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.


Update:
In the Forum: an unplanned plan.

13 comments:

Wine and Words said...

Oh. Delicately sad. I see the wisps as they depart through reaching hands.

I wrote a post about my Pops awhile back...about his studio and not really knowing him. Yesterday he e-mailed. He would like to be "known". He has many secrets and writings and photos and would I come spend time. In June I will go and gather these memories unto myself...tuck them away inside the folds of my skin, before they're gone.

nouvelles couleurs - vienna atelier said...

are we only energy in a body? when the energy runs out, we are only an old car consumed?

no no no no

William this post is wonderfull

William Michaelian said...

Thank you, Annie. I remember your post. To June, then, when the harvest comes in.

As for succulent ham, think Stockton, on a street named West Vine.

Laura, a thousand times no; and even when the body is consumed, the energy remains. Thank you.

nouvelles couleurs - vienna atelier said...

yes remain I'm sure!

Denise Scaramai said...

William,
what a beautiful image,
the inevitable passage ...
Hugs

William Michaelian said...

Yes, the cycle of life, young and old, old and new, hand in hand, side by side. Thank you, Denise.

Conrad DiDiodato said...

Thank you for the gift of poetry, William.

William Michaelian said...

Thank you for being here, Conrad. There’s the feeling now that we’ve traveled a good distance together. Strangers in some ways still, of course, but friends too. Almost all through the exchange of words.

rahina q.h. said...

could relate to so much of this as my own mother's life runs parallel to your grandmother's in many respects. beautifully written William

Woman in a Window said...

What is it that is in us that is different from everything else? It is both our glory and our weakness, that we should rise like a common flower in the dirt and struggle to stay, instead of rising, being, and passing. What separates us makes us and undoes us? It is painful. It is joyous. It is painful again. And in the end, before it is too late, we must turn toward the sun.

xo
erin

William Michaelian said...

Thank you, Rahina. We’re on an amazing journey, I know that much, overlapping, becoming each other, leaving past selves behind. We think we’re unique, and we are, yet we go the way our kind must go, old and gray and lost upon ourselves, or young and frustrated, or selfish and blind. Through it all, somehow, faces and lives are signs pointing the way.

Erin: yes. Maybe what separates us, at least in our minds, is the need to question. That is in our nature. And we are of nature. Common flowers who sing, and build bridges, and count to ten.

Gerry Boyd said...

Perfectly written Mr. Michaelian.

William Michaelian said...

I thank you, Mr. Boyd.