chat

Connections

I was inspired by a recent post on a book review blog I follow to go through old pictures looking for photographic proof that I have been an avid reader since a very young age. I’m not sure that proof exists, even though any picture snapped during my childhood should have had a better than average chance of catching me with a book in my hand given the amount of time I spent reading. Reading isn’t, of course, the most photogenic activity so I didn’t have much hope of finding what I wanted but after petitioning my mom for access to her store of photos, I sat down and dug in. It turns out that the box and album she presented me with were primarily photos given to her by my paternal grandmother (many of my childhood photos are apparently boxed away in a location unknown to anyone in the family).

I’m not a woman who makes connections easily nor do I possess much skill at holding on to those connections I do make but I was filled with an ineffable sadness and a very real sense of grief as I flipped through picture after picture of people I didn’t know, as well as images of people I do or, more often, did know but not nearly as well as I should have. I was struck by a pretty simple fact: when you lose both sets of grandparents by your teen years, you’ve never made it through exactly the wrong age range to know that outside of your self-centered adolescent world, some of the people you love most have an entire history of amazing experiences that you’ll never be able to ask them about. It’s an irony that doesn’t go unnoticed by me that I’ve always enjoyed the fact that my father’s side of the family was filled with inveterate storytellers and that my college application essay described my desire to capture that oral history.

Flipping through the photos I realized there are questions I didn’t even know I could or should ask. I spent a lot of time with my (paternal) grandparents when I was a child and those memories are some of the happiest ones I have. Grandma and I would sit across from each other for hours playing cards (Spite and Malice was our game of choice) at the old oak kitchen table that had been waxed so often that I could scrape my thumbnail across it and leave a mark. In a way, her stories became the mythology of my childhood. She seemed to make her life a song, with notes of joy and pain a harmony woven throughout. Sometimes she’d pause part-way through, shaking her head as if amazed she’d lived through it. Her husband running cattle on a Spanish land grant that stretched 100 miles along each side. Hustling the boys out the door in the middle of the night because a dream had warned her that he was on the way home from the bar, drunk and ready for a fight. The shop she opened in that small New Mexico town after the divorce – one of the first to sell “ready-to-wear.” The bobcat my father brought home to raise and the rattlesnakes in jars that startled her when she came on them unaware. She was a conjurer, making my father suddenly appear as a mischievous child who tried to ride the milk cow instead of an angry man who saw rebellion in nothing more than the flicker of an eye. Looking at her photographs today made it clear that there was so much more to know about her life, as well as my grandpa’s.

As much as I learned about my grandma from her stories, I know next to nothing about my grandfather’s history. He was actually my grandma’s second husband and not my father’s biological dad – a man I never met. Oddly, the stories Grandma told were all about her first husband so even second-hand knowledge of the man who was always just “Grandpa” to me is nearly non-existent. When I was in my early teens, my grandfather committed suicide. He walked to the end of the driveway and shot himself – the assumption being that he was ensuring my uncle, who was visiting at the time, would be the one to find him when he went to collect the mail rather than being discovered by my grandmother, who had been struggling with health issues for some time. It’s hardly a surprise that there were a lot of questions bounced around in my family relating to “Why didn’t we know?” and “What could we have done to prevent it?” Just after the funeral, my grandma told my youngest brother and I that Grandpa has been wondering why we never came to visit much any more. That question was a painful wound that I carried around for a long time. As I flipped through pictures of him, I was struck by the fact that even as a much younger man, he always looked old, as if he had carried more than his share of sorrow his entire life. All I knew of him was that he loved listening to baseball games on the radio, he had a tattoo on his arm, he smoked, he was an amazing carpenter, and he loved me and my brothers without reserve, just as we loved him. As much as I wish I had known him better, I think at least maybe we got the most important part exactly right with that last bit of “knowing.”Even the small set of photos my grandmother had that were from my childhood were a revelation to me. I can dredge up memories for far less than half the occasions depicted in the photographs and although snapping pictures is, of course, usually done during the happy times, seeing the joy on my father’s face as he held or played with his children was something of a slap in the face to me because that joy is not what I remember from childhood and I’m at a loss as to how to parse the truth behind it all.Worth more than a little consideration now is what kind of (deeper) relationship I can create with my immediate family. I don’t know that I can manage it with my father. I’ve built walls there that I can’t even begin to understand how to dismantle, even if I had the desire. My mother has reached a point where her memory is slowly fading and sometimes even remaking itself on-the-fly and if I’m ever going to make sure we both know each other as adults, outside of the parent-child bond, now is the time to do it. It may also be a good time to look at the relationships I maintain now, how much of myself I’m willing to expose, and what legacy (not in some grand dynastic sense but just in terms of the connections I make) I am making for myself and those I love.

