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Laurie Markvart's Diary of Nothing Left Unsaid

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Chapter Two from “Somewhere in the Music, I’ll Find Me, A Memoir”

2 – FILLING THE GAPS WITH MUSIC

Waterloo, Wisconsin, the 1970s

By Midwest farm country standards, our two-story red brick house on one of the main drags, Madison Street, was in the hustle and bustle of little Waterloo.

Waterloo had two thousand people. There was one stoplight in the whole town, and it marked the four corners, town center, where the two main thoroughfares of Madison and Monroe Street met. I could see the light blink from my front yard.

Our town center consisted of a pharmacy, bowling alley, shoe and clothing store, bank, movie theater, fire station, diner, and six taverns. Yes, six. And all walking distance from our house.

As well, our town had four churches, also all walking distance from our house and town center. Occasionally, the clergy from those churches patronized those six taverns. Mom would say, “The best sermons are on a Saturday night to a bunch of drunks then on Sunday to the hungover.”

Waterloo was not much different from other small towns in Wisconsin. Still, I thought Waterloo was beautiful, with soft hills making up Fireman’s Park that was filled with tall Oak, Ash, and Pine trees forming canopies over summer’s deep green lush grass. The tree branches turned to icicles twinkling like diamonds in the sun when we used the hills for sledding in the winter.

The chocolate brown slow-flowing Maunesha River ebbed through the park, lined with Pussy Willows and marsh shrubs. A dam at the Mill House forced some of the Maunesha up into a large-sized pond, which in summer was home to ducks, geese, and the occasional fisherman frustratingly hoping for a catch. When December would come, the pond became a frozen sheet for childhood shenanigans of snowball fights, hockey, and ice skating.

If it wasn’t for the strong smell of manure that would waft through the town from the many nearby dairy farms, as a little child, I thought Waterloo was damn perfect, until it wasn’t.

Everyone in Waterloo knew each other, and they didn’t just say hello in passing on the street or at the local diner. Long conversations would ensue about family, friends, and the latest happenings about town or, God forbid, national politics or worldly events. In the 70s, those conversations were curated from the Sunday newspaper, evening news, the radio and spiced up with small-town opinions.

My mom would always direct the conversations to local gossip, which she found more attractive, even though she sometimes was part of the story. And my dad, having grown up in Chicago, served 20 years in the military through World War II and a year in Korea during the Korean War, would never engage in the gossip that he called “small town nonsense.” Still, he’d willingly debate politics with the right person.

A typical grocery store run was the excitement of the day for Mom and she conversed with everyone from the entrance to the exit. Amongst the vegetable aisle to the meat counter, she never missed a chance to “bullshit.” When I was a pre-teen, I’d usually bide my time waiting for her by looking at People and other entertainment magazines hanging near the checkout, fantasizing about a more exciting life.

But by the time I was in high school, Waterloo was isolating and boring to me. Although I was not the popular type, I had good friends and enjoyed school. But with only 70 kids in my class, popularity was not my priority. Variety was.

Every day around Waterloo, I saw the same people repeatedly, and while my mom found this comforting and enjoyable, I was restless. The folks of Waterloo were genuine, caring and the sense of community was strong, but I yearned for diversity and excitement.

The closest city where I believed the real action and activity happened was Madison, twenty-six miles to the west. Madison had nearly two hundred thousand people, and I could feel the energy every time we visited for shopping or birthday celebrations. If we approached the city at night, the thousands of streetlights lit up the dark sky, and it was a beacon to something more thrilling. The city had various ethnic restaurants, the state capital, indoor malls, an airport, people of different colors and religions, a university, and giant lakes, Mendota and Monona, that looked like oceans to my adolescent eyes when I first saw them. But Waterloo did have a quaintness that my mother loved. And at times, I embraced it too. Primarily for her sake and especially when I was young and yearning for her attention.

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As a young child, every Sunday morning, I pleasantly woke in my upstairs bedroom of our house to the sound of needle scraping vinyl on the downstairs record player. Classical music boomed from Pioneer floor speakers in our living room. My dad—that ex-military early-bird, predictably rose at 6 a.m. (when the bugle sounds!) and played his favorites after he poured his first cup of coffee. I assumed that this was part of my father’s routine to wake up my brother and me: a friendly pronouncement, the head of the house was up. Or so I thought at the time.

As the years progressed and my parents’ relationship grew more strained, I wondered if he might have done it to piss off his typically hungover, depressed wife.

But I loved the music. As I rested on my white eyelet canopy bed, surrounded by stuffed animals, I listened to every note with anticipation and memorized every lyric, even in French or German. I’d fade in and out of sleep, content, amused by swells of the music, the sudden lulls, the dramatic operatic vocals. My father had said, “In every opera, someone always falls in love, and someone always dies, but in between, there is a whole lot of beautiful music.”

My dad had a small-framed body and carried his shoulders back with poise and confidence, especially when discussing opera. Even though his weekend attire of a grey sweatshirt and white Converse high-tops wouldn’t suggest, he was an opera enthusiast. Nor would his machine shop green coveralls from his day job. No matter the attire, grease lingered under his fingernails and his hands smelled of machine oil, as did what was left of his hair. But I liked the smell. It smelled like him.

Many times, on Sunday mornings, my brother David slammed his door shut in response to Dad’s orchestral onslaught. However, the door to my parents’ room—with my mom presumably sleeping–was always closed, although a closed door wasn’t enough to silence the music. My door was left open. The cacophony told me I was not alone. Dad was there. I was safe. My father was the stable force in our unpredictable home.

I could assume my dad’s mood, and my mom’s likely condition, by his musical choices. He was in a pleased, carefree mood if he was listening to piano concertos, like Tchaikovsky’s, or operas like Tosca or Carmen. He’d be enjoying the Sunday paper. Sometimes he’d be humming as he made his way around the house, and the sound would bring me great pleasure. It also meant my mother was sober, happy, and up making breakfast. On these days, I would not linger in bed; I’d rush downstairs to join them.

Beethoven, especially Moonlight Sonata, meant he was stressed. I would find him amiable but unhappy. He was busy doing my mother’s chores: making breakfast, cleaning the kitchen, disposing of liquor bottles from the night before. He was an old-school man who’d say, “These are the duties of the wife, not mine.”

Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor meant a dark mood. I would find him unapproachable, further evidenced by deep furrows on his brow and puffy eyelids. I could only assume he and my mother had fought the night before. He had every reason to use Mozart to insulate himself from her. Thankfully, I was confident that he loved me. Even if he was not incredibly welcoming, as he sat with legs crossed tightly against the base of the living room armchair, his hand wrapped tightly around a cup of coffee, offering a reduced smile for me. I would head to the kitchen, hoping my mom was preparing breakfast before church. However, when Requiem was playing, she was never there. She was still in bed.

I was angry at my mom for putting my dad in such a state. Also, I was lonely, the only one to sit at the breakfast table with no one to make food for me, provide comfort, and ask if I slept okay.

As a ten-year-old, I could put Lucky Charms in a bowl and pour milk on it. Then again, compared to my mother’s good Sundays, when she would prepare pancakes, waffles, bacon, toast, and fresh juice, cold cereal was disheartening. Until my brother would join me, these quiet moments of eating alone were sad and crushing, especially with Requiem in the background.

On Mom’s good Sundays, when she was not depressed or hungover, she was engaging, loving, caring, and had an outrageous sense of humor. She dished out hugs, back rubs, and kisses to our foreheads and cheeks and never missed a second to say, “You mean the world to me.” She had pet names for us: sweetheart, darling, honey bunch, pumpkin, kiddo. Her attention was devotional. But also confusing. How could she be so unavailable on some days and emotionally stifling on others?

My mother was a pretty woman with pleasant straight light brown hair that would curl into her neck as it reached her shoulders. Her clear blue eyes and high arched eyebrows were probably her most delicate features. She was of average height and weight but slightly taller than my dad. She’d put on weight when depressed and then lose some when she was in a good state. She would dress in contemporary clothes and shoes if she felt mentally well, but nothing fancy or flashy. She loved clip-on earrings and long-chain necklaces, and she incorporated purple, her favorite color, into her wardrobe every chance she could. But the most constant part of her attire was a cigarette. A Salem was her fashion statement. And her comfort.

When Mom was in a good state, she ran the stereo on Saturday mornings; it was rousing fun. She’d play upbeat music, popular on the radio: Candy Man by Sammy Davis Jr. or Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head. Those Saturdays would not be complete without Johnny Mathis.

