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Sunny Prestatyn

February 27, 2012

I had a friend in high school who had a sunny smile, an earnest nature, an appetite for books that made her always worth talking to, and one of the most impressive bosoms I’ve ever seen in my life (worth noting when you were habitually tormented by the rest of the trombone section whispering behind their mouthpieces about “a pirate’s dream…sunken chest”). Her name was Ronna, and her memorial service is today. She died of breast cancer, which strikes me as no more ironic than that my weakest part should be in my big, long legs and seem to imply that I’m always awe-struck by something.

Ronna and I went to high school long enough ago that she didn’t exactly die young, but hers was not as long a life as anyone who knew her would have hoped. The sense of waste I feel at her death is best expressed by one of my favorite poets, Philip Larkin. I don’t know that I’ve ever read this poem in this particular way before, but when I looked at it through eyes full of the loss of Ronna, it suddenly seemed to me to be about death defacing the image of someone who became so much more than even the potential of her full-blown teenaged gorgeousness might have implied.

Sunny Prestatyn

Come To Sunny Prestatyn
Laughed the girl on the poster,
Kneeling up on the sand
In tautened white satin.
Behind her, a hunk of coast, a
Hotel with palms
Seemed to expand from her thighs and
Spread breast-lifting arms.

She was slapped up one day in March.
A couple of weeks, and her face
Was snaggle-toothed and boss-eyed;
Huge tits and a fissured crotch
Were scored well in, and the space
Between her legs held scrawls
That set her fairly astride
A tuberous cock and balls

Autographed Titch Thomas, while
Someone had used a knife
Or something to stab right through
The moustached lips of her smile.
She was too good for this life.
Very soon, a great transverse tear
Left only a hand and some blue.
Now Fight Cancer is there.

Ronna was a habitual reader of this blog. Whether you knew her or not, you will miss her, because she will no longer be behind the scenes urging me to read more widely and be more thoughtful, more earnest, and occasionally less flippant.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2012 6:16 am

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Jeanne *hug*

  2. Lass permalink
    February 27, 2012 8:12 am

    So sorry, J.

  3. February 27, 2012 10:25 am

    I’m so sorry Jeanne. Life hurts with people-shaped holes in it. {Hugs}

  4. February 27, 2012 10:54 am

    Jeanne, I’ll tack on to your tribute.

    The best thing about the internet for me has been the opportunities to reconnect with people I knew way back, like you and Ronna. You characterized her as having an earnest nature. I’d also add that she was incredibly generous and surprisingly poetic, at least poetic in ways that resonate with me. Her last Caring Bridge entry moved me to tears last fall; I reread it today and it’s even more powerful now.

    Although it was clear she knew how her story would end, I never got the sense that she would just give up. Some fights are worth fighting, and I rooted for her from afar and hoped for a fairy tale ending. Now I hope for peace and comfort for James and their sons.

    • February 28, 2012 7:20 am

      I agree. It’s interesting to have friends I knew at 16 but who are now “imaginary friends” (eg people I talk to on the internets) because in the first case we were sort of thrown together, but in the second we chose to become friends again.

  5. February 27, 2012 12:12 pm

    Wow, Jeanne — this is so sad, and also — what an amazing difference this story makes to the reading of that poem. It’s all there, but I might not have seen it otherwise.

    • February 28, 2012 7:21 am

      Well, it’s all there if you look at it the way I did. I’m not going to argue that Larkin “meant” this, but his genius is writing a poem that can add up to this picture, if you see it in a certain light.

      • February 28, 2012 12:26 pm

        Except that, having seen it that way, I think he must have meant it, don’t you think?

        • February 28, 2012 12:30 pm

          I like to stick to the idea that Stanley Plumly once expressed during a workshop when a writer said, in response to a compliment, “Oh I didn’t mean that.” Plumly boomed out “SHUT UP AND TAKE CREDIT!”

      • February 28, 2012 12:27 pm

        Not that it matters if he did or he didn’t. Have you read his novel, Girl in Winter?

        • February 28, 2012 12:30 pm

          No. Should I?

          • February 28, 2012 1:04 pm

            I read it 30 years ago and loved it. I haven’t read it since. But since you like him, you might like it. Maybe I’ll read it too and we can talk about it.

  6. February 27, 2012 12:15 pm

    With tears in my eyes and strange knots in my chest, I send you virtual hugs represented by these squiggly parentheses {{}} typed through my fingers to this funky computer screen of magical ones and zeros that they may find you somehow.

  7. freshhell permalink
    February 27, 2012 12:45 pm

    😦 What they said.

  8. February 27, 2012 3:39 pm

    Jeanne you are so right – it is impossible to convey the full richness of the person you love and have lost – words are not enough. I am so sorry for your loss and I am sorry, too, for what the world has lost. Seems like we are always losing people the world can’t spare.

    • February 28, 2012 7:32 am

      Any of you who comment show you’re mortal and you’re going to get much the same treatment here. Because you all help keep me going.

  9. February 27, 2012 4:19 pm

    I’m so sorry for your loss.

  10. February 27, 2012 7:30 pm

    Readersguide said what I was going to say. I’m so sorry. I am hating cancer more and more these days. I have read this poem before, but have never read it like this. Thank you for adding another meaningful layer.

    • February 28, 2012 7:24 am

      I’ve also read this poem plenty of times in the past, but never like this before, either.

  11. February 28, 2012 2:43 pm

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Hugs to you.
    It feels like some years are all about loss, don’t they?

    • February 28, 2012 6:48 pm

      I’m not feeling that so much as the John Donne “No Man is an Island” sense that this person’s death diminishes me.

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