Wendy Barker, my oldest sister, a brilliant and beautiful poet who was beloved by thousands, died last week on March 11th. She was 80 years old, and still writing. She had been ill, but was scheduled to leave the hospital that day. She had a heart attack in the middle of the night.
I had planned to lead with a training and behavior post that I have half finished, mentioning Wendy under the usual farm-related “Meanwhile.” I couldn’t.
Here is a poem from her newest book, Weave, published by BKMK Press:
All the faces on the canvas, and all
the moving fleshy faces facing the ones flat and framed
on the walls, the living faces shifting
to a glimpse of a hooked nose, wrinkled chin, or one black
eye with a drift of braided hair covering
a cheek, and others full-faced, but never for long, as these
gallery-goers move about, facing one
frame and then another, as I sift among them, just another
face, and then, suddenly, before me,
the largest canvas in this wide room, one of Monet’s early
Nympheas, the water lilies’ petals seeming
to shift among the rounded leaves, their stems submerged in
layers of murky water, almost if
moving the way we are, the way faces from the past sift
into my dreams at night, of some
people I’d rather forget, and of people whose loss I grieve,
like the woman I sat beside in this same
museum five years ago, the two of us never shifting while
speaking of our long dear mothers,
and now, that woman, decades younger than I, has died
too, and how her face drifts to me
late into the night, and now, right in front of my own face,
a portrait of a man who looks so like
a man who once held me, his face engraved in the frames
of my mind, his brown eyes sifting
through this space of so many-goers drifting in this
white room, the way water lilies, their
colors, shift across a pond’s surface, before they go under.
I adored the poem the first time I read it, but never realized it’s depth until I had to type it out. How many times does it contain the word face, faces? Shift? Sift? Drift?
Thank you BKMK Press, for publishing what Wendy called her “life’s work.” It meant the world to her to have it published.
It is brilliant. I am, of course, completely objective.
I was able to fly down to San Antonio, late last fall, along with my dear niece Wendy Piatt, for a book launch and 80th birthday party. Here they are together:
You can imagine how grateful I am that I decided, at the last minute, to fly down for it.
Wendy and I shared a love of the natural world–of birds, and trees, and clouds, and flowers–and great writing. She was an esteemed poet, the kind of teacher who changed lives at the University of Texas-San Antonio, and a wonderful, wonderful sister. This doesn’t begin to represent the multitude of honors she has received, the many books of poetry that she has written, and the innumerable students who adored her. But, it’s what I can do right now.
She is survived by her husband, Steve Kellman, a famous writer and critic himself, and the love of her life, her son David Barker, our other sister, Liza Piatt, also an author, along with nieces, Wendy May Piatt, Annie Piatt, and Emily Edwards.
I loved her fiercely.
This book, Healing Visions, by my dear friend and kick ass photographer, Meg Boscov, and Matter Press, has been beside me every day. It is a book of her 52 of her best photographs, and the work of 52 internationally-known women writers, asked to write 100 words, no more, no less, to accompany each photo. I was honored to be asked to write a piece for one of my favorite ones. Here’s the cover, healing just in itself.
I’ll be back on track next time, but for now, well, you know.
I am so sorry for your loss. And happy for the love you shared and will share.
So sorry for your loss. There is nothing like the love and relationship between sisters. I hope the many memories of time spent with your sister bolsters your saddened heart.
I am so very sorry for your loss. Words are what we have on this blog but feel unsuited to the moment. I spent some time reading Wendy’s poems, so thank you and Wendy for that. I hope it’s not too presumptuous of me, I thought this poem, Swallow Watcher, was perfect in every way.
Every house needs someone to watch the swallows,
to half close the eyes, lean the head back
against a tall chair
in a garden, on a porch, in a courtyard.
It doesn’t matter if a cheap paperback
falls wrinkled from the knees,
a wine glass dangles
empty from the hand.
