Sunday, January 6, 2008


today marks the sixth year since my mother passed away. here is what i wrote:

and when you died, the dirge began with a phone bell, and the barefoot carpet steps of three adult children newly orphaned. it continued with four stifled sighs, the squishy sound of sitting on the floor, a short inhale of breath through the nose.

i began the slow chorale. when we knew what the bell meant, so early, so dark in the morning. that was the only hello that meant really anything. it was the only hello i was frightened to utter.

after the click and dull thud of plastic on metal, the rude beep of the modern off switch, sleepy, luke-warm clothes played out into the light brightness, suddenly cold by the winter chill.

doors opened and closed only after two nods and a grimace. lights flicked on and the wind slashed branches across the window pane.

the next movement commenced with liquid poured into cups, stopped throats barely swallowing. with eight feet shuffling to step in shoes on the stair, each foot pausing to nod at your shoes. it crescendoed to that crack of the door, that muffled squeak, a pause and a thud.

then four doors open and four doors slam and metal upon metal creak as the garage opens wide to spit us out into the country air. the largo beat of the tired engine, guiding us on a journey etched too well in our brains. short staccattos of falsely cheered voices. sniffled tremelos and booming snorts. a hand, warm and calm, whispering softly against another cold and frightened one.

the third movement screamed with the early morning chatter of the city waking up. with the clatter, clatter, click-click of the garage ticket dispenser. and errant cuss of the oldest, not able to take an overcrowded space, glasses a bit foggy and moist.

yet the middle section was filled with silence. pregnant, stagnant, changed. no longer tense with dreaded anticipation, but raw and swollen with an abrasion that still has yet to heal.

dull, syncopated footsteps. dings and clacks of elevator bells. a swift push, the sucking lift. more dull, syncopated footsteps again.

gliding, sliding doors. beeps of your neighbors' vitals. long, slow breathy wheezes from balding patients' ventilators.

upon the arrival of the march, your room is still.

the machines that were only yesterday fused to your body have been removed and you are finally free.

the chorale resumes, but says nothing at all. the libretto reads, "blah, blah," but underneath, in parentheses, it reads, is this what it means to feel loss? to feel nothingness? to feel the novocain spill and wash the mind?

and when the dirge began to wane, we realize it's a ruse. the music follows us to unexpected places. it clings to our bodies, it sounds in the ring of our ears, it becomes the score to our first dreamt dreams without you.

it is orchestrated in new ways. some instruments are standard--long distance phone calls, repeated refrains of "she's gone," knuckles rubbing violently against wet eyelids that refuse to listen. familar strangers speaking in multiple tongues, hearse motors, airports, monk chants and farewells.
but other instruments seem new. like the high-pitched nervous laugh that barrels from my chest at inappropriate times. like the click-clack of a dog's feet who loved you well and wonders when you will return. like the dry lick of the page, endless and barren, futile in the hopes of distraction.

a seemingly endless dirge. marching slowly, bleeding across changes in season, month, and year.

but then the dirge shifted. the voice of birds joined in, faint at first, but delicious and sweet. the wheezy sobs turned to tears, turned to vapor, turned to rain, turned to rivers, turned to the roaring sound of babbling brook and foaming tide.

the dirge, reluctant, but steadfast paced itself and moved forward. shedding black for red, ash for perfume, stone for sun-baked clay. the dirge, still present in dream, still fragrant with your hair, still clement and insistent followed new variations, evolved new themes.

until one day, i listened and the dirge sounded like a waltz, sounded like a reel, sounded like Giant Steps or Maple Leaf or Appalachian Spring.

all the sounds flowed together and watched as i walked on. gently coaxing, whispered caresses, wrapped around me when i thought i was alone.

and when you died, i lost my voice and had to travel to find it again.

but now, though sometimes frail or hoarse or scared, the voice can't help but sing, stronger, more robust than before. sing with the dirge that left your lungs, now years ago, but still so close. the dirge i thought mourned of you. the dirge i hated and muffled and screamed at. the dirge that marked your void, that lifted you on a pyre away from me forever.

i sing, sometimes soft, sometimes loud, always along with the melodies, the harmonies, the complex rhythms of that dirge.

because now i know--

the dirge is you.

No comments: