My candle burns at both ends
It shall not last the night
But ah my foes and oh my friends
It gives a lovely light.
Early in our friendship Margie told me she wanted me to read this poem at her memorial. What were we talking about, and why this directive? I can’t remember. I just hear her reciting these words and the current of joy bubbling up through her wonderful commanding voice. She knew hundreds of poems and fragments of scripts, and like a friendly Greek chorus they were always ready to step forward. Language was her homeland.
Conversations with Margie were big rambling journeys where no road was off limits, where a “no trespassing” sign really meant “keep going”. Books fed Margie’s fierce love of ideas. She read everything she could get her hands on, striding across genres and fields. She lent books and gave them away. Her favorite room in her home was lined with books, almost as though those volumes were the walls themselves. When anything restricted her movement, she could be perfectly content propped in her bed with a fan of books spread across the quilt, and her dogs Hank and Sally, and later Jack, right there on the bed too. She had a weakness for fine linens, but they took a beating with her habit of eating in bed and the dogs lolling about enjoying hand-fed morsels.
It was her love of books that led Margie to embark on her last great project, the library at Standing Rock. Once she saw the need, she threw her entire self into this dream; the idea came and days later, she was immersed in the huge effort to round up books and get them to Standing Rock. She was in her element in every way; nothing made her happier than pouring her soul into progressive causes. Standing Rock was the pinnacle, holding as it did so many chapters of our current movement, the thrilling just-in-time alliance between first peoples and whites, the deepening fight against the fossil fuel industry, the language of the earth to bring us back to our relationship with our Mother.
If Margie endured the whole range of pain we humans are vulnerable to, I never once heard her utter a self-pitying phrase. In the aftermath of hard times, she picked up the pieces, just that. Picked up the pieces and moments later scanned the horizon for the next adventure. She had a spirit that simply would not be tamed, or cowed, or cut down to size. She blasted that spirit into the world without caring how it might be received. In an amazing feat in a world obsessed with fitting in, she gave herself permission to be exactly who she was. Her refusal to bend to conventions was feminism at its most glorious. Her beauty had once given her power and adventure, but she refused to be pushed around by appearances. She took a perverse pleasure in traveling to LA, that ground zero of botox and plastic surgery, with her aging face on display. She wasn’t going to pretend to be younger. In fact, she wasn’t going to put any face out into the world that wasn’t authentically hers.
Margie loved people and took each person exactly as they came, no labels, no ranking. People opened up to her in a sort of magic flowering; she wanted to know them and they responded to her curiosity. It was a joy to be out in the world with her, especially when people didn’t know who she was, to see how she engaged everyone equally. People had intrinsic and deep worth to her. It wasn’t a pose; she truly loved hearing everyone’s story, and remembered those stories. If she could get to the truth of someone else’s life, she would.
And that’s one reason why she fought for progressive causes, for the well being of salt of the earth people. From all the nooks and crannies of life, people were living breathing souls to her. She had many friendships with those who were trapped in economic eddies and seeing their lives roughed up was fuel for her.
Years ago, I dropped by her house to return her keys. She was out in the middle of the street in her flannel dog pajamas yelling for Hank, the hound she recued by facing down his abuser. He’d jumped the fence again. She and Hank were a great pair, renegades sailing over fences, scaling barriers, perpetually refusing to behave.
I’m sure people have called Margie a rebel. I don’t think so. She wasn’t rebelling. She simply turned her back on that big stack of molding rule books and their tight lipped enforcers. Out there in a wide open landscape she had the room her spirit needed…. to imagine a new world, a better and kinder world, and to cook up ways to get us all there.
You gave us a lovely light, Margie, a bright and blazing light. It’s still with us.
Joan Kresich is a long time educator now focused on bringing restorative and sustainable practices to her community. She is the author of Picturing Restorative Justice. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Adanna Literary Journal, Chrysalis Reader, HeART Online, Albatross, CounterPunch, Snowy Egret and Ms Magazine Blog. She lives in Livingston, Montana and Berkeley, California, in one place listening to the cries of wild geese, and in the other, the tumble of urban dialects.