My Mother’s Hands

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This mixed media piece was to be my entry in an upcoming art show.

It was also a challenge to myself to integrate poetry with paint.  In some way, it was a homage to my mother’s life.  The photo is of her at age seventeen.  She was a beauty.  My mother died in 2011 at age 91.  From my perspective, her life had been a long, hard road. I’ve written so much about her, about our relationship, about her relationship with my father.

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One of the layers of this painting is a poem, My Mother’s Hands.   After writing the poem  on the canvas, I remember feeling vulnerable.  I was revealing her story to an audience who might not understand the battered wife syndrome.

The poem begins:

I wonder if a palm reader back then would have foretold
–a long life
–an unloving marriage
–an abusive spouse…

…and then I smudged some of the words with gesso and paint.

In the last three years of their lives, my parents were in a care home, a house in a neighborhood with eight elderly residents.  Another sister and I alternated visiting them during the week.  Two other sisters orchestrated their care from afar.  The brothers remained aloof until the very end as they didn’t feel at ease with our father.

In her later years, my mother’s hands were contorted with arthritis.   Her fingers had trouble gripping a spoon and then navigating it to her mouth.  But she had lost so many of her abilities that I didn’t want to help her too much.  I watched as the spoon wobbled towards her mouth.  Her mouth like a quivering bird anticipating food.

My father in the background would say “These are not the golden years.”  I could see that.

One sunny day, we were sitting outdoors under fruit-laden orange trees.  My mother said “I wonder where we go from here.”

“What do you mean, Mom?” I asked.

“After we die.” she said.

“I thought you believed in heaven,” I said, trying to offer comforting words.

My father said “There’s nothing.”

“Dad,” I said, “I thought you had a dream of heaven.  You said it was beautiful.”

My father said, “It was lonely.  I was the only one there.”

In slow motion, my mother reached for my hand and held it–an unfamiliar gesture.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day.  I’m sure thoughts of my mother weave through my mind on any given day.  For one reason or another.

I wonder what she’d be thinking about the state of the world today.  She once asked me to write her story…I’m not sure which one…the one of the devoted wife who stood by her husband no matter what abuse.  Or the possible woman who hid herself away and didn’t have an opportunity to blossom.

Who Is Your Mother?

Last week, I viewed the film…Never Cry Wolf once again.  It had been awhile since I’ve seen this film.  The main character, a Canadian biologist named Tyler, is flown on a small bush plane and dropped off in the vast, wild and white unknown of  the Canadian Arctic wilderness.  His job is to discover why the caribou population is declining.  It is believed that the wolf packs are eliminating the caribou and so he is there to study the feeding habits of the wolves.

This time, a few things struck me as I watched this film.  The vastness of the wilderness contrasted the minuteness of man.  There was the wild beauty of the scenery.  Then, when a nomadic Inuit man rescues Tyler, I got a sense of the land as experienced by its native inhabitants.  They are in a deep, daily conversation with their environment .  They have to be!  Growing up there, steeped in the traditions of their people, their own interactions with the climate, geography and the animals upon which they directly depend for their clothing, food and shelter…this added another dimension to the story for me.

In his book, Earth in Balance, Al Gore, politician and environmentalist, discusses how we have been taught “to live so separately from nature that we feel so utterly dependent upon our civilization, which has seemingly taken nature’s place in meeting all  our needs.”   Gore elaborates:

“The food on the supermarket shelves, the water in the faucets in our homes, the shelter and sustenance, the clothing and purposeful work, our entertainment, even our identity–all these our civilization provides, and we dare not even think about separating ourselves from such beneficence.”

Yet, there are natural laws that supersede government provisions.  We are disconnected from the natural environment and because of this, we don’t have a real understanding of our place within nature…as John Muir has said “Nature includes us.”

An excerpt from a metaphorical
poem I wrote concerning this vital relationship:

If I don’t know my mother,
how will I care for her
when she is ill and nearly used up?
Why would I sing her sweet lullabies
or hold unrecognizable her in my lap,
rock her into recovery?
If I don’t see that she’s ailing,
or that we’re even related,
why would I pause in my hectic life,
seek her out and say
I love you, I’ll look after you now.
Why would I care if she is a stranger
and I don’t talk to strangers?

