Harper Lee died the day before my birthday.  I’ve been fascinated with her for years, having always loved To Kill A Mockingbird. Having read Go Set A Watchman & The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee relatively recently, the news of her death struck me in an odd way.  Add to that, Feb. 19 was my Uncle Steve’s birthday.  I obviously did not know Harper Lee & frankly, I knew little about the man that was my uncle because we had very little common ground.  But, there felt like there was some weird connection there.  This is about sorting it out…

Ballad of Harper Lee

Harper, you left us the day before

I turned forty-two, when I was already feeling

uneasy about my life & where the world

was headed– the same day my uncle Steve

had come into this world

so long ago that the time becomes

a great ocean that we cannot paddle across.

I knew little of either of you

but I loved you both still.

Harper, you timed your exit well–

there is little room left in this world anymore

for dark-eyed chain-smoking women

with bad haircuts & sharp tongues

that delight in the quiet solitude

of non-descript red brick houses in Alabama.

Everyone wants to know the most tender

details of your heart & yours seemed

too delicate to endure our rough & calloused

hands wrenching out the blood

that you know we’re all longing for.

Harper, all we wanted was to love you

while you retreated into piles of dusty

old books, coffee at McDonald’s & Sunday

drives through the ugly back roads of a small

life that suited only you–the rest of our hearts

filled with dreams so big we’ll explode

if we don’t follow the single-lanes

to the interstates straight on into the cities.

Maybe we understood the way your heart ached

and that’s why we wanted more of you.

Harper, you understood that a heart needs

to be confined–maybe you both did–

and conspired to keep us all at bay,

dug moats that took lifetimes to fill

and sequestered yourself away from the indignity

of technology & open books that slight you.

Harper, I think I’m onto something–

maybe you had more in common with Steve

than one random day in one random year,

maybe you both began to feel life unwind,

felt the need to conceal your gashed-open hearts,

to armor yourselves with these simple lives

no one could break into, maybe you relished

the ruins of what could have otherwise been,

maybe I’m just another stranger searching

for explanations where there are none.

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