Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mother’s Day — sweet and salt

Some weekends are full: a wedding, a birthday, a reminder of both my life’s greatest gift and its first profound loss.

Lines from a Denise Levertov poem – read once years ago, and strangely enough, remembered – surface in my thoughts:

There is no savor
more sweet, more salt

than to be glad to be

what, woman,

and who, myself,

I am, a shadow
that grows longer as the sun
moves, drawn out

on a thread of wonder.

Nine years ago, on Feb. 13, my mother walked out of the antiques co-op where she had several booths, waited for my father to open the car door for her, and within the time it might have taken a small bird to flap its wing, was felled by a brain aneurysm.

I don’t think it took very long to realize that the bodies orbiting in our familial solar system had just lost their sun — and that sun’s gravitational pull on each of us.

Words that should have found their way to her were left unmoored and drifting. Promises went astray. Memories were hoarded, then floated away and swung back to slap us in the face when we least expected it.

I still remember how it felt to hug her small, round body (she was one of the few people I’ve ever towered over – though to hear her tell it, we were exactly, exactly, the same height) and still recognize the perfume she favored from half a room away. There is an advertisement on TV that reminds me of her. In it, each time Diane von Furstenberg tilts her head just so – there it is, the line of my mother’s jowl, the way she lifted the hair off the back of her neck. Exactly.

Going through her things in the weeks after her death, I found a Mother’s Day card I had given her the year before. Though I like words, I have a difficult time writing inscriptions in books or notes in cards, and really only have three variant forms: saccharin, clinical or goofy.

This one was, quite literally, a clinical one: “Every grandmother carries not only her daughter in pregnancy, but her granddaughter as well (as her daughter’s egg),” the card read. “So, Happy Mother’s Day from both girls you held tucked beneath your heart.”

For some reason I could never fathom, this is the card out of the hundreds I had given her over the years that she had loved most.

No savor more sweet, more salt.

Because I don’t remember the next lines in the Levertov poem, I have to look them up:

If I bear burdens
they begin to be remembered

as gifts, goods, a basket

of bread that hurts

my shoulders but closes me

in fragrance. I eat

as I go.*

My nephew Octavio turned seven today. Tomorrow we will join my older brother and his family in Brooklyn for the party celebrating the life of this serious and beautiful little boy.

And on Sunday – Mother’s Day – we will gather again, this time to rejoice in my younger brother’s marriage to Anna. It is the bonding of the third family in this solar system of ours. While we no longer revolve around a mother star, we are drawn out anyway, on a thread of wonder.

Sometime in the next two days, my daughter – who is fabulous and 14 and would much rather be texting her friends and cosplaying than spending time with her embarrassing and positively ancient mother – will come up to me, and unbidden, give me hug.

Children do that, you see. How else would we know if that space we’ve owned since birth – the one tucked conveniently near our mother’s beating heart and encircled by her arms – still fits us?

By some sort of mother’s magic, it always does.

Happy Mother’s Day.

*from the poem Stepping Westward by Denise Levertov
Image of the solar system is from NASA via Wikimedia Commons


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