Monday, April 6, 2015

An Apprentice Poet's Legacy

Nine months ago she died. Shall I say, "I had a friend whose name was Diane English"? No, no, I won't begin that way because Diane English, although no longer in my physical world, is with me every single day. That's the kind of impact she had on me and on everyone who had the good fortune to know her--on any level. I call it the "Diane Effect." 

I first met Diane in 2006 at a combined screenwriting, acting, creative writing class at Marylhurst University. Approximately 40 women, ages 20 to 75, were in attendance. After a short talk centering on the merits of allowing our "creative inner child" to emerge, the moderator of the event asked us to choose one of the three disciplines and gather into groups. 

Eight women, strangers to one another, sat in the circle comprised of those who chose "acting." We were instructed to grab something from one of two boxes situated in the center. 

Diane, sitting across from me, reached out, grabbed a brightly colored silk scarf and, with great flourish, tossed it around her neck and over her shoulder. About the same time I reached into a box and came up with a turquoise Robin Hood-style felt hat which I plopped on my head. Our eyes met, a spark of impishness crossed Diane's face. 

I looked around the circle after all had taken some treasure from one of the boxes. I saw a woman of about 50 holding a cardboard sword and another tying a chef's apron around her waist. Two women who looked to be about 35 were already in play-acting-phase: they each held an old, black telephone handset and were mouthing words as though they were talking on the phone. One woman held a toy violin and another a pair of old tennis shoes. 

What in the world was this all about? 

We soon discovered it was about unleashing our creativity, about spontaneity, about letting go of a few of our inhibitions--those bugaboos that warn us to "Stop being so silly and act [our] age." 

Jodi led our group of "actors." She didn't have to give any of us much of a reason to begin pretending. Diane and I, now sitting side by side and both showing childlike delight and abandon, began a dialogue. 

Never in my life have I had such an immediate connection to another human being. 

From that day forward, Diane English and I became fast and dear friends.

In 2012 Diane moved to a studio apartment in an assisted living facility. On one wall Diane hung six or eight wildly and colorfully patterned diaphanous scarves. When she was expecting visitors, she wore a scarf from her collection. 

Each time I visited her there, memories of that first meeting flowed back in bright waves as I easily recalled her devil-may-care tossing of the scarf she chose from that eclectic pile of "props."  

She called herself an "apprentice poet." About a year before she died, Diane published a book of poetry titled, Sunbreaks and Magic Acts. "Upon Leaving My Earthly Form" is the final piece: 

Upon Leaving My Earthly Form

I ask those I love and leave behind

to remember when my body held breath
how hour upon hour I stood
near speaking streams immersed
in language of gurgle and gush
walked cliffs above the sea, watched
sacred tidings from the deep
roll onto shore in unfurling
white, scroll after scroll.

I was never rooted in the ground, preferred being
where current meets current, seeing
sunset mirrored on a Sound.
Why then, once I’m gone,
would I wish to be buried underground,
encased in urn, or weighted down by stone?

No dust to dust for me. Rather, gaily fling—
yes, fling—burned remains of my earthly form
far out to sea, to travel tides and moonbeams.
If the ocean is too far to go, sweetly scatter my ashes
on a river, to whorl and eddy with its pulse.

Let this stand as last request to those I love
and leave behind: find me a watery bier
and if you wish to contact me where
my spirit keeps vigil, visit me there.