Monday, October 03, 2005

Nothing wastes

A friend recently wrote a book, the first part of which takes place in 13th century China. The main character's grandfather dies, and the family enters a three year mourning. As part of that mourning, the father "...spoke every day to his children about their grandfather's life and character."

My mother died in January. These are different times, and our rituals have been diluted, watered down and thinned out to a barely discernable skein of gestures: coffin, funeral, flowers, eulogy. But grief expands beyond the designated days or weeks of mourning, airplane to visit family, time off work, sympathy cards.

Her birthday was in October. Dad makes a calendar every year to track family birthdays (we're a big family, and growing, birthdays populate every month), and each month features family photos, often of the birthday girls or boys. So I turn the calendar over to October, and there's Mom. Mom in yellow, holding a yellow rose from the yard. Mom in the kitchen, gesturing like Vanna White. Mom in the snow, on the phone, in the pool.

Mom through Dad's eyes. Theirs was a great love, an affair amplified through years of retelling, a towering legend they built together (a poet and an artist), with the collaboration of their kids.

I'm edging around my point, creeping up to it by degrees. I've wondered how best to mourn Mom, to acknowledge her life without creating an idol - a doll - of her. And this is where I land: I will tell her story. In pieces, not comprehensive, not whole, but my stories of her (single-point perspective, like late Medieval art). And, I will post some of her poems alongside. So, at least through the anniversary of her death, I will use this forum - though not for this exclusively - to say goodbye.

Other posts:
Storm in August
October 16
Old Ranch Dies

This poem seems entirely too appropriate.

Nothing Wastes
Struck from the rock
Out of the fume of smoke,
The first spark spins.

Hastily, I feed it
What small tinder
I can gather;
Plunder woven
Out of vacant nests;
Outgrown down, small twig things
(Bird breast-bones, polished
Pinky fingers, skeletons of trees)--
An excess of debris
Feeds flame
Sent spiralling

Above the glaciered stone,
Above the eyes flow,
Frozen into streams.
Feeds flame avalanches devastate,
Log jams, useless even
For a tomb. Springs fire
Releasing streams to melt
In torrents and run down,
Dislodging stone moves
Fractionally, from my prison
And I see, finally

That nothing wastes.
Not windfalls, winter leavings
From her nests, not spent
Trees. Not pain. No waste
In death--nor in the
Bitter taste, the offering
Of suffering
Upon the breath.


jason evans said...

I read this with a hush.

Please do posterity a favor a keep copies of your series of posts. I'm sure grandchildren, great grandchildren, and beyond would appreciate your reflections.

Caryn said...

So I read this the other day and never did respond. So sorry. Just wanted to let you know that your story was very touching, and I liked the message in the poem very much.

Joseph K said...


Nihilistic said...

Very nice! Very nice...

Anonymous said...

Your mum really got it, didn't she? Like you get it. Reminds me of Mutis who quoted someone who said, "Years, years spent pouring words we couldn't fathom. Only through death we speak in honest fashion."

A friend from sandys or thereabouts,


Anonymous said...


Gunluk islerdenmis gibi olum

-- Maqroll

Anonymous said...


Ok ok, I'll stop soon. I will. But this entry has really moved me to dig up a couple of my favorite quotes:

"We brought with us only time to live between
the lightning and the wind." -- Montale

"Un bel morir tutta una vita onora." -- Petrarca


Con un abrazo de oso,


Chemical Billy said...

Jason, Anna, Joseph - thank you all.

Stacy - welcome, neighbor!

Maqroll - bless you. the quotes are exactly right (though I had to look up the Eskisi).

Bernita said...

A beautiful, truly exquisite poem.
It's a new kind of loneliness when a parent dies, and you no longer have that buttress against the responsibility and role of family matriarch - when you become she.
And the ache lasts a long, long time for the loss of that love.

Geo said...

I remember your mom . . . laughing, confiding, sighing, narrating, delighting, searching, reminsicing, worrying, languishing, creating, self-effacing, flirting, giving . . . but never regretting. I love her. I love you.

The Kat said...

powerful...i really enjoy your writing.