A Winter’s Tale

One Greek myth is the story of Demeter and Persephone.  When Persephone was abducted by Hades and taken to the underworld, Demeter (her mother) conducted a search near and far.  When she finally discovered Persephone’s whereabouts, she commanded Zeus to bring her home.  Persephone had been deceived into eating a pomegranate seed–this action decided her fate.  She would have to spend fall and winter in the underworld with Hades.  Spring and summer, she could surface and be with her mother.

The season of winter is associated with hibernation, inward time and perhaps a time for grief.  In December of 2018, I lost my sister, a long-time companion and my ex-husband had a stroke.  He died ten months later…that was three intimate losses in a period of ten months.  I began this grief journey one year ago…although, really, as I watched these three people decline in health, the grief was there.

One thing about loss, besides the actual physical loss is the loss of “the dream.”  Whatever dreams I had attached to each of these persons died with them.  I was also then mourning the loss of the dreams.  When I came across the following poem by the Persian poet, Hafiz, (1315-1390 approximately), I understood the need to grieve and transform our lost dreams.

Forgive the Dream
by Hafiz

All your images of winter
I see against your sky.

I understand the wounds
That have not healed in you.

They exist
Because God and love
Have yet to become real enough

To allow you to forgive
The dream.

You still listen to an old alley song
That brings your body pain;

Now chain your ears
To His pacing drum and flute.

Fix your eyes upon
The magnificent arch of His brow

That supports
And allows this universe to expand.

Your hands, feet, and heart are wise
And want to know the warmth
Of a Perfect One’s circle.

A true saint
Is an earth in eternal spring.

Inside the veins of a petal
On a blooming redbud tree

Are hidden worlds
Where Hafiz sometimes
Resides.

I will spread
A Persian carpet there
Woven with light.

We can drink wine
From a gourd I hollowed
And dried on the roof of my house.

I will bring bread I have kneaded
That contains my own
Divine genes

And cheese from a calf I raised.

My love for your Master is such
You can just lean back
And I will feed you
This truth:

Your wounds of love can only heal
When you can forgive
This dream.  

Hafiz’s images are so precise that I find comfort in this poem.

How do you address your lost dreams?

Truthbound

Sometimes a quote stays with you.  This one is from the 1956 film, Anastasia, starring Ingrid Bergman:

“Truth serves only a world who lives by it.”

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In their later years, when things were so difficult with my aging parents, I was taking a creative writing class.  The instructor, a wise woman, witnessed my turmoil.  One day at the end of class, she took me aside.  She knew some of the challenges I was facing with my parents and family.  She challenged me to write a type of sonnet called a Sestina.  I didn’t know what a Sestina was.  I asked her for a timeline.  She said I should write it that evening.  I went home, studied the form and this poem virtually flowed out of me.  It was the perfect vehicle for what was happening in my life.  As art, poetry and writing can do, it shifted the energy for me.

Truthbound
© by Christine O’Brien

Truth lies in a shallow grave

while perspectives hang out everywhere.

Semantics argue with the unwary

as he admonishes “feelings aren’t facts.”

She remonstrates that mine is not the only opinion!

I inquire “How does one unearth truth?”

 

A sly animal is truth;

in its lair as silent as the grave.

Taunted by every brand of opinion,

each certain that his truth binds everyone, everywhere.

Scientists are burdened with facts.

Buying facts carte blanche is for the unwary.

 

My mother has been unwary,

living my father’s lies, denying truth.

Out in the cold, the stranded facts;

a story of lies they take to the grave.

Wounded healers, their children lay everywhere.

On unalterable facts I do base this sad opinion.

 

Really, what is there to opinion?

What warning can I give to the unwary?

The pain from his misdeeds is everywhere;

his forked tongue can’t speak the truth.

“Oh Dad, set yourself free before the grave

takes you and the unspoken, faltering facts.”

 

Weakening into old age, do they matter less, the facts?

That my mother be separated from him was my opinion.

Yet, there they are growing fragile together, headlong to the grave.

His rage bursts her peaceful ending, she the constant unwary.

In this sad scenario, can one find the concealed truth?

Fragments of perspectives and hurt feelings lay everywhere.

 

When division and broken hearts are everywhere,

are they less important now, the historical facts?

Is forgiveness the elixir of truth?

It seems opposition only supports an opinion

as egos argue in the territory of the unwary.

Let’s bury our perspectives in a grave.

 

Though facts, feelings and opinions are strewn everywhere

is it only the unwary who bind them to truth?

The grave is the end for all; is it wiser to pave the path with love?