In death, Pat drifted away easily, unafraid.
A woman more complicated than her name,
more colorful on the inside than the out.
She was an engineer who painted,
who wrote poetry & love stories
while living & planting gardens alone.
She was heavy, uncharismatic, awkwardly brilliant.
Better on paper than in person,
better at a distance than up close.
She was 10,000 pages of thoughtful reflection,
a reference catalog of human spirit
a library of emotions, both dog-eared & refined
yet she studiously neglected her body, her
read like uncomfortable pauses,
ellipses of a fleeting youth
& lovers forgotten
for all but the fragments left behind
This was a woman who once said that champagne
tasted like lost kisses, year-old promises
When you drink
You drink it all. You love what
can’t be loved.
Once, feeling daring, Pat smiled in solitude,
hiding cracked, gray teeth
between two loose petals, stained red
for the occasion of a photograph
She staged —
drenched in sunlight filtered
through gauze curtains
sitting at a desk with yellow flowers (hemerocallis, tawny daylily)
in a cobalt blue vase
& in the background, on an aubergine wall, her favorite painting,
a single white chair at the end of an orange hallway
I imagine she set the camera upon a stack of books
then held her breath while waiting for the timer,
perhaps considering one of the many characters
who lived inside her head —
Pat herself didn’t think to brush her hair
de-lint her shirt
or remove her oversized plastic glasses
but she placed her brightly colored coffee mug on a Christmas coaster
& arranged her pens just so
The effect was one that called up ghosts of conscience —
the horrible recognition of wanting
to comb the hair, starch the shirt, soften the lighting —
the sickening soul-thud of pity
for someone who asked for none,
but in whom you see all the grainy, raw, heart-sore,
parts of yourself mirrored, too close.
As much as we deny, the conscience knows
that we are never more than one experience away
from a complete metamorphosis.
Beware, be mindful.
Online, Pat collected the names & addresses
of strangers, artists, and would-be friends who,
like me, would occasionally receive thick envelopes
with long, rambling letters
and garden photos, meticulously labeled
Leucanthemum vulgare, oxeye Daisy
Pierus japonica, also known as Andromeda
today, I bought an organic soil made of sandy loam & bat guano
yesterday, I baked a pie with green Galas & a buttery lattice crust
I’m fond of Jasmine tea these days, the black variety,
(the Chinese restaurant on Main orders it just for me)
Her letters were reminiscent
of unplugged wires & flickering sparks
of a woman long settled into the ache of loneliness,
at peace with the alien beauty
of a wallflower spirit
One that had learned to push dandelions of hope through the cracks of sidewalks
& pray blooms of newborn pink onto dry, spiny cactus
while skylarking in the wilds of other-life imaginations
Pat’s desk, paintings, everything —
all 1100 square feet of various
woman/writer/artist stages —
Her house was sold to pay for her final weeks in hospice.
If I was rich, I would have bought it
& turned it into a shelter for other artists
who should never be left to drink alone.
There was no ceremony for Pat, no memorial,
only funeral words left on a web page
thin with after-death condolences
made a real difference,
will be missed
The habitual talk of God and angels is always forgettable,
but the truth is not.
Pat lived & planted gardens alone.
She made other people uncomfortable.
She was brilliant, strange & oblivious.
She was the kind of woman whom, as the song goes,
was not meant for this world.
She didn’t belong, or belonged to some other time.
Mostly, she was invisible.
Don’t drape flowers on the wrong bride, the never-bride,
she might have said.
Don’t send me off with a punk Valentine,
cork your wine & save your toasts for the cherished.
I do not wish in death what I did not have in life,
Hold your accolades & sympathies.
Plead, instead, for your own mercies.
Burn all my books, and bake your own pies according to taste
& every once in a while
try to love what cannot be loved.