I have nothing to give you, nothing to carry,
some words to make me less afraid, to say
you gave me this.
Memory insists with its sea voice,
muttering from its bone cave.
Memory wraps us
like the shell wraps the sea.
Nothing to carry,
some stones to fill our pockets,
to give weight to what we have.
~ Anne Michaels, from “Memoriam,” in The Weight of Oranges/ Miner’s Pond
I knew my mother as a woman bound to earth,
Shattering diagnosis of M.S. delivered
soon after I was.
In the few photos of us together
she is seated, struggling to hold me,
a frowning baby with red-rimmed eyes
and a head of wild curls.
No snapshots of stroller pushing,
happy games of chase
or walks in the park.
Each day, I saw the halting gait,
Heard the sound of one stiff foot dragging,
Scraping the floor with each step.
One hand grasped a cane,
the other clasped the arm of a willing
Husband, daughter, friend.
Gray photographs with curled white scalloped edges,
hidden in a desk drawer,
revealed her dream self —
recalled during sleep —
that I would never know.
She plays high school tennis,
Dashes across clay courts in hot sun,
taut arm swinging a wooden racquet,
short white dress brushing strong thighs.
the modern dance troupe
at Mary Washington College.
In long fluid skirt and ballet-neck jersey
she bends and stretches like Martha Graham,
serious eyes meeting the camera’s —
steady, confident gaze, so sure of gleaming future.
As a child, I rooted out and studied these photographs
Unable to recognize my mother,
yet craving evidence that she had once been whole.
One photograph was taken on Nantucket,
The time my father met her there and proposed.
When he slid a diamond ring onto her finger on Lifeguard Beach,
She jumped a foot off the hot sand
To throw tanned arms around his sunburned neck.
In a photograph from that island trip,
she is slender,
poised beside a bicycle
her hands tight on the grips
one knee coyly bent
the pointed toe of one sneaker pushing into grass,
ready to throw a long leg over the seat
and pedal down a shell-encrusted road
lined with sea grasses waving
to her beautiful young self.