Posts Tagged #iphone shots
This year marks twenty-five years without you.
I took this photo because this sky made me think of you, tumbling me back to a warm late-summer night when I was a college sophomore. It was the year after Dad died, and the humid air felt heavy with unheld grief. Grammy was not in the nursing home yet, you were caring for her and no one was caring for you; I was away at college, mostly, or busy running from reality. You looked shrunken but never admitted weakness or asked for help.
Even so, you had a light, Mama. You were never defeated. I remember walking with you, under a sky such as this one, talking of nothing much, letting go of everything but the shimmering sound of the cicadas in the Black Ash trees that were still so lush and strong, and like you were then–still alive.
The ash trees are all dying now, or already dead, infested with borers. You are gone now, too. But that night, under a blue sweep of sky, under a parade of pink-edged clouds, we walked. I still walk, Mama. You gave me that love of moving slower than a bike or car ride allows, soaking in the small things that are everything.
We got ice cream cones at Friendly’s, peppermint stick for you, plain vanilla for me. We walked and laughed and licked the ice cream.
Back home, the smoke alarms were blaring. Grammy had put a pan of milk on the stove to heat, and forgotten about it, gone back to bed. Mostly deaf, the alarm didn’t alarm her at all. The sweet night turned sticky. Things do.
Her days, your days, my days–all numbered. They always were, weren’t they? No matter how we tried to pretend otherwise.
Looking back, I wish we’d spoken of the time. Not about its running out, so much. About its preciousness. Love, Mama. It is sacred. I see that now. I wish I’d loved you better, been brave enough, awake enough, aware enough to hold your hand and ask you if you were afraid, those Fridays in the Chemo center. We held hands. We watched Clarence Thomas’s supreme court nomination hearings. Conservative, which was your leaning, you never disbelieved that he was a womanizer or worse. Coke cans and pubic hair jokes, we watched, uneasy, as Anita Hill was picked apart, as the poison dripped into your veins and the TV we could not turn off droned on.
I wish I’d asked you about what it was like for you as a white Yankee transplanted to the deep south, about race relations back then, as the civil rights era was just stirring, about what it was like for you as a woman in your 20s, and 30s. About the men who maybe treated you like Clarence Thomas treated Anita Hill. About how Dad treated you, when you became a mother and he a breadwinner. About what it was like to be in love, and what happened after that part ended. About what you’d have done the same, about what you’d have maybe done differently, given the chance.
But I didn’t ask such things. I knew the past was full of traps. I was afraid, you see, to ask you anything “upsetting.”
We were resolutely cheerful and ‘brave,’ those afternoons at the Chemo place. If you can call it brave, on my part, not asking you what was ringing in my soul: “Mama, are you scared?”
Because I sure was.
And I bet you were, too.
When I saw this sky, and felt you magically walking with me again for a sliver of a moment, I knew that you’d have liked to have been asked, about being scared, but you forgive me anyway. Your spirit filled me, told me: Always speak from your heart. Don’t mourn the lost opportunities. Stay awake to the ones before you right now. Ask the questions.
So even though I didn’t ask you then what you’d have done differently, you told me today. And whether I believe in heaven or not—and I’m not sure about any of that, Mama—you are with me still.
In the skies, smiling down at me, pink-edged and glowing with love.
Howler monkeys howl
sing lonesome songs in the rain—
carry me away
Now it’s time to let go of anything that
does not serve you, she says
I sink into the stretch
Breathe in peace
Breathe out pain
Harp music: a lullaby melody
Hush a bye, don’t you cry…
I hear my long-ago self crooning,
round baby latched to my breast
Blacks and bays, dapples and grays
All the pretty little horses
When you wake, we’ll have cake…
Oh, I feel such an ache
Joy and despair, inseparable twins
Brightness paired with brackish dark
Time to curl up, like a fetus
a reminder, she says, that we can always
Anew floods me. It’s high tide in Ohio
deep-etched patterns melt as awareness swells,
crests—suddenly, I taste salt
Oh, darkest secret, deepest fear:
I’m afraid I’ll never see the stars
Per aspera ad astra
A little prayer
Warm-breath whispered in my ear
By the blind innocent within
Who believes in light she cannot see
I don’t know how I stayed away from the water so long. A (very) minor surgery interrupted my habit of swimming 50 or so laps in an indoor pool, a half-hour meditation for me, where I immerse myself, literally, in a flow of stroking, kicking, turning, pushing off, all the while counting out the laps over and over.
I swim as hard as I can. I am not a particularly fast swimmer, but I swim steadfastly. Speed is not the point. I concentrate on feeling my body in the water, on form, on breathing, on the dreamy beauty of the watery blue beneath me, on the mosaic-tiled black stripe I follow back and forth, back and forth.
Even so, stray thoughts inevitably bubble up, little silvery bursts, like my underwater exhalations.
They say when you are drowning your life flashes before you. I’m not drowning, but life has had its flooding moments lately. Last night as I pushed hard off the wall of the pool, the things I once was certain of flashed through me, more like a current of feeling than a vision, beginning with the childhood certainty that my mother would always be there to love me.
Certainty is an illusion, yet we think sometimes—most times—that illusion is truth. These illusionary truths, these certainties we cling to, like life preservers on a choppy sea, are the very illusions that will one day have us gasping for air, trying not to drown.
The last lap brought it home. Certainty is an illusion; Illusion is truth—So nothing’s true? I buried this tired and hopeless thought. I slept hard, and woke feeling fragile.
Then this morning, I heard a line from one of Gregory Orr’s poems, and I dove into some of his poetry and these stanzas floated up:
Grief will come to you.
Grip and cling all you want,
It makes no difference.
Catastrophe? It’s just waiting to happen.
Loss? You can be certain of it.
Flow and swirl of the world.
Carried along as if by a dark current.
All you can do is keep swimming;
All you can do is keep singing.
And somehow these words comforted me, and so to my swimming-mind puzzle there is now a hopeful ending (thank you, Gregory Orr):
Certainty is an illusion; Illusion is truth.
All you can do is keep swimming; All you can do is keep singing.
I’m not certain of hope sometimes, but I’m also not certain of hopelessness. Maybe uncertainty is truly the gift, after all? With that thought I turn, push off, keep swimming. It is just enough to make my heart softly sing as I kick and breathe my way through this watery December afternoon.
I have been eating poetry
Wildly gorging on it,
like it was chocolate, and you know—
I cannot keep candy in the house.
I’d be fat as a tick, as Mama used to say.
Poetry is calorie-free, sweeter than syrup
but sometimes so bitter it stings going down.
I sat alone in a softly-lit hushed restaurant last
Saturday night, reading poetry, poetry, poetry
and savoring vegetarian chili, roast carrots and
a cold brown ale.
There is no happiness like mine:
so much poetry—no room, even, for dessert.
(An ode to Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Strand, who died this week.)
There’s a river in my
a river of fathomless blue
ice-crusted snowdrift clouds
over bare-armed trees
and bare-armed people.
My teeth crunch an apple
my feet crunch leaves as
Monday’s snow melts into
tiny sidewalk rivelets.
A boy zigzags the lawn
hunting acorns he trades
for tired smiles from his mother.
Love flows like a river, unstopping.