This is the edge of what is soon to be – an in-between place like a dock with sea warped boards jutting out across an eddy that might be salt water or it might be fresh. What I know is that the depths below are as descending as the sky is ascending. There is an absence of bottom here, a wedge of blue and green that laps at the air and tunnels into the undiscovered. The dock shift-shapes into a house and the tide lifts the whole of all I imagine to possess. Everything once moored finds freedom in the surf. It wasn’t supposed to last as long as it did. It was supposed to last longer. But the melting truth managed to flood the banks. The sky remains fixed. But the flood refuses bounds. I’m a good swimmer but the press of land assures my feet: I am still here. There’s still enough land to sit down without sinking in. And God is here.
Disturb us, Lord, when We are too pleased with ourselves, When our dreams have come true Because we dreamed too little, When we arrived safely Because we sailed too close to the shore. Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess We have lost our thirst For the waters of life; Having fallen in love with life, We have ceased to dream of eternity. -Sir Frances Drake
When I was in Puerto Rico, author Mayra Santos-Fibros talked about the practice of setting out a meal for the dead. I was surprised at the practice and wasn’t tempted to follow it, but it did bring to mind the Hebrews 12 reference of “being surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” When I mentioned this scripture to her we found common ground between her work and mine. Since then I’ve been wanting to paint that unseen realm. Because we have all experienced some kind of marginalization, gross misunderstandings or heartache, I wanted this central character to reflect internationally “eclectic” features. Remembering the “great cloud of witnesses” turns my focus to the larger life and reminds me I am not alone.
“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” Hebrews 12:1-3The Message (MSG)
Delphiniums, those glorious petals in a gardner’s crown are not easily won. When small they can be devoured in a singl evening by a snail the size of a thumbnail. If they live past infancy, they require considerable water. They must be fertilized and protected from weeds. Once mature they boast such robust blossoms, staking is required. The supports of a delphinium are nothing of which to be ashamed. In fact, the grander the bloom, the more necessary becomes a well-structured support. The density of her blues makes the delphinium unable to stand alone. The weight of such a hue can send her crestfallen into the mud. The very process of lifting a fallen bloom can cause her to snap. A delphinium will grow improperly supported. Its color will be vivid, its scent sweet, its nectar rich. But its petals will be stained with mud.
What’s not in the picture is Mother. But she’s here just beyond the rise. We know this by the circular tracks. Mother doesn’t like backing up. She’s often said so. To make sure we all got it, she looped the house in a dirt drive and managed the weeds by gunning the engine of the old black Ford. When she and dad fought, she’d hop in the Ford and take it for a spin. Their circular rants became habitual.
Even when Dad was gone, she’d hop in behind the wheel and gun the engine. Next thing she knew she’d be moving with simulated progress. But her forward momentum curved back on itself the minute it threatened to carve a new track. Once she wearied, we’d hear her skid to a halt and the protest of the emergency brake.
Nothing grew where the tires spun. That suited us kids because we’d already ran out of water hose. Her daily jaunts around the driveway kept her occupied, preventing her from sticking any more plants in the ground. Even so, you need to know Mother like we know Mother. Once you hear the story about the tree she planted on the roof, you’ll know Mother.
The idea evolved on the day the old car died and Mother kept living; a hot day. Every garden hose had a job. The white pine she bought on sale at WalMart in the 5-gal tub was busting its tin seams. Mother glared at that hot roof. She knew she could toss a pot of water up there with the muscles she’d developed yanking on that brake, so she went for it. After gathering a load of dirt, she hauled it up a ladder, one rung at a time, and planted that pine. That’s Mother. We think she’s brilliant and now you know she’s brilliant too.
I am a button of bone – hewn from the tibia of a dead donkey, sanded smooth between the thumb and index finger of a woman the age of time. After smoothing me she bore me through with an awl slivered from an anvil of desire. The anchor was imperative. As far as I can gather the woman lived in a world of wind, a turning world – going, spinning unhitched to solitude or contemplation. When she began her threading I steamed hot with the piercing, yet curious about the garment to which I would be married. Would it be a bustled affair, pride-starched and florid? Would it be something hospitable and pattern-free and display my subtle curves?
The garment surprised us both. She took the skin of a dead jack ass, burnished its hide, soaked it in a brine of salted honey, rolled it smooth with almond hulls. Then she ironed it with stones warmed by cedar bark flames.
When I first felt the touch of that old jack ass, I thought, Dear Jesus, what wonders come from your hand. Look how you’ve converted that old beast. And then my throat caught in surprise by the reminder of that old dry bone from which I impossibly hailed.