Far Beyond the Blue

In memory of my mother, February 28, 1958–March 19, 2011.

Cotton fabric, lollipop design, your color purple, my color blue, straight pins in air, a pin cushion skirt around my waist. It is the 1st of February, it is sunny in Chicago, a winter day, Rogers Park, the aquamarine lake not far east from here. Lucinda Williams released a new album today, The Lost Ghosts of Highway 20, you appear in the second to last track: “If There’s a Heaven.”

It’s been a long time. I am eating too many clementines, as if ascorbic acid could kill me. I am learning about sewing and sewing machines and I want to tell you about fabric shears and tracing chalk and measurements for my body, how I am proud of my hip size, how much joy I find in the work you lived.

Your birthday is in 28 days, there are 29 days this year, an extra one for memory, a day for ghosts, a pleasant surprise. I wish you could give me advice on the proper thread, on the best type of fabric, on a shorter cut, a better way. I forgive you for not teaching me.

I imagine stitches mend old memories, black with grief, regret, and anger. I imagine they piece together a world that is whole and not wholly broken, the perfect time to embroider a heart in two pieces. I have so much of your fabric. I need to tailor the edges into placemats and cloth napkins. Wine purple, orange, lime green, and dark blue with white stars.

Maybe it’s not a life that dictates eternity, but those who loved you and reorganize memory to honor good qualities of character. You were such a strong, sassy woman. A feminist in the 80s, in the 90s, independent in the 00s, in the way you could be. A Pisces addict, in the most terrible way.

Darkness and trauma dig deep. They cloud the lens. Five years ago you plunged me into outer space and I am now beginning to find which center the sun resides. I am beginning to sew a garden, grow a compass, plant an heirloom. Tomatoes not quite ripe on my windowsill, the way you would. Wait for the sun to make them shine.

A PLACE WITHOUT A PERSON
By Madeleine Barnes

A star drawn in my mother’s
dark blue planner
reminds me —
we need to be eased from place
to place. We need to be
eased from each other.

so when you go / you let me know / if there’s a heaven out there

The Belle of Belfast City

Arms wrapped around fall, a tumultuous summer, the wounds of travel, transition, death, grief. Grim worlds of wakes in Irish settings, Irish flags in fresh ground, the foundation of a family strong and crumpling and molding together beds of grass and my grandmother’s marble funeral urn turquoise, a color she chose, so beautiful on an August morning.

Her gift to me a clock that always keeps time, royal purple of a queen who knew best the last year of her life, histories before. In a community hall, in an apartment she called her own, coffee sipped every day, all day black and there was still never enough time. Never enough time for sleepovers under quilted blankets, conversations over breakfast and so many hard candies, baskets full.

My heart broke the hardest six days after my 31st birthday. A woman who kept tabs on obituaries, of elder people in town dying off as if it were just another thing, as if she would never be next. That blue house on the hill, a place where love lives, the wood stove, the fire place, the dogs around our feet.

What I wouldn’t give for all of those hours watching the snow fall. Warmth is a place that lives in the heart of the people we lose. When they laugh, we can hear them for generations. Listen.

Coyotes in the Paper City

An emblem of navigation. It is snowing so much. The flakes are big, large, marble sized sometimes. As if tall trees that we cannot see shake their branches at the sky, loosening the wet from weighing them down.

Two years ago today my mother passed. I don’t remember if it was snowing that day. It happens to snow a lot when my sister and I visit her grave. I have never tested this in July, but I like to think it is true.

I wonder, each year, if this is a personal day. A day of notification and memory. A day to make clear where I stand in the universe, where my boundaries lie. (The answer is yes, and sometimes.) I am so protective of things out east, my home. So proud of my working class upbringing when I am anywhere else. When I am here, it is shadowed by what is coined the Tofu Curtain. The tofu curtain is the Holyoke Mountain Range that separates the Pioneer Valley from the Springfield Metro area of Western Massachusetts, a place so filled with privilege it forgets itself.

I miss the urban hustle of Carl Sandburg’s city. The latino kids speaking Spanish on the train with the diamond earring bling, the Russian family who then boards, the Polish accents behind me, the black kids riding the red line from Uptown to the South Side and back again. Last week, riding the T through Boston, I told my friend Jen that subway trains make me feel human.

The day before St. Patrick’s Day, I watched my sister run a six mile race through the Paper City, or Holyoke, during what is the second largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the country. I had never actually been to Holyoke. Within minutes of arriving downtown, we were solicited drugs on the street corner. It didn’t feel threatening, but a way of life. The buildings are boarded up in the Paper City. Not some. Not a handful. Most. All. Old factories on rivers. Buildings that once operated as apartment complexes. Auto shops. Paper mills. Everything. Yet, each year, 7,000 people sign up for this annual race. People pay $25.00 to run through Holyoke, past the drug dealers, abandoned houses, and shuttered mills. But I don’t think Holyoke sees a penny of that money.

I felt more at ease on the streets of Holyoke than I sometimes do on the other side of that curtain. Here, in Northampton, the coyotes howl on Saturday nights and you can hear their cries for miles. I am afraid to step outside. I won’t walk home through the woods without my headlamp and pocket knife. I am afraid of encountering bears. Three months ago I left Chicago for New England, a place I then called Mars. It still feels like Mars up here.

Chicago is approximately 30 miles north, south and west, urban sprawl in all directions but east, but I bet Lake Michigan stretches that far. You can’t see the other side. Which is Michigan if you look straight across: “The Upper Peninsula is a spare state / in case Michigan goes flat.” Detroit is now state run.

Maybe by summer Mars will feel like home again. Maybe I have to continue running up the hills of the Paper City to prove to myself there is a view from there. And that the view from the wrong side of the mountain is the view that I am looking for.

My mother didn’t bore me into a state of luxury, but she taught me how to fight and what to fight for. I hope I get snarled up in the coyotes. I hope I howl with them all night long. I hope they help me tear through the wooden panels of the abandoned buildings. I hope they reach out their claws, hold the hand of the dying on the other side and say,

We are making paper again. We are planting you trees