Sea of Clouds
The time has come to brave the sea of clouds,
To bear away though aching young and hardly made,
Rolled down in dark and brooding seas.
Soon gone from sight, our faces lost in waves,
Our cries no longer heard,
We finally slip into a wind-blurred far away.
Till we are gone – a small and slanted line
To bravely cut that endless edge,
Where dark and boiling clouds wedge down
To meet the sea.
– Kirtland Mead
Preface to Finding Pete: Rediscovering the Brother I Lost in Vietnam, a new book by Jill Hunting. Peter Hunting was a fraternity brother of my father’s at Wesleyan. He was killed in Vietnam in 1965. After Pete died, my father wrote a letter to his parents expressing his condolences and included the poem above.
Jill believed that her brother’s letters were destroyed in a house flood. Many years later, Jill found 175 letters from and about Pete. The letters and recollections inspired a dedicated search for her brother’s memory: she reached out to the friends from the letters (including my father) and she travelled to Vietnam in search of strands of his story. The book is the result of this odyssey, and she apparently asked my father if she could use his poem as the preface.
I am blown away by everything to do with this story. Not least by the fact that it was not dad who told me about this, but a man on my Planned Parenthood committee. By the idea of my college student father having the sensitivity and thoughtfulness to write a letter to the parents of his tragically dead friend, to pen this poem in the first place and to send it. By the beauty and subtlety of the words.
My father. The man who has a masters degree in Physics and a PhD in Engineering. Yes, I’ve always known he loved the written word. He reads voraciously, in English, French, and German. Usually he reads non-fiction books that I would describe as textbooks: thick and dense and academic. He also reads substantial classics (the ones I think of as particularly user-unfriendly) like Dante’s Inferno and recently transfixed me with a discussion of the Bible as a literary work. Because he was reading it. Now. One of my very favorite images is of my parents reading to each other from the Norton Anthology when they were dating and newly married.
Still. I find it astonishing that the same man who has a binder of hand written ( always in fountain pen) mathematical derivations (for example, the angles between the streets in the Arc de Triomph roundabout) could also pen that beautiful poem. I’m touched by the maturity and generosity of spirit he showed way back in 1965 when he chose to reach out to Pete’s family with heartfelt condolences. I’m reminded, again, that my Dad is an engineer with the heart of a poet. I’m proud, Dad. Actually, I’m in awe.