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Remembering Paula Kay

October 1, 2012


She would have turned 70 today. Instead, she died of cancer more than 10 years ago.

I met Paula Kay Pierce at a peace march. She was my greatest supporter in transforming from bitter ex-soldier into a productive citizen. She became my life partner and made it possible in all sorts of ways for me to do my poetry and other projects.

My best response to the Vietnam war was conveyed in poetry. I found my writing voice in contributing to Winning Hearts & Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans, which was put together and published at the Brooklyn place where Paula and I were living at the time.

When she died, in January 2002, after more than 30 years together, my habit of jotting down lines and ideas for poems saved my life. I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and wrote poems about her and created a collection, Earth Songs, in which she was very much a presence. That collection encompasses poems on Vietnam and post-war experiences, including our life together and the immediate aftermath of her death.

I’ve since tried to write a sequel to that 2003 collection. Here’s a couple of the poems in that work-in-progress:

Ragtime

I can still hear
after all these years
you playing ragtime tunes—
ecstasy filling the living room

On comes a Scott Joplin tune
I can feel you in the room—
fingers flying, souls soaring,
hearts attuned and dancing

So much joy, so much lost—
my heart still races after a ghost
after all these years,
ecstasy and tears

Paula’s Day

We scattered your ashes
On the Hudson River today—
Sorry it took five years
To do it, finally.

The boys came from LA,
Nik flew in just for the day—
Chris had a premier in Montclair!
All of us together, finally.

We went to Liberty State Park
On a sparkling spring day—
Near where we kept the boat,
We released your spirit, finally.

We scattered your ashes
With rose petals on the river today—
Sharing fond memories of you,
Our family all together, finally.

We so missed you all these years,
And so we gathered today—
To release you in a river of love,
Together again, finally.


Selected Works

Poetry
A tonic spray of poetry, verses that a Vietnam war veteran lives by.
Prose
A pragmatic, common-sense handbook for civic action at the community and international levels.