Friday, August 26, 2005

In Memoriam

A Visitor
Mary Oliver

My father, for example,
who was young once
and blue-eyed,
on the darkest of nights
to the porch and knocks
wildly at the door,
and if I answer
I must be prepared
for his waxy face,
for his lower lip
swollen with bitterness.
And so, for a long time,
I did not answer,
but slept fitfully
between his hours of rapping.
But finally there came the night
when I rose out of my sheets
and stumbled down the hall.
The door fell open

and I knew I was saved
and could bear him,
pathetic and hollow,
with even the least of his dreams
frozen inside him,
and the meanness gone.
And I greeted him and asked him
into the house,
and lit the lamp,
and looked into his blank eyes
in which at last
I saw what a child must love,
I saw what love might have done
had we loved in time.

My father had hazel eyes, like me. And his only meanness perhaps the egoistic conviction we would all be better off without him. But I have wandered through this landscape enough to admit that the voices of his despair spoke louder than love, leaving him nothing but a narrow track with a dark conclusion. How much more indestructable is our own internal half-logic!

If you consider time as our fourth dimension, it may be easier for you to acknowledge the existence of an echo effect; ripples from long ago events that make themselves felt years later. I don't mean the way the past shapes the future--nothing that simplistic-- this is more a cyclic effect, often subconscious, that earlier meaningful events affect our feelings, maybe on their anniversaries, or every couple of years (surely one could allow that if such effects were ripples, they might begin to occur every month and gradually widen to every year, then every other, and so on, as the emotional wake, if you will, subsides). Now I buy this theory (because I made it up, fine, but really, there's more), because I notice that every year or so, right around now I become melancholy and introspective. It comes over me gradually and I often think, what the heck is up with me? Why this mood change? And eventually I think, oh right, it's August. The wrong time in the solar year, maybe, to think about change and uncertain futures, but the right time in my personal calendar, here around the anniversary of my father's death. And I love this poem (can't forget the poem) because of the redemption at the end, the softening, the forgiveness. I too, have gone round and round in years past, chasing my mental tail, trying to reason it through on some days and trying not to think of it or agonizing over it on others. The bitterness, the swollen lip, these things for me are post-mortem; they are caused by the refusal to see, to acknowledge the ugly parts of the past and the difficult and contradictory emotions caused by death. How needed, how essential is that ease at the end, the ability to say, I forgive you (and likewise myself, for my anger and my guilt about my anger). This moment also comes more often as the years do, and the whole thing softens into grey hues from its original hard lines. My father's ghost is my harbinger of uncertainty, of anxiety, of fear of loss. But
I must greet his ghost some nights, and pare away the symbolism, and there he is my father again, and I a child, with a child's love, and I am simply allowed to miss him.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Pond Moments

So much for deep introspective thought. It's sure been a while since I've had time to sit down for any of it. The worst thing about busyness is you get this vague feeling like maybe deep thought is simply too much effort. Since I've left any footprints here (splayed or otherwise--don't get the reference? Try Billy Collins) I have been across the country and back, bought myself a new computer (the flowerbed beneath my window was in danger from the old one. Because I was going to lose my temper and heave it out, you know), learned about the beauties of opioids (not what you think, either to your relief or dismay-I'm talking about vet school stuff, again), rode on a ferry, spent over $400 in order to sign up for a 6 hour exam, and performed an autopsy on a cat (another vet school activity, which, to admit my utter geekdom/how-I-am-not-like-most-people, I kind of enjoyed). But there hasn't been much time for inner contemplation. .

I did go for a long walk with the boy and the dog tonight. The smell of the woods marches me straight into my childhood memories. I used to think everyone remembered their childhoods the way I do, but I no longer believe this. For me, I have vivid glimpses of many scenes from many different years, all coming fast and clear, and full of echoed emotion. The lake at camp, summer camping in Wilmington, hiking Stone Mountain and Blowing Rock, late nights lying on the warm asphalt feeling like any minute now, the earth would let go and I would float away. Such vertigo, imagining another living creature orbiting another star and staring back at you wondering the same thing--who and where and how?

We met a pond that was a Mary Oliver poem.

The Ponds

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them--

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided--
and that one wears an orange blight--
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away--
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled--
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing--
that the light is everything--that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

I love Mary Oliver's poems. The last lines of the poem on
the next page have always haunted me, calling at wild pond moments, or on pensive evenings. "Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?" she asks. The last lines that surface often in my brain are: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

The truth is, I don't know. But the question always hits me in the solar plexus, a wild cry of grief mixed with a sort of impatience, like a child stamping her foot. Get on with it, don't you remember what's important here, she asks me. And I have to say, shamefacedly, that no, I often forget.

I am very grateful for pond moments tonight.