That’s how long it has been since my mother passed away. In that time I have continued to hear from people who either read my post here about her or the essay or the interview about that essay over at R.kv.r.y. I have read about her or heard her echo in many of the personal features that my brother, Malinda, has written. I have talked to my brothers’ wives about her. I’ve gone home and felt her absence even more so for my father’s strenuous attempts to compensate for it. But most of all, I’ve felt her absence in the conduct of my own life, the unseen life that became mine in her absence; nobody observes the minutiae of an adult child’s life the way a mother can and will. She observed the glory and the sorrows – even those unexpressed or whose existence I vehemently denied – but she was not bored by the quotidian. She liked it, in fact, it was an aspect of life that she understood only too well.
She comes to mind, looking at some runaway weed or abundant flower, or as I do the things she used to do, things I did not understand until I began to do them too – flinging all the clothes in my closet to the ground, for instance, in something akin to rage and frustration, then calmly and deliberately refolding and replacing everything. I know what that is about now, and it brings me comfort the same way it comforted her long ago even as her sons and daughter looked on, confused, as the saris and blouses and linens tumbled to the floor. I want to say “I miss her” and yet those words, though they are the truth, do not adequately convey what it is I feel without her in my life.
To miss is to want something from, and though I do, I want everything I had always wanted and often got from her, I do not simply miss her, I miss her witness to my work and passions. I miss what I know I was observing of her even as I pretended that I did not care about any of it. The way she would have ironed the serviettes, I think, as I fold them, too impatient to do it myself. The way she would have swept a house, thoughtfully, quietly. Her reverence for books, never dog-eared, never put on the floor. I miss the note books she covered with thousands of phone numbers and email addresses and names, the ones that my father recalled as he talked about the loss of his phone. We would say, “It’s in Ammi’s little note-book,” as though there were just one. As though she hadn’t lost and found dozens of them, carefully re-entering her contacts and notes in her convent-educated cursive.
I see that cursive now, sometimes by chance. On the back of a card with an angel pinned to it that I’ve carried around since she gave it to me over a decade ago. On the back of old photographs. It reminds me of the hand that held the pen. I remembered her hands, last year, on the first anniversary of her passing. I was at Yaddo, having finished my new novel on that same day. I spent the morning walking, some of it sitting beside the grave of Katrina Trask, writing in my journal to my mother, reading the work of a fellow artist in residence with me, Jane Hirshfield. As I walked through Katrina Trask’s rose gardens, I imagined my mother walking beside me. She would have taken my hand as she often did, mostly to slow me down, to point something out to me. I could feel that hand, small, gentle but firm. A caregiving hand.
Last night, the date of this second anniversary, I read more of Jane’s poetry. One, in particular, from After, caught my heart:
It Was Like This: You Were Happy
It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.
It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.
At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent — what could you say?
Now it is almost over.
Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.
It does this not in forgiveness –
between you, there is nothing to forgive –
but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.
Eating, too, is now a thing only for others.
It doesn’t matter what they will make of you
or your days: they will be wrong,
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.
Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.
Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.
This past week I found myself listening to music that reminded me of my mother. Among them, an artist I have only recently come to know, Brandi Carlile, whose lyrics seem to capture the sensibility of yearning in a way no other artist seems to do. Among those songs, this one, in particular, below. That seems to capture it, this reading of poems, harkening to songs, remembering one thing, then another, forgetting so little, longing that is so infinite. Listen.