“DEAR JOHN”: Inspiration From A Stranger

I can barely recall how many years ago it was that I had a fateful encounter with a poet I may never meet. I was running around NYC, trying the acting/theatre thing (as one does at twenty-three or so). One night, after a class, I hailed a cab, rare due to a lean budget, but it was very late and I was tired. The cab driver was a cool guy. His name was Vincent, and he had a doctorate in one of the more esoteric fields of science. For his mother, he told me. He’d even framed the certificate to please her, but music was his world, his life. I was trying songwriting (among other things) back then, and he was kind enough to tutor me a bit, but eventually we lost touch with one another.

However, he left me with something very valuable: a treasure trove of poems, xeroxed, complete with some pen and ink illustrations, by his friend in Cambridge, one Gerry Speca. I will complete the circle of poem-gifting by sharing my very favorite below.

As I began to pack our lovely Ivy Cottage last spring for our long-distance move, I truly believed that Vic and I had failed at everything. That heartbreak dissipated somewhat as I would come upon small lost treasures from my past, one after another. Gerry Speca’s sheaf of poems was among them. I duly packed them up in one of the moving boxes; they were precious to me.

I wanted to get permission from Mr. Speca to publish “Dear John” on Wordsworks. In the meantime I learned more about the man, a teacher, now retired, still revered by his students, which speaks volumes about the quality of his character. I finally heard back from him a few days ago. It was one of the most delightful notes I’ve ever had.

It began, “In your message you alluded to the failings of advancing age and apparently I serve as an apt example of how out of step one can become. (Just what is “Messenger” and why am i just finding out about it?!!?) Anyway, I finally retrieved your note last evening and was sorry I hadn’t seen it when you sent it.”

You gotta love that. I know I did.

He was amazed that I’d held onto the poems all this time, and explained that he’d been revisiting old work of late.

“I recently uncovered boxes of my poetry and ‘early work’, stuff I barely remembered creating. Oddly enough, as I read through some of it —as a way of reacquainting me with my younger self?— I lingered on ‘Dear John’. It was a favorite, written for/about one of my muses.”

That muse was John Berryman.

Dear John,

When you did it, did it

Feel good, appropriate,

Organically correct?

Were you puzzled over the enjambment

of a line or a piece

of internal rhyme,

or did you jump so lonely down

because of love?

Please tell me that you were not

raging on cheap wine,

twisted around your favorite pill,

because I can not believe

that you did anything

but cast off a collar

of indentured servitude you signed for

but in the end refused to buy…

and you plummeted down,

a depth charge for the minds

of the sea…

Did you flash up to the bridge

and wish your arms were

elastic stretchy

to reach and clutch the crusted girders

and beg yourself for another chance?

Or did at last indifference come,

dear, dear John?

gw speca

Cambridge, 1972

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3 Responses to “DEAR JOHN”: Inspiration From A Stranger

  1. Dana Lynn Zotter says:

    So very touching. I too have saved a poem or two from one of my children’s high school lessons. Sometimes a remarkable poem reaches out to us and stays within our soul. I am a poet, but not of late. Now my mission is to write about the saving of a poem.

  2. Stephanie Silber says:

    Thanks so much Dana. The power of poems…

  3. Vin LoPresti says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    Was just alerted to this in an email from Gerry. Glad to see that you’re doing interesting and creative work. And I always fondly recall our taxicab encounter and one of your lyrics that I once threw some music at:
    “Christine, I met you in the summer, with all the city streets a swelter. . . ”

    Remarkable how elements of the past can sometimes congeal into an enriched memory experience that lightens the heart.
    Thanks for remembering and holding on to Gerry’s poems. As someone who had the honor of putting music to many of his poetic lyrics, I must say that I sometimes miss it all terribly. But this all brought back some intensely lovely feelings.

    Warm Regards,
    Vin (yes, my hack license did say “Vincent.”)

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