J’ai du vague à l’âme

Je suis prest pour apprendre le francais.

That’s what I was going to say when I called. We had so many conversations about having those conversations in French if I wanted to try.  I did want to try, of course, but I was embarrassed at how bad I might be and I didn’t want to be bad – in front of you – at something we both loved so much.  Sounds stupid now.  I’d give anything to rewind a couple of weeks and chat with you in your native tongue.

I know people see me drowning in this and they think, “what’s the big deal?  Everyone has lost a grandmother.”  They only think that because they don’t know who you were, who we were.  I won’t attempt to write that here, because I think it would be impossible, but I have gathered a few thoughts to keep for myself.

When other people hear the term “Iron Lady” they probably think of Margaret Thatcher.  Maybe some younger, stupid ones think of the Statue of Liberty.  I always think of you.  Strong and unyielding, a real force of nature.  A woman who would plunge her hands into scalding hot water because that was the best way to wash dishes, walk 15 miles in a day without complaint (and in fact, prefer it to driving), the woman who caught me by my hair and pulled me up when I slipped and fell off an actual cliff.

Having grandchildren softens a person, and I think it made you – as Goldilocks would say – “just right”.  I hear stories about you being conservative with your praise but with me, you gave it so freely.  I felt empowered by your true and steady belief in me.  You were my compass, my North Star, encouraging me to try new things and have adventures.  At the same time, you were an anchor, helping me feel safe in knowing that I always had a home to go back to.  A refuge.

To be known, seen, understood – and to have that revelation of understanding DEEPEN love, not repulse it – is something I have only ever felt from you and Bonpapa.  You did not tolerate me, you did not chastise me, your love was based on nothing that might be taken away or failed.  It simply was.  I could sit next to you and FEEL the love radiate from you. I know that in thousands of instances, you made a conscious choice to see and speak to only the good in me.

You were otherworldly.  We both knew it.  Your psychic dreams, your knowing.  Remember when you called to ask me if I was pregnant?  I lied to you, but you had known.  When you realized I had similar gifts, you pointed to me and said I was witchy like your grandmother but the sparkle in your eye and half-grin on your lips always betrayed how much you liked that about me, related to it.  I wasn’t like her, I was like you.

A tri-lingual translator for the allies who lost her home and family’s title in the war, lost her beloved father at 9, ate grass sometimes to survive and cursed the Germans frequently.  An athlete and raven-haired beauty queen who held every man’s heart in the palm of her hands.  Coy, coquettish, playful, talented, quick-witted, smart.  Strong.  Unyielding.  Unashamed.  Different.  Proud. I didn’t meet this young enchanting version of you but I could see her in your eyes, hear her in your voice.

The version I met was still a beauty, still playful. She had a radio in the kitchen playing Lionel Ritchie while she cooked.  She took me to the symphony and the ballet so I would have a love for the arts.  She made French bread every Sunday after mass, always pointing out that it wasn’t perfect because the “American” ingredients aren’t the same. She took my brother and me to France – twice – so that we could understand and appreciate her history and our own.

There was nothing you could not do, my fiesty fearless conqueror princess.  Not many people know what a magnificent woman you were.  There should be books written about you, epic movies made.  They wouldn’t do you justice but you deserve them.

My sister, the mother of my heart, my partner in crime.  The first – maybe only – person I really wanted to tell about returning to Paris because I knew that you wouldn’t just listen, you would understand. You wouldn’t just understand, you would feel.  Describing that day, when I turned and saw the Eiffel Tower with the sun rising behind it and I wept, we wept together.  I felt happy to have someone to share that with, and a little sad because I knew that some part of that sadness in you stemmed from knowing you would never get to see your beloved France again.  My heart ached for you.

I hope that you are there now.  I hope that you and Bonpapa are together, traveling as you liked to do,  laughing, free.  I hope that being all-knowing hasn’t changed your opinion of me.  I hope that you can feel my love and see my heartbreak and be honored by it.  I hope that you are already planning when you might visit me in a dream.

My whole life changed in a moment.  My reality shifted.  This is the biggest, the most profound loss, and that is why I am drowning in it.  If you are the thing I held myself up to, defined myself with, what am I now?  I am empty, floating, directionless.  I am filled with guilt that I didn’t call you when my intuition provoked me.  I am filled with sorrow that by the time I got to you, you couldn’t speak to me or laugh with me.

