At 93, I’m filled with more memories than I can remember. Still, things pop into my mind that can draw me back into a moment in time: The high school dance. Sneaking into the officers’ mess hall during my service. Dancing with my stepsister until we collapsed in giggles. A related topic will surface, and the memories unfold before me.
Then there’s finding a piece of paper I had completely forgotten. A poem I had written on August 21, 1967. The last day of camp for that summer. In 1967 I was the Director of Camp Chi. Reading the poem, which I uncovered during my recent downsizing and move from Chicago to LA, I was overcome with the sadness, the emptiness I always felt each summer as camp ended.
This summer was particularly difficult. A counselor had died that year. The police came and investigated, affirming it was the result of a pre-existing health condition. It was awful, and I bore a deep burden as the camp director. Here’s my poem, that captures the raw emotion of what I was feeling those last days before camp’s end.
Soon We End
By Jerry Witkovsky
August 21, 1967
Empty 600 acres
Empty 60 buildings
A counselor, he died here.
Counselors leave with tears, joy, hope, satisfaction.
A counselor died here.
They come isolated from each other.
But as they came closer, they touched, they took, they gave,
They loved, they hated, they regressed, they grew.
Kids names and faces soon to fade
The paths to be stilled from human sound.
I visualize cold metal beds where children read, slept, wept, and laughed.
And in the shelter of darkness whispered things that could not be said in daylight.
Thank you. Thank you for a job well done.
How silly and empty a thank you sounds.
Or can sound, when in my gut, the torment of feeling for who you are and what you have done knows no way of expression.
Soon I will walk down paths still from human sound
The cold chill winds will blow, and summer memories will mingle with the quiet woods sounds.
Thank you. Thank you.