Susan's Stone...

Susan Hattie Steinsapir
February 26, 1955 - January 29, 1996

We put up Susan's tombstone in June '97. By Jewish tradition, the tombstone is placed a year after the burial. Her family and my parents met in Sacramento, where we went out to the cemetery and held a small, private ceremony. Several poems were read and prayers were recited.

The stone is marble from Georgia. I designed the tombstone. Nowadays the granite stone is cut by sand blasters which are guided by computers. It's like a DTP system. They only use three traditional fonts, so I found something better.

Susan loved cats and I thought she'd appreciate a cat for her stone. Her sister and I talked about this and we worked with Rob Browne, a sculptor in Palo Alto, who made the cat, first in clay, and then cast in bronze. The cat has pins which drop down into the stone and these have been fixed with epoxy; it can't be removed.

The lines are from Dylan Thomas' poem which he wrote for his father who was dying. I thought of this poem for her stone, but I called her sister, to see if she had any suggestions. She had seen a poem, which she read to me over the telephone. It was the same poem. But she said that her brother also had a poem and we should check with him. So I called him up. He dug around for a moment, found the poem, and read it to me. It was the same poem. Here's the whole poem:

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

To this, I could add one more poem by Rilke,
given to me by a close friend. First, in German...

Vielleicht, dass ich durch schwere Berge gehe
in harten Adern, wie ein Erz allein;
und bin so tief, dass ich kein Ende sehe
und keine Ferne: alles wurde Naehe
und alle Naehe wurde Stein.

Ich bin ja noch kein Wissender in Wehe, --
so macht mich dieses grosse Dunkel klein;
bist Du es aber: mach dich schwer, brich ein:
dass deine ganze Hand an mir geschehe
und ich an dir mit meinem ganzen Schrein.

And now my translation...

Maybe because I'm going through solid mountains
of hardened rock, like a single vein,
and I'm so far down that I can't see the end
nor the horizon: Everything becomes near
and everything near becomes stone.

I'm not yet wise in grief,
so this great darkness makes me small;
You be the one: Be strong, break in:
Take me up in your hand,
and I'll take you up in my tomb.