I've just started reading Atul Gawande's Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End--the book purchase prompted by a particularly long siege of pain, physical, and its companion, the psycho/emotional whiplash. Pain, mine and others, makes me consider the question of quality of life. I've a couple of friends with whom that conversation happens regularly.
This post today though is prompted by the twelfth anniversary of my mother's death--February 10, 2006. My sister and I had moved into my parents' home for a couple weeks before my mother died to help my father with her care. My father would call out from the other side of the house in the night, "Girls!" and we would come running to their room to help my mother get into the bathroom. I can remember following my sister through the living room running as fast as our middle-aged legs woken from fitful sleep would take us. At one point, we, the three of us, could no longer manage to get her safely out of bed. Rarely was my mother angry with me or anyone else, but she was extremely upset with me after we had to tell her she could not get out of bed anymore and that it was "for her own good." She was someone who never gave up. We had taken from her, or cancer had, the last act of independence. Later that night, I went to her room to check on her, and I'll never forget her tone as she asked me why I was there. Thankfully, those were not the last words we exchanged.
I could talk about my mother endlessly--her joie de vivre, her dignity and courage, her smile, one of the most constant and loving things I've ever known.
My mother wanted to be home to die, and she wanted hospice. Our experience with hospice was not what I would have hoped for and not as much support as I would have thought there would be, but there is one woman whose "work" and compassion is "faith-restoring." Her name is Shelley Solarz. I don't recall what her title was, but if I were to give her one, it would assuredly be savior. Her task was to help my mother bathe, and later to bathe her. Who could have possibly known that what she did for my mother accounted for some of the kindest final acts of my mother's life. She understood the idea of "quality of life" in the face of dying.
I celebrate my mother in my thoughts today, and I celebrate those in my life who make life worth living.
--For Shelly Solarz, the Bather
My mother relished clean.
Her druthers, fresh linens daily—
thread count rising.
She never missed a shower
or a chance to wash a load of clothes.
Likely we were the most laundered
family on Bloomer Drive—pants and shirts
and socks, barely worn, spun with Tide.
Tags snipped. New garments agitated
in the machine before they touched
our skin. Guests’ towels
plucked from the rod--
shower steam barely vaporized.
When cancer pressed in
her fierce independence
fell to the floor with the towel.
Then the Bather came. My mother longed
to climb in the tub to shower.
The Bather made this ritual happen.
My mother let her--
this Bather to the Queen of Sheba.
Too soon the Bather shouldered
bottles of water
to wash my mother’s silvered hair in bed,
to sponge her failing flesh.
I sat on a chair as the sun
elbowed its way into the room
followed the rhythm
of the Bather’s hands. In reverence.
A waft of cherry blossoms in winter.
My mother’s body stiff, absorbed
in holding on.
I witnessed her soften, melt
into Egyptian cotton.
first published in The Blue Heron Review
This week I ran across an interview of Mary Ruefle by Caitlin Youngquist published December 12, 2016, in The Paris Review. The article was titled, Becoming Invisible. www.theparisreview.org/blog/2016/12/12/becoming-invisible-an-interview-with-mary-ruefle/
I was actually fascinated with a number of things said. Ruefle's distinction between poetry and prose was easily spelled out. She says, "My interest in drawing lines between genres and coming up with very clear definitions for these things is very … well, if I’m being frank, I just don’t have enough time left on this earth to spend doing that. So for me, if I write something and it’s lineated, it’s poetry. If it’s not lineated, it’s prose. I read fiction, nonfiction, and poetry and I love them all. I can’t sluice them anymore than I can sluice my love of open fields and deep woods."
It's such an easy distinction, one that I've no doubt many scholars of writing and poetry have spent hours discussing. And aimless endeavor. Possibly. Ruefle's tune is, why bother to spend time "naming." I love the simplicity of it.
What I find more intriguing though is how she talks about her emotional relationship with prose vs. poetry. She feels so nervous, she says, when writing prose, because she KNOWS people will read it. Remarkably, she says, "If I’m writing a poem, it never occurs to me that somebody is going to read it." This she attributes to public vs. private language. It's not a distinction that has ever occurred to me. She states, "It’s different because prose is a public language and poetry is a private language, and every person on the planet who is fortunate enough to be able to speak, speaks in sentences—fragments, too, but often full sentences. The standards for public discourse are very different from poetry."
She goes on to talk about her belief that poems ARE her inner life. When she writes a poem, she's writing for herself, which is how she circles back to the idea of Becoming Invisible, something she says happens as we age (particularly for women). I think it's worth quoting another section of this interview:
Men don’t become invisible in the same way. There’s a difference in power between men and women, and I know I’m using an archaic formula but I do belong to another century. For the longest time, male power was posited in the accumulation of wealth or experience, and experience was something every man could have. And a woman’s power was always posited on physical attractiveness, the ability to have children. So as a man ages, he gains power, and as a woman ages, she loses it, or feels as though she does. If you go back to this paradox, which I understand people may find antiquated, you find there are still shards and shreds of it everywhere.
