This is the final post for National Poetry Month. Much thanks to all who have participated and those who have read.
A couple of weeks ago my father-in-law died and I went to Texas to be with my mother-in-law. The ashes were coming from California and it was going to take several days to have them shipped from Texas, so we settled down to write the obituary and to share stories of his long and colorful life. There was a continuous stream of people arriving with food, flowers, and good wishes.
I had to leave to return to work and go on a long-planned trip to Colorado to see my son and daughter in college there. As I was back in New Mexico packing, I received a phone call from my mother-in-law asking if I could recommend a short poem to print on the thank you notes she was planning to send. I told her I would take some books of poetry on my road trip and send her a selection.
I searched the shelves in my daughter’s old room, where all the books of poetry are kept. Tired and a little frazzled, I couldn’t seem to find anything but a collection by Walt Whitman. Not many short selections there.
The next morning, armed with coffee, my suitcase, and a book of poems about two inches thick, I recalled that Whitman had written an elegy to Abraham Lincoln upon his death. As my husband drove north on Interstate 25, I found the poem and excitedly typed the first stanza into my phone to send to my mother-in-law.
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning
O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
From “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”
by Walt Whitman
After sending off the poem and returning numerous phone calls regarding the obituary, I breathed a great sigh of relief and opened a book I’d been meaning to read since Christmas, The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes. It was my son’s college text from his poetry class. I’d read a bit of it while he was home for Thanksgiving and wanted to read more, so I asked him for a copy for Christmas.
Because I knew he was a poor college student, I told him he could even give me the used copy from class. And that’s exactly what he did, he gave me a book tattered around the edges, filled with notes and bent back corners. An absolute treasure. Best of all, he included some holiday haiku he’d written. Here is one of them:
Bells jingle and ring.
Tis the season to believe
everyone can sing.
As we sped past the Rocky Mountains and I read my son ‘s haiku, I thought of the many times I’ve given poems printed on bookmarks as Christmas gifts, and I was reminded of how much poetry touches our everyday lives. I also thought of how often I have received poems as gifts and how many of those poems now hang on the walls of my home.
Poetry has been used throughout the centuries to express thanks, regret, sorrow, humor, love, and a host of other emotions. It is printed on cards and written on walls. It is tucked into books on little slips of paper.
But most of all, poetry is engraved on our hearts and imprinted in our minds so that even after reading a poem years or decades earlier, we can recall its lines.
Carolee Dean is the author of several books including the young adult verse novel, Forget Me Not.
You may follow her blog at http://caroleedeanbooks.blogspot.com
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