Column: Paul Ash pays visit through forgotten poem

By SCOTT SAALMAN

I’m lying on a Gurney cart, an IV in my arm
My eyes are closed, and in my head I’m back on my country farm
Where the grass is green, and it’s always Spring, and there’s berries on the bush
We’re moving now, the Gurney rolls, the nurse gives me a push.

My buddy Paul paid a visit today, an incredible feat considering March 28 draws near, the one-year anniversary of his death.

I was searching for something unrelated to Paul in my email inbox when a forgotten folder, labeled “Paul Ash,” caught my eye, throwing me off task.

“Hello, Paul,” I thought, clicking the folder, curious about its forgotten contents.

A sterile room is always cold, with such a large machine
Lights are flashing and noise is made, in places that are unseen
I walk the path of my labyrinth, cut into my back yard
Sliding into a whirring machine is not so very hard.

Paul was many things to many people. He billed himself as “a writer, poet, ne’er-do-well, balladeer, raconteur, seer, sage, prophet, business consultant, cancer fighter, and ”˜the last free range folk singer.’ ’’

He was remiss to not add the word “friend” to that melting pot of descriptors that was Paul. He and I were friends, but he had better ones. What drew me was his ability to write and sing songs.

“I absorb the who, what, when, where, how, and new songs come out,” he claimed. “Don’t ask me how that works, for I don’t know how I write.”

The how doesn’t matter. He wrote. That’s what matters.

I hear the birds, I see the hawks, they’re crying in the sky
Circling across the clouds, so brilliant as they fly!
The IV starts, my arm turns warm, and then my mouth tastes bad
“Hold your breath, we’re going in,” I remember my old Dad.

Perusing through the Paul Ash folder, I found a trove of lyrics and an occasional poem, each piece emailed separately to me on May 28, 2012, from 10:48 p.m. to 11:15 p.m. One, “Monday Morning, 8 a.m.,” written in 2006, is shared with you in full throughout this column. It touches me the most.

I vividly remember that 27-minute flash of lyrical lightning aimed at me on that May night. I had been in bed, half asleep. I read each piece, too tired to respond even though I knew the likelihood that Paul was wide awake, contemplating cancer. Like I said, he had better friends.

At 11:18, he emailed:  “I’ll stop sending, just so you can get some sleep. I’m trying to imagine how disciplined you are to stop reading what you know is coming when you know the author and most of it, OK, some of it, is pretty good.”

I now regret that my lazy, self-centered unresponsiveness likely ended the streak of songs sent that night. There were many more he could’ve sent. I wish he had. They would be in my inbox today.

“Breathe out,” she says, I take a breath, these words come to my mind
“Hold your breath,” more images, terrified of what they’ll find!
A glowing spot? A hundred then? A thousand points of light?
What do they see, in the other room, hidden from my sight?

I am uncertain why he sent his songs to me that night. It was never discussed afterwards. Paul knew he had dodged his fair share of bullets so maybe that is what compelled him to circulate words seldom shared unless he was on stage.

One of my favorite quotes is attributed to singer-songwriter Warren Zevon, who also died of cancer: “We buy books because we believe we’re buying the time to read them.” Perhaps subconsciously that’s why I always have a book in progress. I take the opposite view on writing, though. We write because we know it’s impossible to buy time. We write with the undeniable end in mind: our own dirt naps. We write to be read and remembered when we are dead; our words printed on paper are tangible traces of our existence, brain shavings pressed onto reams of white or appearing as discernible shadows on computer glow.

It’s over then, IVs come out, get off the Gurney cart
Hold the pad, over the vein, hope bleeding does not start
Walk away, walk away, with Miriam my only one!
Walk away, walk away, into my morning sun!

I was happy to be reminded of Paul via his written remnants. I immediately circulated the notes to a few mutual friends and his widow, Miriam. I told them I thought Paul had something to do with it, that he had been thinking of me and psychically willed me to his namesake folder.

Miriam responded: “Yes, I’ve found Paul gets our attention every so often; 2 weeks ago I was outside trying to chip ice off my driveway so the melting wouldn’t run into the garage. I heard some of our favorite birds (Sandhill Cranes) in the distance. Eventually I saw about 30. They came nearer, then overhead, then started a huge turn and proceeded to circle directly over my head 2 more times!”

Something akin to steam rose from the beating engine that is my heart when I read Miriam’s words. “Hello, Paul,” I told myself again, basking in his mourning sun.

Paul may no longer be here to write or sing, but this year he will inspire the arts and music through the Paul Michael Ash Art and Music Endowment held by the Community Foundation. Give to this fund to continue the legacy of our “last free range folk singer.”




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