Mom spun Johnny Mathis vinyl like his voice was an oxygen tank for her lungs. She owned every album he recorded. She documented her collection on ruled school paper, with columns drawn with a ruler in pencil to section out release dates, album and song titles, duets, and she placed it all in a 3-ring binder. The spine simply labeled Johnny.

Much to my dad’s displeasure at the cost of Mom’s obsession, every time a new Johnny album arrived in the mail, Dad would say, “Johnny put out another album?” Mom also belonged to Johnny’s international fan club and swooned like a teenager when she received an annual birthday card with his photo and replica autograph. She’d tack it to the bulletin board in the kitchen for all of us to see. Johnny’s tender chocolate eyes and apparent genuine cheerfulness made me adore him too. Along with his smooth, charismatic velvet voice, I understood Mom’s attraction and wished I could sing like him. Mom told me she heard he gave up a successful shot as an Olympic high-jumper to be a singer. I often wondered why he had to choose between the two.

Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Stevie Wonder, Glenn Campbell, Joan Baez, and Carole King were also Mom’s favorites. She’d tout, “Laurie, did you know Carole King writes her music? That’s a big deal, kiddo.” Those words stuck with me. Even as a very young child, I would stare at the cover of Carole King’s album Tapestry and wonder if I could write a song.

When Mom played musicals, like South Pacific or Oklahoma!, I was inspired to sing along, happy because I wasn’t alone. Sometimes Mom and I’d dance around the living room; afternoon sun rays shining on us through the window like a spotlight. We’d twirl and spin like novice ballroom dancers; rug burns on our feet. Holding hands, we’d lip-sync until the end of the song, and on cue, Mom and I’d fall dramatically onto the couch in an embrace of sweat and laughter.

“Laurie, someday I’ll take you to New York City, and we’ll see Broadway!” she would exclaim, throwing her hands in the air for a loud clap, her eyes dancing. She would quickly fall into the fantasy world show tunes offered. I had no problem joining her. Nevertheless, the song always ended.

© 2022 Laurie Markvart

Memories in Boxes of Love in Storage Locker #39

I stumbled on a journal entry about my mom that I wrote in 2017, a year after she passed. I’m glad I kept it. And that I found it, stuffed between my other journals and books in a box labeled “stuff” at the back of my closet.

The journal entry now gives me insight into an agonizing time when memories were not formed but discarded.

When Mom passed, I was with her, an agreement we had previously made, and the experience hypnotized me. We were very close. Those memories of her departing are beautiful and crystal clear. But I have shreds of anxious, heartbreaking memories in the weeks, months, and year after her death, the year I refused to return to Wisconsin and sort out her belongings. No one was pressuring me to return. My brother and his family were dealing with their grief and were in no rush to sort through Mom’s stuff. Who wanted to go through a storage locker of someone else’s memories? Or was it our memories too?

A week after Mom’s death, I returned home to Los Angeles and back to an entertainment job I thought I could handle while processing grief. But was I processing? I sure put on a happy face and dove back into a job I was satisfied with, but it was not enough to distract me. Her memory infiltrated almost every hour of the day, and the idea of returning to her storage locker gave me an ache that meant I’d have to admit she was gone. So, I had no problem writing a monthly check for $119 to the storage unit in Wisconsin to hold her possessions, and apparently, my grief.

I was numb. I was a robot to my job, boyfriend, music, and my teenage son. That worried me the most. But her loss plagued me, and I thought, who was I, without the woman who made me?

Within two months of her passing, my son and I took a trip to Hawaii, in which I thought beaches, a Luau, and a rented Corvette convertible would uplift me; and provide my son and me time to regroup. But I discovered a Corvette or even Hawaii couldn’t fix a broken heart.

In the months after Hawaii, I fantasized what Mom would tell me about returning to Wisconsin to sort out her things. About getting my life back in order. How would she tell me to grieve her? I did feel an instinctive push to get back to music, writing and I’d find the answer on how to move on.

Six months after her passing, I quit my entertainment job and returned to writing a memoir I started in 2011. A memoir I thought was about me, but it became just as much about her, which in turn, is me. Unknowingly, writing the memoir became an outlet for me to process her death. As I continued writing through guttural tears, moments of laughter, and some anguishing and joyful memories, I knew I could handle the trip back to Wisconsin.

