Friday, January 27, 2012

Poem: A birth, and a death


A birth, and a death
for Lister Matheson

No snow, and little
to speak of this warm winter;
ochre moss in laced stars
below small knobs of dried, dun
prairie fleabane,

planetary in death,
trembling in the circle of wind.

O my friend you are dead
and traveling
even while all for me is reborn

long before spring
in this non-winter of brown nothing
that is even so

beautiful, from the trodden meadow path
to the slim trees grown tall,
black, and sunlit by morning's horizon.

January 2012

Poetry should be heard.

Postscript: This small poem should be considered a momentary and brief snapshot in a series of poetic responses in these early days of my grandson's life. It cannot suffice as a fitting tribute or memorial to Lister, whose expanse of life, work and persona would need several volumes of momentary—and epic—responses. My thanks to Brendan for his comments, which helped me to realize that I needed to say this here in the post.


erin said...

in this non-winter of brown nothing
that is even so


i read this poem several times slowly, as though my mouth is full of earth, earth from which all is born and to which we all return to.

(through the power of google i see the passing of your friend and i hear you.)))


Ruth said...

Dear erin, I thank you. I have now linked in his name to the beautiful obituary, written by his life partner, Tess. The loss is almost too much to bear.


Marcie said...

Somehow - I can feel the sorrow and the beauty- both and all together in this. You have such a gift!

elizabeth said...

Bravo, so perfectly put

So quietly, slowly, joyfully sad --and all at the same time.
How we should step back and savor the infinite gifts we are given.
James is a star.

Brendan said...

The lush introduction into a living/dead landscape is an excellent door into this poem, though I thought there was too little in memoriam of this figure (I read the obit, and there is so much, I think, to say of a medieval scholar, one who bridges ages so -- but then, that may have nothing to do with your association with him. And there isn't much about the birth here, so if we didn't know your story, the mention of "reborn" is elusive, elliptical ... But then maybe you meant to insert fleeting mention of both amid the greater beginning and end of landscape. Perhaps the title works well as this is written, since it leaves the entire meditation of both to the examination of the landscape, with scant reference to the central transformations. If you do rework the middle, the title then seems weak. Anyway, I'm sorry for your loss (63 is so young). I'm fascinated with early medieval culture and think so much of our roots lie there. Those who could articulate that world I see somehow as oracles of our future. (Marshall MacLuhan was a medievalist.) - Brendan

Maureen said...

Beautiful imagery in a poem that conveys well your sadness for this loss.

George said...

Sorry for your loss, Ruth, but the blossoming of your fine poetry—and this is one of your best poems—reminds us that even loss can yield flowers of beauty for the patient heart.

Ruth said...

Marcie, thank you so much. I feel both joy and sorrow so acutely!

Elizabeth, thank you for reading, and for your response, which is so lovely.

Ruth said...

Brendan, thank you for your response, which is very well received, and all points felt also by me before posting the poem.

This poem cannot stand alone as a fitting tribute or memorial for Lister. Better that Chaucer, (or you! I wish you could have met and wallopped with him!), or Lister himself, should write a bawdy play and chronicle his life. It would be hilarious, epic, magnificent!

I could have (and should have, and will now) included a brief note to the effect that . . . this should be considered a momentary and brief snapshot in a series of poetic responses in these early days of my grandson's fragile life (fragile only because he is so utterly dependent now). If there were a collection of these poems, the context of James's birth would be clear. You are so right about this needing that clarifying context.

As for a fitting tribute to Lister, whose life, persona, and work were vast and fantastical, this should also be considered one snapshot in a scrapbook of snapshots about him.

Anyway, thanks so much for your close attention here. I couldn't agree with you more.

Ruth said...

Maureen, thank you for reading and for your kind comment.

George, thank you so much for your kind words. I am trying to come to terms with the reality that Lister is gone. It feels as unreal as this new birth, and I recognize that I am feeling all emotions more acutely now. I suspect this will subside some, but feeling the loss of Lister will go on.

The Solitary Walker said...

Brendan, I have to disagree with you about lamenting the lack of 'too little in memoriam of this figure'. Yes, there was little, but it was not a Tennysonian 'In Memoriam' kind of poem! It was a short, telling, beautifully observed and rather poignant lyric.

And I don't think filling in the birth details would have helped at all, in the context of what Ruth was trying to achieve (yes, elliptically).

Ruth said...

Dear Robert, thank you for your comments very much. I am happy that the poem worked for you. I feel honored that you and Brendan both expressed yourselves freely.

The word "free" has been my meditation word lately . . .

Rosaria Williams said...

Beautifully rich imagery, a nod to life, a pause to death, the two stages ever present.

Kathleen said...

I feel reverence here, for the strange beauty of the non-winter and how it and a kind of silence carry the immensity of a death and a new life.

