14 March 2013

      The couch I spend my Sundays on, and my Saturdays, used to sit on the shiny, wood floor of our living room. In winter months, it gave shelter to our hibernating tortoise, Arthur, and when my mother was dying, it was occupied by those who loved her. We waited for her to wake up in the morning, and then in the afternoon. We waited for a deus ex machina, a disco ball above the stage. We waited for eight years, and then one day in May, my mother said "No more," and then, we did not wait for a miracle; we waited for my mother to die. And while we were waiting, we laughed, and we ate, and we sat in the sun. I did my brothers' laundry, I wore my mother's pajamas, my brothers wore shorts and no shirts, we were wild children, wild with love, wild with fear. There was a strange golden glow to those hours, that stretched into days, into weeks, a house burning with frenzied love, lit by connections orbiting my dying mother. Before those days, and those weeks, there were the months and the years in which we had tucked our heads down, with the secret thought: Maybe we will be the lucky ones. But I knew. Though I knew not when, I knew we were not to be those lucky ones (Oh, but we were the lucky ones! Not enough time, never enough time, but lucky, to have had her - me for 32 years, Adam for 30, Michael for 27). One day in February, it was cold, outside and in, and I walked around the block, and I talked to my brother, Michael (he gives love as she did, he is my mother's heir), and he said "I feel like I'm watching her die," and my baby brother was a man in that moment, and my insides vibrated, for my baby brother was right, and he was saying what I was thinking, but what none of wanted to be the first one to say.
     Life is moving, the shore is eroded by an ocean green like our eyes. In one month from yesterday, I will turn 34. Without the counsel of my mother, I feel like a child. Without the counsel of my mother, I feel like I was never a child.
     In the flush of mourning, there is only one boundary - the line between the living and the dead. Words poured forth, I stood still, I did not cry, but there were no line between my insides and the world outside. As time moves forward, the shell has closed. Inside, sits the pearl.
     A terrible tragedy has befallen someone very special to someone who is very special to me. Each tragedy has its own awful, dark, and winding path, and is peopled by he and she who are full of beautiful, threadbare flaws to those inside of them, and who are players in a play to those outside, for we cannot crawl inside each other's back pockets and see what life is like behind someone else's eyes. I know only my story. I know of hospitals and their humming lights, I know of nights that do not promise a morning. I know of mourning. I know of loosing one's deepest love, of kissing my dead mother's forehead. I know that people die, our greatest loves die, but great love does not die.

23 August 2012

My mother's hands were strong. She was small, shorter than me, taller than most of her friends (she loved librarians, little ladies who drank pink wine, I found her and Jane napping together, blankets under their chins, Jane's hand keeping my mother's bald head warm), but her hands were her: strong, capable, graceful. I can see the pores on my mother's hands, the long nail beds. She died with a month-old perfect manicure, Mademoiselle, the color I still get, little moons bare where her nails had grown out, perfect nails on her unused hands, the hands that once had changed our diapers, and held mine for 32 years, Adam's for 29, Michael's for 26.

My brothers and I sold our house, and in 2 weeks, another family will live there. My mother died in our den, but when I think of the house, I see my mother in her workshirts that came to her knees, making oatmeal, or sitting next to the sliding glass door in the kitchen, on the phone, always on the phone. I see my mother doing laundry, taking a bath, lying next to me in her bed, snoring, with the tv on low. I see her yelling at us, wrangling her cat-children, late, as we always were, for temple, or a holiday dinner. I see my mother exploding with laughter so fierce it nearly strangled her. There she is in the dining room, crumpling, boxing glove covering her face, after getting socked in the nose by Petey, vowing never to play with him again. My mother loved boxing; it was her way of getting close to her boys when they were teenagers, young men, who pushed her away, and it was a sad, sad day when her gloves had to be hung up. Her bones had become too fragile for boxing, but by then, my brothers kissed her, and hugged her, and snuggled with her, and held her strong hands, that startled me when I held them with their smallness, delicate bones under skin yellower than mine, for there is no one stronger than your mother.

