“The root of joy is gratefulness… It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
–Brother David Steindl-Rast
One of the many soul-soothing beauties of this time of year with its increasingly shorter days is coming slowly awake in deep stillness and filling the pre-dawn darkness with the rosy glow of candle light. A magical ambience crowded with all manner of spirits… some reaching out to connect in the form of memories. Thanksgiving Day always evokes thoughts of my Mom. Through all the stages of our journey together and in ways I may not yet fully fathom, she and her utter devotion to the Divine –as she through her religion imagined the Divine– have been profound influences in my own unfoldment.
So it was that this early morn she called to me from her serious-young-mother photo on my ancestors altar next to my Pop and my Great-Grandmother Luisa. And from the deep well of all that I felt –the ineffable peace and gratitude, the love I do not yet have a word for, and spun together with all that the always present acknowledgment of the difficult terrain we traversed to arrive at today’s serenity– my impulse was to read her the poem I’d written nearly two decades ago. I had given it to her a year later in a hand-crafted edition of a collection of my poems. A decade later, after her death, the little book made its way back to me. I treasure it. I hold it now –and I can see her and feel her holding it in her hands, trying with all her heart to understand her second daughter who rolled so far from all that she knew. I read the hand-written inscription and marvel at how tellingly it captured that moment in our evolution –already light years from how we had been with each other on the Thanksgiving Day of the poem…
“Dear Mimi, my feelings are mixed as I give you this small book of my poetry. Because writing is where I express my deepest truths, sharing it is sharing my innermost self. In my way of being, that is the ultimate gift. At the same time, I’m very aware that many of my ideas, and particularly my experience of Spirit, are disconcerting to you. So, then, these poems –offered with my love– are a mixed bouquet. Enjoy the roses –and beware the thorns. All roads lead to the One. ♥ Lisa”
Mom, I know you too are rejoicing… and, Pop, you also along with us. And I know too –though in this life I may never comprehend the mysterious dance of energies in which this transmutation occurs– that this peace and love I’m feeling is rippling back in that mystery we conceive of as time, rippling back as a healing through the four generations leading to you, Great-Grandparents Luisa and Tonio, and beyond you to your moms and dads and all who came before through all the rambling branches of this blessed family with all its earthly challenges. I am so deeply grateful for all the joys and tribulations that shaped me, that forced me to fall back on my own experience and fortitude, and to own the whole constellation of paradox that expresses as my life. From all of you and from all that befell me I gained the gift, the ability, to create from the raw material of difficulties that which could be cherished and shared as Beauty.
Here then is the poem…
That Thursday Mother prepared for Thanksgiving company,
tucked a flowered kitchen cloth over and around
the disturbing collection of jars
–powders green and inscrutable
that she shudders as I swallow,
nurturing pagan roots best left forgotten.
Looks prettier, was all Mom said to me of the cloth,
and didn’t say of my jars that someone might notice,
comment that her daughter, owner of these alien
influences brought back from inconceivable places,
is missing from the family table
–my very absence a ghost.
You’ll be missed, she said quietly at my side,
as I tugged the cartons of eggnog from the fridge,
stuffed them into a brown paper sack.
The wound always weeping between us at this season,
I kept my eyes on my task, flattened my voice:
I don’t know what to say… no words I can say…
When I looked up –seconds, no more–
she was across the room at the stove,
her hands busy stirring a pot,
her back hiding her pain.
♀ ♀ ♀
I return home with the first streaks of dawning,
stand at the dim kitchen counter,
light a blue candle invoking peace in our family
whose names I have inscribed in the wax.
I remove the flowered cloth from the jars wedged
into the one small nook I claim as my own.
In that niche they nestle in their glistening vessels of glass:
almonds gleaming next to crumbly black tea,
cranberries shrunken to rubies.
Ashwagandha for vitality, Shatawari for menopause.
I replenish some jars, empty others,
fill them with harmonizing vibrations:
blazing red chilies, tips cut off to let out the sting,
oil, cobalt blue, of Frankincense, Myrrh and Neroli.
Spirits encircle me, aromas thick with open-air markets:
Dar-es-Salaam and New Delhi, Katmandu and Antigua,
pungent salt sweet bustle of memories…
I perform each act with intention,
draw water from silver spigot,
wash away all traces of yesterday,
with each breath conjuring peace from within.
I open the door to the porch and
let in the spirits guarding the house.
In a troupe they pad in, warm from their beds,
swirl about me mewling and purring their ritual chorus.
I open tins, offer milk to appease them.
I warm apple juice over dancing blue flame,
pour it into crystal chalice disguised as a mug,
stir in heaping tablespoon of pristine alpine lakes,
hidden dampness of forests.
They swirl… woodsy musk… and I swallow
the sacred abundance of Earth.
Mother-in-long-flannel-robe pads in in her slippers.
She smiles a smile fresh from her pillow,
bends down, caresses and baby-talks to the spirits
rubbing against her legs.
We talk lightly, how the wind howled at the windows,
how we slept snug in our quilts.
She slips away into her sanctuary to whisper
beseechments for peace to her sky God,
rosary beads slipping through her fingers.
I dance-my-dance with earth spirits,
holding open the back door,
sweeping cinders into new morning air…