Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Is love of language genetic? Cultural? Or maybe a family matter? At the moment, the evidence is for family. My Aunt May’s grandson, and May’s dearest friend and sister-in-law, Elsie, who for Dean is a great-aunt (and a “great” aunt she was!), are both published poets, though there is no genetic connection. May was not a poet, but an accomplished painter.

At 37, after a past something like Charlie’s Nines (That is to say, he’s been around!), Dean is in college. At 96 Elsie Mackinnon Strachan has transcended this earth as of last week and we presume she is in a well-deserved Heaven. Not long ago I posted a snapshot of her sitting on a sofa with her husband, showing one little white-bowed shoe from under her skirt.

You might say these two poems are end-of-life celebrations: one of human evidence and the other of nature in glory. Dean writes with economy of words about objects closely observed which serve as metaphors for a long life vigorously lived. Not pretty, not powerful, but protective and maintained, these shoes have been a platform
from which to act.

Charlie’s Nines

Charlie’s nines,
left and right.
Worn beyond hue—
black? Brown?
Crooked old boots with
laces like twigs,
soaked with earth and sweat.
Age-lines and charm,
care and a brush.
A good pair of nines
last forever or close.
These nines,
left and right,
have outlived their feet—
soles re-stitched,
new every year.
No more garden to porch,
no more stroll to the U.S. Post,
down the dusty-rut road.
He outlived his wife,
his daughter, and dog.
He outran the dust storms—
West to pick oranges,
to build giant ships.
Just kept on walking,
for love of the view.
Goodnight, Charlie—
left and right,
your old shoes can rest.

Elsie’s poem, like much of her work, is observant of nature as a metaphor for human emotion. In this case the intense color of fall foliage equals fire, but not a fire that burns us. Rather it is a warming campfire we rest beside. End of life is implied, but it is not portrayed as sad or painful. Indeed her end was quiet and serene after a long disciplined and loving life.

Last Campfire

The Last of autumn burns here:
Crackle of golden stubble,
Crimson of sumac’s flame,
Sun on the fruit-sweet bough;

Here, where our fire burns bright,
Smoke-quills lazily pencil
Their last farewells…while we
Bask in the flickering now.
The Relief Society Magazine – October 1958

Elsie's poems have been compiled into a booklet by her son. We don't know yet what's ahead for Dean's.

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