My heart is full.
I don't mean my heart is a playpen of puppies. My heart is full like a saturated cloud chamber in which the slightest particle shift causes precipitation. So much good and bad has been happening that I don't know how to hold it all. If you've noticed my online quiet--and it extends another week or so--you know the cause.
I was in Mississippi when I learned about the passing of Jake Adam York. 36 hours earlier I had been having a spirited conversation about local real estate in the Faulkner/Falkner House kitchen with Jake's brother Joe, and Joe's beautiful & pregnant wife Kathryn (now a proud mama of a gorgeous little girl). I spent the night in between sleeping on the floor of a borrowed living room in Water Valley, rain falling in torrential sheets over the tin roof. The man I love had put a ring on my finger and I said Yes, all over again. Then I said This house is not our house, is it?
It wasn't, much as we'd wanted it to be. So we went out and found the finest crab legs and corn you can get cooked in a gas station. We hunkered down and made best of it. The diamonds got juicy with king crab juice and spice boil. A storm came and went. And the next night, when we went out for the fancy dinner befitting an engagement, I was selfish enough to check Facebook on my phone, and there was news of Jake.
A moment of grace for a barbecue poet.
A proper obituary.
A couple of joyous fools in earnest conversation for Southern Spaces.
His amazing poems.
We'd traded emails not that long ago, on the occasion of his reading in Jackson one night, mine the next--two ships, passing. We promised a drink for next time. There was always such a promise. That man was determined to teach even a diehard scotch lover like myself to enjoy bourbon. We split the difference with rye.
First time we traded missives was spring of 2010, after I'd been asked to follow in his footsteps as Ole Miss Summer Poet in Residence in Oxford, a town and summer than changed my life. Jake warned of bees living in the Grisham House mailbox. He praised Jack Pendarvis. His solemn advice was, "And since I did it last year you have to roast a hog or some other large animal at the conclusion of your residency."
He was writing some of the bravest poems of any of us, poems than confronted and embraced American history in equal measure. If the world were a James Bond villain, its gift would be the cruelty of juxtaposition. There's a newborn who doesn't even know the uncle she's missing.
I woke from a nap on January 1 and thought, 8:09 PM? Too late to call. But I called anyway--to wish the woman who has mentored me, who has done so much to shape the author I am today, a Happy New Year. Only to find out she'd fallen down a flight of concrete stairs the day before. Her husband answered her cell phone. Somehow she was awake, voice odd from the hospital's oxygen, and we spoke. She was determined to offer her house as our wedding palace. She spent all today in surgery.
I am praying. I never pray. I listen over and over to the interview that Maurice Sendak did with NPR shortly before his death. Don't even get me started on "The Lives They Loved," which pulls me down the slope of tears every time I even try to read it. My heart is full. I go over Jason Crane's 2012 round-up (of which I was honored to play a small part) and I love the honesty there. It is the eve of my move down to Hickory, and I am as tense as a bird that hasn't yet figured out it has wings. For all the celebrations going on in my life--and they are many--there is also the the knowledge of loss and change.
So much happens in a year, to break our hearts and mend them, to break them again and make them ever stronger.