He will drag himself out of bed this morning inside his modest home on Turkey Lane in Buxton.

He’ll take his heavy doses of morphine and fentanyl and patiently wait for the crushing pain to subside.

Then, this being Christmas, Gene Auprey will count his gifts.

“I notice that food started tasting fantastic and I couldn’t figure out why,” he wrote recently. “It was because I remembered the taste from when I was young, before I burned my taste buds out. Definitely a gift.”

So are those vivid memories that fill his head these days, brimming with lost youth and unbridled adolescence and a time when life only beckoned: “Great for daydreaming, reminiscing or conversation. Another gift.”

Oh, and the night. Those dark, quiet hours when Gene drifts into dreamy rendezvous with those who reside only in his 66-year-old memory: “Some dead, some long forgotten, some at younger or older ages, none scary but all terrific. Another gift.”

Maybe you’ve already noticed. Gene is a poet.

A poet with lots to say and, alas, precious little time to say it.

A poet who, in return for all life has bestowed upon him, now has but one thing to give in return:

His love for words.

Late last month, Hospice of Southern Maine named Gene its first-ever poet laureate because, as the agency’s proclamation puts it, his work of late “is written from the lens of his End of Life.”

And because Gene, now in the final stages of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and myriad other maladies, “encourages and welcomes the sharing of his poetry to assist others in their End of Life Journey.”

Take, for example, “My Prayer to Continue”:

I will not defy death nor will I accept

it by default. Though pain is excruciating

tonight, it is neither harbinger nor is it

assassin but rather reaper of that which

has withered on the stalk. So, I will continue

to stand, to get up and move of my own volition.

There is no battle here, the Spirit compels that

I write and I acquiesce with appreciation

that for another day I have not withered.

Life begets life, so each day I live, live to fulfill

the charge grace has enabled and I have

accepted to bring to fruition before I rest.

This from a man who never graduated from high school. Despite his love for language and his better-than-decent grades at Woodsville High School in northern New Hampshire, Gene’s senior-year English teacher failed him for a few missed homework assignments.

“I got a 96 on my final exam and she still flunked me,” he mused. “The whole school was in an uproar.”

This from a man who worked for decades as a project manager for a plaster-and-drywall company, commuting daily between Maine and Massachusetts, before his failing body forced him to retire in 2002.

This from a man who, upon getting sick all those years ago, logged onto the internet in search of the toughest online poetry workshops he could find.

“I just joined the workshop and started out writing lousy poetry and getting better and better and eventually getting published,” he said.

This from a man who, according to his doctors, should no longer be there at his desktop computer keyboard, hunting and pecking for just the right noun or verb, the crystal-clear image, the perspective that comes only with knowing that time is indeed of the essence.

“Ten years ago, they diagnosed me that I’d probably be a year,” Gene said. Raising his chin from his chest and smiling, he added, “It’s been a long year.”

Since he began hospice last January, he’s written 348 poems. They come seemingly out of nowhere, often in the middle of the night, kernels of thought that blossom into verse as poignant as it is profound.

He’s written about his father, who had the first of a series of strokes when Gene was 9. While Gene frantically learned how to do the things his father no longer could, his dad spent the rest of his days planted squarely at death’s door …

A thought that made me cry when

no one else could hear. He lived

for nine more years, some were

good and some were hard but

I learned and learned and learned

With an urgency that the more

I did the longer he would stay …

He’s written, in “Synonyms Are Not Always Synonymous,” about the difference between “wish” and “want” …

Want has weight and passion, it

purveys impatience as when a

stallion curls his lips neck stretched

high and whinnies then rears up

and stomps. The wish is light and

unhurried like a butterfly landing

on flower waits for it to stop rocking

before flicking its tongue to nectar …

He’s written a special poem called “The Final Gift” for the love of his life – his 5-year-old granddaughter J’Lynn …

We share a gift that keeps us close,

a tie that binds us beyond the shadow

of life and death. That is the Spirit of

Remembrance …

Larry Greer is one of four pastoral counselors for Hospice of Southern Maine. He visits Gene at least once every two weeks and is now hard at work compiling a dozen or so of Gene’s poems into an illustrated anthology.

Once printed, hopefully in time for Gene to see it, the collection will go out free of charge to the 190 or so patients served by Hospice of Southern Maine each and every day.

“We connected from day one,” recalled Greer of their first meeting almost a year ago. “I look at Gene and I see my modern-day mystic. I come here as much for me as I do for him.”

Like Greer, Gene was a minister earlier in life at a small Christian church in Limerick. That was before his last divorce – his third – left him angry at the universe.

“Me and God had a little argument,” Gene said. “We didn’t speak for a long time. He didn’t give in and neither did I.”

But then Gene’s friends, as they often would, asked him to pray for this want or that wish. How could he refuse?

“I’m not praying for me, God,” he’d mutter. “I’m praying for them.”

Only then did he start to notice “all of the things that were answered and all of the beautiful things that were coming my way.”

OK, God, he finally conceded, “I guess we can talk a little.”

His spiritual philosophy percolates through his poetry. The way Gene sees it, we are all “three-part beings – we have a body, a soul and a spirit.”

His body has all but abandoned him. The most recent prognosis gives him another month, if that.

Yet his soul, which Gene equates with the conscious mind, is in overdrive.

He’s already authored one book of poetry – “Dead Reckoning,” released in 2010 to critical acclaim by the New Jersey publishing house Poets Wear Prada.

Now, he’s determined to finish a much bigger collection of almost 200 poems and 50 essays.

“I want to see at least a rough draft,” he said. “But I don’t know, I just keep coming up with things to write.”

Meaning this poetry business is never-ending?

Gene smiled and shook his head. “Unfortunately,” he said, “you know where this book ends.”

Which brings us to Gene’s spirit. The part of him that he fervently believes will live on long after he takes his last labored breath, long after he grabs hold of a passing thought, long after he burnishes it into his final verse.

And so on this, his last Christmas, the man you’d never take for a poet offers us this hopeful gift. It’s called “Of Vessels and Content” and, unlike most of the stuff under the tree this morning, it’s guaranteed to last a lifetime …

Possibly the fact that my life’s cup

has diminished in size, to where

it holds very little, provides the illusion

that with what’s inside I’m living most

abundantly. The joy I feel compounds

with each passing day, though each

brings summation closer. I’m enthralled

by the simplest of events, a visit from a

friend, an acorn left by a grandchild

because I was sleeping when she came,

a message from an offspring on FB, all

add to my growing delight with life. At

this time I am not fighting death but rather

I am embracing life to the very last breath.

This is not in denial of my fate but in

acceptance of its limits. The boundless

happiness I feel pushes dread from my way,

Even if I have but a thimbleful I am complete.


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