Poetry Sunday:
“For Jane,” by Joan Baranow


For Jane

You would have liked how the early
sun lays a silver glaze
on each curved wrist of the spicebush,

and how beyond Stage Coach Road
a chainsaw shreds an old spruce,
its burr rising high…then low…
like strife followed by solace.

Donald’s gone now six weeks.
We remember you nursed him
through his brief cancer, and then
the addled cells struck you next,
deliberate, as if with malice.

Nothing could keep you here,
not prayer, nor poison. You left us
the calm lattice of your words.

Now a freight train heaves itself
down in the ravine,
a cardinal dips past.
The cicadas keep up their steady rasp.

So much insistent life here,
the air sweats with it.
Life you saw into, the way poets do.


This poem is published with permission of the poet. Listen to her reading the poem here.

Joan Baranow directs the Humanities MA and Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing programs at Dominican University in California. Her poetry has appeared in The Paris Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Antioch Review, Feminist Studies, JAMA, and other magazines. She is author of two poetry chapbooks: Morning: Three Poems and Blackberry Winter. Her full-length poetry collection, Living Apart, was published by Plain View Press. Her new book, In the Next Life, is forthcoming this year from Poetic Matrix Press, and will be available for order here.

With her husband, physician and poet David Watts, Baranow produced the PBS documentary Healing Words: Poetry & Medicine. Her second film, The Time We Have, is a feature-length documentary about a young woman with osteosarcoma; you can read more about these films and projects here. Joan and David founded and operate www.wolfridgepress.com, dedicated to producing “beautiful books, inside and out” and featuring poems “that push the imagination to unexpected places, delight us with clear soundings of the human voice, and ultimately usher us to a place of healing.”


Poet’s Note

When Donald Hall died last summer, I couldn’t help but reflect on the irony of his surviving his wife, Jane Kenyon, for so many years. My husband David and I met them both at the Dodge Poetry Festival after Donald had been treated for metastatic colon cancer. He was keen to speak with David (a gastroenterologist) about the potentially fatal disease looming over them. David reassured them that the odds, though uncertain, weren’t dire, but a few years later Jane was diagnosed with leukemia and died within fifteen months.

In my poem I seek to pay tribute to Jane’s images, which reflect the intersection of the human and natural worlds. I am in awe of her poetry, which seems quiet and unassuming, but whose accuracies of perception make the most mundane sight—a dog chasing a stick, laundry drying on the line—into something profound. (Watch an interview with  Baranow here.)

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  • Gail Willis March 11, 2019 at 2:32 am

    When I saw this title I immediately thought of Theodore Roethke’s poem ‘Elegy for Jane (my student thrown by a horse) one of my favorites of his. The thread that ties that and this poem for me is that Roethke grew up in Saginaw Michigan and got his undergraduate degree at UM where Donald Hall later taught. Roethke taught at the University of Washington where I was a student in the early 1960’s shortly before his untimely though not unexpected death in 1963. During that same time Donald Hall gave a wonderful reading on campus. As a Junior high student I went to hear Roethke and Dylan Thomas give a reading. Roisterers both they had spent the afternoon drinking themselves into an almost stuperous state; that was an eye-opener for a literary wannabe little girl. It did not however dim my admiration for their poetry.