Monday, November 26, 2012

The Warrior's process

Oh, she had her ways and her processes.

I wish I could find Laura’s first poem, written not in her hand (she couldn’t write yet) but printed by her teacher on a 3 x 5 card – was it first grade or earlier?

“Look what I found, mom,” she said one day, showing me the card, “my first poem.” It was titled something like “My brothers’ trousers,” and went something like, “My brothers trousers are green.”

“Funny,” she said, “Charlie and Bob never had green trousers.”

Then, we debated who should take custody of the card. I can’t find it, and it was not among the things in her office following her death, so we’ll never know how brilliant or mundane this bit of juvenilia was. There was nothing ordinary about Laura.

Right now, her post-diagnosis journals are being mined for poems. Not by me, but by an acquaintance with literary skills. Apparently, poems came in a torrent toward the end of Laura’s life.

According to her process, and so far as I know it was lifelong, she hand wrote poems first in her journal or poetry notebook, selected the ones she felt worthy of development and put them into the computer. Then she printed them out to work on them further. Eventually, if she was pleased, they were shown to others for comments, and eventually a finished poem emerged and was archived and shared. In her “finished” archives, still, some poems had two or three versions with minute differences.

Invariably, if a word bothered me, it was a word that had bothered her because something about it was not quite right.

What we’re learning now is that in her handwritten versions an ampersand isn’t always an ampersand. In the finished poem it is usually the word and. We’re also learning that Laura’s line breaks were never defined by the width of the notebook page, but by the poet as she labored over the process.

The dilemma therefore is how does one take handwritten poems from the notebook and refine them as the poet would have, had she lived? This dilemma is exacerbated by the fact that during the last few months of her life, as the flood of words flowed onto the page; Laura lost her ability to complete the process. The television remote, the intricacies of hand-held devices and her laptop all became unsolvable mysteries. One by one she handed her devices to Dan and said, “Here. Give this away. I won’t be using it any more.”

Invariably he said, “I’ll just put it away for later.”

“Oh, no,” Laura responded vehemently. “I won’t need that any longer.” And so, the device, whatever it was, was put somewhere out of sight. The stream of spoken words continued unabated until she closed her eyes two days before death. Her last words were, “Oh, Dan. I love you,” and  “Thank you, God.”

On Thanksgiving Day, as we gave thanks for the blessings of the past year, I gave thanks for the time spent with my beloved daughter through her work. I am certain that the year to come, which  promises production of The Warriors' Duet, will produce further blessings. Further evidence that it is possible simultaneously to ache and to bloom. 

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