GrandMother

For Beulah Karney Powers on her ninetieth birthday, July 1991



 

1. Carmel Valley: Sea Images

Again and again, your old place
rises in my mind:
The Knoll, above the morning fog,
an island of oaks.

I am nine, and I am pretending
that all below the hilltop house
lies under an ancient ocean.

There, at the bottom of that sea,
the white bleached bones
of billions of tiny sea creatures
are turning into chalk rock, are making the land.

Other memory:
Following the fog down the valley,
the weekend visits to the sea,
walks along the sand
at the edge of the world.

At last, back with the fog as night comes on,
we wash up on your island.
Like the ship-wrecked characters
in Shakespeareís last play,

The Tempest echoes:
Prosperoís island, filled with magic,
spirits of earth and air, Caliban and Ariel.
Now at the end of the play,
you step forward to say farewell.
 

2. Carmel Valley: The Two Sides

We perched on the North Side of the Valley,
oaks dotted sparse against the gold,
and faced south to see the green
dense to the top, hiding houses.

In Carmel Valley I had two sides too:
In the summer there I felt wild, free,
the days opened wide.

Hiding high in the oak above the patio,
waiting to pounce.
Crashing down the ravine with the dog,
ignoring rattlesnakes and poison oak.
Finding my way up the hill,
til my sock filled full with foxtails.

And in the silent theatre of memory,
I hear you talking with my parents,
ideas wild and free:
shamanism, astral travel,
the archetype of the anima,
the healing powers within.
The names rise up in the pool of my mind,
de Chardin, Jung, Trueblood, Sanford, Kelsey.

But in my memory I am listening politely
to the grown-ups, and
watching the tea ball explore the depths
of the glass pyrex tea pot
like Professor Challengerís diving bell
in the Mindanao Trench.

So I was also your polite,
self-contained grandson,
following you around Europe,
more adult than I felt.
As in the old photo,
dressed up, thick glasses,
I carefully sip beer with the tour group
in Lucerne.

I think you too felt split between
your California horses,
and the electric typewriter
you brought from Chicago.
You rose early to write,
and rode late in the day.

You taught me the tension between
the arcing leap of creativity, sparking the gap,
and the long slow working out of the story.
I saw you struggle between
the inward search for just the right words
to speak the truth,
and the outward nervous study
of the marketplace,
and the editorial board.

For years you probed the Spanish mystic,
Maria de Agreda,
trying to encompass her as both psychic and saint.

You adventured around the world
(postcards from Aden and the Tonga Islands),
but then you found the ordered pleasures of age:
garden and grandchildren,
sherry and the stock market.

So, Iíll always think of you as two grandmothers:

One, a strong, willful woman,
is always ready to enter new territory.
You refuse to give up,
and inspire me beyond myself.

The other grandmother is an Irish Materfamilias,
Mother of the Family,
for whom grandchildren, and their children,
suddenly become polite, awestruck.
We donít see the one who went out on her own, rebelling against the social order.
Instead, for us, you are that order,
the tradition we must take inside
for ourselves and for our children.

It isnít easy to contain the two sides of the Valley,
the dry and wild, with the green and civilized.
But I think Iíve finally learned from you
the horse-taming trick your father brought from Ireland and taught to you:
To train the wild horse within
and not to break her spirit.
 



Copyright 1998 by Robert Elliott

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