Simple Absence poems by Nancy Meneely

picture of Nancy Meneely

Poet Gray Jacobik delights in the great pleasure to be garnered from Nancy Fitz-Hugh’s Meneely’s powers of description in her new collection of poems and reflections, Simple Absence. In these “richly-textured, various-structured, deeply-felt and capacious poems,” how wonderful “the particular objects, observations, ideas and emotions this poet chooses to treat as subjects: idiosyncratic in the best sense . . . The reader’s ride is electric and bedazzling.” Baron Wormser offers this praise: “One of poetry’s dreams is amplitude, the book of poems that gives a sense of life’s fullness, even as it depicts the losses. Nancy Meneely’s Simple Absence speaks eloquently to that dream, the range of poems honoring and testifying to a host of situations—public and private. Each poem deftly enacts the drama of trammeled and untrammeled emotion. Though the poems embody essences of form and feeling, lines and stanzas moving crisply down the pages, there is nothing minimal here. The breadth and depth are both inspiring.”
  Simple Absence cover image
  Front cover art: oil on linen by Scott Kahn.

Nancy Fitz-Hugh Meneely, Smith College B.A. in hand and nothing at all to suggest she knew how to make a lesson plan, began professional life as an English teacher in Vermont’s Waterbury High School.  When, after two happy years, Vermont suggested it was important that she sport a real credential, she acquired a Master of Arts in Teaching from Yale.  After discovering her best students were listening to her from inside hallucinations, she moved into the work of training community/school teams in drug abuse prevention at Yale’s Drug Dependence Institute. Later, with a Master’s of Education in Human Relations from the UMass School of Education, she tacked back and forth across a career path in training, counseling, and education, finishing paid employment in a twenty-year career with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, DC, where she worked first in emergency management training and then directly in support of response and recovery operations. She retired north, where she lives what Baron Wormser calls “the poetry life” on the beautiful Connecticut shoreline, happily engaged in writing, discussing, judging, teaching and performing readings of poetry. Her first book, Letter from Italy, 1944, provided the libretto for an oratorio composed by her sister, Sarah Meneely Kyder, performed most recently by The Hartford and Greater Middletown Chorales along with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra at the Bushnell in Hartford. Letter from Italy, 1944 was listed by the Hartford Courant as one of thirteen important books produced in 2013 by Connecticut writers.

Praise from a Hoffer Contest judge, in response to Simple Absence being named a runner-up for the 2020 Hoffer Award in poetry: These are intensely resonant and important poems. The sound is gorgeous, with liquid language that is never overdone. The soaring music of her work is stunning. Every word seems self-invented. Descriptions are precise, crisp, and specific. Love of poetic form is apparent and skillfully done. Every poem is like a whetstone, honing the reader. She's not afraid to start a poem with a brutal, unadorned truth and does not shrink from the absolute worst moments of being a human, then transforms them into something vital and useful. She can take a small, interior moment and build it into a masterpiece. This is a poet who is paying the most attention.

Simple Absence is also a Finalist in the 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards (NGIBA).

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ISBN 978-1-943826-58-2
First Edition, 2020

6" x 9" paperback, 230 pages

This book can be ordered from all bookstores, including Amazon.



Copyright © 2020 by Nancy Fitz-Hugh Meneely


Coda: The Opening


At the top of our hill,
you stretched and stretched
to plant the hoe,
uprooting the shallow remains
of last year’s crops,
rhythmic and shaded
against the tentative blue
of a late April upstate sky.

Mom knelt at her garden just below,
worrying annuals in among
the rampancy of iris and phlox
in the part of her world
she could make beautiful.

Still, you went silently
about your work.

Funny, this chore you chose
to do alone. In other ways
you let us build our characters,
mucking the stall,
watering chickens
and feeding the sheep.
But this kind of work,
this growing things
for the hard ahead,
you always did by yourself.



Funny, the day you chose to die,
the one right after Spring arrived
when you might have
rolled the snow fence away
and begun to pitch the rocks
that had grown somehow
in winter’s soil.

