Sunday, January 17, 2010

in celebration of a life

My first commission! Renee's aunt (Renee is CFS middle school head teacher) asked me to attempt a poem to honor her sister who died just before Christmas. I was honored, and the result of my efforts is below.

A new favorite author of mine (Sarah Vowell--check her out) put a quote from Carl Reiner at the first of one of her books: "That's what writing is. You're keeping people alive in your head." That fits some of what I try to do with such poems.

Elizabeth Missouri Howell, “Libby”

Libby loved to come home,
back to where she began as a person,
as a soul, as a daughter, a sister,
as one who joys in roots
and the flowering that deep grounding allows,
as one forged in the heat of a family together,
winning a living from the earth
and learning how much each matters to the other,
we lose the family farm as crucible of our best values at some peril,
Libby knew that foothills farm, the mountains rising up nearby to hold the self,
the heart, as she would lift up her eyes unto the hills,
hard work, father provides, mother holds all together,
plant and animal thrive and are transformed into the fuel
that feeds the body
while family and God feed the soul,
Libby would help her mother with the house,
enjoy appreciating her father harvest the animals,
the pleasure of riding horses, being in the country, a good joke,
the family picnic in a meadow by the steep hill,
the watermelon cooled by the creek,
Dad full of fun and Mom’s food always a treat,

then she finishes high school and goes out in the world--
Dupont, then cosmetology,
a fruitful marriage with Dip,
who worked with the Bureau of Mines as an engineer,
they travelled all around, including time in California,
and then went to work on the Hill in Washington, D.C.,
blessed with four children: Sharon, Gary, Ginger, Suzie,
four grandchildren, one great grandchild,
how hard it must have been to lose both Gary and Ginger,
and as she herself was slipping away
her children were foremost in her mind
as she feared for how loss would affect them,

Woodbridge, Virginia, her second home for many years,
childrearing, separation, divorce,
managing apartment houses and enjoying the work,
her longterm smoking catching up to her
with emphysema and later cancer,
though she had stopped the smoking,
a cancer that recurred and finally took her away,

a Missionary Baptist her whole life,
though till a decade ago not that active in her belief,
a decade ago her dear sister Ruth helped reopen the way,
and the Lord was there for her,
the thrill of gospel music,
less anxiety, more tranquillity,

the cancer and the end came on fast
and she chose not to fight it
for it was not her will in charge any more,

the dark, the cold, the snow came upon her and Virginia,

as the Sun’s light started to return,
as the Son’s light called to us from Christ’s birth,
at that time when so many come home for the holidays,
Libby returned to rejoin Him,
He whom her faith both knew and sought,

and now she is home, in His arms.

by Henry Walker
January 6, 2010

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