Sunday, September 6, 2015

Galway Kinnell and other poets in Pawtucket

Reading Rick Benjamin's essay in today's PROJO about the Pawtucket poet, Galway Kinnell,  made me think about the poet and also the times that my mother, Margaret Coleman, who also wrote and published poetry met his mother in local stores or  at the  library.  She would come home and tell me of the meeting  and of the growing fame of Galway.  She loved his Irish name  --that his mother  had dared to name him for  a city in Ireland.  And reminded me that   she had thought if she had  a son to name him after her native county, Tyrone,  like the actor Tyrone Powell.
I took umbrage and  wondered out loud what county or town she might have named  me for-- she answered without a pause   "MAYO--that  would suit you."

  Tonight I am thinking of Galway and of the  wonderful  directness and romance of his works--how much he wrote from daily life. How he dared to describe the details of pain and suffering that are part of all love. How poetry is a  way of  understanding and  responding to daily trials and joys.

Here is a poem he wrote on   the care of an old father with Parkinson's

Parkinson’s Disease

While spoon-feeding him with one hand   
she holds his hand with her other hand,   
or rather lets it rest on top of his,
which is permanently clenched shut.   
When he turns his head away, she reaches   
around and puts in the spoonful blind.   
He will not accept the next morsel
until he has completely chewed this one.   
His bright squint tells her he finds
the shrimp she has just put in delicious.
Next to the voice and touch of those we love,   
food may be our last pleasure on earth—
a man on death row takes his T-bone   
in small bites and swishes each sip
of the jug wine around in his mouth,   
tomorrow will be too late for them to jolt   
this supper out of him. She strokes
his head very slowly, as if to cheer up
each separate discomfited hair sticking up   
from its root in his stricken brain.
Standing behind him, she presses
her cheek to his, kisses his jowl,
and his eyes seem to stop seeing
and do nothing but emit light.
Could heaven be a time, after we are dead,   
of remembering the knowledge
flesh had from flesh? The flesh
of his face is hard, perhaps
from years spent facing down others
until they fell back, and harder
from years of being himself faced down
and falling back in his turn, and harder still   
from all the while frowning
and beaming and worrying and shouting   
and probably letting go in rages.   
His face softens into a kind
of quizzical wince, as if one
of the other animals were working at   
getting the knack of the human smile.   
When picking up a cookie he uses   
both thumbtips to grip it
and push it against an index finger   
to secure it so that he can lift it.
She takes him then to the bathroom,   
where she lowers his pants and removes
the wet diaper and holds the spout of the bottle
to his old penis until he pisses all he can,
then puts on the fresh diaper and pulls up his pants.   
When they come out, she is facing him,   
walking backwards in front of him   
and holding his hands, pulling him   
when he stops, reminding him to step   
when he forgets and starts to pitch forward.   
She is leading her old father into the future   
as far as they can go, and she is walking   
him back into her childhood, where she stood   
in bare feet on the toes of his shoes   
and they foxtrotted on this same rug.
I watch them closely: she could be teaching him   
the last steps that one day she may teach me.
At this moment, he glints and shines,
as if it will be only a small dislocation
for him to pass from this paradise into the next.
Galway Kinnell, “Parkinson’s Disease” from Imperfect Thirst. Copyright © 1994 by Galway Kinnell. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved,
I look forward to next Sunday and the  presentation as part of the Pawtucket Arts Festival of the winners of the Galway Kinnell  Poetry contest.  Hope to see some of  my blog readers there and to meet Rick Benjamin.

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