This one has absolutely nothing to do with poetry, but the events of the last couple of weeks. Three deaths in one week is just stupid in anyone's life. The myth is that poets thrive on death and tragedy. Just like everyone else, we each react in different ways. I wasn't particularly thrilled, nor was I inspired to pen an ode to each of the three who passed. Yet my work was affected, as every life changing event will affect your art.
My Auntie Dottie died on January 15 after complications following a heart attack. She was a funny, caring woman who has been through a lot in her 71 years. I will probably never really grasp the fact that she's gone. I chose not to go to the services for various personal reasons, but even seeing the body sometimes doesn't make it any more real.
There is this cast of characters in my family, the aunts and uncles I grew up with, and in my mind's eye they never change, they never age, and they never die. I suppose moving away from Long Island to go to college, then never quite moving back, has frozen them in my mind. In a way, they are all parts of the foundation I built my life on. When they die, my foundation is literally rattled. This is how her death affected me. The landscape is forever changed.
I haven't written a thing about her yet, but I'm sure she's somewhere back in my arsenal of images. I am working most diligently on a chapbook of poems about horses, having grown up around them. So did Aunt Dottie. I usually shy away from dedications on my chapbooks, but this one will be for her. Maybe I can include that beautiful picture of her on horseback, as a teenager. That would be perfect.
My friend Rosanne called me about the death of our friend Susan the day after I found out about Aunt Dottie. Susan, Rosanne and I were all part of the Stone Ridge Poetry Society back in the mid ‘80s, but I don’t remember Susan from those days. She always said she remembered me! Of course, I was the woman with two first names then. At least that much did stick in a person’s mind!
Everything that could possibly be wrong in someone's life was wrong in Susan's, yet whenever we spoke, she always had a plan, several plans for the future. Ultimately, her body failed her, in part due to stress, but I'll always be inspired by her persistence. She, too, was a funny woman, smart and independent. It's the stubborn independence that may have contributed to her early death at 57, but it also enabled her to live the life she wanted for many years. I will always miss her hospitality, her insights, her easy ear. Real confidantes are sometimes hard to find, and Susan was one. I hope I listened sometimes, too.
The third passing didn’t hit as close to home as the first two, but was still saddening. In the spring I reconnected with my ex sister-in-law, thanks to Facebook of all things, and she and her husband Andrew even attended one of my readings. Unfortunately, Andrew was in and out of the hospital for most of the summer and we never got together again except for my visit to his hospital room one day.
Bella was so obviously the reason for his being. I'm sure she kept him going. They made the trip down by car to Florida for their annual snowbird exodus last fall. He died last Thursday, his body finally too tired to go on. I haven't spoken to Bella yet in person, but I'm flattered that in all her grief, she thought to call and leave me a message about Andrew. I long ago lost any rank or importance in her family, but not to Bella I guess. I can't wait to see her again.
Before these passings, I had fallen into a regular routine of writing and revising poetry for at least an hour a day. I hope to get back to that, and have done some work in the last couple of days. I hate when people pretentiously speak on behalf of the deceased, oh, ‘So-and-So would have wanted it that way…’ We can’t really be sure. Susan knew how much poetry means to me. Aunt Dottie and Andrew knew I was a poet. It just wasn’t a part of their life experience.
I have to continue. I don’t have a choice. I’m the one who’s still here, somehow.