You Got Mail Yesterday, Which Is Unsettling Because You’ve Been Dead For More Than Twenty-Five Years

It was from New Mexico Taxation and Revenue, which hounds both the living and the dead. Out of an atavistic fear that you owed money, I opened it. But they merely wanted to inform you of some changes.

I also want to inform you of some changes. Trump is no longer president. But then again, you never knew that he was. I’m not even sure you knew who he was at all.

And you have a grandchild, with an Irish name. But she doesn’t know who you are. When she is older, you’ll be a sad story–a scary one–about how her mom’s dad died. We have photographs. But I doubt she’ll ever care that the maternal grandfather she calls Pop Pop and asks for pickles is a step-grandfather.

Drought is here, but that is hardly new. As for the rest, I’ve grown tired of trying to keep you informed because things change, and you do not.

all that is left

of the blue spruce tree–

an aging stump

In Memory of Miriam Bobkoff

My friend, sometimes known as “the other Miriam” died yesterday in Kingston Residence in Santa Fe, attended by friends, caring aides, and Ambercare Hospice. She was a librarian (in public, community college, and tribal libraries), an ordained Zen priest in the Soto lineage, and also a lover of poetry and editor of the e-zine “Santa Fe Poetry Broadside.”
Here is an incredible poem she wrote based on what she called her “communal past,” that speaks not just to an important part of her personal history but to that of the city of San Francisco’s. It is about the famous drag queen, activist, and local personality Hibiscus.
If you knew Miriam Bobkoff and this is your first notice of her death, the team that cared for her will also be sending out a group email of a more personal nature. Also, feel free to write me at msagan1035@aol.com.

Unexpected Elegy

When I wrote him off he was famous
in his fashion,
a caricature of all the people who had imitated him,
whole audiences of them,
the screwy drugged-out Angel of Light making only the
occasional flight
in the theater he created.

Afterwards he died of ‘gay pneumonia’
before so to speak there was such a thing as AIDS,
as if he had invented his death, too, and all the others have
imitated him.

“I heard that Hibiscus was dragged screaming in chains
down the middle of Polk Street,”
said Jilala or Ralif or someone else who would have heard it
at the baths,
and we all disapproved.
I could see it plainly, the nineteen flowing layers of garments,
the wreath of real flowers in waist-long hair and the
glitter in his beard, writhing in oil and broken glass
under the feet of buses and cars and the aunties of Polk Street–

right then I forgot him for ten years,

whom only now I remember:

he showered us with rose petals, my first lover and I,
coming through the velvet curtain between his room
and mine, scattering handsful over our bodies
as we lay there making love

he called me Garance sometimes, and once when the commune was
in a crisis too ordinaire for his delicate self
he handed me a note and fled the house,
I have the paper still:
‘Garance — Never mind. The moment is past.’ Baptiste

he came from New York longer ago than that
(I was a model, he said, my specialty was looking sullen)
the beautiful boy who wanted to sleep with me
when I was still
living alone in a carriage house and had never slept with anyone,
and he was still George Harris the Third.

1/2/89

Turning by Linda Whittenberg–a poem written at the wetlands

Turning

Asters’ seductive lavender, endless varieties of tawny grasses,
sunflowers bobbing across an open field, cottonwoods
already beginning to yellow, chamisa radiant along every road—

here it is again, that raucous parade that leads only to barren limbs
shriveled petals and cold. Here it is again, that familiar jumble
inside that comes with autumn. Until this season has wrung me out,

there’s little solace in picturing next spring’s garden or remembering
life goes in cycles. My grandfather would conclude most meals
by whipping butter and honey with his fork

and spreading the mixture on white bread. I can still see that whirl,
that spinning, his big hand stirring, the sweet smear on his plate.
I am that stir, nectarous and melancholy,

when autumn thrusts upon me scarlet vines, orange-red mallow,
graying mullein. I’d like to flee with the migrating birds,
but I am exactly where I’m meant to be,

wrestling with beauty that heralds endings. It was spring
when each of my parents died, winter for my brother.
My dearest uncle left just at harvest time. Perhaps that’s where

the sadness lies, for autumn was especially beautiful that year.
All I know is with the first turning of the colors, this mood
comes, a riddle so old you forget where you first heard it.


