Tribute to a Beloved Poet

To Deliver Me Of My DreamsThis 13th day of January will mark fourteen years since my friend Elizabeth Carlson gave up her last breath. She was a poet, writer, teacher and counselor, a musician and a dancer, a wife, mother, and grandmother, and one of the dearest friends of my life. Elizabeth was part of a group of people I grew close to at San Francisco State University in the early ’70s; several of us did our graduate work in psychology there. I discovered, after Elizabeth died, that she was the glue that held us together. The friends made during that time continue to be important to me—I love them and always will, but somehow Elizabeth was the one who kept close the ties that bound us. When she left us, those ties loosened and began to weave into new patterns.

Elizabeth was important to an ever-widening circle—her family and friends, her colleagues and students, those for whom she was counselor and mentor, and all those who read her first book, To Deliver Me Of My Dreams (authored as Elizabeth Avakian, with illustrations by the brilliant artist Susan Seddon Boulet), and her final work, Collected Poems.

It is her poems that led me to write this tribute today. Some unknown impulse led me to take her Collected Poems from the shelf a few days ago, and each day since then, I’ve been rediscovering her clear, strong voice, the record of her love and pain, her laughter and sorrow, the piercing arrow of her words that strike at the center of the absurdity, beauty, anguish and joy of being human, words that speak eloquently of both the rare and the commonplace in our lives.

Here, in an excerpt from Running Away From Home, is a reminder of that longing for a fresh start, a chance to remake ourselves, a longing that I imagine almost all of us experience, usually more than once:

She always goes north,
the ocean on her left,
stops briefly for a sandwich
and a deviled egg, maybe
ice cream in the afternoon.

Nights she stays in little inns,
the ocean a mantra,
the soundtrack to her movie.

Where she ends up
is never important.
Only that it is a place to begin all over
as if you could get younger that way.

Certain poems—like certain paintings or music—speak to some of us, not all of us. I love many of the poems in this collection, but one, perhaps because of my age, has a special resonance. I believe it holds meaning for all of us, no matter our age. In the fall of 1997, Elizabeth was diagnosed with cancer, the ax that would finally fell this great soul. In December of that year, she wrote this:

Don’t Waste Your Time

Don’t waste your time on earth
doing the work of others.
Do your own work.
The sweat of your soul,

The lightness in the center of your heart
will tell you
when you are on course.

The swiftness of your breath
will slow to match
the tidal pull of moonlight.

You will ski effortlessly
down the slope of each day
calling your own name
softly to the trees.

Rest in peace, Elizabeth. We miss you.

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About Cristina

Urban Addict: London, San Francisco, Portland, Paris. Island Girl: Manila, Manhattan, Maui. Life-long: Writer. Reader. Artist. Dancer.
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3 Responses to Tribute to a Beloved Poet

  1. Kay says:

    What a lovely tribute to a luminous soul. Thank you, Cristina, for reminding us all.
    Kay

    Like

  2. Mariana says:

    Dear Cristina, I’m writing from Rubicon Publishing in Canada. We are currently developing a poetry anthology aimed at women tentatively called “On the Porch.” The anthology is a collection of poems about the celebration of motherhood, love, work, self, and relationships.

    We would like to contact Ms Elizabeth Carlson’s estate holders to request permission to reprint one of her poems in our upcoming anthology. I’m not sure you have this information, but we have tried different literary agencies with no luck.

    I apologize in advance for this awkward request. We appreciate your assistance with our project.

    Best regards,

    Mariana

    Mariana Aldave
    Permissions Editor
    Rubicon Publishing Inc.
    281 Wyecroft Rd.
    Oakville, Ontario, L6K 2H2
    T (905) 849-8777 ext.8856
    F (905) 849-7579

    Like

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