Ordinarily, this is the space where all the Nightwriters who are getting their work published, winning prizes, or embarking upon projects that are interesting to the rest of us are mentioned. This time, I am going to focus upon one only of those writers, Jeanne Lohmann, who came to our first seminar at the Bishop’s Ranch in California in the spring of 2001. Jeanne had recently lost her husband, Hank and was struggling to find a way to weave her grief and gratefulness into words that could mean something to herself and others. A week ago, her book, Dancing in the Kitchen arrived in the mail.
Jeanne is first and foremost a poet. But this is a prose collection with each page holding a small story with a large truth inside of it: stripping a tree of apples with her dying husband, entering an old, memory-filled house, weeping on a park bench because she cannot hold the tears until she gets home.
”It will do,” she says of the bench, hoping that if she cries enough she will be able to let go. “Will I then be able to accept my solitary life, give over the bedrock sadness, rejoice in the glory of the out-of-doors, be saved by all the lives outside my life, everything that does not need me?”
That last line pulls us up over the rim of our own horizon into a world that grief obscures. But more importantly, it restores the imagination, reviving one‘s ability to distinguish between the surface of things and the force that animates them, which reminds me of something that happens in my living room almost every day.
When I first enter, the room is bathed in the grey half-light of early morning. I settle into my wing chair with my journal and turn on the lamp above my head so I can see. Then, around 7:15, the sun pulls itself above my neighbor’s rooftop.
Suddenly, the living room swims with light. Everything, from the brass bowl of chrysanthemums on the window sill to the plump round shoulder of my sofa, is brushed with brilliance. A lamp is no longer necessary. Every morning, around 7:16, I switch it off.
This is what good writing should do - flood our intellect and heart with natural light. I don’t know whether Jeanne wrote her last entry, “Cargo” at the Bishop’s Ranch but she could have. The hills are familiar to anyone who has walked the mowed paths that wind behind the ranch house toward the sea.
“On a California hill overlooking the sea, I read to the birds and the sky, the insects: the poems of Seferis, Greek rhythms out of the earth. Around me the gold grasses move like the Aegean, and the wind lifts sail over cargo heavier than I bargained for. My heart cries beauty, beauty. I can‘t remember a time I was ever thankful enough.”
I am thankful for Jeanne Lohmann. Her books, including Dancing in the Kitchen, can be ordered from http://www.danielpublishing.com.