Posts Tagged ‘Life’

In the maelstrom of energy flooding paper, press, and print about the sudden death of Kurt Vonnegut, I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on about his life. At 3 a.m. last night, I was running around the Internet linking to articles, gobbling up details of Vonnegut’s death, birth, slow literary beginnings, and 70’s cult following.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.

Ignoring the wailing Irish banshee, a screaming voice inside my head snapped, “Stop it! ! Go to bed! You haven’t read a Vonnegut book in years.”

“Okay, okay, I’m going,” I said.

Rising from my prone position on the couch, I grabbed the laptop precariously perched on my knees to keep it from crashing to the floor. And that’s when it hit me – I’d fallen prey to my own crazy Kantian schema about death, dying, and immortality.

In some odd twist of synchronicity, I wrote a post last Monday on The Uses of Sorrow – What Is It About Obituaries? Curious about the death of Molly Malone Cook, I found a long, engaging obituary in the Independent. It was overflowing with history and details of her life I didn’t know, and probably never would have cared about if she hadn’t died.

Isn’t it strange? We are drawn to write more about a person after they die, than we ever would have while they were alive. It’s part of the human condition. But amid all the writers, ex-hippies, beatniks, and bohemians bantering a slow death march around Vonnegut, I find myself wanting to say, “Enough already.”

Forget Vonnegut. Jane Kenyon lives on.

I don’t want to sound irreverent. I loved Vonnegut and read him voraciously (was it Stephen King that said adverbs are killers?) in my early college years. In 1972, Slaughterhouse-Five was the top film in Friday night screenings at McIntire Hall. We were still doing sit-ins for peace, streaking across campus, and protesting the Vietnam War (I wonder what’s changed?)

But back to living and dying.

Remember that back and forth on red Ravine last February about Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon, Valentine & Donald Hall? It inspired us to put one of Jane Kenyon’s books, Otherwise, on our list of Hungry to be Read.

Last night I went over to St. Paul with a writer friend to see Galway Kinnell and one of his protégés, Josephine Dickinson, read their poetry. (I’ll write more about these moving poets in another post.) It was one of the most inspirational nights I’ve had in months.

Galway Kinnell read a poem from his new book Strong Is Your Hold, which I immediately snapped up and brought home with me. The poem is a tribute to Jane Kenyon. You could have heard a pin drop.

If you don’t get out and listen to other living, breathing writers read their work, you’re missing out on one of the greatest pleasures of writing – listening. As evidenced by the explosion of blog world, there are 11 trillion writers out there, all wanting their voices to be heard. I hold to my strong belief that there is room for all of us. If we are generous of spirit and support other writers, we’ll be supported, too.

I teared up last night when I listened to Galway Kinnell read his poem for Jane Kenyon (1947-1995). He went to that dark place writers go, that place where angels fear to tread.

I imagined Kenyon, immortal through his words, smiling down on the silent, rapt faces that dotted the crimson velvet rows and stacked ornate balconies of the Fitzgerald Theatre. I bet she was pleased.

Losing a great writer who influenced our lives, perhaps even our livelihood, leaves a big hole. When Galway Kinnell read How Could She Not, I knew that writing about the death of Kurt Vonnegut is our way of grieving.

We know we’ll never forget Vonnegut. Because Jane Kenyon lives on.

Friday, April 13th, 2007




How Could She Not

In Memory of Jane Kenyon, 1947-1995

The air glitters. Overfull clouds
slide across the sky. A short shower,
its parallel diagonals visible
against the firs, douses and then
refreshes the crocuses. We knew
it might happen one day this week.
Out the open door, east of us, stand
the mountains of New Hampshire.
There, too, the sun is bright,
and heaped cumuli make their shadowy
ways along the horizon. When we learn
that she died this morning, we wish
we could think: how could it not
have been today? In another room,
Kiri Te Kanawa is singing
Mozart’s Laudate Dominum
from far in the past, her voice
barely there over the swishing of scythes,
and rattlings of horse-pulled
mowing machines dragging
their cutter bar’s little reciprocating
triangles through the timothy.

