Book review: ‘My Heart Remembers’ 

  • “My Heart Remembers” by Dorothy Johnson.

For the Recorder
Published: 5/8/2022 5:22:43 PM

“My Heart Remembers” by Dorothy Johnson (Haley’s, 172 pages, $14.95)

Every once in a while, I read a book by an author who speaks to me so vividly that I immediately do a little research about him or her, only to find that the author is dead. I am deeply saddened. I feel as though someone has given me a wonderful gift and then snatched it away.

Nevertheless, when I have a little time to think, I am grateful to have discovered the author at all … and to have had the opportunity to shed a few tears.

I most recently experienced these feelings when I read “My Heart Remembers,” a collection of poems by Dorothy Johnson of New Salem. I enjoyed her observations on age, nature, identity, and society so much that I picked up the telephone to ask her a few questions.

I was told that she had died suddenly a few days earlier. We were never friends or even acquaintances. Yet I mourn her passing, and I feel for her friends.

According to the biography at the back of the book, Johnson wrote poems and plays, taught, worked in publishing, and sold such diverse items as antiques and hamburgers. For many years, she and her late partner, Doris Abramson, ran the Common Reader Bookshop in New Salem.

She also contributed a column called “Quiet Places” to “Uniquely Quabbin” magazine.

The poems in the book are full of wisdom, humility, and humor. In simple, eloquent words she talks about her life in the present and past; the unexpectedness of nature; the need for empathy and social justice; and the complexities of such terms as love, heroism, and Indian summer.

She writes from the heart as she meditates on the mountains around her and shares vivid verses about pets and the weather. Here is part of her wry take on “May in New England,” reprinted with permission from Haley’s Publishing:

If I am cold tonight,

I’ll have to put the blame

where it belongs:

on my conceit

that I know

how things should be.

Along with the book, Dorothy Johnson sent me a copy of a CD she made for friends, on which she reads from the book. Her poems are framed by lovely and appropriate music by her neighbor, the composer Steven Schoenberg. It is unclear whether the CDs will be available to the general public going forward. One can see and hear Johnson read from her book on her website, dorothyjohnson.net. Like her poetry, her speaking voice is plain yet eloquent.

“My Heart Remembers” may be purchased at dorothyjohnson.net (with an added fee for shipping) or at the New Salem General Store. With the permission of Haley’s, I leave you with Dorothy Johnson’s meditation on “Death.” Like all of the poems in the book, it resonates with her spirit.

Death has no face.

It’s not a he, not a person,

just a state of being

or not being.

One day you’re here,

and then you no longer are.

The metaphors of a scythe and hooded figure

are not reality. Never were.

Charon won’t guide you across the River Styx,

but perhaps, as Edith Wharton once wished,

you’ll be met joyfully by every dog

you’ve ever loved, and I’d include

those many cats we’ve taken to our hearts.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.


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