John Burkhardt "I wish people who have trouble communicating would just shut up." Tom Lehrer

In 1985 my mom, Breatrice Hawley, died from lung cancer.  She was 41 years old.  I've created this page as a tribute to her.  My mom was a published poet and I inherited all the rights to her work so I've decided to post some of my favorite poems.  Do you have a favorite?  Let me know.  She had a total of three books published, first by Alice James Press and the most recent by Zoland Books which contains full versions of the previous two books.

She was the best teacher I ever had, and now more than ever I am discovering how much of her is in me.

Here is a long excerpt from the introduction to her work by Denise Levertov:

In the later unpublished poems, there is some tendency for the metaphysical dimension to become more dominant; but by then the concrete and sensuous had so firmly established itself in her craft that this could occur without deleterious effect - on the contrary, it permitted her a new freedom of imagination, a still fuller expression of all that was wild and strange in her, an etherality winged with honest-to-goodness feathers.
In January 1981 Beatrice wrote,

Here is something that says more clearly how I feel about the way I'm trying to see life, live life:
 "... be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.. Do not now seek the answers, because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is, to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.  Perhaps you do carry within yourself the possibility of shaping and forming as a particularly happy and pure way of living; train yourself to it - but take whatever comes with great trust, and only if it comes out of your own will, out of some need of your in most being, take it upon yourself and hate nothing" [1]
What I am concerned with is precisely "that the possibility of shaping and forming as a particularly happy and pure way of living."  Working out the hope for a few good poems (if I am very lucky and very very attentive) is the major focus of my conscious and unconscious work-life.  It is my particular good fortune to find myself housed and to be able to financially support this endeavor: and the style of living needs to be minimal for what I want to do.  So even the leanest seeming moments are quite bounteous considering I have my morning hours in solitude.
And a wonderful son.  And family life.

[1] from Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet.

There is so much of Beatrice in that passage: the way she perceives as good fortune an economic status, and the resulting claims on her time and energies, many people would have constantly complained about; and the humble but unswerving commitment to poetry - humble, but simulataneously ambitious in the essense of desiring to create, to be the means of creating, true poems.  Earlier (1976) she had written, "I'm not producing enough, or enough good.  I've been scared to go to a couple of workshops I've been invited to join because I just don't feel I have enough good work to warrant it."  But by the mid-eighties, though illness (and the treatments for it with their powerful and sometimes devestating side effects) cut down and eventually stopped her writing, I think -- from my own impressions and from what others have told me -- that she knew herself to be at least partially fulfilled as a poet.  As late as August 1984 - eight months before her death - an entry in her journal read: "...poems, good and bad, are coming back with their insistence, forcing me to understand them well enough to give them some shape, some garment they can wear as the try, like little birds, to make their way in the world, apart from me.  This is my job..."

Missing Beatrice

Goodness was
a fever in you.  Anyone

might glow in the heat of it
go home comforted -
for them a shawl, for you
fire at the bone.

You knew
more than was good for you.
Your innocence
was peat-bog water, subtle and dark,
that cold it was,
that pure.

Kindess -- didn't we act as though
we could cut an endless supply from you
like turf from a bog?

Smoke of that empty hearth
fragrant still.
Your words
cupped in our hands to drink.
But you --
you're gone and we never
really saw you.

           -Denise Levertov

And now the poems:

A Distance From Drowning
Letter from the Colonies


Like wisteria
choking the house. pulling,
making the foundation crazy

grey in the off season
letting you think the birch trees
will make shelter

but the root will not burn out,
the vine comes back
making the house fall down
under the sweetest flower

A Distance From Drowning

A hand can remember
how it feels to be lost
in the folds of sand, in the
way water beats
over and over
to your drowning scene.

When dragged under, kick.
Pull up sharp to where the gold
brings ladders to the cave of water;
follow the spear of light.

When you save yourself
they let you tell stories
up and down the beach
all night on the porches
of the fish restaurants


Everything is a gesture
towards your faces,
those great masks with eyes
that burn the heart.
We spend our lives
making you smile:
we do it to make you happy.

We wave colors to make you glad.
Our whole lives we bring nothing
but every scrap
of treasure we can find.

We bring water:
you love the sea.
We bring branches:
you love houses.
We bring rags:
you love costumes.

All over the world
we are planning bank robberies
and christenings
for just one smile

It's nothing
we do it to make you happy
our whole lives.


A gret stalk in the water
sends out a flower:

nothing is lost forever.
The ones who sleep underground

come back in dreams,
wearing the faces of strangers.

We have to learn again and again
what to keep, what to throw away

Letter From the Colonies

I have not known such cold, sister,
we are locked in each others arms
for weeks here, the ground is iron

There is a certain loveliness:
you should see the sun on the ice,
though our eyes ache looking.

We will stay.  There have been not a few
deaths and the ground is too hard for graves;
but we will stay.  There is some food.

The savages have tamed the ground
enough for that, we profit and learn;
we are as angels beside them.

I am certain you should come--
a few winters away we will have made
dominion of every thing we see.

 for Dashell Hammet

A long sea-voyage:
lean on the polished railing
in your white shawl:
spit into water.

A revolution:
learn to hide in the jungle
where people can be mistaken
for a new kind of flower

A new lover:
lie in a hammock
smoke opium together
dye your hair orange, curl it.

A shopping expedition:
in the most elegant store,
buy a red dress, a fan -
a pearl handled revolver.


I am not going to give you any advice
because in a moment you can lose all the beautiful things
you have loved.
And then it will be hard
and for a long time
to look at the sky
and the clouds will be your enemy
and the moon will be a knife.


© Copyright 2002 John Burkhardt.