Posts Tagged ‘Jane Kenyon’

“Girls’ weekend” and “death” really shouldn’t keep company, but a few weekends ago they did, and all things considered, it was nice.  This November, for the first time in 23 years, my high school girlfriends gathered without our friend Christine, who died at the tail end of last year.  The remaining eight of us weren’t exactly moping around all weekend, but our ninth friend, our sweet bubbly friend, she of the clear blue eyes and husky laugh, was never far from our thoughts.


Another death followed me around over the girls’ weekend.  Again, it was kind of nice.  My friends and I stayed at my at my in-law’s home in Florida, a home my dear father-in-law, who died two years ago, loved to share with his family.  Certainly he’s still around the place.  I kept expecting to hear his booming welcome every time I opened the door.  I wore his hat all weekend and that was nice too.

I had anticipated feeling the absence of these two beloved folks, so along with my sandals I packed a few poems about death.  But I felt presence more than absence.  The poems, dark and anguished, express emotions heavier than what I felt.


I left the poems on a beach ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.  The storm carved out chunks of sand dunes, ripped out stairs, downed poles, and deposited loads of trash on a much-diminished beach.  With so much litter on the beach, a little literary litter seemed an act of beautification.


I left two poems by Jane Kenyon, one of my favorite poets.  She’s a reluctant expert on loss, having suffered debilitating depression and then living with and dying from leukemia in her forties.  Both poems concern losing a parent.


The first,”What Came to Me,” I threaded through some sea grass looped around one of the remaining beach stairs.


The drop of gravy is a heartbreaker.


The second Kenyon poem, “How Like the Sound,” I attached to a downed pole.


Here she is once-removed from grief.  With a poet’s eye and a wife’s warm heart, she observes her husband mourning his mother:  “Not since childhood/had you wept this way, head back, throat/ open like a hound”:


“Oceans” by Marie Ponsot I poked through a root exposed by the cratered sand dune.


“Taste like talk fades from a stiffening tongue” is horrifying.


Finally, in memory of Christine and Big Joe, I stuck H.D.’s “Never More the Wind” on a sea grape branch.

you can hardly see it, but the poem is blowing in the wind in the center-left of the picture.


Sometimes the simplest words speak of the most difficult truths:  “Like a light out of our heart/you are gone.”





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The Clothes Pin

by Jane Kenyon

How much better it is

to carry wood to the fire

than to moan about your life.

How much better

to throw the garbage

onto the compost, or to pin the clean

sheet on the line

with a gray-brown wooden clothes pin!

Did I really think a lonely and despondent teenager would come across this poem, drop his backpack and shout joyfully, “Dude!  Get me to a woodpile!”?  Ah well, we all have our little fantasies. Unfortunately I posted the poem on a Saturday, and it rained heavily all the next day.  “The Clothes Pin” could have used a clothes pin of its own to dry out.

Still, the connections and disconnections between this poem and the high school it landed in gave me some pleasure.  Jane Kenyon grew up 45 minutes from this school and attended a nearby university where the most gifted students here will probably also attend.  She suffered depression, so her version of “better to light a candle than curse the darkness” carries weight and strikes me as useful advice for teens experiencing the normal downturns of mood and energy. And finally, she died when she was my age—47—of leukemia, which is where the connections stop and the disconnections begin.

Positioning this poem, with its rural images of firewood, compost piles and the air-dried sheet, in an institutional setting was intentional.  The world of this hardy little poem is as foreign to the world of smart boards, processed cafeteria food and security guards as the silence that surrounds it is to an ipod generation.  I find the same comforts in reading Kenyon as I do in the essays of New York Times columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg.  Their writings about life in the country become a resting place for me.

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