Never did I think I would end up as a widow after having been married for only two years. And never did I think I would find so many hidden treasures in the estate of my beloved husband. One was an unfinished horn piece he had scribbled in pencil on staff paper, which I unearthed under a pile of music books and sheet music on top of his grand piano. For months I had been begging him to write me a horn piece. He never even told me he had started. Another was an envelope with photos from his childhood and youth I knew so little about, since I was 13 years younger and from a different country.
Yet another was an old folder from a poetry course he took during his studies for the DMA in Eugene, Oregon, about twenty years ago. I had no idea my husband could write such beautiful poetry! I almost felt indecent looking through his things. He had shown me a poem once, which he had tried to get published in a newspaper, but it had been rejected, so he kind of gave up. He did not get the praise he so craved while he was among us, but now, I want to show the world what he was capable of by publishing his compositions and his music, so other people can find joy and solace in them. If you write poetry, too, please get it out there. Please don’t let it collect dust in some hidden drawer, to be thrown away at the next move. Trust in yourself, even if rhythm and rhyme are not always perfect. There will be people out there who want to read it! It’s not perfectionism, it’s the feelings that count.
David was a recluse, kind of like Emily Dickinson. He did not let very many people into his life, which was troubled by anxiety and depression. The more I was surprised to see his humor and wit, especially in his satirical poem about a televangelist. In the following, I am posting my six favorite pieces from a thin poetry booklet I called, “Giant Wrecking Balls Crashing”: The Poetry of David Lyons. It contains all 13 poems, in case you want to read the motherlode. Otherwise, you’ll have to live with my censorship. I tried to pick poems from different categories and will present them with excerpts from my foreword and interpretation. So you’re not overwhelmed by so many letters, I will intersperse them with some flower photos I took at various European botanical gardens or simply outside somewhere. Here we go:
Although David Lyons (1960 – 2017) made his living and saw his destiny as concert pianist and accompanist, he also let his energy and creativity flow freely in his solo piano, chamber music, and orchestral compositions, and—in his earlier years—in writing. Only once did he combine the two, when he wrote the song, “Love Has Fled,” with his own text; he disliked having to use existing poems for his songs, but did not feel wordsmith enough to craft lyrics by himself. Due to his demanding profession, his creative output was scarce, but sublime, both regarding his musical compositions and his poetry.
The following collection of 13 poems is taken from David’s contributions to a Creative Writing class from the summer of 1996, taught by then-graduate student Ella Campi at the University of Oregon in Eugene, where David was studying for his Doctor of Musical Arts. In case you are curious, he received a B+ for the whole course, which consisted of quizzes, exercises, a paper, a journal, a portfolio, and workshop participation. Many of his poems are outstanding, and he attempted in the past to submit the stellar poem, “Times Square,” for publication. …
The annotations in the appendix will provide a short poetry analysis based on his teacher’s and peers’ remarks, as well as some background knowledge about the times and his life’s circumstances, so one can understand what his death poetry might mean in retrospect, knowing the way he ended his life.
The themes of his poems can be categorized as follows: Love/Life (“Times Square,” “Tingling Tittilation,” “In the Test Tube,” and “When I Saw the Peach”), Insanity/Death (“Beyond” and “Is Death Possible?”), Humor/Satire (“Ballad of JB” and “With Your Eyes So Blue”), Dreams (“In the Misty Meadow I and II”), Worldview/Philosophy (“The Vegetarian”), and Writer’s Block (“Writing I and II”). … You will see David’s true character and his lovely, humorous being shine through his words, his fiery energy and witty charm paired with his struggle with mental illness.
