The bold and brilliant poet Mary Jo Bang lost her thirty-seven years old son.
And to heal herself –even if she assures, and I believe her, she doesn’t see art from a therapeutic point of view– wrote a jewel titled Elegy (National Book Critics Circle Award 2007),
A book written from that grief, seeking to translate her pain, or to expunge it, even if -its evident- it won’t leave, the resulting pain and the certainty that time doesn’t go back cannot be tamed with a book, nor with anything
–even if we just created
a parallel universe that goes backwards,
as if just the image of that unreachable goal, as impossible to reach as reviving someone who already left,
could save us–
The impossibility of becoming uterus once again for the grown up kid that already left: I don’t see how could that sorrow be healed. I don’t know and I don’t want to know but I end up learning
I learn about emptiness and guilt, about the resigned acceptance of guilt; because everyone knows, when something we really care about ends, there’s nothing left to do but to be humble and to shelter the hole.
In that book, a poem: “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus“, refers to a Bruegel painting in which Icarus can be seen falling, half submerged in the water, while life and things in life, and people surrounding his tragedy, seem inmutable. Here a fragment of the poem. Up at the beginning, the painting that shows the irrelevant death.
You’re forever on the platform
Seeing the pattern of the train door closing.
Then the silver streak of me leaving.
What train was it? The number six.
What day was it? Wednesday.
We had both admired the miniature mosaics
Stuck on the wall of the Met.
That car should be forever sealed in amber.
That dolorous day should be forever
Embedded in amber.
In garnet. In amber. In opal. In order
To keep going on. And how can it be
That this means nothing to anyone but me now.
Inexpugnable sorrow and certainty about the impossibility of rewinding time. Bang wishing that underground carriage could stay still, forever with its doors closed. With a living but ever-still son; defying all laws of physics in order to prevent grieving, to avoid the conscience of the beloved person being erased. A son disappears and what is left? What to do with the uterine memory, the hormonal memory, not to mention the minimal stories and the photo albums and the time and the struggle required to let your boy grow into a man?
Only a light anchor to a day of the week remains, a thread with no balloon to hold it straight. A subway car unable to get out of that tunnel, and a museum whose works of art have nothing to say that doesn’t go adrift.
Shattered castaway, your pain sinks and at the same time keeps the boat afloat now that it’s too late.
At this time in history, in which everything worthy prides itself of an order and of a reason, I gave birth to two human beings,
First one arrived
then the other, in that /order/
and I did what you’re supposed to, I read /in an orderly manner/ books that teach you how be a mom.
Experts say that schedules are important and routines are a ritual, life has to be segmented measured cut in little pieces never exchangeable: breastfeeding sunbathing at nine o’clock in the morning. napping breastfeeding and a nap again, and play. when he grows up the diet changes but the essence remains the same: an arepita for breakfast going to school napping then snacking then going to the playground bathing dinner time and tv, and after some time, homework. the playground is important and of course bath time as well. sleeping hours are key. if the son, the first one, or the second one, doesn’t want to go to sleep, say the books you shouldn’t carry rock him in the living room you shouldn’t carry him around while singing him lullabies. you just leave him in the crib and let him cry a little just a little bit so he learns to be independent and at the same time knows you didn’t abandoned him. and you go back and forth from the hallway to his bedroom and talk to him a little and go out again, and so on, until he, the first son or the second one –let’s be honest, after performing this routine with the first boy you cry so much while the baby tries to fall asleep, you end up telling yourself that you won’t do it again. you won’t let the second baby weep like this. or better said you won’t let you cry like this: nor him so little so dependent and so much given to you, nor yourself. the first boy gets tired of crying and falls asleep, truth must be said: fast, frustrated, but knowing he is not alone he falls asleep, and the second boy crying less falls asleep the same. so you corroborate what you always knew, the books are not always right, and you progressively become a better mom not so much thanks to books but in spite of them.
My sons are growing.
So today I came here to tell myself (to remind myself) (to write with ink and needle on the palm of my hand because I don’t like post-its nor not for this) that any branch stays together as long as it knows how to bend itself, accommodate itself, let go of itself. A rigid branch already became a wood chip,
a planet that gazes at us from the future sees it:
that branch was already used as coal
to lessen the effects of a chilly night.
What you care about the most is invisible, and all the rest finishes in a blink. Only the certainty about the good that occurred before the end remains. The pursue and following of intuition and goodness, that is all there is. Subway’s line 6 cannot be suspended in time, if it did, it would become an untranslatable capsule. Maybe, yes, that capsule would appear on the other side, in the reversed universe. In the one that goes backwards. We wouldn’t be there to see it.
Maybe Bruegel and Bang, and Williams, who also wrote a poem about the same painting, are right, I believe them, and faithfully comply: the endings of minimal stories are usually overlooked, ignored.
Today I stubbornly persist on the design of this, my first tattoo. On the palm on my hand. As Sri Dharma Mittra says and Mary Jo Bang’s poem reminds me, potentiated from my own
I may die tonight.
Up there. Take a look up, at the beginning of this post. There they are. Icarus legs. You haven’t found them yet? Search well.
Mary Jo Bang participates in the bilingual anthology “Between the Breath and the Abyss: poetics about Beauty”, a book I started to compile while at the MFA in Creative Writing at NYU. Four years later, my project has taken form and will be published by Editorial Ígneo. Four years later here I am, reading Bang’s poetry, thankful for her writing while seeking for an epigraph for her own section in my book.