A Lineage of Longing, A Lineage of Beauty
I wrote the poem, below, four years ago this week as I (and my then husband) plowed through the heartbreaking and arduous task of packing up two or three generations of a wealthy family's collected condensed belongings. My mother was the last of her family still alive, all three sisters and both parents having died long ago. This 3000 square foot house, a gorgeous showcase built to be just that, filled with silver, paintings, sculptures, rugs, furniture, bedding, and books. The books. Each item bringing with it a panic in my solar plexus, an immediate non-conscious increase in my heartbeat. "What if I let something go to the thrift storeor the Neighborhood House and then realize, weeks or months or years later that I should have kept it?! What if I miss something important here!? What it.....?!" At some point the brain just stops registering anything as 'important'. I think we call this Shock. It became more of a chore with no heart attached to the hundreds of boxes packed and stacked. By the time we got to my father's workbench, the dozens of boxes of old slides, slide projector, screen, photo developing chemicals from the 80's, I simply pushed it all toward the end of the garage for Good Will to take. "Let them decide what has value and what doesn't."
Now, four years later, I am sitting in the warmth and beauty of my own version of my mother's home. Without knowing it, without this longing guiding me in my awareness, I constructed a dwelling that was the very dwelling my mother should have built in the last decade of her life. She built a giant mountain house, perched on a hill overlooking a meadow (which they made with bulldozers and back hoes) and then further to the west, the high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains. This home I live in with my sons is under 2000 square feet. It looks out on two old fields filled with ancient apple trees, coyotes, rabbits and the constant back and forth of hawks, eagles and blue herons, like languid pterodactyls. Beyond these fields looms the Front Range of the Continental Divide. Not my mountains for sure, in their masculine verticality, but beauties just the same.
This place of my dwelling is a cottage built for the soul, many souls as it turns out. And it is filled with the specific things I chose to keep from my mother's home, co-mingling with my own companions, sacred treasures collected along the way. I went for the bones, the feathers and the rocks more than the art, the silver and the stonewear. They all get along mysteriously well and, so far, I have never regretted a single decision I made. My sister and I confer on this regularly; the only two left in our family line. We held on to only those items that meant something intimate to us. It is interesting which things, which subjects (because 'objects' feels so cold, so wrong) end up having a profound impact on one's becoming: a painting, a book, Degas' Dancer, a Mexican showgirl paper mache doll with her dangly legs and rouged cheeks, a garish cocktail ring of amethyst. This last subject, the ring, is a thing I will never wear. But occasionally I take it out and, putting it on the pinky finger of my right hand, remember my mother's cocktail parties, her long dresses of Marimekko fabric and matching pumps. The smell of scotch and cigarettes fills my nostrils every time – a mechanism happening solely in the miraculous synapses of my brain.
It was a solid year after the construction of my home here, The Center On The Edge, Jib Court, when I realized something which continues to stop me in my tracks for how we are guided, at every moment, by so much more than what we know. Grasping the big iron handles of the 10' wide sliding doors that lead out to the back yard, the pond and the fields beyond, I had a physical memory of this gesture, of the strength it took to do this, and even the sound of the doors sliding in their tracks. That day I realized, astonished, that my mother had installed these very doors in her home; nothing else was able to provide her enough access outside to the decks that wrapped around their home, and to the meadow and mountains beyond. They are unique doors, huge and heavy almost entirely glass – a 10' long expanse of window framed in heavy wood – and the single most expensive thing here in my home. But I couldn't imagine anything else to bridge our indoor world with the glory of what is going on just beyond these walls. And I realized, this was the very longing my mother felt as she stood in her home, looking out to the beyond.
A Mother's Belonging
We take this house down Just ten years after My mother painstakingly Directed the construction of this place Beam by beam
The night before the movers come She rips through the walls Wind roaring through the birch bones Outside each window
In the calm between gusts I hear her Barefoot and pacing Across the kitchen floor Up the stairs Over the creaking boards in the loft Occasionally she slams doors I imagine shattering glass
It is Thanksgiving morning I am here with my husband of two days
Here for the last time We stare out at my mother’s meadow Soft and tufted like winter fur Dusted with snow
She is alive in this field In the east facing slides of Cascade In the curve of a taupe shoulder Just this side of Tehawus
Perhaps she has already discovered The way the dead know That a home held together with wood and plaster Filled with collections Of art, silver and rugs Isn’t the home we take with us Nor the true inheritance
And if we haven’t spent a lifetime Offering thanks for what is home Then this moment Feels like a violence Our only recourse To haunt