Chimera Song Mosaic
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Then I reach Patricia's poems, knowing I would find them and having been anxious to read her new work, especially so after her recent death. But what I did not expect is that I apparently hadn't believed that she is actually gone. So when I began the first of the three poems, I couldn't keep on track, being assaulted by the reality of her death and the companion shame of never having mourned her. I was being tough, I guess. I shrugged, read sad notes on all the blogs of fellow Montana graduates, even some I don't know personally. The last time I saw her, in March of this year at AWP in Austin, she didn't seem to remember me. The year before that, in Vancouver, she didn't recognize me until I just wouldn't go away and kept following her and Nils around until she accepted knowing me. Apparently remembrance is reciprocal. I'm not shocked to know that I can be that petty, but I have to be hit over the head with the results of such pettiness to know how it hurts, exactly in what factors and allegory.
The last time I saw Patricia, she was being escorted (by two other Montana writers) through the glassy halls of the Austin Hilton, looking for the last day dance to shake her audacious tail feathers. She never found it. Evidently there was no dance this year, and even though I had fun last time (Patricia was by far the most memorable person on that dance floor in Vancouver), I shrugged it off again and made due with gossip, hijinx, and banter in one of the hotel rooms. (In which it is revealed that I am a "Perv," and the origins of Furries are uncovered.) Then I hear just a handful of months later that she is dead; it seems cruel to refuse her a last dance.
Okay, so back to the poems: when I could stop being distracted enough to read them and look at them, I was strangely transported back to a workshop session, in which I wrote about skin and bubbles and baubles, and Patricia told me that "oilskins" were not what I thought they were and that I couldn't simply write a poem that makes up a word that so clearly signals something else. Then into her office, where in a private meeting she asked me personal questions (based on my poems) that she had no business asking. But someone has to ask such questions, and that was a stubborn part of her charm. So I am granted license to be "personal" in my readings of (some of) the last three poems. She was tough and unsentimental, and for those who did not know her this is revealed most stunningly in the poem, "Hole," found here: a message for those neophytes at love and life who dare to think something of them has earned its "given" privacy.
It's not just the suggestion of death (or my own pangs of defense) that makes these poems so eerily evocative: there is autopsy here: In the first poem, "The Body," we see "[a]ppalling fields of white" and "[l]ips [are] sewn shut." Guernica is evoked, and somehow Columbus shows up, and the Statue of Liberty. The second poem is called "Death Song: Dolce Dolce." I can't help but wonder if the sweets turn sour in the mouth when death is revealed to be inevitable, when the passing of her own husband, Leonard, left her without a mate. (We ate cookies and candies and sodas in the bright and narrow kitchen while Leonard avoided the workshopper invasion by sticking close to the shadows, moving behind the doors, and using the cats as sentinels.)
The third and last poem beings with "Death" and alludes to "Ode to a Nightingale": "In this that was love's room / who cries spectre come, / deck me, cuff me with spent fuses / soon enough dwindles from false dawn / into false death wish or is it" (Goedicke). Another room: "Here, where men sit and hear each other groan; / Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs, / Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies" (Keats). Maybe I am fabricating these associations, as I am wont to invent. The poem does not end with a period but finishes, punctuation-free.
I hear that she had an unfinished book that is to be bound up and published soon. But such ownership is always the present tense. There was a memorial for her today at U of M, and Josh is getting married this weekend. I look forward