The Iowa Source: "Meg White lives in Iowa City with her fish, Gills, and a hearty collection of cookbooks, poems, and biographies. The daughter of a reluctant debutante, Meg is descended from a long line of strong, irreverent Southern women who firmly believe in not taking themselves too darn seriously."
this is the shallow side of night one false hop and
you are prone to flying. And only this morning a
V of black birds dropped down into the yard and
you woke with them came back for them pulled
out of another dream of your hand gone brown
the cells had stopped remaking themselves and
the hand was dead. Your hand no more than your
heart. it's the same heart you started with the
same heart you “have locked” yourself into. You
use the knowledge of this to weight you against
the fairness of the birds' landing, against the true
threat of flight.
the clouds move closer to earth
not because of climate or gravity but because
there is less for them to be wary of.
the eager ones on the not too distant horizon
are crawling against the path which is cut by
the cow-studded green curves of terrain.
this is how it is here.
there is land and sky everywhere and what i'd
expect to make me feel small, even lonely, only
makes me more intent on belonging.
there isn't much all this space, all these zealous
clouds will not proffer, will not tenderly take as their own
while lulling me into an empty, fair sleep.
i am left to dream only the smallest of hopes,
a precious burden called home.
kansas city of all places
but this placid suburban street could be anywhere
each pale lit window could fit
inside any one of rectangular, brick houses
each intent hand that pressed a lamp
switch could have illumined any of the others
each fragile soul's burden as cloistered as the
one breathing next to it.
"we are dying, egypt, dying."
this is the promise of America i think as i
swim the black roads of her heartland.
quiet and wounded but as perfect as any of
the undiscovered others.
You knew what it was like already
because you'd done it
with your friend Betty's older brother
a nineteen year old body pressed up
against a sixteen year old body
on a twin bed in a room with purple walls
and an “Easy Rider” poster
you didn't feel much
but after your wrists
of all things were sore.
years later you'll realize
it had all been familiar somehow
familiar in the sense that when
somebody rubs their hips into you
and you rub yours back
the thing you're really wanting
gets stirred up inside
but it doesn't have a name yet
then one thick August day
you'll be walking by the copy shop
on your way to the grocery store
and there'll be this flash of purple
and the flash of purple will become
a size four yellow rayon dress
with pearl buttons on the sleeves
and there's a girl inside
with deep brown eyes
and you'll know it was her
hips you were rubbing some stranger with
and the thing you were wanting
gets named but it hurts too much
to actually say so you'll focus
hard on the neon “4 cent copies” sign
and keep walking
the thing is
from here on out
you'll step a little softer
like you're weighing yourself
from the inside out
those sixteen year old hips
bare and hungry
in a size four dress
they have plowed the purslane
up the road from me and it is hard
I came here from Baltimore where
we made do with only small plats of
on sundays and in the early evenings
we emerged from our thin, brick houses
with aluminum watering cans and mail order gardening tools
we planted imported bulbs in 7 dollar nitrogen
enriched dirt in a hive of passing cars and police
we made a ritual of our urban husbandry
each bud, every precious leaf, a frail
symbol of a place in the natural order
that would not abandon us to the asphalt
and our volkswagens
anthropologists warn of the inherent
bias of judging what we do not know by
what we do.
the faultlines of seeing one furrowed iowa
field as an untimely death
young girl speaking with venus
For Carol Gilligan, 1991
she asks if i am cold
my tongue is bound in this stone
i cannot say yes
she asks if i would like some clothes
and i would but stay bare
she can see i miss my arms
and my large fine hands
that i am desperate when a child cries
and i used to cup the rain
she sees more than most
and exactly what she must
i cannot say yes
i was not born to this stone
and most of all i miss my large fine hands full with rain.
astronomers say dark matter
holding you and me
and the rest of the universe
in our places
me, here, in this bed chair
earth on tilting north axis
you and your milky way head
leaning out the car window
driving fast like the
aurora you were born to be and
not the limbus of a man
this matter and my cut breast
have made you.