I will miss all the secret things that I have not written here.  I will cling to the memories of my childhood, which you built around me from scraps my parents left lying around and your own beautiful love and strong will.  I will be grateful every day of my life for every day of yours.  I will do my best to love my children the way you showed me, and to travel with them and talk to them like grown-ups and empower them.  We will eat pastry for breakfast and send postcards to ourselves and I promise to speak French with them.  I will wear dresses for no reason and rings on all my fingers and I will stop apologizing for who I am.

Je t’aime beaucoup, my beautiful flower.  My soul cries out to yours in separation. I will count the days until we meet again.  xoxo bisous I love you, Bonmama.  Beaucoup beaucoup.

 

Why Aren’t There More Love Poems

Why aren’t there more love poems

About Grandmothers?

Epic hero’s journey tales recounting

Their fantastic feats?

My Bonmama is nearly 93.

Once she was of noble blood, a beauty queen

Raven hair, dark eyes, sharp wit.

She is trilingual, a WWII military translator

An immigrant, a mother of 5, an entrepreneur

In short,

She moved mountains with her bare hands

(Usually before breakfast.)

Later in her life,

After raising all her children

Building a business

Assimilating into a foreign culture

Earning retirement,

She raised two more kids.

Not half-heartedly, not begrudgingly

But with love, enthusiasm, and candor.

My grandmother is my mother.

She is my very best girlfriend.

She is extraordinary.

Every time I talk to her I feel home

(In the way that only her home has ever felt)

She gave me culture, humor, and grit

She is my beacon and my true North.

And I’m sitting here after a long late chat

Wondering why no one writes love poems

About Grandmothers

My Bonmama has loved me more honestly

More enduringly, more enthusiastically

Than any other, and in return I have

Tried to treasure her, honor and humor her

Though nothing could repay her for

Her heart

Which I know I hold in my hands

Perhaps the challenge is in articulating

The greatness of a woman unprecedented

Unparalleled

There are no sufficient words to express

All that she has been and continues to be

For me.

And so no poems are written here,

No songs are sung

She is otherworldly.

Too dear for this kind of thing

I’ll keep it to myself, then.

I’ll keep it between us –

Where it has always been.

Inked

If you got a tattoo

For me

What would it be?

My eyes? My nose?

A beautiful rose?

No…

I think it must be

A star, or better

A whole constellation

Yes that’s what it will be

A constellation on fire!

More permanent

Than ink

Than a supernova

Than me or you,

Ancient

Ignited

Eternal

Within, without,

Above, below

Primal, ethereal

True.

So would you?

Still Life [version 1]

She grew up here, in this garden.

Rooted in the soil, watered by the rain and heated by the sun.  Not nourished by the sun, exactly, as she had never been brave enough to expose herself to its light.  Not refreshed by the rain, exactly, since she never let it touch her face. But this was fine.  This was life.

She was a tightly closed bud with delicate yellow petals, and even shut into herself like this, she was a wonder to behold. Every day people walked by the garden on their way to – she didn’t know where – and sometimes they’d stop and look at all the flowers and plants.  Their eyes were always drawn to her, because she was tall and graceful and otherworldly.  Still, they could not truly see her, as she remained tightly shut, afraid to let in the light.

One day, a man stopped on the sidewalk to peruse the flowers, as people often did.  He noticed her like all the rest before him, for she was tall and graceful and otherworldly.  But he didn’t just look at her and walk away.  Curious and inspired, he knelt gracefully beside the garden, leaned his face over her, and began to whisper in a voice so low that only she could hear.

He told her she was lovely – a treasure, if truth be told.  He told her she was a gift too precious to stay so tightly shut.  He told her she was unique, and he had never known another like her.  He told her it was safe to look upon the sunlight – that even though it might seem scary to expose her true self, the risk would be worth it.

When he was satisfied with all he had said, the man stood up, brushed the dirt off his hands, and walked away.

She – the tightly closed bud with delicate yellow petals – stood tall and motionless, but the man and his remarks touched her deeply.  His words echoed in the raindrops that fell heavy and loud over the garden that night.

The next morning, she decided to face her fears, and she began to stretch out her long, lovely petals. For the first time she felt a bit of the sun’s warmth inside her and she knew she could never be shut again.