www.lindawhittenberg.com

Stella Reed on her Mother’s Death–actually a meeting with a remarkable poet

My mother self-published her first poetry chapbook about twenty years ago, before it was a popular thing to do. She’d been raised on Dickenson and Frost and it was her foundational belief that poetry needed to rhyme. She was not a “remarkable poet” but she loved poetry and she paid attention, particularly to what she found beautiful. Writing for her was a hobby, never seen as a possible vocation. When she was in her sixties she joined a local poetry society. Occasionally she would share with me by mail the poems that she had written for the society’s get-togethers and sometimes the poems that others brought to the table. She taught me that poetry creates community. That creativity connects you to something larger than yourself.
For the past few years she has been speech aphasic with a touch of dementia. She always knew my sisters or I when we arrived at the home to visit, but she couldn’t express what she was thinking and feeling. This frustrated all involved, but especially her. Most days she would be lucky to speak one fully formed, sensible sentence. That’s why I found it significant when I came across this untitled poem while looking through her papers. By the handwriting I’m guessing she wrote it about ten years ago.

Once you imagine a word is a cloud unseen
that somehow connects you to where you have been
a few wingbeats ago,
or to a noplace where you must go because it is a place you don’t yet know,

You scribble more clouds of music
misty with dew
a quiet river becoming a pool
of deepest blue

And though the clouds intend
elsewise you will swim
to the stars reflected there
when you reach days end.

Word clouds. My mother always had her head in the clouds, even while she loved the earth beneath her feet. When I read this I thought that this place, with its misty music, its rivers and pools, was very much where she had been living, internally, for the past few years.
I received a call last week that Mom was in the process of dying. I flew to upstate NY to join my sister and be with our mother if possible, hoping she would hang on until we arrived. When I got to my sister’s house we discovered that a solitary white swan had made a temporary home on the pond on her property. Three times I attempted to photograph it. But it was elusive. On the last try I was rewarded with a photo of it as it lifted away from me, massive wings stretched above the water, graceful neck thrust forward.
I spent six days at my sister’s house. Each morning when I woke I would use binoculars to scan the pond for the swan. Every morning it was there…until the day I was to return home. When, on the last day, I couldn’t catch sight of it I felt anxious. Its presence had become part of the routine that had made the vigil at my mother’s bedside bearable. Mom died that afternoon just hours before my scheduled flight. I held her hand and watched as the wingbeats, the waiting stars, the noplace she had to get to, all came together in her final breaths. Her death, like her life, was a poem. Simply remarkable.

Devon Miller-Duggan writes on the death of her godson in Afganistan

I haven’t sung the National Anthem since we went into Cambodia. I’ll stand for it if I’m in a crowd—I’m not looking for fights. I absolutely won’t say the Pledge of Allegiance. The republic for which the flag stands has my whole (if conflicted and frustrated) loyalty, but I won’t pledge anything to a piece of cloth. And I am not a big fan of American Exceptionalism when it’s not backed up by really, really good behavior.

But I am a person who appreciates and cares deeply about Things Done Right. I’ve (sort of) joked for years that the reason I’m an Episcopalian is that the Book of Common Prayer has the best funeral service in the (Christian) business—clean, dignified, beautifully and movingly phrased, properly focused.

Very often—most often, in fact—we live in a culture that provides grossly inadequate death rites. The rites happen in a big hurry after the death itself, and then everyone is expected to pick up and toddle on, keeping our grief for our grief group, but otherwise not bothering the rest of the world or asking it to understand that universe-rending changes have occurred for us.

