The Poetry of Caregiving
inventive in thinking up new ways to help. They burn out, you know. They become attached to particular patients and again and again watch them die." Hall was aware that the nurses talked among themselves about the couple—having noticed the way he looked at her and how much in love they were.
Their love was almost as famous as their poetry. In 1993, Bill Moyers made an Emmy Award-winning documentary about the couple called A Life Together. Kenyon was 19 years younger than Hall; the two had met when she was a student of Hall's at the University of Michigan. The irony of her untimely death—despite the fact that she was somuch younger than he; despite the fact that he'd had colon cancer which, in 1992, had metastasized to his liver; despite the fact that he'd been told then that he had only a one-in-three chance of living three years—does not escape him to this day.
Kenyon could not talk much in the final stages of her illness, he says, so he would simply sit beside her, writing. But then she'd pipe up from her bed. "Perkins!" she would say (that being Kenyon's pet name for her husband), "What are you writing?"
"I read the poem 'Without' to her at her bedside," Hall remembers, "and she said, 'You've got it, Perkins!'" In the final weeks before Kenyon's death, the two spent hours each day discussing and choosing and editing poems by Kenyon that would be published in a posthumous collection titled Otherwise. (When she died, Kenyon was the poet laureate of New Hampshire —a role that Hall had held from 1984 to 1989.)
In the journal Kenyon kept during her 15-month illness, she wrote: "The nurses remind me of Special Collection librarians the way they guard me." Hall wrote: "No one medical ever minced words with us; no one condescended or minimized danger."
What made Hall such a good caregiver? Was it something in his childhood? He recalls that while he was growing up, ill family members would be brought home to Eagle Pond Farm. Hall watched his mother care for her mother, as her ancestors before her had cared for their parents. And Hall and Kenyon later cared
together for their own aging mothers. He was an only child who received the "total attention" of his parents. "I learned," he says, "how to be mother-like."
Hall also used writing to get through Kenyon's dying. He calls himself an elegiac poet, and in a sense this has always been the case—even before Kenyon fell ill. From the time he began writing poetry, at age 12, he has written about the family homestead in Wilmot, where his great-grandfather settled in 1865. He calls it the "poetry house," because it was there, as a boy, that he listened avidly to his grandfather's stories and first came to believe in the evocative