Holly was difficult but fascinating, prickly but creative, intense but loving. She was one of our gang of change-the-world-through-meetings-and-potlucks bioregionalists, but she also had the superpower of feeling everything the world offered times itself and then some. She was outrageously talented: she painted, sang, wrote, danced, performed, and all with a verve that could knock you over.
We met her sometime in the early 80s, she and her husband having recently moved to Lawrence, and in no time we were doing poetry readings together, trying out new nutritional yeast gravy recipes, and talking intently about nuances of politics, spirituality and the nature of love.
When Ken and I started planning our wedding, she said, “I want to write you two a wedding song,” she said, and so of course, she did, and she performed it. You can listen to “Cycle of Seasons,” now, thanks to a recording Danny did at the time (excuse the little bump of silence in the middle). Oddly enough, last night, my 26th wedding anniversary, the song randomly played on itunes although I hadn’t heard it in months. I felt Holly was reminding me how all she wished for us was the essence of enduring marriage and friendship. Her song was ahead of our time, and lands fully in me now.
Around the time we got married, Holly gave birth to two sons, but right after her second one was born, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember visiting her, very pregnant myself at the time, and holding her newborn son up to her one breast left after the other one was cut away. After the initial recovery, Holly, who always did things her own way, turned down all possibilities of chemo or radiation, became even more macrobiotic than she already was, and went on with her life. A move to Lincoln, NE because of her husband’s work, some years later, she ended up throwing herself into being the Christian Science church, fervently praying, creating, and raising her sons.
The last time I saw her, I had driven up for half a week to help her out. She was sick, very sick it turned out. The cancer had returned, and although she hadn’t been to doctors, she had little time left. I remember carrying her from her chair to the commode. Always thin, she was far too light in my arms. I remember reading aloud to her, at her request, from Christian Science literature although the members of her fellow church had stopped visiting her when her cancer progressed. What was most horrible to me was how she blamed herself for not being well enough spiritually to heal physically. She died less than two weeks later after finally allowing hospice people to come tend to her.
Now I listen to her singing, and I think what I always thought about Holly: she had too strong a voice to die. So I share this song, and this poem I wrote for her many years ago. Let’s hear it for the ones who have such beautiful and powerful voices that their voices lead us into the essence of being alive.
At my wedding she wore a bulky turtleneck
under her thrift store gown
and opened her throat
so the world could fall out
the center of her song.
No-one with a voice that strong could disappear.
No-one so prickly pear and granite.
When Holly died there was no funeral.
The Christian Scientists had long ago stopped visiting
and praying hard for her to pray her way out.
She still believed.
“How can you stand this?”
I asked her husband two weeks before.
He leaned his head upon the refrigerator and the room
filled with humming.
So many times I hated how you sucked the life
out of every room you entered.
In the toy department of K-Mart
you screamed how could I know anything,
I didn’t have kids yet
We fought into the pool supply section,
this crazed flare that we would never get past. Something
in the stomach, something in the chest.
Ballet that wrecked your knees,
bookshelves made from cinder blocks,
puppet theaters from refrigerator boxes,
the huge god’s eye dangling in mobile,
how you wanted to crawl in the closet
and birth your first child alone,
woolen caps you wore even in spring,
homemade ice cream served after
the macrobiotic dinner,
but you were not to be touched.
When the first diagnosis came, when they had to cut
armpit to sternum while the baby drank pumped milk
and the sun floated one day to the next,
when the dozen pine trees you planted the summer before
moved their tentative fingers in the wind,
when the casseroles paraded through, when you let me
sit with you on the bed and look at the stitches
and later hold the baby up against the visible breast,
his little legs kicking lightly
in the ghost breast, when
was this really?
I want to hear the catch
in the voice, the box of a note
that is anything but a box.
I want to stop feeling uncomfortable
with you undead in the room
telling me I hurt you.
I want to know this song that breaks the mouths