TIMES SQUARE Giant wrecking Balls crashing, Gangsta Prophets ranting, machine gun of the jack-hammer Joe Camel, with overgrown nose and cigarette, the Double Phallus ready with a smooth two-pronged attack, sweaty vendor yelling “dogs are hot 5 bucks” that’s two bits a Bite selling Time under a coat, rows of 10-dollar Gucci Gold watches Mitsubishi, in huge flashing neon, proclaims in Red White and Blue “BUY ME” underneath, prostitutes of all colors nod in agreement
Tingling tittilation tingling tittilation pulses racing body rubbing against body igniting breathless fires. grunting, tremors, moans of ecstasy. delirious eruptions of a thousand Kilimanjaros melt the firmament and the heavens plummet to join the earth
In the test tube quarks buzzing breathlessly, electrons flirting, spinning faster and faster, atoms clinging to each other in wild embrace; acid and base dance feverishly, swirling, gurgling, bubbling, overflowing in delirious eruptions
Beyond The trap door into the abyss. The bell that has long ceased tolling is itself no more. Only stale air remains; then that is sucked out into oblivion. Suffocating insanity. Window through nothingness: the nectar of the world once again?
Ballad of JB A man of the Lord spoke on TV, his name was Jimmy Bakker; with all his words and all his deeds he was the pride of his maker. By his side there was a maiden fair, her name was Tammy Faye; together with the PTL they showed us Jesus’ way. Then one day church funds were amiss; “Oh, where have they all gone?” But Jim was the only one who knew: They were with Jessica Hahn. For unbeknownst to Tammy dear JB had a roll in the hay; though while it lasted, it was great fun, hush money there was to pay. Now he cries out, full of contrition, “Oh Lord, I am a sinner”; but we in the south, we know better for we can spot a winner.
Writing (ii) As I grope for expression, letters and syllables flicker in the distance, mocking. Vague images only cast shadows across the mind; distractions lure with a promise of relief, at the same time ensure defeat. At last, a word is squeezed painfully into existence; then another agonizing search begins.
In the summer semester of 1996, when David was studying piano performance with Victor Steinhardt and taking courses towards his Doctor of Musical Arts at the University of Oregon in Eugene, he found himself in Ella Campi’s creative writing class, where he was crafting poems, receiving peer responses, and commenting on his classmates’ poetry. While he was first and foremost a musician, this experience should prove invaluable to him for his later attempts at writing songs. Alas, this creative period fell into a difficult time in his life, since only a year later, in August 1997, he should discontinue taking Navane, the antipsychotic he had been on for his bipolar depression, fearing it could cause tardive dyskinesia, a side effect causing involuntary twitching. He would suffer a psychotic break, which entailed the second hospitalization in his young life, during which he felt God communicated with him and made him do things that in the eyes of people with healthy minds seemed unnatural.
All the more important it is to see his poetry as a foreboding of the disastrous events that should follow. The recurring themes of insanity and death in his poetry give a hint of his mental occupation with these extremes; on the other hand, his cleverness and wit—how he really was when not subdued by medication or in a manic state—show through in other works of his. His later obsession with God is here dealt with satirically in a hilarious ballad about a crooked televangelist. Most of David’s poems are written in free verse with frequent use of enjambment, the continuation of a sentence beyond a line; only two have a fixed meter and rhyme scheme. I have assembled his 13 poems in six categories, the first one being “Love/Life.” It contains four poems, “Times Square,” “Tingling Tittlilation,” “In the Test Tube,” and “When I Saw the Peach.”
His most accomplished work—and this is purely subjective—is “Times Square.” David must have felt the same, since this is the poem he submitted, albeit unsuccessfully, for publication. It starts off astonishingly violent with “giant wrecking balls crashing,” which is a clear juxtaposition to David’s calm, undecided, and peaceful demeanor. The imagery in this poem describes the bustling life in New York City more like a dystopia than a cultural Big Apple one would voluptuously want to bite into. The antithesis of the ranting “gangsta prophets” shows them as bearers of racism, crime, and poverty instead of happy tidings. Using war imagery, David compares the deafening sound of jack-hammers to machine guns.
A well-crafted image of a “double phallus” (nose and cigarette) is used in conjunction with the personification that it is launching a “smooth two-pronged attack.” An attack on your health and your pocket book, people! Then, he vividly and in a naturalistic fashion describes the sweaty street vendor selling hotdogs for $5 a piece, “two bits a bite,” and depicts the thugs with counterfeit gold watches under their coats with the metaphor, “selling time.” David shows us like through the lens of a tourist’s camera (the cover photo of this booklet is from him) the flashing neon advertisements of Mitsubishi and its proud American red, white, and blue “buy me” as antithesis to the Japanese seller—but the most striking sentence is his last one, where the prostitutes of all colors nod in agreement, since they’re also for sale.