Finally, 15 months after her passing, in September of 2017, I returned home, and my brother and I opened her storage locker. The monthly payments kept her items safe from thieves but not from the ravaging season of Midwest summer humidity and frozen winter. Mold had grown up the legs of furniture and into boxes, papers, journals, and photos we didn’t think we cared about until we did. There was an odor to that storage locker that was part mold, mothballs, and dashes of her (which meant the smell of cigarettes and Fendi). It smelled like home. Which meant the woman I ached for over the past 15 months was now all around me. To sort through her belongings, notes, and writings, I knew I was getting the chance to know her again. And a chance to know the new me.

That journal entry from the day after opening Mom’s storage locker:

September 5, 2017, Wisconsin

I’m not sure how to connect my thoughts. I’ve come home. This is where she lived; I once lived. We all lived, and some still live. I’m here to clean out her belongings. To create space. To recoup costs. To close her physical life. To open mine. I look at her storage unit, and it just looks like stuff, shit. Before she died, all this stuff, this shit was vital to her. And I get it! We humans consume, create and collect stuff. Either physically or emotionally. I’m overwhelmed by her shit because I care about it. A lot of her shit was about me, my bother, our family. I care. Now, how do I separate her shit from mine? From protecting it to throwing or selling?

Today was travel from CA to WI. But it’s the first time I’ve come back home, and she’s not here. Tonight I rest. Tomorrow, I know there’s a lot of work. But also a lot of love. All documented in boxes. Boxes in storage unit #39, to be exact, of her.

© 2022 Laurie Markvart

When a Rogue Weed Invades a Garden: Cancer, Humor and Garden Tools

Editorial note: There is rightful cussing in this piece. Enjoy at your own risk.

I didn’t want to write about this. Writing about it makes it real. Until now, I’ve been in a dream state. One of denial, curiosity, fear, anxiety, perplexity, anger, doubt, joy, euphoria. Yes, joy and euphoria. It’s something else the brain does when it’s trying to reason with bad shit.

So, back to writing about it. My close friends and family told me to document this journey. Every detail, if possible. I was like, “Why? I’m fucking living it, why would I want to document it, too?” Besides half the time, I have no idea what is going on! But, even the doctors told me to write about it. “You’re a musician, a writer, that’s how you can deal with this. Plus, your submission for treatment was humorous,” one said. Humorous? Well, when I wrote it, I was laughing out of astonishment more than anything. Lastly, one doctor said, “Writing will make you feel better.” I replied, “Will writing make it go away? Will it return me to the person I was before you told me this shit?”

Yes, I have many doctors, and I know how many kids they have, the last time they had a vacation and what they had for lunch. I find getting to know the people who touch my body is essential. I’ve had four doctors touch me in one afternoon in what felt like doctor speed dating. I didn’t find it invasive but exploratory. I knew they needed information. No pride or prude here. And yes, I joked through most of it.

Okay, so I’ve mentioned doctors. I’m talking about the MD ones. And this MD group came into my life like a bunch of line dancers, yanking me into their frenzied world. It was January 2, 2020, when one of those doctors called and said, “Laurie, they found cancer cells in your breast biopsy. I’m sorry.” Now you know where they were touching me during doctor speed dating!

The funny thing is before the doctor delivered the news, she didn’t ask me if it was a good time to talk or if I was sitting down. Do doctors do that anymore? Ask if you’re sitting down? Well, shit, when you do hear that, you can pretty much determine the outcome of that conversation. So maybe they’ve ditched it with 1990s flannel. Actually, I was sitting down. I was in my car about to hop onto the 210 Fwy on my way to get my son.

I was expecting the call, just not the news. I already had a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy. All at my own doing because even though I have no family history of this and do not meet breast cancer criteria, I felt something alien in my breast, a small irregular mass. Enough to make me think well, that’s not right. But, I thought the doctor would tell me the mass was just hormone-related and benign. (DM me to ask me what I felt in my breast. I think it’s vital to give insight into this because most women or their partners DON’T know how it feels! Early detection is KEY!) So, when I got the call, on instinct, I pulled over to a street parking spot with a view of the gorgeous Pasadena City Hall. I was amazed to find an open spot! Near city hall!

