Lois Welshons’ sometimes painful yet beautiful works of poetry have left me with the extraordinary experience of knowing that I am not alone in my middle-aged grief, or in my efforts to find beauty and joy in life’s challenges. Though Welshons writes of places like the prairie, the small town she grew up in, and the beautiful St. Croix River near Stillwater where she lives with her husband, I am more aware of her marriage, her family, and her grief—death now lurking at the edge of her garden, waiting to choose who to take first, husband or wife.
She hits close to home. Like me, she’s in her fifties. Like me, she’s been married for many, many years. Like me, she has children. Through her poetry, she finds meaning in a sister’s suicide, a husband’s serious illness.
In my favorite poem, “Hanging out for God,” she uses the metaphor of a pet dog to represent the sad and helpless longing of a human being:
_tail wagging, heart leaping._
_You’ve been watching for him_
_For days, years, craving contact._
_And he is saying something—_
_But his words are babble to you,_
_Voice not as warm as you want._
_Your large dog heart sinks._
Through her poetry, she finds the courage it takes to keep moving forward in life. I can see the poet in her garden. I can see her with her children. I can see her under the moon. She loves the weeds in her garden as much as she loves the flowers.
In “Daily I think about death,” we find that the poet has
_…grown sick of this obsession,_
_Want to make a change–isn’t_
_Spring the perfect time,_
_When new leaves blink open_
_Every headlong second_
_To immerse in the now, follow_
_Whatever desire’s beckoned?_
I read it so carefully. I almost listen and feel, though not quite, because I don’t want to imagine what it would be like to lose a loved one. I’d rather think about the sunshine, my son playing tennis, my other son returning from California. I don’t want to think about death and dying. I have not found death a friend. That was a good idea in my twenties and thirties when I was reading the Carlos Castaneda books. I remember thinking how cool I was, thinking I didn’t fear death.
I’m in my fifties now and I feel differently.
Lois Welshons finds her way towards speaking the truth about her life and her feelings. It is her process of letting go—of recognizing her suffering and her attachments and letting go (from “Landscape: Self-Portrait”):
_Many streams to tumble_
_Willingly into the river, become larger_
_In the letting go._
_Mary Alterman is a free-lance writer, artist, and homeschooling mom. She lives in Burnsville with her husband and two sons. _