The boxes are packed; we gave our mother's clothes to charity. I will bring my grandmother's credenza, and a painting that hung in my parents' bedroom, and 4 boxes full of my life to my husband's family's home in Pennsylvania. My brothers and I will say goodbye to our house, to the town we have had three houses in, to my mother's voice on the answering machine, to the bagels and the black and white cookies, to the pizza and the Thai food, to the duck pond, and the smell of the bay that leads to the beach, to the house that we lived in, to the house that our mother died in. We three have our lives, our furniture, our dogs and our cats, our apartments, and the boxes full of our childhoods. We three have each other, and we have all that she gave us: love and a moral compass to navigate the world without her.

17 June 2012

My mother died one year ago today. As the clock stroke 1:02 pm I sat next to my brother Michael and cried as we drove to the cemetery to visit my mother's grave. The air was cooler than it was this time last year, but today my hair was clean and I was not wearing my mother's silk pajamas. Today I have lived 365 days, a full cycle in how we mark time, without my mother.

We drove past the grassy knoll and pulled over across from the large mausoleum and parked the car by the path that leads to the plot marked with my mother's maiden name, LAND. Michael sat on a bench and I sat on the walk and smelled the grass that grows around my mother's grave, fresh land, marked with small fledgling box hedges planted in the dirt that was shoveled over my mother's casket 363 days ago. Ants tumbled through the grass, impossibly tall monuments to their small eyes; they live their lives in the shadow of death. So do we all.

I laid my face to the earth, and the grass and dirt and small stones pressed into my legs. My bare legs were marked, as they were hours after she died, by my deep need for communion with our terrestrial home. Crisp air sat on my back and my brother cried behind me, as my own tears wet my mother's grave. "These are the days of miracle and wonder/ This is the long distance cry." This place for the dead is alive and here for the living. This world hums, this world is electric. Cats prowl and mice dart behind footstones. When we leave, the earth is made all the richer.

I opened my eyes slowly yesterday morning, for it was the last morning of my life I could say to myself, "My mother was alive this day, last year." The small frustrations, the quoitiden dramas, the knots I tie myself into all mask one truth: I miss my mother. But, inside and alongside expansive missing of the beautiful, beautiful woman who gave me life, I have moments of despair, and moments where I have joyously begun to wonder, again, what I want out of the life I have been given. There are moments when I loose my breath, with a hunger for my mother unlike anything I've known, and moments when I smile, for I know how happy she'd be with our dogs and our laughter. I say moments, for it really is that: life is a trail of notes, put together to form a cycle of songs.

Thank you for listening to me this year, as I string a necklace, from the pearls I have been given, and the pearls I have made from what I have been given. My mother, and my mother's death, is the sand in my oyster. This is a song cycle. I do not know how it ends, but I know I want it to sound like love and open arms and mystery and birth, surrounding pools of sadness and loss, the pools we all must swim, but not drown, in.

"These are the days of miracle and wonder/ This is the long distance cry."

31 May 2012

Love is infinitely more durable than hate.

My mother died 346 days ago. What has loss done to you, what do you see when you fall asleep at night? What does the world look like from behind your eyelids?

We laughed at my wedding, we smiled, we loved. This photo was taken at the moment, the only moment, we cried. I held her diminishing body, that had tricked most (not me) with its beauty that day, in my arms, and I knew she would die soon. And so she did, 74 days later.

These days have been hot, the weather grows closer to what it was when she lay dying in our house, one year ago. The earth was warm, bees were fat. A butterfly hovered at her grave, and I am told it was there again at the unveiling, and that the clouds parted and the sun shone strong when I spoke to her, staring at the foot stone for the first time. I wrote a letter to my mother to read at the unveiling - I didn't account for what it would feel like to speak to her out loud, for the first time in 323 days: Dear Mom...you are our super moon, the most dazzling moon that ever was. You hold us in your incandescent orbit, always. We love you. I love you. I choked on my words, I cried, I did not speak loudly, but I knew as I was speaking that being able to talk to my mother in front of those who loved her most was a gift, and though I did not see the butterfly or the clouds parting, I knew she was with me, listening to every word I wish I had said while she was alive, and even more so, when she was well.

