I don’t know if it’s a cliche for an English teacher to write a poem for an English teacher on the event of his retirement, but that’s what I tried to do for my former neighbor and pal Jim Luongo. I hope our paths cross in Cape May one of these Augusts.
Ain’t no Norma Desmonds on this Sunset Boulevard,
a long strip bordered by wetlands to take you
from Sunset Point to Cape May Point.
No dusty, dark rooms down at the shore,
No hermits aching for another taste of the past.
Just sunshine, cackling laughter and Jersey corn.
There is a place fed by sunshine, from the moment
Dawn with her rose fingers lights the wine-dark sea
until the wick of that travelling lamp is quenched
by the warm waters of Delaware Bay. All one
has to do is listen through the calm of a summer night
to hear the joie de vivre in Jim Luongo’s cackle.
And so the man they call J-Lo is off on his Endless Summer,
and Goodwill Stores across Fairfield County are clearing racks
in anticipation of the sport jackets and neckties
that shall ne’er be worn again. It was on a voyage
to the Congo when Joseph Conrad first encountered J-Lo.
“That’s backbone,” he said. But if I speak truthfully,
I will admit to noting that Jim’s unflagging commitment
to his coat was indeed an “achievement of character.”
It spoke daily to a soft, consistent dignity, a dignity
pierced by frequent bursts of cackling laughter.
It is presumably his ability to take his work seriously
without ever losing his sense of play, his obvious
concern for his students (never has one of us heard
Jim speak badly of a kid), rather than an oversized derriere
that prompted his students to dub him J-Lo.
And so embarks J-Lo on his world tour, where the forests of Colorado
will echo with laughter, where he and Janet will surely rediscover
their old places while they adopt places anew.
On the occasion of a teacher’s retirement, a speaker
should surely recite the lessons he has learned from the honoree,
should attribute to him some pilfered aspect of practice
or some nugget of literary wisdom. But Jim gave me something
better than any of that. Sitting in the second seat, middle row
with his curly hair and attentive eyes, there was David.
Riding the bikes from Creeping Hemlock to Calf Pasture Beach,
there was David and Jim. Husband, father, man behind a mustache
in a portrait, host of the convivial gatherings that allowed us all
to experience being a part of Jim’s family. The sun may be setting
on our daily dosage of Jim Luongo, but Dawn, with her rose fingers,
only now raises her glass, to Jim’s new journey. To Jim’s new journey.