106. The Boy Who Wrote Poems

Today is the anniversary of the death of my son, Mark Peter Ford.  Eighteen years old, he died on December 21, 1970 as the result of a fatal automobile/pedestrian accident in Seattle.  Some of the details of that catastrophe are described on the blog entry of two days ago.

Mark was given some unique gifts and he used them well during his short life.  Among them was a wonderful gift for expressing himself in writing – especially in poetry.

Mark was carrying a copy of his final poem – a sonnet – written just one day before the accident.  It was read at his requiem Mass, and nearly every member of our family knows it by heart.  It has no title but because it’s the first one included in the book of his poetry published after his death, we call it “One”.

Guilt drops hawk-like on unsuspecting man
And plummets toward his silent, secret sin.
The soul is pierced in vain; no talon can
Remove the stain when it is held within.
The grace of God. when sought, can dull
The beak and claws of guilt.  A man can pray
And ease the burden in a heart too full
To bear, although the pangs of failure stay;
For God is God above us all and draws
Us up to Him, but man is man and shall
Persist in needing comrades in the pause
Between the ultimate rise or the ultimate fall.
God’s gifts uplift, but cannot be compared
In saving strength to sadness equally shared.

My daughter Judy Taylor is writing a biography of Mark called “The Boy Who Wrote Poems”.  The work analyzes the development of his writing as well as his life.

Following are some of Judy’s notes about our family background and the Introduction to the book.

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My brother, Mark Ford, was six years old when he, his parents and his six siblings  moved into this house on Capitol Hill in Seattle.  We still lived there at the time of his death in 1970.

The house was a one-and-one-half-story house built in 1902.  It had four bedrooms, and loft space for “dorm-style” sleeping quarters for the youngest children.  There was one bathroom.  Nine people – one bathroom.

Everywhere the Ford family went, it was a production.  Mom used to count seven heads as we left the house, then when we set off for home, she would count seven heads again (then there was the time when I got left behind at Baskin & Robbins, but the scars of that emotional tragedy will have to wait for another book).

By the standards of our Catholic neighborhood, our family was actually considered small.  Ten or twelve children per family wasn’t unusual. Our neighborhood was known as “Rabbit Hill”.

There were over 90 school-age children just on our block, and the Ford kids played every day until dusk along 20th Avenue East and Aloha Street.  We played kick-the-can, capture-the-flag, red-rover, baseball, kickball, water fights and snowball fights.  Several times a year we would decorate our bicycles and wagons, dress up in costumes and parade down the street, for the amusement of our parents.  Most of the kids went to St. Joseph Grade School until the eighth grade; then the girls went to Holy Names Academy and the boys went to Seattle Preparatory School.

It was the 1960s and Mark was growing up.  Although we shared this large, bustling family and neighborhood, Mark and I didn’t really get to know each other. I was the baby of the family, and he was on the verge of manhood.  I have fond memories of my oldest brother, but we never got to develop that closeness that I have with my other brother and sisters today.  How could I have known that we would not get the chance?

. . . . . . . . . .THE BOY WHO WROTE POEMS
. . . . . . . The life and poetry of Mark Peter Ford

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .by Judy Taylor

Eighteen
A poem by Mark Ford

I thought to be a poet
Would be the greatest good;
To paint life as I know it,
Acquaint man as I should
With what he never sees
In common life; but then
I felt my ardor cool and freeze.
I thought of what I thought of men.

I read a verse to a river,
Who laughed till I was through;
But I was not a giver.
It smiled for it already knew.

The mountains whispered down
To me that not for naught
Did they wear mournful brown:
In nameless times they had been taught.

And so I tried to write
To God, but in the darks
Of his eternal night
He must have thought them merely barks.

A man retrieved my speech
Before it flew too far,
And claimed it strained his reach
Till he could barely feel a star.
Within my breast, there burst
A love I could not halt.

I saw man at his worst
And found in me an equal fault.
I learned that I was more
Then than when I began.
I was alone before
And now I am a man.

. . . . . . . . .INTRODUCTION

My brother, Mark Peter Ford, was a poet.

Mark’s influence in my life has been profound, thanks to a little gray book which has captivated me for three decades.  I marvel at the skill that is evident in his poems, particularly considering his age when he wrote them.  But I am even more impressed with the perceptiveness in his poems, revealing wisdom far beyond his age.  Indeed, I still struggle with issues such as ”What is love?”, “Why are we here?”,  and ideas of grief, forgiveness and loss.  Mark not only asked these perennial questions, but he achieved real clarity in his answers.

Mark was the oldest of seven children born to Patricia and Gene Ford on August 16, 1952.  I am the youngest of that Ford brood, born in 1961.

