Late Day Thoughts, Dorothy Holley, Foot Hills Publishing
Dorothy Holley, prolific poet at 84, writes of living in the wholeness of for now in her most recent book Late Day Thoughts. This is the third of her books of poetry published in three years, and like its predecessors, it embodies wisdom, sanity, grace, humor, generosity of spirit and understatement. Reader’s will develop an affection for Holley’s poetry because it offers hospitality unlike much of contemporary poetry (too much one could argue) which bars the door against readers making entrance contingent on figuring out a password or solving an elaborate verbal puzzle. That’s not the way we greet our friends at the front door or ask for consolation in a time of trouble. Holley says to her readers, “Come in and share this moment with me.”
The rose bush in her small urban garden, having finished blooming, provides one last “bud in its slow unfolding.” Here in For Now is a woman in the fullness and relish of her life, recently diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer.
The peach tree heavy
with fruit this summer
now only one on the tree.
I’ve cooked and canned,
others went back to earth.
Will it produce next year?
I’ll enjoy, for now,
that one still with pink skin.
It’s the homey things that heal a spirit battered by the desertion of a husband, a grandchild’s serious illness, and entry into “the wild land of cancer.” The first poem in the collection, Bring in the Green Tomatoes, is a good example.
All this time paying bills
for gas, electric, water in and out,
taxes, gifts, credit cards and which
to use to put off paying the longest
and what bank to choose
when the CD comes due.
Time to find my garden hat, shoes,
clippers dull from years in use,
cut back the old rose bush.
On my knees trim the peonies
close to the ground and bury
the peelings in the compost pile,
bring in the green tomatoes,
wrap them in old newspapers.
In this poetry, there is an authentic voice, the same one you get in conversation with an astute and reliable friend; it is the voice of a careful, whole-hearted observation and filled with care for the commonwealth of ordinary language.
Holley’s first book, A Whole Quart Jar, celebrates childhood on an Ohio farm, the hard work and satisfying physicality of life before the Rural Electrification Act and on the cusp of the Great Depression. In the title poem, she writes of eating vegetables from the garden “with the sun still in them.” There are continuities as children grow up, weather the loss of a parent, and affirm connections over four generations. Her second book, The Garden Journals: Poems and Garden Notes, is a more expansive volume combining poems, the notes she has kept about her garden, and photographs of plants and animals that surround her home. Beginning in loss, the garden with its bounty and inhabitants provides tender and healing relationships with children and grandchildren, glimpsed in the same company as birds and squirrels.
Some of Holley’s poems speak of the comforts of religious belief, but none are sentimental or preachy. There’s a toughness of spirit here well suited to the syntax, plain as courtesy, a fine sense of humor, and lack either of grandiosity or self-pity. Her work has grown and deepened through these books, which make the simple, the immediate, and the down-to-earth emblematic of a life lived fully with alertness, humor, and connectedness.