Maine poet, faced with terminal diagnosis, keeps writing

Author Nick Stone has written his second book of poetry, “Seaward: A Lyrical Memoir,” which was released last month. He wrote the book with more urgency than he expected after getting a diagnosis last August of terminal cancer. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The words come to Nick Stone faster now. They have to.

The corporate lawyer-turned-author, who spends most of his time now split between homes in New Gloucester and Georgetown, published his first book of poetry five years ago. It was the culmination of a decade’s worth of writing, a hobby he picked up in retirement.

His second book, “Seaward: A Lyrical Memoir,” came out last month, perhaps with a bit more urgency than he expected. Stone, 89, was diagnosed in August with stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer. His disease is incurable, although with treatment doctors said he could live another 20 months. Maybe. Cancer is notoriously unpredictable.

Confronted with mortality, people often take stock of the lives they have lived and think about what they want, or need, to do with their remaining weeks and months.

Stone only wants to keep writing. His time is running out, but he still has things to say.

“I was always writing – I write every day – but I think over the past several months I had the feeling that I needed to get this done,” he said.

The book comprises 112 poems, divided into a dozen sections, that more or less tell the story of his life. His first book of his, “Fragments,” was autobiographical as well, but for the latest, he’s gone deeper.

“It’s not a random collection of pretty poems,” he said. “I’m telling stories I’ve never told anyone.”

“Seaward: A Lyrical Memoir,” by Nick Stone was published last month.

Both books were published independently through Maine Authors Publishing of Thomaston.

Dorothea Bisbas, who first met Stone when he walked into her poetry group in Palm Desert, California, more than a decade ago, called the collection “beautiful.”

“I think he wants to leave this legacy behind and because his mind hasn’t been altered, he has that ability,” Bisbas said. “It’s such an intelligent book, but it’s not too mushy or esoteric. His writing of him is so available. This is what storytelling should be.”

Maine poet Richard Blanco, who composed and recited a piece for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013, offered similar praise in a blurb he wrote for the book.

“As Jorge Luis Borges noted, poetry should ‘touch us physically, as the presence of the sea does,’ ” Blanco wrote about the collection. “Nick Stone’s heartful and tenderly rendered collection certainly touches us powerfully in this way, embracing us with a life fully lived through all the wonders that poetry awakens in us.”

In one poem, Stone confronts his mortality in a stark, but relatable way.

if you’re selling green bananas
pass me by
I don’t buy green bananas anymore

I buy ripe avocados
don’t lug those gallon milk jugs
keep my freezer empty
always buy the smallest jars

won’t straighten out my sock drawer
renew magazine subscriptions
heed oil change warnings
replace worn-down tires
I’ll pass up Black Friday bargains
don’t shop ’til Christmas Eve

I don’t think about the future
but I won’t buy green bananas
anymore

Stone first began coming to MacMahan Island, part of Georgetown, as a child. He and his wife, Erin, moved there about 15 years ago after he retired. The ocean, which has been prominent in his life, shows up regularly in his poems, both literally and as a metaphor.

As a corporate lawyer, mostly in Boston, Stone was no stranger to writing. Legal briefs and filings go on for dozens and dozens of pages. He described that as “left side brain functioning.” Poetry comes from the right side.

He did a little right side work, too, as a younger man. A poignant eulogy here. An extended toast at a friend’s wedding there.

Once he started writing more regularly in retirement, it didn’t take long to build a sizable collection. And he studied the craft, too, seeking guidance from Bisbas in California when he would visit, and also with members of a local writers’ group in Maine.

“I was impressed with his background and his intelligence, and the way he applied that to his poetry,” Bisbas said. “His work has matured, too. He has the ability to include the reader in his storytelling of him. He writes about very intimate subjects without sentimentality.”

After “Fragments” came out and was well received, Stone decided to keep writing. When the pandemic hit in early 2020, I explored themes of confinement and despair through the lens of someone in the late stage of life. He wrote about the death of George Floyd, from the conflicted position of a white man of privilege.

And he traveled back in time, too, to capture elements of his upbringing. How he struggled with a stutter as a child. The time he went to a burlesque show as a teenager.

Last August, though, things changed.

“I was stunned,” he said of the cancer diagnosis. Stone developed prostate cancer 30 years ago and had his prostate removed. The cancer never returned, and he put it out of his mind.

Now, he said, it’s everywhere.

“It’s not one tumor that they can go in and remove,” he said. “You can’t let it govern your life, but it does highlight the importance of living in the moment. I don’t miss any beautiful bird that flies by.”

Two poems in “Seaward” – “Ode to an Apple Tree” and “Ode to a Peeper Frog” – seize on the idea of ​​slowing down to appreciate life’s smaller moments.

The biggest motivation for publishing his latest book, though, was to leave something behind. Some of the stories, he acknowledges, are not flattering. But they capture his life from him.

“I have my faith,” he said. “It may not be the same as yours or conventional… but I don’t concede that I’ll just be on the leaf pile. There is more than that.”

Bisbas said it saddens her to think Stone’s time is dwindling, but she also is inspired by his continued creativity.

“He’s not done yet, I’ll tell you,” she said.

It’s true. Stone shared one poem that did not make it in time for his book by him. It’s called “Fear.”

After being advised
to make the most of my next twelve months

white lab coat
stroke chin
I have predicted

chances are
one of these
will be the first

lungs or
bones or
brain

suck oxygen through a hose
until they strap you in a vent
snap a leg face the screaming pain
see mind devoured as you watch

voices chant
from playgrounds long ago

eeny meeny miny moe

if I holler
let me go.”


MORE POEMS BY NICK STONE, from “Seaward: A Lyrical Memoir,” 176 pages, $18.95, available for purchase at indieauthorbooks.com and Print: A Bookstore in Portland, Royal River Books in Yarmouth and Sherman’s locations throughout Maine.

Island Walk

first-growth failed trees
enrobed in emerald moss
tiny creatures feast
trunks slowly melt
into the forest floor

after rainfall
orange mushroom
clings to decomposing stump
delicious in garlic butter
if I named it right
a chance I’m going to take

deer paths over-arched by spruce
remind me that I’m not alone
walking slowly watching closely
I may see a doe with fawn
not hunting season yet

osprey fishing over ocean
calls to reassure her chicks
then screams in battle
with bald eagle
that has found her nest

lifetimes winding down
others being born

Extinction — A Lament

five hundred species
gone
since I was born
tasmanian tigers
Carolina parakeets
Oahu tree snails
golden toad
all failed Darwin’s fitness test
extinguished by my kind

now has our turn come?

incinerated forests grasslands homes
drought turns farms to dust
rising oceans grow our coasts
famines mass migrations
millions die by plague
wars take their endless toll

our epitaph may be

HERE LIES THE ONLY SPECIES
TO EXTERMINATE ITSELF


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