Poems for Nancy Nielsen

Nancy 2
Nancy Nielsen

The poet and environmentalist, Nancy Nielsen, died on May 23rd, 2016, after a lengthy period of declining health. Her partner for many years, Alan Brooks, has recently published a collection of poems, maybe someday, written during the last months of her illness and the two years following, and is putting together a collection of Nancy’s poems for future publication.

SomedayI was fortunate enough to visit Alan and Nancy a number of times in their secluded cabin on the shores of Straight Bay, in Lubec, Maine, and remember with pleasure evenings when, after supper, we sat around and read poems, our own and others’, and, if we were very lucky, Alan could be persuaded to fetch his guitar down from the attic and give us a song or two.  

Alan & Nancy
Alan & Nancy

 

 

What follows is a poem of Nancy’s, sent as a New Year card; a poem of mine, published in  a slightly different version in Out of Silence, and two poems of Alan’s from maybe sunday,

Uphill

 

The Light This Morning
for Nancy Nielsen

The light this morning is touching everything
the poet says, and I imagine you
standing tall again
no longer numbed or navvied
by pain,
letting loose the dogs
then stepping with them
into the pool of early morning,
the dew on the grass
fresh around your feet

I see you
walking in this early light
bending to your garden
setting things to rights,
these moments before
the day itself is up and going

A bird starts up from the trees
and you turn back towards the house
the cool of the kitchen
smell of coffee newly ground
the small clear crack of shell
as the eggs are loosed into the bowl
apples sliced straight into the butter
foaming ready in the pan
flour, a dusting of sugar, cinnamon:
Apple Schmarren

The taste of it;
the cabin encircled, almost, by trees;
the clearing into which we walked
and you walked out to greet us
the light around us touching everything

Your poet’s eye
your gaze
your stubborn hardiness and grace.

 

DCP_1389 copy
Nancy and her dog, Skeeter

At Your Graveside

Even here
faint skirl of gulls from the flats –
ache of a yellowleg’s cry from the marsh:
end end end end end summer’s ending

The sky today holds everything
we ever asked of it.
Encircled by goldenrod,
late hydrangeas,

I say your name over and over –
you, who are now in this earth and of it.
Leaf shadows play
among first leaves falling.

Coyote Came In The Night

Coyote came in the night. I was gone.
Coyote, surely you know
we moved away years ago?
Surely you watched us leave –
felt our sadness –
saw us, a rare once in awhile,
return by day for an hour or two
and mostly me, alone, and then
and then, and then
only me alone?

She would have smiled, Coyote,
to see by first light that you’d visited –
come right to the back door –
and that you’d eaten of our fallen apples.
You sang to her often
and she called you Wise One,
Trickster, Brother,
sometimes even Friend.

Soon I will be here, Coyote,
both day and night. Come to me then
not as a tradesman or servant.
Our house is too humble for that.
Come to the front door as honoured guest.
Sing to me in the crisp nights of Fall
as a reveler, and in the longest nights
as a caroler singing
beyond this world’s grief
of joy.

 

 

 

Nancy and Alan in the garden, 2003 #2 copy
Nancy & Alan

Poem for Nancy

The Light This Morning

for Nancy

The light this morning is touching everything the poet says,
and I imagine you standing tall again
no longer numbed or nagged or navvied
by pain
letting loose the dogs
then stepping out with them
into the soft pearl of early morning
the dew on the grass
fresh around your feet

I see you
walking in this early light
bending to your garden
setting things to rights
these moments before
the day itself is up and going
a tune somewhere playing
in memory
a song someone in your family
is singing one carefree afternoon
the windows carelessly open
the melody drifting away

The light this morning touches everything
purple, gold and crimson
piercing the richness
of trees
the twist and turn of grasses
and the call of birds
whose names come to you
almost as your own

A bird starts up from the trees
and you turn towards its call;
already there are fishermen
at work in the bay,
their voices
rise and fall

A moment
then you turn
back towards the house
the cool of the kitchen
smell of coffee newly ground
the small clear crack of shell
as the eggs are loosed into the bowl
apples sliced straight into the butter
foaming ready in the pan
flour
a dusting of sugar
cinnamon:
Apple Schmarren

The taste of it,
the cabin encircled
almost, by trees
the clearing into which we walked,
and you walked out to greet us
the light around us touching everything

Your poet’s eye
your gaze
your stubborn hardiness and grace.

Nancy Nielsen, 1930 – 2016

from Out of Silence: New & Selected Poems
John Harvey, Smith/Doorstop 2014

 

Nancy Nielsen 1930 – 2016

Nancy Nielsen, who has died at the age of 85 after a long illness, was one of the most formidable women it has ever been my pleasure – honour – to have met. Accomplished, clear-headed, rarely one to waste time or words unnecessarily, if you had the good fortune to be accepted as a friend, you felt it was something you had earned. Something to be cherished.

Nancy was a dedicated and hard-working conservationist – with a particular interest in the coastal area of Downeast Maine where she lived – a botanist, educator and – far from least  – a poet. I got to know Nancy through her partner and fellow poet, Alan Brooks, initially when Alan was living in England, and then, later, on a number of happy and memorable visits to Stone Man Farm, their secluded home on Straight Bay outside Lubec.

It was with Alan’s help, advice and encouragement that, in 1977, I began editing and publishing Slow Dancer magazine, which was to feature both his own and Nancy’s work, and in 1984, in conjunction with Stone Man Press, we published a book of Nancy’s poems, East of the Light.

This poem comes from that collection …

Sometimes In The Summer

Sometimes in the summer
dusk, dark
all the hidden, sought, found
children quiet
screen doors
slapped
closed
cicadas
my grandmother said come
and we carried the linen
cutwork
roses, fine rolled hems
stitched, laid by in chests
used, darned
into the garden,
where for years linens were spread
to whiten
in dew
in moonlight
we laid them on the grass
the paths
between pale shapes
of nightblooming flowers
sometimes
my grandmother smiled
on her knees
her rough hands smoothing
linens
breathing the flowers

And this, from the poetry blog, Salt and Stone Poetry, on which she and Alan published and shared their work, is I believe, the last poem that Nancy wrote …

Oh, Who’d Leave This World

When the wind
that wind
wind from the sea
salt and wrack
lifting the meadow grass
ghosting with fog

or where
racket of crows
caw and caw
dipping
into the wind

Who’d set aside the book
this book any book
so filled with life
book on the table

Side by side
we talk of the stories
wind from the south

The wind outside
salt marsh wind
wind from the sea

who?

Alan will continue to post Nancy’s unpublished poems, along with his own work, on the Salt and Stone Poetry blog …

A full obituary can be found here, from the Bangor Daily News