What matters is the watching:
the lifts and darts
of the small birds,
the racings and screechings over territory,
the jags and dips for insects,
the gliding on wind.
About the time
the neighbor’s porch light comes on
and the sky
can’t hold color any more
the swallow watcher moves inside
to the glare of living room lights,
but he turns, leans
against the cool glass of the sliding door,
and stares out at the dark sifting down,
quiet as feathers, as wings.
(First appeared in The American Scholar)
With deep sympathy. May all the wonderful memories you have of her be a blessing and a comfort now and always.
Chris from Boise says
Oh, Trisha! What sad, sad news. You all are in our hearts. What love and joy radiates from those photos of your two Wendys. May that love envelop you as you grieve.
So sorry for your loss, be kind to yourself.
I am deeply saddened to hear about your sister. I’m praying that you and your family will find comfort in this difficult season.
Charlotte Kasner says
I too am so sorry for your loss. What a talented pair of siblings.
What a beautiful tribute to your sister. I love the photos you posted of her — she looks absolutely captivating, and I can imagine that many, many will miss her. I’m so sorry for your loss.
I am so sorry for your loss Patricia. She was such an amazing woman to have accomplished so much and to have been so beloved. My deepest condolences.
Melanie Hawkes says
So sorry for your loss. But what a treasure her books are to all that read them and the legacy she leaves. As an aspiring poet, I shall research her books and learn from a master. Thank you for sharing in such a dark time. Be kind to yourself and take care.
Rachel Lachow says
Such a talented family of writers! I’m so sorry for your loss. So glad you were recently with her. Losing a sister and the memories you shared is losing a part of yourself. May her memory be a blessing.
My brother recently passed away, as well . I was able to help him through a year and a half of his fight with pancreatic cancer, the last three months in hospice with 24/7 pain management. He, too was a brilliant writer and loved nature. We were lucky to have interesting conversations daily, until the end. There continue to be so many interesting events to talk about, but he’s not available. Hold on to your memories, I hear they get sweeter as time goes by.
Keep all those wonderful memories close. My deepest sympathy for such a devastating loss. Take care of yourself.
After my most recent losses I can across a book- the wild edge of sorrow – by Francis Weller. I found it to be a helpful and inspiring book. Blessings to you and yours
MaryAnn Foley says
May her memory be a Blessing. Eternal rest . . .
C Thomas says
But we shouldn’t get stuck in our grief; it’s not a permanent address but a companion that walks beside us. Everything I love, I will lose. That’s the harsh truth. You either have to shut down your heart — and miss the love that is around you — or wrestle with that truth and come out the other end. There is indeed such a thing as joyful sorrow.” ~Francis Weller
MJ Moss says
What incredibly fine memories of lives well lived.
I am so very sorry to read of your loss. What a wonderful legacy of words she has left you, to be able to read and feel what she observed, what she was thinking, what she felt……so incredibly beautiful. I adore the photo of her, with her leg draped over the arm of the chair and her head back in laughter. It radiates the reasons it seems she was so beloved. Peace to your heart.
Wendy Katz says
I am so sorry for your loss. What a deep wound. The poem that Lisa posted above was so lovely I will go looking for her books.
Jen Gibson says
What a lovely tribute, thank you for sharing her with us. Sending virtual love and hugs.
Wendy K: Thank you Wendy. I added one of my favorite poems of hers into the post.
Thank you Judy, I will look for it.
Vickie, yes yes, we are so lucky to have had them!
Thank you LisaW. You inspired me to add one of her most recent poems into the blog post. I wasn’t sure it was acceptable, re copyright, but am contacting the publisher now and expect they will be more than happy to have it posted.
Fran berry says
I am heartbroken for you…
Sally Fox says
Fierce love. I resonate with that. My sister is dying from ovarian cancer and reading about your love for your sister and seeing her shining face gave me a moment of uplift. Your care shines through.
