Writing My Life

Now and Then


… Bonnie, in memoriam …

Artist: Bonnie H. Behunin

If you log onto the Internet and type Bonnie H. Behunin or Bonnie Howe Behunin in a search window, you will find her. You may learn that she authored a book, Wake the Unicorn, and you might find it is still available on Amazon.com for $8.95. The copy “is signed by author. Very minor cover wear. Text clean, no marks. Pages tight. Purchase aids a non-profit animal hospice.” (I didn’t know there WERE animal hospices.)

Another link shares an excerpt from Wake the Unicorn, and you’ll learn the book was the … 

Utah State Poetry Society Book of the Year

1983, Wake The Unicorn by Bonnie Howe Behunin

The Witch

Sometimes children taunt me,
small eyes whispering
behind hands extended
like open Chinese fans.
―Her face is smooth.
She is not old at all.
But I am old.
Old as the rocks
on the Greek shores
of my birth.
Old as your fear
of the unknown,
unopened box
of my smooth face.
Guard your fear.
This distance
between us
may be the only separation
preventing you
from becoming me.

You might be curious enough to look up “Utah State Poetry Society” (USPS) or “Utah Poet of the Year,” and there you will see the long list of those honored since the award’s inception. Among those dates and names, you will find hers:

1983    **Bonnie H. Behunin  Wake The Unicorn

You will notice the two asterisks hovering near that capital “B”. Slowly, you scroll down to the bottom of the list, passing a few other starred names along the way. Double-spaced below the 1965 poet, “Vesta P Crawford Shortgrass Woman,” you find the key: “**deceased.”

Somewhere on the WorldWideWeb you might learn that Bonnie was born on February 22, 1948 to Pete and  Ida Howe, but that would take longer than you have time. I doubt you would discover that she attended  a one-room school house in Atomic City, Idaho or that she was diagnosed with “sugar diabetes” at age. 12. Your research may turn up her death date, and you may wonder if that vile disease brought her down at age 36. It did.

If you ordered Wake the Unicorn from Amazon or the USPS, you could read “About Bonnie” on page 57. The paragraphs would fill in some gaps – 4th of 5 children, rode the bus 2 hours a day to high school, read scores of novels during those rides and into the night, graduated from Brigham Young University with a double major in art and English,  enrolled in every creative writing class that she could find, and her poems were published.

Before leaving the short biography, you discover that she adopted her two-year-old neice, Kristina in 1978 and married Newel Behunin at age 32. You won’t read that she taught school in Vernal, Utah until she went blind, but you will learn that “her close-knit family [had] been an inspiration to her … when her health [had] been precarious.”

If you peruse her poetry, you will most likely agree with the author of her biographical sketch who wrote, “Born … on George Washington’s birthday, this writer can ‘never tell a lie.’  Her poetry is honest, sometimes painfully so. She weaves memory into the fantasy of universal experience in a unique way.”  And then you’ll re-read the judges comments:

Wake the Unicorn shows a consistent pattern of development; the voice in the poems is one of honesty and integrity … the strength is in its fresh imagery and sustained emotional impact. While the book is regional in its flavor, it escapes being too provincially involuted and bounded by the author’s ego.

Here is fresh perception, sensitive, genuine. There is a lovely, restrained tragic sense, but it is an un-self-centered and moving sorrow, and soul searching. This is artistic without artiness.

The author is facile, has caught in minor tunes, the major themes in life through a lovely simplicity.

If you read her poetry, you’ll see into Bonnie’s heart and mind and will feel the sensitivity, the honesty,  and the tragedy. We were cousins, Bonnie and I, but I didn’t really know her. At age 7, I visited her in Atomic City and went with her to that one-room school for a day. I chatted with her at family reunions and ran into her now and again at BYU. We caught up with family news and then drifted back to our own lives.

In 1983, I attended the poetry reading and reception that honored her as Utah’s Poet of the Year. Dr. Max Golightly read her poems, and I was so proud OF and FOR her. I still am.

