Judy Steinbergh has fed me repeatedly. She’s nourished my body and soul with actual food, but also with her poetry and prose. And recently, she gifted me one of her books entitled Writing My Will.
Though it’s her poems about Maine that I love the most in this collection, I feel honored not only to have been the recipient of such a gift, but also to be offered the opportunity to peek into her life and share the path that she’s walked through marriage and motherhood, divorce and death.
I hear Judy’s voice even when she isn’t reading to me. And I covet her descriptions and command of lyrical language and imagery, especially as she captures the natural world:
“. . . after speculating on the slap of water, whir of wings,
out of the grainy dusk, some creature bursts
from the forest. Before we focus on its shape,
almost before it can be named,
it twists back, leaps, makes its escape.”
~ excerpt from “Wild Things”
or this one:
“. . . roughs the lake up like the wrong direction of fur
until it is leaping dolphins and whales in rows
until it is sleek stampeding panthers in droves
until we, in our small boats, are driven to shore.”
~excerpt from “The Wind”
Each summer, she’s gathered her own poems, and those of other landscape poets, and shared them with an intimate group of writers through a workshop co-sponsored by the Greater Lovell Land Trust, Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library, and Hewnoaks Artist Colony at the Hewnoaks property overlooking Kezar Lake in Lovell, Maine. After talking about rhythm and form, and having us read her works and others, she sends us off to find a comfortable spot in which to contemplate and write.
Poets young and old flock to her and she embraces all with a listening ear and mentoring manner.
And sometimes we travel the path together, either hunting for mushrooms, looking at plants and any of the millions of other things that capture our attention, or spending time writing and sketching.
Judy has written five books of poetry, three poetry teaching texts, and recorded other works. She’s the Poet Laureate for the town of Brookline, Massachusetts. And she teaches and mentors students and teachers for Troubadour, Inc. throughout greater Boston and serves as Poet-in-Residence in various communities.
This particular book, Writing My Will, is an assortment of Judy’s treasures from her family, including her dying mother, to the natural world that embraces her. Based on the theme, she’s divided it into sections: Heirlooms; My Mother Comes Back to Life; What Memories Will Rise; Talking Physics With My Son; This Wild; Meeting the Birthmother; Long Distance; The Art of Granddaughters; Working on Words; Elegies; Writing My Will.
And it ends with one most apropos for this month:
Wild asters and the birds whir over
in flocks, Queen Anne’s Lace curls up
by the docks, the tide runs out,
runs out like it hurts, our step
is so light on this earth.
I love these times alone, thinking
about how my children have grown,
and how I come into this age
as the marsh’s edge.
And the tide runs out, as forceful
as birth, as if nothing else mattered
but rushing away and rushing back in
twice a day. Our step
is so light on this earth.
We’re given October like a gift, the leaves
on the warp, the light on the weft,
and the gold drips through
like cider from the press; we know,
we know that our lives are blessed.
But the tide runs out, runs out like it hurts,
what were fields of water only hours ago
are meadows now when the tide
is low; our step is so light
on the earth. Wild asters. All
we are sure of is change, that maple
and sumac will turn into flame, this softness
will pass and the winter be harsh
till the green shoots push
up through the marsh. And the tide
rushes in like a thirst and will keep
its rhythm even after our time,
the seasons, too, will repeat
their design. Our step
is so light on the earth.
And so, dear Judy, as my thank you for the gift of your book, I want to now share a melody of photos from previous autumns, all taken during Octobers past in your beloved Maine locale when you can’t be here. (Well, maybe one is from the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont–shhhh!)
“Our step is so light on the earth”
Book of October: Writing My Will–Poems and Prose, by Judith W. Steinbergh, Talking Stone Press, 2001.