Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: Safe Harbor (for Marinell)

Photo copyright 2011 Cynthia Guenther Richardson

This is one larger-made-smaller view we shared,

we were always all in and alright, pulled life to us closer.

It was pure essences we loved, seeking better,

that slim perfection resurrected from any ruin,

aches and vagaries of such living more a pittance paid.

Risk takers underneath calm skin

— those men, such work, this family–

the body and soul moved on, up, through

and if we left things unspoken, kindly so.

The giver gives to be more at home

so we gave, then navigated the mazes,

and always there was one more thing, what next?

so we laughed about it.

We cried with a language of song, not words.

It began to tally up, remnants amid

the new bits, stealthy, powerful,

familiar or confounding, each given

room as needed, little or much.

Sea swelled, flattened into a harbor of mirrors

transforming past and present

so air breathed entered us richer,

left us brighter, our talk languid and

sailing here and there.

Would that you might sit

with me again, sister, admire a view.

Think on this world together with

sorrow and wonder, lean in closer,

shake our heads, note the music

of many waters and winds.

But not now, not here,

for you have gone while part of me

waits to see you leaning forward,

your good being alight in the fantastical beyond

So Many/Where I Was

World-Trade-Center-Memorial,  public domain

I heard the ringing from my bedroom as an annoyance, a disturbance of the cool still depths of sleep. It was the landline ringing. This was before I owned a most basic flip phone, before I felt a need to be laden with technology’s greater services and demands. The morning was two days before I remarried my second husband, a short week before my heart procedure (but after the forest heart attack).

It was early, much earlier than I expected to be awakened. I fell into a surface skimming sleep, my heart steady enough, even quiet.

The ringing again. The sound sliced through the rooms, penetrated the wall dividing me from it. I stirred, stretched. What was it? Who called me this early? It had to be an appointment reminder. Oh, appointment–yes, the dentist this morning! I slipped out of the warm bed, rushed to shower, dressed hurriedly. I had an hour maximum to eat, brush my teeth, drive downtown.

I recalled the ringing so checked the recent numbers and calls in passing. There had been seven calls, all in a row. I stood motionless. Then the phone rang once more and I felt it in my body, that double clutch of fear.

Naomi, my daughter from across the country.

“Hello? What is it Na?”

“Mom!” Her voice a riptide of tears.

“They attacked the World Trade Center! Crashing planes–more is happening right now! It’s horrifying–I’ve been trying to get you all morning!”

What do you mean? I was–I have a dentist appointment soon…What are you saying, Naomi? In New York, now?”

I turned on the television. Saw.

I cannot tell you what else we said, how we reached each other across the miles, what was pushed and pulled from us then put into a new kind of language, one informed by the catastrophes unfolding. It was felt by all of us in my country, a deluge of anguish unleashed in seconds, a fearsome vulnerability overcoming each fiber of mind and body, the very soul snatched from its moorings.

And yet I went to the dentist. It wasn’t a decision. It was following a protocol of doing the next task, a simple reaction to what was next on my schedule: dentist, 10:00 a.m. I recall driving over one of our fourteen bridges, glancing at the hills to find them still there, then at other drivers. We were all staring forward, and if we caught sight of someone looking back, our shock was a deep darkness emanating from one to the other.

I remember checking in at the office, the radio with no music, its volume turned up, the urgent news being cast among us. The weighted silence in a nearly empty waiting room.

I sat back in the dentist chair, mind bleak. Blank and overflowing at once.

“I…” My jaw felt frozen.

The female dentist, one whose native tongue was not English, stared back at me, small dark eyes wide. “I know… how? Can we get through any of it?”

The terror attacks? The absurdly kept dental appointment when all was hellacious, falling apart? Being alive while others died? How, yes, how anything but a scream I could not let out?

But we acted out the senseless moments. I got into my car. My limbs were stiff, as if my body did not want to move forward, not enter the street, not witness this changed country I lived in and loved, all too much, too much, not even what I could imagine. Worse.

There were ongoing phone calls to and from family, friends. My face taut, mouth clamped shut then wrenched by sobbing. The church across the street opened its doors. I watched  groups of people gathering on the sidewalks, entering arm in arm, crying, hunched in each other’s arms. Moving in this landscape of tragedy, finding no comfort.

The moment there arrived the news that my sister-in-law was in the Pentagon when another plane crashed into it, I collapsed. In a little while I got up and walked across the street to the church, holding the cross in my view, seeing it framed by an ordinary Portland sky. I entered the building so full of the heat of life, a place echoing with tears that fell hard as the autumn rains, prayers offered by lips that could barely part to find the words. I stayed as long as I could stand the amassing pain. The loneliness knowing my sister-in-law was in unbelievable jeopardy. Or gone. So many. The day immovable yet massive with loss.