I’m so sorry for the loss of your beloved sister. I lost my only brother in June and a dear cousin in December. Ruthie had come to my brother’s memorial and we hadn’t seen each other in decades. I initiated a day trip with her in October and we planned more in the spring. She died suddenly in December and I was so glad we had that day together! It truly was a divine appointment!
Karie, those days are so special now, aren’t they? I’m so sorry about your losses; seems like so many recently all over.
Oh Sally, I’m so sorry. I try to keep remembering that grief is just another expression of love.
Tiffany Yates Martin says
I’m so sorry, Patricia. Wendy sounds extraordinary, and what a beautiful mark she left on the world with her art, if this poem is an indication. You’ve let us know her just a bit with your tribute to her memory. How lucky you were to have had so many years with her, and I hope that and your loved ones, and hers, offer some comfort to you all.
Sisters…10 years ago mine died much less quietly and left behind much less beauty than yours has. I have adjusted to and in some ways have befriended her absence. At the time of her death I remember feeling like she took my childhood with her. The fierce bond you describe seems a sacred and unique sisterly experience . The loss like no other. Heartfelt condolences.
Monika @ Tails Around the Ranch says
Sending tender thoughts of comfort. May time bring smiles recalling happy memories instead of present sorrows. 💔
I was looking for this quote by A.A.Milne, and came across the second one, which reminded me of Wendy’s poem.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”
“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.”
Saying I’m sorry isn’t ever enough but sometimes it’s all we can do. ❤️
So sorry for your loss Patricia. Never easy to lose a sibling. She sounds like an amazing person.
Lisa LaSpina says
Sisters make up the whole of our world. I am so sorry for your loss.
Barbara Gilligan says
I’m so sorry for your loss. Your post landed in my box on the 9th anniversary of my sister Liza’s death. I still grieve, and remember the intensity of it. But it does get easier with time. I found the Agrace grief sessions to be helpful if that is something you need. Cuddle those lovely dogs and take comfort from them.
I am so sorry for your loss. I hope all of your memories will be a comfort now and always.
I’m sorry for your loss, but love that you are celebrating her life!
Ann W. Firestone says
I’m so very sorry for your loss. May your memories bring you peace. My deepest condolences.
Steven G. Kellman says
P. J. Grath says
Lovely, lovely poem — lovely woman! May her memory be a blessing. I am so sorry for your loss, glad for the love.
“the kind of teacher that changed lives”…is a devastating loss, and is surely felt most acutely by those who knew her best.
My heart goes out to you and your family.
Love you Steve, think of you every day.
Barb Stanek says
Oh, Trisha. Such sad news. So glad that you went to visit her last fall.
No time on earth
is long enough
to share with
love or to
prepare our hearts
Sending caring thoughts and healing energy to you and your family.
Such a beautiful poem.
Hold tight to those wonderful memories.
Keeping you and your family in my thoughts.
Oh Trisha, I’m so sorry! I am the youngest of three, 68, 72 and 75…and I am keenly aware of time. We are close, but live hours from each other. Calls help, but I dread the phone call that you received. I am thinking of you and praying for you and the rest of your family as you all navigate the difficult road called Grief. Sending you lots of hugs…
Reading this I could feel your grief but also the great love you had for your dear sister. I’m so sorry for your loss. I wish you comfort in this difficult time.
What a lovely poem, and what a wonderful tribute to your sister. Thank you for sharing her with us. I love these pictures of her laughing with your niece, and remember what a brave choice you made to go see her last fall. It seems so long ago, but yet it wasn’t.
Suzanne Clothier says
What a glorious tribute to a bright shining soul! I am so sorry for your loss, yet so glad that you had so long with such an extraordinary sister. May all your memories comfort you.
Pati Jean Diridoni says
Your loss is vast and I grieve for you! The loss of my sister too still bothers me. Although she is still alive.
