Saturday, November 10, 2012
The sunrise here is a marvel and the coffee tastes different, like cozy socks and a hug, even though the robusta beans coat my tongue with extra caffeine. My mother and I talk and talk about psychics and spirits and grandmothers, Of emigrating, moving, changing space. We talk about retirement and staying home and my childhood. Then, she mentions to me in passing that mother-daughter relationships are complicated, and I chuckle. Heh heh, yeah, Mama, I heard that once.
My children run through the yard like wild things--they climb trees and track rabbits. My mother tells my daughter she used to kill birds with a slingshot and roast them in the cemetery. She grew up poor and my daughter's mouth gapes open in amazement. My daughter spots a woodpecker in the valley. We sit by the stream, tossing red leaves into the current as the visiting neighbor's weiner dog barks. We climb over the weeping willow the hurricane tossed out of the earth. I used to sit under that tree and play guitar in the summer. My stepfather is non-nonplussed. "I'll put another one in. This bank was too loose. In spring, I'll put in a cutting up a few feet in sturdier ground." I strum my daughter's favorite song there anyway, while she sings.
Oh, my Mama.
She gives me
These feathered breaths.
While I mourn for my stepfather, cry with him, his mother suffered from the death that most of us fear. Forgetting our husband and children, experiencing the indignities and humiliations of rotten people and a body betraying its soul. She was surrounded by love, though, and she was never want for anything. I wonder if there is a good death and what that would look like.
The children and I tramp through the woods, and my daughter points out that in the summer this place is filled with poison ivy. She tells me a story about my own childhood. It is the story about poison Sumac. I couldn't see well because my face was so swollen. My aunt had to take me for the day, while my mother worked. My Titi, as I called her, had no idea what to do with me, so se taught me to dance the cha-cha with a record and a mat with feet prints. My mother waits for the children and I at the top of the hill, right by the sweet cherry tree. My children call to her, "Abuelita, Abuelita, we walked through the poison ivy." I want to be an abuelita some day.
My daughter's death was as good as it gets. It hits me. She died in her mother. She never feared. And we loved her like she was going to live forever. There was never pity or grief in the love. But still, how good can it be if you never really got to live?
Being in my mother's home soothes something broken in me. My mother rubs in salve and aloe when she makes white rice in the same pot she's been making rice in for forty years. She puts on another pot of lentils, despite my protestations. She just had surgery. She doesn't have to make my favorite meal, but she insists. We talked about making rice. She taught me when I went to college, but it still took me many years to make it like her. She breaks off sofrito from the freezer and adds a can of tomato sauce. She tells me about being the second youngest of twelve and learning to cook Panamanian food in America. I watch the birds out the window beyond her shoulder, and think that this land is the land of my mother, even if it is far away from the land of her birth. But it is both for me. I feel attached to this land. I dug my feet into the dirt this morning, the dew almost frozen hurt my feet, but I refused to move.
This is the land of my people.
As I stood there, I realize that the hardest part of writing is learning you are mediocre. And in that mediocrity, you still sometimes nail a good phrase or two. You sometimes write something amazing. But mostly, it is just mediocre. But the world is constructed of mostly mediocre. It is part of the suffering. You feel the extraordinary bubbling underneath its surface, but it hasn't (or perhaps never will) quite burst through you. It is like rice-making year three. The phase in which you change from mother to grandmother.