‘Journey Home’ celebrates Catherine Garland’s poetry

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
The Aspen Poets' Society has published a posthumous collection of poems by longtime Aspenite Catherine Garland. It was released this week and will be available at the Aspen Historical Society's annual book-signing and bazaar at the Hotel Jerome on Wednesday, Dec. 9.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: Holiday Book Signing and Bazaar, presented by the Aspen Historical Society

Where: Hotel Jerome

When: Wednesday, Dec. 9, 4:30-6:30 p.m.

More info:

The late Catherine Garland won’t be at the Aspen Historical Society’s annual book signing this year, but a stirring new collection of her poems will.

Garland, who died in February, was a fixture around town for more than 50 years — known to many for volunteering at Aspen Music Festival concerts, singing “Messiah” with the Aspen Choral Society and, in recent years, occasionally reading at the Aspen Poets’ Society’s monthly gatherings.

Local poet Kim Nuzzo — who co-edited the collection, “Journey Home,” with Marjorie DeLuca — recalls in his introduction that Garland was often reluctant to sign up to share her work at the open mic readings and tells of how their friendship deepened as her health declined.

“Catherine Garland was an original, unique poet,” he writes. “But foremost she was a spiritual being having a human experience, a spiritual being having a poetic experience.”

The 50 some free verse poems that follow bear that claim out.

Some are autobiographical and confessional. There are somber scenes of changing sheets in a hospital room, of fraying relations between a mother and son, of mending ties between a mother and daughter, of a gruesome car wreck on a Colorado highway. Others celebrate nature — there are evocative poems devoted to autumn leaves and spring daffodils and morning skies and poppies and roses and squirrels. Nearly all are imbued with a spiritual sense of gratitude.

The psalm-like “Mount Sopris” opens with an indelible image of the mountain as a pregnant woman on her back, teasing the Trappist monks beneath at St. Benedict’s Monastery (where Garland worshiped frequently), and ends with thanks to the sun and to the creator.

Garland arrived in Aspen in the winter of 1962-63, in the midst of what was to be a trip around the world. She ski-bummed for a season while working as a housekeeper at the Mountain Chalet, and then — in a familiar turn of events — found herself at home. She stayed.

The daughter of an Indian army lieutenant, she was born in a military camp in what is now Pakistan. The book’s opening poem recalls her early childhood in the shadow of the Hindu Kush. She writes wistfully of learning to read there, sleeping on a cot in a small room, taking in the natural wonder around her. The base has since, she writes, become home to an al-Qaida training camp. This leads her to wonder:

“Who sleeps now in that small white room / On the narrow cot strung with cords, / And do dreams still float in space / While the bantam chicks poke for worms / In the weeds outside?”

The collection closes with a poignant prose poem meditating on death and vividly describing fall in the Colorado high country, when changing aspen trees turn mountainsides yellow and are greeted by dustings of mountaintop snow, with leaves dancing in the air.

“I too am in the autumn of my years and I too dance in the thin champagne air,” she writes, soon adding: “I dance lightly, lightly.”

Proceeds from the sales of “Journey Home” will go to the Aspen Poets’ Society and the Aspen Animal Shelter.