Tales from the Bonfire - Ivan’s Birthday Present

by John Dobleman | D-7790 | Oakley, California

While visiting my friend, Ivan Balarin, D-3442, one evening this year, he showed me a poem that had been written for him for his birthday while he was in the hospital recovering from a broken leg.

Just before his birthday in August 1972, Ivan was skydiving with the California Parachute Club in Livermore. Coming in for a landing on his Para-Commander, he hit a patch of unstable air and his chute collapsed, dropping him to the ground. He could tell that his leg was broken, but rather than go to a local hospital, he offered to pay a young jumper $100 to drive him back to San Francisco in the back of his pickup truck. First, he had him stop at a liquor store to get two bottles of red wine.

After awakening from surgery in the middle of the night, Ivan was startled to see a man standing near him in his dark room. Still druggy, Ivan called to the man, who didn't respond. As his vision cleared, Ivan could see the man was actually leaning on his back on a slanted bed at about a 45-degree angle.

In the morning, Ivan found out that the man had had hip surgery and that was how he had to sleep. They got into discussions about their respective injuries, and the man asked Ivan questions about his skydiving. After talking to him for just 10 minutes, the man picked up a piece of paper and started to write. When he was done, he handed it to Ivan and said, “Happy birthday.” The man turned out to be Terence Fitzpatrick, an arts editor for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Here is that poem:

Canopy billowing so bright,
Condor soaring swiftly on high,
Man and Bird in majestic flight,
Masters both of the cunning sky!

For one: challenge. The other: life;
To walk the wild on changing paths,
Carrion scents of earthly strife,
Good nourishment from epithets!

Soul food for man to rend the air;
To travel this thin envelope,
And to transcend all other care
But briefly with a broadened scope.

Earth, man and condor may become the past,
Their rich fabric of sky will last and last.

Terence Fitzpatrick, 1972


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