Tending the Cairns
Rain begins as I do but I keep walking, only
showers, sure I have time to get to the rock
two miles out the road into the woods,
climbing slowly to a ridge it never reaches.
Here is where my husband walked with me
his last time, in this season when we recount
liberation in order to count, the Passover meal
served after we eat bitterness and tears,
after we remember how we arrived
at this table. Winter walks hid what fell,
pillars of freeze and melt, how weather
broke the cairns I’ve built for him for years.
Now I reach the rock, my shoes muddy,
my hair a moist frazzle but no rain yet,
time to gather fallen stones and rebuild
balance, adding one stone I chose today, one
each visit. I bow, I tell him stories we told
last night then turn for home, running in rain.
Passover is over, the train of memory that carried me into this year’s observance has moved on. Working on the memoir I’m writing has meant living in the present moment (or as close to being present to the present as I can get) while on some level reliving the turbulent years that are at the center of the book. Part of the book’s story is Eric’s illness and death. Eric’s metastatic disease was first diagnosed just before Passover in 2006, and Passover this year was almost exactly the same time as that year. It makes sense that the overlay of date and season, along with significant immersion in my experience of that period of my life, would make this Passover carry an extra weight of memory and grief.
One thing I’ve discovered in working on the memoir is how much of the story of Eric’s illness I was telling David two years later, shortly after we met. Many days in April of 2008 I was writing emails and letters to David, telling him what had been happening on that day two years before — this is the weekend Eric first slept all weekend and hardly ate, this is the day he went back to the doctor and ended up at the hospital, and on and on. I couldn’t help reliving everything and writing it down helped make it easier to carry. Having David to write it to made it easier still.
I’m having another one of those years. Because I’m writing about and reading about remembering each day as if overlaid with that day in 2006, I found myself back on the train of memory. Here is a letter I wrote to David on April 13, 2008:
Eric’s diagnosis came just before Passover, the Jewish calendar is lunar so the dates float across the Roman calendar. Two years ago tonight was the night we were going to host a Seder here with our NH Jewish friends, a Seder tradition dating back to when we first moved to NH. I was so delusional in the face of Eric’s mounting illness I’d shopped for the big Seder the weekend before even while knowing on some level it would never happen. So two years ago Eric was just home from the hospital and we did a little Seder with just the family. Eric told the Passover story, gave a short history on the tradition of the Seder, and Matt told Adrienne later that it had been great to listen to Eric, he’d learned so much, he wished he’d have more Passovers with Eric. Adrienne told Eric Matt had said that, then Eric said to me (so much circular conversation!) “Well, that’s a reason to stay alive for another year. To teach Matt more.” And Eric was dead in three weeks. Yikes. I’ve been crying a lot tonight.
But time is on its constant track, so even as I remember sad times from eight years ago, or remember remembering six years ago, today is today and we had a wonderful Seder last week with some of those same friends.
A year ago, the day after the Boston Marathon bombing, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino created The One Fund with the purpose of helping those most affected by the bombings. The Fund collected and distributed nearly $61 million to over 230 individuals in just the first few months.
Shortly after the bombing, two poets, runners and editors decided they wanted to contribute also, and conceived the idea of an anthology of poems by runners, with half the profits from sale of the anthology going to The One Fund. Martin Elwell and Jenn Monroe put out a call for poems, and a few months later published Bearers of Distance. The book includes nearly 50 poems written by runners and poets of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities, poems that aren’t necessarily about running but inspired by running. Besides the usual poetry bio for each contributor, there is also a running bio.
I was honored to have the poem below selected for inclusion in the anthology, and especially today, as we all think back to that grim afternoon a year ago, I’m happy to have been a tiny part of one effort to bring healing to those affected.
Don’t name the color. Let the dawn
on snow be the last finch flapping
out of my sleep and drawing me
into the morning ice air sharp
against my cheeks. Yesterday’s
footsteps lead into the street,
the robin that haunts the buried garden
waits at the end of the road. Desire
twitches its tail, lungs feed my heart,
my blood carrying memory, a lover’s
arm that wrapped my waist as I slept,
the sun gold, snow on fire.
Last week was a good one for so many reasons I want to keep track.
- My neighbor’s yard of riotous crocuses started to bloom.
- The sun came out and it was above freezing. I can’t overstate how sun-starved everyone I know is at this point. It’s bad enough that there’s so little daylight in Northern New England in the winter (and I was in even northerner NE most of March), but when almost all of that daylight is cloudy and gray and it’s very very cold, people get cranky.
- I not only met my Momentum Writing Goals for the week, I exceeded them. And didn’t immediately turn that excess into new, harder to maintain goals. A steady focus is what’s going to get this book I’m so engaged with done and I’m staying with my plan until I know a faster pace can stay as steady.
- Three poems were accepted by the Chagrin River Review, a fine online journal I’m delighted to be part of. Four of the five poems I sent out a couple of months ago have now been taken by journals. Time to take another look at that fifth poem.
- I was able to run for three miles twice. Nursing a knee injury that’s kept me from running for months has not been easy. Running is my go to stress reduction and standard work out. Even I’ve been getting tired of listening to my knee complaints.
- My houseplant that blossoms once a year for one day did its thing. And a beautiful thing it is.
I’m hoping for a repeat good week.