For our first poetry Monday I’d like to highlight Jane Kenyon who I was introduced to by Laurie Lamon. The three poems I will post are out of her collection titled Otherwise. One of the many reasons why I enjoy Kenyon’s writing as much as a I do is because of her poetry’s accessibility. While she is by no means a simplistic poet, she takes simple topics and expands them beyond anything I could imagine.
Much of the poetry in this collection touches on the topic of aging and death. I chose these three poems for today because in my initial reading of them all, they instantly reminded me of my great grandmother who died at age 96 from Alzheimer’s disease. I would love to hear what you think about them; hopefully you find them as beautifully heartbreaking as I do.
In The Nursing Home
She is like a horse grazing
a hill pasture that someone makes
smaller by coming every night
to pull the fences in and in.
She has stopped running wide loops,
stopped even the tight circles.
She drops her head to feed; grass
is dust, and the creekbed’s dry.
Master, come with your light
halter. Come and bring her in.
Grandmother, you are as pale
as Christ’s hands on the wall above you.
When you close your eyes you are all
white–hair, skin, gown. I blink
to find you again in the bed.
I remember once you told me
you weighed a hundred and twenty-three,
the day you married Grandfather.
You had handsome legs. He watched you
working at the sink.
The soft ring is loose on your hand.
I hated coming here.
I know you can’t understand me.
I’ll try again,
like the young nurse with the needle.
Ironing Grandmother’s Tablecloth
As a bride, you made it smooth,
pulling the edges straight, the corners square.
For years you went over the same piece
of cloth, the way Grandfather walked to work.
This morning I move the iron across the damask,
back and forth, up and down. You are ninety-four.
Each day you dress yourself, then go back to bed
and listen to radio sermons, staring at the ceiling.
When I visit, you tell me your troubles:
how my father left poisoned grapefruit on the back
porch at Christmas, how somebody comes at night
to throw stones at the house.
The streets of your brain become smaller,
old houses torn down. Talking to me
is hard work, keeping things straight,
whose child I am, whether I have children.
To me, Kenyon is summing up the heartbreaking, yet beautiful aspects of growing old through these poems; how she does both simultaneously is inspiring to me.
What do you think?