Posts Tagged ‘Eternity’

the jewelry box

January 13th, 2020    -    5 Comments

The Tiffany Building, New York

When you die can I have your jewelry?

My daughter must have been 7 or 8 years old when she said this. It was one of those bugle calls our children regularly give us without guile or guilt. You are old and going to die! At other times, she asked for certain fancy dresses and pointy shoes post-mortem. I took it as a thief’s form of approval.

When I was in my twenties, my apartment was burglarized. A pair of professionals had watched me leave for work. I didn’t think I owned anything that was worth stealing, but was nonetheless relieved of an old television, spare change, a modest stock of jewelry and all the prescriptions in the medicine cabinet. When the police came I noticed that two silk flower arrangements were missing. Silk flowers were a thing in the early ’80s, but I didn’t believe anyone could fetch a dime for a handful of fake flowers. The policeman set me straight.

Those are for their wives.

I was being crafty when I handed my daughter a trash bag one morning last week, saying if you throw out your old makeup, bath, and hair stuff I will give you my jewelry. I wanted a clean bathroom, you see, and it worked. When she reported back, the duty done, I took a step ladder to the closet shelves and brought a dozen or more little boxes down from the farther reaches where they’d been forgotten. We opened them one by one.

There were iconic robin’s egg blue boxes, dainty ring boxes and long black bracelet boxes, a Baccarat crystal necklace, a box each from Barney’s New York and the Met, and a collection of treasures from a certain antique jewelry purveyor on East 57th. I told my daughter I once had a wealthy admirer who shopped for me whenever he was in the very city which is now her city. Shown the evidence, her eyes widened in appreciation.

Victorian Period
Fifteen Karat Gold Brooch
Made in England
Circa 1880

There were a few souvenirs from my first marriage during a decade when the size of my hair, shoulder pads, shoes and rings coalesced in New Jersey mobster chic. I took out a dusty Rolex watch, a rope of black pearls, and a chunky choker in blazing gold. My daughter demurred.

Some things are too fabulous even for me.

She made an exception for the watch.

After all that, I opened the little wooden jewelry box that I’d kept my wearables in, cheap jewelry chosen by me and not someone adorning me. Most of the clasps were broken. These really were valuables. I’d worn out the stuff. There was one last bracelet rimmed with miniature charms: a statue, a building, a bridge, all the landmarks of Manhattan. I’d once loved it for holding the promise of a new life, a world yet unseen. My daughter claimed it.

I wish I’d known you then.

She said, as if there was ever a single moment separating us.

***

“You may suppose that time is only passing away, and not understand that time never arrives.” – Dogen Zenji

Photo by Benjamin Jopen on Unsplash

where mothers go

December 13th, 2019    -    10 Comments

A few months ago I called our tree guy Danny to come over and dispose of the dead. It used to be that I could go years and years without even thinking of death or disposal, but nowadays we see all around us the fallout of our bald-faced climate catastrophe. This time it was a couple of towering English yews, evergreen columns that were planted a hundred years ago along the formal pathways to the garden. An arborist once told me that English yews weren’t even supposed to grow here, but ours were a scrappy bunch, soldiering through a century of summers until the last five months of sunlight just incinerated them. Poof! Gone. Danny made quick work of the old bones, hauled them to the curb and pulverized them, and that’s when I saw what had been going on out of sight all the while.

It must have been just after I moved here in 1997 that my mom sent me a housewarming gift — a potted plant. In the 1990s, flower arrangements hadn’t yet become posh or exotic. They were pretty standard-issue, and to a thrifty consumer like my mom (and me), a waste of good money. In those days there was an industry devoted to houseplants, or rather, keeping houseplants alive, with books and fertilizers and misters and music and such, until we all found out we could kill a heck of a lot of houseplants either way and swung back to sending flowers, only a lot fancier, with pansies and ranunculus and artisanal grasses.

