Monday, March 17, 2014

Ina Coolbrith takes a train

Opening of "Bittersweet Song" (working title), my biography about Ina Coolbrith:
The Overland Limited train pierced the midnight stillness of the Nevada desert. The clicking wheels and sway of the Pullman cars lulled most of the passengers to sleep, but it is unlikely that Ina Donna Coolbrith slept. The seventy-eight-year-old poet had crossed this desert by foot and wagon nearly seven decades earlier when her family came to California on the Overland Trail in 1852. How could she sleep when the train slipped under the night sky that she had watched as a girl? Somewhere in these sands she buried her doll after it took a tumble and split its head. All the children of the wagon train attended the funeral as the doll was lowered into its grave.

In 1919 Ina left California, four years after she had been crowned California's first poet laureate. She did not know when she would return. Once known for her beauty and physical vitality, her joints now ached from rheumatoid arthritis and the years showed in her down-turned mouth and double chin. She wore a white lace mantilla to cover her thinning hair. She didn't like how she looked as an old woman, but others saw her differently. One reporter described her as having “clear, luminous eyes, very sensitive and expressive hands, and a young voice, quick, animated, and fluent.”

"Bittersweet Song" is due to be published in 2015.