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Winter 2019/20

Grace Cavalieri


For Joyce Varney Thompson

Joyce was writing me
every day from her 96-year bed
and her new novel
would be about life in Wales 100 years ago,
how she, a coal miner’s daughter
worked in the “big house” as kitchen helper.

Another book by the
full throated
salty tongued, hot- tempered writer.

Once said to The Dean, (40 years ago) who
wanted us to take more writing students,
“…well, we can always put brooms up our asses
and sweep while we’re doing it…”
That was before the fluorescent world
where poetry and prose
were in The Cloud.

I, her loyal follower,
will make this her best book
before her tenth decade
with my daily prompts and her fumbling emails
shattering the past to pick up pieces.

Tell me, Joyce, about how you got on the train
 Help get the girl on the train, now,
how you got to the big house
you, all packed, wearing your woolen knickers
tell me about the train ride, Joyce.

“Well it was full of soldiers and smoke
I stood up in the corner, two
girls kissing the soldiers,
gray brown coats,
crowded, smoking. I was afraid.
Only fourteen…”
Write it like you say it, Joyce
 But with all the story changes that she made,
she could not get on the train.

Two weeks ago she died in secrecy, days after telling me a dirty joke,
about a man caught naked with a woman when the husband arrived
and he ran out into the street and joined a marathon to get away
and the runner next to him asked if he always ran naked
and he said yes
and then the runner next to him asked
if he always wore a condom when he ran
and he said ‘only when it rains.’

Then she died.

Flyaway no rails    flyaway over the cliffs of Wales, the moors,
Boston, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Maryland, Florida.

Diamond from the coal mines, topaz of my heart, Pearl of the past.

When you put on woolen knickers, age 12, and you asked your Gran
why they itched “down there” and you asked what it was called
“down there” she growled, It Has No Name. Then she took you to the train.

 Flyaway Joyce to your future. This time you couldn’t get on the train

Your son said he was the only 72-year-old who was afraid he
bored his mother, who was
a mix of Dylan Thomas and Benny Hill.

I understand the train was too crowded    I’ve saved you on my computer    
Anyway fly away.

And of your 106 year-old roommate crying in Florida’s blackout last year,
you said “Ha. You should have been in the Blitz.”

When Iphigenia was killed by Agamemnon, a doe
was found bleeding in her place.
What’s here in your place, bleeding on the ground now—
but books, a man in the rain, a lush voice that spills,
eyes like saucers, coal smears.
And when you wrote of love there was so much pain it felt like happiness.

Grace Cavalieri is Maryland's Poet Laureate. She founded and produces "The Poet and the Poem" for public radio celebrating 42 years on-air, now from the LIbrary of Congress. She is poetry reviewer/columnist for "The Washington Independent Review of Books."


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