Sunday, March 21, 2010
I've been writing a blogpost in my head about my mother lately. This morning, I found a poem by Mary Oliver (you may read it in the previous post) that I found true and beautiful, but I don't want to write about my relationship with my mother, or speculate about the mystery of who she was, or cry over her. Not today. I just want to see if I can create some kind of image of her that will feed my heart for the time being. In the world of the spirit, our relationships are just as complicated with those who have passed as with the living. Our ties with the dead continue to evolve and change and impact us with no need for traditional communication. And, I have found that as the years go by, it is far more difficult, or maybe just less necessary, to put into sentences our memories of them. I see my mother now in the things of the world that remind me of her. This is how people stay alive for us, I think-through the life of what remains.
I have some of her posessions: her collection of turquoise Indian jewelry from a long-ago trip to New Mexico; an Indian print skirt, the tiny waist of which has always been a silent reproach; some art books. In the next layer, I have my deep love for the work of certain artists and artisans; my ability to sew (though never quite as well as she did); my vegetarian stirfry recipes; my fine hair; my ambivalent relationship with my femininity, my vulnerability, my body, men.
Every day things bring me back to her: ordering a muffin and coffee never fails to conjure up images of the two of us in a booth at the little luncheonette at JP Penney's (we split the muffin). When I see a big, luxurious sedan, particularly in a pastel color, I smile thinking of her beloved powder-blue Buick Electra. My little dog sleeps on my lap, as hers did each evening. When I see a Vera scarf, a bright flowered pattern, a colorful dress or dangly earrings, I see her wearing them. When I wish I had been less afraid in my earlier life, less dependent on the affections and the approval of a man, less worried about the results and more interested in the adventure, I think of her, and I wonder how her life would have been, or mine, for that matter, if we had been born now instead of then.
It has been 32 years since my mother died. I had seen her at Christmas, and she seemed tired. I teased her about that: she didn't even want to go to the fabric store. She died two weeks later, and I got the news from my dad, over the phone, on a cold January night. My father told me that she begged not to go to the hospital-she hated hospitals. Her complicated medical issues necessitated far too frequent visits and she insisted that she would be fine. When it was apparent that she was failing, he wrapped her up in the tartan plaid flannel bathrobe I got him
for Christmas and rushed her to the emergency room. She was taken off life support the following day. She was 52.
She died before I realized that I needed her much more than she needed me; long before I realized what she could teach me. The lessons are still there for me to learn, but only if I find new ways to listen.
by Mary Oliver
Welcome to the silly, comforting poem.
It is not the sunrise,
which is a red rinse,
which is flaring all over the eastern sky;
it is not the rain falling out of the purse of God;
it is not the blue helmet of the sky afterward,
or the trees, or the beetle burrowing into the earth;
it is not the mockingbird who, in his own cadence,
will go on sizzling and clapping
from the branches of the catalpa that are thick with blossoms,
that are billowing and shining,
that are shaking in the wind.
You still recall, sometimes, the old barn on your
great-grandfather's farm, a place you visited once,
and went into, all alone, while the grownups sat and
talked in the house.
It was empty, or almost. Wisps of hay covered the floor,
and some wasps sang at the windows, and maybe there was
a strange fluttering bird high above, disturbed, hoo-ing
a little and staring down from a messy ledge with wild,
Mostly, though, it smelled of milk, and the patience of
animals; the give-offs of the body were still in the air,
a vague ammonia, not unpleasant.
Mostly, though, it was restful and secret, the roof high
up and arched, the boards unpainted and plain.
You could have stayed there forever, a small child in a corner,
on the last raft of hay, dazzled by so much space that seemed
empty, but wasn't.
Then--you still remember--you felt the rap of hunger--it was
noon--and you turned from that twilight dream and hurried back
to the house, where the table was set, where an uncle patted you
on the shoulder for welcome, and there was your place at the table.
There is a graveyard where everything I am talking about is,
I stood there once, on the green grass, scattering flowers.
Nothing is so delicate or so finely hinged as the wings
of the green moth
against the lantern
against its heat
against the beak of the crow
in the early morning.
Yet the moth has trim, and feistiness, and not a drop
Not in this world.
was the blue wisteria,
was the mossy stream out behind the house,
my mother, alas, alas,
did not always love her life,
heavier than iron it was
as she carried it in her arms, from room to room,
I bury her
in a box
in the earth
and turn away.
was a demon of frustrated dreams,
was a breaker of trust,
was a poor, thin boy with bad luck.
He followed God, there being no one else
he could talk to;
he swaggered before God, there being no one else
who would listen.
this was his life.
I bury it in the earth.
I sweep the closets.
I leave the house.
I mention them now,
I will not mention them again.
It is not lack of love
nor lack of sorrow.
But the iron thing they carried, I will not carry.
I give them--one, two, three, four--the kiss of courtesy,
of sweet thanks,
of anger, of good luck in the deep earth.
May they sleep well. May they soften.
