Soon after moving to Toronto, I came across a copy of Patrick Lane’s memoir, There Is a Season. I started reading and then, electrified after only a few sentences, felt compelled to stop and copy what I was reading onto the surface closest at hand—shards of a white ceramic lamp that had recently broken in our house.
As I read, I wrote, transferring word after word from smooth page to smoother pottery. I burned through black felt pens and wrote to the edges until I ran out of fragments, and that was my introduction to Patrick Lane’s words: his raw imagery and honesty and depth of feeling prompting an immediate response, even if only to live in his words a little longer.
I gifted those shards—fragile, jagged—to a dear friend, and she has kept them all these years, life and thought and poetry ad infinitum.
When I heard the news of Patrick’s passing, I copied out this poem, letter by letter, copy+paste no fitting tribute for one who makes pens move.
Rest in the garden of your dreams, Patrick.
“There Is a Time”
There is a time when the world is hard,
the winters cold and a woman
sits before a door, watching through wood
for the arrival of a man. Perhaps a child is ill
and it is not winter after all. Perhaps
the dust settles in a child’s breath,
a breath so fragile it barely exists.
Tuberculosis or pneumonia. Perhaps
these words place her there, these words
naming the disease and still not curing it.
Maybe it is not the man she waits for.
We want it to be someone. We want
someone to relieve this hour. On the next farm
the nearest woman to the woman is also sitting
in dust or cold and watching a door. She is no help.
So let it be the man. He is in the barn
watching the breathing of his horses.
They are slow and beautiful,
their breath almost freezing in perfect clouds.
Their harness hanging down from the stalls
gleams, although old and worn. He is old and worn.
The woman is waiting behind the door
but he is afraid to go there because of her eyes
and the child who is dying.
There is a time when it is like this,
When the hours are this cold, when the hours
are no longer than a bit of dust in an eye,
a frozen cloud of breath, a single splinter in a door
large enough to be a life it is so small and perfect.
Perhaps there are soldiers coming from far away,
their buttons dull with dust or bright with cold,
though we cannot imagine why they would come here,
or a storm rolling down from the north
like a millwheel into their lives.
Perhaps it is winter.
There is snow. Or it could be dust.
Maybe there is no child, no man, no woman
and the words we imagined have not been invented
to name the disease there is no child to catch.
Maybe the names were there in a time before them
and they have been forgotten. For now let them die
as we think of them and after they are dead
we will imagine them alive again,
the barn, the breath, the woman, the door.