THE GATHERER/Poems by Judith Bowles (and a story)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

I can't remember the year. I remember the sweep of stairs and the white-light room at the Philadelphia Ethical Society, just off Rittenhouse Square. I remember the people—Mike Dunn, of KYW News, Tanya Barrientos, an Inquirer writer who later forged an amazing communications career, a blonde who raked her stories with lists, James Rahn, the workshop leader, others. And there in that class of journeying writers was Judith Bowles, a woman who had lived an extraordinary life, raised famous children, and had remarkable powers with words. She had lived in Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Wyoming, Manhattan. She remembered her mother. She wrote stories whose quietude I can still hear in my head, though I don't remember the plotting, a typical disorder, since plotting has rarely engaged my heart or my ear.

But Judith Bowles engaged me. Even as the class dissipated and we writers went our own ways and Judith moved with her husband to somewhere near DC. Even then, we continued our friendship. Old-fashioned letters. Christmas cards. And then, this year, Judith's card to me announced the publication of her first book of poems. Her moment now that her girls, and their children, are grown.

This is The Gatherer, published by Turning Point Books. Which I, grateful, have read this afternoon.

These are poems about earth that is "foggy soft" after a "snapped back" rain, about mason jars "like picture books/wild with color," about Edison's death chair, and about an Uncle Charlie who sizes the young girl up:

... After my horseshow he wanted
to know why I slumped
the minute the judges appeared
and at swim meets why I dove
deep off the side of the pool.
He said that I swallowed up
luck. He'd learned from watching
I didn't want to win. No other grownup
talked to me like that.

These are poems about a homemade life and about earrings (and a poem) "restored from shards," and about a "wild blue place"(this is my favorite poem) in which Judith practices the absence of her mother. Look:

... The sky there was wide, sharp,
attentive and as if from that wild
and very blue place
came a soft little gesture
that suited my hand.
It's a rite I still practice dozens
of times every day where my thumb
rubs my forefinger in smooth tiny
circles that say we're each here.
(Wild Blue Place)

Reading The Gatherer is like having Judith back in the room with me, her steady grip on elusive things. Reading The Gatherer is a pleasure I urge on every one of you.

Congratulations, Judith Bowles. It was worth the wait.


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