For Louise Glück and Stan Heller
Louise Glück died on Friday, October 13, 2023, as did an old friend of Phil’s from his Denver theatre days, Stan Heller. Stan would have cracked a Friday the 13th joke if he’d had the time. In the early 70s, he had a little theatre on 17th Avenue, when the Folklore Center and Together Books, a co-op, were also on 17th, which was then a shabby hippie haven. When Stan directed a performance of readings from Archy and Mehitabel, Phil did a George Herriman-style poster for the production.
I met Stan briefly when I went to a poetry reading at his theatre, long before I met Phil, but only got to know him in San Francisco many years later, when Phil and I visited our daughter and grandsons and Stan’d been living there for decades, his kids grown and gone too. During those annual visits we reserved a night to see Stan and Kathy, Tom and Sharn, sometimes just Stan and Tom, Denver companions from Phil’s acting, puppetry and freelance graphic design days. Bonds formed by the arts endure.
Stan Heller was 75. He knew his heart attack left that organ so damaged nothing could be done, was reconciled to his death. He had a hole in his heart. He was himself when Tom visited him, Tom said. He and Tom insulted each other wittily, as they always had. Stan wanted sushi. The nurse said, “if I don’t see it, it didn’t happen” and Tom went to get Stan sushi, which he ate with gusto.
Phil read me what he wrote on the card he sent Kathy. He wrote that Stan’s friends now had holes in their hearts too, but they would become glowing places where memories of Stan are stored. “I’d hoped to see him one more time,” he said, his eyes filled with tears.
Louise Glück was 80. I became aware of her with The Wild Iris, but her work didn’t resonate with me then. Reading her poems now, I suspect she was reconciled to her death too. In Paris Review’s remembrances of her this week, I was struck by Richard Deming’s remarks about her “October” poem, so I looked it up, after which I went for a walk in this warm, dry October we’ve been having in Colorado. By the time I returned, I held my first new poem in a while hazily in my mind. This one:
It’s my favorite time,
the brilliance of the leaves, the chilling
of the nights, blankets
back on the bed, watching fireplace flames,
hands clasped around the warmth
of a mug.
Because she just died—
I often make time for poets
after they die—
I locate her long poem “October,”
because it is October,
because someone said he never saw
a poet level a room the way she did
when she read that poem.
It’s mostly about mortality,
Louise being the cold-eyed poet she was:
“This is the light of autumn, not the light that says
I am reborn.”
I understand. Seasons can’t be separated
from their natural metaphors.
Those leaves I admire are dying.
At the balmy end of October’s third week
this year, I shed my jacket,
watch butter and gold of elm and cottonwood
let go of their own accord,
no breath of breeze,
let go a few at a time,
fall straight down,