BY JAN HAAG

INTRODUCTION + POETRY + MUSIC + ESSAYS + TRAVEL + FICTION + TEXTILE ART

ART & POETRY - ACCUMULATIONS + HAAG'S BIO


DEAR LEAH

1917-2002

04-14/O5-02/04-02


I don't get to think of you anymore living
In Texas, doing your thing. I'm glad
You wrote me the letter, I wouldn't have tried
To stop you. I understand. I would do, will do,
The same thing under the circumstances.
Going blind/gone blind, unable to do
What you thought about as your job in this world,
Reading, Xeroxing, helping people,
Being the dearest soul with the brightest laugh,
With the energy of a kitten gamboling,
Entertained by the world, and certainly entertaining,
Brave, when it came to your fellow beings,
Approachable, willing to approach anyone,
Arranging things, doing favors,
Riding high waves of discovery, opinionated,
Eccentric, too eccentric for some,

Eating garlic for health,
Scented, at times, like an Italian sausage,
Living among "The Ten Thousand" books,
As in a Borgesian Library,
Needing all that Stuff,
Forced into retreat behind an avalanche of stuff,
Into the back room,
Into bed,
Unable to uncover the couch
From under all those papers when I came visiting,
Finally having to retreat next door -- me,
On my last visit -- into that gloriously empty apartment --
And you, later, it seems, to live -- leaving that Alexandrian
Library all the room of your life for itself.
How we laughed and giggled and moved things about,
I wanted to help, but there was no place to begin.

O, Great Soul, for doing what you wanted to do!
Loving life in spite of... because of...
Around each corner, each deviation, disaffection,
Never losing faith in the goodness,
The rescue-ability of people,
Always helping, always cheerful,
Stubborn with a smile,
Wanting to save the world,
But in the end
Not willing
To wait for its salvation.
Dear Leah,
I will, no doubt, write to you from
Time to time. I have a feeling you left,
Went off to where good spirits go,
So you could help more efficiently,

Directly, as if you hover over me
This very minute, grinning,
Laughing, egging me on.
What was our friendship, indeed? --
A year or so in Texas, a few visits,
A few phone calls, always at your expense.
You always talked too long, too much,
Told me more than I wanted to know.
Whirlwind visits with pre-arranged events
As if I were an Empress, meeting this one,
Phoning that one, partying here, eating there,
On to the next event, must do this,
Must see that -- so different than my life of silence
And withdrawal. I loved you for it, for your faith
That all people should meet everyone, should
engage, adore, help, whoop, chortle, chuckle.

Always willing to take on a project or a person,
Gay with life, gay with laughter,
I remember your remarking that at about
My age -- now -- or maybe in your fifties
You had decided,
DECIDED
To be useful and cheerful.
You'd had and acknowledged plenty of tragedies,
Misfortunes, mishaps, disasters, anguish, pitfalls,
But from then on you were never going to retreat,
You were going to enjoy life.
I think this was said in a conversation
Centering around one of my suicidal depressions.
You had exited an untenable
Home life early, almost a child.
You had a husband, a child, a ranch,

You had established a bakery and lost it,
You had been on your own
For decades and decades, you loved poetry,
But clearly you loved the kaleidoscope of people,
Activity, urgency most of all.
Appearing here, disappearing there, pulling off,
With a modest strength, the most unlikely plans,
Succeeding nearly always where my timidity
Failed to even think of going.
After years of acquaintance, my courage began to grow.
You were my mentor in how to just burble through,
Do What You Do, enjoy the lollipops of life today
Let someone else pick up the wrappers.
I see you cooking in that kitchen where not
An inch of counter space remained...
Vitamins and every health remedy under the sun,

Dug from the earth, dropped off trees,
Gleaned from under bushes,
Ranked and banked in the cupboards high and low.
Remember our great excursion into the brush
-- To pick agarita berries --
Dragging the bat and the sheet,
Stepping on the fire ant hill,
Both of us bone naked, shaking the ants
Out of our jeans, flapping them, dancing like maniacs
In the hot silence just off the highway.
Then your letting me do the three day task
Of separating the tiny salmon-colored
Berries from the leaves. You knew me well
Enough to know I would not waste a single one.
Sharing the few jars of crimson nectar it resulted in...
The tea party with the Buchu tea

-- Only that day did you tell me it was a diuretic,
And encouraged me to go on serving it.
Who knows what health we brought
To the sipping bodies that day?
At times, your presence overwhelming.
The twins -- so like you,
Eccentric and full of the juice of life --
Didn't hit it off with you. Something, as I recall,
About the food, the lack of it, the too much of it,
The wrong of it. You didn't mind, you remembered them
With fondness, were eager to visit again.
But we never did.
Interesting, how similar you were:
That exuberance for life, the discomfort of being
Around you all, so opinionated, so unable to let
Even a moment go without commitment to a point of view.

I loved/love you, perhaps, even more
In the abstract than in person.
You did what you did because you did it.
You accomplished what you did by DOING IT,
Always troublesome, always your way -- it got done.
You changed my life several times,
Taught me awesome beauty, gave me engaging experiences
-- Like the visit to the grand old ranch woman who'd
Owned Hamilton Pool, so I could get the history
Of the most beautiful five acres in North America straight.
Have you gone now to some other where
To be more useful?
I feel you hovering around, cheerfully
Arranging this award I so much want.
I will dedicate it:
Amazing Grace for Leah Neal.

I loved you, your generosity, your love, your energy, your
Taking up of a challenge -- that made whatever outrageous
Need seem just one more inevitable adventure.
Thanks ever so much for putting me in touch
With the TWU Library. It saved my life from stuff,
Leaving me free to live unencumbered,
Without having to shoulder the burden
Of having created a world.
Dear Leah,
Your departure may have been a little arrogant,
Thinking nobody would want to -- that you wanted
Nobody to -- take care of you, while you were willing
To take care of the whole world. But it was graceful,
It was elegant, it was vintage Leah. Who would dare
Even try to deny Leah the right to choose
For Herself?




Copyright © 2002 Jan Haag
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Jan Haag may be reached via e-mail: jhaag@u.washington.edu



BY JAN HAAG


INTRODUCTION + POETRY + MUSIC + ESSAYS + TRAVEL + FICTION + TEXTILE ART

ART AND POETRY + HAAG'S BIO


21st CENTURY ART, C.E. - B.C., A Context