2014 was one of the most arduous years of my life; I lost my 93-year old grandmother, for whom I'd been caring for years, and then totally unexpectedly, I lost my dad in December.
I wrote my professor of classics--Professor Kevin Herbert, whose picture is on the Images page--about his passing, and he replied me with a lovely letter of condolence---and then he himself landed in the hospital a couple of weeks later, and passed away.
I wrote some poetry in response to these losses; last april, and The Big Gray Blur. A photo of the Big Gray Blur precedes the poem; the poem is completely true. I won't say anymore; please enjoy.
this april rain drifts
swords lain down--
last april bellicose chaotic rain. a pugnacious windgust pummeled an old tulip poplar.
my father, in the living room, leaped up. It fell it was so loud.
an evergreen in the cul-de-sac collapsed; as a child I imagined everyone in the lane decorating it
that never happened. only this: our elder trees are dying.
last april I did not know in two months my grandma would break her hip.
two days before she died she responded to my kiss. a soft pursing of fossilized lips which I wet
with a small sponge. she could no longer swallow.
my uncle held her hand as she died. She took one last breath, exhaled, that was it.
last april I did not know my professor would die in the winter.
he flew a B-29 over japan. won medals. fell in love with classic language. poetry.
his advice: Remember your ideals are you so you can’t give them up!
I sprinkled holy water on his forehead as he lay dying. From Lourdes.
he closed his eyes, nodded;
waved good-bye as I left the room,
the hospital tv playing cartoons.
last april I did not know that in one year my father would be dead for four months.
as I left the hospital room the last night of his life---his doctor: He will survive, he is strong.--
he shook my hand. a gesture only reserved for when I would depart: for france. england. india.
or for when he would---
wildshowers. petals of fresh purple.
rain, rain, the draining grace, of rain.
The Big Gray Blur (or, The Owl)
On the 13th day
after my grandmother passed away---
The one true question
whose one true answer
at the end of this poem---
On the 13th day
after my grandmother passed away
her soul ascended to heaven—
that’s what Hindus say.
to this blue-and-gold gem of a world,
needed to celebrate.
So we did.
Friends and family enjoyed a traditional South Indian funereal meal
on our patio.
I was cleaning up,
and saw an owl.
Perched on a branch of a catalpa tree,
it stared at the house.
I looked at it.
It looked back.
threw some trash away,
on the branch,
encircled in a halo
of lesser birds—
cardinals, blue jays, robins—
of the avian species
at the house.
It was getting dark.
I went inside,
but about an hour later
stepped back outside—
it was gone.
The next day
Will it be here?
Perched on the branch
of another catalpa tree,
I stared at it,
and it stared back at me.
I’d cock my head to my right,
it would cock its head to its left.
it flew down,
to the ground,
and looked at me,
from about six feet away,
ruffled its wings.
I looked at it.
We kept each other’s company
for an hour, at least.
As I turned to go inside,
I suddenly turned back,
“Grandma, is that you?”
It returned the next day.
And the next.
One Saturday evening, I’d gone out,
and wondered if it had come by when I was gone.
The next morning,
I went out into the yard,
with a cup of coffee.
As I entered the yard,
a big gray blur
swifted through the corner
of my left eye—
It can’t be him, I thought.
It---now also a he—
perched on a branch near the top of a tall, slender, silver maple tree.
It stared into the sky,
back down at me.
It watched me drink coffee.
Two hours later,
when I left for work,
he watched me leave.
I sent a picture of the owl
to my close friends and family.
“It’s your grandma,” said a good friend, “I know it. She’s with you.”
“That’s her soul,” said my uncle, her son.
“The owl is the spirit or agent of your Grandma, I am convinced,” wrote my nearly-93-year old professor of classics, who would himself, just seven months later, pass away. He continued, “ Just reading your words made me feel exhilarated, for it is a story at once mysterious and believable. It is one of those events which make life a joy.”
So, was my grandma’s soul in the owl?
Had she sent the owl, to comfort me?
One evening, I worked late,
and wondered if I had missed the owl.
I pulled into my driveway,
got out of my car.
Right above the car,
upon a tree branch,
perched the owl.
As if he’s waiting for me
I couldn’t help, but think.
It appeared, every single day, for four weeks—
except for one night, when it poured rain.
I later read that owls don’t like to get their feathers wet.
After exactly 28 days, it disappeared.
(My grandma, by the way,
was extremely precise about time.
If the sun forgot what time to rise,
it would get burned by my grandma’s words:
You have kept me waiting.
I don’t like that.)
Was the owl sent by God?
Or nature? In an understanding of my loss so brilliantly intuitive it defies all logical explanation?
Was it simply pure chance,
that this barred owl—
whose chant sounds remarkably similar to Who Cooks for You?—
which, by the way, is exactly what my grandma might ask me—
chose to alight
on a very small spot of earth,
every day for exactly four weeks,
where a girl
All I do know
If I hadn’t stepped outside
of my house,
outside, of myself,
I never would’ve seen the owl.
He couldn’t have reached me on my phone,
tablet, latest reading device.
(Frankly, he wouldn’t want to. As my professor said, The wise owl was the bird of Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Why would such an intelligent creature leave the splendorous expanse of the endless sky, for a 7, even 9-inch screen?)
My grandmother passed away—
God? Nature? Random quantum fluctuation?
My one true answer:
It doesn’t matter.
It’s a big gray blur--
as the owl’s sudden flight into night—
and that’s the way I like it.