Šalamun I knew only through his poetry, especially that work translated by Brian Henry. Emerson I was lucky to call a friend. We’d met several times beforehand, but I really got to know her in 2008 when I delivered a paper on Natasha Trethewey on a panel titled “Claudia Emerson and Peers” at the 2008 Bridgewater College International Poetry Festival in VA. I had the chance to spend a good amount of time with Claudia there, and I was charmed by her way of being in the world: with great kindness, but also with a refusal to suffer foolishness. In the years that followed, we stayed in touch at AWP and via Facebook. A few months ago in September, just a few days after Natasha Trethewey’s dad, Rick, died, I made the drive to Richmond to see Natasha, who was to appear at VCU. It was a chance to visit my MFA alma mater, and also a chance to visit with Natasha, an old friend, and offer her what support I could. It was also a chance to see Claudia again. She was to participate in the event by interviewing Natasha, with whom she had been friends for years.
When I arrived at the venue, I spied David Wojahn and Kathleen Graber and went over to say hello. They told me that Claudia had suffered a fall earlier that day and had broken her arm. She was in the hospital, and so they would be standing in for Claudia. I knew that Claudia’s cancer was getting worse, so I realized then that I might not see Claudia again. Via Facebook I learned that she was undergoing a few last desperate treatments, but soon the posts stopped and then the terrible news.
“Through room after room
I follow the mockingbird, mocking
no other, calling out with original
voice the generation that speaks also
in me, in this wing that leaves the house
behind it forgotten . . ..”