Saturday, November 20, 2010
Bridge Across the Bay
When she was twelve,
my mother’s mother rode a horse
into the rugged mining town
of Bodie, California, to get supplies.
When she was fourteen,
she left home and went to San Francisco,
where she folded pretty linen in a rich man’s house
and cleaned up after him and his wife and children.
She returned to the gold country
to help her mother on the farm in 1906
just before the great earthquake.
She had a husband and four daughters.
She made pies and jams on her wood stove.
She did the wash by hand, and later with a wringer.
She did not approve of alcohol.
When she was seventy-six,
my mother’s mother sat at my aunt’s dining table,
a pale child behind a serving platter of succulent ham.
Mother, do you want some carrots?
She said yes, as if she were defined by them.
When she was eighty-six,
my mother’s mother rode in a wheelchair
to the dining room at the nursing home.
A stranger pushed her there.
We sat with her in the visiting area
while my mother combed her long white hair.
Arms, so thin, legs of which she was unaware.
Faces, names, forgotten, memories undeclared.
Who is this man, these children, and who are you?
My husband, your grandsons, your youngest daughter.
A hint of recognition lived and died on her thin, dry lips.
Then, like clear water splashing on sun-blessed stones,
she spoke of people she knew long ago.
But the bridge she had crossed to find them
had fallen into the bay, along with so many other things
I still don’t know today.
From Songs and Letters, originally published June 4, 2005.
In the Forum: an unplanned plan.