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Deborah S. Pease (1943-2014)

August 18, 2014

Deborah Pease was a dear friend, devoted reader, and founding benefactor of A Public Space. She was the author of the novel Real Life (W. W. Norton), and several books of poems, collected in Another Ghost in the Doorway (Moyer Bell). Her poems also appeared in AGNI, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Parnassus, and other journals; as well as in the chapbook The Crows at Appleton (Monogram Editions) and Opposed to Indifference: Poems of Memory and Conscience (Haybarn Press).

A phone call nine years ago about starting this magazine expanded over time into long conversations about everything from the size of a footnote to a favorite sentence in the magazine. Packages, addressed in her elegant handwriting, arrived often on Dean Street, with a novel by Niccolò Tucci, a catalog from the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, news of the Poets House Showcase—for her one of the truest ways to value art was to share it. With that in mind, and as a way to remember her, here is a small selection of her work

All the Observable Grace

It is difficult
Amid so much disturbance
To step lightly into the narrow boat,
To let the current carry it
Into the wide, slow-moving river.
Difficult to embark on the indeterminate journey.
Difficult not to find defeat in hostile terrain,
Easy to lose all sense
Of the river’s promise,
Easy to forget how the sun contends with shade
In ever-extending clemencies as day begins.
It is difficult to reach the shore
From arid plains, difficult to imagine
The ease of drifting.
Life begins
On the sloping river bank.
Minnows wheel in the shallows.
Trees on either side blend their reflections.
Light appears to emanate from underneath.
Birds are apprehended by their calls,
By the peace they call into being.
Only otherness
Allows the tentative step
Into the narrow boat, impels a casting off
Of customary gravity.
Coolness washes the face in sun-measured warmth.
A cleanliness is laid upon habitual usage.
Aquatic creatures plow delicate wakes
Criss-crossing all that was known
And is known again.
It is difficult not to wish
To live this way forever
In all the observable grace.
Day changes
In the manner of a face becoming old.
Night nears.
A log juts
Pronged with antlers.
Ahead lie clouds and islands, glazed tributaries,
A wideness, river-lakes, washes of blue,
Pale-hued supplicants.
Waters reclaiming the earth.

Nothing Is More Difficult

Nothing is more difficult
Than being
A Human Being
(This is less obvious than it sounds).

We are not
Intended to be
At all, yet here
We are, beings
Who cannot be.

The first word
That she spoke
With considerable authority
And insistence
Was: Moon.

(A little girl pointing
At a full moon, saying:
Moon moon moon moon.)

Always awash
In conjured moons.

48 Big Daffodils

48 big daffodils blared yellow
From three vases in this room.
I was not expecting joy
But it arrived, brashly delivered
By flowers smelling of earth, primitive
In form and scent, bold enough
To grow through snow.

The florist's card with the sender's name
(So eagerly searched for in the past, the name
With its terrible power to thrill,
The name alone was what mattered)
Disclosed its unrushed secret:
"Happy spring. Love, Auntie"—
And I did not spit in despair.

Like the color (blatant solar flare), the joy
(What else to call it?) was childlike.
I did not think a child
Still lived in me, but with 48 big daffodils
Igniting my room
For their two-day lives
Here, there was spring.

Pierrot and Peonies
after a painting by Jane Freilicher

It has the air of a benign dream
Inviting yet distant
Familiar yet strange.
She finds herself at once
Suspended in a formal peace.

All is simple and calm
Like slowly revealed truth
In the domain of uncapricious gods.
All her experience is slightly altered
And reflected back to her.

Pierrot and the white peonies
(His counterpart Pierrette)
Enact a stately pantomime
On the sturdy tabletop
In a swath of golden field.

The outdoor table floats
In ambiguous space.
The painting is ordered
(In its grandly disordered elements)
By the composure of sorrow.

She dreams of the painting,
Dream inside dream,
And breathes the summer air
Of still another life
Vanishing inside the heart.

The Sorrow of Leaving

What happens
When you leave
Is this:

You have left
Some time ago
And I am left

To mourn your going
While you're still here
Yet also

There, cleft,
Cloven-hooved for sure-footed
Flight, no longer

Five-toed, solid, and here.
The space
Where you stood is what

You occupy
Now, your disappearance
Stalled so transitorily

That I almost
Loathe you
As a cunning joke

But since
I love you I leave too
Before you know

What's happening
I'm gone, only
A figured shaft

Of air
Spirals in the doorway,
A skin of patterned

Nothing, deceiving
Neither one
Of us for you know

I slide away like this
So you undergo
Your metamorphosis sooner

So you'll be the first
To leave, thus we counter
The sorrow of leaving

In surreptitious ways
Always knowing we
Are always leaving.


The timing is perfect.
Everything's ticking
Like an antique clock,
Minutely precise.
I wonder, as I walk
This short block to your house,
How on earth
I ever got here, this joy
Is more complex
Than a lunar expedition
Or color shots of Mars.
So many junctures
Might have slipped,
So many connections
Could have faltered.
All the way
I waited for mistakes
But nothing went wrong
I'm here right
On schedule, the taxi left me
At the corner.
I'll walk to your door
Stretching the muscles
Of my bated elation.
I know, as I leap across puddles
with balletic élan (even in boots)
And forge intimate links
With salient details (a piano
Played in that house, a crocus
Snug against winter-lingering earth),
I know I will walk
Down this quiet street
A thousand times
Before reaching you, again,
In memory, a thousand miles away.

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