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.

lies-beneath

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