I read the papers,
I unfold them and examine them in the sunlight.
The way the red mortars, in photographs,
arc down into the neighborhoods
like stars, the way death
combs everything into a gray rubble before
the camera moves on. What
dark part of my soul
shivers: you don’t want to know more
about this. And then: you don’t know anything
unless you do. How the sleepers
wake and run to the cellars,
how the children scream, their tongues
trying to swim away–
how the morning itself appears
like a slow white rose
while the figures climb over the bubbled thresholds,
move among the smashed cars, the streets
where the clanging ambulances won’t
stop all day–death and death, messy death–
death as history, death as a habit–
how sometimes the camera pauses while a family
counts itself, and all of them are alive,
their mouths dry caves of wordlessness
in the smudged moons of their faces,
a craziness we have so far no name for–
all this I read in the papers,
in the sunlight,
I read with my cold, sharp eyes.
Two days after my 45th birthday. On Friday, January the 13th, 2012, my grandmother passed away. Surrounding her on the 11th, had been a roomful of… mourners. Nine or so family members gazing lovingly into her closed and slightly cold eyes.
Ruth, my grandmother, would not have had the send off any other way. Even a nephew had attended. Supposedly, he abhorred dying and death. Therefore, it was to understood that he felt no need to visit his great-grandmother, while she was alive. My niece could not be there. She had an excused absence, as well. After all, someone needed to keep an eye on the kids.
Yet, with good fortune, the rest of the fruit for the cake…did arrive. My brother, Bud, even made an appearance for the following week. The women folk fawned over the long-awaited return of, Bud. He held/holds a special place in both my mother’s and sister’s…hearts. Often in my mind’s eye, a ‘strange’ affection had been held for him.
Though, Bud, made very few appearances, he had been revered as, a special kind of guy. Not always there when you needed him. But willing to get upset and angry when long distant family conversations occurred.
Joking, poking fun at one another and for appearance sake, sobbing and paying homage. I am certain, dear old Ruth, had been semi aware of the praise being lavished upon her.
I learned to not love my grandmother. After being shunned for my homosexuality, by my grandfather. And, subsequently, out of respect for Joe Poe’s wishes…my grandmother.
After the accusations of being just like my father. A man both, Ruth and Joe, denounced. After the many years of my addiction’s bad behavior being phoned about the family lifeline. After being told I had been an angry, hateful, dishonest, cheat by the powers that be. After all that, and so much more, I kept Ruth at arm’s length.
She referred to my partner and soon to be wife as, looking like a teenage boy with severe issues. She choose to pick and choose my physical being apart like a piece of sludge through fine knit cloth.
She choose. She picked. She insulted. She name called.
She had been the one and only, Ruth.
Odd, I had been named after her. But after the rubbing off of family lies through cursed truth…I discovered that even, Grandma Ruth’s name had been a lie. Indeed, her birth name had been, Victoria.
Ruth, though, being stubborn and tough, felt she needed a more…biblical-ly correct title. A title that would suit her high standing with god.
Funny story? Or, perhaps, not! I managed to find myself being the lone speaker at my grandmother’s funeral. That is other than the priest. For some reason, my mother felt that the telling of ‘my story’, made me eligible to speak in public.
Often AA meetings like the participants to share, discuss and tell, their stories. Stories of how they began the road to addiction’s hell and how they hoped to get off…the road. Somehow, this personal perk made me allowable as, Ruth’s eulogy preacher. Course, my sister had boo hoo’d this. She, Sybil, deserved this honor. After all, she visited my grandmother more often. Six days a week. As opposed to my two or three. Plus, she shared with Ruth.
When Sybil took a tumble-down a flight of stairs. Ruth had been able to see the photos Sybil took of her bruised and naked ass. Many photos, many bruises, too much information, as Ruth put it.
Sybil also volunteered to clean, trim and file, grandma’s besieged, ancient toenails. Sybil made a day out of it. Bringing special treats to the nursing home. Watching something special on the tiny television set. Prepping and readying, Ruth for the ‘nail’ treatment.
How I wished my mother had chosen Sybil. I ended up with the neuovirus. My brother and sister-in-law did to. I barely made it through the paying of respects…a couple of nights before. Sweating, shaking, nodding instead of speaking, etc.
Upon approaching the pew at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic church. St. Mary’s where my mother had once attended church and school. St. Mary’s where only the good catholic’s of Waltham go. When I finally managed to place my placid self down. There had been a not so gentle reminder of frankincense burning. Burning my eyes, my soul, my stomach and helping to shut down all defenses. Thank christ there had been toilets in the front and the back.
I spoke, as my wife later recalls, quickly, insistently and with vigor.
The matriarch of the clan had passed. She had gone for 91 hard years. Hard years of a punishing husband. Hard years of turning that belted abuse toward her daughter, Janice.
Again, I am uncertain of not having an intrinsic love for her. I did respect her. She demanded it.
For awhile, I had not wanted to think about how unfortunate events…unfold. Live in the pool of ignorance. My life has never been blissful. That is until recently. When I had made a conscious decision to unmask truth.
It had been sometime in February. Shortly after the funeral. My mother’s side of the family had been dying slowly. As is usually the case with age. I knew little of those who through, the filtered blood that ran into my veins.
I knew that the Quinn’s, the Stukoni’s, had been hard-drinking, hard talking, ravished souls. A history of persons trying to live a good life. A good life often laced with tragedy. But what of the Bowley’s? Where, what, when and how did they come about? My father never gave attention to his side of the family. Going as far as, avoiding them, physically. We very rarely visited anyone with Bowley blood. Though, we all lived in the same small state of New Hampshire.
February, ancestry.com, and my stubborn inquisitiveness, were about to change that mystery.
In awe, as a writer, poet, thinker, depth diver…I wonder…
‘How did we get here?’
Some of us so far in the minority. It takes a ladder to stand up to the wind. Faith and persistence must not wane. For as certain as, one open door appears ahead of us. The door shutting behind…never closes completely.
Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death–ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible for life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return.
So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.
When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.
When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.