Laurie David on the poems of Peggy Freydberg
A year ago I fell in love with the poems of Peggy Freydberg and quite immediately afterwards, I fell in love with Peggy.
Peggy was 106-years-old when I met her in the fall of 2014 on Martha's Vineyard.
For many summers I had been hearing mysterious whispers, about a local elderly woman who wrote beautiful poetry. Then in September, I overheard that there was going to be an impromptu reading of Peggy's work at my neighbor Nancy Aronie's writing studio. I was determined to go and basically invited myself.
When I arrived the small room was packed with neighbors and there was Peggy, in all her wrinkled splendor, sitting in the front of the makeshift stage next to an empty chair set beside her for each reader.
One by one, friends got up and read Peggy's poems out loud.
My jaw dropped. I couldn't believe how good, relatable and honest the poems were. I felt like I was discovering Mary Oliver or Emily Dickinson at the end of their lives! Almost immediately, Nancy and I began collaborating with Peggy on what became Poems from the Pond.
Part of the fun of this project was our weekly interviews with Peggy, who always greeted us with her hair done, pearls on, and a sharp and quick wit.
We learned that Peggy was born in 1908. She told us stories about growing up in a rigid protestant home, which she described as being "drenched in a sense of melancholy." Her later years where absorbed with the struggle to be seen and recognized beyond her beauty.
Peggy lived through two world wars, both Roosevelt presidencies, the women's rights movement, and the invention of the telephone and iPhone. She loved cats, nature, and a good glass of wine every day at five o'clock!
For the past four decades she lived in Chilmark, in a simple cottage facing Stonewall Pond and the ocean beyond. It was there that she STARTED writing poetry...at the age of 90! A lifetime's worth of poems...written between 90 and 100 years old.
Peggy often said that living so long was "disgusting" but the irony is that if she hadn't lived that long she never would have discovered her incredible gift for writing poetry. Creativity really has no age limit! And that is a message I now have taped to my computer.
Peggy turned 107 last March. She celebrated that milestone in typical vineyard fashion...with oysters and champagne. A few weeks later, she passed away.
She was three week's shy of holding a physical copy of the book in her hands...but I am happy to report that on one of my last visits, her granddaughter, lovingly and patiently went through the galleys of the book with her page by page. Peggy was thrilled at the prospect that her poems were on their way to reaching a wider audience.
She also knew that all profits from the sale of the book would go to a scholarship in her name for writers of all ages.
Wait a Minute
I open my eyes in the morning.
For a minute
I am neither here nor there.
Then in the next minute
I am here but starting
to be there.
The day has begun.
I will get up
and start to seek,
and continue starting,
so that every minute of this day
will begin with an anticipation
of the promise of the next one.
All day long and into the evening,
every minute of my waking hours,
I will not be here
because I am seeking
to be there.
I tell myself—
a pill will do it,
a walk in the fine fresh air will do it,
a Villa-Lobos prelude will do it,
a message on my telephone answering machine will do it,
a good library book will do it,
a glass of white wine at five o'clock will do it,
a good dinner will do it.
I close my eyes in the evening,
and I say to myself,
with relief at the day's ending:
a good night's sleep will do it.
Every day is the same.
I never stop to ask:
I never think to look for
what it is
that lies between the
beginning of the minute
and the end of it.
Chorus of Cells
even being very old,
(or perhaps because of it),
I like to make my bed.
In fact, the starting of each day
is the biggest thing I ever do.
I smooth away the dreams disclosed by tangled sheets,
I smack the dented pillow's revelations to oblivion,
I finish with the pattern of the spread exactly centered.
The night is won.
And now the day can open.
All this I like to do,
mastering the making of my bed
with hands that trust beginnings.
All this I need to do,
directed by the silent message
of the luxury of my breathing.
And every night,
I like to fold the covers back,
and get in bed,
and live the dark, wise poetry of the night's dreaming,
dreading the extent of its improbabilities,
but surrendering to the truth it knows and I do not;
even though its technicolor cruelties,
or the music of its myths,
feels like someone else's experience,
I know that I could no more cease
to want to make my bed each morning,
and fold the covers back at night,
than I could cease
to want to put one foot before the other.
Being very old and so because of it,
all this I am compelled to do,
day after day,
night after night,
directed by the silent message
of the constancy of my breathing,
that bears the news I am alive.
Preparing Oneself for Dying
I strive to find a method
for a confrontation with what must be done
to save my children from the task of doing it when I die.
I sharpen pencils with an out-damn-spot intensity.
In shaded rooms,
on yellow pads,
I hide myself from sun
to settle my affairs:
"The Steuben heart of glass, though chipped,
will go to Bet, who never scolds imperfect hearts."
"The primitive I painted years ago,
while sitting in a field behind the house,
will go to Jocelyn, who understands it was
the first day of my life I saw what I was looking at."
Clean out the attic,
go through the endless drawers of files,
spend what little time is left to me
in scuttling all the props
on table tops,
and all the evidence of the "getting and the spending
that laid waste my powers…"
Must I throw the stack of twenty journal-notebooks
in the trash,
with no mind for the dignity
of the burial of my secrets?
All at once,
I sit tiredly in the emptied room,
cold in the evening light.
I have forgotten to light a fire.
There is no color of a flame.
I am in a large white death.
Live with my mistakes.
Leave my clutter.
After I am gone,
when those of you who loved me
walk in this room,
you will find,
to your surprise
that I'm still here.