Anyway, my mom sent me a houseplant that was actually two little plants fitted into a blue ceramic pot, and it grew indoors by a sunny window for a while before it turned mildewed and yellow and I put it outside. I didn’t forget about it, not ever, but I didn’t look at it or fuss with it or even care about it except if I should catch a glance of it in the shade, under the yews, in the damp by a leaky spigot, I would think about Mom, gone now since 2001.

Because, you see, one way or the other you’re going to think about your Mom or Dad, and come to know in that bracing way that hits you after they die that life goes on and so you do too, and it doesn’t in any way diminish who they were or weren’t. You get over, is what I’m saying, and go on about your life.

And so Danny lifts up the bower of dead yew by the spigot, and says lookee here at the pittosporum that has busted through its blue ceramic pot into three branches as thick as your wrist, ranging 18 total feet in length, nursed by the fertile rot and drip drip drip of your unconcern, left on its own to go on and on and never die and never leave. Your mother, that is. Her life is yours.

Photo by Alex Wing on Unsplash

 

advice for those who stay

November 12th, 2019    -    5 Comments

Please don’t look for anything or feel the need to fabricate a feeling. A long illness takes us through every stage of denial, anger and loss well before death occurs. The fact that feelings come and go, that all things come and go, means that we are intimately acquainted with death already, in every moment. There is nothing more to be made of it.

When my mother died, I felt so small in the face of a power, an event, that had no meaning, and over which I had no control. We ourselves give false meaning and false control to everything that comes before. So this could be the most real thing you’ve ever seen. We have nothing to do with it, and nothing to add. I wouldn’t call that being useless. I would call it being.

You will sense the liberation when it comes, the cessation of struggle and suffering. There is no way to receive that as anything but a blessing. In my case, as in yours, it is a blessing for all. Unscripted, as it is.

I wasn’t present for my mother’s death, but when her last call came, I told her I loved her. That’s it, from beginning to end.

When my father died, it was the end of a life lived in pain and anger. He died on his terms, and it happened fast. I told him something that was inconceivable at any other point in my life or his. I told him that I was proud of him, and I meant it.

Now you will meet and console others in their fatigue and grief. You will do what needs doing. It is all quite matter-of-fact. Let it be. Let it be. Let it be.

Hold these things in your heart and let yourself be led into the quiet stillness of the hour. Stay there.

Photo by Douglas Bagg on Unsplash

 

no beginning no end

January 17th, 2018    -    3 Comments

Midstream
by Vicki Patschke

“So God, we . . . “
Every Sunday
our pastor begins the prayer
this way
as if already deep
in the middle
of a conversation
with God —
and we just joined in

I recall the words
of my Japanese calligraphy
teacher
the thick wet tip
of his bamboo brush
poised high above
a blank sheet of
rice paper —
The brush stroke begins
before
the ink touches the paper.

From invisible to visible
From silence to hearing
A message flows
through us
and we receive it
midstream.

“Blind Men Crossing the Bridge” by Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768), ink on paper.
The poet is my cousin.

so many mothers

April 13th, 2016    -    19 Comments

So much love.

The neonatologist, wheeling us out of NICU for the drive home: “Don’t worry. She’s strong and full of life.”

My mother, wearing a wig after chemo, holding my daughter for the first time: “I never thought this would happen.”

The pediatrician, about my difficulty breastfeeding: “Don’t let this come between you and your baby.”

The best friend, whenever I needed it: “She looks like you.”

The babysitter, on her first day: “We love each other already!”

The grandmother at the park, remembering life with her twin babies: “I had to get the laundry going every morning by 9.”

The nursery school teacher, before she had words: “She is a genius.”

The stranger watching her hoist herself to the top of the slide: “She’ll be a gymnast one day.”

The kindergarten teacher, on our first visit to the classroom: “I’d say she’s ready.”

The teacher at the parent conference: “She’s friends with everyone.”

The gymnastics coach: “You can be on our team.”

A fellow parent confronting the mystery of sixth grade math: “I have faith that they will figure it out.”

The Algebra teacher: “You know you can do it. Just give yourself time.”

The friend, after her admission to art school: “It’s what she was born to do.”