Still stunned by the power of his final line, I read the scribbled teacher marks under his poem: “David, I think this was written to satisfy the rhythm requirement. Is that correct?” And then, the instructor suggests he rewrite the poem, considering different lineation. David never rewrote this poem, and I’m grateful for it. Let’s see what his classmates said about “Times Square.” One student named Valerie commented, “Great! The nose is definitely phallic.” Curious, I googled Joe Camel (as a German, and having grown up a bit more than a decade later, I have never crossed his path) and purchased the poster below from eBay: NOW, I can see David’s humor!
Valerie further commented, “I really liked this. One of your best, in my opinion,” and mentioned that the punctuation is off. David used his poetic freedom regarding punctuation and capitalization in all of his poems, and I think in this special case, the run-on sentences go well with the bubbly, ebullient character of New York City. In the same vein, a peer named Jody wrote, “Great metaphors! The rhythm of your poem fits perfectly with the subject—pretty chaotic.” Fellow student Wendy noted, “All American products but Gucci and Mitsubishi. ‘Buy Me’ line is great—ties it together.” Fellow poetry student Rachel wrote: “It’s clever and sassy. You engage the reader in many of the senses—sight, sound, taste. I wonder if you could fit smell into this piece somehow?” She also made a hilarious connotation by circling the words, “Balls crashing” and connecting them with a line to “Double Phallus,” writing in the margin: “related?” If David had something else in mind with the crashing “balls” (and now, glancing back at Joe Camel’s picture, I’m inclined to believe it), he was really more humorous than I ever imagined…. Jason, another creative writing student, wrote: “Great sarcasm, Mitsubishi needs to be boycotted, #1 rainforest killer.” He also commented, “I like this, very funny,” underlining David’s phrase, “two bits a Bite.” The measurement “bit” was used in early America denoting Spanish and Mexican coins worth about 12 and one-half cents; hence, two bits are equal to about 25 cents. What David couldn’t know back then is that at his own high school, Lexington High in Massachusetts, there is now a robotics club founded in 2009 with the name, “Two Bits and a Byte”! Now that’s karma.
This poem did not have a title, so I used its beginning as such. At first, I had to look up the word, “tittilation,” which sounded dirty to me as a foreigner already because it contains, “tit”: the arousal of interest or excitement through sexually suggestive images. Aha. David actually wrote his own interpretation of this little gem for his teacher:
“I organized the poem into three parts—lines 1-4 opening, lines 5-7 middle, and lines 8-12 ending. This corresponds to three stages in sexual excitement. It is lyric in the absolute preeminence of mood as the distinguishing characteristic.”
His instructor commented that as always, his analyses were excellent, but her only question was how these analyses were relating to his own developing aesthetic. I personally love the alliteration in the first line, and the image of rubbing bodies igniting a fire. Knowing that David was rather shy, I am astonished he had the guts to submit this poem to his teacher and peers. Let’s see how they found it. His teacher marked the “thousand Kilimanjaros” and wrote “Hemingway” in the margin. However, Hemingway’s story is about a writer dying of gangrene who is stranded in Africa during a safari due to engine trouble and hallucinates, seeing his final destination in the snow-covered top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, while David’s poem is about sex, and it’s rather hot here. He uses the senses of sound (grunting, moans) and touch/feeling (tremors), and the firmament is melting, which is an antithesis to the snows of the mountain. The heavens joining the earth is the ultimate orgasm in which two beings become one; the plummeting almost reminds me of Icarus crashing down, having burnt his wings and melted the wax holding them together. Ella Campi commented on David’s work: “You might enjoy looking at the work of Allen Ginsberg or Gary Snyder; they sometimes work in rhythmic, driving poems like this.” She misses the sense of language being uniquely employed and suggests to add an odd conceit, or some other conceptual frame.
