Critical Mass

A Tribute and a Celebration: Siv Cedering’s Last Book,“Vixen”


Swedish-born poet and fiction writer Siv Cedering , who started her life thirty kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, died on November 17, 2007 in Sagaponack, NY, after a year-long fight with pancreatic cancer.She spent her last days at her farm, a sanctuary of art and spirit that she created with her husband, the sculptor Hans Van de Bovenkamp. Siv’s last book, “Vixen,“will be celebrated next Saturday, December 22, at 4 pm with a reading at the Pamela Williams Gallery in Amagansett. Poet Fran Castan worked with Siv on “Vixen.” Here are Fran’s comments, and two of Siv’s poems:

Right up to the last few weeks, Siv was working. Her final project was a book of poems, “Vixen,” with drawings by Connie Fox. Its publisher is Bill Henderson of Pushcart Press. The poems are fresh, primal, beautiful.

It was a privilege to watch Siv work on “Vixen,” a lesson that in the face of suffering and death itself, it is possible to live joyfully, making art. During the course of work on the project, Siv said, “We have so much to do. I think there’s still time for six or even seven more books.”

Seems like a reasonable expectation when you consider that she wrote children’s books, illustrated with her own water colors; poetry books, illustrated with her own photography; musical compositions for a TV series based on one of her stories; novels; screenplays, paintings; sculptures. How could one person possibly do all this? Once, I borrowed a line from Siv’s good friend, Philip Appleman, who said, “We should go over to her house right now, liberate the 10 people in her basement churning out all this work.”

Trouble is, Siv didn’t have a basement. She had, I believe, the six arms of Lakshmi, Hindu goddess of abundance.

Those of us who’ve been blessed to know Siv, have felt her abundance, her radiance, her extraordinary capacity to shine a positive light on experience. Her profound understanding excluded blame or criticism. Rather, she offered wisdom.

A perfect example of Siv’s spirit is in a 14-line poem I shaped from a voice mail she left me. It’s called “Message” and I feel it is sent to us all.


Hi darling friend, it’s me.

I don’t know what you’ve heard…

So I’m reluctant…

To tell you…

I have bad news…

The cancer is back.

It’s not good.

I’m sorry.

Whatever you’re doing today, have fun.

Orioles are everywhere. Can you hear them?

I’m back, at home.

It would be great to see you.

Call me. I love you.

Write a beautiful poem.

And here are lines from Siv’s poem “Ukiyo-E,” reprinted by permission of the publisher of “The Pushcart Book Of Poetry: The Best Poems Thirty Years of the Pushcart Prize 2006.”


What explanation is given for the phosphorus light
That you, as boy, went out to catch
When summer dusk turned to night?
You caught the fireflies, put them in a jar,
Careful to let in some air,
Then you fed them dandelions, unsure
Of what such small and fleeting things
Need, and when
Their light grew dim, you
  Let them go.

There is no explanation for the fire
That burns in our bodies
Or the desire that grows, again and again,
So that we must move toward each other
In the dark.
We have no wings.
We are ordinary people, doing ordinary things.
The story can be told on rice paper.
There is a lantern, a mountain, whatever
  We can remember.

Hiroshige’s landscape is so soft.
What child, woman, would not want to go out
Into that dark, and be caught,
And caught again, by you?
I want these pictures of the floating world
To go on, but when
The light begins to dim, catch me.
Give me whatever a child imagines
To keep me aglow, then
  Let me go.