Last July I received both the ultimate compliment and the ultimate joy. A very fine poet, Stephen Kuusisto wrote a poem especially for Riehlife. His email that day was the jewel in my inbox. Strangely the day I received his email, I was in Northern California in an internet cafe…back in my old stomping grounds to visit.
Stephen wrote: I love your blog and your work. I thought, “what the heck” and decided to send you a poem. I’m not in the habit of doing this kind of thing. I hope you enjoy it!
Boy, did I ever. As I read his poem, I felt chills. Truly.
Stephen learned of Riehlife through a Google poetry blog search and said he was delighted to see what I was up to.
He’d been teaching for one year at the University of Iowa in the MFA program in creative nonfiction—they hired him away from Ohio State. “Certainly, Iowa City is a lovely place to be if you love poetry and literary events,” he said. His house was high and dry; but his office was in one of the several flood-damaged buildings so he was holding office hours in a coffee shop. “Which is of course how it should be anyway?” He observed.
I had planned to go to Iowa City that summer to attend one of the University’s week long writing classes and stay with my friends Alan and Mary Brody. But, in the end, I had to jettison that trip because of the apocalyptic flooding. Stephen said: “I genuinely look forward to hearing you when that visit should again materialize.” Now, finally, about a year later, Stephen Kuusisto will be joining the Brody’s, his former teacher Marvin Bell and myself for a POET’S DINNER. And, so, after long last, we’ll meet. Isn’t life just the darnedest thing?
I later learned that Stephen was quite an amazing man. You can learn more about him at his website. And see more of his writing on his blog Planet of the Blind.
A BRIEF TESTIMONIAL
–for Janet Riehl
by Stephen Kuusisto, Iowa City
I came home after a day of walking,
The summer light was like tea in a glass.
It had been a clear day:
While friends bathed in the river I had timeTo read Basho.
He once asked:
What is the question
For which loneliness
Is the answer?
Meantime the crickets
Said the harvest moon
Should be word enough…
It was a long afternoon
Flooded with light
And all the beloved dead
Went with me across the field.
Isn’t poetry a fine thing?
Today I baked bread, spoke with Basho,
Drank tea, shared crumbs with a yellow finch
Who was also hungry and alone…