Poet Laureate of Colorado, 1974 – For Z

I was thinking about John Denver – who was a musician of course, but also an environmentalist and activist. He was good friends with Jim Henson, another great man who also died young. Denver seemed corny even when I was a kid. Maybe not to you, though. One of the things that I marvel at is your ability to accept the silly and the ridiculous – the things we throw at you, and the things you pick up. In fact, I’m writing this because you went to school on Monday with pink hair and some people called you names, but you held your own – and you didn’t question the pink, only the girls – who wouldn’t know awesome if they fell into a vat of it.

John Denver was a military kid – moving around often, with a dad who I can only guess is the opposite of me. When I read about famous or just amazing people, I’m sometimes surprised about the greatness that comes before them. Before you, Z – I only hope we are at least an interesting starting point. But Denver’s dad was a fighter pilot who broke records and is in some flavor of hall of fame for it. He was brave and tough and a little gruff and maybe a little too stern with his kids.

At some point, John was tired of his dad and the moving around and in high school he stole a car – and left. It makes me think of the line in the Bright Eyes song Poison Oak:

I don’t think that I ever loved you more
Than when you turned away
When you slammed the door
When you stole the car
And drove towards Mexico

His dad, though stern and tough and busy breaking speed records, loved his son, and flew out to California to bring John back. Later, they starred – I shit you not – in a TV special about aeronautics that won awards as well. So I like the idea of dad, all those years earlier, on a plane, wondering what the Hell? What will become of my boy?

I fear, and I’ve told you this before, in the less cowardly in-person way, that maybe there is something to lose when you have nothing against which to rebel. Maybe there has to be an impetus for the young chimp to leave the pack – or he’ll never become the leader of another. I don’t know – and in time we’ll probably give you plenty of reasons to want to run away – and to become what you inevitably will. Maybe the greatness is there whether you open the door or it crashes through a wall.

Whatever it is, I see greatness beaming through you like the pink highlights in your hair. And when I wonder what will become of my boy, I really have no idea. But I know it will be wonderful.

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