David’s classmate Jody makes a good observation when asking when Mt. Kilimanjaro erupted, since she did not remember learning about it in school; she just remembered Krakatoa. Actually, the most recent activity of Mt. Kilimanjaro lies about 200 years in the past, and the last major eruption was 360,000 years ago. The more special is then an eruption of a thousand of them in David’s time. Classmate Jason said he enjoyed the use of words and the sexual innuendos, and fellow poet Tien wrote, “Very descriptive poem. I like how it followed the whole cycle of orgasm. The diction makes it sound very carnal…” Valerie commented about the “tingling tittilation” that “it tickles to read on…,” and she has found a logical contradiction in his line, “igniting breathless fires”: “I like this (although technically, fire cannot exist if it can’t breathe—it suffocates).” She finds the poem very explicit, almost raunchy, and noticed that David organized it in two parts: (1) the physical realities of sex, and (2) the movement to a more poetic or flowery view of sex, laden with pretty imagery. She finishes with the remark, “Interesting movement from pre- to post-orgasm—things are more beautiful directly after.” His peer Rachel complimented him: “Your word choice is economic, tight, and precise.” Fellow student Cara made the annotation whether David could balance his “delirious eruptions” with “some less romantic aspects of volcanos,” so it would be less cliché. Another peer wrote, “HOT POEM!”—and we shall leave it at that.
“In the Test Tube”
Ironically, in November 2016, David and I initiated the IVF process … Even if the egg fertilization is performed in a petri dish rather than a test tube, his imagery is still creepily acute and anticipating our future child, and I can’t wait to show him … daddy’s poetry in a decade or so. I love this poem as much as the previous one, and the topic of in-vitro fertilization was surely more of a medical novelty at the time he wrote it than today. His personifications (the buzzing quarks, the flirting electrons, the clinging and embracing electrons, the dancing acid and base, and erupting mixture) are outstanding, as is his choice of adjectives, adverbs, onomatopoeia (swirling, gurgling), and alliterations (buzzing breathlessly, faster and faster). His teacher remarked: “I think you do a very good job of making this rhythmically dramatic, but not as good a job making it dramatic in terms of its imagery and diction.”
This very sad poem shows death as a “trap door into the abyss,” and what’s on the other side is unknown. David knows there is no way back; “the bell that has long ceased tolling / is itself no more”—this describes that he himself has long since stopped living, because his anxiety and fear had grown so strong he could not enjoy life anymore, and he had basically outlived himself. There are no funeral bells, because the bell itself has ceased to exist. When David writes, “only stale air remains; then that is sucked out into oblivion,” it reminds me of the way he chose to end his life… He went quietly, painlessly, cleanly, so as not to leave anything for his loved ones to find or clean up—innocent and pure as he was, and finally released from all his earthly suffering.
If you feel like harming yourself, call the suicide prevention hotline. You are being loved, even if everything seems meaningless.
His words, “Suffocating insanity” could be understood in two different ways grammatically: (1) The process of dying is insanity that is suffocating (in this case, “insanity” would be a subject, and “suffocating” would be a participle functioning as an adjective; what kind of insanity. This is the pessimistic version, because it describes how terrible insanity is, and that it takes the last breath of life out of you), or (2) Oblivion is suffocating the insanity (in this case, “insanity” would be a direct object, and “suffocating” would be a verb, and this would be the more optimistic variant, because insanity would be conquered at last, and would cease to exist, too). Whichever you as a reader think David meant—he seems to have foreshadowed his own death.
The last two lines show how hopeful he was in the end: “Window through nothingness: the nectar of the world once again?” The night before he died, David called me from his hotel room where he had hidden out “from the government” for two nights, fearing they might come to our door to “kidnap him,” and I told him about a scientific article I had read on the Internet that some researchers claim that the soul can exist without a body. He was so relieved to hear that, and said, “That’s very comforting.” We had often discussed that we both believed—or wanted to believe—one’s consciousness lives on after death as “inanimate matter,” floating around freely or invading maybe another body. Reading this poem gives me the hope that David thought until his very last breath (even if his climax has a question mark) he would return to taste the sweetness of the world once again. Back in 1996, his teacher did not comprehend David’s poem: “Is this an imagistic exploration of death as a possibility? I’m not sure I understand. The tone is interesting, though.”
