Friday, October 01, 2004

As they were: poets Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon.

Read this now: Donald Hall's remarkable "Eleven Days" -- which I discovered by way of Susanito in Readerville. It recounts in painful detail the loss of Hall's wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, to leukemia.

Of course it's a downer -- and the kind I usually avoid, because I don't like being reminded of mortality anymore than you do -- but it's a great downer, and even though it was sometimes painful to read, and eventhough there were unstintingly accurate details about Kenyon's physical decline that made me wince, it's an article that really lives up to the phrase "wrenchingly honest," and when you finish it you feel you've been deep in the heart of tragedy. The calm intensity of Hall's prose -- no less than the intensity of his love for Jane -- kept me sticking with it to the end.

My father died of leukemia in 1999, and Hall's piece definitely brought to mind the rapidity of the decline.

One line especially jarred me: "The brutal day elapsed." Near the end with my dad, maybe a day or two before, late afternoon, he had said: "This has been kind of a wasted day." He was incapacitated, in bed, couldn't do anything, couldn't go anywhere, knew more than anyone that time was being measured out in hours; his illness restricted him from doing anything, and he had wanted to do something -- what, I don't know, but it hardly matters.

I know of Donald Hall for precisely one reason: Ox Cart Man, a great children's book about the cycle of life for an 18th Century farm family that spends the year making goods, then selling them, then starting over. I read it to my own daughter several hundred times, and it still comes to mind whenever I get a check in the mail.

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