A few months ago, L. gave me The Courage to Grieve. I tucked it in the basket next to my bed, and I thought, "This is not for me. I have courage. I am grieving." I found the book this weekend and I knew I was wrong, or I was right then, but make not this mistake: grieving is not linear. It leads you by the hand down an unknown path, a path that lies alongside the life you've always known. The world does not look the same from behind my eyelids.

My brother Michael went to an introductory course in Transcendental Meditation tonight. He receives his mantra on Saturday, and by Tuesday he will be a practitioner. I am so proud and inspired by Michael's desire to be able to sit quietly with himself. Adam was the forerunner in our family; he took up meditation years ago. The bottle was uncorked on Sunday - out of love for me and my brothers and a fierce, uncompromising devotion to honesty, things were said that we do not say. And so, I sit here quietly with myself, dodging bullets of pain, plagued by silence, at times preserving it with the devotion of an acolyte. Without my mother, I do not know where to turn.

To mourn is to suffer the abject loneliness of those whose voice you will never hear again. There are moments that are frantic - searches through emails, closets, photos, anywhere that will yield something new in a silence that is so profound. Please know, I need not find fancy words, when words we know serve so well: proud, inspired, silence, profound. Words and cliches mean something different now, they buzz, alive with electricity, and in their animated state, I realize that life is the secret underbelly, a rebirth, a truthful welcome into the world served on a silver platter of terrible, terrible pain. My task is to seek out courage, my courage, the way into myself and all that I fear. My task is to pull the words harder, tug on the silken strings more firmly. My task is to allow love and beauty to sit alongside pain and silence and loneliness, to let the path that I knew for 32 years, and the path that I have known for nearly one year, become one path, lit by the moonlight of loss, for loss could not hurt so very terribly if the love one has lost was not the greatest you could dream yourself to sleep on.

Love is infinitely more durable than hate.

14 May 2012

Yesterday, we drove the Rendezvous home for the last time. The road, green and dappled, winds from Brooklyn to our house, a 32.5 mile stretch of life, a changing life, changing lives. I cried as I drove, and thought about our last car ride together, not quite a year ago, when I held my mother's hand as she lay in the back of an ambulance. I took her home to die. We looked backwards out of the windows with our green eyes and we couldn't tell, on roads so familiar, where we were. The Rendezvous is no more, we are selling our house, and I wonder how I will find my way back to the pizza, the bialys and iced coffee, the fresh-squeezed orange juice, the black and white cookies, the smell of low tide, the beach, the duck pond, the madelines of childhood, teenage years, my twenties, my very early thirties.

I spent Mother's Day, our first Mother's Day without our mother, with my brothers and with my husband. We had brunch by the beach, we walked to the boardwalk. We brought flowers to Uncle B like my mother did on Mother's Day (he promised their mother, on her deathbed, that he would care for my mother, and he did, Uncle B, you did). We laid on the couch, we snuggled Bianca. Michael got mad at me and we ate dinner at our kitchen table. But, more than anything, we laughed. My brothers are my bringers of joy, and the sharers of sadness.

When we pulled up to the house yesterday, my brothers were waiting on the front steps. I need not a car to find my way home. My home is where they are.

06 May 2012


Dear Mom,

The last time we stood here was a little less than a year ago. The sun was shining; a huge yellow butterfly hovered round your family and friends, suspended by an invisible thread from wherever you are.

I am writing this on Friday and Saturday, the forecast calls for no rain. Your favorite joke, aside from the mildly inappropriate Father Nelson one was "Want to know how to make G-d laugh? Tell him your plans." I am gambling by writing this, but I know you too well, my girl (I do not have your golden casino touch): you will keep the skies clear today, the sun will shine.  And if rain does fall, it will mirror our tears.