God bless you. Keep her in your heart always 💗
Amy Szabo says
I am so very sorry for your loss.😔 Thank you for sharing this with us. It is so important for improving the mental health of all of us for our heroes to share their very human moments, including grief.💔 Grief is the one thing we all have to deal with at some point whether it is a human or canine loss (or other pets, don’t want to discriminate). I appreciate you taking the time to tell us about your amazing sister and that it’s ok to be human and grieve a loss by taking a break from your “day job”. Love, prayers, and virtual hugs to you and your family.
I’m so sorry for your loss. May her memory be a blessing.
Anne Bethea says
I am so so sorry. Losing my sister meant a hole inside me and outside me for the rest of my life. Love to you.
Debby F Gray says
I am so sorry for your loss. I have several of Wendy’s books of poetry and they are treats to read.
I love the way she sits in that chair, with her leg draped over the arm, like she’s 22 years old. Or like she’s 79 or 80 and doesn’t care that you’re “not supposed to sit like that” when you’re not 22 anymore. So sorry for your great loss.
Paula D Sunday says
Sisters are the best, I love your memories of her, they will stay with you forever! The sadness fades but the joy she shared will be yours to keep.
Mary Friedel-Hunt-Spring Green says
I am so sorry for your loss. Losing a sibling, I learned a month ago (when my brother died) is a different kind of loss. Seems to reach into every corner of our lives. Your sister’s poem is indeed deep. Her joy in that picture is contagious inspite of this sorrow. I look forward to reading more of her poetry.
Ilene Segal says
Sending hugs and heartfelt condolences on the loss of your sister. May your happy memories comfort you.
I am so very sorry for the loss of your dear sister, Trisha. The love between sisters is like no other. I lost one of mine eight years ago, and I miss her every day. I hope the happy memories you have of Wendy bring you joy and comfort.
Linda Bitner says
I lost my only sister/sibling unexpectedly a year ago. I felt like a lost a part of myself and am only now starting to navigate life without her in it. Thank you for sharing your sister’s lovely poetry. I wish you many fond memories.
Hi, I just wanted to say I’m sorry for the loss of your sister.
I sense it’s like having a hole in your heart.
Thank you for your generosity while experiencing the recent loss and grief by sharing your sources of healing. Gave me permission to feel sadness for losses and missing those super-special loved ones. Everyone goes through loss. I appreciate the way you’ve shared.
Chris Wells says
I am so sorry for your loss. We expect to lose our parents and it is indeed a sad time, but as we begin to lose our siblings, it has a different shift to our universe. I think of my mom’s sister who has now outlived her entire family and I think about my sister now 80. Again, so sorry for your loss.
Alice R. says
I am so sorry for this terrible loss. Such a painful one, and so hard how the losses seem to pile up for those of us lucky enough to stay a bit longer.
I’m so sorry. I hope the tiny signs of spring that are peeping through this last (surely!) snowfall will help you to heal, comfort you with reminders of the cycles of death and winter, spring and rebirth we share with nature. I’m sending you lots of love.
I am so very sorry for your loss. I miss my older brother every day and it’s been over 10 years. The initial deep sadness has faded and been replaced with the warmth of 77 years of memories. Siblings are special and she will always hold that particular place in your heart.
Hugs. Love and hugs.
So so sorry for your loss!
Those 2 pictures of your sister are amazing – I feel like the essence of who she was is front and center in both of them. So much joy!!
Sending love and healing thoughts to you and your family.
Natalie Taylor says
Please accept my deepest condolences for the loss of your wonderful sister. Wendy was one of my most beloved professors, mentor, inspiration, and dear friend for thirty years. She will be missed by many for a very long time. I’m grateful that I was able to attend her 80th birthday celebration, too. Prayers for peace that surpasses all understanding for you and your family.
Nancy Florsheim says
I was so sad about your loss of your sister, and to find out that you are not well. It has been a long time since we have been in touch, but my thoughts and gratitude for your work are always with me.
I wish you the strength to get through this difficult time.