Saturday, November 14, 2015

Personal Essay: Meditation and the Shingles Vaccine

Ken Howard Photo
Meditation and the Shingles Vaccine
(Found in the New York Times)

In a communiqué titled Well, a New York Times writer discussed the various causes of obesity, then suggested a few things to read regarding the improvement of general health, among them meditation and the shingles vaccine. The juxtaposition of the two words above tickled me, and I thought, “What a neat title.” The thing is, however, that I can’t think of anything to put under the title.

Not too long ago, I read an essay on joining the ranks of the über old written by Donald Hall, one of my favorite poets and former Poet Laureate of the United States, now completely retired from writing. He was for many years married to poet Jane Kenyon and as they contemplated her impending death from cancer, they wrote about their anticipated separation and their love. After Kenyon died, Hall continued to write, but all his poems were about Jane and her loss.

He admitted in the essay that this inability to write about anything else bothered him for a while – after all they shared their writing in a most intimate way. He also said that he had come to terms with writing nothing else.

I was buoyed up by Hall’s confession. Since my daughter, poet Laura Morefield, died of cancer in 2011 I’ve written few poems about anything or anyone else. As a consequence, nothing pleased me. If only I could make a breakthrough. It seemed like composing the same song over and over again.

Not too long ago the deadline for submission to an anthology loomed and I had to send them something because I’ve been included for several years running. The poems they’ve used, one of them (“Carrying the Flute”) nominated for a Pushcart Prize, have mostly been about music, but Laura lurks within the meaning of each like a meditation on the shingles vaccine. Oh, no! “Blech,” as she would say.

Submitting three recent poems to the 2015 San Diego Poetry Annual was a good exercise. I realized I had written about something other than my loss during the past year. But the one they chose? It’s about Laura. I can’t show you that one, titled “What Glaciers Say When They Sing,” but here’s another, even more recent.  

Forward Momentum

By Charlene Baldridge

Your presence in my handbag
prevents catastrophe,
provides footing,
when in truth I should have fallen –
oh, there’s another stair here –
instead of landing on my feet.

I heard your muttered exclamation –
you’re expert at producing such
emanations, moth –ur!

I know, slow down, be
more careful, or better
yet, stay home and behave.

But all this travel
is your fault,
the result of your surprising
audacity those last three years.

I’m just along for the ride, sometimes mid-air.

Laura’s surprising audacity was sending her ten favorite poems to American opera composer Jake Heggie just before she died. I’m going to San Francisco December 16 to hear mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton sing the West Coast premiere of The Work at Hand, Laura’s long poem of farewell, at San Francisco Performances. Written by Heggie, the piece was premiered at Carnegie Hall and Pittsburgh Symphony this year. The near fall recounted in the above poem happened at the after party following the world premiere of Jake’s most recent opera, Great Scott, attended October 30 in Dallas. Laura was my companion at the June 2010 world premiere of Moby-Dick in Dallas. It was our last mother/daughter trip. Such a rich, precious, priceless life.

1 comment:

  1. No matter how many of your poems are about Laura, they are all about love and are therefore universal. I adore them!