Mom, we stood here, the day of your funeral, 322 days ago. 322 days is not a year. It is 43 days short of a year. You showed us all what a day is worth. We follow the path you set for us, you gave us the gift of your love, your moral guidance through the world, the love of books and animals and family and friends. You taught us that the dash between was more important than the dates on either side, and so, the dash between your date of birth, and the date of your too soon death (57 years was not enough), is long and fat, fed on love and rightness and Swedish Fish.

Mom, you died in the shadow of the Strawberry Moon. The super moon reigned this weekend, the largest and most spectacular of the year. At 8:35 pm on Saturday night, it reached its perigee and slipped close to the Earth. Mom, you are our super moon, the most dazzling moon that ever was. You hold us in your incandescent orbit, always.

We love you.
I love you.
I am your daughter, Leigh Michelle Batnick Plessner, and I thank you for giving me life, and teaching me how to live it.

02 May 2012

Dear Mom,

On Sunday, we lay the stone on your grave. The cemetery has been there since 1917, there are small hills and oak trees, ocean air is near. Your grave has been there since June 19, 2011, and this Sunday, according to tradition, we, your family, will visit your grave for this first time since you died, in the shadow of the Strawberry Moon.

Mom, I will tell you the truth: I started writing your eulogy, in my head, a year before you died. I could never get very far, and I abandoned the effort.I abandoned the effort because I thought you cannot eulogize the living, and live you did, every day. I am your daughter, we are procrastinators, I knew the words would come when I needed them, and they did. But I was wrong, Mom. Eulogy has come to refer to a praise or speech for a person, usually dead, but the provenance is Greek, eulogia ‘praise’, and by that reckoning, we ought to eulogize those we love every morning we wake, together.

Mom, I am very scared of Sunday. Life is changing so fast, but the girlfriend is sleeping under my arm as I type, so that is the same, and I wear my eyeliner differently, so that is different, and I miss you through waking hours and dreams, so that is the same. I have stopped waiting to understand that you are dead. Sometimes, it even makes me laugh with the great unbelievability of it all. (I know dead people, and you are not dead.) But, all of us being together, your family, your friends, without you there, standing by a grave with your name on it, that is real. One of the hardest things to do, Mom, is to see your friends, because they are the ones you chose (we were given to you, and you to us, but I would have picked you if I could). Lisa surprised me at work, and I cried. It was like you walked in the door.

Mom, there is no deus ex machina, no disco ball above the stage. You will never walk in the door, you will never surprise me at work. I cannot call you to tell you the small thing that I want to tell you the most: Kevin doesn't give Teepee a bath in the right way! I tell everyone this story, but all I want is to tell you. I want to hear you laugh. Mom, there is no deus ex machina, and I am not ready for the small, closest thing to a god out of the machine. My life changes, you are not here, I cannot call you, but Mom, I live the life you gave me, the life you taught me, by example, how to live backlit in your beautiful, unfading light.

Yours, always,
Leigh Michelle

13 April 2012

The big and the small.

Dear Mom,

Last night, on my way home from work, I thought about what we'd talk about if we could (Rise, Mother, rise! We are under April skies and I need our nighttimes back. It is lonely walking home without you). I started writing these letters to you when death crept closer, when we were in the delicate waltz. Now that Death has gone riding, the things I want to talk to you about are small. I got new lipstick on Monday, I think you'd like it. My kitchen floor is sticky - should I use ammonia to clean it? Yes, I know, never mix ammonia with bleach. The girlfriend is just so tired. Let's go get a manicure, Mom.

