I live in a small rural town on the Eastern Shore of Virginia between sea and bay,only seven miles wide, mostly farm. My husband is the pastor of a fairly large church for the Eastern Shore. On any given Sunday there may be three or four generations of family members scattered about, sitting on pews together or singing in the choir. In the few years he has served this church, he has conducted over forty funerals. Actually, he has become known for his funerals. He poured creek water in the baptismal font, read poetry along with scriptures, and kneeled at every grave. He is accustomed to death while I am accustomed to attending to the grieving, my own and others.
This past July, my father died. He lived across the bay, near the York River. We drove and then took the Surry Ferry to the rural cemetery where we stood in summer heat with cricket song singing the only hymns. By default, my husband ended up leading the service. Yet another funeral. All but one of my four brother’s spoke. I chose to read Jane Kenyon’s Let Evening Come. I needed poetry. When the time came to read, I lost my bearings and my husband walked toward me, extending his hand to mine. He gently led me to the podium. I held the thin volume of poems in my hands, looked to the few attending. No need for a marker, the book opened naturally to page 69. I read, holding back a thousand tears.
The poem concludes with "God does not leave us comfortless" and I want it to be true. Sometimes I believe Jane, sometimes not. I do know I depend on poetry, especially Kenyon's clear images and felt words.
Several months after my father’s death, a church member died unexpectantly of a heart attack. He was a waterman from Deep Creek who made his living catching crabs. Many times in the last few years we sat at his family’s kitchen table eating his soft shell crabs, a seasonal speciality. A day before Butch's funeral my husband asked, “Would you please read the poem you read at your father's funeral for Linda?” I hesitated. Yes, I had read this beloved poem many times to myself, in poetry workshops, at poetry readings and with others who were grieving, but never at a service in this small rural town. With reservation, I agreed.
The sun that day was intense but there was a cold wind. A graveside service, one day before Christmas Eve. We hurridly left the house and I forgot my coat. I stood off to the side, cold and shaking slightly from the chill and nervousness. It was unlikely that people attending had heard the poem before. Did they even want a poem? But as the time came closer to read, I knew I could trust the crisp images, light passing through them. I knew the particulars would resonate with everyone. Yes, I see in the faces. Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned / in long grass.Yes, heads slightly bent, intently listening for what comes next. When I came to the last stanza I could barely hold back all my unshed tears since my father’s death and the last time I read these words. Looking straight at Linda, I read the last stanza.
Twice in the last months I needed Jane Kenyon’s volume of poem’s Let Evening Come. Each time I walked, not in a rush, but slowly to the bookshelf, taking my time. I knew exactly where to find the book. Between a hard copy of Jackson’s Hoops and Kinnell’s The Book of Nightmares. Let Evening Come, the volume of poems published by Graywolf Press in 1990. The cover’s colors, muted. The title, bold across the top. Edward Hopper’s “New York, New Haven and Harford," the cover art. The book opens naturally to the last pages. Found on page 69, Let Evening Come, the title poem of the book, my faithful companion, my comfort.