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This report is taken from PN Review 244, Volume 45 Number 2, November - December 2018.

Visiting Donald Hall

The First Time
Lucy Cheseldine
In the poem ‘Her Long Illness’, printed intermittently throughout his collection Without, Donald Hall wrote vividly on his wife Jane Kenyon’s terminal cancer:

    They flew all day across
the country to the hospital for hard cases.
    The night before Jane
entered isolation in Seattle for chemo,
    TBI, and a stranger’s
bone marrow – for life or death – they slept
    together, as they understood,
maybe for the last time. His body
    curved into Jane’s,
his knees tucked into the back of her knees;
    he pressed her warm soft thighs,
back, waist, and rump, making the spoons
    and the spoons clattered
with a sound like the end man’s bones.

As I landed in Boston, these lines clattered around my fuzzy head, ringing all too close to the bone. The comfort of limbs and bodies dissolve to cartilage; movement is end-stopped by modern transport and medical quarantine. My legs ached form the six-hour flight, as I stuffed them into a waiting car heading, now, to Donald Hall’s calling hours at the funeral parlour. Don, as he became known to me over our correspondence, had been generous and forthcoming about his work and life. I was to interview him at his home in New Hampshire for my doctoral thesis. Until three days ago, I had been preparing for this conversation, but I suddenly faced a more muted dialogue between his words and our lives. At the kind invitation of his assistant, like the poet-couple, ...

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