Today is my birthday, Friday the 13th, just like the day I was born. You were 25 when I was born, you worked as a secretary at McGraw Hill, you were married to my father, you lived on the East Side and I was your first born, Leigh Michelle. Your father, Papa Leonard, died 2 years before I was born, but before he died he liked to have lunch with you at the McGraw Hill commissary, and he teased you gently, his last-born, Blanche Susan, his only daughter, and it made you so mad - you wanted him to take you seriously. I know Papa Leonard, I never met Papa Leonard, one day our children will know you, too. You named me after Papa Leonard, and one day, I will hope I will have the joy, and the sadness, of naming someone Blanche, the third Blanche in our family.

So let's talk about small things, Mom. Tell me the story about Aunt Bernice being annoyed, on April 13, 1979 - she had to take a taxi (or the subway, or the train, I can't remember?) home because she was having lunch with Nana Hannah when you went into labor, and tell me how Uncle Dickie missed his chance to ride shotgun in the Hebrew School carpool because Nana Hannah gave birth to you (she was 40, Papa Leonard was 50!) the week it was her turn to drive and he was so mad. I think he still is mad, the wonderful kind of mad that you can only be at someone you really, really love.

I woke up early this morning and I lay still in bed in the quiet. And then I read my emails and I had an email telling me that I won a contest for a fancy pair of pajamas. Mom, I knew I was going to win, just like I new I was going to win that coffee table, just like I knew, all winterlong, that you were going to die soon after my wedding. I was right. If you are very still, and listen very close, you will know, and I know, Mom, that we love being cozy, that being tucked in bed is our favorite place to be, and I know, Mom, that the silk pajamas I won are really a birthday gift from you.

Thank you, Mom, for giving me life, for giving me a beautiful life. Thank you, Mom, for the big and the small.

Your first-born,
Leigh Michelle

09 April 2012

Dear Mom,

Today is your birthday. You would have turned 58 today. We're going to spend your birthday together, Mom, me and Adam and Michael. Bianca Batnick will be there, too, and you would love her. We took a nap together in your bed last weekend - I slept in your spot, and she snuggled in, sleepy pup, and snored, like you used to. She gives Michael such nachas and that would make you so happy. You just wanted us to be happy.

Maybe we'll have lunch at Hildie's today, we'll see Uncle B and Aunt Joan, and we'll have dinner with Justin, Sheree and Addison. You won't be there, Mom, but your family will be together (nothing was more important to you than family), and we will think about you, like we do every day and every night, and we will talk about you, and we will cry, and Michael will tell us the story about when you came home and told him you had been "flying low" (Petey's expression for fast driving) and he laughed, and your eyes welled up with tears and you said "Don't laugh at me!" and Mom, we will laugh, because we love you, and you were our cutest mom.

Mom, you flew low through life. 57 years was not enough, and what I wouldn't give to hold your hand, and say, "Happy Birthday, my girl. I love you."

I am, always and forever, yours,
Leigh Michelle

06 April 2012

An Appeal from Whistling Swan, the Doll Maker's Daughter.

A few months ago I wrote the foreword for the book which accompanied Animal Cabaret, an exhibition of the works of Alice Mary Lynch, Paris-based dollmaker. We plan on more collaborations - her work moves me enormously, and I feel so blessed to have one of her dolls living with me soon.

My mother made an army built of stuffing. We were warriors, our armor bursts of jewels where, on you, there would be flesh. Our hearts are in her stitches; tight seams keep our armpits from surrendering to the push of our gossamer insides. Like you, we are complex, but our veins and capillaries are on our outsides. Though our thoughts fire in mounds of gold, they are as real and true as the ones inside your head. We are beautiful, we are knock-kneed, we shine, our eyes some dun, some stars. We are soldiers sent forth from our mother's fingertips, to Tokyo and New York, Bombay and the Barbados. Think of us, for we think of you.

The winter air was crisp and cold but a warm light glowed in the undergrowth in the early hours of the morning. You are in my mother’s land and in the naked copse, bare in the crystalline air, a glint cuts the shadow. There goes The Love Cat, the Dark Princess, Luke and Edward Hare, the Silver Hare, the Hare Prince, a Lost Romantic, a Rat Soldier, The Black Angel, The March Horse. The White Stag flies past last, and you don’t believe your eyes, but it is he, it is we, our mother’s army.