Bonnie haunts me, however, and so I want to remember and honor her during this month of her birth, this February with its Valentines Day and presidents’ birthdays.  You see, Bonnie Howe Behunin lived as a poet, and her words memorialize her.


… a time to wonder … about Daddy & dying

As a youngster, I hoped that ghosts were only ideas for popular Halloween costumes or subjects of comic books, like that cute little Casper. I didn’t like to think that a wavy, transparent rendition of my grandpa might show up at the foot of my bed “one dark and stormy night.” And I hated the idea that the steam fogging over the windows of my old boyfriend’s Chevy may not be the result of our teenage passion but rather an outlet for my grandmother’s wrath as she attempted to scold me from the other side.

Although I didn’t want to believe in ghosts, I can’t say I didn’t believe in them. Some think ghosts and spirits are the same thing, but I don’t envision spirits making many trips from the spirit world; whereas ghosts seem to show up anywhere at anytime. When enough people share a sufficient number of stories about visiting apparitions, possibilities sneak into the listeners’ thoughts, dreams, and imagination. Nevertheless, I never asked for living proof; I was content to wonder. And then my sweet daddy died.

He left us in the middle of a September night in 2007. He was 83 years old. Mom, my sis, and I huddled around his bed, holding his hands, waiting for the last labored breath to signal his good bye. But when it came, it wasn’t his final farewell. Seconds after his lungs emptied, shards of lightning shattered the dark, and rolls of thunder heralded his leaving. Since that night, I’ve longed for the spirit or ghost of my father-past to drop in for a minute or more. Is that a ridiculous wish?

It’s interesting how losing someone you love so much rearranges fears. I am no longer afraid of the possibility of spirit visitors, but I am afraid of the impossibility of them. Or at least I was. Lately little things have been happening to blow away those tiny motes of doubt that float in with sweet memories. And it’s not like I have been consciously seeking reassurances either. They’ve just come – unexpectedly, randomly, and subtly.

The first one came in the form of a story – well, a novel, actually. For the second time, I checked out The Lovely Bones from the library. I couldn’t get past chapter one the first time I listened to the audio tape, but friends recommended that I give Alice Sebold’s debut novel another chance. Although there are many painful parts of this remarkable tale, a beautiful tenderness soon emerges from Susie’s other-worldly “watch care” over her family and friends. Her interactions with them are only possible because of her love for them, and it’s the best kind of love, as it is grounded in who they are and who they are not. By the time I finished the last chapter, I believed in the characters, and I believed in their experiences.

The second little reassurance emerged from a more expected source: church. Last Saturday evening, a well-known and beloved religious leader visited our congregation, and when he rose to speak to us, he announced that he felt prompted to share an experience that he had never spoken of publicly. And then he talked of a time when he left this life to visit the beautiful and peaceful realm beyond this one. Now I’ve read of near-death experiences where individuals see a bright light, and they are filled with warmth and a desire to stay in that state. But this was the first time I heard such a testimony from someone I know, someone I respect, and most importantly, someone I trust. This unusual experience reoccurred 3 more times in his life. I know I was not the only one in that chapel who needed to hear that message, but I do realize it was meant for me, too.

The latest chapter was delivered via email. I opened a “Teaching and Learning” newsletter that featured an essay by one of my favorite authors, Amy Tan. “Saying Thanks to My Ghosts”was submitted by the author as part of of NPR’s “This I Believe” series. Ghosts/spirits have visited Amy throughout her life, but she didn’t realize it, even when her mother recognized their unique contributions to Amy’s writing. Now if any mother could rend the veil between heaven and earth, it is Amy’s mother, and according to the author, she did!

So, there they are. Three little incidents that reminded me that ghosts or spirits can wander back and forth between worlds, and that is no longer frightening, it is comforting. I may not awaken one night to see Daddy sitting by my bedside, but we keep in touch through little messages sent through others or through warm rememberings, and quite often through dreams – some silly, some sweet.

I love you, Daddy, and I am happy that you are near.