There's dance yet

Lyn Hejinian's 'The Book of a Thousand Eyes' (2013).

Our great teachers don’t stop speaking to us after they’re gone. I hear Lyn’s voice all the time when I’m writing: consider the possibility of adding some playful or lighthearted moments. When I’m doing the dishes: housework is less important than poet-work. When I’m worrying: have you thought about publishing yourself?

I felt warmer walking by her big house in Berkeley knowing she was inside. That the institution had somehow allowed within its ambit this radical feminist, visionary, yet eminently sensible professor, who always told it like it was without belaboring the point, and had a laugh and a poem for every calamity. On the best days — when I enjoy my family and my writing — I think of the citizenship she modeled in the world of letters, that seemed always to give to life rather than take from it. When her voice came through on the phone, I could see her in those airy rooms of hers, surrounded by family, students, and projects. She taught me to give our time together fully to what we had between us. I counted on being able to call her up and to see her again for a long time yet.

In early March, I met in Santa Barbara with a group of poets, including my friend Gillian Osborne, who had also known Lyn. Gillian and I talked about how we might remember Lyn. Because we were meeting at night, I picked what Lyn called “night works” for us to read from, The Book of a Thousand Eyes. Lyn writes of
                  a woman who waited for sleep, but it was away at war
         Sleep didn’t return
         On the pillow there were only her own dark hairs
         Lost after all. You can leave any time
And that
         Poems distilled from other poems will probably pass away
         But there’s dance in the old dame yet
         Lyn? Lyn? Come here! Is that you? Lyn?[1]

When Gillian read those words out loud we felt Lyn’s answer in the absent light of the new moon. I thought of the nights we had gathered as graduate students at Lyn’s house around a large table that nearly filled the room (and had seen everything from meals to office hours, writing to diaper changes) without a thought for time or ends. Some of us have young kids now, and we don’t often have the help or energy to leave the house at night. The hour felt magical. Here was a wake. I think Lyn would’ve liked it. We shared our work, and also cake.


[1] Lyn Hejinian, The Book of a Thousand Eyes (Richmond, CA: Omnidawn, 2012), 100, 272, 146.