My friend’s email began: “My mom died 39 years ago today… we’ve been friends even longer. Let’s connect!”
Kristina’s letter hit me hard. Not that I fail to think of her, I do think of her, but our friendship simmers on the back burner. I’m always planning to send a card or email… after… after I wash the dishes, walk the dog, run to the bank, shop for dinner… and the beat goes on – not in a specific direction (and this is the important part) but in circles – or more accurately, in expanding spirals spinning out over the mountains and into the ether.
winter lingers in Westcliffe, Colorado
If Kris were here in Colorado and not in Texas, we would hug. Our hug would be the kind that dissolves flesh and bone. We wouldn’t have to say anything. The hug would say it all.
Because we are still alive, we can still connect – physically if we are in the same place at the same time or by mail if we are distant. Phone works – better for others than for me. I prefer to meet in person or by mail.
But what if Kristina or I were to die today without saying ‘good-bye’?
The transitory nature of life has just been brought home by the passing of another treasured friend, Jill Higgins, author and poet, formerly living at 52 Broadway, Muswell Hill, London. I knew that she wasn’t well. When I would write to her, she would email, “Thank you for writing, Love, Jill.”
She did not speak of her declining health or her issues with the housing authority. She was brave to the end. I hate that. I didn’t get to say good-bye. I would have liked to hold her hand.
Jane Wibberley, a mutual friend, wrote to tell me of Jill’s passing. And from that point on, I was in Facebook contact with many of my Word-for-Word, North London friends – friends with whom I had lost contact, but who left their mark as surely as if they had touched me with an inky handprint.
When you have met and written weekly for at least ten years, you know one another well. Each has revealed himself through his writing. All disguises and camouflage lie in disarray at the writer’s feet: each stands – naked and vulnerable. You may know your fellow writers better than you know yourself. You will never be just causal friends.
Jill, Jane, and I were a close threesome who met through writing but soon discovered a mutual love of theater. But Jill is gone, and the threesome is broken. Another of my ties that tether me to London is severed. Am I drifting away? Or am I on the ground and the balloon is drifting away?
I search through my Word-for-Word anthologies. I want to find Jill’s poems. Scanning the index of each anthology, all the writers’ names and faces spring to life: Julia Casterton, Viv Fogel, Runilla Chilton, Evelyn Hunter, Stella Pierides, Jeremy Denny, Jack Stanley, Catherine Scholnick, Brian Docherty, Penny Solomons, Liz Granirer, Katie Willis, Shahab Ahmed, Jane Wibberley, Joyce Patterson, Lisa Galdal, Louis Cennamo, Phil Pool, Marina Sanchez, Jenni Christian, Phil Blacksmith, Peter Burge, Nicki Petri, Manjula Datta, Jenny Brice, Angela Elliott, Lawrence Scott, Abe Gibson, Jack Wilkes, Elissa Swinglehurst, and Judy Gahagan.
Each name resonates like tympani. I hear their voices; I see their faces. I miss them.
All of Jill’s poems speak to me, but “The Angler” speaks to every writer.
I’ve been fishing here / since I was a child, / either from the bank / or the boat. / A twitch on the line / answers my prayers, / food for today, / food for tomorrow. / Hardly the background / for a poet, and yet / that’s what I am. / If there’s no rod / in my hand, / there’s a pen. / Words are my fish, / poems my catch. / Poetry walks the water, / sings in the sky.
I’m reading, for maybe the third or fourth time, The Snow Geese, a memoir by William Fiennes. Briefly, 25-year-old Fiennes, who has had to drop out of graduate school because of numerous operations and a lengthy recovery, dreams of escaping his childhood bed in his parents’ home.
Once he recovers, Fiennes impulsively decides to leave England, fly to Texas, and follow the five million snow geese as they fly north across the Great Plains, towards Winnipeg, over Hudson Bay, and to their summer grounds on Baffin Island. His is a grand adventure colored by the landscape, the birds, and the people he meets as he travels by Greyhound bus.
Several months into his adventure, as a train passenger on the Muskeg Express, Fiennes writes, “I lay awake, thinking of home. My appetite for the new seemed to tire or slacken, perhaps because I was lonely, or because I felt for the first time that my journey north with the snow geese was not quite the shout of freedom I had presupposed. I was aware of another impulse that, if not the opposite of certainty, was certainly resistant to the new or strange and sympathetic to everything I could remember and understand.”
“Lying awake on the train, what I felt was no more than a mild ache, bittersweet, an awareness of separation from things I loved, an almost corporeal inclination towards familiar ground. It was as if I existed between two poles, the known and the new, and found myself drawn alternately from one to the other.”
I too, feel drawn between two poles. Not that life in Colorado is lacking but looking east, over the Mississippi, and on towards London, my abraded heart aches. Jill’s memorial is Friday, April 5. On that day, Jill’s friends (drawn by something larger than Jill herself) will gather at the Islington Crematorium. Hopefully, those in attendance will read some of Jill’s poems.
I regret missing the service and the comfort of the friends we hold in common. If I could be anywhere, I’d be in Islington on the fifth.
The lesson? We should all say good-bye to our loved ones, before we leave for the great beyond. Not knowing our departure date, we should vow to say our good-byes, to express our love and appreciation, prior to our demise.
Not to leave my readers on a gray day (one on which I cannot gather pussy willows outside the back door, but am asked to pay $7.00 at the grocery!) I’m pasting in a link to a video of impromptu music at St. Pancras Station. My heart soars.
Singer spontaneously stops to perform with 91-year-old piano player in train station