Ten years ago today
The sky was just this clear
In Dorset, as we drove –
Hearts soft, raw-opened from the nurse’s call –
To sit with your last breaths.
You still were kind,
And mindful of the time,
To let us come.
(Those corn cobs that we’d picked
Before the lunch, before your call
Are now my icons of that day;
Like harvest festivals, or bringing in
The Jewish New Year.
My son, not given to emotion talk,
Requests them for our tea tonight.)
These last years brought
So many wounds
Your presence would have eased;
Yet I rejoice
That I’ve come through;
And joy, not grief
Brims up the cup
Which sorrow carved.
And riding out this bounteous morning –
Detouring past the harbour swans
Inhaling that September sky
Which always brings you to my mind –
I feel your blessing
In the world.
What a legacy, Mum,
This autumn thankfulness.
My mum died of cancer in 1988 on the evening of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
I am now a Quaker and do not observe the Jewish festivals, though I try to keep an awareness of when they are happening, as they run on a different calendar. But several members of my family now have a ceremony of eating corncobs on 11th September.
I wrote the poem about healing and remembering, and it was only my then husband, as a poet, who ‘heard’ the other meaning of morning / mourning when he read it.
(I’d sometimes done the same for his unconscious double meanings that were ‘just right’. We don’t always fully know what we’ve said – a listener is needed.)
If you’ve read Kahlil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’ you’ll recognise the reference:
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And now it’s 27 years.
My mother was just 62 when she died and I am now 63.
Each new year we reach is precious –
what should I do with it?
how best to express what I am, to do what is my part to do in the world?
The Hasidic story about Rabbi Zusya says that at the end of your life God will not ask you why you were not Moses, he will ask a much more difficult question: why you were not Rabbi Zusya?