The image of an adult on a tricycle — precarious and uncertain — became the driving force behind the poem Ken needed for his wife Sue's memorial service.
Writing about grief is always complicated. Sue's death was a shock to Ken and his three sons, but Ken's (twelve!) working clocks keep ticking. Time seems to have stood still, but of course it also carries on. So, although I needed to allow Ken's poem to recognize his grief, I also wanted it to subtly acknowledge that there's still a wide world out there — "bigger now" — for him to continue exploring.
It Was a Lark
and cuckoo: girls
round a track
on trikes. You
charged — my
spun — we won!
our race was
run. It was a lark,
quilts and trips
and dives and
fun. You gave
and gave. You
while I drove
Rte 66 Chicago
to the Pier
on trikes again,
and my world
I have read and re-read the poem so many times, and I see so much of what she was and meant to me. It brings back the memories of our special and unique life together. I thank you so much for the opportunity to share with you my story of how much she meant to me and how she changed my life.
I was interested why you made the large indent on the 4th from the last stanza.
I love this question, Ken, thanks for asking.
The poem is built in triplets (three-line stanzas) that mimic a tricycle’s three wheels, including the title, which can be thought of as “belonging” to the first stanza.
That triplet pattern continues throughout the poem. But when we get to the couplet, “You were / my friend,” a wheel comes off, so to speak, and the words “too soon” wobble off alone as an isolated line of that triplet.
The next triplet also experiences an interruption when the clock strikes, with a line that’s spliced/unbalanced across two lines (“strikes: We’re all”) and the realization that, toward the end of our lives, we’re all vulnerable to tipping, we’re all children no matter how much we and our own children have “grown,” all on trikes again, requiring the support of others.
The only other interruption to the triplet pattern comes with the orphanage of the last line, which recognizes both your loneliness and the lone lark on the wing, free to fly.
Ken's son Ben responds to the poem too:
The tragic passing of my mother was so unexpected and left us all feeling lost, robbed and heartbroken. As you know by now, my Dad lives in a very remote (albeit beautiful) town in MN, and while we were able to be there in days/week after my mom passing, leaving him alone in the house where they spent the last two decades was tough. When he told me about your project and the conversations he was having with you, it made me grateful that he had the opportunity to be involved. I think it was a healing exercise for him to be able to tell stories to a complete stranger in the way he wanted. He was able to share all the memories that made he and my mom's relationship so unique, special and successful. For that opportunity, I want to say thank you. I truly believe you have helped him grieve and deal with my mom's passing.
My mom was my Dad's navigator, both literally and figuratively. She helped guide him through each state on Route 66, each town in Switzerland and Down the rivers in Europe. But beyond that, she was his guide in life. She made him a better person with her kind natured spirit and level headedness. He is a better person because of her....as is everyone who had the ability to know her. Now that my mom is gone - the lark has flown - my dad's world is bigger. He needs to guide himself, and in the months following my mother's passing, I have worried about his ability to do that...but I have watched him grow and have seen him put her wisdom and lessons to use. Because of her, I know he will be ok.
Despite this....despite 51 excellent years....it was too soon.
Ken emails after the memorial service:
Just wanted to let you know that your poem for Sue, “It Was a Lark,” was a hit at Sue’s memorial service this last Saturday. We had a large turn out and even had to add two extra rows of seating. Many have asked for a copy of the poem, which I have sent them. Wishing you all the best with your podcast and looking forward this summer to having you sign the poem once I get it printed. Thank you.