Despite everything I knew and felt, two of my dearest friends died gasping for air. Another couldn’t stop her pain with morphine, so she disconnected her feeding tube. Still another has the same kind of cancer, and after a heartening remission it’s back with a vengeance. Two other friends are sitting with the niece and nephew, who have just had to pull the plug on their mother’s life support. All of them are sitting there at the mother’s bedside as I write, enduring the umpteenth day of death. It’s not a snap. My mother-in-law, while visiting us at our summer home last September, fell down the stairs at 2:00 am, alone, and died — she lay where we found her, five hours later, at the bottom of the stairs, in her moon-and-star pajamas. The idea of death is always a simile — old as the hills. It can’t hurt me. But the images have to be borne, and they are unbearable. In them, knowing and feeling fight for my soul, as if one or the other could win it. The evidences are as recalcitrant as they are unignorable. I suffer them as I will never suffer my own dying. In them, I feel the legacy of what befalls us — the Latin cadere, “to fall,” gives us all that “is the case” — casualty and cadaver too — and even grammatical case, as I was recently amazed to discover, comes not from the word meaning box but from the past participle of cadere, making nouns more fundamentally moving than we like to imagine.
…When feeling no longer evades, and thinking no longer avails, the two become woven together. You feel knowing can’t save you; you know feeling can’t save you. Their famous battles fall away, and in a flash or stretch, depending how things go with you, you do a lot at once: holding back while you hold forth, bearing down while you bear up.
–Heather McHugh, “Poise and Suspense,” from Poet’s Work, Poet’s Play, edited by Daniel Tobin & Pimone Triplett
The Marine Honor Guard attended Uncle Joe’s funeral — “Taps” is the most devastating music — you respond viscerally, instantly. Even as we mourned, though, I was glad that they came, that they honored him, that he was remembered.
Funerals, memorial services — they’re important. That kind of communal grief is comforting, the communal recognition that this person’s life mattered. Funerals dredge up old griefs as well, as the new loss comes to stand for and encompass all the losses that came before. But that’s not a bad thing — we carry our griefs just below the skin every day — it’s a relief to wear them freely, to cry and feel freely, once in a while.
The Collected Poets Series reading last night with Kimberley Rogers and Ellen Doré Watson was tremendous and also cathartic — while their styles are different, they both write passionate, forceful poems. I hope to be able to share one of Kimberley’s poems before too long, so check back. She’s a voice not to be missed.
I finally have my copy of Poet’s Work, Poet’s Play, and I’m happy to report that while many of the essays are reprints, they’re reprints from a variety of journals, and there are original essays also, so I’ve only previously read one essay, Tony Hoagland’s, out of the bunch. I’m especially excited to see Chris Forhan in the table of contents — his book of poems, The Actual Moon, the Actual Stars is a favorite of mine. It came out 5 whole years ago, practically a lifetime! I’ve been wondering what he’s up to — while a new book is my heart’s desire, I can settle for an essay on poetry. For now.
Vincent is officially 2 — we did have a cake at my mother’s yesterday after the funeral, but it was a very small affair. This Sunday we’re going to have another, because you can never have too much chocolate cake, and though Vincent has very specific ideas about what’s good, he most wisely concurs. And he sings a sweet Vincent-y version of “Happy Birthday to You” sure to cure whatever ails you!
I’m very excited: The University of Michigan Press book of essays, Poet’s Work, Poet’s Play, edited by Daniel Tobin and Pimone Triplett, has been released! I’ve ordered my copy from my bookshop, it should be in around Tuesday. I’ve been hankering for a juicy book of poetry essays to sink into, I can’t wait to get my hands on it!
It was one of those odd days when there was not a single New York Times to be found in Western Massachusetts. The Friday crossword puzzle is too difficult for me; we just figure out a clue or two and declare victory. But the Friday edition always has a nice fat arts section, so we’re feeling unmoored without it.
The University of Michigan Press has a new book of essays coming out, Poet’s Work, Poet’s Play,edited by Daniel Tobin and Pimone Triplett, a follow-up to UMP’s Poets Teaching Poets, which is a staple on my bookshelf. The new book is supposed to include essays by Carl Dennis, Eleanor Wilner, and Tony Hoagland (whose Real Sofistikashun was one of the most entertaining & surprisingly cogent book of essays I read last year). But I don’t know when it’s coming out. Originally slated for this past November, it’s still not out, and the website merely says, “Forthcoming.” It may be a collection of reprints of essays I’ve seen here & there in various journals already, I don’t know–I still want it. If anyone knows any inside scoop, please, feel free to share…