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Lois Hayna: Coping Without a Miracle

April 2nd, 2014  |  Published in Blog

Lois Hayna: Coping Without a Miracle

by Joseph Hutchison (check out his blog, The Perpetual Bird)

Not long after I put up the just previous post about Lois Hayna’s Lifetime Achievement Award, an email arrived from David Giannini with this gently prodding subject line, “One Poem Proving Her Talent,” and this Lois Hayna poem in the body of the message:


Our last glimpse was all green—
the trees, the gray-green slats of the gate,
lively with foliage billowing through.
My last glance back, I saw
the green-gold flash of the serpent
slithering down into dewy grass.

I wouldn’t go back through that gate
if He suddenly forgave. Already
the shifts of scene and possibility
excite me, the day ahead
dazzles like treasure. If He’s checking on
our exile, if He’s starting to see for Himself
the joys of the possible but unpredictable,
He has to be green with envy.

Yep, I thought, I should have included some of Lois’s poems in my post. Rather than go back and update, it though, let me add a few to David’s excellent choice (from her book Keeping Still) drawn from three other of Lois’s books.


I drink to your good fortune
(for I wish you well) though never quite
to the letter of your choosing.

I wish you health, yet with the knife
of known precarious limits. May you not want,
but never lose the memory
of want. May you attain
whatever you name happiness except
for one desire which always slips your grasp

as you eluded mine.

(from A Book of Charms*)



This is a view of American history: a slow
continent unrolling at the pace of tired oxen.
You watch from the back flap
of a covered wagon headed west.
Your green and carefree years fall
one more day beyond recovery
with every sundown.

The western trek never moves west for you.
Not for you the hurrah of mountains on the sky,
only the prairie, folding and folding itself
into nostalgia.

Lashed to the wagon, your grandmother’s
carved bureau, your delicate china, destined like you
for a sod shanty wherever the oxen give out.
You’ll scrape dry alkaline soil to sow
flower seeds from rainy eastern gardens;
full your daughter into starched pinafores
against the west’s odds.
She’ll ride bareback anyway.

You are forever caught in a split
vision. The others go west
facing west, or are born west, giving themselves
utterly. You alone never quite arrive,
riding west as you did, facing east.

(from Never Trust a Crow)



Rain speaks in tongues
over my sodden roof, strums
enigmatic music in downspouts and across
the puddling lawn. I hear it
lose patience with innocent
anemones. I will find them
face-down tomorrow, humbled in mud.
Rain’s fingers
insinuate deep, deep,
searching for frostline.
Three feet? Four?

That it mercifully halt
short of six. That it not
surround you who hated wet,
who can no longer
answer the rain nor escape it
though you understand
finally now
rain’s meaning.

(from Northern Gothic)



All seas are one sea
interrupted by islands
of continents and
archipelagos. All water
the same water, always flowing, always
forming and reforming, streaming
into clouds, falling back. Water
from the Ganges locked
in Antarctic glaciers,
mist from rainforests sifting
sparse over the Gobi, Nile water
into the Styx, Erie
to Tuonela. We live on a planet
of water, ourselves
ferryhing lent fluids across uplifted
and for-centuries-dry landmasses
toward a small plot wetted
with old water.

(from View from Behind the Mirror: New and Selected Poems)


Lois Beebe Hayna, circa 1975

Lois Beebe Hayna, circa 1975


“Star light, star bright…” We used to chant that rhyme
while in the west the colors died slow deaths
pierced by the crystal-pure first star, a sign
that luck was possible. We held our breaths
and wished in secret. Everybody knew
that magic withered with the spoken word.
We wildly wished our wishes would come true,
though mine, at least, were childishly absurd.
None did, to our unseen good fortune. That’s
how the star brough luck, shielding us well
against ourselves. Life seemed so huge we thought
we couldn’t cope without a miracle.
I still smile up at the first evening star.
I wish for nothing in particular.

(from View from Behind the Mirror: New and Selected Poems)

A Book of Charms is half poems by Lois, half poems by the late Angela Peckenpaugh. Ms. Peckenpaugh, as editor of The Sackbut Review, had invited submissions of riddles and charms and ended up publishing three of Lois’s poems in that issue. Tom Koontz, the editor of The Barnwood Press, also had a poem in the issue, and from that nexus A Book of Charms was born. When, in my just previous post, I wrote that the first poems I read of Lois’s were “magical,” this subject matter—charms, maledictions, omens, incantations, spells—is partly what I had in mind. When she first began coming into our poetry workshop she was writing from an ancient layer of consciousness. As Tom Koontz puts it in his introduction to the book, “By creating image that join conscious and unconscious apperception and by creating harmonious patterns of sound, they love to put the mechanistic rational mind at ease and reveal a holistic sense of order and of protected space without which our mental energies become disconnected and dissipated.” It’s that holistic sense of order that underpins Lois Hayna’s poetry.

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