Sunday, August 21, 2005

Storm in August

I've been trying to bring to mind some soft-focus, Hallmark Card memories of my mom. Or anything really, any specific moment. It all keeps getting lost in the narrative, told so often as to have lost its corners, its impact, its three-dimensional reality.

Except - I do remember she had long nails. She kept them perfectly manicured, though she never had them professionally done. At church on Sunday, we would lay our heads in her lap, and she would clean out our ears using the perfect scoops of her nails.

As I got older, I would ask for this, laying my head in her lap, a moment of blissful regression, but every time she would say, "Look at your perfect, pink little shell-like ears. They're just too clean, there's nothing for me to do..."

She was a poet.

While I was living at home, she would ask me to critique her poems. "Be brutal," she would say.

I could imagine nothing more terrifying. How could I possibly critique my mother's poetry? I did though, I tried. I have no idea what sort of half-assed or cruel or pointless things I said. It's all blocked out.

But after I'd been living away for several years, she sent me a volume of her poetry. It was beautiful.

At her funeral in January, I read a favorite poem from that book:

Storm in August
About the time we passed the Crosby House
the wind began to blow, sending whirlwinds
worrying red dirt. Through the haze
the sun burned ominous
behind the bee-bedeviled hollyhocks.

Mother's skirts filled up with gusts,
involving both her hands.
Squinching up our gritty eyes, we held together,
welded hand in hand; one on either side
of Baby Rae, nearly swept away, whimpering
into the tug of wind.

"I've left the windows open." Mother put it
in the wind. "...must go back...houses blow away.
Stay here at Sister Terry's; be good girls..."

Sister Terry did her best.
portioned songs and stories anxiously,
tea party's propitiation, paper dolls to hold
against the winding wind around the house,
filling up the periled afternoon.
The clock said five, but black had blotted up the sky
Lightning panicked when it struck
the pole across the lawn, splintering
and thundering. Lights went out up and down
the street. We groped toward each other;
Sister Terry lit the candles
in a trembling flame, then held us awkwardly.
We soothed each other, holding rocking in her lap.

The storm ran down just before dusk.
She loosed us, blinking in an altered world.
Power poles hung broken, strung among
their lines, limbs of stricken trees
blocked off the roads, littered lawns.
The cottonwood we couldn't span with our linked arms
now lay yanked on its side, roots extracted,
still gesticulating to the sky.

How washed the air! How bright the light
the sun put down behind the hills.

And, mounted on his stallion, Golden Racket,
cantering along the street, sharing shadows
cantering; our father came, wearing
his white Stetson, reining in,
looking like a god.


Sylvana said...

That was a fabulous poem. Sorry to hear about your mother. Did she get her poems published? If, not, are you thinking about doing it?

jkirlin said...


Chemical Billy said...

Thank you both. Not bad for a girl who grew up baling hay on a ranch, huh? My dad was in town last weekend, & he gave me permission to post her work on the blog. She published only limited runs of her poetry, so this is a way of "publishing" her stuff - what matters is getting it out there for more folks to read.

Daniel Heath said...

"I've left the windows open." Mother put it
in the wind.

azuremonkey said...

Oh, CB, the poem was beautiful.

as to have lost its corners, its impact, its three-dimensional reality

I couldn't remember much of my mom after she passed away and when the memories did come back, they were pure, clean memories, complete with strings and a chorus belting out "ahhhh!".

Now I remember most things, but I miss the version of her at her best, the way I'd look at her as a child, without any distortions.

And look how you're got me talking about my mom.