Over the course of the day the beautiful yellow flower opened herself completely to the bright sun above.  She allowed herself to be vulnerable.  She allowed herself to be brave.  In doing so, she revealed her nearly indescribable beauty to the world around her, and she made it a better place.  People now stopped to photograph the garden and several of them gasped at the ethereal, glittering light that seemed to radiate out from the tips of her petals.  She was happier than she had ever been.

She had bloomed.

A few more days went by and the once tightly closed bud, who was now a fully realized golden garden goddess, began to notice some changes in herself.  Her leaves were drooping a bit, her petals sagging and falling off.  She knew what was happening, but she hadn’t expected it to happen so quickly.  Just as she was pondering her newly wilting countenance, she felt the cool of a shadow over her.  It was the kind stranger who had awakened her days earlier, come to whisper to her once more.

Ever so gently he leaned down and again spoke in a voice that only she could perceive.

He told her she was lovely, but more than that, she was brave.  He told her that her courage had transformed the world.  He pointed out that ladybugs, bees, and butterflies had been attracted to her radiant aura, her honey-like scent.  He told her about the crowds of people who had come to see her.  He told her he had painted a most incredible portrait of her and he thanked her for her gift.

When he was satisfied with all he had said, the man stood up, brushed off his hands, and walked away again.

By nightfall, the beautiful flower had wilted completely to the ground.  She lay there, cool in the dirt, and pondered her long life shut away from the sun – and her short but glorious time under its rays.  It was worth it, she knew.

She had been closed off for so long, until a magnanimous stranger simultaneously enlivened and doomed her.  His near-silent, secret whispers had provoked her to the edge of her greatest fears.  He had introduced her to the sun.  Oh! – the hot, beaming, delicious sunlight – and how it playfully danced and glided over her magnificent petals.  That was her favorite part.

She prepared herself for the slow and peaceful fading back down into the earth that had born her, and she considered the irony that in destroying herself she had finally learned what it was to live.

Her life had not been the garden, or the breeze, or the people walking by or even in how long she stood there, afraid and tightly shut.  No, all of that was simply existing.  For the tightly closed bud with the beautiful yellow petals, the meaning of life – and the measure of it, too – was in the blossoming.

Miss Mulitiverse

My perfect date is

Dancing in the kitchen

To Børns

“…tell me what is Heaven if

our souls are split in two?”

Baking and making

Dishes no one’s

Ever heard of

Twirling around

Like we did when

We were kids

Consumed by joy

Falling but unafraid

Light

Weightless

Free.

Oh, and World Peace. ✌️

Echo

Sending little notes

Emotional bread crumbs

Into the ether

Straining eyes and ears

For the slightest response

As if a ghost –

A vapor –

Might take the bait

And, hearing my words,

Whisper them back.

Historically

The goddess is the moon

The god is the stag

They are separate, they are one.

Of course it was always going to be this.

Of course.

Here’s to running

Alone, together

Wild and free

Into the moonlit night.

Weep Not for the Memories

Driving today with my elder son in the back seat, a Sarah McLachlan song came on the radio.  I smiled and sang along.

I will remember you/Will you remember me?

Don’t let your life pass you by/Weep not for the memories.

There’s a surface meaning to the song, as with any song, and at first I was only thinking surface thoughts.  Swiftly transported to a simpler time in my life – high school and early college days – when love was messy and dramatic and fascinating and painful and I wanted every part of it.  I also thought about my brother, (who is probably Sarah McLachlan’s number one fan), because he used to burn me CDs and make me notes on what to listen for.  He’s an audiophile, I can’t hear the things he does, but I still loved getting CDs from him, and I listened to them dutifully and repeatedly.

As the song went on I started thinking about the lyrics having a deeper and more profound context. I imagined a conversation with my Grandaddy Curtis. He’s been on my mind the past few days.  I see him standing in front of me, smiling.  He was always smiling.

“I will remember you”, I say.  “Will you remember me?” He nods at me silently. It’s like a verbal handshake – a pact – we make.  “Weep not for the memories,” I say to myself.  I miss him, but I am not sad.  I have been loved more earnestly and well than some people will ever dream, and I can only be grateful for it. Sarah kept singing:

You gave me everything you had, you gave me light.

I leave the imaginary scene and focus my attention on the road ahead.  The sky looks a shade or two grayer than it did this morning.  I’ve heard it said that for as long as you are remembered and loved by someone you never die, not really.  Your love becomes your legacy.  So in my imagination, Grandaddy and I made a deal to keep the other alive, through love and conversation.

