One week ago today, a neighbor saw her walking in her back yard,
After which she went back in her house,
The house in which she had lived for forty-six years, more than half her life.
No one saw her again after that, until two days later,
When Jonathan Clark, who had known her ever since he had been a small boy,
Found her sitting on her chair by the telephone, a letter open on her lap.
Miriam Patchen was dead.
Miriam would have claimed her dying was of no consequence.
And she would have said that my composing this now was not of much consequence, either.
And, of course, she would have been right.
Measured against the indifferent wind, what we do here together does not mean much.
And, yet, as the news of her dying flashed around the world, there were hundreds,
Perhaps thousands of poems, written and unwritten, being composed in homage to her
By those who had been touched by her, those who had known her and whom she had known.
None of these poems are of much consequence to her, not any more,
Because none of them can bring her back to us.
And, yet, she is with us still, just as her husband, Kenneth,
One of the giant poets of our own time, also now dead and gone,
Was kept with us by her unflagging devotion to his memory.
And so will memory of Miriam Patchen always be with me
For as long as I, too, still remain alive.
I knew her very well.
Eight years older than I am, she was like an older sister to me.
We were family: we argued, we often disagreed,
Her political tirades more than once frustrated me, her opinions about art often at odds with mine,
Her constant demands to stay up all night talking exhaustive to me.
But we were here together.
And we loved each other.
I knew her very well. I knew her for more than fifty years;
I had written to her husband and she had written to me since 1950.
The day her husband died in 1972, she immediately sent me a telegram to tell me so.
I know what happened on that morning one week ago today.
A few days earlier, she had written notes about the pain in her chest,
But she called no one.
The day before she died, she started a letter to Larry Smith, whose biography of her husband is now being published.
She never finished that letter.
Instead, one week ago today, she walked into her back yard,
Said good morning to her beloved squirrels and birds,
Those animals whose ancestors had been her friends for more than half her life, here in this same back yard.
She fed them some nuts and bread crumbs, then walked back into her house,
Sat down in her chair, next to the telephone, started reading a letter;
The telephone rang several times during the next two days.
Miriam Patchen did not answer the telephone ever again.
After Jonathan Clark found her, he called Rita Bottoms.
Rita called me, telling me that she would be in immediate contact with Lawrence Ferlinghetti and other old friends.
I called Larry Smith and Bill Mullane and Marcus Williamson, all of whom had known Miriam well;
I also sent messages to as many people as I could think of who had known her.
However, anyone trying to call 856-6529 at 2340 Sierra Court, Palo Alto, California, got no answer.
Miriam Patchen did not answer her telephone ringing ever again.
She had returned to her squirrels and birds in their peaceable kingdom.
She had said goodbye to all of us still here together.
At last now, the bearer of the red wine and possessor of what once was yellow hair on 23rd Street in Greenwich Village,
Who lived with Kenneth for almost twenty years at 2340 Sierra Court, Palo Alto, California, living there herself for another twenty-seven years after his death,
Has followed the dead poet, who had been born and raised in steel-mill Ohio, into Heaven.
Meanwhile, back here among that which still lives, we will go on, hoping, believing that what we do and say is of some consequence.
- Joel Climenhaga
March 13, 2000: Bisbee, Arizona
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