Friday, November 25, 2011

Ruth Stone, June 8, 1915-November 19, 2011

Ruth & my dad, Willis
Thanksgiving Day, 2011: After putting the turkey in the oven, I went out into the sunny noonday to harvest greens for our salad. I stuck my trowel in the dirt to see if the carrots were ready to eat (no), and there among the feathery carrot-tops, the radishes, the peas, the clover, and the pesky creeping-Charlie was a dead mole covered with glistening flies. I heard this poem by Ruth Stone, as I do so often:

The Plan

I said to myself, do you have a plan?
And the answer was always, no, I have no plan.
Then I would say to myself, you must think of one.
But what happened went on, chaotic with necessary pain.
During the winter the dogs dug moles from their runs
And rolled them blind on the frozen road.
Then the crossbills left at the equinox.
All this time I tried to think of a plan,
Something to bring the points together.
I saw that we move in a circle
But I was wordless in the field.
The smell of green steamed, everything shoved,
But I folded my hands and sat on the rocks.
Here I am, I said, with my eyes.
When they have fallen like marbles from their sockets,
What will become of this? And then I remembered
That there were young moles in my mind's eye,
Whose pink bellies shaded to mauve plush,
Whose little dead snouts sparkled with crystals of frost;
And it came to me, the blind will be leading the blind.

The little mole lay on its back, its pink paws, so much like hands, lay on on its fur. I wondered if one of our dogs had killed the mole, or was it Christopher, our muscular black cat, whom I call little jaguar. I wondered if Abigail was in Vermont for the holiday. Inside, washing the greens, arranging a purple pansy and some curly parsley to garnish the humus, I remembered our days in Providence, telling Phoebe how much I love the way purple and green look together. She was pregnant with Ethan, and I asked about the drawings she was making with graphite rubbings on rice paper, using household items like cheese graters. I've used the same method in some of my drawings. I made the cornbread dressing and gravy, and the meal was prepared. Time to take a shower, wash away the smell of onions and garlic from my hands. When the blind leading the blind entered my mind, I gratefully sang "Amazing Grace," because I'm no longer afraid to sing; I sing as freely as I did when I was a child in Vermont, singing Beatles songs with Abigail. Then I sat down at my computer, and wished Abigail a happy Thanksgiving on her Facebook wall, sending lots of love.

Our guests began to arrive and then my dad called with Thanksgiving greetings and he said, "I have very sad news. Ruth died." When I met Ruth, I was younger than I am in this first grade photo.  I have no memory of life without her and now she is memory on a new earth.

Tonight I remember something so simple—or strange—I don't know. Maybe I'm numb. She'd arranged a reading for me at Binghamton University, and she put me up in her home there. In the morning, we drank tea and ate toast on beautiful bread, with ginger preserves. How delicious the preserves! And I recalled our teas in Vermont served on her Blue Willow tea set, and the delicacy, the ginger preserves. I held the jar in my hand, admiring the old fashioned label, the opaque white glass, which is made to look like porcelain, I guess. It was a winter day in Binghamton, with that kind of gray that has heft. Nonetheless, talking about how she keeps those preserves on hand to treat herself, Ruth sitting at her kitchen table glowed with warm ginger and her palpable delight to share such yumminess.  Yes, her poetry is a gift to the world. Yes, she influenced me. Without her, I would not be the poet I am, or the person. I've written about the poetry; the poetry remains. Tonight I want to run to the grocery store, and treat myself to ginger preserves—and bites of toast that make me feel the warm rush of her love on my forehead, hear her spicy words, sharp wit, her sweet laughter, and taste her presence again.

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