We admired ancient Egyptians.
Painted boxes, families who cared enough to draw birds,
carry cakes and ale to their beloveds.
We did not cremate her.
We buried her like a sacred Egyptian,
tucked in relics: a lavender heart, garnet ring, Celtic holy card,
the papyrus of her poetry, photos of her Depression childhood.
When the parakeet died she found just the right shoe box.
She folded its blue feathers in with toys and seeds,
painted popsicle sticks green and formed them into a crucifix.
All that winter we waited.
In spring the potato vine blossomed
and stretched over our bird grave.
She believed in rituals — even miracles,
spoke of ancestors clawing sod with bare hands,
turning over blackened spuds.
Their larders bare, nothing to fortify them but prayer.
Nightfall and she waves goodbye from her lace-curtained window.
I hold the wave in my sight, round a corner of the city street.
A family custom to gesture from windows.
A sadness at parting, a not-letting-go.
The tinsel draped fir tree, cranberry garlands and bulbs hidden deep.
My fingers comb the nap of her red velvet couch.
The click of my heels and the tock of her Black Forest clock.
Melted, disfigured choir boy candles sputter out their flame.
Her face shows in tatted, round doilies, antique mirrors.
When I am out at night, I wave to her, I wave to the moon.
Panicked that I’d lost my heart,
I use my GPS device to track its location.
Somewhere between brain and breastbone
I am navigated in a new direction:
“Follow the course of the road from the cerebellum along the pituitary.
Now turn left and then turn right at the atria for three beats.”
Tracking the route, I am delayed at the hippocampus.
With a name like hippocampus how can’t it be a fun place?
Long-term, pleasant memories surface:
the ice pond where I skated as a girl,
my first kiss from a boy,
swigs of Boone’s Farm Apple wine,
kelp smells scenting a faded jeans jacket creased with beach sand.
I want to dwell in the hippocampus.
“Course correction, course correction,” my GPS robotically signals.
“You are living in the past. You are not in the now.”
What fun is the Now with its reality of creaky knees, aching feet?
I steer towards hoola-hoop days – spry and supple hips and hearts
and am led to my sisters – both no longer girls — masters of the rolls and twirls.
We sisters approach, tentatively now: thinning hair, a wobbly gait, faulty hearing.
Our impatience and anxiety with each other –
our nervous laughter —
fearing that my tongue will speak the reality of my own truth
and I will offend.
I could be seduced into believing myself and my kinfolk are strangers –
that my heart has disappeared.
(The following poem is by my Mother who died in 2008)
A candle’s but a simple thing —
it starts with just a bit of string.
Yet dipped or molded with patient hand
it gathers wax upon the strand.
Till rainbow-hued or snowy white
it gives at last a lovely light.
Life seems so like that bit of string —
each deed we do a simple thing.
Yet day by day if in life’s strand
we work with patient heart and hand
it gathers joy, makes dark days bright
and gives at last a lovely light.
John Quill. Imagined in a springtime walk
as a flowering 18th century poet
penning works with turkey, goose, and swan feathers,
living in a garret with no flat-screen television
only rough hewn stone, the occasional chirp of a sparrow, a robin.
A lonely but deep man.
Your golden flowers.
The hue of distilled sun, and honey, and lemons.
Heralding Spring dalliance,
boughs of promise.
I clip and set you in a vase on the table.
Shod as a girl in sensible Hush Puppies, how did my feet go astray?
Corns – I grow my own crop.
Bunion – should I name mine Paul?
I bemoan clodhoppers but am thankful I have feet,
summon praise for podiatrists who name the fascist Plantar and form my orthotics.
Who are the betrayers of the ball, arch, heel, tendons, fascia, ligaments?
Was it the Loafer, the Pump, the Mary Jane, the Earth, the Espadrille, the Wedge, the Platform, the Wallaby, the Hurache?
I eschewed the Stiletto. Was that a mistake? Should I have given them a tango on the dance floor?
And what about DaVinci calling the foot a masterpiece of engineering, a work of art?
Leonardo, do you have a fetish?
These days I look for New Balance, preferably lace-up.
The tongue controls the endgame of words formed in the tunnel between heart and brain.
It is a great manipulator, the gatekeeper of food and language.
It curls and uncurls, rolls words that love or lash. Or claims neutrality like Switzerland.
Sometimes the tongue deceives and takes the shape of dinnerware:
“He or she speaks with forked tongue,” we say.
But what of the throat?
The throat is the tongue’s precursor.
It is a curving tunnel stretching from heart to brain.
When mood clouds the celebrated heart, it mists the brain with poisonous vapors.
Left to incubate, moods rot.
Or they coil, snake-like, await a victim.
Then cold winter slush slithers through the tunnel ignoring mediation,
spewing rattler venom and surprise.
Regurgitated poison is hard to take back. Like rolling broken glass on the tongue.
Sometimes, behind the skin of the wall, she finds the Trainman.
He rode the rails to Canada in 1906:
New York to Ontario, Toronto to Winnepeg, Calgary to Vancouver.
Did he have hobo dreams?
He writes postcards to his wife:
A detour in Montreal, a wash-out near Fort Nelson;
a quick shave, a layover in Portage LaPrairie.
“Hoping you and kiddies are well and full of prunes.”
The granddaughter peels layers of memory, travels to what is behind her:
The bleat of a train horn echoing beyond the Illinois cornfield where she wandered as a girl;
the clatter of cars on the track clack clacking away as she watched amid the withered maize.
Was it the Trainman who tracked her arteries, jangled her bones
as she glimpsed the red caboose wobble away to grown-up destinations?
If she were to go behind the skin of her cheek;
if she were to swab for DNA, test her cells, peel away a pattern –
what would she find on her maternal track?
Nothing pressed her to do this.
She had a fondness for mystery.
The community is a-Twitter and a-Tweet:
“What are you doing?”
Facebook, Google, YouTube map us to digital connections, the technocracy of buzz.
Meanwhile, back in the trees, robins trill vernal melodies; their tiny throats flicker ancient songs.
I met Blue on the Oregon coast. He ruffled and stretched his wings. Plunged his bill in the water for food. Moved with Tai Chi deliberation.
I followed Blue around like the paparazzi. When Blue caught me filming, he did not fly away.
I took hundreds of snaps. As if I could capture his bird-soul!
I, his pupil, still struggle to learn stillness.