Monday, May 30, 2016


Everybody has a birth myth.  Some know theirs.

Mine contains several elements, all of them having to do with who I finally, after 71 years, am on my way to becoming. 

I was a big baby by 1945 standards, weighing 9 pounds, according to the telegram my mother sent my father, then somewhere in the Pacific headed towards the Battle of Okinawa.  Mama told me many years later that labor had been exceedingly difficult and painful for her. She had begged Dr. Archie Sasser to let her have a Caesarean section.  Nothing doing.  She could do it. 

Childbirth was not the only thing going on that hot summer day as World War II was winding down.  Uncle Gus Burroughs, my grandfather Leon’s youngest brother and the one he was closest to in age, lived a short distance away.  He lay dying in the house he had built.  One version of the story, which my mother’s sister Aunt Min did not confirm, was that some of his family asked Uncle Gus, “Papa, can we do anything for you?  Get you anything?”  He said yes.  He really would like a drink of water from the Fred Brown place.  At the Fred Brown place there was an artesian well the water from which was apparently special to Uncle Gus. 

In that time of gas rationing and in the heat of the May night no one was about to drive clear out to the Fred Brown place to fetch a drink of water.  Someone instead slipped downstairs to Uncle Gus’s own artesian well, filled a glass with water, brought it up to the bedroom, and announced, “Here, Papa, is your water.”  Uncle Gus was helped to sit up.  He took a sip of water.  “God damn,” he said. “That’s not from the Fred Brown place.”  And with that he rolled over and died.

All of that was happening as I was just getting used to being on earth. 

Put it all together and you have the ingredients of my birth myth:  big baby, hard labor, absent father, and a dying.  Don’t leave out the humor in the last bit.  And don't forget the theme of thirst nor the element of water. 

I could make as if each of these things somehow perfectly fits the life I am living, and that would be contrived, to say the least.  But connections are obvious.  I have always been healthy, which is sometimes what big babies turn out to be.  Birth, especially the ongoing birth of becoming, always demands my attention, energies, and best efforts. Shortcuts never work. 

Father—is a more complex theme.  I thought forty years ago that Daddy had always been absent from my life in a certain sense.  But before he died ten years ago, he and I had become quite close, a gift I cherish perhaps more than any other in my life.  Yet I continue to yearn for fatherhood, both to have it and to share it.  I’m at the stage now where I know I have something to give to younger men and I want to give what is mine to share. 

Both my father and my mother’s father were men who never stopped being natural, human, and real.  I think my grandfather, and perhaps Uncle Gus, were more at ease with themselves than many of us.  Cussing and praying didn’t rule each other out.  I’d like to think that they knew on a deep level that they had nothing to hide, nothing to fear, and nothing of which to be ashamed.  As long ago as my high school years, I wanted to be real.  I have come to replace that word with whole in recent years.  But it is all pretty much the same.  I don’t want to be a phony.  I want to be authentic.  And that means claiming a fair amount of dirt and mud, not just glitter and glory. 

And there is nothing I like more than laughing.  Well yes there is.  Making someone else laugh. 

I wrote a theme in high school once.  I can only remember the last line.  “I hope I will be thirsty forever.”  I was talking about the thirst for knowledge and understanding.  I thirst.  I always will.

And don’t try to fool me with water that purports to be from a well that it isn’t.  I want the real thing.  For that I came into the world and for that I’ll die.

© Frank Gasque Dunn, May 30, 2016

Monday, May 23, 2016

Pentecost I

When dawned the Day of Pentecost,
Some deadness in the air,
Stung by the sense that all was lost
And paralyzed by fear

A band of brothers hung around
A house that was not theirs.
And suddenly there came a sound
Of gods bestrewing stars

On earth, their breath a wind that crashed
And shattered panes and doors
And barren expectations smashed
Destroying bolts and bars

Preventing change in human hearts
That could no gospel hear.
Without the aid of maps or charts
Or fabricated cheer,

A heav’nly flame of white-hot love
Their comp’ny came among,
Alighting like a graceful dove,
Distributing a tongue

On heads of all those brothers there.
Exotic words spoke they,
Drunk on a Spirit very rare,
And prophesied a Day

When earth and heaven would join as one
To celebrate a God
Whose grace and mercy had begun
To cast that fire abroad

So that the universe might be
Converted and renewed
And stamped through all eternity
With God’s similitude.

And oh, my kindred, near and far
You dead and living dead,
That Spirit will your minds unbar
From all you hate and dread

And set you free to realize
In resurrection power
That we ourselves have won the prize
Within this very hour

Of God the Son’s transcendent love
Exceeding all desire
That never will from us remove
That purifying fire!  

May, 2016

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2016

Saturday, May 07, 2016


“ You really have to go see your doctor about this.”

“ I just don’t understand why it hurts the way it does.  Something’s not right.”

“That’s why I’m saying talk to your doctor.”

This conversation went on for the better part of a year, maybe longer.   Every chance I had, I would put my hand—either one of them—into Joe’s and practically beg for a massage.  He never resists.  (That’s a big advantage in any mate.) 

I began to notice a perennial soreness—not really pain—when I was doing some full body weight exercises under the guidance of a trainer several years ago.  I would finish pull-ups or pushups on a bar and the palm of my hand would hurt.  Then it would go away.  But the sensation kept returning even after I no longer was doing the regular exercises that had first seemed to cause it.

“We know what the problem is,” my young doctor told me after he had quizzed me and looked at the X-rays.  “Severe arthritis.” 

Severe?”  I asked.   “Why severe?  The pain isn’t great, if indeed it’s pain.” 

“A lot of people come in here with far less arthritis than you have,” he said, pointing to the absence of cartilage between bones in the thumb, “and they’re complaining of pain that is nearly unbearable.” 

Wow.  I’d better be thankful for a high pain threshold, I suppose, that I don’t exactly believe I have. 

So my primary care physician was correct.  Arthritis, he had said, was the probable cause.  And here I have prided myself for so long that I’ve had none of that ugly stuff.  Should I be surprised that, after years of running, my knees pop and crack like kindling?  Should I be shocked that when I do yoga my spine now speaks to me in unmistakable tones of bone rubbing on bone?  Or that my hands, incessantly typing, washing, playing piano, needlepointing, would finally say farewell to the last traces of cartilage?

Entropy.  Things tend always in the direction of disorder, decay, disarray.  Refrigerators, cars, toys, human beings:  nothing excepted.  I am lucky to have come this far with so little worn out.  It won’t go on forever.  And there are things to take to make it somewhat better, or at least endurable.  Ibuprofen.  Cortisone injections if need be.  Surgery if it really gets past bad. 

What is much less easy to take are the daily reminders that I live in a society that really cannot stand old, worn-out things—or people.  If I am praised it is because I look younger than I actually am or because I am “so active” at my age.  Passivity and dependency are not only unfashionable but unthinkable.  There are exceptions, of course.  Once in awhile someone recognizes the value of experience.  Some actually respect wisdom. 

There are things more painful than arthritis.

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2016