But I will not give them the kiss of complicity.
I will not give them the responsibility for my life.
Did you know that the ant has a tongue
with which to gather in all that it can
Did you know that?
The poem is not the world.
It isn't even the first page of the world.
But the poem wants to flower, like a flower.
It knows that much.
It wants to open itself,
like the door of a little temple,
so that you might step inside and be cooled and refreshed,
and less yourself than part of everything.
The voice of the child crying out of the mouth of the
is a misery and a disappointment.
The voice of the child howling out of the tall, bearded,
is a misery, and a terror.
Therefore, tell me:
what will engage you?
What will open the dark fields of your mind,
like a lover
at first touching?
there was no barn.
No child in the barn.
No uncle no table no kitchen.
Only a long lovely field full of bobolinks.
When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields, consider
the orderliness of the world. Notice
something you have never noticed before,
like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket
whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb.
Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain,
shaking the water-sparks from its wings.
Let grief be your sister, she will whether or no.
Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also,
like the diligent leaves.
A lifetime isn't long enough for the beauty of this world
and the responsibilities of your life.
Scatter your flowers over the graves, and walk away.
Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance.
In the glare of your mind, be modest.
And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling.
Live with the beetle, and the wind.
This is the dark bread of the poem.
This is the dark and nourishing bread of the poem.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Today, I drove to Saginaw to see my ocularist and friend Mike Bain. I can't take my prosthesis in and out anymore, since I got the articulated peg, and it needed to be removed and cleaned and adjusted a little bit. In spite of the long drive, I always look forward to seeing Mike, who has painstakingly handcrafted two prosthetic eyes for me. He has done this with great skill and tremendous care and thoughtfulness, and I have written about Mike and my prosthesis several times on this blog.
I can't overstate the importance of my close and trusting relationship with Mike or the complexity of my relationship with him, and I am sure that this is the case with all of us who have lost a body part and had to have an artificial one made in its place. This artificial part has to function to some degree; it has to be modified, improved, fixed and changed as time and the rest of the body, the natural part, evolves; it has to look as natural as possible to the casual observer (though I now realize that no prostheses really fool anybody past a cursory glance no matter how good they are); and maybe most importantly, it has to in some way compensate for the lost part to the person who owns it. This last point may be the most important one and the one least understood by others: we have to be comfortable with this new piece of anatomy and getting it to that point has to be a real challenge for the prosthesis maker. They do something that no one else can: they help us feel whole again.
As always, we chat for awhile, sitting in one of the examining rooms that Mike operates out of at the eye clinic. We talk about work, and family, and tease each other about our political differences. We always laugh a lot, though I have cried, too, more than once. When he works on my eye, he is gentle and considerate. There is an intimacy between us, and a comfort level-the kind that comes from going through something horrible together that turns out to be ok. There is a sense that he got on the lifeboat with me as the Titanic of my old life broke in half and sank.
He always tells me I am beautiful, and I always believe him.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Half my life ago, a sacred tiny being came through my body and left this world much sooner than anyone expected her to. I have written about the events that led up to Annie Lane's birth and death before on this blog-the last time was a year ago. Today, my heart is no less broken than any other March 16th, but the way I experience it continues to evolve. Right after her death, I remember thinking that it would probably not be possible for me to survive it. Ten years ago, I stopped crying at her grave and started talking to her a little while leaving some little token of flowers or driftwood. Five years ago I stopped talking and began learning to silently share that space and time with her, not really thinking about anything, not trying to pay tribute somehow or to conform to someone else's idea of the grieving mother. This year, I did not visit her place of rest, though it was a beautiful sunny day and it may have been a serene visit. Something is changing about the way I live with her in my heart, and it seems less important to me to go to that place, less important to mark the day with solemnity, grief, even remembrances. It has been 29 years. After living with her and without her for this long, she is just present, and there is no need to mark or commemorate the date.
I remember, two weeks after she died, walking into a store where there were baby clothes and nearly running back out the door, heart racing and breaking. Last week, a co-worker brought her newborn girl to our department dinner and we toasted and celebrated. I did not think of Annie Lane. I realize that I no longer live with the loss, but with the realization that this child, like my other two, was never mine, after all-no more than any of us belong to our parents or are really just the product of the two of them. We are so much more mysterious than that, so much more impossible to fathom. Like life itself.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
These are some of Annie's latest paintings. I love them. To me, they are her best yet, at least the best I have seen. She goes to work every day, and then she comes home and paints. Other times, she draws in her sketchbook. When she is not drawing or painting, she is making things, or she is painting walls in her room beautiful colors. When she learned how to sew a few years back, she made beautiful dresses, combining fabrics in unexpected ways. When she gets dressed in the morning, it is another way that she composes art.
Annie began making art as soon as she could: drawing, painting, creating outfits for herself and dolls, arranging things on shelves, building, shaping, combining. There has never been a time in her life that this has not been the case. How happy I am that Annie has remained faithful to herself, through thick and thin, living her truth.