Bill Moyers Journal: A Life Together

Thanks so much to cowboy for sending me
a link to this:
featuring Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon.

If you have a spare hour,
(and truly, to do it justice, you need to sit down and watch it to its end)
follow the link and sit back and listen to beautful poetry
and wonder at such gifts given to both writer and reader.

There is no shortage of irony and bittersweetness in listening to Donald Hall, 
in 1993, describe his then current struggle with metastasized colon cancer, and 
his estimated statistical life span: about 4 years.  So he
was thinking and writing a lot about death and about living
life in the present moment, day by day.

Donald is now 85 years old and still very much alive and writing.
Jane Kenyon died 18 months after this documentary.

In A Life Together, Jane Kenyon gives a beautiful reading of this poem:

Let Evening Come

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving   
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing   
as a woman takes up her needles   
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned   
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.   
Let the wind die down. Let the shed   
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop   
in the oats, to air in the lung   
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t   
be afraid. God does not leave us   
comfortless, so let evening come. 
~ by Jane Kenyon



J Cosmo Newbery said...

Will find the time. But not tonight. The poem is lovely.

red dirt girl said...

Thank you, Cosmo. It's a current favorite.


goatman said...

I wonder if she knew, then?
Of her I mean.

red dirt girl said...

No, she didn't.

Last Days
by Donald Hall

"It was reasonable
to expect." So he wrote. The next day,
in a consultation room,
Jane's hematologist Letha Mills sat down,
stiff, her assistant
standing with her back to the door.
"I have terrible news,"
Letha told them. "The leukemia is back.
There's nothing to do."
The four of them wept. He asked how long,
why did it happen now?
Jane asked only: "Can I die at home?"

Home that afternoon,
they threw her medicines into the trash.
Jane vomited. He wailed
while she remained dry-eyed
trying to let go. At night
he picked up the telephone to make
calls that brought
a child or a friend into the horror.

The next morning,
they worked choosing among her poems
for Otherwise, picked
hymns for her funeral, and supplied each
other words as they wrote
and revised her obituary. The day after,
with more work to do
on her book, he saw how weak she felt,
and said maybe not now; maybe
later. Jane shook her head: "Now," she said.
"We have to finish it now."
Later, as she slid exhausted into sleep,
she said, "Wasn't that fun"
To work together? Wasn't that fun?"

He asked her, "What clothes
should we dress you in, when we bury you?"
"I hadn't thought," she said.
"I wondered about the white salwar
kameez," he said
her favorite Indian silk they bought
in Pondicherry a year
and a half before, which she wore for best
or prettiest afterward.
She smiled. "Yes. Excellent," she said.
He didn't tell her
that a year earlier, dreaming awake,
he had seen her
in the coffin in her white salwar kameez.

Still, he couldn't stop
planning. That night he broke out with,
"When Gus dies I'll
have him cremated and scatter his ashes
on your grave!" She laughed
and her big eyes quickened and she nodded:
"It will be good
for the daffodils." She lay pallid back
on the flowered pillow:
"Perkins, how do you think of these things?"

They talked about their
adventures: driving through England
when they first married,
and excursions to China and India.
Also they remembered
ordinary days: pond summers, working
on poems together,
walking the dog, reading Chekhov
aloud. When he praised
thousands of afternoon assignations
that carried them into
bliss and repose on this painted bed,
Jane burst into tears
and cried, "No more ****ing. No more ****ing!"

red dirt girl said...

Incontinent three nights
before she died, Jane needed lifting
onto the commode.
He wiped her and helped her back into bed.
At five he fed the dog
and returned to find her across the room,
sitting in a straight chair.
When she couldn't stand, how could she walk?
He feared she would fall
and called for an ambulance to the hospital,
but when he told Jane,
her mouth twisted down and tears started.
"Do we have to?" He canceled.
Jane said, "Perkins, be with me when I die."

"Dying is simple," she said.
"What's worst is, the separation."
When she no longer spoke,
they lay along together, touching,
and she fixed on him
her beautiful enormous round brown eyes,
shining, unblinking,
and passionate with love and dread.

One by one they came,
the oldest and dearest, to say goodbye
to this friend of the heart.
At first she said their names, wept, and touched;
then she smiled; then
turned one mouth-corner up. On the last day
she stared silent goodbyes
with her hands curled and her eye stuck open.

Leaving his place beside her,
where her eyes stared, he told her,
"I'll put these letters
in the box." She had not spoken
for three hours, and now Jane said
her last words: "O.K."

At eight that night,
her eyes open as they stayed
until she died, brain-stem breathing
started, he bent to kiss
her pale cool lips again, and felt them
one last time gather
and purse and peck to kiss him back.

In the last hours, she kept
her forearms raised with pale fingers clenched
at cheek level, like
the goddess figurine over the bathroom sink.
Sometimes her right fist flicked
or spasmed toward her face. For twelve hours
until she died, he kept
scratching Jane Kenyon's big bony nose.
A sharp, almost sweet
smell began to rise from her open mouth.
He watched her chest go still.
With his thumb he closed her round brown eyes.

This one always makes me cry !!

goatman said...

I am not sure the purpose of verbally displaying the death of another; but I suppose poets must poeticize. I have had to write two obituaries in the past few years, I was proud of them, but I wouldn't presume to impose them onto strangers.

Seems like reading other peoples' mail to me. Maybe some events should be descriptive only for those personally involved.

Death should not be sad.

Just a few thoughts . . .

red dirt girl said...

I'm grateful for the intimate portrait. It makes them (famous poets) more human and lets me know I am not alone in the suffering of my humanity. I'm sure Donald writes not to his imagined audience but writes because he must; his words spilleth over. So he decided to round these death poems up and publish them. You don't have to read if it is not your proclivity.

I rather think your discomfort says more about you and your feelings toward death and/or intimacy than it does about the poem itself.

Death is sad for those who are left living. There is no getting around that fact.


goatman said...

Death is in the end a private affair.

red dirt girl said...

Ok. On that I agree.


gz said...