“Ballad of JB”
This witty satire in the form of a ballad with five quatrains is an example of David using time-relevant material in his poetry; albeit he was of Jewish origin, non-practicing, he vented about a Christian charlatan. James Orsen “Jim” Bakker, born in Muskegon, MI in 1940, was an ex-convict, televangelist, and a former Assemblies of God minister with his wife Tammy Faye, whom he had married in 1961; together, they were hosts of the PTL Club, an evangelical Christian TV program. He had to resign from the ministry due to a sex scandal, and a charge of fraud led to his imprisonment in 1989 and divorce in 1992. He should later return to televangelism with his new wife, Lori. Scammer Bakker had been charged with illegally taking about $4 million in bonuses from PTL income, and with overselling lifetime “partnerships” promising lodging in fancy hotels that did not exist. Originally sentenced to 45 years in prison, Bakker was retried in 1991to 18 years, which were then reduced to eight; in 1994, he was released on parole, having served only five years. David most likely heard about Bakker’s release in the media, which enticed him to write his satire two years later. He mentions the vanishing funds, and the hush money paid: “Among the places the money went: $3.4 million in bonuses for Jim and Tammy, and $279,000 to buy silence from Jessica Hahn, with whom Jim had dallied one fateful day in a Florida hotel.” Jim and Tammy Bakker used the money to lead a lavish and extravagant life-style.
“The Federal Government dumped a hefty chunk of coal into Jim Bakker’s Christmas stocking last week. In a 28-page indictment, the former top man of the scandal-plagued PTL TV ministry was charged with 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy. His wife and co-star Tammy Faye, televangelism’s dolled-up super-shopper, escaped by an eyelash….”(Ostling, “Jim Bakker’s Crumbling World,” Times Magazine)
Although David’s ballad had a few rhythmic impurities, his teacher and classmates loved his topic and the way he had dealt with it. Ella Campi wrote: “David, This is a clever take on the ballad but some of it is rhythmically off. I think once you clean up the meter it will all come off quite nicely.” Classmate Wendy made a valid remark by saying, “Maybe you should mention her lack of holiness w/ makeup.” She has a point here; David neglected to satirize the “dolled-up super shopper” blondie.
Wendy further comments, “The oddities are nice; Jim was a little odd, anyways.” Valerie remarked, “I laughed hard.” Rachel noted down, “These lines seem simple—knowing their history—they drip with irony.” She also made a great rhythmic change, which I have inserted into David’s poem to improve it: He had written, “For, you see, unbeknownst to Tammy,” which did not fit rhythmically. His teacher inserted “Faye” after Tammy, but then wrote that it would not fit that well, because there were too many identical rhymes now (with “hay” and “pay.” Rachel came up with the ironical phrase, “For unbeknownst to Tammy dear,” which is the solution I like best, especially since this line deals with Bakker’s affair with Hahn.
 “About Pastor Jim.” The Jim Bakker Show, 2017. Accessed 20 May 2017. https://jimbakkershow.com/about-us/about-jim/
 Ostling, Richard N. “Jim Bakker’s Crumbling World.” Times Magazine, 2016. Accessed 20 May 2017. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,148274,00.html
In his second draft, David wrote a “real” poem and earned a pat from his teacher: “David, This is a much better attempt at a poem about writer’s block.” She recommends he focus on a single image to draw the reader in. She concludes with, “Here, we have an essentially lyric moment; a moment of non-happening. However, there is very little lyric reach in this poem.” I like his use of personifications: the letters and syllables flicker, they are mocking; the images cast shadows across his mind; the distractions lure him with false promise of relief, but insure defeat; finally, a word is “squeezed” into existence, and the vicious circle starts anew with the agonizing word search.
Here end the annotations of young David’s poetry—a basement find, hidden in an old, dusty cardboard box and stowed away through many years of moving, performing, accompanying, loving, laughing, and suffering—and thus, this tiny volume was “squeezed” into existence and will hopefully bring joy, some reflection about life, and a gentle smile to the reader.