A few days ago, one of my most beloved authors died, at a good but still too-early age. I learned of her passing yesterday. Zilpha Keatley Snyder, more than any other author for magical young people when I was both magical and young, understood how to ply the line between knowing and hoping. Far more subtly, and utterly unproveably, she understood and thoroughly mapped the line between make-believe and true imagination. I hope these very spontaneous lines for her show just a hint of the depth of my respect:

14 October 2014


Love Laid Underhill

for Zilpha Keatley Snyder

You’ll cry about your father and your daughter till their trail goes cold,
till someone more than anyone still seeks the trace of love so old,
you’ll so adore the places where it lay in wait, like dreams grown wild,
and then you’ll feel both cold and sad and let your eyelids seal the child
who used to stare with hard, unsparing principles all the down the streets
where love was wont to let its children play outside. It loves and greets
the little human, upward-tending cast of eyesight sent the way
it means its longing, lovely magic—Let it lean, and let it play
toward the true, straight cast of vision someone who might mean us yet—
Dance about in frocks of silver, eyesight clouds where Moonlights wet
our long-occasioned beaches where the singing swimmers on us lie—
Don’t just be a fretful cast where song would crest, where eyes would cry
from out of old long memories through beaches where the salt tides rows
would still call back from old but living memory. We’re real; we’re those—
I’ll make immortal memories the next time I fall faint and wake.
Open oceans, real salt tides, my bloodstream, yours; it’s yours to take
when kind low skies recall the reasons we were sent to meet and love.
I’m much more than mourning’s sister’s claim on skies so white with dove,
so grey with summer coming down, so hushed with winter leaning low—
if I were fallen overboard, I’d love my death, as you well know—
A mountain range behind the seeing silhouette where all we stare—
He’s not stolen half a glance; he’s ours; we’re love made everywhere—
Then the cautious, stolen, soft-voiced moment where new dreams are born—
His hands and mine are held out wide; so many old soft skins are worn
where cunning little faces want to peer out, sweet, but wise, as years
accumulate amongst us. You are beautiful, old man, whose peers
just pass amongst our settled valley, singers who have seen, and still
remember how to call love home from everyone laid underhill.

Love, come home; my valley greets; my lover, too. I sing you so,
so many magic meanings. Till I can’t, please understand—I’ll flow
the sweet red running river blood is made of, as we greet and cry.
Life will move between us, like the land where oceans rise and—I—
Please understand the whole of living Earth is song about to rush,
and I am just a lonely signal fire where small true lights will hush
the hours where we’ll now lie together, called to see what we have seen.
Under such cold lonely depths. Love underhill. We’re all we’ve been—
and when in just a scant scarce hour from now, you’ll mean what we must see?
Love was always swimming close behind your eyes and mine. Please be
the sower who set simple, loving, multiply endeavored seed—
wherever my glad steps would glide. My tender, spelling, prayed one, speed
the music that’s been good to us, all carried on sweet breath that knows—
We’re the loved and gentle children angels wrote through books that rose
toward the settled salted cloud their loving words hung all throughout.
When we reach the open oceans’ shells’ wide gates, the songs that shout
will understand the more for our sad dancing that took steps to bear
imagining’s tomorrow morn. I’ll die, and wake, and know nowhere—

and then, I’ll rearise, one pillow under me, and one thin sheet.
I’m not only going to hide my eyes; I’ll die where both we greet.

Zilpha, you are one of the few who taught me the load-bearing bones of my work.


About J

formal verse poetry and commentary at
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