I wondered why you’d leave
with your garden promising.

But this year I think 
I might begin to understand.
Sometimes I feel
something like tired,
my own bones heavy
and wrongness all around.
Last week I felt an urge
to sleep right through
the making wrong things right.

I thought of you, I thought
oh god, you were so tired,
too tired for simple rest,
too tired to try on hope again.
I think I know you only knew
you needed to sleep.
You slept and I swear I hope
the sinking was kind,
like a soft old chair with arms.

To My Mother, a Child

I remember noons
when I located
by the shape of
you at end of day.
I remember the seasons
sweet on your skin
when you held me hello,
your body young and strong
and all I wished to gather
and be gathered by.

I remember parsing
every detail of your mood,
angling for your smile,
watching for surprise
to light your face
before you laughed.
I felt we were continuous
in times of pure content.

I am not ready for you
fugitive, the way
you fade from me when I
begin to press. I’m crippled
by the film that falls
between us now,
the untold news of days
we occupy apart.
I never thought you’d live
so far behind your eyes.

If a poem can hold
what suffers
between words,
let this one bound
the loss, the difference
between the you in me
and you a secret
in your own opacity.

Bedtime, 1951


I like to lie awake as light
retreats from our room
and toys along the floor
emerge as memory
of themselves. I like
the velvet weight
of blindness on my eyes.

In the deepening
ache of midsummer
I listen for nightsong
in the wood or wait
for what arises in a quieting,
a growing wind uneasy
in the longer grass,
the rain beginning blunt
and noisy on the eaves
then purling in the gutter pipe.

Downpour tatters.
The center of the storm blows on
and silence moves toward the house
from underneath the trees.
In the bunk below me,
Sarah sighs, asleep. Alone,
I yield to rhythms surfacing,
carried as a part of rabbits
breathing in the field,
night birds falling through the air.

Diminution: Bereaved


She never says a word the nights he leaves
their bed, often as she reaches out
to touch his back. She’s learned to sleep bereaved.

He cannot think that she is so naïve
as not to know. She’s simply swallowed shut.
She never says a word the nights he leaves.

She has to leave her daughter to retrieve
herself. She will not know if Father taught
to touch him back. She’s learned to sleep bereaved.

Her daughter has to find a way to live
the after days. Each morning you forget.
She never says a word the nights he leaves

although he twists the blankets when he heaves
himself to bed where she has lain without
his touch. He’s back. She’s learned to sleep bereaved.

While he is gone, she lets her body grieve
for heat and sweetening she’s come to doubt.
She never says a word the nights he leaves
to touch behind her back. She sleeps bereaved.


In Winterbed


We burrow in the dips
our bodies deepen
every year. On your side
there is quiet,
ruck of blanket rising
and falling at your ear.
I lie awake, tossing
the day for poetry.

You sleep in a simplicity,
streetlight on your cheek.
All I have to do is reach
across the little mountain
we have made and you
will turn toward me,
your big hand drawing me
through cold to custody.


I Love My Self


that plucked from Dad’s
back shelf the five slim albums
I could take with me to college.
Their covers called to me.

When Mom and Dad had driven off,
my yellow rug and matching spread
installed, my brand new record player
by the bed, I stacked the albums,
watched the miracle of drop
and arm and groove,
and listened
while I smoked a Winston
like a grownup girl.

Stravinsky’s Firebird
was a shock.
How little I knew, my
self back then,
how happy I was,
half-formed, with little reason
to suspect.
How much I loved a coffee
with my cigarette,
the lyrical noise
of women in the hall.
How much I loved the way
my door could open to the hive
or close me wholly in.
How close we grew,
my records five and I.
How marvelous they stacked
and dropped and dropped
and dropped
while I learned more than anyone needs
of eighteenth century literature.

If you play me any of them
now, wherever we are
will disappear.


In the middle of an hour
behaving well, a sinkhole
opens under me. It wasn’t
then it is. It is the sorry
sibling of the startling joy
of mornings when the cat
does sidestrokes through
the flood of sunshine on the floor
and there is quiet just enough.

