for Ann Dickinson Beal
A half mile down the dirt road to the house it passeswhere an old woman lived until she died there, the rooms stillcomfortable in their cool emptiness; then, a half mile farther past her, the farm pondwe find as empty. The widow was the one who told us not to be afraid to do it, to swim there alone. She said she had long agoformed the habit of this water’s solitude, the habit of this afternoon, all the lateafternoons conspiring to one: not exactly swimming, the waywe suspend ourselves in water, two old friendswho would say we are living alone, divorced and listless in it,in letting ourselves drift on what little current survives the damming,the push and pull of the small creek that feeds this, makes it.The water’s temperature is of nothing, of the womb.We love it that we can’t feel it as anything as apartfrom us. We never fail to speak of it. And never fail to fall quietenough for the beaver, near-blind, to swim so close to uswe can feel its wake, hear the fat slap of the tail. There is the smellof a hot innertube where dragonflies find us, the blue of a widow skimmer net-veined that lights on my island-hand, its body brokeninto syllables. Algae blooms unbroken, a green roil,thunder moseying around the hem of the water, and I have become unafraideven of lightning strikes. So when, now, this afternoon years impossibly past, I learn she is dying, there is selfish comfort in knowing she is doing thisthing before me, the way she is in the middle of the pond before Ican get there, not facing the dock, not waiting for me, but away, consideringthe other bank, a turtle dozing on a log, the catfish visiblebeneath the log, a snake’s head threading the air above its body.She is unafraid as I would have been afraid if I had arrived before her, too timidto leave the heat- splintered dock. If she is able to imagine a place,I imagine this is hers. And this poem is not between us, not yet imagined, the living we have yet to do there in its place. Andthe swallows have yet to give up the sky to the bats,and the bullfrogs have yet to begin what passes for song,for descant, and the shy green herons have yet to return to their nests.We have to wait for the new moon to rise, red and thin as a bass’s gill, clean and bloodless,through which we have to learn to breathe again.
Copyright © 2018 by Kent Ippolito
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission
Claudia Emerson published six poetry collections with LSU Press, including Late Wife, Secure the Shadow, The Opposite House, and Impossible Bottle. Before her death in 2014, she was professor of English and a member of the creative writing faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Emerson served as poet laureate of Virginia and won numerous awards for teaching and writing, including the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. (Author photo by Kent Ippolito)
“Claudia Emerson’s carefully made, thoughtful, and unsparing last poems have a kind of wildness in them, a feeling of being released, a fatefulness that unspools in ways that are both surprising and inevitable. This book is her final and finest achievement.”
“Emerson never tried to overwhelm the reader with a lot of curtain chewing and scene stealing. She was a solitary, an off-in-the-corner type, a classic observer—as observant as a sniper. . . . In her last months, Emerson added much to an art that was delicate but indomitable.”