Death Interests Me

Death interests me. A lot. Or maybe not death– a state I suspect I’ll have no conscious experience of. But rather the human experience–fear, intimation, loss, and grief.
When I was 21, I almost died from what appears in retrospect to have been swine flu. Spent weeks in the ICU, months in the hospital, lost part of one lung, and was forever changed. Or maybe that story isn’t exactly true. Maybe I was already a rebel, a poet, a seeker. Maybe that experience only uncovered my basic nature. In any case, the realization of death propelled me forward into a life that worked for me.
My first husband Robert died when I was 41. That was twenty years of believing in death, even though that was also when I had my only child, a primary life affirming event. After Robert died, something shifted radically again and it was as if the life force became ascendent. I’ve tried to solve every Zen koan I ever met that would allow me to experience life and death as one non-warring state. Don’t ask how this is going.
So I keep wanting to read about death. Emily Rapp is a Santa Fe based writer whose new book, THE STILL POINT OF THE TURNING WORLD, is about her young son’s death from Tay-Sachs disease. It is a different–much better–book than I’d expected, based on my extensive reading of memoirs of extremis. For one thing, it isn’t a narrative of redemption. How could it be, as a child is dying. But despite the American preference for the storyline of “I once was lost but now am found” life–and death–don’t really work that way. Rapp writes: “After those first few weeks of blackness and bouncing back and forth in the void, I realized that I didn’t want to be coddled or protected from the wild unpredictability of my feelings….But digging into the experience of loss is not only deeply profound but artistically, at some points, absolutely electric.”
Writing helped Rapp. And this is a very good book. However, although I wrote book after book about Robert–for some reason the process didn’t offer much direct solace. The investigation certainly helped my writing, but it didn’t deeply cheer me. It was other people–from friends to strangers–that did that.
STILL POINT isn’t an elegy, a how to, or an ode to survival. Rather, it reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s A GRIEF OBSERVED…what happens when a fine writer is given a subject he or she never wanted, but must dive deeply into as well as transcend, often at the same time.

Frederick Law Olmsted


A recent visit to Fairsted, home and workshop of Frederick Law Olmsted, in Brookline, MA.


Walls of a solarium.





Olmsted designed Central Park and Boston’s Emerald Necklace of parks.


He is the father of landscape architecture and I see a direct line between him and land artists–different intentions but a similar desire to engage with landscape.


Plus I like being in workspaces.



Poems by Tashi Swierkosz

Rainbow vomiting
Colors merging into space
Vibes are all that last


Pieces together
In creating unity
Maybe we should too


Stop Waiting Start Creating

I’m done waiting
For people to make up their minds
I’m done waiting
For a reason to smile
I’m done waiting
To feel more satisfied
I’m done waiting for things to change
So it’s time to start creating
Fulfilling experiences that paint smiles
It’s time to start creating
Moments that matter
It’s time to start creating yourself

And it’s time to create
The change you want to see
More and more people are done waiting.

Tashi Swierkosz is studying creative writing at Santa Fe Community College and was an editor on the 2013 Santa Fe Literary Review.

The Presence of Words by Susan Aylward

I’ve been afraid of Pinterest–figuring that if I ever started that would be the end of my free time!
So for now I’m content to enjoy Susan Aylward’s offerings. She says: On my board, “The Presence of Words”, I ask, how is Poetry alive in everyday life? Here are a few things I found.




Writer’s Colony–the work of memory

Does anyone have a theory as to why we remember certain things at other times? A snowy afternoon west of Boston and I was flooded with a memory of an autumn thirty years ago–but why? Is the poem the memory or both places together? Does this happen to other people?


Writer’s Colony

such a long time ago
on the backsteps
at the MacDowell dining hall
I sat
big moon rise
over the October fields

a woman, about the age
I am now
stopped and asked me
“Are you working?”
and I hadn’t known
that I was
until now.

Pairs of Chairs

Two matched chairs–cozy, an image of domestic love…


But how do I really feel about them–at a retirement community also an image of implied loss, widowhood, or divorce…what is one without the other?


Or maybe an image of friendship, even with the self…


We Are The Champions

I love Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” As does all of humanity. It is the rock anthem par excellance–and of course the winning team’s.
But when it comes on the car radio and I weep a little and sing along I’m not thinking about winning. I’m thinking about failure. I’m thinking about all I’ve lost and all I’ve struggled with and how at 59 years old (next month!) I still have the ability to go on and rise to the occasion. When I was a young window and a single mom, it was my song. When I didn’t get what I wanted professionally or health-wise or financially–mine.
I know I’m not alone. There are millions like me driving around in old Toyotas singing along. Running between daycare and care taking. Trying to substitute a kind word for mere knee jerk rudeness. Not giving the finger to the car that cuts us off.
The B side of the hit (ah, I miss B sides) was “We Will Rock You.” One of my favorite memories is coming into my daughter’s pre-school to be greeted by a grubby chorus line of kids on the playground chanting “We will we will rock you.” Indeed they did.
And we’ll keep on fighting to the end.