By Alicia Suskin Ostriker
—for Elizabeth Bishop
Tuwee, calls a bird near the house,
Tuwee, cries another, downhill in the woods.
No wind, early September, beeches and pines,
Sumac aflame, tuwee, tuwee, a question and a faint
But definite response, tuwee, tuwee, as if engaged
In a conversation expected to continue all afternoon,
Where is?—I’m here?—an upward inflection in
Query and in response, a genetic libretto rehearsed
Tens of thousands of years beginning to leave its indelible trace,
Clawprint of language, ritual, dense winged seed,
Or as someone were slowly buttoning a shirt.
I am happy to lie in the grass and listen, as if at the dawn of reason,
To the clear communal command
That is flinging creaturely will into existence,
Designing itself to desire survival,
Then the bird near me, my bird, stops inquiring, while the other
Off in the woods continues calling faintly, but with that upward
Inflection, I’m here, I’m here,
I’m here, here, the call opens a path through boughs still clothed
By foliage, until it sounds like entreaty, like anxiety, like life
Imitating the pivotal move of Whitman’s "Out of the Cradle,"
Where the lovebird’s futile song to its absent mate teaches the child
Death—which the ocean also whispers—
Death, death, death it softly whispers,
Like an old crone bending aside over a cradle, Whitman says,
Or the like the teapot in Elizabeth Bishop’s grandmother’s kitchen,
Here at one end of the chain of being,
That whistles a song of presence and departure,
Creating comfort but also calling for tears.
My husband's grandmother died peacefully in her sleep this afternoon in Seattle with her eldest daughter at her side (husband's father is the first child; his only brother, a Vietnam vet, died several years ago of one of those cancers you pretty much only hear about veterans getting; the two youngest sisters live in northern California and Michigan respectively). Granny wanted to be cremated, so there is going to be a memorial service in Seattle in the middle of September and a burial service in Jamestown, New York sometime next year. I remember visiting the grave site because her late husband, my husband's grandfather, is buried there, and thinking how creepy it was that they already had her name carved beside his on the tombstone -- only the year was missing. My grandparents always intended to be buried next to each other but the stones weren't carved until they had been interred, though maybe it's different if you're Jewish because of the unveiling ceremony. Granny was a religious Christian, not happy about divorce, cohabitation and modern (im)morality but also extremely unhappy with current Republican policy and the focus on making money and persecuting gays instead of working for peace, feeding the hungry and healing the sick.
I'm sad, but in fairness to those who were really close to Granny -- she lived with Aunt Jean and Uncle Bob for more than 30 years, and was there while they were raising their two sons -- I only met her five or six times, at family weddings and reunions where we didn't spend much time alone talking. Husband's kind of quiet, but not as upset as he was when his grandfather died unexpectedly while I was pregnant with son #2 and there was no hope of getting to the funeral. Older son is very upset. Younger son is being kind of stoic about it. This is exactly the opposite of the way they reacted when the gerbils died. Oddly enough, we watched "And the Children Shall Lead" because I have to review it for TrekToday tomorrow, and although it is every bit as terrible an episode as I remember, the fact that it centers on how children grieve and how Spock throws around words like evil when they don't grieve seemed peculiarly relevant. Tomorrow was going to be a weird, stressful day anyway, as younger son has an open house at his school to meet his teacher, then a violin lesson, while my mother is taking older son to get his Bar Mitzvah suit tailored.
The meeting with the DJ went very well -- he's very open to whatever we want to do, has lots of enthusiasm, was great with the kids and had lots of ideas for games and stuff since we don't expect a huge amount of dancing (
We also had another rehearsal at the temple with the rabbi, this one mostly to go over the blocking and timing for the service. The kids both chanted extremely well again, but we didn't have time to talk about the content of their speeches or anything like that. We did manage to ascertain that 1) the other child who will be B'nai Mitzvah with our son is the product of an interfaith marriage as well, and 2) both her mother and myself will be holding the Torah while the husbands give the speeches to the children, since the rabbi feels it would be inappropriate for the non-Jewish parents to pass the Torah to the children while the Jewish parents give the speeches. This is rather a relief, as I would much rather write the speech and not have to deliver it.
Sex In Christ is my new favorite religion-on-crack web site. It's in a similar vein to Landover Baptist, though by definition more offensive, and it doesn't even try to interpret Scripture with any attention to its historic meaning, since you can't prove that the Bible condones anal sex even in Song of Solomon without some major revisionist readings.