These issues came together pretty shatteringly for me this last week. Our god-son was killed by an IED in Afghanistan a week ago. 23. Beautiful and large-hearted. You can read about him here, if you’re so inclined: http://www.thefastertimes.com/politics/2012/01/31/the-tragedy-and-grace-of-sgt-william-stacey/
or go to the ABC news site and click on last week’s Person of the Week.

His parents teach in Seattle. All military personnel who die abroad are brought home via the Air Force base in Dover, DE, 45 minutes down the road from here. So we went down to meet the body of our god-son. You’ve probably seen some version of what happens in a movie. What you may not know is that every body that comes home is treated with the same respect and care that you’ve seen in those movies. And unless you’ve had to do this thing, you don’t know about the rest of it. You will not have seen the meticulously, graciously appointed waiting center where families gather at all times of the day and night and in all weathers, or how thoughtfully and comprehensively the center is equipped. You won’t have seen the ferociously fresh-shaved faces of the Marines who are there to take care of those families. You will not have watched a chaplain very carefully avoid inserting anything of his own denomination into the conversation so that you are clear that he is there to do or be whatever you need him to do or be as a reflection of grace. You will not have had the Marine colonel who is up in the middle of the night to meet the body get down on one knee and take your hands in his to tell you how much he grieves with you. You will not have watched the troop slow-march from the far end of the tarmac, or seen the three Marines who flew with the body stand at anguished attention as it is lowered and moved, or listened to the heart-battering silence that rises even above the sound of the jets idling engines as they carry the draped coffin across to the waiting mortuary truck. You will not have seen beauty and terror woven together in the night quite like this. But you should know. We should all know.

And my long moratorium on the national anthem is over. Not that I have changed my opinion about expressions of nationalism, but Will probably sang it loud and proud.

Two Versions of a Poem by Sudasi Clement–Your Preference?

Sudasi, poetry editor of the Santa Fe Literary Review, has kindly allowed us to look at two versions of one of her poems. Which do you prefer? Why? Basically, do you want that extra stanza in or out?

Elegy for My Brother’s Hair

He was a king once, and you were his crown—
waist-length waves of brown threaded with gold.
During his brief reign we swam in the river,
strolled home through the center of town.

The eyes of a woman across the street 
found him, his splendid braid 
come undone, wild mane in the wind—
she walked into a telephone pole.

Fine locks, you’ve gone the way of rosy skin
and easy muscle. You’ve followed our sleek black
dog with the white-tipped tail to the kingdom 
of blue-berried, woods-wandering days. 

—————————–

Elegy for My Brother’s Hair

He was a king once, and you were his crown—
waist-length waves of brown threaded with gold.
During his brief reign we swam in the river,
strolled home through the center of town.

The eyes of a woman across the street 
found him, his splendid braid 
come undone, wild mane in the wind—
she walked into a telephone pole.

Today he called: I don’t know how to wear
my hair, there’s so little of it left on my head.
I cast my vote for clean-shaven, rings 
in each ear, a tattoo on the back of his skull.

Fine locks, you’ve gone the way of rosy skin
and easy muscle. You’ve followed our sleek black
dog with the white-tipped tail to the kingdom 
of blue-berried, woods-wandering days. 

7 Places in America: Everglades

The yellow bench
in the sad garden
of spices

I see you pause
reading the book
marking the page with your finger

you’ve been dead
a long time
almost a dozen years

but here in the subtropics
you appear, as if in life
reading a book about birds

and smile the smile
that was yours alone to smile
ironic, a little wistful

as if surprised
by Fortune

yellow fruit has fallen to the ground
I was not here
to hear it make a sound of something overripe

and when I listen
for the rustle of the pages
of the turning book

you’ve gone away again
as I always
knew you would

***
Working on putting the mss. together, I wasn’t sure if I should include this. It isn’t a map–rather more personal, and more from the past. Carol Moldaw has been helping me with the book, and she decided to include it and also to set up a numbering sequence for ALL the untitled poems in the seven sections, to link them together.