"Since flesh can't stay, we keep the breath aloft. Since flesh can't stay, we pass the words along." --Erica Jong

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Before the Beginning

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

--Leonard Cohen

A requiem is a mass sung for the dead, usually in Latin. Requiem aeternam dona eis, et lux perpetua luceat eis, which means "Rest eternal grant them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them." I have loved primarily four requiem masses that make my heart beat faster and my hair stand on end. First, of course, is Mozart's Requiem Mass in D-Minor; then Faure's, and Andrew Lloyd Webber's, which they did on Fifth Avenue in New York City, and Benjamin Britten's War Requiem. Requiem aeternam dona eis, they all say.

I was five when my paternal grandpa died. His funeral was held in a picturesque little chapel in Randsburg, now a historical site. It was the best place they could find for a lot of people to attend. Grandpa had been the Sheriff, and wore a silver star over his heart. He rolled his own cigarettes and kept a little bag of tobacco tied with a gold string in his pocket under the star. When they held me up to look in the coffin and say goodbye, I thought he was sleeping in a bank of flowers. Since then, so many have gone: all the grandfathers and grandmothers, all the aunts and uncles, some of the cousins... Daddy and Mama--all of them without the fanfare of a requiem mass. I loved them all, still do. Requiem aeternam dona eis.

I remember they hung a black wreath with black flowers and ribbons on the front door of the bar on the south side of the main street that ran through Inyokern. It was 1945, a year after Grandpa died. Gold letters across the front of the ribbon said OUR CHARLENE. Charlene was the two-year-old daughter of the bar's owner and his wife. Until that day I didn't know that children could die. Until that day childhood was a safe place to be. Even so, I knew that there remained three things I knew for sure. I was loved. I was still safe. And I would forever be "little" while the rest of the world would forever be "big." Time was nonexistent. The world was unchanging. I used to take Charlene for rides on the back of my tricycle. She died of some undisclosed illness I would never learn the particulars of. Her parent's sold the bar to my mother's brother, Uncle Ray, and they moved away. I made myself sick trying to cry from a sadness I could not feel. "Stop that," my mother said at my noisy attempts at grief. I stopped, after awhile, and put Charlene to rest somewhere in the back of my mind. Every now and again she stirs, and I remember a black wreath on a door. But for the remainder of my childhood those three things held fast: I was loved. I was safe. And the world was basically unchangable. Blessed be childhood.

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About Me

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1. In dreams I am often young and thin with long blond hair. 2. In real life I am no longer young, or thin, or blonde. 3. My back hurts. 4. I hate to sleep alone. (Fortunately I don't have to!) 5. My great grandfather had 2 wives at once. 6. I wish I had more self-discipline. (I was once fired from a teaching position in a private school because they said I was "too unstructured and undisciplined." --Who, me??? Naaaahhh....) 7. I do not blame my parents for this. Once, at a parent-teacher conference, the teacher told me my little boy was "spacey." We ALL are, I told her. The whole fan damily is spacey. She thought I was kidding. I wasn't. 8. I used to travel with a theater reperatory company. My parents weren't happy about this. 9. My mother was afraid that I would run off and paint flowers on my cheeks and live in a commune, and grow vegetables. I once smoked pot. ONE TIME. 10. I don't drink or smoke. (Or swear, much. Well, I drink milk, and water, and orange juice, and stuff. Cocoa. I love Pepsi.) 11. Most of my friends are invisible. 12. I am a poet and a writer. All of my writing on these pages is copyrighted. Borrowing (without acknowledgment) is a sin.