Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Missing Grandmothers, Missing Fireflies, Missing Childhoods

My spouse and I both dreamed about my grandmother this week.  Even before I dreamed about her, I've had her and her house in Greenwood, South Carolina on my mind.

Maybe it's because our weather in South Florida has recently been reminding me of summers at her house:  blazingly hot in the day, stormy by late afternoon or evening, rainy coolness in the morning.  Maybe there's something about the quality of July light.

Maybe it's because I've been going to events and taking dessert in her Tupperware containers, each part carefully labeled with her last name, so she'd be sure to get her Tupperware back when she took treats to gatherings.  It staggers the brain to think how many church events those Tupperware pieces have attended.  And they're still as rugged as ever.

Lutheran theology teaches us that our dead loved ones have gone on to Heaven, but it doesn't encourage living Lutherans to talk to the dead.  The whole idea of our loved ones singing in angel choirs and watching over us--those aren't Lutheran, and most days, I'm glad.

Some days, however, I wish I was part of a religion that had more communication with dead ancestors.

On those days, I turn to poetry.  Writing gives me a way of remembering, of processing my yearning for times and people and places that are gone.  Poetry gives me a way of condensing that yearning into art.

Here's a poem I wrote years ago, before my grandmother died, and even before her house was sold.  Already, I was missing it, but more than that, I was missing my childhood. It was first published in The Palo Alto Review.

Setting Free the Fireflies

The apartment smells like my grandmother’s
house in the summer,
a childhood time before air conditioners
ruled the season.
Gentle breezes,
smelling of mowed lawns
and ripening tomatoes,
lapped their way around our beds.
The nights glowed
with that candle-like quality
which comes from distant street lights
beaming through window blinds
left open to the breeze.
Long after the yeasty smells
of my grandmother’s early morning baking
my parents crept into the bedroom
where I slept on sheets
made scratchy
from clothesline drying.
They took my jar
of carefully caught fireflies
and set my natural nightlight

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