Your letters have kept me company for weeks
but now I feel the wrench of parting, the book
about to end, and so I read more slowly, put
it down, rattle around aimlessly in my study.
Proof of my affection, this delay, in finishing.
How alive you are on the page, and how like
a vessel, this large book, containing glimpses
of your life, messy and confused as
a pebble beach. No detail too small you wrote,
and article by article you share the toucan,
the nervous cats, housekeeping, the heat.
There you are, practicing your “life-long
impersonation of an ordinary woman.”*
Lit by the filament of poetry, you didn’t buckle
under loss but made an art of it – Awful but
cheerful is carved on your gravestone,
your own words, there at your request.
Reading your letters I want to write back.
I’d send you this statement “The primary
function of the thorax is respiration” hoping
you’d turn it into a poem – one stanza
perhaps holding the sienna gleam of
a beetle making its slow way across
a wide leaf, rhythm laboured and chancy
as your own asthmatic breathing.
* Poet James Merrill spoke of Elizabeth Bishop’s “instinctive, modest, life-long impersonation of an ordinary woman.”