In one of my favorites of Marc Hudson’s early poems, the Wabash English professor writes:
"You will discover your vocation:
You will write the history of rain…
You will record the resurrections rain accomplishes…"
I’ll confess that I attended Marc’s reading last Thursday—his first of any length since the death of his son, Ian, on December 30, 2002—hoping for resurrections. Marc’s art had been a lodestar to me for such hope before. But Ian’s death, at age 19, was such a blunt instrument, I feared the poet’s vision dimmed, his voice muted. Though nothing comparable to the loss of a child, I’ve had my own losses lately, and so has the campus. Marc’s is a voice we’ve needed.
And it was strong and clear on Thursday night.
"I wanted to read some poems about places," Marc began, "and about coming home to them."
First there was Washington State and "The History of Rain." Then Iceland, where he and his wife, Helen, spent 1980-81, and where Marc worked on a farm while translating Beowulf in a place where the "north wind was robbing the farmer blind," but where there also was "gold in the wind," and where Marc first thought about being a father.
Then back to Washington, where Ian was injured at birth and afflicted with cerebral palsy:
these were festival days.
Boys raced their ponies
down a cutbank, then across
the Okanogan. Now I understood
their ritual leap to mend
a broken life. I had been a curator of bones:
now I was the father of a small church made of them."
Then to Crawfordsville, where he bathed Ian for what he didn’t realize was the last time in his life:
"…you, cracking up at my antics
mocking my aged tastes
with your sidelong squint…"
And where he and Helen bathed him after his death:
"Under your long lashes,
your eyes appear half open,
they seem to be considering a difficult equation.
Has your breath contrived,
to continue without its body,
the way a boat does
when its oars are shipped
and it lifts into the further wave?
We put down our towels to listen;
No sound from those lips.
what sea do you cross?"
He read a work written for a vigil protesting the beginning of the War in Iraq in March 2003:
"We laid him down,
We let him go,
His mother, his sister, and I
into the wooden hole of his coffin…
…our son, like one of those gone for a soldier to the Gulf…
…Operation Shock and Awe
Hot metal will rain on Baghdad
a human dust will rise and mingle
with the red Tigris wind…"
And anger rose in his voice as he considered those willing to send the children of others to die:
"Friends, fellow citizens,
War is the worst inhuman thing,
and burying your child,
even in peace,
is like placing into a boat
every little possession you held dear
and pushing it into the breakers."
He introduced his current project, a book-length poem entitled "Swimming the Acheron" after the mythical River of Sorrow that encircles Hades. This work-in-progress is a homecoming to the epic form he’s translated and written in previously; there’s also anger at the doctor who delivered Ian, anger at himself, and guilt.
"I must follow my son down into the darkness…"
"The next part of the poem, I hope, will have more light," Marc practically apologized. "In it, I talk to my father. And I hope, finally, to talk to my son in this poem, and then make my way back home."
Not wanting to leave us in a darkness he’s known for too long, the poet concluded with the recent "Late Summer Stanzas," and its world where "August was gold out my window."
"One of my great pleasures is gardening; I love sunflowers," Marc said, introducing the piece."And if you have sunflowers, you will have goldfinches. One of the great joys of gardening is watching the goldfinches feeding as they balance on the backs of the sunflowers."
It was a cheerful image, but walking home I couldn’t help but recall the poet’s "Swimming the Acheron." The title is no mere literary reference. Marc is a good recreational swimmer. And in the poem "July 29," he writes:
"My boy also
is a swimmer, for whom desire
He is my dolphin, my little Odysseus.
Death could not steal
from his eyes the dawn
of his homecoming."
As I walked home, I thought of Marc and his daily swims at lunch hour at the Allen Center and how they might have inspired his "Swimming the Acheron"—what he might see there, who he might speak with, and what he’ll come back to tell us. I wondered if some of us who have known loss may be following in his wake.
I came to a reading looking for resurrections. What I found was a poet come home with hope. As his colleague, Tom Campbell, noted during his introduction, Marc’s is "a voice we’ve needed during these difficult times."
The generous applause following Marc’s reading lent Tom’s words a hearty "amen," and the poet seemed to genuinely enjoy this homecoming.
As Marc said earlier that evening, "It takes a bit more time to find the poetry of Indiana than it does the poetry of the Cascades, or Puget Sound, or Iceland. A more subtle beauty, it requires a more rooted heart. Perhaps the muse is a little thinner, but the vein grows deep."