Elegy—An Ode for Emily (Rose Included)

H. R. Stoneback

All Souls’ Eve: For the Philadelphia Memorial Services, November 9, 2019

In Memoriam: femme de lettres Emily Mitchell Wallace Harvey 1933-2019:

For ceremonies Franklin Inn Club & Christ Church (Est.1695) Philadelphia

 

It was somewhere long ago—was it Spain

or France or Philadelphia?—I first heard

her voice across the room (Gregory’s, too):

the keen clarity of exactitude,

the charming old civility of tone,

the shape and sound of each acutely chosen word.

 

I’d just done a conference keynote address:

She introduced herself, said I know your work—

her steady straight unblinking piercing gaze

confirmed authority of every phrase—

and now I’ve heard you speak I know you are the best.

I laughed and said Hope I resemble your remarks.

 

Then years of conferences with Emily.

We worked together, shaped events, she even

chose me to speak at her grand MLA Poets

Dinner at her beloved Club: from wheelchair, though it’s

rough, I stood to speak first time in years—her flattery?

Not with Emily—her words made you rise and believe.

 

Her words made you stand up, made you better

than you were, words never empty, precision

sprung from passion, searing fiery amplitude.

Her words made me join her Club where we colluded

to set things right in the world of arts and letters,

to weigh our pounds of truth and justice, make revisions.

 

Her words inspired, compelled me to write a book,

dedicated to her and her Sister Mary.

For her words, I featured her at symposiums.

I wanted her to take the Paris podium

last year at my Eiffel Tower donnybrook

but we know what happened: Fate’s song always Contrary.

 

She lost Gregory. She asked if she could

come to visit me in the Hudson Valley.

Always exact, she named the date well in advance.

I changed my plans. Felt bad I never took the chance

to see her country place near my ancestral woods

& Brownback Church right up my Chester Co. family alley.

 

She came and then I saw what I’d divined:

It was her farewell tour, the end was near.

We spoke not a word of death but eternity

danced in our odes to poetic fidelity.

She barely touched her food but drank her wine—

our clinking glasses chimed, rhymed with in memoriam tears.

 

Sing your songs poets

                   follow will-o’-the-wisp treasure lights

   Sing your songs scholars

                  guardian jack-o’-lantern ghost-candles ignite

 

And now, Allhallowtide, I look at the light

in my garden where we talked the last time.

It’s scary warm at Midnight, Halloween—

great storm-change coming, 73 degrees.

It will drop 40-plus, freeze tomorrow night.

The last late rose of summer shimmers sublime.

 

Strange flickering light, trembling of the leaves

in the shadows under streetlight, wind-rise,

autumnal tree-limbs shake down their burden:

Mischief Night past, All Saints promise guerdon.

Emily was all Mind all Heart and now on All Souls’ Eve

she is all Soul—I place her rose with wisp-willed eyes:

 

    Sing the song children

                 Christ Church bells are tolling 

    Sing the song children

                Emily’s gone a-souling

                                        ~ ~ ~

 

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Shawangunk Review Volume XXXI Copyright © 2020 by H. R. Stoneback. All Rights Reserved.

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