You know that age old question – “If a tree falls in the woods…”?  Well, let me put it to you another way.  If a person exists – if a human life is lived – and there is no one to bear witness – is it truly lived?  What proof is there to point to that person, what certainty can we have about them?  I suppose the answer depends on how much you think existence has to do with things like community, connection, love, family, and legacy.

Isn’t that what every person wants?  To be remembered?  To have mattered?

Existential crises are a part of the Human Condition.  We all, whether we realize it or not, whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not, yearn to matter.   I believe with all my heart that this is why we are driven to create.  Most of us (maybe all of us), usually from a young age, feel a compulsion to make.  Writers, painters, singers, dancers, even people who create in different ways, like businessmen and inventors, all respond to the familiar call to make something of their lives – and by extension, of themselves, of their time here.

To be honest I think this is (at least in part) why some of us have children.  We want to leave behind something of significance, and we want someone to bear witness to our lives. We want some assurance that the stories we grew up with – the recipes, the traditions, the places and people we love, even the dimples passed down on our father’s side – don’t cease to exist when we are laid to rest in the damp, dark earth.  We hope that the generation we raise will be better than us, we hope they aspire to greater heights, we pray they will work as hard as we have to make some kind of mark on the world, to give their contribution to the collective.

We want it all to mean something.

It’s futile.  It’s absurd.  It’s romantic and brave.

And isn’t it a lot like writing a manifesto in the sand?  We toil and sweat and bleed and give of ourselves, mining the depths of our hearts to produce something raw and true and worthy.   The tides of time will likely wash it all away eventually.  We know.  In the back of our minds, we have always known. Yet we can’t seem to help ourselves.

Stranger still, there is inherent value in the markings left on the beach, even if they aren’t seen or acknowledged on a global scale and even if they only last a fraction of a second.  Ironically, the value isn’t as much in the words as it is in heart and motivation of the person desperately scrawling them; not as much in the thing created as in the creating.

Sounds like one big, terrific, cosmic joke.

Perhaps the punchline is this: Love is what lasts.  Love is what transcends. Only love.  Real love is eternal.  It exists here and it exists in the after, and it is the only thing that does.  So really, all this creating is nonsense, and all our sleepless nights and working lunches and grand projects are useless, except for the loving.  Who we love, how well we love them, whether and how we express it, where we allow it to take us, how much of that love we pour into others and into the universe is what bleeds over into the cosmos and echoes in the night sky after we are gone.

I’ve heard it said that for as long as you are remembered and loved by someone you never die, not really.  Your love becomes your legacy.

I will remember you.  Will you remember me?

 

 

 

 

Yellow Legal Pad Circa 2006

I am never

Not thinking

About him.

p e r s p e c t i v e

When you’re sitting down there on the floor, all cried out and delirious, eyes red and swollen, flicking the lamp switch back and forth, mascara smudged all over your face and you just can’t see that it doesn’t matter if he has her or she has him…

You can’t see because right now you’re just deep in it, you’re thinking about boiling bunnies and you are still turning the goddamn lights on and off while blasting Madame Butterfly through the speakers and wearing his cologne because he shattered your heart…

You were Alex for him, a damn good Alex too, until he decided Alex wasn’t what he wanted and all the things that made you exciting and intriguing now make you a human land mine and he’s afraid of taking another step…

I want you to know that it doesn’t matter if he lied or broke your heart or used you or made you feel cheap, that he spat out beautiful bullshit with a Cheshire grin, it won’t matter after this momentary break or in any other instant after…

It won’t matter because you’re not Alex. Alex was never who you really are, only a part you played once, someone who fit his mold and expectations, who made him feel important, a woman who thrilled and intimidated him, a woman he callously dismissed and discarded…

It won’t matter because the truth is evident now, you can see it and taste it and feel it, that fire burning in your gut, that voice that tells you you’re stronger without him and you were made to handle tough things, the one that dares you to prove it to yourself…

It won’t matter because – plot twist – you’re Glenn Fucking Close and when this moment is over you’re going to stand up, put your pants on, take a long drag off a longer cigarette and go eat some over-seasoned salmon on the balcony of a hotel where the sheets cost more than most people’s dignity and you will never shed a tear over him again…

And that, my dear, is perspective.