Sunday, November 23, 2003

PRIMAVERA: The Last Poem Cycle, by Almitra David (1941-2003) 

Morning List
by Almitra David

A gentle rain falls.
The yard is early-morning lush.
I want nothing to change -- I want each
blade of grass to stay and the hostas near
the porch to keep opening purple flowers.
I want not to want this.
I want to accept, like the elephant whose
last set of molars has ground down,
when it is time to die. I want to
be the gracious guest who senses
when to thank the host and depart.
But I linger in doorways.
I stay seated at table when the meal is over.
I stand on the platform and wave
long after the window with my loved one's face
has sped by.


yesterday was the memorial service for Almitra David here
in Philadelphia, held at the main Quaker Meeting Hall with
a reception at the Quaker Friends Select School, where
Almitra was a teacher for many years.

copies of her last poems were handed to us as we entered
the sanctuary. ten remarkable poems contemplating her
final days, her love of life and her deep sadness of having
to leave this world behind, as she says in the poem
"Primavera Revisited" :

"sometimes sadness overwhelms me,
I want to touch my bones and
heal them, I want to awaken and
jump out of bed."

the publisher of Perugia Press who published Almitra's
book IMPULSE TO FLY was there with boxes of books
to hand out; quite a generous soul, this publisher.

generosity was in abundance however, hundreds of
poets, friends and family to mourn and celebrate in
classic Quaker style, taking turns standing and sharing
stories, poems, songs.

at one point (this sounds too fantastic to believe, but
i'm glad there were friends with me to also witness this)
a man with his acoustic guitar sang "Ain't No Sunshine."
by the time he reached the second refrain a beam of
sunlight suddenly shot from a window near the rafters and
landed (out of the many many people present) on the salt
and pepper haired head of Rocky, Almitra's partner of
many years, who was sobbing through the song. it was
an experience i will never forget, that beam of light a
passing cloud finally let loose. the beam remained, and
over the next couple of hours, slowly moved over many
other heads in the giant room.

(Rocky is a brilliant visual artist by the way. one of her
paintings is on the cover of Almitra's book BETWEEN
THE SEA AND HOME, which won the 1992 Eighth
Mountain Poetry Prize.)

of all the poems in Almitra's last poem cycle, this one
entered me deepest:


Had I been born in Oaxaca,
sucked on sugar skulls as a child,

I might have thought of death
as a burst of sweetness on the tongue,

eaten pan de muerto,
imagined myself following

a golden path of zempazuchil
home for my yearly visit.

I might have been easy with death,
known its taste, its scent, the feel of it;

I might have seen it laugh and dance,
it would be touchable -- sensual even.

I might not be here
sitting on my porch this June

struggling to think of myself
as a blade of grass, a rose petal.


right up to the end of her life which she loved so
tenaciously, she was creating gifts for us all with
her poems.

thank you Almitra,
p.s. i had wanted to visit you, but Lamont Steptoe
told us you had died two weeks before you died.
and to my great annoyance he didn't even fucking
show up at the memorial service. i admit, i wanted
him to show up so i could give him a piece of my
mind, my incredible anger at this! it's a strange
form of regret. your friend Assyma told us of her
regret waiting too long to return your phone call.
she called the day after you died. she says she
plays your message on her answering machine over
and over. sounds like torture, hope she deletes it.
hope i see Lamont Steptoe soon so i can yell at him
and get it out of my system.

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