James Tate 1944-2015

Amherst Massachusetts poet James Tate died the other day. He was 71. A  Midwestern boy, born in Kansas City, his soul and eye were trained for his work by the wide, heavy quiet of the geographical dead-center of the country. He settled in the spirit-filled college town of Amherst, Massachusetts. The words tumbled out of him there in free-flowing lines. He taught and told about writing, won big prizes, and stayed at home in Amherst to navigate wide and slippery seas of  meanings and emotions.

The Search for Lost Lives

I was chasing this blue butterfly down
the road when a car came by and clipped me.
It was nothing serious, but it angered me and
I turned around and cursed the driver who didn’t
even slow down to see if I was hurt. Then I
returned my attention to the butterfly which
was nowhere to be seen. One of the Doubleday
girls came running up the street with her toy
poodle toward me. I stopped her and asked,
‘Have you seen a blue butterfly around here? ‘
‘It’s down near that birch tree near Grandpa’s,’
she said. ‘Thanks,’ I said, and walked briskly
toward the tree. It was fluttering from flower
to flower in Mr. Doubleday’s extensive garden,
a celestial blueness to soothe the weary heart.
I didn’t know what I was doing there. I certain-
ly didn’t want to capture it. It was like
something I had known in another life, even if
it was only in a dream, I wanted to confirm it.
I was a blind beggar on the streets of Cordoba
when I first saw it, and now, again it was here.

James Tate


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