My undermind, it seems,
is racketing around some store
of not quite sensibility,
happens on what might develop
shape as someone gone,
an hour of laughter irretrievable,
the painless pervious bones
that hold me up, my daughter grown
and pulling out from underneath
my self’s hypothesis.
The shapelessness is only deep.

So good it’s never more than blinks
before I snag a handhold
at the swallet’s lip. Sometimes it’s you,
sometimes the book awaiting me,
the prospect of a change
in furnishings, the table here,
the footstool maybe there,
improving everything.
A conversation in the other room
can make a woven, sturdy bridge.
Or I can simply balance
on the edge until the sinkhole
puckers, disappears.
I have not yet studied how to fall
toward what I can’t describe.

The Atheist’s Dilemma: Within


I’ve tried, even prayed
to believe. There came

no enveloping warmth,
no slamming light.

Only the soft smother
of nothing at all.

But there was the whorl
of silk at baby Delia’s nape.

There is a diminished
seventh chord,

the minute in December
when day begins its half-year stretch.

There’s the red gauze
at the tops of early April trees,

the sleeves of sleep that lift
to fold from underneath,

my husband’s fingers tendering
my wrong-way curl, around, around.

My child, a length of light, the drift
from consciousness and music in my hair.

There may be of god in these.



The phone is mute,
her curfew past.
She always calls.

We face each other
in the living room,

We see the gloss of frozen mist
across a curving rise of road
before the bridge,

her car in spin,
down the gully wall.

We hear the metal casket
groaning as it slips
a final foot

into the creek
where boulders chop
the flow to froth.

That moment is the last
we have of her
from ten o’clock till two

when she comes in
unharmed, abashed,
and somehow not as real

as what we’d learned
about the hours and hours
of years without her

rolling pale and pitiless
through lives we knew
we wouldn’t travel fast enough.

“It’s Been Tolled Before”: A Ventriloquy


From how the preacher talks, I know
this room is near enough to hell
as I will want to get in this life or beyond.
The fire is nearly screaming
as the bellows urge and urge
and in the cauldron even metal boils,
the slag afloat on pools of bronze.
But for the blaze, there’s little light.
Men, their faces caked in char,
disappear in dark.

The boss says this bell’s mine. It’s me
who knows which tone must be
and writes the measures of the molds
for workers sweating black
while clay and metal pulley up and down,
groaning like the end of days.
It’s me who guides their pour
and watches careful day to day
as metal cools and hardens
into readiness to sing.
It’s me who says when they can
break out the bell, chisel off the clay.
I polish last when they have filed
the rough spots off.
It’s me who sets the writing in.

I send the others home. I want to be alone
when first this church bell chimes.
Alone I work the lathe that shaves
the bell inside to loose the perfect note.
Alone I tap it with a well-turned bar,
rest my ear against it as the clangor dies,
setting down my tools when I am sure
it’s God’s own music they will hear
from where the sky and steeple meet
and even Preacher’s words don’t go.

Persisting, 2019


I love the winter quiet of my violets,
the way they sleep the sleeping time,
their offering no more than soft
with green beneath.

I hardly mind, of course, their answering
a plenty of the light with summer bloom.
But this year I admire much more
how they persist despite.

I feel that way about a plainsman, staring
at the homestead spun to splinters,
pledging to restore and weeping with a tattered joy
that wife and child survived.

I feel that way about the vigilants 
and writers who must pitch themselves
against such infamy
the words they choose may never penetrate.

I feel that way about my self, this body
with its small repairs still muscling me
the ways I want to go.

Most always I am grateful to persist. Except
I find I’m frightened to outlive.

Don’t let me outlive the giraffe.

Making Wake


I say to you that
when I die I hope
it’s I receding not you

and you nod as if
this were good between us
and so I picture

you still vivid,
me on the dreamy fade,
absorbing slowly

into gloaming, smile
inkling in the dark,
my last little quarrel

with traveling alone
no more than riffle
in my wake.