pop Pop
Didn’t make it. So be it. Ken got me that job, old friend Ken
Who goes back all the way past high school to Thompson Junior High.
Tomorrow we’re eating pizza together in Troy.
We’ll remember Da Liu and also the painter and sculptor who had a room
In our apartment on 111th and a dog so intelligent it could walk off the leash
On the crowded streets of New York without an altercation, and Zach Sklar
Of course, journalist, communist and jazz afficionado
Who listened to Jo Jones and Paul Quinichette, Count Basie’s men,
Often as possible at the West End.
Back then I was playing the streets for quarters, not much more
Than that sculptor’s dog, the sculptor’s name I wanna say
Was Mike Johnson and he was a man of few words and many women.
We had a major cockroach problem in that apartment on 111th St.
And I also remember the ceiling leaked in Ken’s room and he
Did battle against the landlord, helped form a tenant’s association.
We were young and blind as newborn mice, puppies or roaches
We went to our daily disciplines like children of paradise or Da Liu who was already old.
When we meet for pizza and talk it will be hard to hear now that I’m deaf
In one ear. Ken, whose name means knowledge, has trouble seeing faces.
To want to be famous is a silly goal for a man almost old as Da Liu.
Not the right motivation. Much better to look slowly, labor
For the success and happiness of others.
I’m still avoiding the deeper question. Which is what? Cultivate
An acceptance of nature (including the biomass in the crosswalks)
And know the names of all the grasses. Much to learn about molecules,
Still trying to make sense on the trumpet. What’s Ken doing lately?
He’s retired from teaching. Is he spending his time reading?
So today I ordered Da Liu’s books, maybe the ones I worked on,
Because they offer assistance to others for further living.
Service to others, that’s the key, or conversely,
I pleasure in and treasure my insignificance, the autumn I
Realized my insignificance, it ought to be a great comfort
To be so insignificant, being knowledgeable is the best defense against
Your insignificance, it does not put me in mind of the species’ insignificance,
Exiled or sidelined to an insignificant role, a valued
Member of our community or so insignificant no one notices
Or cares, insignificant and mighty happenings
Seem the same from my vantage aging gratefully, inexorably,
A way to learn your insignificance, freedom to have never been.
Author Bio: Robert Ronnow
Robert Ronnow's most recent poetry collections are New & Selected Poems: 1975-2005 (Barnwood Press, 2007) and Communicating the Bird (Broken Publications, 2012). Visit his web site at www.ronnowpoetry.com.