molting

I am growing
My shell hurts
It hurts it hurts!
I cannot shed it
I try and try and try
I fight
I seek allies and help
I fight
One year, two years, nearly three

I’m free
My shell suddenly releases and slides off
I can feel my soft body expand
To my real size
Bigger
Joy!

Oh!
They’re attacking!
Why why!
My brothers! My sisters!
No!
Your claws hurt!
They are cutting me
Ow ow stop why!

I run
Scuttle sideways
Soft and clumsy
Hide
In the mud

Why why?
Oh, my wounds ache
Stabbed
By multiple claws
Deepest pain
In my heart
At this betrayal.

I hide
I sit
I think

It was so hard
To shed my shell
Why would they attack?

Oh!
Their shells hurt too!
Their words
They were grabbing me
To try to see how I’d shed my shell
They were desperate
Oh they must be in such pain!

Can I forgive them?
Do they know not what they do?

I hide
I sit
I think
I heal

My shell is strong now
I am bigger

I will go forth
And see who is trying to shed their shell
I will try to protect the newly molted.

Loss

It seems to be one of my irritable days
They come rolling round in the month of May
I don’t feel friendly and don’t want to play
It seems to be one of my irritable days

It seems to be one of those days when I’m mad
At nothing particular. I feel really bad
I hate those damn tourists who always wear plaid
I really intensely dislike feeling sad

I haven’t felt quite this bad since last year
But I’m not one to cry. I don’t like weak tears
I’m not one to let myself feel any fears
I haven’t felt this bad for almost a year

It seems to be one of those days when I’m mad
I think I’ll go pick a nice fight with that lad
He looks too damn happy and just too damn glad
When I’m punching his lights out I won’t feel so sad

It seems to be one of my irritable days
Going to work on them just doesn’t pay
My boss’s revenge just goes on for days
Today it’s so bad that I can’t even pray

Helen Burling Ottaway, my mother, died May 15, 2000. I wrote this poem in the early 2000s. Her birthday was May 31, right near Memorial Day. Mother’s Day always falls near her death.

I am putting up a series of poems that I titled Falling angels, after a dream, where all the stars in the sky started falling. I was frightened and then realized that they were all angels. Then I was more frightened.

I think we need poetry and dreams and angels during this difficult time. Even if the angels are all falling.

I took the photograph of my mother. A friend loaned me his 35mm camera and I took one roll of pictures and gave the camera back to him. Almost all of the photographs I took were portraits.

resistance

Over and over
I resist
I stand at the edge
I stare at the torrent
The cliff
The falls
The abyss

Over and over
I resist

Over and over
I let go
I fall
Over the cliff
Down the falls
Into the abyss

Over and over
I am sure
I will drown
I will lose my way
I will not surface

Ecstasy is in the air
Between trapezes

I am elsewhere
I am other
No words
No thoughts
No body
No mind

The water is cold
As I expect
When I hit
I knew by the spray
Before I jumped

Submerged
Immersed
Subversive
Over and over

I am born
From the surf
I emerge
From the waves
I am delivered

Fear is my key
Grief is my key
In the places I do
not want to go
That’s where I must go

Over and over I resist
And then let go

Painting angels

You were an artist
You are an artist
You said that you’d have to live to 120 to finish all your projects
And died at 61
I keep wondering
what the art supplies are like
and if you work on sunsets
or mountains
or lakes

Trey, 9
made a clay fish last summer that I admire
He said grumpily “It’s too bad Grandma Helen died before I could do clay with her.”
He tells me he’s ready to make raku pots to fire in your ashes as you wished
I ask what he’d make
He considers and says, “What was Grandma Helen’s favorite food?”
I can’t think and say that she liked lots of foods
At the same time wondering squeamishly if maybe
he should make a vase and then being surprised
that I am squeamish and thinking of blood and wine,
too, I wonder if my dad would know. “Maybe guacamole.”
I need to find a potter to apprentice him to.

Camille, 4.
asks how old Grandma Helen was when she died.
I explain that she died at 61 but her mother died at 92.
Camille asks how old I am.
40.
When are you going to die?
I say I don’t know, none of us do, but I hope it’s more towards 90.

Camille studies me and is satisfied for now.
She goes off.
I think of you.

I perpetuate
the Christmas cards you did with us
upon my children.
They each draw a card.
We photocopy them and hand paint with watercolors.
Camille wants to draw an angel
and says she can’t.
I draw a simple angel
and have her trace it.
She has your fierce concentration
bent over tracing through the thick paper
She wants it right.
The angel is transformed.

My kids resist the painting after a few cards as I did too.
Each time I paint the angel
to send to someone I love
I think of Camille
and you
and genes
and Heaven
I see you everywhere


January 19, 2002

published in Mama Stew: An Anthology: Reflections and Observations on Mothering, edited by Elisabeth Rotchford Haight and Sylvia Platt c. 2002

For the RDP: another day.