by Angeliska on August 9, 2004
A storm is brewing- and thankfully,
for the air has been pressing down
like an anvil all day- gray and heavy,
an oppressive heat and smells of
pork fat and burnt molasses.
You walk around feeling like
you’ve donned a thick cape
made of dead wet dogmeat.
The night before I left for Texas
I came home and found Gustav dead-
he had been chirping uncharacteristically,
but I thought it had meant that he was happy.
Apparently not. He seemed to be fine,
a bright healthy green and very active..
I have no idea what done him in.
For any of you who knew him-
he was a good frog, my friend, and an emissary
of the queen- he did not receive the funeral
ceremony he deserved, as I was alone
and still had yet to pack for my journey..
Nothing like the Viking wake his sister,
Yaroslava had, alas, with candles and
Nordic drinking songs and whiskey.
My excursion to Texas was joyful, if brief-
lovely to spend time with my family
and old friends- and to take a blissful
and much needed foray out to my
favorite swimming hole for a delightful
afternoon of frolicking in waterfalls
and in fairy caves, all hung with moss
and jeweled diadems of maidenhair fern
spangled with water droplets glittering
and refracting the sunlight like diamonds..
Inside the cave, it’s cold- and there are
bones on the floor and two passageways-
if only we could shrink wee and spelunk it.
I came home with my mother’s fiddle-
one afternoon’s worth of lessons with
my father, and I’m picking out my
stumbling scales and a tune he used
to sing to me when I was little-
“I wish I was a mole in the ground”
He taught my mother her first fiddle
lesson when she was the same age
I am now- continuing a musical
legacy that runs through my bloodline,
hoping that some stray genetic memory
will carry me through and guide me
to play this instrument that was hers.
Yes, clearly – my parents were the consummate hippies.
I’ve got “Golden Shoes” stuck in my head-
a wonderful ditty that was introduced
by the inimitable Uncle Dave Macon like so-
“I’m going to sing you a song
from the land of pumpkin and possum,
hog and hominy, where whiskey’s made out of corn
and women don’t smell like talcum powder!”
My favorite line runs:
“What you gonna do when the women all dead?
Gonna sit in the corner with a hung down head,
Now if I was to marry, I wouldn’t marry for riches
I’d marry a little fat gal who couldn’t wear my britches!”
It’s all coming back around, full circle-
the silver chain coiled in my hand,
my hands where her hands were..
Yesterday was the day my mother died,
August 8, 1986- a series of elliptical eights,
I kept turning them on their sides, unconsciously
making the snakes that symbolize eternity.
THIS IS WHAT I CAN REMEMBER:
I remember the weeks before her death
in flashes of heat lightning, scattered shots
of the screen door slamming, careless
children shouting and scampering-
with no knowledge or understanding
of what was taking place in the next room-
a woman dying, her life ebbing away slowly
and then in shocks as seizures shook her.
I was one of those children, among the
sweaty and knee-skinned throng of cousins
and ratty neighbor kids- except it was my
mother in there sick and laid out,
not to be seen, or visited only for a moment-
to be tip-toed around, the sickroom with
its mysterious geometry of bed and bottles
of pills, countless colors- the long wait,
the incomprehensible end.
I remember pushing her in her wheelchair
down the dirt road from the little stone cottage
in Lone Grove- my grandparent’s house.
Attempting in my childish way to be solicitous,
pleasing and appeasing my invalid mother
with purple sprigs of crape myrtle, with
the sight of a quail leading a train of her young
though the cactus and long grass-
with drawing of black horses with bright green eyes,
though I worried at the possible overuse
of my black crayon, as it was, I knew,
the colour of death- hoping it wouldn’t remind her.
It’s been nearly twenty years since that day,
and I’m only just beginning to process any of it..
It helps to write about it, to put it here-
somewhere, anywhere but locked away in
the cavern of my memory where I’ve kept it
for so long, to crumble and gnaw and fester.
Her life tumbles into mine, what’s left of it-
memory faded at the edges, images of
her as a baby on a sled, as a frowning
sullen youth, as a bride, as my mother.
None of it goes away- it just falls
into another configuration.