On May 28th of this year, after the Google I/O conference, I got to SFO a wee bit early and picked up a book at the bookstore in the airport that I had put on my wishlist at Amazon a few months earlier. The book was “Incredible Good Fortune, New Poems” by Ursula K. Le Guin.
I love Ursula Le Guin, she is a writer who is up there in the Holy Septinity of Writers in my book of reading love along with Madeline L’Engle, JRR Tolkein, Charles de Lint, Anne Dillard, C.S. Lewis, and Dave Hickey. I even more love it when authors cross genre and write in a form that is not their usual fare.
I particularly love it when a fiction writer or a very thoughtful nature writer takes time to write poems. Almost all of my Holy Septinity of Writers has published a book or two or three of poetry or has embedded poetry & verse in their fiction, with the possible exception of Dave Hickey. Then again, Hickey is not a fiction writer but one of the preminent cultural critics in the the US in the last 30 years and writes hysterically funny and pointed pieces on art & rock’n’roll. As for Hickey, I just wish he would publish more often.
All this being said, I took Le Guin’s “Incredible Good Fortune, New Poems” with me today down to the Grandparent’s place so that I could read some poems while we waited. About 5 or so pm, everyone left except me, Grandma, and Bill. The Aunts Dana & Anne went back to Anne’s house, Mom & Allison went to go get Mom’s bag and sleeping bag as Mom has overnight duty tonight. I stayed to hang out with Bill and Grandma, even though Bill wasn’t so chatty to say the least.
I know I briefly explained the situation here, but Bill, age 93, went to the hospital last Monday for dehydration and a blood sugar level of 850. While he was there, it was determined that he was at the end of the road and soon to be off to the Great Fishing Lake. Bill did not want to die at the hospital, but in his own tempur-pedic bed at home under Hospice Care. After much to do, he was transported back from the hospital to home yesterday morning.
Ever since, the various family members have been waiting in vigil, both to honor Bill and support Grandma. Bill last spoke on Wednesday, and as of early yesterday afternoon, while appearing to be asleep he could hear folks talking to him, but as of yesterday later afternoon he has been a coma.
Most of what we have been doing is sitting in his room and talking to him. Letting him know that it is ok to go. This is important, as in a family full of folk born between April 20 and May 12th (Taurus people, a pack of stubborn bulls), Bill has been one of our best and most stubborn, faithful, and loyal constituents.
After all the folk left late this afternoon, I went into Bill’s room with the book of Le Guin’s poetry and started to read poems to him. Bill West grew up in Washington State, and taught Forestry and was the Forestry Department Chair at University of Oregon in Corvalis for his career. Bill has had a deep and abiding love of the forest, lakes, and nature of the Pacific Northwest. Le Guin has lived in Portland for many years and more than a few of the poems in the book are about the Northwest as well as about aging and dying.
So far, my favorite line from the whole book is from the first poem called “The Old Lady”, which starts with “I have dreed my dree, I have wooed my wyrd.” Or in rough translation of the Scots and older forms of English, ” I have endured my hardship, I have wooed my Fate (or The Fates).” I read the poem to my brother yesterday, and he who does not like poetry was intrigued.
I figured that reading Le Guin to Bill would be appropriate, not just for the thematic poems that would be relevant to his life, but also for this one:
Nine Lines, August 9
The gold of evening is closing,
drawing in, tightening.
The light is losing. It is
a little frightening
how fast August goes.
Others have noticed this.
The cat on his concealed switchblade toes
comes by, and what he says
is silent, but enlightening.
The gold of the evening is closing and while Bill may spend his last hours silent in words, he has dreed his dree, and wooed his wyrd.