Melissa talks in her memoir about the despair that has dogged her – 'a bright and bookish child' who grew up in a chaotic household – all her life:
I have lived with two deep, emotional undercurrents running side by side like tracks of a train. One was my absolute belief that I would write a shelf full of books—from the age of six, I saw them lined up in our town library and knew they would be there forever—and the other was a bedrock conviction that it was too excruciating to be alive and that I might at any moment end my life.
The blessing for us is that Melissa has managed to stay on the side of life, writing her exquisite poems. Another Nobel Prize-winning poet Derek Walcott also took a close interest in her work. After reading the final draft of the elegy to her father (the now-celebrated The Squanicook Ecologues) when she was still young and uncertain of her work, he finally lifted his head and roared, ‘This, darlin’, is one fuckin’ great elegy. Maybe one of the two or three best written in this century! It’s fuckin’ great!’
You can read the Prologue to the Ecologues here.
No one believed that my grandmother’s house could really be black. Even the house painters were sure the stained shingles were charcoal gray until they took a chip to the hardware store to match it, and returned with cans of black stain. … Her black house became my prison and my sanctuary, she both my warder and the reason I could stay alive.
Melissa no longer inhabits the black house except in metaphor now and then and not without a fight. Ratty is sitting outside the one he asked me to draw, nervously hoping for Melissa to happen by so he can show her the lines he scratched for Lily the Pink on the inside of a cornflake packet, now rolled and beribboned.
Melissa has been one of the Tuesday poets for some time and you can read more of her work here.