Tribute to Ruth Stone and What She’s Taught Me

  • Sickness: Where it’s almost socially acceptable to wipe a green booger on your mother’s new couch (until your seventy-five year old father sees you and asks himself if he really raised you like that).

I’ve been unbearable over Thanksgiving break.  Coughing to feel the tremor in my skull from mucus in the sinus brain field.  Sounding like a thirteen-year-old pre-pubescent boy (even though many men have told me a deep voice is sexier and therefore I’m more interesting to talk too because of it).  Trying to sing Katy Perry, only to hear myself phase in and out of sound.  The silence my mouth holds.

Because my voice was gone, I also wasn’t up for typing a blog.  This is something about me, I mime words while I read and write.  I can feel my tongue soft like a nudge against the back of my teeth and moving through the air like something light rather than the bulbous pink muscle it is.  Without my throat working along, and my mouth tasting like honey and menthol I was unable to get through a blog, even about being Thankful.

I literally just tried to type what I was Thankful for and nothing really exquisite came out of it.  Probably because I’m thankful for the usual things: my family, my friends that I actually see, and a boy who can change my oil (one of the many tangible things I like about him, the intangible would be too long to name).  I’m also thankful that my family decided not to go around the table and list the things their thankful for because when it comes down to it, I’m just thankful that my life at the moment is relatively easy.

What I’m always thankful for, and I don’t always voice is words: any language, any size, any amount of space in the vowels.  I’m just thankful for how people use them (even when they’re angry) or how my phone changes “fucking” to “ducking” every time I’m angry and it subdues the argument.  Being thankful for that also takes a lot of responsibility, that you will protect those small curvaceous beings and keep them in your pocket in a small, but sturdy notebook and look at them when you’re sad or lonely.

Over the weekend one of my favorite poets died.  (She was also a National Book Award Winner so she’s everybody’s favorite probably).

Ruth Stone

I didn’t think that this blog would be about her, but because her use of words has made me thankful for my ability to read, and manipulate words on this blog for the past year and a half, I can’t let her go without a homage and possibly a pilgrimage to Vermont someday.

Ruth Stone is a poet who tells you that age is nothing but a number, that Poison Ivy isn’t the only super villain (hero) that can have hair burning in the stale air.  Not only that, but she’s a poet that shines through devastation with her power of words.  It’s like having a sword to fight off the tears, or a black pan to throw across the room when you get angry – these words and these poems.  Her husband committed suicide some forty odd years ago and many of her poems are about her own anger towards him, or her pain at his leaving so abruptly with their children huddling around her legs and her need to make herself more than a woman who idles.

(Side note:  I think a lot of times in this country, and beyond I’m sure, society has told women that their function is to idle, to stabilize, to rest stagnant against the kitchen counter with their hips bursting buttons of their jeans and their hair frizzing.  But this is not what women are supposed to do, women are supposed to lift cars with their bare hands and sexy backs like the men do.  They’re supposed to flex words into pick-up lines and poetry.  They’re for more than a lawn ornament, or a Christmas Tree star, or a sweet meat dangle on an arm.  And this is one of my favorite things about Ruth Effing Stone).

Here is just one example of a Ruth Stone poem (as you can tell her voice is one we haven’t heard before, and it’s her very own).  Please read aloud if possible:

Curtains
by Ruth Stone
Putting up new curtains,
other windows intrude.
As though it is that first winter in Cambridge
when you and I had just moved in.
Now cold borscht alone in a bare kitchen.

What does it mean if I say this years later?

Listen, last night
I am on a crying jag
with my landlord, Mr. Tempesta.
I sneaked in two cats.
He screams, "No pets! No pets!"
I become my Aunt Virginia,
proud but weak in the head.
I remember Anna Magnani.
I throw a few books. I shout.
He wipes his eyes and opens his hands.
OK OK keep the dirty animals
but no nails in the walls.
We cry together.
I am so nervous, he says.

I want to dig you up and say, look,
it's like the time, remember,
when I ran into our living room naked
to get rid of that fire inspector.

See what you miss by being dead?

When I read this poem, I can hear Dorianne Laux getting louder at “No Pets, No Pets” in the quiet space of a college classroom.  This isn’t about how I can go back to my college days (oh, so long ago, a whole two years) and remember this poem echoing against the white walls, it’s the fact that it still echos in my head anytime I ask myself, what again is a good poem?  What am I working with here? How can I even write this when Ruth Stone has already written that?

I think one of the most important things she’s ever taught me is to live beyond.  And by that I mean, live past, live fully after, keep on.  A lot of times when something devastating happens to someone (and I’m going to go out on a limb and say happens to women) we hole up in our bathtubs with our chocolate and our eyeliner puddling on our cheeks like a shadow, and we don’t keep on.  We let it keep us stagnant.  We let it keep us against that cabinet or stove like someone holding us down by our throats.

I’m very guilty of this.  In some ways, I move on completely and never look back, and in others (many others) I’m still dwelling.  I’m still letting it darken the cave of my heart, and my chest, and it spreads lower and taller and higher.  Every time I tell someone new that I hate someone from my past, or tell them another horrible-to-me story of my middle school years, I let it live and breathe inside me.  Instead of writing a poem about the pets, and the curtains and what you’ve missed by not being my friend, or continuing to sleep in a bed next to me….I’m killing a piece of myself that could take steps forward, that could run through a field – free.  Because Ruth Stone put this piece of her half-dead marriage out to the public, out to her poems, to her words and vowels – she’s let some of it go.

She has said up until the day she died that she was still very much in love with her husband, as if his death wasn’t the death of their love.  When you sign on for eternity, you hold on, but you don’t remain still, silent or calm.  You continue.  You let the words be pushed up against your thumb and pointer-finger, against the rough ridges of the pen or pencil and you keep on.

I will respect that, and love listening to her read poems, in a grandmother’s voice for the rest of my life.  And this blog, is going to let me do that, because I’ve written it and I’m making it live, and at the same time freeing it.  In honor of Ruth Stone today, let something go, and then move…even if it’s just a tap of your pinkie finger to prove to yourself that you can.


3 responses to “Tribute to Ruth Stone and What She’s Taught Me

  • Bea Mannes

    Excellent does not do this blog or Ruth Stone justice. I loved the writing from you, and I also loved the poem from Ruth Stone. Your idea of keeping on is so powerful, and I hope all women reading this blog, while possibly leaning against a counter somewhere, will keep on, move on, and continue. Thank you for that.

  • grainsifter

    Yet another beautiful, honest and moving post from you… thank you!

  • Michael Ann

    Cassie, your writing is so clever and honest and beautiful. You are an artist with words! I have never been too into poetry because for some reason most of it is over my head. But I read here about the poets you like and it helps me –makes me want to go buy their books! I loved this Ruth Stone poem, especially the last line, “See what you miss by being dead?”

    I got all your comments on my blog, thank you! I am so honored that you took the time to read so many of my posts and to comment on them. Sounds like we are kindred emotional spirits. Good idea to wait and rent those types of movies!! I saw the previews about Blue Valentine (before it came out) and I KNEW that was one I wanted to see but couldn’t. I still haven’t worked up the nerve.

    I hope someday you can visit California and see it for yourself!! And I’m glad yo enjoyed hearing about my military upbringing.

    Good to hear from you and good to come here and read your blog. I always enjoy it.

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