Sunday, June 27, 2010

When We Walk

Orignal Post: Sunday, May 9th 2010 3:00 PM

When We Walk
For my mom Julia

When we walk, we keep our backs straight,
Even if pain, disease, or
The weight of persistent survival
Bends our bones…

I learned the power of steel
In my mother’s shadow,
In her arms,
In her songs.
Not steel which cuts,
But steel which encases bodies
Worn and tired.
Steel of nurturing strength
Keeping our backs straight
As we walk.

Mom watches her daughters running in the backyard humid heat of noon showers just passed in gulf sun. Their hair is bleached by days and weeks of salty beach sunshine…keeping impending dark locks at bay a little longer…Their bodies belie their hair, browned with high round cheekbones. The youngest one’s eyes slanting, sparkling with daring; the oldest one’s deepset and shadowed. Mom watches us, sitting in worn dented folding aluminum chair. She is sewing, beading Christmas stockings made of velvet, felt, sequins and small sparkling bugle beads. A Santa, for Rosebud, and a Frosty for Tee.

I remember, I am a child, sitting under the kitchen table. Dug in my own make-believe foxhole, hunkered down in my makeshift lodging with Barbie dolls and imagination. Above the cadence of my mother’s voice as she talks, is warm, almost melodic in even timbre. She is talking to sister. She is talking to friends. She is talking to Nana, to Kathy, to other family, to father. Her presence reassures me, huddled there with the sound of her voice above. At this kitchen table years went by, and I learned what was unfitting behavior, what my mother would and would not stand for, and above all never give in, never to compromise who I was. At this table my mother’s voice warm as fresh coffee, husky dipped like smoke, I learned about menses, babies, love and to embrace my difference. At this table I learned why language was sacred and we speak with caution. I learned not only who I was, but who I was not. Through these conversations, listening under the table--- to sitting there with mother. I knew there was a sense of overcoming oppression, poverty, of pain and pride. Standing, rising from hard wooden chairs, she would walk straight, her daughters by her sides.

When we walk, we keep our backs straight,
Our eyes alert to the road ahead
Our families by our sides.
We keep on our paths,
Keeping our backs straight
When the path becomes chaotic.

When we cry, we cry silently.
Crouching in the fury of water
Gushing down on face and backs
In the shower.
We cry so our tears cannot
Be separated from shower rains.

Mom is sitting straight, like women before. Holding her mother’s hand. The power of her mother now shrunken into sterile bed sheets, cancer eaten. The machines breaking silence---she is strong, for her father, her sister, each with demons they cannot battle without her mother, without her… She sits straight. Almost ten years later, mom is sitting straight, like women before. Holding her father’s hand. The air is thick with smells of hospice. She is strong, for her sister, her husband. Shouldering the responsibility of the pain Papa carried across the border. She sits straight.

Mom sits on back porch, evening persistence of pain driving her into the balmy night. Pulled up to the table her three companions are constant: the pain of degenerative arthritis and spinal stenosis, today’s newspaper crossword, and a lit Misty Light 100. Mom’s hands look how I remember Nana’s hands when I was young. Knuckles enlarged, slowly becoming bent, small branches who have lost the will to grow straight… Fingers holding her pencil, fingers holding her cigarette, sending smoke filled with silent prayers, thanks and remembrances to dance between worlds. Smoke floating to merge with the streak of gray Milky Way in the sky above.

Her face in profile, strikes a perfect balance between cultures, Nakoda and Irish…the beauty of miscegenation. Forehead high rounded, lined with years of laughter, of tears and days spent furrowed with the strength of women who came before, walking straight. Cheekbones broad, high sharply angular in dim porch light. Skin reddened, her melanin faded like a sweater once tanned raw sienna turning fairer in washings, till skin is supple softness. Her nose is long and straight, sporting the same small Irish ball on the end, of mother, and her mother. Mom’s lips are straight, smudged pinkness over her strong square chin and jaw… Her hair, once deep brown shot with mahogany, now cascades like long soft foamy white waves down the shore of her back. Her hair slowly falling forward as she writes her answer: “OVID”, in the space 5 down: “Roman poet, __________ author of Metamorphoses.”

I learned the act of
Walking straight,
In my mother’s shadow,
In her arms,
In her songs
And the everyday gentleness
Which belied the strength
Of holding us together
Across miles and generations.

When I cry, I cry silently.
Crouching in the fury of water
Gushing down on face and back
In the shower.
I cry so my tears cannot
Be separated from shower rains.

When I walk, I walk straight.
As women who keep tradition,
Who keep truth,
Humility, power, and ferocity
Braided into the fibers
Of bone and tendon.

The strength of being
The center,
I learned walking straight
In my mother’s shadow.

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