Countless phone calls: they fell apart quickly or ended in silence, my hand clutching the receiver, knowing the one on the other end was doing the same. Holding phones as if holding close the bodies of those we loved, wondering over those others we could never know.

The afternoon was a trap. Sharp moments crisscrossing mind and being. Numbness coming and going, feeling on the outer reaches of lucidity. Waiting to know more. Not wanting to hear or see the latest reports while refusing to not do so. The urge was to resist this reality of earth spinning into a whirling blur.

My husband arrived, another daughter. We waited.

It was an email at last. J. had managed to get out safely, after hours and hours and things I never would know, to finally arrive at her front door and have it opened by my brother and his arms enveloping her.

She had moved an important meeting from one place in the Pentagon to another at the last minute. One decisive action rescued lives, her own and others that unspeakable morning.

I can barely conjur what it was, acrid smoke billowing down the hallways, the monstrous din within the madness of moments as streams of people ran and ran and ran. I cannot ever know a fragment of the whole truth, cannot fit together the who, what, how and why of it all even now.

I mean the counted and untold lives, the very last moments. The herculean emergency salvaging, strangers working in earnest. Miraculous repair of wounds as thousands died. After effects that no one can know unless in those places of horror. The incomprehensible reverberations for countless individuals. For generations. For my country oh my beloved country.

But here, fourteen years later, I feel it still as tears take me.

I terribly feel it.

*******In Memoriam, for all who lost their lives on 9/11******




A Poetry of Sisterhood, Past and Present

Birthday, lilac farm and tulips 5-12 151

I was going to write about writing and reading poetry, its innards and otherness, how its spareness rearranges and keeps honest the core of living. Then my sisters stepped forward. One lives on earth; the other does not.

I have kept a snapshot on a table that sits inside the front door. We three are standing together on a river walk in Astoria, a town we visited on one of our too-few sister getaways. We are grinning, arms about each other’s waists. Taken several years ago, we look chubbier than more recently. I study the softness of our faces revealed by late spring light. We are confident, sure we will be there for each other year after year. I stand in the middle. Being the youngest, bookending myself with each sister is natural. None of us was/is tall, but we stand firm. They have white or greying hair; mine is still brown in the photo. An anomaly in my family. But I think the white is flooding my roots in the last few months, trying to catch up with the others.

Maybe my hair is grieving.

I still don’t know whether to use present or past tense half the time. Marinell passed away a few days before my birthday in April. Allanya is still here, in the same city as am I. Which to state: we were, or we are, or we will be…There are these new gaps–not one but many–like crevasses we note, then assiduously avoid.

But everything has changed. Everything. When one sibling dies and leaves the others behind, nothing fits in the same way. We became parts scattered by a toss into the circle of our expectations and hopes. Landing, though, outside the usual parameters of things. It is being alone in a good boat that, even when secured at dock, rocks with the waves–but it isn’t quite a comfort. It’s off-kilter. I stand with feet apart and scan for the others. Wait.

I have two brothers, one nearby and one on the other side of the country. We occasionally speak of many things, but not Marinell’s death. We are kind to one another. We note our health and projects. They are engaging in various captivating activities, invigorating travels. They live forward, I assume, as before. I haven’t asked them recently what else, what now–now that we are four in a family meant to be five (seven with  parents, gone as well). But their presence make two linchpins in the wheel of my life, helping it keep its place.

But sisters. They can occupy the same internal territory at a glance. Marinell and Allanya have been as close to me as any of my friends. More so. Not just because we were born of the same parents, but because we have embraced each other thoroughly. Our differences have skirted around the edges of conversations. We’ve had divisions and multiplications of positive and negative in our lives. Some shared like a knotted rope. But we didn’t waste time on the oppositional, rather forged connections all ways we could. Empathy, full throttle, has made it easy, no matter that we have inhabited different lifestyles. Mutual respect has been restorative in a world that seems to often disregard it.

Allanya and I care about helping people, the arts, our families, about creative work and nature. About how we can live from inside out, manifesting the Divine Love we know to be real. The same can have been said of Marinell. I do not idealize any of us. Our errors have informed our knowledge of the world and ourselves. No one has judged; we’ve gotten those stings from elsewhere.

