Red Poppy by Tess Gallagher

Tess Gallagher

While reading ‘Lucky’, a memoir by Alice Sebold, also the author of ‘The Lovely Bones’, I read about this poet who was teaching at Syracuse University when the Author took her poetry classes. I decided to look her up!

Tess Gallagher, a poet, essayist, novelist, and playwright, was born in 1943 in Port Angeles, Washington. She received a Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Arts from the University of Washington, and a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Iowa.

Her first collection of poems, Instructions to the Double, won the 1976 Elliston Book Award for “best book of poetry published by a small press”. In 1984, she published the collection Willingly, which consists of poems written to and about her third husband, author Raymond Carver, who died in 1988. Other collections include Dear Ghosts (Graywolf Press, 2006), My Black Horse: New and Selected Poems (1995), Owl-Spirit Dwelling (1994) and Moon Crossing Bridge (1992).

Gallagher’s honors include a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, two National Endowment of the Arts Awards, and the Maxine Cushing Gray Foundation Award. She has taught at St. Lawrence University, Kirkland College, the University of Montana in Missoula, the University of Arizona in Tucson, Syracuse University, and Willamette University.

Here is one from “Moon Crossing Bridge” the collection Gallagher wrote in reaction to the death of her husband, the author Raymond Carver. Beautiful, poignant, dolorous.

Red Poppy

That linkage of warnings sent a tremor through June
as if to prepare October in the hardest apples.
One week in late July we held hands
through the bars of his hospital bed. Our sleep
made a canopy over us and it seemed I heard
its durable roaring in the companion sleep
of what must have been our Bedouin god, and now
when the poppy lets go I know it is to lay bare
his thickly seeded black coach
at the pinnacle of dying

My shaggy ponies heard the shallow snapping of silk
but grazed on down the hillside, their prayer flags
tearing at the void-what we
stared into, its cool flux
of blue and white. How just shaking at flies
they sprinkled the air with the soft unconscious praise
of bells braided into their manes. My life

simplified to “for him” and his thinned like an injection
wearing off so the real gave way to
the more-than-real, each moment’s carmine
abundance, furl of reddest petals
lifted from the stalk and no hint of the black
hussar’s hat at the center. By then his breathing stopped

so gradually I had to brush lips to know
an ending. Tasting then that plush of scarlet
which is the last of warmth, kissless kiss
he would have given. Mine to extend a lover’s right past its radius,
to give and also most needfully, my gallant hussar,
to bend and take

photo from stock.xchng

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