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The Poetry of Caregiving

power of words. He has always, as a poet and essayist and storyteller, been fascinated with the passage of time—with the march of generations and with the particular understanding of death that comes to those who watch the seasons carefully, year after year.

"In college, they called me the cellar-hole poet," he once said, referring to the ghostlike holes in the ground that dot the woods of New England, remaining visible long after the houses that stood above them have burned or rotted. That's because, he explains, "I wrote about loss. I was full of it. I hayed in fields that had once been thick with pine."

But writing about Kenyon was different. Writing during her illness became a kind of life raft. While she was dying, he began writing the first collection of poems about life without her, called Without. He finished it in the year following her death. The title poem in the collection begins this way:

we lived in a small island stone nation
without color under gray clouds and wind
distant the unlimited ocean acute
lymphoblastic leukemia without seagulls
or palm trees without vegetation
or animal life only barnacles and lead
colored moss that darkened when months did

hours days weeks months weeks days hours
the year endured without punctuation
february without ice winter sleet
snow melted recovered but nothing
without thaw although cold streams hurtled
no snowdrop or crocus rose no yellow
no red leaves of maple without october

—Donald Hall
From "Without"

Hall's house is filled with art and artifacts. Below are more vignettes—a poster from one of Kenyon's poetry readings; an old pay phone; a collection of toy baseball figurines (Hall and Kenyon were avid baseball fans); a portrait of Charles Laughton above an antique woodstove; and an advertising poster for which Hall posed as a child.

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