The death of a poet doesn’t make headlines.

Earlier this month, scrolling through my Instagram feed, I noticed that a friend who normally posts her fantastic comics and sketches had instead shared a photo of a page of poetry. She commented that one of her favorite poets had died: Thomas Lux. He was also one of my favorites; this same friend had introduced me to his work. (We also share a love of Adrienne Rich, who we had the privilege of meeting at a lecture and book signing at MIT years ago. I’d like to say that we handled ourselves on that occasion with grace and gravitas, but we did not. We were both a little star-struck.)

As I searched online for more details about Thomas Lux’s passing, I discovered he had died almost 10 days earlier, on February 5th. How had I not known about this? Why didn’t I read about it somewhere? I answered my own question, surprising myself: the death of a poet doesn’t make headlines in today’s America.

As it turns out, this is not literally true in the case of Thomas Lux. The New York Times published his obituary (17 days after his death), and The Atlantic has a lovely memorial, complete with an audio recording of the poem “Virgule”. And maybe I’m being too cynical, as I’m sure that significant American poets – Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Adrienne Rich, to name just a few – received due recognition and praise at their passing.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that precisely at a time when poetry should mean more – when we need its honesty and insight and surprise like never before – it (and those who write it) are being overlooked or ignored. I hear the truth in what Audre Lord said: “…poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence.”

So I invite you, in memory of an American poet, to take a few minutes to read the poetry of Thomas Lux. There’s Refrigerator, 1957, with a beautiful gut-punch of an ending that took my breath away the first time I read it. Or Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy, which is about exactly that. Or The Voice You Hear When You Read Silently, which will give a new perspective on something you do all the time – something you’re doing right now.

Next time I’ll catch you up on life in Amsterdam, our new apartment, and our recent travels, but for now, some poetry is necessary.

To live in this world

 

A year ago today, I shared a long, personal reflection on the first anniversary of my mother’s death. After I posted it, a friend suggested I reread it from time to time, and especially on this anniversary day. I did, and will continue to do so, not as a measure of any kind of “progress” but as a remembrance. Another year has passed and still – again – things are different. Words like “easier” or “harder” have no place in grieving, at least for me. There is just different, other.

This year I don’t have anything profound or even anything particularly personal to say for myself, so I’m relying on someone else. One thing that has brought me comfort during these past 2 years has been reading poetry again, where I find expressions of the same solace, anger, resignation, peace, or confusion I feel, but cannot give voice to.

So I offer this up to you, and to the memory of my mom, and all the love and light she brought into the world.

“In Blackwater Woods”, by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes
to let it go,
to let it go.

“Everything is Waiting for You”

I’m writing this tonight from the kitchen table. There are cookies baking in the oven, in preparation for a holiday party at my office in a few days. If you know me, you know that my Christmas cookies are the stuff of legend. I don’t say this to brag – and maybe some of my readers will comment and back me up – but to highlight the fact that here, my baking is not quite up to par. It may be the ingredients or the oven or the (lack of) altitude or some combination of factors. But for some reason, everything I have tried to make here is just a little…off.

I suspect that the run-up to the holidays can make all of us feel a little “off”, too. Not quite ourselves. Not happy with how we are acting, how we treat those we love. Wanting to be calmer, more patient, more generous, more aware. Desperate for deeper connections to counter a world that seems, at least for the next few weeks, grossly commercial and superficial.

As I said recently, I often turn to writers – especially poets – when life tosses me around and I need something solid to hold on to. In the past few months, English poet David Whyte has been by my side. First, it was his  book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. I wrote about it in October and I can’t stop returning to it. Give yourself an early Christmas gift and read it.

Tonight, though, as I sat here with my slightly “off” cookies and my equally “off” self, it was Whyte’s poetry that threw me a lifeline and shook me awake . And since I cannot share the cookies, I offer the poem to you, and invite you to “ease into the conversation” however you like and with whomever you need.

You can listen to Whyte read the poem here; I love his voice and the repetition of certain phrases, especially at the end. Or read it slowly to yourself, in your own voice, and let your alertness grow, your aloneness dissipate.

Everything, everything, everything is waiting for you.

Everything is Waiting for You

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.