Monday, November 26, 2012

The Warrior's process

Oh, she had her ways and her processes.

I wish I could find Laura’s first poem, written not in her hand (she couldn’t write yet) but printed by her teacher on a 3 x 5 card – was it first grade or earlier?

“Look what I found, mom,” she said one day, showing me the card, “my first poem.” It was titled something like “My brothers’ trousers,” and went something like, “My brothers trousers are green.”

“Funny,” she said, “Charlie and Bob never had green trousers.”

Then, we debated who should take custody of the card. I can’t find it, and it was not among the things in her office following her death, so we’ll never know how brilliant or mundane this bit of juvenilia was. There was nothing ordinary about Laura.

Right now, her post-diagnosis journals are being mined for poems. Not by me, but by an acquaintance with literary skills. Apparently, poems came in a torrent toward the end of Laura’s life.

According to her process, and so far as I know it was lifelong, she hand wrote poems first in her journal or poetry notebook, selected the ones she felt worthy of development and put them into the computer. Then she printed them out to work on them further. Eventually, if she was pleased, they were shown to others for comments, and eventually a finished poem emerged and was archived and shared. In her “finished” archives, still, some poems had two or three versions with minute differences.

Invariably, if a word bothered me, it was a word that had bothered her because something about it was not quite right.

What we’re learning now is that in her handwritten versions an ampersand isn’t always an ampersand. In the finished poem it is usually the word and. We’re also learning that Laura’s line breaks were never defined by the width of the notebook page, but by the poet as she labored over the process.

The dilemma therefore is how does one take handwritten poems from the notebook and refine them as the poet would have, had she lived? This dilemma is exacerbated by the fact that during the last few months of her life, as the flood of words flowed onto the page; Laura lost her ability to complete the process. The television remote, the intricacies of hand-held devices and her laptop all became unsolvable mysteries. One by one she handed her devices to Dan and said, “Here. Give this away. I won’t be using it any more.”

Invariably he said, “I’ll just put it away for later.”

“Oh, no,” Laura responded vehemently. “I won’t need that any longer.” And so, the device, whatever it was, was put somewhere out of sight. The stream of spoken words continued unabated until she closed her eyes two days before death. Her last words were, “Oh, Dan. I love you,” and  “Thank you, God.”

On Thanksgiving Day, as we gave thanks for the blessings of the past year, I gave thanks for the time spent with my beloved daughter through her work. I am certain that the year to come, which  promises production of The Warriors' Duet, will produce further blessings. Further evidence that it is possible simultaneously to ache and to bloom. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hallowe'en and Dia de los Muertos

November 1
I see photos of people who with bare hands claw through a mixture of sand and debris in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy, and I think of precious personal items retrieved yesterday.

Sixteen months after the death of his wife, my daughter Laura, Dan Morefield, my son-in-law, is still combing through the detritus of her life. Like her mother, Laura kept everything, including the things I gave her because I no longer had room for them when I downsized. Her house had copious storage spaces, and she put all I gave her -- my overflowing file folders and photo albums -- into big plastic tubs and put them up on shelves in the garage.

 In one of the straggler file folders Dan gave  me yesterday, I found a poem Laura must have written when she was around 16. I believe I first kept it, and then she inherited it, along with other precious things I’d forgotten just as surely as if they were buried in the sand.

The box I brought home contains my mother’s high school yearbook, June 1913, John Marshall High School, Chicago. Each time I saw this yearbook in the past, and even now, I turned the pages eagerly to find mother’s graduation photo under Thelma Good. Time and again I’m surprised to find that someone has torn her photo from the yearbook. All that remains are the accompanying words: “Her face is fair, her heart is true.” I know that. I always knew that.

I also found a snapshot of Laura’s father, Samuel Costales, who died when she was 2. He promised me a girl and was so delighted with our infant that he carried her around in his arms, singing and dancing with her. She never knew his warmth and how much he loved her. I am comforted that if what I believe is true she knows now.

                     A Poem for Mother
By Laura Jeanne Costales
Circa 1976

Sometimes I feel as if
                  I’m all “grown up”
And I think that I’m free to do what I want    
                  Without needing help.
But then something will happen
                  And I’ll hurt so bad inside
It’s like falling into a pit
                  And landing very hard on the bottom.
I’ll stay in my room,
                  Lost and hurt
And then there will be
                  A knock on the door.
Her head will pop around the corner
                  And her eyes will sadden.    
She’ll come and put her arms around me
                  And all of a sudden,
I’m not all “grown up”
                  I’m just her little girl again.
She asks what is wrong
                  I’ll tell her and cry.
She comforts me when I need it most   
                  And so
My gift to her this mother’s day
All the love I can give her
         For all the times
                  She understood.

Note to Laura

Oh, my girl, I hope I never disappointed you
when you needed my love.
I’d give anything to knock on your door,
pop my head around the corner,
and take you into my arms right now.

Thanks for saving all my stuff.

November 2, Old Town

Dia de los Muertos

Celebrate Small Victories is engraved on Laura's silver bracelet, the talisman that was supposed to restore her health. I read the inscription at my table in Old Town. Next to me is a lamp of brass, with a lavender shade encircled with pink teardrops, each tipped with red. 

It is the Mexican Dia de los Muertos. Trollops and matrons alike dress as if it were still Hallowe'en, odd little knots and combs atop their heads, flip-flops or impossibly steep platforms upon their feet.

The Catholic church is right across the street from my window. People carry roses and candles in their hands. Earlier, I observed a teen nervously eating her rose outside the tour ticket booth on Twiggs Street.

A mother comes into the coffee shop with two children, identically dressed in skeleton tees, the boy around 3, the girl, 1-1/2 or so with pacifier. She is intent on carrying off the wine display bottle by bottle, while he, all menacing arms, hands and aarghs, wants only to scare the other children as they enter.

Outside, on my way to the theatre, I find myself caught up in the Dia del los Muertos procession, and I am overwhelmed by grief, sit on a bench and shed tears for the communion of saints so recently joined by my longtime friend George, who was certain that Laura awaited him.

Small victories are good. They allow us to put one foot in front of the other as we plod along the road to our own epiphanies.