New Poem: She Calls to Tell You

I don’t know my great grandma Beulah very well. I only see her on occasion, usually briefly. When I was a kid, I remembered making the long drive to Arizona, where she lived, to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary. If my memory is correct, my parents or grandparents, or someone, asked me to write a poem for her and my great grandfather. I remember reading it, unless I imagined doing so. I look back on that memory strangely, I still don’t know why a 10 year old would be asked to read a poem about people he hardly visited. What I do remember from the trip was the heat. My siblings and I, for the few days we were there, sat on the couch in our motel room, as often as we could, and ate cubes of ice from out of a bucket we had filled at the nearest machine. I still eat ice, in part because of what that memory means. I can still picture the beige bucket, our delight in imagining it as a bowl of popcorn we all shared as we watched cartoons, or complained excessively, when my father would interrupt our show to check the progress of golf tournaments. My great grandma, who I can’t remember as a child, is, to me, now, the sweet old woman who is a champion Wii bowler. She has trophies. She bowled a 300 to my 86 a few years ago. She must have been 97 years old then. Even though I love her, and she is my great grandma, I more so imagine her as my grandma Ginger’s mother. I know she literally is, but when I picture her I picture them together, my grandma still in her teens, fiercely independent as she is now, but entirely dependent on “mom” for her allowance, to sign permission slips for field trips, or to drop her off at school dances. My Grandma is lucky, and even though it is difficult, it is a beautiful thing when the roles change, and the person who gave you their life, their time, their love, finally needs from you all that they have given. I don’t pretend that this balance exists in all cases. I’ve know too many times where it hasn’t. But there is a certain sense that the balance of life and loss, of giving and receiving, hinges on that word “lucky.” W.H. Auden preferred this word over its synonyms: grace, fate, providence. What distinguishes Auden and others, lets say the religious and the irreligious, is the definite presence that stands behind words like grace, and the notable absence that stands(?) behind the word luck. But, by grace or luck, Auden gives us, as a great poet is capable of doing, language that blurs the lines between the two, that is, makes the distinction less than certain, more difficult to see: “The Grace of the Absurd.” Here we find the absurdity of Camus’s philosophy, that Sisyphus, whether he is ignorant or acting from a deep conviction of purpose and responsibility, continues to roll the boulder up the hill, even if at some point it will roll back down so that he can roll it up again; and the Christian notion of grace, the givenness of life. I also don’t pretend that this middle way is a total consolation. It is poetry, “a stay against confusion,” according to Robert Frost, but it does not mean that it itself is a resolution. That is why me must keep probing, keep digging deep into the well of meaning and, by chance or grace, see the mud that shines on our hands is more than mud, that it is also water and light. I can’t say for certain why we keep digging; I can’t even say why love is such a radical and riven thing; how it at once binds us and blinds us, holds us and hurts us, and by the reason of some unsayable, it is at all. Here is a poem to my grandmother, for her mother, because we are all connected in family of things.

She Calls to Tell You

She calls to tell you
It’s your great-grandmother,
She’s dying.

Right now, she says,
She’s in the comfortable decline,
Resting on a bed
Of morphine.

You part from her
With cordial words,
Can hear the hang up
In her voice,
As a steady silence
Introduces itself
On the other line.

What you want to say,
Could it be enough,
That she lived,
Lived to be one-hundred;

That she held in her heart
Endless memories,
A whole array of sunsets,
Each different
Depending on where you’re standing,
Or with who;

That she held once
The belief that a raindrop
Is also a rainbow
When the light is right,
And the boundary of eternal life
Is blurred to an instant.

You will wonder,
If in her hundred years
She learned
To let go,
If her hands opened,
Or her grip lessened,
If she gave in
To the loss that accompanies
Every living thing;

The child gathering
The dead leaves
Of language, words enough
To speak tenderly
That they were a child
In the first place.

You will wonder,
Is it enough
To say she lived;

If loss is loss
Until you let go;

If the hunger that persists
In the belly of dying creatures,
That keeps us,
Here at her bedside,
Awake this hour,
When the occasion
Of our own lives
Will not relent,
Or grant us mercy,
Mercy to hold tight
As her grip lessens,

As the long retirement
From her own body,
Forgetting self,
Forgetting feeling,
Forgetting the love
That stays with her now,
Tightens, holds her
Because she’s dying
In the first place.

I welcome your thoughts


One response to “New Poem: She Calls to Tell You

  • Rebecca

    Paul, Thank you for sharing this poem. I very much enjoyed this journey of words. I don’t pretend to understand all that you were saying. But much of it was vivid and moving. Thank you.

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