This is the denouement: Were you to disembowel me, my parts would shine in a bowl, yet I am more than the sum of my parts. I am a network and you cannot extricate one part or undo one vein without collapsing my beautiful beak, the efflorescence of my tail, the sway in my walk. Love me as I am, as she made me. Love me, and I will be yours.

03 April 2012

7 stars.

On Friday night, I dreamt of my mother. My last dream with her was terrifying, a nightmare like those of childhood, the kind where the waking world is so close but nothing in your small body can will you out of Hades' domain.

On Friday night, my mother sat propped on pillows in Nana Hannah's bucket chair, the one covered in apricot and violet and wedgewood blue Henri Rousseau palms. I was going through her closet, pulling out sweaters, jeans, work shirts and she sat there sick, but smiling, sick, but at peace, and she said to me, "It's okay, after today, I won't need that" and I said, "You're really okay, aren't you?" and she smiled and said "I am. I'm really okay." Over and over I told her, "Nothing makes me happier than knowing that you are okay."

The Rabbi told Petey that he never saw anyone go through the dying process with as much grace as my mother, and when Petey told me, I smiled and felt so proud to be her daughter. My mother lived with cancer for eight years - she lived through cancer, she wound around and above cancer like a magic flute. Until it was time to start dying, she lived, and when it was time to allow death into our home, she did knowing that her dash was as big and joyous and full of love as was possible: she had done that rarest of things - she had lived life to it's fullest. When she was still able to sit on the couch by the bay window, in our house by the bay that was always full (sometimes too full, but she was so loved), I could see her hover between two worlds, between the temporal world of her children, Petey and his sons, her brothers, her grandchildren, her friends, her nieces and nephews, and the world where her parents were (she felt her toes tingle, they were touching her, bringing them to her in the beauty of return and golden light and an old home made new). There were times that she didn't seem to see us, where my presence didn't call forth her smile, and it broke my heart, but I knew my mother had to begin letting go from the world she ate like a brownie sundae, and that gave me peace, for I did not want her to be afraid or be too sad to leave us. I needed her to know we would be okay, and Mom, we miss you does not suffice, but we are okay.

On Friday night, in my dream, my mother gave me a gift (for she was): she is okay. It is okay for us to sell the house, it is okay for us to give her clothes away, it is okay for time to move on.

Today is our first wedding anniversary. Like L. said, "Sadness will roll in with the tides of mundane memories, with holidays, with realizations about the lack of phone calls. Unfortunately, it will eventually come." The phone did not ring this morning. My mother did not call. Time is moving on. You cannot push against an ocean

24 March 2012

Sit with me a minute. Pull up your chair, turn down your music. It's been so long since we've talked. I've needed these 2 months and 13 days of silence to live with the last 9 months and 6 days I have lived without my mother  and with the 32 years we lived together.

What I have done since we last spoke: I bought some dresses, I learned to do a crooked cat eye. I went to Tulum with my husband and I took hot showers outside. I unburdened myself of a secret. We opened Nana Hannah's credenza and divided what is inside. We have not donated your clothes to charity yet, Mom.

What I have learned since we last spoke: my mother will never be dead to me. I will spend the rest of my life waiting for her to come home. We will sell our home, we will move to other apartments, my mother will not know my address, but what is an address when she knows who she made.

In 10 days, we will mark our first wedding anniversary, in 16 days, on April 9, comes my mother's birthday. She would have been 58. 6 days later, I will turn 33. My brothers turned 27 and 30 without our mother. My boys, I didn't tell you (I never want to make you sad or lay my sadness over your metronome like a fine, worn cotton kerchief that can break its steady beat), but my heart broke for you on January 13 and March 23. This year, I will mark these days - last year we celebrated, and one day, we will celebrate again.

