So, Harper Lee died the other day. This made me rather sad, because she’s been my hero since I was 13, and now I’ll never get to meet her. But she left behind quite the legacy: arguably the greatest American novel ever written, and the only enjoyable section of lit class in high schools everywhere.
Anyway, I couldn’t think of anything profound to say about a woman who said everything so well, so I wrote a poem for her instead. I’m sure she would have hated it. Here it is:
Your words are a strong house
raised from the same Alabama mud as your
sharp bones, your smiling skin.
Its warm, sun-baked walls hang
heavy with time and countless rains,
but the windchimes dance on the porch
and every window is open.
It is a house to be silent in.
A place for looking and listening.
The only music a mockingbird’s cry.
For you, word-builder, loved silence also–
to chase away the noise of fame
and accept praise, derision with only
You were pale
and mysterious, cooped up in your house,
though not out of shame,
and I used to lean on your fence,
peer at the windows,
wishing for a tongue to tell you.
For you had given me much:
a new set of spectacles, through which
all people looked more lovely.
You had given me laughter
and sharp, tearing beauty
and a windy, impossible dream.
You have left your house now
and it is the only fitting headstone.
Your words and silences,
fitted together like bricks in mortar
and finished at last.
But you already knew about finishing:
how to speak your piece, bow, and leave the stage
having done one thing well.