This is, in fact, a real truth of science.
wider still and rising
the iowa river turns silver at dusk
in what seems a feeble attempt to deflect the sky
in recent months it has torn down levies.
swallowed our fields, put us out of our homes
and left dead fish in the hallways
i walk along the dubuque street bridge
and lean over the remaining 4 feet of exposed
concrete and drown my hands in surrender
in an attempt to understand the mother
that exists between earth and rain
i cup my fingers, pull freshly torn soil and lily
root up through the surface and allow a rose-
trellised cloud to reflect itself against
the water that cradles the kidnapped ground inside
At night you respected the omnipotence
of the dead and would wake with them
inside you, wondering if the moon dreams
were theirs or yours.
Days they left you to yourself
and you and Carla Hast would hide
inside the hedge at the end of the ghost
trail, smoke Lucky Strikes you had
stolen from her father and laugh
about your slyness. You had a bright
blue portable record player and a Beatles
album that got ruined from the backyard
fall of pine pollen. Your bedroom walls
were done in orange with paint you picked
from Sears. You took diving lessons and
ate waffle crackers, feigned upset
stomachs to stay home from school
in order to watch "The Edge of Night."
Still they came with eyes half closed but
their hands open. Gin on their breath
and razor stubble. Shirts on some nights
and off on the others until it was only
the dead that mattered that year in the end.
The dead, the dead and, lastly, the dead.
"The Meg White Experience": Laughter, compassion and "give 'em hell" activism
by Andy Douglas
My friend Meg White used to like to play Lucinda Williams’ “Sweet Old World,” a song sung to someone who has committed suicide, over and over on her stereo — “See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world.”
Meg loved a sad country song.
Devastatingly, Meg opted to leave this sweet old world herself, a few weeks ago. Sometimes people don’t know how much they’re cared for. It takes a tragedy for the scope of that care to become apparent. And then it may be too late.
In the end, it was the grip of a disease called depression that closed around her. I imagine she felt alone, and, overwhelmed by health problems, opted to end her pain.
Such a death seems incomprehensible. We ask, what more could I have done? Why didn’t I stay in touch more? How is it that people slip through the cracks?
Raging and ruminating, obsessing over the things she lost, the things we won’t be able to share with her now, I’m thinking, too, about the ways she touched people. Her lyrical, perceptive poetry. Her passionate love of music and art. Her give-’em-hell, Mother Jones-style activism. Her strong compassion. Her laughter.
Friends have been coming forward, sharing stories, anecdotes. Memories bubble up.
Like the time she walked into the animal shelter and saw a young black Lab climbing to the top of a 10-foot fence and, admiring his spunk, said, “That’s the dog for me.” Or the evening of music and readings she hosted a few years ago in the space above the Deadwood, jokingly dubbed “The Meg White Experience.” Her wit on her Facebook page, like the caption she posted to the photo of a cool undersea house: “Finally got the bedroom renovations done.” Or her extraordinary gifts in the kitchen.
Many people are surprised to learn that Meg started the Agape Café. She was working for the Episcopal chaplaincy at Old Brick and had the idea to offer breakfast to homeless people in an elegant setting — extending dignity to those who often don’t get much respect. It was a profound idea, and the Agape Café continues until today.
Or they don’t know that she served as campaign manager for the successful city council run of Bruno Piggott, back when Iowa City had a progressive tilt on the council.
Meg’s depression goes back a few years, and on occasion, she was hospitalized for it. A debilitating back injury complicated things, and unfortunately, for a while, she became addicted to pain meds. But, sign of her fighting spirit, she kicked it and had been clean ever since. Still, she often was in pain.
Depression seems complicated: a despairing bleakness that grips the soul, a one-day-at-a-time, barely maintaining kind of thing.
But it’s the most common mental health disorder. Close to 19 million American adults suffer from a depressive illness in any given year, and the risk of suicide in people with major depression is about 20 times that of the general population. Most suicidal people want to live; they’re just unable to see alternatives to their problems.
We carry on. I’ll miss Meg, and — the tenuous briefness of our time here driven home again — I’ll be trying harder to let other friends know how much they mean to me. Toward the end, Meg may have felt she didn’t have much of a voice. So I’ll let her have the last, compassionate, word, with a message she posted on Facebook some time back:
“We have no way of knowing what demons people face, or how they fare against them. So love them.”
Special thanks to Garry Klein and Andy Douglas