Living Paper by Elinor Benedict

How can a paper napkin turn into a poem?

Easy. But hard. Link it with a loved person and fire. Flame is the link in my poem “To a Great-Grandmother Who Loves Fire.” Human beings have long been fascinated and ignited by it. Think of fire warming the hearth, or cut-down trees burning into smoke and flying up a stone chimney into cloud. The lady in my poem had the lively curiosity of a femal Prometheus, the good blood of a lively red-seeded pomegranate, and a spirit that struck a match in the dark.

The poem itself began this way: On a cloudy day my husband and I stopped at a turnpike resturant on the road to a family farewell for a woman who had ignited us all the one time or another. Feeling loss, I fingered the cafe’s cheap paper napkin and began jotting down words and phrases with a ball point pen, hardly knowing what I wrote. I came back to that paper for years, until it became the poem it is.


Who was she? Her name was Erma Benedict, called “BeeBee” by the younger generation. She was an artist. She graduated from Syracuse University on a rare scholarship – as one of the few women to study there before 1900. She excelled as a water colorist and an oil painter of a small town and rural landscapes. Her handmade note cards, favorites for birthday letters, burst into columbine, violets and coral bells, signed with a small, elegant double-B. Continue reading