Sunday, 24 December 2017

Twinkle lights, incense and the nothing that is

Reading: The Shining by Stephen King
Listening to: "Fight Song" by Rachel Platten
Outside: A balmy afternoon, but a nice break for snow-furred reindeer

The Snow Man
by Wallace Stevens, 1921

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have had been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds 
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

A stick of incense waits, unlit, on the window sill. It waits and I hesitate. Do I do this? Do I dare? I can imagine it: that single unfurled curl, ghostly as it rises. In that smoky taste, I'll think of you, Mom.

Mom: the Great Giver of Socks.

It's Christmas Eve, and I work. I comb through The Untouchables, teasing out extra words and snags, following my literary agent's sage advice. I am eager for the day I'll show it to the world.

My sister's drawn heart - illuminated love - around my work. Thanks, Jenny!

And I run. The treadmill's electric hum, my Asics' rhythm as steady as my heartbeat. I go on my three-mile run to nowhere as I stride my way through memories that spring forward like pictures in a pop-up book, the pages of my year's past rising and falling one by one, a forest of words and feelings moving past, an emotional tour of 2017.

Lena, freshly four, at The Deep in Hull, communing with sting-rays. November 19, 2017

Lena turns four! November 19, 2017

And I write this. I do anything to keep busy, to keep from remembering. Because when I remember, I crumble. I go down into the pit again, into the curl of your lap, or the lightness of your hug, or your sarcastic laugh that always had a hidden truth behind it. My enigmatic mom.

And now, here I am, glass of wine next to me and I'm braced for memory. The losses I've endured this year have been larger than anything I can yet imagine. I have lost one of my most treasured bracelets, my childhood home and, of course, a few weeks later, you. I like to imagine an accidental but crucial transfer of energy - the bracelet to a needy magpie, using the shiny chains and charms to find a mate or line a nest; the childhood home to a growing family with small children who can hide in the closets among the smell of leather shoes and an ancient white rabbit fur coat, just like my sister and I used to; you to a mysterious plane - perhaps of nothing, perhaps of everything - that I can't possibly know.

So this year we have a bare, braceletless wrist. We have an Indiana home warming a new family. And we have an Alabama gravestone in the place of you. And we have a whole new appreciation for your many facets now, each glittering brightly in so many different ways: through the new-found connection of your four daughters, through your paintings that brighten our hallways and living rooms, through your pictures and poems, your countless reminders that those who loved you see every day.

By my mom. December 21, 2005

And, now, through the snap of the lighter, the flicker of flame and the rise of your ghost from the incense I have been so afraid to light until now. Can I handle it, the smoky-cinnamon memories of your cookies, your springy Christmas bows, your best gifts to me that - I'm only realizing now - never came from a store?


Because downstairs sings my little girl, so in awe of the twinkle lights on the Christmas tree. In pure awe, just like I used to be. And still am. Christmas is full of lights, Mom, and now you're one of them. 

Merry Christmas, my dear Constant Reader. May this season bring renewal even in the hardest of times - looking through the nothing that is there, and finding what is.

I hope your holiday season is as beautiful as the Yuletide spirit itself.

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