(Marie Ponsot, b. 4/6/21 – d. 7/5/19)
The year before last in bright April, Marie Ponsot, award-winning poet and beloved teacher, celebrated her birthday at home, as usual, where the circle, always slightly changing shape, and always the same, of poet friends, generations of former students gathers every year. We assemble in the early breath of New York City’s spring–first for her birthday in early April, then in June, to read our contributions to STILL AGAINST WAR, Poems for Marie Ponsot. This annual publication and reading grew out of the statement, “Still Against War,” a button Marie wore proudly, yellow with black caps, on her lapel or T-shirt, cardigan or breast pocket all around New York City, and beyond. It was her word. She always had the button on, so of course, this had to be the title of the anthology put together each year in her honor. Volumes I, II, III, IV,V, VI, VII, VIII, and IX include work by Marie, and Still Against War X is now being put together in her memory.
In April 2018, we gathered at Marie’s apartment, a block from the East River in the East 90’s. Somehow, I was early. Sometimes, when I travel, I get confused about time, I admit, so coming from Maine I was so concerned about being late that I was early. It was a lucky thing. I sat down with Marie and Kim, another poet, at the small wooden table next to the kitchen where I had often shared a meal with Marie, and began chopping vegetables for the party. Marie sat with us, back to the phone and bulletin board where pictures of bright-faced children, birds and poems were tacked, and we talked in different ways, some with more words than others. Kim and I filled boiled eggs with luscious innards made by Marie’s daughter Monique, busy cooking down the hall and chopped vegetables. One tray aside, Marie gestured, opened her palms to us. I think the words she said were, Be together. She reached out and took our hands, our hands that had been busy chopping. She knew better. Be together. We held hands, the three of us in our small circle. She moved our hands up and down to shoulder height, a triumph of what we needed right there—a gesture of loving connection. Be together. Don’t let the moment pass. We held hands and knew the feel of each other’s fingers, ringed and soft, bones’ grasp through flesh, simply being, palms delivering recognition. Small smiles and heads nodding, more important than our assignment, which had come close to the rhythm of thoughts let go. Marie interrupted the two of us to make a circle of the three of us and to hold our hands. She had a better idea as usual.
Later, after spreading out table cloths on the patio, carrying trays, unfolding chairs and being sure there’s enough weight to hold down the table cloths in the stiffening breeze, the circling begins from the patio back into the living room. Different characters, each known a little better, in my experience, each time I see them, even with time between. Somehow, we come to know each other, even if we’ve only met once or twice, and some known from other circles of poetry, or our lives in New York, and further. We expand the circle, the knowledge and unique caring between us, built on our love for Marie. Back and forth, on the patio with the burbling, happy crowd, chairs rounding the thick growing cedar, Marigolds, and thorny rose, potted humble blooms and sweet bouquets. Marie in her chair with a blanket on her lap. When the wind turns colder, Marie moves into her living room chair, surrounded by her books.
Over the threshold, I come into the living room to speak to Marie, again, and stand beside Marilyn. Marie looks at us, and turns to Marilyn, and then to me, and then Jess who has come up next to me. She looks intently at each of us, one by one. Those blue eyes aflame, piercing, she says, You! You! Direct contact. She turns to me, You! You! Her word hits the mark. I stand marveling, Marilyn with her purring laugh, and we smile in understanding, contented and struck, before her. She made it personal, penetrating, marking her intention and matching love, blessing each of us without name, with grace. Her fierce beam there, her thought there, the word there. You! The perfect word. Marie is very very smart and she figured out a way to acknowledge each of us in the simplest possible way. What word would do it, what exclamation, what would indicate her faith in each of us and her love? And there it was. You! I remember another time, when I was very low, and she said to me, write some poems, write some poems for me. She knew I needed to believe in the prospect, and she knew I believed in her. This kind of care and compassion—for the person, for the poem–is not a simple thing. You!
Still Against War IX, Poems for Marie Ponsot, and SAW I-VIII are available from Amazon.