Unknown said...

Oh, this means so much to me right now...

hedgewitch said...

A beautiful piece, Ruth, taken just as the words and the pictures they paint--independent of who is reborn and who is 'traveling.' He sounds like he was quite the fellow!

James Owens said...

i'm sorry for your loss, ruth. he seems to have been a wonderful man of many dimensions...

the poem lives in the mouth, and the first seven lines have such linguistic heft and dark texture that i could see it ending at "trembling in the circle of wind," without needing the explicitness of the remaining lines (of course, i understand this would distance it from the birth that you want to include, and i hope that i am not speaking out of turn ... it is only that i love the first seven lines very much, indeed :-)

Jeanie said...

Ruth, as always your words move me. I'm so deeply sorry for your loss. How it tears at us on gloomy winter days with skies as gray as our hearts.

ds said...

Your dear friend is "traveling" and he has these words with him in his pack. Who better than he to understand the turnings of life, seasons and poems? (Are not all poems snapshots?) Joy and sorrow, birth & death, always linked, each throwing the other into high relief--backlit. No context necessary for your beautiful words, Ruth. I am so very sorry for your loss.

Ruth said...

rosaria, yes, ever present, yet it is so difficult to make room for one of them. Thank you.

Thank you, Kathleen. Your use of the word "silence" is very important.

Claudia, I'm glad, and it's so great to see you again. and yet your comment suggests that for you, too, something has been lost. If so, I'm sorry to hear it.

Thank you, Hedge. I thought of you when I wrote fleabane. I have no doubt that you would have loved Lister.

Ruth said...

Thanks so much, James, for your condolence, and for your response to the poem. I hear you about the opening lines. I wonder myself at the abrupt introduction of the line addressing my friend. And yet, that is how life is, too. The sudden greets the lush morning, and still the sun goes on rising. It may be, however, that these lines should be a separate poem, something Diane Wakoski is forever suggesting to me.

Dear Jeanie, I know that you, too, suffered loss at work in the past year. Thank you for your kindness, always.

ds, thank you, my friend. Rilke has offered this lesson again and again in the past year, hasn't he. And Rumi before him, that when one thing comes, its seeming "opposite" comes right behind. A sun rises, and then a donkey kicks up the path. We have to welcome them both as part of the whole. This makes life painful while it's joyful, and richer for it, I think.

James Owens said...

i could see the second half as another poem, yes. the problem (if it is a "problem") is that they are good lines, too, even if good in a different way, and i would hate to see them lost

on the other hand, you are exactly right -- life jumbles things together in surprise and pain and delight, whether we think they belong together or not. perhaps a poetry that makes cleaner demarcations is ultimately false??

Ginnie said...

I, too, am aware of how closely life and death are intertwined, dear Ruth, and feel the emotion of this time for you. I see that Lister was also at the U. of Michigan, so in that regard I am more a part of him than I would have thought. Of course, because he is so much a part of you, I am already connected. You you find solace in the days ahead....

Louise Gallagher said...

Deep sadness planted in the earth of the awakening of life. Treasured both. Cherished both. and both a celebration of all that is beautiful and wondrous in our world.

I am sorry for the loss of your friend.

Your poem is a beautiful song to his spirit.

Betsy Grant said...

Great poem. You obviously gave great thought and feeling to it when writing it. Wanted to let you know I am making and posting new music videos almost very week on my blogs which you might enjoy. Visit me sometime.

Stratoz said...

Peace be with Lister and all who cared for him

Ruth said...

James, thank you for returning, I am grateful for your thoughts again. It is all true, what you said, what I said, what the poem says, and doesn't say. Ultimately, a poem is for a reader/listener, and if it falls wrong on the ear, somehow it does not succeed. Yet, I often wonder if a poem is mostly for the poet. Writing poems helped me out of and through the most difficult time of my life, and I am much indebted to poetry for that reason. And now. It is my soul work. I can't quite decide how I feel about being critiqued here at the blog. Is it the forum for it? I just don't know. But I do know that I would not be as happy for blogging if I felt that readers could not feel freedom to speak their minds. I hold fast to that.

Ruth said...

Boots, you have recently lost your classmate, so young. The rises and falls of our lives are utterly connected, so true. And what I hold dear, you hold dear.

I, for instance, long for you to hold James. (In May!)

Ruth said...

Dear Louise, thank you for your sweet and kind spirit, always. It blesses me especially this morning.

Thanks, Betsy.

Stratoz, thank you very much. I met Lister's brother Calum from Scotland a couple days ago, and he was so like him. What an ache.

Loring Wirbel said...

Appropriate as a memorial, and quite beautiful. The winter is the same everywhere, dry, warm, the new normal?

Unknown said...

the light, the dark.
it wrenches and yet?

so profound.

I send love to you in this loss. In this life.