Once the doctor delivered the news, and she told me potential next steps, I hung up. My view of city hall became blurred as I sobbed and shook like having a mild seizure. It was one of the loneliest out of body experiences in my life. Then all I could think of was my son and how I’d tell my teenager about something I knew nothing about.

I was also crying not because of the word cancer, but I was merely stunned. And frankly, cancer is just a word. Instead, let’s say…some of my cells started a different party in my body that isn’t cool. It’s like the loud party people living next door, and they don’t know when to chill. Dang…even for me THAT is not pressing. I love music and parties, and I’d want an invite. How about this: I plant a beautiful garden, and a strange weed grows. Yea, that’s more like it. And that weed grows out of control. So, let’s not get hung up on the word cancer. Instead, I got a rogue weed in my garden.

Okay, back to writing about this. Yes, I have stage two breast cancer. Or stage two garden invasion? I do know the specifics, as in the type, expectations, possible treatments, outcomes, and all that jazz. But I won’t write about those right now because I’m still in the trenches. And, it’s all-new words, terminology, and practices of an alien world in which I’m still a foreigner. But as for those doctors of mine. Damn, they’re excellent tour guides. And yes, maybe writing about it is a good thing.

Also, I was sobbing cause I was like shit…this is a joy kill to my “it’s gonna be a great 2020” mantra! Plus, it was January 2. I was still recovering from New Year’s Eve! I was like, give me a couple of days to recoup before you bomb me with this news! Then I heard a horn from an anxious driver behind me wanting my parking spot. Really?! Oh, that’s right parking is a premium whether you have cancer or not. Obviously, he assumed I was leaving. No, my fellow motorist, I’m not leaving. I just arrived somewhere; I didn’t know I was going.

I’ll share more when it’s right for me, and when I feel it will benefit others also dealing with a garden invasion. Also, when I don’t have the pain. I’ve already had two surgeries (the first step in this madness), and while my garden is intact (they’ve come a long way in how they eradicate garden weeds! Okay, I’ll stop with the analogy! For now.), but I am exhausted. Lastly, I’ll write more when I not only know what my doctors had for lunch but also dinner. And when I can fathom how to pay my medical and personal bills while being a freelancer and having the most basic of insurance. Yes, this is all part of the cancer scene. Top healthcare should be available to ALL! That is for another blog.

I can say this unequivocally…the woman I was before January 2, does not exist anymore. The musician, writer, mother, and friend is still there, but she’s even more passionate about who and what she loves. The woman who was worried about aging and body image has taken a back seat. Actually, she’s in the trunk. This isn’t the time to worry about that bullshit. So ladies of all ages and sizes…let that shit go. Just be healthy and embrace your beautiful garden.

Best yet, some other woman has joined my excursion. She has far more stamina, humor, brute strength and simultaneous fragility, humility, clarity, peace, self-love, and undeniable trust in God, her family, and friends. If that phone call on January 2 had been benign, I’d be that prior woman, and I wouldn’t be falling so madly in love with this new one and writing about her and her garden tools. Mantra stands: It’s a great 2020! ~ Laurie Markvart

My Parent, My Friend: A Daughter’s Wish for Adult Children

Twelve years ago, my dad, Leonard left this world. The sky today is similar to then – a bright, gorgeous blue – his favorite color. Today, I celebrate him.
 
But my world changed drastically on March 29, 2006. Most of all because I not only lost my dad (and a damn good one) but he was also a terrific friend in my adult years. What I wouldn’t do for a long walk with him now. Also, it’s not quite two years since my mom has passed and OH the things I’d like to talk to her about and get her sage advice. You see, I had the same with her, she was my best friend in my adult years. And the only one who could make my cheeks hurt with laughter.
 
This is not a pity party. This is PSA. If you’re lucky enough to have your parent(s) still around, and they’ve been good to you, and if you’re fortunate enough you can call them a friend now that you’re an adult, you’ve struck gold. Enjoy them, foster the relationship, never underestimate their love for you and laugh, laugh, laugh.
 
And if your parent(s) have been mediocre, or shit to you. Just remember, they’re only human. And so are you. Sometimes it’s never too late, and sometimes things just are what they are. But believe me, I know I had something extraordinary, and I wish it upon everyone else who still has a chance.
Photo – Canyon Lake, Texas. 1997. On one of our many, many walks.

