Lee Lally, early 1970s, at home in the house on Emory Place in DC. Photo (c) by John Gossage.
I don’t know whether Lee Lally would have become a poet of significant accomplishment had she lived long enough, but I suspect she would have. I met her when I first arrived in Washington, DC in 1971, the same time I met her husband Michael Lally. We all became good friends. In fact, when Michael and Lee eventually divorced, I was the mutually agreed-upon witness for both of them at the divorce hearing. Lee became a leader in DC's feminist and gay circles for a while, but wound up with a boyfriend towards the end of her short life. In the late ‘70s, Lee and her companion often came down to The Dubliner pub on Capitol Hill when my band was playing there. She loved the music, the beer, the atmosphere, and I was always happy to see her. Lee's enjoyment of life's pleasures sadly ended, however, when she became the unfortunate victim of medical malpractice while undergoing surgery, and wound up in a coma for six years, before finally passing away on March 3rd, 1986, leaving behind two teenage children, Caitlin and Miles. There’s little lingering evidence of her work that I have been able to uncover. The most extensive account of her life and work that I know of appeared in 2007 in Doug Lang’s now largely dormant blog on DC poetry, in a piece that includes a brief remembrance by Doug and a short biographical sketch of Lee by Michael Lally.
Lee Lally published only one chapbook, These Days, which came out in 1972 from our poetry collective, Some of Us Press. Here are two poems from that book:
They name them after women.
You’ve been through a few
I understand that natural rage.
Tropical storm Agnes
swept through tonight
like a real lady.
Greeted rich and poor
with equal vengeance.
The poor will remember her
with less detail.
With wild breath,
Small rivers run
in the streets.
I understand that rage.
Tornadoes, tropical storms,
they name them
“Never Take More Money to the Bar
Than You’ll Drink up or Gamble Away”
for my Grandmother who said that
Mamie was six foot tall and carried
a hard salami, so hard
she had used it a few times as a billy club.
They were all you needed you told me.
You drank with your friend
and called to giggle at two in the morning
in a way I understood.
He left you alone
with four children
and is not dead yet.
You were 27 one day and 65 the next.
Save electricity, you said, with the one
lightbulb plan. I never noticed the darkness.
The optometrist told me different and I remember
you squinting at Elizabeth Taylor on magazine covers
in the dusk light at the kitchen window.
You were strong enough to open all jars alone.
The daughter died in your arms.
The sons turned their paralyses
into their energies.
The amusement park trips even when I was
a little too old. Mostly for the boat ride.
The apple piggy bank, the apple kuchen,
homemade sausage Easter, Christmas.
You worked, even for fun your hands working.
Worked till you died rubbing the bodies
of the ‘wealthy ladies.’
They loved you.
I loved you, Anna, of the strong hands,
until their troubles had been massaged away.
Ours were just beginning.
Lee Lally & Terence Winch, Mass Transit poetry reading, early '70s, DC. Photo (c) by Jesse Winch.