“Well … I too know what it’s like to grow up with dirt under your fingernails. And by this point I’ve got a fair amount of Maine under my fingernails too.”
— From a personal inscription by Burt Hatlen
Once upon a place, at a school up the Penobscot,
a professor of words and all that can be made believed
in his students the way he believed in seeds and soil,
setting them out to grow year by year, especially
survivors of the facts of hard life here, showing them
how words save lives, and learning from them, too.
Devotion made him famous to those who cared and
his students famous to him. But one became renowned
beyond the way a relentless tiller is famous on his road.
More like the wind is famous to the world.
And he loved this teacher for the father he was.
Then there was an unknown elder downriver, for whom
he showed more respect than she was used to,
whose tears when she heard he’d died became famous
to her house.
Knowing each other only from the page, the famous
student and unknown elder were both startled when
after the service he leaned down and twined his arms
about her, feeling through that embrace the professor,
himself, sure in that infinitesimal flash they were three.
Though never speaking of it for the mystery, sacred,
it felt, both will thank Creation, ever, for all, by this man,
they still are shown.
Patricia Ranzoni lives in Bucksport. This poem is an elegy on University of Maine English professor Burton Hatlen (April 9, 1936–Jan. 21, 2008). Ranzoni’s most recent collection of poetry is “Hibernaculum,” available through OneWaterPress@aol.com.