on The Baseball Field at Night, last poems by Patricia Goedicke (Lost Horses Press)

When I finally met Patricia Goedicke in 1982 after several years of correspondence, she had already been dealing with breast cancer for five years. She was exactly one year and a day younger than my mother, and there she sat at a table in a Cambridge restaurant, provoking and teasing, wanting to know everything, praising, laughing, a little flirty. Her mother had died of breast cancer twelve years earlier; her father had lung cancer and multiple sclerosis. In her poetry, beginning with Between Oceans (Harcourt, 1968) and continuing through twelve books, her fixation on frailty was both an ambush and an embrace. The sheer physicality of her materials, the bodily presences, inspire summaries of her work that catalog her carnal subjects and emotional extremes. When Patricia died in 2006 of cancer, the obituaries noted how her poems dealt with her illnesses, the love of her husband, and the reality of death.

goedicke2.jpgIn Buddhism, there is a bodhisattva, or enlightened soul, named Kuan Yin. She has incarnated many times and, if she wished, could graduate from the cycles of living and dying. But she elects to remain, to aid and comfort. In Chinese her name means “the one who perceives the sound of suffering.” Such a character continues to thrive not only despite the evidence, but because of it. This is how I think of Patricia. Kuan Yin is often depicted sitting alone beside a steam or waterfall, profiled by the moon, a willow twig in one hand and a jug of water in the other. But Patricia was a figure in motion – or rather, the voice spoke from the middle of events. She narrated the struggles and pleasures with an unabated intensity. She was more attuned to pitch than tone. Her language was precise and her ambition consistent, but she was careful not to be too careful. She gave herself whatever space was required to escape confinement.

GoedickeZ.jpegPatricia dedicated her fourth book, The Dog That Was Barking Yesterday (Lynx House Press, 1979), to her husband Leonard Robinson, “who first warned me about it: ‘The Central Glamour.’” But it was her impulse to probe what had been flagged as dangerous. Sensing the allure of the enclosing inner life, she made it her subject rather than her conveyance and posture – yet one heard echoes of the excesses of a compensating private life in the language and pacing. In a letter to me from 1979, she described “the psychological stimulus for my writing, namely the ‘desperate’ need -- in a situation where my mother was deaf and my father, a Freudian psychiatrist, saw the world in the most reductive, scientifically didactic and flat way possible -- not only to ‘communicate,’ to be heard, but to communicate in the deepest, richest, and most unscientifically moving way I could.” At that time, her poems hovered over the very traps and blandishments of self-centeredness. Then, the mode of address began to evolve a more direct, less stylized sound.

Spanning forty years, the arc of her work has moved from statement to utterance. In 1985 Copper Canyon Press published her seventh book, The Wind of Our Going. It is a stunning collection, filled with big breaths taken in for a voice speaking in a world where it’s hard to be heard.

WHAT RUSHES BY US

On the falling elevator trapped as the sixty-one floors blink
Like eyes in sequence, each possible resting place whipping by

Faster and faster, one after the other, Hello
Goodbye, my friends, yesterday we were talking, today we die

In our sleep, with the stars falling, surely it is the stars
In waterfalls of sparks, ribbons of light descending

With tennis racquets, Bibles, cars, violets, young men wearing hats
Ski lifts in winter, The New York Times, the Funnies,

All the intense conversations that will never end,
Your photograph on my wall, mine tucked in your billfold,

Do you know what you look like? Not now you don’t,
Maybe one second ago you did, but the bits and pieces of yesterday

Are piling up, pushing (some even going on ahead),
There’s Mother, there’s Father, there’s Edward from the first grade

And Beethoven’s Ninth, and the Bach B Minor, each chord
Turns into a glissando, clusters of fireworks flying

With curses, cats wailing, the whine of the big guns
And desperate bombs going off, the little pot bellies

Of starved children, presidents, old beggars, vice-presidents,
Every newspaper headline, every last quarrel

We ever had, each hangover, each miraculous glass
Of the deep bourbon of love, even the pure silence of prayer

Is pouring past us like rain, like a blizzard of hard rice
Sliding by, sliding by, polished smooth as the ground

Each of us thinks he is standing on, certainly I do
Content, watching the world go by but suddenly

The bottom drops out, the stomach crazily catapults
Past the toes, the feet, the head follows, mountains

Exchange places with the back yard, even your face
Revolves in the sky, it’s the Big Dipper, upside down

The wind roars in our ears, in the dizzy whirl of the blood
There’s no turning back, on parallel tracks shooting

From the cliff of our birth we keep falling,
First you, then me, then me rushing by you.