The English teacher, even after her panic attack in the classroom: “She’s the kind of student who will do well anywhere.”

Her counselor, when she had been frightfully sad, lonely and confused: “What an amazing young woman your daughter is.”

My mother, knowing her time was near: “I’ve often thought she came to take my place.”

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Remembering so many mothers on the anniversary of my mother’s passing April 13, 2001.

a poem about feelings

January 13th, 2016    -    1 Comment

Stonehenge-Clouds

don’t be curious about clouds

where they come, where they go

water in the sky

be curious about water

be curious about sky

cave painters who chiseled rocks

painted in blood,

burnt bones,

piss and spit

never stayed in caves

be curious about rocks

be curious about blood

come out come out

be curious about sky

be curious about water

flowing

Stonehenge, still standing after thousands of years, was, apparently, quarried and originally constructed at a Neolithic site in Wales; many centuries later, it was taken apart and pulled on sledges about a hundred and forty miles east, to be rebuilt at its present location.*

 

after the accident

January 6th, 2016    -    8 Comments

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Last year about this time I told my husband our new azaleas were dying. The leaves looked like rust, and I thought I knew why. Not enough water, too much sun, the wrong plants in the wrong place, the money for nothing, the work wasted. Before pulling the dead ones out, he snipped some leaves and took them to the nursery. That’s when I learned something new.

The leaves of some evergreen azaleas turn red in winter.

Even good drivers in the morning rain

don’t see the other car coming.

Paint nicks. Glass cracks.

One world ends before another.

You are not safe.

So remember what your mother has told you:

Effect is the noun. Affect is the verb.

When in doubt, leave out the comma.

Add salt. Use butter.

Never serve food you haven’t tasted first.

Rinse stains in cold water.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow

but soon and for the rest of your life.

You’ll see.

In springtime, flowers bloom.

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a prayer for the end of time

December 23rd, 2015    -    8 Comments

gardener 4x6_postcard print version

Yesterday I went to the dry cleaner’s in town. I stop by nearly once a week to drop off or pick up a sweater or two, pants or a skirt to be hemmed, my husband’s dress shirts. This place has been continuously operating since 1956. The people there know your name and the last four digits of your phone number, which is how they track your order. Truth is, they probably know a whole lot more just by emptying your pockets and letting out your waistbands. These kinds of places are pretty rare these days. And these days, everything rare seems to be getting rarer. I find myself in mourning.

December 22, the counter lady said when she saw me pause over the check I was writing, another piece of obsolescence I still cling to.

Can you believe it?

It goes by so fast it’s scary.

And it’s getting more scary.

It sure is.

I could have a conversation like this about everything everywhere all the time. It’s all scary. The world is spinning ever faster into extinction. I saw a terrifying documentary on the Discovery Channel. Maybe it’s the news: wave after wave of eternal warfare, the eerily weird climate, and the shocking flood of suffering covering every corner of the earth. Maybe it’s too much Donald Trump. Or just the time of year: the dark, the chill, the fury, the hurry, the end.

Next week, if you let it, a pause will arrive. Take care that you do not fill it with restless anxiety or dread. Take care that you do not fear what you do not know or have not done. Set no goals. Have no intentions. Make no plans. There is a lesson in these fallow days, a lesson that does not come in frantic motion, but in the soft light of a lengthening day.

I am going to sit quietly and enter the fullness of time. Because I have time.

And soon enough I will see that nothing is wasted, nothing is over, and everything is already here. Fear not! The gate is open, and the gardener is not afraid.

May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings be free from suffering.

Photo by Wendy Cook.

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unto us a child is born

December 16th, 2015    -    9 Comments

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A woman came to the retreat in Kansas City in October. With her doctor’s permission, she had driven three hours from Iowa to be there. She was 34 weeks pregnant and, as you might expect, radiant. But in her case there was a little more to it: after nine years of infertility, miscarriages and stillbirth, here she was. The chance had been so slim, the journey so grim, she never believed she could get this far.

