from Tom Smith
Pompano Beach Fire Dept. (retired)
Pompano Beach, FL
am writing this letter to tell you how much I enjoyed your reading
this afternoon. It was a very moving experience for me. It makes
me wish I could write poetry.
bought your book about an hour before your reading, and finally,
a poet that writes without a lot of contrived bullshit! Every
poem I read in that brief time was a joy. Readable, understandable,
poignant, beautiful. It was a surprise when you started with the
poem about the marbles, because I had just told the guy next to
me that the last verse in that poem is all you need to know about
Cleary, your poems are like Norman Rockwell paintings, but with
balls. You used the term “bittersweet” in one of your
poems, and it was perfect there, and also in describing many poems.
Sweet, like “right on, sweet sumbitchin’ words are
perfect,” and bitter because there’s a powerful, almost
visceral undercurrent of emotions that remain like an aftertaste,
long after the poem is over.
of the poems were enjoyable, but three deeply affected me. “Halfway
Brook,” “January Crossing, Lake Champlain,”
and “My Father’s Room.”
Crossing” put me there. As you read, I could see, hear,
and taste the whole thing. Vivid. Strong. Horrifying.
seen many sad things in my 25 years as a fireman, I am not an
emotional man, Dr. Cleary, but “My Father’s Room”
almost made me cry. Well, actually, it did make me, but I was
able to hold it in.
don’t have a father, he died shortly after my birth. But,
I do have a son, and we’re very close. From my recent lung
tests, it appears inevitable that I will die in a few years with
end-stage emphysema. I have accepted that, and am enjoying the
hell out of my life while I can. However, your beautiful poem
was so powerful, it hurt. I pretty much know how it’s going
to end for me, and I could see my son there with me at the end,
and I don’t want him to go through that. I have read that
poem a number of times today, and am very moved. The entire poem
is wonderful, but the tender role reversal in the final verse
is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.
since the final verse is uncomfortable for me in a prophetic sense,
I have begun to read it as me talking to my son who is
now an adult. It works very well for me, and gives me a feeling
am not presuming to be a poetry critic, these are just my personal
feelings. Please accept this note as a fan letter.