Monica A. Hand (1953–2016) was a beloved poet, playwright, book artist, activist, teacher, and friend. Her books of poems are me and Nina and DiVida, both from Alice James.
Soul and Body
I stood before your body that still breathed
and said goodbye to your soul that had left
this life, Athena’s owl on the night breeze.
The nurses took off the sterile white net,
tied your hair back from your beautiful face,
and detached the machines to let you die.
I read you poems you loved as if our states
were one. Your warm form would soon be cold, viewed by
mourners. My knees gave way. I sobbed your name.
Then I was done. I sat vigil, consoled
the others in the waiting room, abstained
from death watch. When those praying for your soul’s
flight grew silent, your heartbeat stopped. The veil
dropped between you and your granddaughter’s wail.
I Think of My Friends’ Unfinished Work as We Light Three Memory Candles in the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York City
We buy three memory candles, are given
markers that write on glass and hope our missives
reach you risen, not the abyss which is
non-being. Mother, father, spouse, and friend—hidden
among skyward arches and blue glass—listen
to us say your names, that spirit outlives
the body riven from us. Yet doubt sieves
faith’s promise, leaves loss: your work and ambition
cut short by death too young, each of you robbed.
Public servant, poet, priest—our black letters
illumined by wax might get through to God,
a vast love who holds our memories mobbed
against time. Your plans for earth are feathers.
We’re left in labor to reseal the bond.
—remembering Cliff Becker, Monica A. Hand, and Father Charles Howell
No birds soar toward the sun above the Blue
Ridge Mountains in this morning’s little painting.
Birds perching in trees on their way down South—
I draw their thousands, their loud chatter raining
on me, their eighth-note bodies on a staff
of branches, quarter-note rests in the sky.
My strokes are autograph and allograph,
my own rhythm yet ordered from on high.
Almost a joke, how many birds I make,
as if they were in every natural scene.
Well, they are. They keep time. How good to wake
and sleep to birdsong, as was your routine.
Buzzards circled, waiting to clean the earth,
not say you’re gone. Still, I painted no birds.
Letter to God
Dear Most High, I’m not writing to ask why
she died before her time, why the blue pen
she gave me began to skip serifs when
I touched it to the page, incensed. Yes, I
commended her spirit to you, her mind
wiped from her body. I should bow: amen,
amen. “Why?” would concede the argument,
presume I believe you willed her to die.
Her body failed. Take me to the thin places,
a tour guide on an occasional outing.
I’m angry I can’t count on second sight,
your gift to bring souls near. I see her traces
too faintly in the crack in things—though doubting
you, I succumb to your shattering light.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.