I got to thinking about this horrible year, 2020. Could I compose a story to describe what we had to endure? Not yet, and maybe never. Our ordeal remains too close to home. The battle is not yet won, we have no choice but to endure, retreat, seek shelter and protect ourselves from this second wave of the virus, a wave that seems relentless in its ferocity.
The promise of a hoped-for vaccine is now a reality. We know there is light at the end of the tunnel, but that light is still in the distance, even for us, the prioritized “so called,” elderly. And so, we wait for our turn, wait and worry. Each of us has our own demons: “Are you safe enough? Are you risking yourself? Is the vaccine safe? When will I qualify for the vaccine?”
That is why Port Poetry and Prose is so special for us. It is our weekly two-hour window that allows us to escape those bad thoughts and present proof of our creativity, a creativity that confirms our commitment to living and our hope for better times.
This I believe to be true.
If it had not been for Max Wheat and Taproot, we would never have happened. In thinking about Max, I realize that many of our group never enjoyed the opportunity for Max to be their mentor.
Ria, John B and I are the last writers remaining from the Port Washington Taproot group. John B is the senior member having joined in 1999.
We lost Max as our teacher in 2014 when he took a bad fall. I took it upon myself to keep Max involved by taking copies of our pieces to his rehab home in Freeport. Sadly, Max couldn’t return as teacher and moved to California to live with his daughter. He communicated with us by mail, critiquing the pieces that I sent to him.
Teacher contracted cancer and left us in the winter of 2015 / 2016.This was my tribute to Maxwell C Wheat, Jr.:
A Death in the Family
Last Saturday afternoon, the Nassau County Poet Laureate Society honored my teacher by presenting members of his family with personal tributes by poets and writers. This is my interpretation of the man who taught me how to write.
Maxwell C. Wheat Jr., poet, parent, preacher and a man of peace.
Activist, protester, man of passion, letters, understanding, but always a poet.
Teacher, facilitator, critic, editor, advisor, arbiter, encourager, friend.
Witness this excerpt from his eulogy to Pete Seeger’s genius saving the Hudson:
Now Pete Seeger belongs to his Hudson
His outreach of rousing songs
Are the frisky breezes, tall winds coming off the hills,
Touching, stroking the waved back of this 315-mile
Pleistocene invertebrate of a stream
He concluded his poem:
Pete Seeger’s song now parcel of the river’s song:
listen for his voice in the rustling of its autumn leaves,
listen for his voice in the rock slashing of the white capped waves.
Max often referred to his beginnings: reporter, New York Geneva Times Daily.
Assigned obits, his editor explained: “Human interest.”
Max never forgot. This from his poem about 9/11 he called, “Everybody Has a Story,”
Eamon McEneaney 46 in the first attack, 1992,
Led sixty-three people down one hundred flights of stairs.
Senior vice president, brokerage firm, Cantor Fitzgerald.
(On 9/11) Calling his wife at her office, shouting “Is Bonnie there?
I love her and I love the kids…”
Eamon was also a poet. Max ended “Everybody Has a Story” with Eamon’s poem dedicated to his wife, Bonnie:
is a bend in the road
That we’ll never find
A death I will always
Maxwell Wheat a man of peace who served his nation in the USMC,
Did his duty and yet espoused Whitman and Melville: Do no harm.
First Poet Laureate of Nassau County, a national treasure:
Adios my teacher, my friend: Via con Dios!