Maybe your forties is a typical time to kick-off an existential crisis, start wondering about the paths your life has taken, consider what legacy you are  going leave behind, or begin to regret what you’ve let slip by in the rear-view as you tried to follow the map to your future. I don’t know whether this is a passing phase or a permanent change in perspective. I just know that today I was able to let long overdue tears of regret for things I’ve  lost fall unchecked and as rich as I’ve felt to have had those family connections, I feel equally poor for not recognizing in time how much deeper they could have been.

quote

Us

Not yet for us the brittle chill of winter
when the once distant hills draw their blanket
of quiet around us – world narrowed
to the comforts of home
while the spin of stars overhead
seems to move faster
and the river’s pulse
slows and stops

No more for us the fierce burn of summer
and its call of light drawing us to lithe effort –
long days with the slick heat of sweat
easing our way as we navigate
endless possibility and limitless self,
tangled together like wild berry vines
whose sweet fruit is always worth the risk

Now this endless moment where we stand –
unsure whether to move forward or turn back
with the weight of together holding us,
the freedom of apart whispering in our ears,
and the wind through the autumn
leaves the sound of time passing
in a minor key

quote

Rest

It is only in a still moment
just before waking
that time slips sideways
and life, stripped
to its ash-tinted base,
drifts in hues of memory.
My palm brushes the sheet,
waves of heat drawing my hand
toward skin
in broad strokes
that shape a landscape
whose form is recalled
only in relief.
The rising sun slides in
bringing me sharply to
waking awareness
of life as caricature:
this lightly sketched
self-portrait that holds
more artifice than art
in your absence.
I reach back for that
endless moment
as your fading
voice murmurs
let me rest

chat

Adrift/Muse

Poetry is a recently acquired… oh, let’s not call it obsession but rather… interest for me. Reading it has allowed me to serve up a dose of the evocative in my normally quiet and routine daily life. As for writing it, well, that serves two purposes: it’s given me an outlet for those short sharp bursts of either inspiration or emotion that seem intent on elbowing their way to the front of my consciousness and it’s slowly influencing my long-form writing which is often too verbose and frequently contains repetitive elements.

Yesterday, my attention was caught by a phrase that went something like “…[it] washed over them in a heavy wave and [she] felt it draw something back with it…” and was struck by how well that expressed a large part of how my logical brain perceives creative inspiration. Unfortunately, only once has the experience been even close to that dramatic with the outcome a piece written almost whole cloth and seemingly with little-to-no conscious input.

I’m very much a construction worker when it comes to writing. I usually have a flash that forms the foundation but after that it’s board-by-board methodical labor. I was divided in where I thought this poem was going. My initial understanding was that I was going to write about “the muse” and I did write a piece along those lines but it wasn’t quite clicking into place. When that happens I’ll strip a poem back down to its core elements and see what else can be built of it. The rewrite wasn’t wholly successful because I ended up frustrated that it repeated thematic elements I seem to be stuck on recently but it rang truer than my initial attempt so now I’ll let it rest for a while until I decide whether to let it stand or tear it back down again.

What does your process look like and how often are you detoured from the expected path?

 

Adrift

Your voice rolls in
crests and breaks
with a discordant crash

It recedes and I lose
my footing – common ground
giving way

You are entrenched
and I am unmoored
in this rush and retreat

Nothing in me understands
how to navigate
this unexpected surge

A shift in the current
and I awake a stranger to myself
washed up on this new shore alone

 

The original piece:

 

Muse

The voice rolled in
crested and collapsed
with a discordant crash

When it receded it
drew from me everything
held tightly for too long

Base offering
spilled to the ground
from my cup

Until, sifting rough grit
through my hands, I find benediction
in the rush and retreat

quote

False Flower

At the breakfast table we watched
the hummingbird courting
a plastic red flower
seeking the sugar at its heart
glancing over at me you laughed
when it rose to hover at the window
peering in at my turquoise shirt
looking for a way to reach what
must surely hide sweetness:
biological imperative is assurance of that
I’m sending out signals
unaware
fool
I’ve no more sweet sap
rising in me than a stone
although the tender melting as I watch you,
tongue darting out to catch
that last
bit of honey,
makes even me think
I might be wrong

 

 

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This work by kayemnic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

quote

The Woman in Seat 12c

It was the expression on your face that told me
as you slowly flipped through the photo album
mouth compressed with grief
written in a parenthetical expression
that you were holding in emotions much too sharp
to ever let another person touch
A funeral, I guessed, going or coming

Though no one sat beside you
your arms were tightly circled
around your chest
as if to hold to you
everything that was being lost
A life lived in parallel with yours for 18 years?
The last person who shared your memory of growing up?
She must have been your sister
the blonde in the picture you lingered over for so long
one finger slowly tracing the familiar curve of a face
that was so much like yours

When the plane took off you closed your eyes
as if the pressure of forward motion
was just that much
too much
added to what you were already carrying
or leaving behind
I turned away when you brushed at your cheeks
staring out the window at the clouds
as if the unending blankness stretching out ahead
was what I had been watching all along

 

 

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This work by kayemnic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

quote

Lost, You Said

I never guessed
although I should have
that you’d give up first
Like the knee
injured years ago
always folds on a hike
before my lungs cry off
I knew it was there
that not-quite-healed
fracture in you
though you never shared
how it happened
and I just kept my head down
driving ahead
as if to prove
I felt no pain
not even noticing
you had stopped
until you were out of sight
Lost, you said, until she rescued you

 

 

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Lost, You Said is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.