Poem-a-Day Friday: Linda Hogan


Last night I had a phone conversation with a friend from Austin: a sophomore in college, a girl I adore, a dear soul who has been battling cancer for the past few years. She texted me while I fed the boys their dinner. She asked if we could talk that night. Oh, I dreaded that phone call. All through the bedtime ritual, I thought: Dear God, what is she going to tell me? I feared the worst. I prepared my heart. I thought about that need to hold both the sorrow and the joy, the beautiful and the broken, in one hand, all at once. I prayed for courage to walk with her through the worst.

Instead, that sweet girl called to say it was gone. The most recent set of tests had come back and the cancer was gone. She was clear.

What?! I said. And we laughed and the tears came and she said, Yes. And I said, What?! And she told the story and it was all miracle. Cancer free.

So I’m bringing back Poem-a-Day Friday with this one. It’s rich and hard and gritty in the very best way.

I dedicate it my friend: Cancer-free, baby! (It’s time to throw that party.)

The History of Red


there was some other order of things
never spoken
but in dreams of darkest creation.


Then there was black earth,
lake, the face of light on water.
Then the thick forest all around
that light,
and then the human clay
whose blood we still carry
rose up in us
who remember caves with red bison
painted in their own blood,
after their kind.


A wildness
swam inside our mothers,
desire through closed eyes,
a new child
wearing the red, wet mask of birth,
delivered into this land
already wounded,
stolen and burned
beyond reckoning.


Red is this yielding land
turned inside out
by a country of hunters
with iron, flint and fire.
Red is the fear
that turns a knife back
against men, holds it at their throats,
and they cannot see the claw on the handle,
the animal hand
that haunts them
from some place inside their blood.


So that is hunting, birth,
and one kind of death.
Then there was medicine, the healing of wounds.
Red was the infinite fruit
of stolen bodies.
The doctors wanted to know
what invented disease
how wounds healed
from inside themselves
how life stands up in skin,
if not by magic.


They divined the red shadows of leeches
that swam in white bowls of water:
they believed stars
in the cup of sky.
They cut the wall of skin
to let
what was bad escape
but they were reading the story of fire
gone out
and that was a science.
As for the animal hand on death’s knife,
knives have as many sides
as the red father of war
who signs his name
in the blood of other men.


And red was the soldier
who crawled
through a ditch
of human blood in order to live.
It was the canal of his deliverance.
It is his son who lives near me.
Red is the thunder in our ears
when we meet.
Love, like creation,
is some other order of things.


Red is the share of fire
I have stolen
from root, hoof, fallen fruit.
And this was hunger.


Red is the human house
I come back to at night
swimming inside the cave of skin
that remembers bison.
In that round nation
of blood
we are all burning,
red, inseparable fires
the living have crawled
and climbed through
in order to live
so nothing will be left
for death at the end.


This life in the fire, I love it.
I want it,
this life.


Linda Hogan, “The History of Red” from The Book of Medicines. Copyright © 1993 by Linda Hogan.
Source: The Book of Medicines (Coffee House Press, 1993)
  • http://www.throughaglass.net Kari

    I was just wondering yesterday if poem-a-day Friday would be coming back now that you are settling in. :)

    • michaboyett

      Thank you, Kari! So honored you’re thinking about Poem-a-Day Fridays in the middle of your life. : ) Hopefully I’ll be back to ACTUALLY READING soon so I can keep it going!

  • Mark Allman

    Great news about your friend. Great poem too.

  • Mark Allman

    I ‘ve done some art work where I made up the phrase “I’ve been washed in red” or “washed in red” as the theme.

    • michaboyett

      Yeah, that image is so powerful, right? We don’t think about it enough in the church. It’s so easy to sing about being “washed in the blood” and not consider how strong an image (profane? disgusting?) that actually is. But how powerful it is too. Our whole history has been about blood, right? And then to have a Christian perspective where Jesus actually asks us to drink his blood and eat his flesh. It’s too much and it’s everything, somehow. I’ll have to keep thinking on that, Mark. Thanks for bringing it up.

      • Mark Allman

        But blood is precious too. It sustains our life. The imagery is strong when someone says “I’ll bleed for you”. Blood in our bodies makes deliveries and removals. Christ Blood delivers us from our punishment and deliverers us to heaven and the blood removes the stain of sin.

      • Mark Allman

        But you are right Micha… who would really want to be washed in blood? Or who would want to drink it(I know there are some). I do remember how God said that blood called out to him.

  • http://wordsofjoy.blogspot.co.uk Joy Lenton

    Thanks for sharing this wonderfully evocative poem that celebrates the very life coursing through our veins. It is a fitting tribute to your friends’s great news. So pleased I saw the tweet and clicked to read! :)

    • michaboyett

      Thanks s much for stopping by, Joy. I’m so glad you liked it as much as I did…

  • http://tumbledweeds.wordpress.com campbell c. hoffman

    This poem is so alive, so raw. At the end, to have crawled through the red fires, “so nothing will be left
    for death at the end” — this, I love. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://justabitofsilliness.blogspot.com Dawn

    Wow. Thank you for posting poems.

  • http://www.pbs.org/food/recipes/zucchini-au-gratin/ Flavia Eberl

    Adversity is the touchstone of friendship.