For Vassar

Joanie Whitebird

Joanie Whitebird

Once again, I’ll turn to the poetry of others for today’s post. This is a follow-up on the prior poetry posting featuring a poem apiece by Vassar Miller and Joanie Whitebird.

This poem is Joanie’s tribute to her good friend as run by the Texas Observer after Joanie’s death in 2000.

I remember as a child my mother coming home late
from Vassar’s salons and listening to her read
Vassar Miller to me there was a line
“coming home late at night, carrying buckets of old light” Vassar
was my idol, she worked words like my brother
folded origami cranes like raindrops like
dreams that kept me alive, like that
Vassar worked words

young when I actually met her, in my early twenties,
I was struck dumb, in awe of the strength that hid behind
that camouflaged form, my big cowgirl body soft and flimsy as cotton
candy compared to her iron sinews, steel resolve, she didn’t remember
the line, she said she wasn’t sure it was hers, one of those poems not
good enough to keep, I was

she always thought she sounded like a frog but I could sit for hours
listening to the water ripple of her voice, a breath away from others, it’s
just that the breaks are different
she’d say, it’s just that she lived one heartbeat away from
this world, neither here nor there but in between, a cage she wears, bars
curled around her life, to me a door to that other, a door only Vassar was
strong enough to open

one time we were sitting in that most often of poet positions, by the
bathroom door, waiting her turn so I could help her with those ‘pesky
physical problems’, when I turned to her and said “Vassar, you and I were both born
crippled, you in one way and I in another. Why is it? How did it
happen? How have we come to be who we are?”

Vassar bowed her head and sighed beautifully “Amazing Grace”
I will carry that answer with me always, “buckets of old light,”
Vassar, you are what I carry with me in the night of my heart
a bucket of old, wisdom tinted, life giving

— J. Whitebird

About bullersbackporch

I am a native Austinite, a high-tech Luddite, lover of music, movies and stories and a born trainer-explainer.
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