On May 6, we will lay the stone on my mother's grave. Blanche Batnick, April 9, 1954 - June 17, 2011. Beloved mother, wife, sister, aunt, grandmother and friend. Loved always. Let that Loved always echo beyond the confines of perpetual care, let that Loved always clap off the beat, like she did from here until there is no more.

On May 13, we will we spend our first Mother's Day without our mother and on June 17, 2012 we mark the first anniversary of her death. We circle in time, summer, fall, winter, spring - we pass the days of the last year we spent with her, the frightening ones, the day where she felt well enough to shop for shoes, we pass the days I squandered. Those days haunt me so that I must hide from them, and I can only find comfort in: what is an address when she knows who she made.

I love a man who lives to make his art. The only way he can live in this world is by writing songs I know like my eyelids on a summer's day, songs into which he pours all the beauty he can find. He is possessed by creation and newness. I am not like him. I am possessed by the world, by what is here, and what is gone.  I write these words to find the girl and her little brother with their mother's green eyes, and their little brother with their father's blue eyes. One day, I will not be vague, I will not hide from my sadness (I cannot control it, my 2nd greatest wish is to cry). I might even do what I told you I would do.

These words were not easy. On July 25, L. wrote to me: Although I know you do not feel connected to your sadness, rest assure, you are at a kind of magical stage of subconscious connection. She is speaking through your heart, mind and pen (or rather, your laptop). Sadness will roll in with the tides of mundane memories, with holidays, with realizations about the lack of phone calls. Unfortunately, it will eventually come. But for now, know that the unexpected thing about loss is a strange super-powered infusion of love that you gain from the person that you lost. It is almost like a shield that they give us for our hearts. And that shield is made up of the energy created by the POWER of your connection to them. Some may call it denial or shock, but really, I think it is the protection given from our beloved, the one who knows that our fragile hearts can only take so much at a time... Lest they break in two. And that is the last thing that they would ever want to happen. In the beginning, my grief was a conduit. I did not need to fight to speak to you, which was for the best - I am no fighter. I have lived with my grief through summer, fall, winter and an early, early spring (earlier still than last year:We are home from Paris, where June's sun visited in April forcing the sleepy cherry blossoms into wide-eyed morning, before, even their siblings have risen in Japan.) I know this feeling of grief like my eyelids on a summer's day, and yet I still feel so very unsure of what will be there when I open my eyes.

Having the blues is different from singing the blues. That's getting rid of the blues. These are blues I will never get rid of, but I will sing them the best way I know.

21 March 2012

So we go there, where nothing is waiting. Your small hand is not there for me to hold, your shoulder is not there to support my head as I cry. We were the same, I came from you. My waist is thin, yours was once thinner still. I am taller, for I stand on the height you built for me. Our eyes are green, mine a bluer green than yours. Our eyes look out to different doors. Mother, mother, mother mine you have gone there to your blue-eyed mother. Mother, mother, mother mine, I will follow you, my green-eyed mother.

I am young, mother, there is so much for me to do. Mother, mother, mother mine I will meet you, clear-eyed with no fear, for you are there. Your toes tingled; touched from the other side. Mother and father carried you on golden litter, trailed by daisies and ancestors. On this side, we wept and rain blanketed your roof. And, so we go there, where nothing is waiting, but there you are and here I am. Your arms are open until I am yours once more.

Daughter, daughter, daughter mine, I am here. I am waiting for you! We are apart, and will be, for years and years, but I sit on your shoulder, I look through your eyes, I made you, daughter, but first, I was made, and then you took what I gave you and created a being that walks down city streets on her own. The gutter calls, but not for you. You are yours, daughter. I am here, in golden light, in winter rain. Close your eyes, daughter: I am here.

You have the longest, wisest pearl necklace in the world.

There is nothing I would not do for you if I thought it was for your betterment.

Mother, rise! We are under April skies and I need our nighttimes back. It is lonely walking home without you.

From the very first moment we "met" I knew what I was dealing with. "The mostest."

Hello, my friend.

Beautiful bride.

