A Weekend in the Catskills: A Tribute to Maureen Holm

I met Maureen Holm more than 20 years ago when I submitted a prose piece to BigCityLit. She was the prose and essay editor. She called me on the phone (!) to tell me that she thought my story would work better in a poem. I was not writing poetry then. She directed me to read Galway Kinnell. At the time, I had no idea who Kinnell was. Maureen was a generous editor. Subsequently I met her at a poetry reading she organized at a Jewish Community Center on the West Side. Yevgeny Yevtushenko turned up! Maureen read a poem in an incantatory language that she made up. She was an original. She had quit her job as a corporate lawyer to devote herself to the lyric poem. She wrote a manifesto about lyricism, but unfortunately, I no longer have it, and Nick discarded it also when she died. She was fluent in French and made some money as a translator. I helped her with her lyric poetry festivals (I had a car so I could help her lug stuff). From 2003 to 2006, Nick published 5 of my poems.

A Weekend in the Catskills
for Maureen Holm (1951-2005)
by N.G. Haiduck

Ye Old Country Inn, spruced up,
now serves good meals.
That big old oak tree is gone though.
The roots pushed up the dirt driveway,
now paved with asphalt.
The grocery store is still there,
next to the Post Office.
The cemetery is still there on the hill,
the Church of Christ beside it.
The Pine Springs Resort is now a Bible camp.
The Limelight restaurant burned down,
but the foundation is still there.
All the roads are still there.
The goats are still there.
There are still cows, not as many,
but still there, and cow dung in the air.
There are still red barns and cornfields.
There is still that lot with the yellow buses,
ivy grown all over them,
and those barking country dogs.

She had a shabby little house by Catskill Creek.
I brought over a bottle of Chianti,
but when I tried to rinse the glasses –
she had gold-rimmed, crystal wine glasses –
I couldn’t, no water.
She showed me her good white china.
She said she was going to keep improving the house
and supplying it and when she was ready to retire,
the house would be just perfect.
She said I could use the bathroom to pee, but not to flush.
We stayed up at her house drinking that bottle of wine,
talking about poetry Friday night until about 2 a.m.

I picked her up Saturday and we drove ‘till we saw
tractors on a lawn, a store by the roadside.
She wanted to buy a weed-whacker. She said
the neighbors were complaining about the weeds,
up to the windows in front of the house.
But the weed-whacker was too expensive.
We drove up and down the mountains
and talked about poetry.
I suggested borrowing a neighbor’s scythe.
She knew all about scythes, how to hold the handle
and how the blade, swinging in tune with a body,
cuts down the grass.

Sunday she wanted me to come over and sit and talk some more.
She had whacked down most of the weeds
with her bare hands and a kitchen knife,
but the house still looked condemned.
She was wearing the same clothes.
I suggested planting hostas, ground cover.
She knew all about gardens.
She used to have a beautiful garden out by the creek.
She had azaleas, a dogwood tree, daffodils
and blue forget-me-nots covering the ground in Spring.

She had peonies, rhododendron, and lilac trees.
She had purple rose bushes, clematis and fruit trees,
day lilies and black-eyed Susan.
She had vinca and honeysuckle and bamboo
which got out of hand.
She had laurel and lavender and lily of the valley.
She had yarrow and yellow oleander.
She had red geraniums in the window sills.
She had sunflowers.

In a clearing by the creek, she had a vegetable garden.
One Summer evening she and her man
made a salad with lettuce from their garden
and they sat on the floor in the living room and ate it.
What a wonderful meal it was.