Saturday, April 14, 2012

CLAY AND EARTH AND BOOKS

So we return to the dust from which we were formed. But before all that, we often plant veggies and herbs in the earth and they grow and nourish our bodies. Sometimes we sculpt figurative forms from the clay of the ground so they can nourish our souls. Sometimes we also write books, and put ourselves into words.

The day before yesterday a dear friend came to town from across the country. Through a series of serendipitous connections, he made it to his father's bedside twenty minutes before he died. His father had lived a great life. The whole family was there and they thought he had gone, until my friend's father took yet another last breath - and that one really was his last. My friend said all the family laughed with joy at that, because even in death this man was himself, a man with long stories to tell. And with that final pause and final breath, he said, "and another thing..."

I sculpted two days in a row, on Friday morning and then again Saturday afternoon. Chuck was back in the studio, after a few weeks absence following a nasty fall, and all of us were grateful to see him.

Both yesterday and today Ben and I went to a second hand book sale in the Community Center. We pored over books written years ago, and books written only last year, ones with inscriptions to people long since gone and ones with their dust jackets in tatters. There were military histories and books of paintings, and a folio edition of Oscar Wilde's Salome, that I couldn't pass up.

This morning at the farmer's market we bought lavender, basil, peppers and tomatoes in pots, thyme and lemon grass. I planted those a few hours ago, after returning from sculpture.

I also heard this week about the death of Joanne Randall - the wife of my beloved mentor Jim Randall - the first director of the Writing Program at Emerson, and editor of Pym Randall Press. Jim was my teacher and the first editor to publish me. I worked with him on the Writing Program at Emerson College. He had a rare book store Ahab, in Harvard Square. If you went in to visit you'd have to hunt for him him behind piles of books and every surface of the room was covered in them.

I heard of Joanne's passing, of all places, on Facebook. I had sent her a planter back in August, and it fit into one of the windows on her enclosed front porch in Kansas City. While she was ill, we continued to correspond.

In her last letter she reminisced as she often did, about meeting Jim. "They saw me passing outside their window and called out 'do you want to go to a party and meet new people?' Jim cornered me right away and pressed into my hand Ford's The Good Soldier. I read it that night and again on the train to Philadelphia that labor day weekend where my college roommate and her husband lived with their little girl while he was getting his PhD in Sociology at U of Penn and she was getting a Master's in Library Science. I told them I believed I had just met my future husband. We had a good giggle over that."

For several years Joanne and I would rendezvous at the Harvest Restaurant in Cambridge with another writer friend, Chris Brodien Jones. Sometimes my daughter Rozzie joined us. She loved to listen to Joanne's stories of the Boston literary scene and also her tales of supernatural visions and visitations. When I told Rozzie that Joanne had passed, Roz said, "I say Bon voyage! Her life in the other dimension sounded so fascinating, perhaps that is where she has gone!"

I've written about Jim in my novel (as yet to be published...) I think he'd be pleased by the characterization. I put him in a bookshop in Cambridge and gave him the name of Oliver. My friend Lisa, another wonderful writer, read my novel this week and offered a few suggestions. I'm about to go through it one more time and make revisions.

I don't know how these things connect, these plants and deaths, these books and clay, but somehow they do, in my mind. It's been a week of clay and earth and books, of loss that is overturning into growth.
Joanne, Chris and me at the Harvest in Cambridge

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