92-year-old celebrates old age, love with poetry

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Dan Trupin doesn't just write poetry. He speaks it.

About Sophie, his wife of almost 65 years, for example, he composes this impromptu ode: "Sophie is not only been what's colloquially called a soulmate. She's been the scaffold on which my dreams and aspirations are built."

The extent to which the 92-year-old Trupin adores his nearly 92-year-old wife comes through in the way he alternately teases and praises her. It also emerges in such poems as "Blessed Continuum," included in Trupin's first collection of poems, published earlier this year by the Berkeley-based AGADA books.

Softly, as groping fingers

Clasp, enmesh, entangle,

Each into each arthritic palm,

Unspoken is the affirmation,

The wordless message transmitted,

Never to be unsaid.

In the 102-page "I Knock at Every Door: Poems by Dan Trupin," the San Pablo poet muses on everything from family to poetry to Israel. He marvels at nature, urges social action, and meditates on old age. The poems, observes Trupin's editor Reuven Goldfarb, blend "wistful longing, humor, stoicism and passion. His range and skill were — and are — impressive."

Trupin began writing poems in 1971, about the time he moved to Berkeley after retiring from a 36-year career in New York City's civil service. There, he served as principal inspector of business licenses for the Department of Consumer Affairs and moonlighted as teen director of the Jewish Community House in Brooklyn.

A self-described "secular leftist" in his younger days and a member of the Communist Party until the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact led him to resign, Trupin focused much of his early poetry on political and social concerns. "Now it's a great deal more spiritual," he says.

Indeed, the poems in "I Knock" touch not only on Judaism, but on general questions of faith and humanity. "In Ode to a Tzaddik" (Hebrew for righteous one) he writes:

Immortal and forever

Blessed is he,

Whose only link to heaven

Is forged in the crucible

Of struggle…and love

For a brother, a friend,

A beggar.

His spirituality has heightened with age. "No doubt about that," he says. "I have broadened the dimensions of my conscience and consciousness in the last 25 years."

Judging by the brimming bookshelves in the cozy apartment the Trupins share in a retirement home, the couple's search for knowledge has been lifelong.

For the first year of their marriage, in fact, the couple had no radio, so Trupin spent recreational time reading to his wife, who has been legally blind since age 17. They tackled T.S. Eliot, Thomas Wolfe, Marcel Proust. "Then we'd have a discussion," Trupin recalls.

Years later, using a touch-type machine, Sophie Trupin wrote her own book, "Dakota Diaspora: Memories of a Jewish Homesteader," the story of her journey from a Russian shtetl to the plains of North Dakota. The book is now required reading in some college-level American history classes.

Though Dan Trupin has had individual poems published, he is proud to have a published collection. He's already working on a second volume, he says, whipping out several sheets of handwritten poems to give a visitor a taste of what to expect.

One unpublished poem, a musing on the coming of the Messiah, reflects Trupin's characteristic offbeat wit: How would it be if…he scooped down in his galactic chariot before we had a chance to primp or preen? We'd all, I fathom, be caught unclean.

Trupin's poems — some of which rhyme and some of which are free verse — are extensions of the way his mind works. "I think poetically," he says, "and then it emerges, it surfaces, very frequently at the oddest times."

Like in the middle of the night. "At three in the morning, I have to get up so I won't lose a choice verse," he says, leaning back in his chair, wearing a pink shirt and bright orange suspenders.

But lately, the writing has come less easily to Trupin. "I'm going through a period of creative sterility," the poet says.

He attributes that slow spell largely to health problems. He has fallen and broken bones a number of times in the last several years. And in November 1992, he was mugged and badly beaten in Berkeley, and needed to be hospitalized. "Nobody gave me a chance for surviving," he says, "but I fooled them."

With a vengeance.

Today, Trupin and his wife busy themselves with a range of activities, including the senior activist group Gray Panthers, the Friendship Circle of the Berkeley/Richmond Jewish Community Center and Berkeley's Aquarian Minyan. Those groups have often served as forums for Dan Trupin to read aloud his poems and sections of Sophie's book.

The couple has two children — Joella, a teacher in Berkeley, and Bob, a retired physicist living in Mendocino. They have three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

But despite the long life they have shared, they remember the first time they met as if it were yesterday.

"She was snippy, snappy, self-assertive, had a good mind," says he. Says she: "He was a terrible card player. But I thought he was cute."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.