Dear Mr. Campbell: How do you
say goodbye to someone when you
don’t know when he is leaving? That
is the new, and the real, question.
A billion other artists have tried to answer
Shakespeare’s original interrogative. I know of
the man who left us his steady heartbeat rhythm
of boom-chicka-boom and a tapestry voice
torn at the edges. I know about the blond minstrel
with his electrified sidekick, both decked out
in rhinestone and Technicolor. I know about
the honky-tonk cowboy, voice borne aloft
by Grand Ole Opry airwaves. I know about
the other Million Dollar men, especially the
King and his royal rhinestone-studded garb. Speaking
of kings, among the lost rock and roll souls I know
of a lizard poet who vowed to explode
in the sky above our heads and smear a trail
of stardust behind him. I know about
a broken-hearted blues woman who sought comfort
in the Southern kind. And I know
of the two left-handed guitar players whose
exits from Earth are still a mystery to us.
And you tried to answer that first question, too.
With ten fingers and six strings. With your
tenor voice. With Jimmy Webb. With John
Hartford. With Weiss and Toussaint. With
a band of champs, your wrecking crew, and
some beach boys. And now with Mr. Westerberg
and your children, you have begun to say farewell to us
while the words are still in your head: but I’ve heard
that even while the words are sometimes ghosts,
your fingers still follow the dance steps of
fret, pick, and strum.
I am a poet, Mr. Campbell.
Words are my business. I have been
trying to answer Shakespeare’s first question
since I was twelve years old and
picked up a pen to write my first poem. I keep
coming back to my first answer, which is
to be. Despite the grit and the dirt
our souls wear from walking this earth, I cannot
resist the sparkle that I keep finding in
every corner, on every desert highway,
in every classroom, in each dimmed corner booth
of the hole-in-the-wall restaurants that
my fiancé Virgil and I keep finding. And
inside every fragment of music
called up from the ether. Like yours.
I am autistic, Mr. Campbell.
I can sometimes see things unseen
to other eyes: so I can see the soul
that Mr. Westerberg claims to be unseen.
Inside the baritone notes that
slide down your strings, I can see it:
that little imp vibrates vertically,
plays hide and seek with metal. It is
the ghost gymnast who hangs and swings
on your whammy bar while the rest of the world
watches your fingers. And rest assured,
those who cannot see can at least hear
the song and the chuckle of that little prankster
who cannot resist tickling our ears,
making our hearts climb up to the skies,
and pulling miniature oceans out of
our tear ducts.
But even with a gift for words
and a crazy gift that makes my mind
a computer and my heart a sculpture of
translucent crimson glass, I cannot answer
the newest question. Your friends, fans, and
loved ones are trying their best to give their own
answers. And whether we say goodbye haltingly,
unsure, or with love and admiration
spilling forth from our mouths and hearts,
maybe it doesn’t matter, because
we dream in color; others, they color
their dreams. Either way, because of this,
you will still walk our dreams.
I think Mr. Westerberg is right:
the spirit always knows what it sees.
With our dimmed eyes, we will always
see you: and from whichever side of the glass,
you will still see us. And there is
no question about that.
© 2012 Nicole Nicholson. All Rights Reserved.
This poem was written for two reasons. First of all, I watched one of Glen Campbell’s latest videos, “Ghost on the Canvas”. The song is an original by Paul Westerberg, and some of the lyrics are quoted in the poem:
“We dream in color; others, they color their dreams.”
“The spirit always knows what it sees.”
I had read a few months ago that Mr. Campbell had been diagnosed with Alzheimer Disease. I wanted to say something to him, but I didn’t know exactly what. I’d grown up listening to his music and some of my favorite bands, including R.E.M., had covered his songs, so his music was a large part of my formative years.
And along comes We Write Poems Prompt #124, which instructs us to write an epistle. Perfect.
I don’t know if Mr. Campbell will ever read this, but I do hope this does justice to what I wanted to say. Thank you, Mr. Campbell, for the music.