On the day that W.S. Merwin died I did not plant a tree.
I watered the palm in my living room. While I was at it, I watered all the other plants in the house.
When peaceful people die they leave the less peaceful ones behind to process their absence. This is where I’m at.
I remember being in The Merwin Conservancy in Maui, September 2017: a chaotic return of palms swinging over my head. When you visit one of your favorite poet’s gardens, which happens to be in Hawai’i, and the trip also is your honeymoon, you have a 100% chance of desperately falling for the moment and the confluences that buoy you spiritually.
That visit has stayed with me, nearly 1.5 years afterwards. When I emailed Sara Tekula at the Merwin Conservancy to beg them to host a tour during my 7 day timeframe in Maui, I couldn’t know then that not only would she accommodate a desperate poet like me, but that the visit would stay with me and my writing for some time afterward.
If you’re interested in the photographs I took at The Merwin Conservancy (like the one above) you can view them here.
If you read the obituaries you will generally hear that The Carrier of Ladders (1970) is Merwin’s greatest work. It did win a Pulitzer in 1971. It also is representative of a moment in time in Vietnam-era America. But I remind you that prizes are meaningless and usually awarded after the fact, or in other words, rewarded for one work of art too late. The Lice (1967) is Merwin’s greatest book of poetry and you deserve to read it. For less explicable reasons, I am also partial to The Vixen (1996). But Merwin’s greatest work, along with the help of his wife Paula, is The Merwin Conservancy. Merwin’s best and most singular individual poems - the ones most frequently posted on the Internet - were generally written later in his career, scattershot in books here and there.
Merwin’s death comes at a strange time for me personally. I wrote an essay about visiting The Merwin Conservancy that is currently being made into a zine. The essay was written after Paula Merwin had passed, but before William (WS) had.
Since writing this essay, I’ve been thinking about time periods between spouses passing, like what my grandfather is living through now, widowed five years ago. I think it’s important to not weigh these inevitable moments with additional sadness. I think we need to discuss them more as a culture. I think the essay, when illustrated by my collaborator Ben Marcus, will help make the essay itself a garden.
A good way of life is to turn everything you love into a garden.
Since he died, I’ve been asked by others what my favorite poem is by Merwin. I don’t have a good answer for that question. The reason why is that Merwin’s life speaks more to me than his poems do. The way in which he chose to exist in the world is what has always stuck out to me.
Instead of leaving you with a poem, I’ll leave you with W.S. Merwin’s rules for living and writing, which were taught to me by his head gardener, Olin Erikson, when I visited The Merwin Conservancy:
~ Pay attention
~ Seek balance and harmony
~ Put care and love into all that you do
You will be missed, William.