Posts tagged ‘grief’

Gravedigger, pt.2

Here is the poem I misremembered a line from, in my sleep, in my grief, in the previous post (“Gravedigger”).

It was written over 40 years ago, after my sister died. Her maternal Grandfather, Sabbatai (“Sam”), died in 1950 or 1951, some months before Susan was born.

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Sandy Among Angels

Who are these gauze-and-bandage
diaphanous birds squatting in clouds?
I fell out of green,
I fell out of green! Nothing
but to search among the dead
for grandpa Sam’s grey eyes.
My face is bruised in the torn cotton.
Sam, grandma, any-
one, where has the world gone?
It fell from behind my eyes
in a hospital, in a quivering
rosepetal on the sill; someone said
Her pulse fluttered like a just-born bird!
and then it leapt
still blind, white, still-born
among the eternal corrupt angels.

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Susan&Sadie

Susan and her grandma Sadie, c. 1960

Gravedigger

Tuesday afternoon I dug a hole in the rocky clay hill behind our house. It was a small hole, but difficult for my unlimber body to dig into the spot I had chosen beneath a laurel bush. I knew the grave was large enough when I carefully laid the stiff body of our cat Pooh alongside of it.

We were away for three days. It seemed as if Pooh had waited for us, because when we found him he started to cry, and then howl as Lilia tried to give him water within eyedropper. He was our baby, and his howl was a baby’s puzzled protest and cry for help. We could only comfort him and cry ourselves. He vomited and then rattled terribly for about a minute. I got up to look for some antibiotic. When I returned, Lilia said He’s gone.

Pooh was 19; we learned from our niece who was feeding him while we were gone that he had bled from his nose and begun stumble sideways. So the shock was grave, but without much surprise. During those few minutes Lilia mobilized like the caring skillful nurse-mother that she is. Her own expressions of pain cause me to sob harder, from a place beyond words. Later I thought of my father saying It wasn’t supposed to be like this, as he lay dying in my arms. In the middle of the night I awoke thinking “Her heart fluttered like a just-born bird,” which is a misquoted line from a poem I wrote over 40 years ago, after my sister had died.

My mother, who is 91, through the first handful of earth into the grave; I had to help her remain standing. Lilia’s mother Florinda, who is 99, was also there. Her mind is often in the past, but never more in the present then with our baby grandson, and the animals who live in our home. Florinda used to pick Pooh up like a baby and wrap him in the blanket on her lap.

In my mind, lives and deaths have always flowed merging and separating like streams of water. I think of one, I think of many. The warm rising and falling of Pooh’s chest that I could no longer find as I kneeled on the living room floor. Hospitals and the Holocaust. Baltimore and Africa. Frederick, Maryland and Falastin. That is who I am. Almost – maybe – like a professional mourner. Brother. Teacher. Grandpa. Gravedigger.

Life goes on, “they” say, usually leaving out that death, too, goes on. So, for now, our family goes on – without one beloved creature that added so much to it. On top of the mound of earth I placed a round plaster plaque that had been in our garden: Kindness is the greatest wisdom.

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