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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Mortality, and a long winter

snow robin

stop photographing me

That’s my cat Fiona, and an annoyed-looking robin. Here in New England we have had an unusually cold, snowy winter that started earlier than usual in December. A recent forecast predicts a colder than usual March, too. If it weren’t for my animals and books, getting through a Maine winter would be much harder. It’s hard to believe we’ll ever see signs of life and greenery in the dead, frozen world.

Speaking of mortality, my mother and I are in the habit of sending each other unusual or bizarre obituaries from the Savannah and Portland papers. My parents at 90 read obituaries from a different perspective, but I’ve always done so, too. I find these summings-up of a life fascinating. Here is a poem by E.B. White, published in The New Yorker in 1948, with an ironic view of obituaries:

A Forward Glance O’er the Obituary Page

How many times I’ve said to my wife
As I scanned the morning paper,
“I see that So-and-do is dead.”
My wife looks up and nods her head.

How oft I’ve thought of him who’ll say
As he scans the morning paper,
“I see that E.B. White is dead.”
His wife looks up and nods her head–
Such queer, insensible people!
Ah, lucky, loathsome people!

The passing of a wonderful poet and animal lover

Kumin with dog

horses fall

Maxine Kumin, former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner, died at her New Hampshire farm at 88 today. She was an advocate for women writers, social justice and animal rights. Kumin raised horses and had a deep lifelong love for nature and animals. She was a favorite of Garrison Keillor; her poems were often featured on The Writer’s Almanac. When Keillor brought his Prairie Home Companion show to Bangor some years ago, she was the poet he chose to feature. This bothered me at the time since I thought it would have been appropriate to choose a Maine poet, especially since the state is chock full of them, but I admit that she was a charming reader (I was there). She did not start writing and publishing until midlife, but produced an impressive body of excellent poetry, fiction and children’s books. I’m not familiar with the latter two, but highly recommend her poetry. Here is one of her poems.


We ride up softly to the hidden
oval in the woods, a plateau rimmed
with wavy stands of gray birch and white pine,
my horse thinking his thoughts, happy
in the October dapple, and I thinking
mine-and-his, which is my prerogative,

both of us just in time to see a big doe
loft up over the four-foot fence, her white scut
catching the sun and then releasing it,
soundlessly clapping our reveries shut.
The pine grove shudders as she passes.
The red squirrels thrill, announcing her departure.

Come back! I want to call to her,
we mean you no harm. Come back and show us
who stand pinned in stopped time to the track
how you can go from a standing start
up and over. We on our side, pulses racing,
are synchronized with you racing heart.

I want to tell her, Watch me
mornings when I fill the cylinders
with sunflower seeds, see how the chickadees
and lesser redbreasted nuthatches crowd
onto my arm, permitting me briefly
to stand in for a tree,

and how the vixen in the bottom meadow
I ride across allows me under cover
of horse scent to observe the education
of her kits, how they dive for the burrow
on command, how they re-emerge at another
word she uses, a word I am searching for.

Copyright © 1994 by The Atlantic Monthly Company.