Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I was saddened to learn last week of the passing of one of my teachers at the University of Montana, Patricia Goedicke. It was kind of a shock, even though she was in her seventies and frail-looking, because I saw her every year at AWP cutting it up on the dance floor. It was in her workshop that I first met some terrific poets and terrific people—really an exceptional cohort—that includes Deborah W. Pattilo, Cat Meng (who just lost her beloved cat, Winnie—it's been a tough couple of weeks!), Nils Michals, Ken White, Sarah Gridley, and of course Richard Greenfield and Trevor Toland, who were bacheloring it up with me in Vegas last weekend (details NOT forthcoming—sorry, Deborah!). Patricia was a passionate and inquisitive teacher who modeled poetry as a serious business for all of us and who took a distinctly maternal pride in our poems and accomplishments. We didn't always see eye to eye aesthetically when I was a student, and in fact we had many arguments—but in hindsight I wonder if she was trying to nudge me down the more experimental path that I did eventually follow. Her own poetry is sharply observant, attuned to the rhythms of human relationship, risking the sentimental and only sometimes succumbing to it; plus she had a keen interest in biology and cognitive science which I'm only now beginning to appreciate. By way of saying farewell, I'd like to share a poem of hers from her 2000 collection of elegies for her husband Leonard Robinson, As Earth Begins to End:
What Holds Us Together

is almost nothing, a little
surface tension at the edges.

Inside ourselves, but how?

Two blood bottles,
weak capillaries in pajamas

rowing across the night.

Into whose arms, the
self says,

will I permit it, at last
let myself go, trust others

to receive me when I'm dead?

By day we irritate each other, unwitting.
At breakfast, say, over burned toast.

By night, over the black potholes
of the snores between us I reach out

for you and find only
a piece of bare, unfeeling

forearm. This flesh

I touch so carefully in the dark
ignores me, in its sleep

indifferent, cold, unknowing
as the cold hiss of the ocean

and who we are is buried in it.

I know you'd mother me
forever, and I you,

but here, at the end of everything
we know

as waves spill themselves on the beach
in foaming avalanches, crackling

stone suckles stone. Even the kindest

words scrape against each other like seashells,
flesh, kneecaps, numb lips

nearly raw now, almost ready to break up,

crumble themselves into that loud
nameless energy we must return to

and can't, not yet,
nervously tying our pajamas

as tight as we can against the taut
temporary skin

of the bodies we tremble across the world in.

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