Tag Archives: “Writers Almanac”

feast

Do whatever leads to joy, dead friends advise Marie Howe in My Dead Friends. As a woman of a certain age who just attended an unexpected funeral of someone I once loved much, I say, yeah, that’s the way to do it….now. When I was younger there was time to grieve, to make up might-have-beens, to question and twist and wring the life out of sad events. But now I’m going to say good-bye more and more, until folks say good-bye to me. That means my interactions with others need to be precise, ones of small joys, of service, of meaning, so that when they or I leave unexpectedly, the fare thee well, although perhaps unsaid, is an implicit I loved you, I’m glad you were in my life, giving life with all its great unknowns and mystery a moment of prayer, a forehead to the floor bow which says, thank you. There are no grand promises in this life we lead, except that we will die, and I like to remember  Khalil Gibran’s quote that perhaps a funeral among men is a wedding feast among angels. It’s all a matter of perspective.

What’s your perspective? What are you waiting for?

And here’s the poem for you to enjoy, and if you don’t subscrbe to The Writer’s Almanac, it won’t be because I didn’t tell you to….do it…..


 

SATURDAY

Feb. 25, 2012

 LISTEN

My Dead Friends

by Marie Howe

I have begun,
when I’m weary and can’t decide an answer to a bewildering question

to ask my dead friends for their opinion
and the answer is often immediate and clear.

Should I take the job? Move to the city? Should I try to conceive a child
in my middle age?

They stand in unison shaking their heads and smiling—whatever leads
to joy, they always answer,

to more life and less worry. I look into the vase where Billy’s ashes were —
it’s green in there, a green vase,

and I ask Billy if I should return the difficult phone call, and he says, yes.
Billy’s already gone through the frightening door,

whatever he says I’ll do.

alchemy

I thought I’d print the Hyacinthe Hill poem Reaching Toward Beauty from last week’s blog. I can find very little about Ms. Hill on the internet. The poem is from the book, When I am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple:

You love declines. You, thinking little lines

aound my eyes are fallen lashes, try

to brush them off. I do exfoliate.

In this autumn of my being, parts of me

fly, like tossed and wintry-blasted leaves.

I don’t regret their passing. I must work

to make a clean and crystal-perfect form.

I, alchemist, and I, philosopher’s stone,

have sacrificed the fat, and froth, and fur

of youth, to walk through fire, leap in the dark,

swim inward rivers, pray at a wailing wall.

The wrinkles, sags, the graying hair are earned.

You mourn like a child over a broken doll.

Only the core of this crone was ever real……….

Wow. This is what I love about poets, their ability to seize some small formation of words and make them explode in the imagination. I tell people who ask me about writing to read poetry to internalize the beauty of language. I tell them to listen to Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac on NPR, a poem a day the man reads to us, bless him. Imagine what life might be like if the first thing we heard in the morning was a poem, if we chewed on its meaning all day, instead of what we do chew on.

It was the quest of pre-scientists in the 16th century to turn lead into gold. We are the alchemists of our lives. What brew are you making? Bitter or sweet? Forgiving or vengeful?

poetry

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I always tell the people who take my writing classes to listen to the Writers Almanac on NPR. You can even have its daily dose of poetry and Garrison Keillor’s commentary delivered to your email doorstep, hit a link, and hear the podcast. I tell them to listen to it because poetry is the highest writing art, requiring the perfect word and reflecting in a few lines ideas that can bring one to one’s knees. Which just recently happened. I don’t listen everyday. I think I’m too busy. But a friend of mine always emails me about poems she thinks I ought not to miss. And so I read Baptism by one Ted Thomas Jr and felt breathless when I was done because in a single sentence he captured what has happened to me around my mother. He writes in the poem of his father’s helplessness. In the last stanza, he says he “I pat him dry, he lets me dress him in the white hospital clothes, oil his hair, put him to bed and forgive him.”

Bam. That’s what’s happened in all this. I’ve forgiven the resentments I nurtured so close to my heart. In the bathing and dressing and feeding, in her shuffling daily endless need, something has dropped, but not by my insistence. There is only breathless, painful witnessing of  frailty, and my attendance upon it as best I can, some days far better than others. This last slow dance we’re in is immediate and huge. All else is nothing.