One of my mentors began the chit-chat pre-class one evening by saying she's decided that she no longer cares about how others perceive her appearance. It's a startling statement at first, especially given the flash and shine that blinds us everywhere we go. I have to agree with Ruefle--poetry is our inner life, or at least my inner life, but unlike Ruefle, putting my poetry out there DOES make me nervous at times. And I do find it is a way NOT to be invisible in one way. Ruefle would have us believe that our inner life is what we become when the body is no more, possibly not in the sense of death but in importance. A kind of eternal life, I guess. Poetry is, poetry reveals, the inner life. Without being personal or revelatory in the sense of telling secrets.
In a prose piece that appeared in Poetry Magazine, Ruefle quotes Lorca: "The poet who embarks on the creation of the poem (as I know by experience), begins with the aimless sensation of a hunter about to embark on a night hunt through the remotest of forests. Unaccountable dread stirs in his heart."
The contrast in thought is striking. Is writing a poem a mere tinkering with and unraveling a bit of our inner life, neither frightening nor wholly public, or is it as Lorca states, the "hunt" that takes us to the "remotest of forests" stirring dread in our hearts.
I think I land somewhere in between. I do have a sense of dread often about the "hunt" that begins a poem, initial dread, but as the poem unspools when I enter the words, the lines, the thinking self, the"younger" more self-conscious self, grows less fearful, and the inner self plops itself down on the page and says, "Here I am." And sometimes I am content in knowing that maybe someone will read it, like it, and maybe not.
More by and about Mary Ruefle:
The Revival Tour
Poet Bloggers 2018
Kelli Russell Agodon-
Donna Vorreyer – https://djvorreyer.wordpress.com
Beth Adams – http://www.cassandrapages.com
Sandra Beasley – http://sbeasley.blogspot.com
Carolee Bennett – https://gooduniversenextdoor.com/
Mary Biddinger – wordcage.blogspot.com/
Andrea Blythe – http://www.andreablythe.com
Dave Bonta – http://vianegativa.us
Jim Brock --
Angela T Carr
Kevin Connor – https://ordinaryaveragethoughts.wordpress.com/
Jared Conti – http://www.theoracularbeard.com
Jenelle D’Alessandro – http://www.borderandgreetme.com
Laura E. Davis – http://www.dearouterspace.com/
Kate Debolt – http://www.katedebolt.net/blog/
Heather Derr-Smith – ferhext.com/
Risa Denenberg – https://risadenenberg.weebly.com/blog
Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow http://cschwartzbergedlow.blogspot.com
Lou Faber – https://anoldwriter.com
Jeannine Hall Gailey – webbish6.com
Gail Goepfert –In the Mix gailgoepfert..com/blog
Sarah Kain Gutowski – mimsyandoutgrabe.blogspot.com
Erin Hollowell – http://www.beingpoetry.net . T
Crystal Ignatowski – http://somehiatus.tumblr.com/
Charles Jensen – https://charles-jensen.com/kinemapoetics-blog/
Jill McCabe Johnson http://jillmccabejohnson.com/blog-chanson-daventure.html
Collin Kelley http://www.collinkelley.blogspot.com
Anita Olivia Koester https://www.forkandpage.com/
Lakshmi – thiswinterheart.tumblr.com
Courtney LeBlanc – wordperv.com
Lorena P Matejowsky https://nothingbutblueskies.wordpress.com/
Marilyn McCabe O
Ann Michael – www.annemichael.wordpress.com
Amy Miller – http://writers-island.blogspot.com/
James Moore – jameswmoore.wordpress.com
LouAnn Sheperd Muhm – https://louannmuhm.com/
Gill O’Neill – http://poetmom.blogspot.com
Shawnte Orion http://batteredhive.blogspot.com/
Susan Rich – http://thealchemistskitchen.blogspot.com .
Lee Ann Roripaugh https://runningbrush.wordpress.com/
Sarah Russell – https://sarahrussellpoetry.net
Kim Bailey Spradlin – www.kimbaileydeal.net
Bonnie Staiger –https://bonniestaiger.com/
Rosemary Starace https://thresholdview.wordpress.com/
Hannah Stephenson – http://thestorialist.com
Stephanie Lane Sutton
Christine Swint – https://balancedonedge.blog/
Dylan Tweney – http://dylan20.tumblr.com/
Michael Allyn Wells:
Allyson Whipple http://allysonmwhipple.com