In another poem, “The Interior Music,” she described the body as “that vague switchboard / talking to itself,” and the inner music as “the complicated gold harp strings / of the mind.” The poem is a celebration of both the vagaries and the pure pluckings. This takes us to Patricia’s native stance: poised between the exciting interior and the world crashing at her feet. Her position was exquisite because it was entirely provisional, more and more like the turbulent world. The voice could sound demotic and hieratic in the same poem, applying a strange specificity to an entire world, projecting the violence of a world toward the reader. At other times, she could be unpredictably satisfied with simple description, mere image, and the powerful presence would retract.

goedicke3.jpgWe now have Patricia’s last poems in hand with the arrival of The Baseball Field at Night. Christopher Howell, who edited the collection, says in his introduction, “Hers is a poetry of ‘dis-equilibrium,’ in the sense the poet Robert Duncan speaks of it, as that which all living organisms strive to maintain. Evading equilibrium one evades death.” These final, harrowing poems are desperate, wild, reaching beyond wisdom back into the body. This is the work of a poet who wanted to make everything human accessible to language; her long impulse was of generosity, and thus, a successful evasion of that “central glamour,” even as she devised a thoroughly vibrant new presence to pull off the essential outbound vectors of recognition.

HOLE

For if this be corpse

or grave. If this be tooth or cavity
or dry lake bed. Or spewed

self pity or howl, no tongue left
to speak with. If there be the same

killing fields from the start:
the gallows in the playpen

glares up at us like a black
graffiti covered

stone the day after

the execution. Birds like heavy cigars, coffins
wheeling overhead.

If there be cracked eggshell
and no egg. Neither yolk nor white

If there be no kernel. No core
to the applehead. If there be love

when love is dead.

If the outer firmament be arched
skin only. If the noose embrace nothing

but cold ore and bowels,

where is the high famed convexity
of which this is the concave?

For this is not a private. Not a personal
crack in a sealed container.

Not a single

lost shoe: on the nation’s highways the owner
is long gone.

But whether this be outer
or inner rot, murderous

aimed or innocent kick, here

is an end to it, a hollow
depression which has no bottom

and no top.

She must have known how rich and startling these poems are – of course, she was always making a spectacle of herself as her parents might have complained. But she learned how to do it with the artist’s deepest commitment to the material and the audience. Finally, there was even the self-portrait as gift, a deeply moving comedy, in “Vegetable 69”: “without makeup losing it / even my clown red / lipstick // line drawn against encroaching / wrinkles from nose to chin // seriously I can’t quite / see / sallow gray dishrag me // potato-eyed in the dark / soft-hearted smart / just feeling around.”

GoedickeBW.jpgPatricia Goedicke’s work and career offer much instruction and inspiration. Her approach and voice were unique. Over time they became more and more like themselves, freer to “feel around.” Thus, she developed, but not for development’s sake. Like any highly accomplished poet, her affectations were entirely her own. She always addressed what was central to her attention, the language charged with the moment of her peering. Her final poems, spoken by someone regarding her own dying with a grim amazement, were cultivated by years of recognizing an enduring condition, the presence of death in motion or abeyance, the sound of suffering. Recognition, the poems say, is an action. The poems would do more than reflect that condition; they would enact. “Nobody wants to cross an absolutely empty / baseball field at midnight” – yet we follow her there, willingly, if with more caution. Even in the end, she entertained and enlightened us, with a steady, unflinching energy, a surpassing glamour, and love.

[114 pp., paperback, $16.95. Available from Lost Horse Press, 105 Lost Horse Lane
Sandpoint, Idaho 83864, 208/255-4410. Email: losthorsepress@mindspring.com, web: www.losthorsepress.org. Also available from the press’ distributor, Eastern Washington University Press, and Amazon.]