Bruce Frankel

Author of the new book "What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life? True Stories of Finding Success, Passion, and New Meaning in the Second Half of Life."

Poet Joe Enzweiler and His Cabin Door in Alaska

May 8, 2010

There are days I truly love the Internet. This morning was one of them. Searching for news from the frontiers of neuroscience, I found Joseph Enzweiler. He is a physicist-turned-poet and stone mason who remade his life in rural Alaska, rejecting a life defined by a career in favor of one defined by his attention to life.


“Time—not cash—is the treasure in life,” he recently told the alumni magazine of Xavier University. “That’s what I wanted. I understood the bargain: I gave up a career-type job so I could write poetry and live a life more in keeping with the cycles of the seasons. I’m off the grid, no plumbing, no mortgage, no bills. It’s not for everybody, but this way of life has suited me.” In a story posted on the website of the Cinncinnati Brain Tumor Center, the author of five books of poetry added his rationale: “I want my silence.”

During the summer of 2009, Joe was diagnosed and later treated for a brain tumor in his native Ohio. I’ll post the links to the excellent stories in Xavier Alumni magazine and on CBTC site below, but first I’m hoping you’ll read Joe’s poem “Cabin Door,” from his collection A Winter on Earth, published by Iris Books, and listen to him reading it during an interview with Barbara Gray @ wxvu 91.7 radio in Cinncinnati.

It is a poem of considerable beauty and depth and humanity, built with the kind of word-by-word craft with which, easy to imagine, Joe also builds his walls. I love that I can see and feel the door at the same time I can feel it opening a portal in my own brain through which I enter Joe’s life, hearing the voice of his father come back to him in the voice of the door, the door through which he passes into the physical world and back into the world of mind and memory. Its closing line contains a wish I share with the readers of What Should I Do With The Rest Of My Life?

“Cabin Door”

Friend, mute thing
I shake hands with
every day, who for
twenty-five years
let me escape
in both directions,
I remember the night
of the Coleman lamps
when I was so young
the world was all
fiberglas and plywood,
my breath an apparition
in the block of cold
that would be home.

And you, too heavy
to lift, sledded here
by moonlight, shimmered
and bolted on, felt
around the edges to seal
out the rapier wind.
As if this was my
spaceship to the stars,
emissary in a corner chair
from a world that,
as I arrive in greeting
light years hence,
is no longer there.

You watched it all,
June’s leafy sun, winter
loosening into sap and mud.
On the other side,
old loves of mine
and meals alone.
Till I stand up
one more time, put on
my coat and greet you.
Daylight floods in hinged
and white. Don’t wait
for me. Can’t promise
I’ll be back, as you
repeat what my father
told me once, from your
deepening veneer:
“I hope you find
what you’re looking for.”

Radio interview with Barbara Gray at WVXU:WXVU interview with Joe Enzweiler


Here are the links to the story from the Xavier Magazne by Greg Shaber Xavier profile Enzweiler and the Cinncinnati Brain Tumor Center Cinncinnati Brain Tumor Center - Enzweiler .

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