"The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together: our virtues would be proud, if our faults whipped them not; and our crimes would despair, if they were not cherished by our virtues."
--William Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well
On Monday, November 27, I happened to catch, for the first time in weeks, "The Writer's Almanac," Garrison Keillor's daily bulletin of literary and historical anniversaries, with vignettes to go with them. As always, Keillor concluded with a poem. As was frequently the case, the poem was by a living American writer whose name he would announce just as he would those of Robert Frost or John Keats for that matter—without fanfare or apology. His vineyard was infinitely inclusive. All the laborers stood on equal footing there. The poem, not the personality, was the thing.
That day, Keillor read "Mother's Prayer," by Athena Kildegaard, a new name to me. Beginning with the image of children studying a beetle in the grass, it took a startling turn to reflect on the poet's mortality. Words were spoken of words that cannot be spoken or even found. The prayer, when it came, was confined to the final line. "Lord," I remembered, "make room inside me for this." What, I asked myself, is this this, so comprehensive, so undefined? I made a mental note to look up the poem on the "Writer's Almanac" website.
Unhappily, that is no longer possible. Since Keillor's fall from grace, the site has been shut down. Thus, in a stroke, what ought to have a priceless archive has ceased to be. How would you begin to reconstruct it? And what conceivable purpose can it serve to deep-six all the stories? To silence the poets Keillor read? What wrong have they done? Dismantling legacies is tricky business. Sledgehammer censorship rights no wrongs.
News flash! Keillor is not a saint. How far from sainthood, who knows? As a nobody called the First Lord has it in All's Well That Ends Well, the web of our life is of a mingled yarn. As Mark Antony observes in Julius Caesar, "the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interrèd with their bones." Add this from Hamlet: "Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping? Use them after your own honor and dignity. The less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty." And try to remember: what goes around comes around.
Thanks, Garrison, for so many fine poems you put me on to. When the dust settles, and I live in the confident expectation that it will, please assemble an anthology in one medium or another. For now, I'd like to share the last one I heard in your voice, reproduced here by permission of the poet, who, with luck, a little persistence, and a search term or two fresh in memory, proved traceable online. For all the others, the trail is cold.
By Athena Kildegaard
I stood on the porch of our raised cottage
and saw my two ruddy children
crouched below in the grass
over a hard-backed beetle
and I was taken with this phobia
that goes up and up with me
and suddenly I saw myself fallen,
my body twisted on the pavement,
a thigh bare and scraped and bloody,
and my two children, wooden
with fear, bent over me
saying softly, "Mama, mama."
And I knew then, as one comes to know
things that lodge themselves in us,
that I had no way of telling them,
my children, how I would
leave them some day as ashes
they will toss out over moving water,
how they will feel abandoned
in ways that even dreams cannot express.
Lord, make room inside me for this.