The truth is always like that: unbelievable.

She smiled all weekend. Fear and doubt had fled her face. She was beginning to let herself feel blessed. After we parted, I kept an eye on her as the remaining weeks passed. The baby was late. In the final days she went to and from the hospital over and over in false labor. Her burden was heavy. Nothing seemed to happen. The good news never came. I was worried.

Up close, possibilities seem to disappear.

Two days ago she sent me the first pictures of her newborn son swaddled in her arms. One look and I recalled that wide-open sense of wonder. Love surpassing all pain, resting in the infinite circle of light. The night has passed! The baby has come! Suddenly, everything is perfect, everything is possible. Not one thought creased either brow. Together they have attained grace.

Mother and child are doing beautifully.

The promise of a spiritual path is like this: to return to the natural state of fulfillment and ease. The old masters call it “the circle of wonder.” In it are the boundless love of a mother and the eternal innocence of a child. To be sure, the journey is difficult. Obstacles mount. Expectations fail, hope sinks, fear overwhelms, and you have to do it alone. Alone! Not even the helpers can help.

Who among us is willing? Who indeed.

Last weekend I sat a retreat with many newcomers. Newcomers uplift me, and yet, I worry. Silent retreats are always powerful, but this one struck like thunder. Not everyone could ride the storm. Alas, in Zen as in life, there’s no shelter at the side of the road. No avoiding, no denying, no way out. Fear must be overcome. Peace must prevail. Near the end of the retreat, the newest newcomers came by ones to see me alone. How is your retreat? I asked, although the awed stillness on their faces told it in full. Wonderful, came the quietest replies. Amazing. Lovely. Indescribable. Life-altering.

Doubt fled my heart, and I let myself feel blessed. The night has passed; the prophecy has been fulfilled. Now peace is at hand and the possibilities are endless.

Let it begin with me.

And he shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. — Isaiah 9:6

Merry Christmas Everyone. Peace on Earth. Goodwill to Men.

a mother’s unmanifesto

November 10th, 2015    -    27 Comments

window1Do not be me.
Do not act like me, look like me, talk like me, live like me or remember me.
If you should, in some late season, see me in yourself, realize that I am long gone and happy to live forever in the deep well of your forgetting.
Forget my voice.
Absolutely, I mean it this time.
Even this voice!
Allow yourself the quiet I disturbed.
Remember instead what you said and what you did.
The things I overlooked.
The things I tried to change.
Your silliness.
Your friends.
Your fascinations.
Your refusal to listen to my worry and fear.
I was trying to turn you into me!
Find your heart.
Free your mind.
Use your feet.
Love your life and hate it, sometimes, too.
Everything is permitted.
Give yourself totally to your world.
Overrule me.
Remove my hands.
Escape my grip.
Kick me out of the house.
I will fly in on the starlight
between the cracks
through the gaps
in the empty veil of time
and watch you.
Silently watch you.
It’s all I ever wanted to do.
Love, Mom.

For my daughter, in tribute to my mother, with apologies all around.

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58 years a mountain

September 26th, 2014    -    12 Comments

butterfly_on_rock_posters-r8a57b5d2bea84c47a456fcc8f0f91324_zqj_8byvr_324_2

There is a mountain sixteen miles high.
Every hundred years a butterfly brushes its wings across the granite face.
When the mountain is ground to dust, that’s how long time is.
Multiplied by ten billion.

An hour after midnight on the twenty-sixth
a crown of light
a blear of tears
my father climbed a fire escape
to the third floor rear
no, wait
that wasn’t me
years have smeared
the muddy lines of memory
my mother wept
our bodies two
one snip and from the roof I flew
down the Santa Monica Mountains
into the valley dim
not really, really
thus, pitched from the rim
unseated from the peak
I made slow time across a billion-year cheek
Now stopped in place
an eon nigh
the invisible kiss
of a butterfly.

On the anniversary of my birth.

