American poet and author Maxine Kumin, who passed away earlier this year, was born in Philadelphia in 1925 and didn’t begin to write until mid-life, when she studied poetry at the Boston Centre for Adult Education. There she met and befriended fellow poet Anne Sexton and published her first book of poems Halfway in 1961. Since then she has published more than fifteen collections including Up Country in 1972 for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; Nurture 1989; Looking For Luck 1992 and Where I Live: New & Selected Poems 1990-2010. Kumin also wrote novels and short stories, over twenty children’s books and four books of essays including Always Beginning: Essays on a Life in Poetry.
Written shortly after the death of her close friend Anne Sexton, this is:
HOW IT IS
By Maxine Kumin
Shall I say how it is in your clothes?
A month after your death I wear your blue jacket.
The dog at the centre of my life recognizes
you’ve come to visit, he’s ecstatic.
In the left pocket, a hole.
In the right, a parking ticket
delivered up last August on Bay State Road.
In my heart, a scatter like milkweed,
a flinging from the pods of the soul.
My skin presses your old outline.
It is hot and dry inside.
I think of the last day of your life,
old friend, how I would unwind it, paste
it together in a different collage,
back from the death car idling in the garage,
back up the stairs, your praying hands unlaced,
reassembling the bits of bread and tuna fish
into a ceremony of sandwich,
running the home movie backward to a space
we could be easy in, a kitchen place
with vodka and ice, our words like living meat.
Dear friend, you have excited crowds
with your example. They swell
like wine bags, straining at your seams.
I will be years gathering up our words,
fishing out letters, snapshots, stains,
leaning my ribs against this durable cloth
to put on the dumb blue blazer of your death.