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Me, myself, and her

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April September 7, 2008 11:24 AM

IMG_2380-JAN-EDITED.jpgAs I mention in today's Word column, I met the other Jan Freeman, the poet and publisher from Ashfield, Mass., last week, after learning that she, like me, had fans -- relatives, even! -- who didn't know we were two different people.

There's no particular reason one's name-sharer should share any other traits, of course, but when two women have come from elsewhere and settled in Massachusetts for careers in publishing, it's also no surprise when they do have things in common. We arrived at the DeCordova Museum, our meeting place, in our respective Subarus; we drank diet Cokes and agreed that a milkshake -- the real kind, with ice cream -- is the the appropriate treat for anyone still numb from a dental procedure (don't ask). We confessed to literary or otherwise clever names for dogs past and present.


That's the prosaic Jan (me) in the top photo, and the poetic Jan in the one to the left.

The other Jan -- who, of course, thinks of me as "the other Jan" -- grew up near Philadelphia, lived in Ohio and New York City, and came here in the '90s to found Paris Press, which has published prose and poetry by Muriel Rukeyser, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, and others.

I've known of the other Jan's existence since 2000, when a Globe colleague handed me a copy of "Simon Says," her second book of poems, with what looked like my byline on the cover. But I hadn't suspected she was fielding so many Word questions till this summer, when my own cousin asked about "my" poetry reading in Hartford, and I decided to investigate.

So for the record, here we are, in not especially flattering snapshots (another point on which we agree). And here too, as a memory aid for our confused friends and relations, are a few lines from the poetic Jan. (And that's definitely not me.)

A Winter's Story

Once a bear found a yellow window
and she sat beside the window during the day
She watched the dogs eat breakfast and clean their paws
She watched a lady wash dishes and eat a piece of bread covered with jam
Once a bear slept through winter and dreamed of a yellow window
No one woke the bear
Snow covered her den
Night and day were the same for the bear
Once a woman lit a fire
and imagined that the flames were cities,
people ran from door to door leaving gifts and love letters
Sometimes they ate bread and jam and watched the fire
Once two dogs slept during the day and cleaned their paws
at the same time in the late morning and early evening
They ate spaghetti for special occasions
and slept side by side
Once the sky was the sky
and no one spoke to the meadow
The maples waved through loneliness
The hilltop was a flag signaling seasons changing
Some birds slept in the maples some slept in the birch
Some were loyal, some were fickle
Once an orange fish noticed a bear admiring herself in the pond's reflection
Once a bear grabbed an orange fish under water
She stuffed it in her mouth
Better than jam and bread, she said
The dogs saw the bear and ran to the hilltop
The lady watched the dogs run and followed them with a long gun
The maples and birch swayed happily
The dogs and the lady stood beside them
and watched the bear swallow the orange fish
No one thought about the yellow window
They all ran around outside
and then the snow fell like feathers onto the ground.

Friendship Song

Empathy sympathy empathy kiss
empathy hold sympathy kiss
sympathy sympathy empathy hold
empathy hold kiss hold
sympathy kiss sympathy kiss
sympathy kiss empathy hold
empathy hold kiss hold
empathy sympathy kiss hold
hold kiss empathy hold
kiss hold sympathy kiss
kiss kiss kiss kiss
sympathy empathy kiss hold

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Rules and realities of English usage from Boston Globe Ideas columnist Jan Freeman.
Jan Freeman, a former Boston Globe editor, has been writing the weekly column The Word since 1997. E-mail her at

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