The Grand Carolyn Kizer 1924-2014

Just three days ago I was looking randomly through poetry online and ran into Carolyn Kizer. Carolyn Kizer! I’d forgotten about her. So I began poring through her poetry, reading one after one, becoming more and more entranced. What wonderful poems to rediscover!

Now, today, I read about her death at age 89. Three days ago she was alive. And what brought me to her poems practically on the eve of her death?

She had made an indelible mark on the Pacific Northwest where I grew up, taking cues from her mentor and ally, the immortal Theodore Roethke. Her writing, like his, was well-wrought with a depth of music. Most memorials will praise her feminism, where she valued honesty and directness over any form of groupthink. But for me, she is a poet and it is for her poetry that I remember her. The beautiful Pacific Northwest! And her magazine, Poetry Northwest. So much poetry came from that uplifting place, but I had to leave it far behind, only lately returning through memory and poetry and art. May her work live long after her.

Here is a poem referring to the blue heron, a personal favorite I often see near where we live. But here is so much more:


The Great Blue Heron

M.A.K., September 1880-September 1955

As I wandered on the beach
I saw the heron standing
Sunk in the tattered wings
He wore as a hunchback’s coat.
Shadow without a shadow,
Hung on invisible wires
From the top of a canvas day,
What scissors cut him out?
Superimposed on a poster
Of summer by the strand
Of a long-decayed resort,
Poised in the dusty light
Some fifteen summers ago;
I wondered, an empty child,
“Heron, whose ghost are you?”
I stood on the beach alone,
In the sudden chill of the burned.
My thought raced up the path.
Pursuing it, I ran
To my mother in the house
And led her to the scene.
The spectral bird was gone.
But her quick eye saw him drifting
Over the highest pines
On vast, unmoving wings.
Could they be those ashen things,
So grounded, unwieldy, ragged,
A pair of broken arms
That were not made for flight?
In the middle of my loss
I realized she knew:
My mother knew what he was.
O great blue heron, now
That the summer house has burned
So many rockets ago,
So many smokes and fires
And beach-lights and water-glow
Reflecting pinwheel and flare:
The old logs hauled away,
The pines and driftwood cleared
From that bare strip of shore
Where dozens of children play;
Now there is only you
Heavy upon my eye.
Why have you followed me here,
Heavy and far away?
You have stood there patiently
For fifteen summers and snows,
Denser than my repose,
Bleaker than any dream,
Waiting upon the day
When, like gray smoke, a vapor
Floating into the sky,
A handful of paper ashes,
My mother would drift away.


Dear Carolyn Kizer, May your words float into the sky, stretch their “vast unmoving wings” and move us all long after this great parting.