The rain is starting. The world is crying. My mother died this afternoon, and so we go there, where nothing is waiting. The song is getting closer to the world, and you and I sing it together.

16 January 2012

My mother wanted to see the fjords of Norway, to sail down the crevasse in a ship with her children beside her. She wanted to take a Fire and Ice cruise from Hawaii to Alaska and to see the tigers in China. Most of all, my mother wanted to go to the Galapagos to see the blue-footed boobies and Lonesome George, the 100 year old tortoise (relation to Arthur, her pet tortoise who vanished from our deck one night, never to be seen again, say "tortoise", "turtle", "Arthur" around my mother and tears would roll for "that guy".) It was one of her last wishes, going to the Galapagos, and Petey wanted to take her, but the journey was too long, so I promised her one day I would go with my brothers and she smiled, and said, "You can only go if you promise me one thing: that you'll have fun." And I promised, and we will, Mom. We will go, and we will have fun.

It snowed the other day, and I wrote snow! and my husband wrote I'm not ready and I wrote it's not ours to choose so "Throw away your little bedsocks and your Welsh wool knitted jacket, I will warm the sheets like an electric toaster, I will lie by your side like the Sunday roast" (Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas). Time is short, my love, and there is not enough of it. I want to lock the door and lie in our bed and read (Proust, Little Women, The Giving Tree, Edith Wharton, Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, books of home, memory, childhood). I want to read myself in a circle, until I come out the other side, fortified by incantations I know and those I have not yet met, ready to begin my book. I want to go home and open my mother's closet and touch her clothes and wear her moccasins. I want to use her eye cream (I don't think she ever used it), and sit at the table in the kitchen and look at the jewelry that was my grandmother's, then my mother's, and now mine, locked away in a safe. More than anything, I want to ask my mother where the pearl necklace with the gold leaf clasp came from, and me too, Mom, where did I come from. I want to try on her white velvet wedding dress, but she never picked it up from the dry-cleaners, and it wouldn't fit me, anyhow. There is too much I want to do, my love, but I am tired. We do not get to choose when it snows, we do not get to choose when our mothers die.

Time is not forever, my love. What we have is slippery, it shifts in our awkward hands. Families change, friends move away, neighborhoods are overtaken. I thought that maybe, like R., I too would wake one day, 6 months after, and realize I wanted to have a child. It will be 6 months on Tuesday, and I do not think I will want a child on Tuesday, or the next Tuesday, or the Tuesday after that. But this is the thing: as she was dying, I know my mother did not think of the fjords she did not see, the tigers she did not pet, the 100 year old tortoise she did not meet. She thought of her children, she thought of her parents. She thought of who she had made, and who made her. I cannot imagine wanting to be a mother without my mother.

I would like to turn my insides out, to share the world of ghosts that walks through my mind. We drove the streets of Long Island last night and I saw my Aunt Muriel and Uncle Bernie, I saw my mother, I saw those who have gone, the streets of my life that no longer belong to me.  I want to be a child, or, rather, I want you to sit with me and see my childhood through my eyes. I have always lived in stories, I have always lived in my past. We will go to Tulum, we will go to Italy, but I will always be an armchair traveler, exploring in my nightgown. There goes Elliot Street and Lake End Road, and the house on Westover Place. There goes an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, and a forest that grew and grew. There goes the stories our mothers read us, the stories they told us so we could be better in this world, knowing there was love and forgiveness and a hot supper waiting for us.

I love the small velvet pumpkins I have begun collecting because they are real and they were once alive, but now they are magic, and a thing of imagination, and life, for me, is nothing if not imagining what once was. I live in my past, and, for now, I cannot see my future. But it lies there, in the books, the animals, the velvet pumpkins, the small things I nurture. It is in my brothers, the video tapes in the garage, the platters, the heavy crystal bowl, the iris paintings, the tiny gold Chinese chest of drawers, my grandmother's credenza, the silver iced tea spoons from Tiffany. The future lies next to me at night, I warm it like an electric toaster.