traveling, death, life and going to the game

I have been on a journey traveling through time; touching and tasting parallel lives that I live, have lived. A writing workshop initiated a leap which carried me across and through my aunt’s ninetieth birthday luncheon, my fortieth high school reunion, a visit with my goddaughter and her family…meeting her two children for the first time, a visit with my sister and her sweetheart and finally the writing workshop that got me out of my cabin and inspired and encouraged me to keep writing. All in ten days. My trip began in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles and ended on the cliffs of Big Sur above the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean, before returning home to the gently lapping, salty waters of the Puget Sound.

Writing is pounding inside me and still I am astonished at what it takes to let it pour out. Below are two pieces: a poem, whose seeds were planted and germinated in the midst of the workshop, and an essay that was born in the very first days of my return home. See what you think.

 Return to Life

my sister-in-law still wears black

husband daughter stolen away death comes knocking

day in day out weeping wailing

probate never ends

husband daughter stolen away death comes knocking

 

words

wool

call me call my soul deep into the dark night

brother niece stolen away death comes knocking

the voice in my head sneaks in again

you are wasting your time

brother niece stolen away death comes knocking

 

hands seeking grace plunge into steaming hot water

raw wool stinking wool pressed down and down and down

mountains of curls strewn with sticks with hay

submit submerge drown

bubbles shoot to the surface then slow then stop

open close under water in water floating sinking

death comes knocking

 

clouds of wool carefully lifted

clear water streams between my begging fingers

down into the depths of the ocean

ocean of my heart

life pressed gently below the surface

death comes knocking

 

breathe in breathe out

rinse after rinse

drowning

soft silver pillows carefully cradled

death comes knocking

 

she weeps

I wash

she wails

I press wool curls

slowly push down

steaming water

over and over and over

death comes knocking

 

in the end

there behind the woodstove hanging

yarn pieced together from the first

daring precious

wool spins into yarn miraculous yarn

clouds of silver ringlets

heave out from the wall

in a frenzy we return to life


Are You Going to the Game

The three of us sit in a lonely row on a long wooden bench. The cushions are lean as if to make sure we will not stay long, and no one will. My sister sits on one side, me on the other. We bookend him in this way to comfort him and ourselves, but we also sit on either side to keep tabs on him a bit, in case he gets out of control. Although it’s not really possible to control him, we always try.

“Where are we?” he asks in the kind of whisper that is louder than regular speech. His brother and sister-in-law turn and give him the Look. “Haven’t I been here before?” he whispers with more volume. Now his younger sister, who sits in the bench at the front of this small, family section, turns with a horrified look – a heartbroken, heart-wrenching look. “What’s WRONG with him?” she begs, whispering even louder.

Yes. Yes he’d been here before. We’d all been here before. Two years ago we’d been here twice: once to bury our mother…my father’s wife of 56 years, and then four months later we buried dad’s youngest brother. And here we are at the cemetery again. My sister and I, we sit with our ninety-one-year old father, possibly in the exact same spot on this long, lonely, bench. Back then my father was not whispering the way young children do, causing everyone close by to stare with their eyes or their entire bodies. Back then, he was so utterly crushed with his wife’s unexpected death, he sat between us, silent. His brother’s death followed so quickly, he was mostly just numb.

We each held one of his baby-soft hands, just like today, but only for comfort, not control. Before mom crossed over, there had been a few times when dad had completely forgotten something important he’d said, or we’d said to him – like a slice of time had been thoroughly removed with a small sharp knife. But since Mark’s death, something seems to have snapped.

He’s whispering again, louder than before, “What are they talking about? Where are we?” How do you tell someone who’s brain has already completely refused the information, how do you tell them again, whispering, in the midst of a funeral? It would be hard enough if he was a two-year-old boy, which sometimes is the best model for working with my father these days. We are not working with a two-year-old, but with an old man who often has the attention span and sense of time of that of a young child. We are working with someone whose tired mind simply cannot receive this information; that his strapping young nephew once a top high school swimmer, prize winning triathlete, City of Los Angeles Harbor firefighter, has dropped dead of a heart attack, not on the job, but simply at home.

How can we whisper to dad while Mark’s sister is giving his eulogy, that this generous hearted man who always kept the wiffleball baseball game going at our annual Mother’s Day picnic, even if he had to play all the outfield positions, so that the next generation of little kids could have a game, how can we whisper to him that we are about to bury this man?

My sister calls to say that dad is acting strange. He keeps asking her if she is going to “the game”. At first she starts all over again, and tells dad that no, we aren’t going to a baseball game; we’re going to Mark’s funeral. Each time she tells him, he hears it as if it was the first time.

Finally we tell him yes; tomorrow we three will go to the game together. And when it’s time, my father somehow knows that he needs to put his good suit on, and tries to remember how to tie his tie, wide with broad but subtle diagonals, and that he has to put his wingtips on; men’s dress shoes with laces, purchased from a younger brother’s shoe store some fifty years ago, black leather with small, delicate perforations in curved designs at the toe and heel. Shoes with real leather soles that weigh so much dad has trouble picking them up, being just 116 pounds fully dressed, including his shoes. Somehow he knows that today he has to wear his dress suit to “the game”.

“Are you going to the game with us?” he asks hopefully, when I come into the living room, dressed in black. “Yes, we’re all going to the game.”

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