Friday, May 7, 2010

DEBORAH DIGGES: "Greeter of Souls" and "The wind blows through the doors of my heart"

[image: Deborah Digges with Franz Wright at Tufts University]

I love the lyricism of Deborah Digges' poems. Her suicide a year ago distressed me deeply.
One of my favorite poems of hers is "The Greeter of Souls." In lyrical beauty, it is equal to Plath's "Crossing the Water," but what a difference in emotional tone! Digges was a nurturing person, and her concern for others is a constant theme in her best poems.

Ponds are spring-fed, lakes run off rivers. 
Here souls pass, not one deified, 
and sometimes this is terrible to know 
three floors below the street, where light drinks the world, 
siphoned like music through portals. 
How fed, that dark, the octaves framed faceless. 
A memory of water. 
The trees more beautiful not themselves. 
Souls who have passed here, tired, brightening. 
Dumpsters of linen, empty 
gurneys along corridors to parking garages. 
Who wonders, is it morning? 
Who washes these blankets? 
Can I not be the greeter of souls? 
What's to be done with the envelopes of hair? 
If the inlets are frozen, can I walk across? 
When I look down into myself to see a scattering of birds, 
do I put on the new garments? 
On which side of the river should I wait? 
                                                from Trapeze


The poem below was published posthumously. It hurts to think that there will be no more poems from this beautiful, gifted, loving human being.

The wind blows through the doors of my heart

The wind blows
through the doors of my heart.
It scatters my sheet music
that climbs like waves from the piano, free of the keys.
Now the notes stripped, black butterflies,
flattened against the screens.
The wind through my heart
blows all my candles out.
In my heart and its rooms is dark and windy.
From the mantle smashes birds’ nests, teacups
full of stars as the wind winds round,
a mist of sorts that rises and bends and blows
or is blown through the rooms of my heart
that shatters the windows,
rakes the bedsheets as though someone
had just made love. And my dresses
they are lifted like brides come to rest
on the bedstead, crucifixes,
dresses tangled in trees in the rooms
of my heart. To save them
I’ve thrown flowers to fields,
so that someone would pick them up
and know where they came from.
Come the bees now clinging to flowered curtains.
Off with the clothesline pinning anything, my mother’s trousseau.
It is not for me to say what is this wind
or how it came to blow through the rooms of my heart.
Wing after wing, through the rooms of the dead
the wind does not blow. Nor the basement, no wheezing,
no wind choking the cobwebs in our hair.
It is cool here, quiet, a quilt spread on soil.
But we will never lie down again.


Dresses that are lifted like brides and end up like crucifixes -- now that is marvelous (as is the opening, the first eight lines). A friend of mine remarked that this poem could be a suicide note -- this getting rid of everything.

But rather than focus on the poet's suicide, let us remember how loving she was. Here are my favorite lines from "Ancestral Lights":

And though I know now that Heaven may be
only the mind’s fear of the wonders it imagines,
the way our best thoughts surprise us
and seem not to be our own, I like to believe
we turn into light around those we love,
or would have loved, had we known them.
~ Deborah Digges (1950-2009)

"Those we love, or would have loved, had we known them." Yes.


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