• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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I’ll See You in the Sky Above, in the Tall Grass, in the Ones I Love


When I was a lost and deeply depressed graduate student at Columbia University, I had the great good fortune of having a poetry workshop with Denis Johnson. I had read his first collection of poetry, The Incognito Lounge, many times, usually at my favorite cafe in the west village. He was gorgeous, his voice sonorous. During our first class, he seemed to be having some kind of panic attack because he couldn’t speak. And when a student kept hounding him, he fled to the bathroom. I fled the program a few months later. I wrote to Denis Johnson and told him that I was hospitalized and something of what I was going through. Some months later, he replied. He encouraged me to get well and go back to school if I wanted to. He encouraged the school to take me back. Most of all he encouraged me to keep writing. When he died earlier this week, I had a vision of him sitting in Riverside Park watching the silky waters of the Hudson go by.


10 Responses

  1. Beautiful vision. I’m glad Denis Johnson encouraged you to keep writing. May he rest in peace.

  2. Betsy, I raise my cup fo Denis, and I raise my cup to you.

    You have been missed, and painfully.

  3. “I am a part of all that I have met.”
    — Tennyson, from Ulysses

    Beautiful tribute, Betsy.

  4. He was a genius and beautiful and a lovely, lovely person.

  5. I went out and read a bit about him since I didn’t know who he was, and he sounded like a wonderful, generous person. The fact he replied back to you, encouraged you to keep writing and to get well even when it seemed he suffered horribly, proves that.

    May he rest in peace.

  6. Denis came to my grad school, and since I went to school late, this was around 2009. I got to sit around a conference room table with him for about 2 hours. He was uncomfortable, he was odd, he was extraordinary. He was fucking mesmerizing. I’m so thankful for those 2 hours.

    And the first few pages of Tree of Smoke are just about the best few pages I’ve ever read.

  7. A Poem about Baseballs
    By Denis Johnson

    for years the scenes bustled
    through him as he dreamed he was
    alive. then he felt real, and slammed

    awake in the wet sheets screaming
    too fast, everything moves
    too fast, and the edges of things
    are gone. four blocks away

    a baseball was a dot against
    the sky, and he thought, my
    glove is too big, i will

    drop the ball and it will be
    a home run. the snow falls
    too fast from the clouds,
    and night is dropped and

    snatched back like a huge
    joke. is that the ball, or is
    it just a bird, and the ball is
    somewhere else, and i will
    miss it? and the edges are gone, my

    hands melt into the walls, my
    hands do not end where the wall
    begins. should i move
    forward, or back, or will the ball

    come right to me? i know i will
    miss, because i always miss when it
    takes so long. the wall has no
    surface, no edge, the wall

    fades into the air and the air is
    my hand, and i am the wall. my
    arm is the syringe and thus i

    become the nurse, i am you,
    nurse. if he gets
    around the bases before the
    ball comes down, is it a home

    run, even if i catch it? if we could
    slow down, and stop, we
    would be one fused mass careening
    at too great a speed through
    the emptiness. if i catch

    the ball, our side will
    be up, and i will have to bat,
    and i might strike out.

  8. XO Betsy.
    No words today, just love as the sky weeps…still.

  9. So sorry you lost someone so special, but that influence in your young life is priceless. I lost a writing encourager recently. My 7th grade teacher. She never knew of her influence and when I heard of her death it just made me happy to have known her.

  10. What a loving personal memory. I m huge fan girl but his obits were so…plain. Thanks for yours

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