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Archive for March, 2010

nor bitter tears

Love stories are most often told from the beginning β€” from before love has stolen into the hearts of unsuspecting strangers or friends or perhaps even bitter enemies. Love stories mostly tell of the delicious, exhilarating fall, as gravity shifts and orbits realign. As spring bursts into shocking blossom with bees in attendance and nests overfull with the sharp insistent beaks of new and hungry life, and then the slow spreading warmth of summer, its steady blaze and drowsy hum a soothing, timeless sun-drenched hammock.

The love story I’m thinking of today, however, I first knew in its autumn, with the longed-for children suddenly grown and offspring of their own (one of which am I), the work mostly done, the leaves crackling on the wind and quiet hands held across the armchairs. Oh there was travel, and social functions, and community service, and family gatherings, and all the richness that years of striving can build, but remains somewhat invisible to the young and unattuned eye.

What I noticed more than this, and later on, was the winter. The warmth and marriage and children of my own prompted my awareness of love that had gone before, of archetypes echoing bittersweetly all around, particularly in my own family tree. Cushioned in the softness of young motherhood, I gazed at my grandparents with newfound awe, so brittle with age but soft in their way, gnarled hand patting gnarled hand and a few scant words somehow uttering great and epic sentences, whole histories conveyed with smile or shrug between pills and long naps.

I watched them quietly delight in what they had made together, this family, this life. Their eyes danced in their feeble and tired bodies. They shuffled and wheeled about their daily life, met each pain in passing, noting the physical diminishments with resignation and grace, accepting the small mercies and pleasures with gratitude.

And then the snow began to fall in earnest. Hospitalizations, complications, setbacks. Unreachable pain. Separation. Frozen apart, frozen in time, no hope of a thaw. Utter, fathomless fatigue.

We did what one does at the bedside of death. We sat with her for days, husband and sons and daughters and grandchildren, learning her body anew even as it wasted away, memorizing the rhythm of her breath, the hue of her translucent skin, watching her pulse leap its uncertain dance, a thread connecting now to now to now, each iteration in wonderment of the next. We named our love, showed her our grief, thanked her for the gift she had been, promised we would go on together, that she had taught us well. Her still-blue eyes peered at us like twin stars, reflecting the icy fire of worlds in the making, until at last she sank into tremulous sleep, and remained there, both distant and near, for days.

And then she was gone.

Her husband, my grandfather… I don’t think I’m ready yet to give words to what he did. He is mostly silent, and perhaps feels mostly alone now. I don’t know. Their story is largely unknowable to me, and what continues on for him, in him, I can only imagine. The winter of his love was harsh, and while I hope there will be spring again on some faraway shore, I cannot know it for certain.

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in the fields

Today dawn breaks early, its smear of palest blue over the hills like phosphorescent foam on dark swells of the sea. I think of her veined hands, knobbed and stained with bruises, how they may now remember the ocean of their birth, feel that pull of the tide. What cares they have smoothed in this life, who they reach for now across the gulf.

Today I pray for the swift hands of mercy, and imagine them pale and cool as granite, smelling of a sweetness only known in half-remembered dreams. May they carry her safely home.

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from the deep, deep gulf

You know those aliens on Sesame Street? The Yip Yips, they’re called. The ones who seem to have semi-detachable lower jaws which they employ to comment at length on a dripping faucet or ringing phone. Never seeking to engage with the item directly or affect any change on their environment whatsoever, these furry neon pundits from outer space tirelessly affirm the observable and the obvious, and would continue to do so for the foreseeable future if the skit didn’t draw to an inconclusive albeit amusing end.

If my children were Yip Yips, and it’s true they do often bear a striking resemblance, jawing on about whatever happens to be wearing a path across their neurons at the moment, I would likely be driven to pull their flappy lower lips up over their heads and sew them firmly to their shirt collars.

However, one is generally not permitted to perform such surgeries on the wee, particularly without a license, so instead I resign myself to mining the stream-of-consciousness for insight into their mysterious little minds. Just recently my three year old held a lengthy discourse on Corn Troopers, and how they have to be bad and fight or the world would become unbalanced.

Who knew? In typical parental tune-out mode, I would have guessed he’d seen some new cartoon featuring a vegetable army of zen practitioners. In truth, he’d been playing Star Wars (which he’s never seen! he’s three!) with a friend at school and beginning to wrap his head around the eternal problem of good and evil.

I also was able to discern, through my seven year old’s nearly opaque prattle about plate tectonics and earthquakes that sometimes the feeling she gets in her heart is like steam or lava, a superheated pressure that needs to burst out, so she gives herself a good shake to dispel the intensity of the feeling. (I know one is supposed to remark only modestly on one’s own children, but I do believe she may possess an emotional intelligence far superior to her mother’s.)

These sideways glances into my children’s interior lives may not sound revelatory in a way that requires much shouting from the mountaintops, but for me, as someone who once carried them inside me and is now, by the very fact of their growth, more and more distanced, this glimpse gives me so very much. They are like strange little living poems, their words saying one thing and their subtext saying ever so much more.

So today I am giving quiet thanks to the Yip Yips, for their brightly hued, googly-eyed wonder, and their understated lesson: sometimes what’s right in front of your face, even known or patently obvious, is actually worth further and deeper study.

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