For Now the Dunes Are [NOT] Sure – R.I.P. Glynn Irby, U.S. Gulf Coast Poet and Luminous Human

Texas-based American poet Glynn Irby. Died April 20th, 2020

Imagi 31

In a ratcheting wind,
salt grasses twist
around November roots
and the olive-hued saw palms
throb against their crowns.

For now, the dunes are sure.
Yet, as sea-foam flashes white
around their knees, the sand
sinks with each tidal flow.

Close offshore, waves rise
from the flounder-gray Gulf
and wind-driven crystals
deflect into a steel-hook sky —

while black, shadowless birds,
drift overhead, crook-winged, in rows.

Glynn Monroe Irby from Houston Public Media, April 10th, 2017

In Glynn’s poem the wonderfully rich and haunting line: For now, the dunes are sure. Now, after his death six years after writing this and with my heightened awareness of my own mortality in the time of Covid-19 I am not feeling so assured the dunes are sure. But what an important reminder to live each day in spite of…….

In 2009 about ten or so of us gathered for a poetry-as-prayer retreat I was leading on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico at Surfside Beach, south west of Galveston, just about 2 hours south of Houston. It became the first of eight retreats at this remarkable place and as I remember Glynn Irby was at almost every one if not at all of them. This big bear of a gentle man who died far too young this past Monday from complications arising from cancer treatments.

The poem above was vintage Glynn, his sonic skills in composition. Dylan Thomas a big influence on his own voice. Glynn wrote Imagi 31 at the 2015 Surfside retreat after a big storm and an unusual north wind blowing so hard it turned the tops of the waves into spume and spray. All the s sounds in the poem mimic the sounds of that wind that day outside the house where we lived and wrote for two nights. To fully appreciate the sonics in his poem please
click here to hear Glynn reading the poem! Love that soft southern drawl of his. Bless you, man.

As far as I can tell Imagi means visual image. And Imagi 31 makes me feel that this poem is just one in a much larger series of poems that are word pictures for his beloved Gulf country. I love the imagist nature of this poem, perhaps the influence of the ancient Chinese masters, but also how he goes beyond the imagery and its emotional colourations to the big idea contained in: For now, the dunes are sure.

What haunted me when Glynn shared this poem six years ago was this line: For now, the dunes are sure. It haunts me, not just because of the obvious reference to the transience nature of things and or lives but because, also, of the lines that follow with that great conditional interuption, yet. Yet, as sea-foam flashes white/ around their knees, the sand/ sinks with each tidal flow. That stormy day all the lives in that room seemed so sure. Steadfast. Permanent. But since then cancer has been the tidal flow to take, first in 2018, the founder of the retreats, Rev’d Andy Parker who became a dear soul friend of mine and now, Glynn. To see my blog post on Andy after he died please click here.

As much as Imagi 31 reminds me of Glynn it is another poem of his I remember best, Hurricane Windows, which are allso known more poetically as jalousies! What a stunning plainspoken poem this is:

Hurricane Windows

Dressed in Sunday clothes,
I skipped past the foyer to the sidewalk
of the old Freeport church.
Pastor Malloy had finished the sermon,
and as I left the sanctuary,
the tower bells rang loud.
On Sunday afternoons we always
went to grandpa and granny’s house.
But that week, granny was under the weather
and resting in the Dow “Mag” Hospital.
Our family fit into a gold Chrysler Imperial
beside the church. We eased a long block away,
clattered across the tracks of that scary railroad
swing bridge over the Old Brazos to Velasco,
then followed the tree-lined Avenue A
to the four lane highway leading
out of town and halfway home
to the hospital next to Chemical Plant B.
Just inside the hospital doors,
my big brother and I waited
while momma and daddy whispered
with two nurses in angel-clothes.
Finally momma came, kneeled down,
and told me I was too young
to visit granny in her hospital room.
I would have to stay outside.
All the way around the building
were covered walkways wide enough
to ride three bicycles side-by-side.
Beyond those walks were palms
with fronds sprayed out like praise.
I lagged halfway around
to a screen wire window
with glass slats outside.
Momma called those windows
“jalousie windows,”
but sometimes she called them
“hurricane windows.”
I could see between the glass
into granny’s room. Grandpa,
my brother, momma and daddy
were standing beside her bed.
I could hear them say things.
They could hear me asking questions.
I stood outside a long time
that day in the shade — I stood
on my toes while looking through
the screen at the bottom
of that window — sensing the bend
of each palm frond in the wind
while listening to momma cry
and watching granny die.

Glynn Monroe Irby from Jalousie Windows, a Chapbook from the 2014 Surside Retreat sponsored by St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Lake Jackson, Texas

Yes, this poem is plainspoken and simple but deceptively so. Glynn’s eye for atmospheric detail is unerring, especially in this poem. And that detail, those images, hold the emotional impact of a young boy’s distress. And the horrible truth that instead of sharing in bedside grief he was outside alone still able to see the scene but without the comfort of parents beside him. What makes it standout for me is what happened when Glynn began to share it after he wrote it on a Saturday. His voice broke and he couldn’t continue. He had not expected this poem to come to him that day and this childhood memory of the death of his granny and his separation from the family slayed him. Indeed, hurricane windows. Only the next day, Sunday, was he able to read this poem to us all.

I will always think of this poem as the “jalousie” poem, think of “jalousie windows” when I think of Glynn.  The grace of this big man who seemed always reticent to impose himself on the group. He managed to find a chair just outside the circle and it is from there, standing or sitting, I remember his sonorous voice and his evocative poems. To you Glynn: good bye. We and the Gulf will miss you.

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