This morning did she wake
in the dark, almost used up
by her year of pain? By first light
did she glimpse the world
as she had loved it, and see
that if she died now, she would
be leaving him in a day like paradise?
Near sunrise did her hold loosen a little?

Having these last days spoken
her whole heart to him, who spoke
his whole heart to her, might she not
have felt that in the silence to come
he would not feel any word
was missing? When her room filled
with daylight, how could she not
have slipped under a spell, with him
next to her, his arms around her, as they
had been, it may then have seemed,
all her life? How could she not
press her cheek to his cheek,
which presses itself to hers
from now on? How could she not
rise and go, with sunlight at the window,
and the drone, fading, deepening, hard to say,
of a single-engine plane in the distance,
coming for her, that no one else hears?

  -from Strong Is Your Hold, Poems, by Galway Kinnell, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006

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There comes an age when there are stains on the front of my sweatshirt when I go into work, when I don’t feel like working, when my mouth is dry and I’m thirsty, and my back aches. That age must be 52. There comes an age when I don’t care what people think about me anymore, when vanity takes a backseat to wisdom and sensibility, when falling in love doesn’t hold the same juice it once did – it’s merely another form of love.

There comes an age when you can count only on yourself though you are surrounded by good people, when standing on your own two feet is preferred to being taken care of, when writing might be the only thing that matters in your life anymore. There comes an age when hair grows inside the ears and tugs out the edges of the nose, when the fingernails grow misshapen and brittle, when the calluses take longer to brush off with the serrated file, when the gray outnumbers the natural colors.

There comes an age when you don’t get excited about the next romp in the hay, when love is more powerful than hate, when the irritation you feel from others is like the grain of sand in the oyster shell – producing a giant compassionate pearl. There comes an age when the most powerful people become the most exposed, when humility seems to go underground, and jokes from the ex-megalaughbuster, Kramer, are in poor taste and bad manner. What the hell was the ugly guy thinking?

There comes an age when the truth matters more than lying, when the color red becomes as popular in your life as it was at age 6, when fragility outweighs the need to get tough on love. There comes an age when strength is not measured in pounds on the benchpress, when clear sight has nothing to do with the clarity of the corneas, when visionary does not extend out past the 30 year mark.

There comes an age when humility and grace speak louder than fame and privilege, when money is something I want enough of without being greedy, when the good traits about men and women become the same damn thing.

There comes an age when I want to laugh at my mistakes and tout them as successes, when the snow flies in the face of reason, when I want to soar down the hill on a round disc of a sled and fall flat on my face in the freshly fallen power only to discover that my thirst has already been quenched.

There comes an age when silence speaks louder than words, when the tough get going and the meek inherit the earth, when the framers of the Constitution come back to us in Spirit and through the voice of medium, Lisa Williams, tell us they made a few mistakes – no those witches were not supposed to be burned at the stake. And, no, all the other 300 languages and countless races were not supposed to be wiped off the face of the earth when the first booted sole plunked down on the tiny piece of granite that is Plymouth Rock.

There comes an age when stinky cheese seems even stinkier, when a single glass of wine puts me over the age, when laughter is more important than sex. There comes an age when it’s harder to keep in shape, when the weight piles on over Thanksgiving weekend, when I don’t want to haul an evergreen home to celebrate the birth of Christ or spend the entire weekend baking turkeys and mashing potatoes. But I will watch a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

There comes an age when Aquarius has passed and we’ve moved into Aries, when the fire puts out the watery flame, when the Fifth Dimension is no longer a singing group or the last parallel Universe, and What’s Going On never loses its punch.

It’s Thanksgiving week of 2006. I am restless and bored, old and feeling young. I am hopelessly forlorn and quietly strong. My heart hurts, yet I’m in love and full of hope and promise for the future. My stomach churns and the head says be quiet. I’m full. I’m empty. I’m alone. I’m surrounded by the best people life could imagine. I’m hopelessly lost. Yet I’ve found my true calling.

There comes an age. I have to let go.

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

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