I Lost a Friend

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My friend Neil O. Jones lost his long battle with lung cancer the last day of January 2017. The Roundtable Writers Group, of which he was a member, spoke at his funeral service on his behalf, doing readings by his favorite authors, as well as original works.

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I am honored to have written and read a poem with my friend Susie Dunham. I’m sharing it below in honor of Neil, a fine man who had friends all over the country who came to pay respects. He was blessed to have his writer friends, his “brothers” from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, fellow college professors, the Muletown Hog Chapter of motorcycle friends (a 20-bike tribute! Thanks to Jerry Knox who organized this!), Gerald (T-Bone, childhood friend from Dallas), local friends, children, and grandchildren to gather to celebrate his life.

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January 31, 2017

We Lost a Friend

Susie Dunham and Kathy Rhodes

Susie Dunham

We lost a friend today.
We’ve lost other friends and family to cancer,
but we’ve never lived it so close.
Close enough to see week to week
month to month
year to year.

We saw how it took pieces of you.
Teasing and testing you to
fight harder than you did in the
jungles of Vietnam, to
fight harder to stay alive.

Fifty years ago in that January,
your worst battle of that war,
Operation Junction City,
you fought to keep your brothers safe.

Now in this January,
your worst fight of this war,
you battled with bravery and honor
to stay with the people who
will miss you
now
that the battle is lost.

This ain’t Nam.
But Nam
followed
you
home.

*

From Neil’s book Brothers, All

It was then I knew,” you said. “Nothing would ever change. I would get out of this life whatever I could and think of Vietnam only when it attacked me [whenever] it … chose. It was the ghosts of my brothers … It was Agent Orange. There was no escape,” you said. “The mark of the Beast would keep coming back.”

“It is the cancer coming back and building in me that I can’t get away from,” you said.

 “Now there is a new way to fight it—a new drug … approved … twenty days before my cancer in progression receives it.

 Another battle ahead.

Five decades of war, college, love, children, grandchildren, work, teaching American literature in college, now this—more war,” you said. “I am trying desperately to save myself from the enemy, firing with every weapon I’ve got. I face the deep, unfathomable abysm.

 And so it begins.”

*

Kathy Rhodes

And so it ends.
We lost a friend today.

You fought the war back then,
and now near’ four years of battles,
one after the other:
surgeries, chemo rounds, radiation—
new wonder drug!

Battle scarred,
you left this world
fifty years after you left that old war.

You got out of life what you could.
“Half scholar, half rube,” you said.
Renaissance man, country boy.
You taught the classes.
You rode the mules.
You rode the scoot.
You told the stories.
You wrote the book.

You fought the battles. You did your part.

It’s that, sometimes, in life, what’s supposed to save you does not.
The beast, it turns on you.

Many battles won, but the war rages on.
Maybe you, first in that new cancer treatment,
can help those who come behind.

For in life, what matters most is doing for others, all brothers, and
you
did
much.

*

Susie Dunham

You won before you lost.

*

Kathy Rhodes

You won before you lost.

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One Comment on “I Lost a Friend”

  1. maggie bafalon says:

    Kathy, my comments must be becoming boring by now but “thank you again”! I hope those 3 words, at some point, can be used to say something about my life. “You, did, much”

    Keep away from those tornadoes#


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