Happy New Year – That I Can Do

The New Year is the perfect time to say “That I Can Do.” It just depends on what you plan on doing. And then after you say it, can you do it? Alright, I’m messing with you all.

I’m blogging to post lyrics for my song “That I Can Do” that went live on iTunes a few days ago. But if you can say to me, “Yes, that I can do, Laurie. I can buy your song for a meager .99¢.” Well, thank you! Head on over to iTunes! And, Happy New Year!

Lyrics for THAT I CAN DO

There are many things you ask me
Some are tough, and some are meant to be
You’ve tried so hard to believe
That I’ll be more to you than truth can really be

There’s never been a question of my faith
It lies deep when I see you
But my life has taken me away
And time has no offer to replace what you have missed or what I regret

All I can offer you isn’t much, but it’s love, that I can do
All I can offer you isn’t much, but it’s love, and that I can do…for you.

I feel the shame shallow in my pain
I fall upon my troubled heart
But I’ve kept my heart pure in touch with you
Grown apart you need more of what I can do…what I need to do

You’ve been long in my heart, fast to my rescue
Never one to compromise your hand
You’ll never need love the way I do
I’ve become your fool with love all I offer

 

© Laurie Markvart

“HOW” Lyrics for Lovers and Those Who Are Done

Hello Friends,

Here are lyrics to a new song I’ll post to Youtube within the coming weeks. If the words resonate with you then embrace them. You’re not alone.

X,
L

HOW

How do I say I’m sorry
When I’m not sure I’m wrong
How do I fix broken glass
With shards that are gone.

How do I relapse into a love
That has been drunk dry
How do I care about a story
When a sigh become a lie.

How is it here, we became this
Broken in two, no longer fit
How many times did we try to make it right?
Not enough, not enough
’cause we’re here.

How the hell does ambition
Turn to regret
And trust to lust
For another to get.

How does intention
Become a memory
And purity to anger
It’s all I see.

Lyrics ©lauriemarkvart 2017

 

A Poem for the Compassionate Man

Okay, ladies, we may hammer back when we defend ourselves against men who come at us publicly or privately about our…yup…menstrual cycle. Those guys who say things like, “Oh, she must be on her period, that’s why she’s a bitch.” Or worse yet they call another guy a bitch and ask him if he’s on his period. Sorry guys, he’s not on his period. Possibly he’s just not a dick like you.

Back to the “period,” or commonly called by many women, (honesty alert here!), “the rag,” “the red baron,” “TOTM,” “the monthly visitor,” “Aunt Flo,” “pipes have burst.”  See, women can joke about it because WE must deal with it. And when guys think they are “dealing” with it ’cause their woman is dealing with it…sorry…that’s like saying, “Yeah, I had a flat tire, and I had to watch Bob the mechanic put on a new tire, and it took forever. What a drag that was.”

The truth is, guys will never know what women go through and we can’t hold that against them. But, we can hold against them their acts of unkindness, lack of consideration, and intolerance to women. Usually, these actions are due to their lack of proper education by their mother or sisters. Or, they are so uncomfortable with the subject they find it easier to joke about or condemn it or worst of all tell a woman when she seems to be losing her shit, “It’s all in your head.” Actually guys…it’s all in our ovaries. That’s where it starts. 

This isn’t meant to be a feminist post today or a slam to men. I’m taking this the other direction. This is to acknowledge those guys who ARE loving, patient and compassionate to what their woman goes through. These are the guys who know to get the hell out the way when they see it coming and support their woman by giving her space and not condemning her. Or, especially for those guys who listen, give their time, energy, and love to their woman and honor her. These are the actual soldiers and REAL men. So, ladies let’s honor our men too. There are many good ones out there. And here’s to mine:

He talks me off an edge
He brings me down
He gently eases my head
Not sure how he wears the crown

To always rise when I am low
To always fight for me, not dispose
To always pull me through
No complaint as he goes

I may cry, I may scream
Never at him
He knows what I mean
I shutter at my own dismay
Honored he stays, yet another day

This man captains a wayward ship
His beloved trips upon her own weary lip
She does not know when she’ll return
Yet, her heart for him will always yearn.

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