Mark died when he was only eighteen.  At age nine, I was old enough to understand that death meant the person would never come back, but I could scarcely comprehend the grief that my family suffered, especially my parents.  I could perceive only that a great tragedy had befallen our family.

Ordinarily, when a sibling dies, you would expect the memories to fade over time.  The images in your mind tend to soften around the edges, like black and white photographs, tattered and wrinkled.  This would surely have been the end of Mark’s story for me, except that when Mark died, my parents, amidst what must have been unimaginable grief,  did an extraordinary thing.  They published a book of Mark’s poems, as a tribute to his life.

One can only imagine what it must have been like for my parents to lose their oldest child, just at the time he was on the verge of adult life.  They could have gotten angry at God for snuffing out this precious life too soon.  They could have rejected God’s plan and questioned their own faith, but they didn’t.  My parents are people of tremendous energy, creativity, courage and faith.  Rather than dwelling on the tragedy of Mark’s death, they chose to affirm and celebrate his life.

They chose eighteen of his poems for the book, one for each year of his life. This little book was printed on heavy, textured paper with a simple gray cover.  My parents asked my sister Gretchen (then age 13) to add her own sketches to the poetry.  Gretchen’s drawings are simple and spare, adding to the imagery in Mark’s words.

My parents gave the little book away at Mark’s funeral, and we have continued to share the book with close family and friends ever since.  I was too young to understand Mark’s poems at the time, but I continued to read them as I grew up, and found that they changed for me as I matured.  As my own life experiences changed me, so too did Mark’s poems transform me.  As I got older, I was able to discover new layers of meaning and depth in his words.  In times of joy and in moments of despair, Mark’s words would echo in my head.

After three decades of enjoying these treasured poems, I am moved to ask questions about who this extraordinary young man was.  What were the influences in his life that made him express himself with poetry?  How did he develop his skill? With the help of my family and Mark’s friends, I hope to find out.

END OF EXCERPT

Judy’s work-in-progress is complicated by the vast amount of Mark’s writing to assimilate and sift through. My gifted son left us an amazing legacy and Judy is its treasurer.  We are all in her debt.

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To close, here’s the last page of Mark’s book of poetry.  It contains one of Gretchen’s sketches, and the last two lines from one of the other sonnets in the book.

“They don God’s greatcoat, tailed and gloved.
Glad to have lived, glad to have loved.”


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5 Responses to 106. The Boy Who Wrote Poems

  1. Joan Fitzpatrick says:

    I cried all the way through. What a wonderful tribute. Your blog has brought so much to all of us. I wait for it every day.

  2. Linda Lewis says:

    ‘Tis hard to understand why grief comes into life
    When precious lives are taken and gives a family strife.
    Such promise and such soul, Mark was beyond his years
    A heart felt tribute to him, brings love and then some tears.

    God’s gifts are so abundant with each Ford’s talents vast
    Cherishing the memories, make the good times last.
    The tribute to Mark’s poems, his legacy is living
    With each line that he wrote, his life just keeps on giving.

    To learn of Mark’s true being is one I had not heard
    Thank you so for sharing. A gift with every word.
    So keep on what you’re doing. You have so much to share.
    This flowed right from my heart to show you that I care.

    Much love,
    Linda

  3. Josie Warden says:

    I loved reading this; it’s a really great post! His poetry is amazing, he is such an inspiration.

  4. susy says:

    Thanks to Judy and Mom for this beautiful tribute to Mark. The photos and memories touched my heart. I remember Mark always walking around with a book in his hand. He appeared quiet and serious on the surface but he was full of passion and inquiry about the world around him. I remember the way he would pound away on the piano keys with such wild abandon and his handwriting was so intense it looked like the words were pressed right through to the next page. Every year at Christmas we drew names from a hat and got that person in the family a special gift. One year Mark drew my name and he gave me a special little book I still treasure today… “The Encyclopedia of Horses.” He was a very special brother, son and friend. The words in his poems live on today and offer truth, vision and comfort to all who read them.
    Susy

  5. Gretchen Covey says:

    Thank you Mom and Judy for this beautiful reflection of Mark. We all miss him. It will be wonderful to reunite with him in heaven some day. I have great memories of Mark. He was so passionate about things that he loved like science, music and reading. But the thing I remember most was Mark’s faith. He experienced a renewal through the Catholic Charismatic movement. Although I didn’t understand it fully, I knew that Mark was transformed. He was excited about his faith in God. He sparkled from the inside out. His love for God triggered growth in my own faith journey. I now understand the joy he had in knowing Christ. Thank you Mark!

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