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with no help from me

August 12th, 2012    -    15 Comments

for Jena

I can’t remember when we first talked
the middle of March, end of September
before a shower, after walking the dog
third cup of coffee gone cold
beyond the particulars
of hot and cold
before and after
March or September
You must be so busy
she might have said when she called
because everyone says that
She asked questions
that weren’t the real questions
And one more thing
I answered without answering
what, I can’t remember
but she remembers
everything, that is,
with the kind of memory you don’t keep
the way the old message floats up from an empty pad
ghost words birthed by a pencil rubbing
Don’t miss this
the way the ancient turtle returns to shore
a heavy bellied resurrection
against the tides of extinction

I always invite folks to get in touch with me, and some do. Accept invitations, that is. Jena Strong is one who does. I honestly can’t remember the first time we talked. There was a second time, and maybe a third, and then two meetings, one on each coast. Whenever the need or opportunity arose. Sometimes it sounded like we were talking about writing, or ambition, marriage, money, career, or children. But we weren’t really talking about that. What passed between us—what passes in-between the words—is truth.

Jena is a poet who wrote poems nearly every day while believing she should be doing something else. Isn’t that what we do? Endure the life we think of as kinda-sorta, not yet real, a stepping stone, a holding pattern? And then one day she stopped believing she should be anything other than who she was. She just published her first collection of poems, Don’t Miss This, a memoir, with no help from me.

This poem is a tribute because she reminds me that we’re all poets. If you read, you’re a poet. If you write, you’re a poet. If you speak, listen, shout, cry, rant, sing, live or die, you’re a poet. Every moment expressing the eternal truth beyond the particulars.

As a writer, I like to give away books. But I like it more when someone buys them with no help from me,  so please don’t miss this.

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out of the chifforobe

October 28th, 2011    -    10 Comments

Staring from family photographs, we look
older than we are. Even as children, our faces
are shadowed with doubt and parental disappointment,
as if to say to those looking years from now:
We persist. We persevere. We do this for you.

– from “In the Olden Days” by Richard Newman

My grandmother’s house held the scent of a mothballed century. Time had locked itself in a cabinet called a chifforobe. The very word was one of the secrets it contained. I considered it a double mystery: first, that a country washerwoman would have a chifforobe, and second, that she would call it by that name, the frill of the double consonant like a vestige of lost extravagance.

Inside hung the few fancy dresses worn by my mother and her sisters to dances and weddings. On summer visits we granddaughters made charades with them. (Such frocks are kept for the sake of girlish fantasy.) But there were other things that held me for a longer stretch — old photographs of the dead and unnamed — my phantom ancestors. I would flip through shoeboxes full of sepia images, staring into the stiff and grim faces of related strangers.

My mother’s people were Wends, an odd and oppressed sort of religious colony, which like all colonies, no longer exists. Run out of Prussia in the late-nineteenth century, they settled in the purgatory of Central Texas where they were mostly poor farmers. (Except for my grandfather, who out of enterprise or foolishness later made himself the town barber, ensuring that he would remain the poorest among poor relations.) The Wends were serious about faith, hard work, and economy. The wedding portraits captured their high sobriety: the brides wearing black to signify the life of toil awaiting them. This foresight was not in the least bit faulty.

These were my kin, somber in face and fashion, weighted by work and gravity, and much younger than they looked. On the backs of some photos, salvaged from frames or torn from albums, were half-vanished names written in thin pencil.

What brings this to mind today? Is it the season? A poem about olden days drifted into my hands and moved me. I have been taken of late with the matter of lineage, and how we have largely disposed of its umbrage. We are a do-it-yourself culture. We believe we can manufacture anything with independence and initiative. Our heroes are the self-made who suggest that by clever sorcery we can conjure our own mythology. Perhaps it is my age that turns me back to face the accident of my birth, which was no accident.

I am not self-made. I have come from the persistent. I am the heir of disappointment and doubt. I came out of the chifforobe and I will yet join the ranks of its unremembered. Like all those before me, I do this for you, and it is all I can do.

Leaving me to wonder and to grieve.

Also inspired by the work of Michael Douglas Jones.

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