Not only did I get the two reviews I’d committed to writing written (one on Carol Frost, the other on Ellen Bryant Voigt), but I got them done early, a minor miracle. So they were published early. Reading them in printed form, I discovered something I hadn’t noticed in the absorption of writing — both reviews reference grief an inordinate number of times.
There have been so many losses of late — David Foster Wallace, Reginald Shepherd — great talents, young talents, I can’t get my heart or mind around them. I’ve also learned that a dear customer of mine, not a young man by any stretch of the imagination, but a great-grandfather, a retired professor who continued to teach his fellow residents in a retirement community (his fall class was to be on Milton), is riddled with terminal cancer.
Tragedy leaves me inarticulate, with a mouthful of banalities. As usual, I can only let poetry speak for me.
By Connie Wanek, from her collection, Hartley Field (Holy Cow! Press, 2002):
A Field of Barley
Wind passes over a field of barley.
Nothing could be more lyrical.
Why God favored Abel’s burnt meat
I’ll never understand.
Sometimes I imagine the hills of Nod
covered with barley, and Cain standing alone,
dark with sunburn, wondering
what more he must do to be forgiven.
Years ago I visited a blooming orchard
on the east slope of the mountains
watered by its own spring, and I thought
I’d surely found Eden.
At night we saw city lights glowing
far out in the plain,
but the dark rock rose behind the farm,
eternal and absolute.
Up there one could see tragedy
long before it arrived,
foreshadowed in the first act.
Dust swelled behind its four wheels.
Dread is our inheritance.
But what sprouts out of the earth
is our consolation, the good yellow grain,
heavy in our arms.
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