Allanya has been an executive director of such diverse agencies, she acts that way more often than not, but her tender compassion can light a brave light in the dark. She collects turquoise and primitive paintings, yard creatures that she rescues from curbside, then repaints. Allanya is devoted to her family, so is often busy, as am I. But on the phone and face-to-face, we can erupt into laughter as well as weep without hesitancy. We have affinity, we have loyalty galore.  We eat chocolate together when sharing errands. Remember old flames.

Yet, we somehow steer away from the places our sister has occupied, literally and emotionally. We need more time to assimilate the truth, I suppose. To add it all up. To dispel the undertow of tears so we can reminisce with light heartedness.

The power of place is resonant of people in ways that perhaps only scent can be. For a few decades Marinell lived three and a half hours away. I cannot imagine returning to her quaint town outside of Seattle yet. There would sit her two-story pale yellow house with many windows, snug on a hill. Now owned–taken over–by others. Her music room is likely a television space or guest bedroom. Her burnished cello and grand piano were sold to strangers two years ago, when she and her husband moved to Texas. The thought still elicits a gasp. I may not even enter Seattle, a stellar metropolis that is resplendent in its offerings. It used to be partly hers–where she played in the symphony, shopped at Pike Place Market with us, attended Seahawks games. I imagine it less welcoming now, a city other people get to use for their pleasures and ambitions.

She was the reigning family historian. Lineage details and events and rumors were kept in her excellent memory, as they were in our mother’s until she passed at ninety-one. Now who do we contact when wanting to know where our second cousin once removed ended up? How will we know what really went on for our grandparents and parents during the Depression? And what was the name of that great-aunt’s gadabout son and did he ever marry?

I think of calling her every week. There is something I need to hear from her. Anything, a chortle of delight, a surprising insight, a question put in such a way that it never meant harm. She and I had many of the same health issues so shored each other up with two wills. We meant to endure without fuss, to give gratitude a refreshing.

I think of her answering the phone, that lilt of her refined voice, also capable of improper asides. How those beauty queen (literally) hazel eyes warmed the room. A tentative breath, then a pause when thinking, biting her bottom lip.

Everything was beautiful in her world even when it wasn’t. She found it, nurtured it, carried it, shared it.

I peruse the memroy bank and find us taking the (small, not large) yacht voyage for a week through the San Juan islands and sparkling Victoria; the journey to Banff where bears gorged on berries and we were awed by the Rockies; and that trip to tulip fields where we three sisters us sat gabbing amid such a profusion of color it was as if we were painted into a living canvass. And the shopping we did. We caught up on even serious personal issues while weaving between aisles, browsed the sale racks–all with pungent asides on good, bad or plain ugly fashion. I shake my head thinking of updates on crises amid discussion of earrings and scarves–but it worked fine.

My sister. Mercy and flowers, courage and fine crystal, stamina and a Bach concerto.

There will be no new times, not here, not soon. I accept she is gone, and I know where I feel she is. But she is not within my reach and it still shakes my heart without warning, a rattle of sorrow in the quietude of my days and nights. I keep trying to fill those gaps with frail wisps and little souvenirs, even epiphanies of memory. She shone for me. For so many.

This was to be about poetry. It has become musings on how I have been a sister with two other sisters, now one to one. That number flummoxes. But I will rebalance. What is left is what was before, a peculiar lessening and yet, still more.

Allanya and I are closer in age so became friends first and longer. Our childhood territory was marked by quiet fighting, sharing food and secrets. Co-conspiring of kids, and then deep sympatico as adults. Marinell was thirteen years older than I; eight more than Allanya. Perhaps her re-entering my life much later made it different, my being youngest to her oldest. She was a sort of second mother, pushing my pram, reading me books, reinforcing good manners. In time our ages better aligned as we discovered in each other solace and good humor, shared revelations.

I knew I was a grown up when I felt equal to my sisters–trustworthy, a part of their repartee, present for them and entirely able to return their affection.

The years gave, then took. As they do.

The poetry has been about herself, afterall. About accepting that loss swoops down on us, picks us up and drops us, altering all. Even how I think about journeying into the Olympic National Forest, where I know she walked and wondered about her health and future. It is about a sister who calls forth these words and inscribes the vibrating notes of my mourning. In truth, she liked my stories and we once made music together at her piano. I have written pages for her to critique; now I just write for myself. The music, it whispers.

As the days pass, sadness visits me and burrows but in time healing will complete itself enough. I have been enriched by her comings. Now her going. Yet I will find her in myself because we are ever sisters.

In the end, nothing can be perfectly retrieved from the past but love.