Brigit Pegeen Kelly, one of America’s most strikingly original contemporary poets, has died this month. Kelly’s books include To the Place of Trumpets (1987), selected by James Merrill for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize; Song (1995), winner of the Lamont Poetry Prize of the Academy of American Poets; and The Orchard (2004), a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. On a personal note, she was also a mentor and friend. Her reflective wisdom and passionate ability to support her students will be missed.
What better way to mark her passing than by celebrating her writing. Here is a poem of hers titled “The Leaving.”
My father said I could not do it,
but all night I picked the peaches.
The orchard was still, the canals ran steadily.
I was a girl then, my chest its own walled garden.
How many ladders to gather an orchard?
I had only one and a long patience with lit hands
and the looking of the stars which moved right through me
the way the water moved through the canals with a voice
that seemed to speak of this moonless gathering
and those who had gathered before me.
I put the peaches in the pond’s cold water,
all night up the ladder and down, all night my hands
twisting fruit as if I were entering a thousand doors,
all night my back a straight road to the sky.
And then out of its own goodness, out
of the far fields of the stars, the morning came,
and inside me was the stillness a bell possesses
just after it has been rung, before the metal
begins to long again for the clapper’s stroke.
The light came over the orchard.
The canals were silver and then were not.
and the pond was–I could see as I laid
the last peach in the water–full of fish and eyes.
Read more about Brigit Kelly at The Poetry Foundation. You can also check out some of her poetry in our library — we hold a copy of The Orchard. I can think of no better way to celebrate her life than by sharing her words.