The universe doesn’t let up, and it doesn’t play favorites. Entropy just continues: a snowball rolling downhill. One death followed by another.
Someone said to me, in an effort to provide some comfort, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” But I’ve seen no evidence that this is the case, whether or not there is a god. I see evidence that we just keep on going until we don’t. And we all hit the point that we don’t.
Until we get there, we have little rituals to ease us from one moment to the next. Rituals of goodbye. We are always saying goodbye.
So here is a goodbye:
Analog: Second Hand Stories
My grandmother was
The corners of her mouth
The glass was not half-empty
because there was no glass:
you drank from a pot,
Save the tin foil from
your lunch wrappings.
My grandmother told me
how her mother owned a bakery and
made cakes for the children after Sunday school,
and how she frightened her sisters
with the snakes she found in the brush,
She told me:
“My grandmother was
a real live Indian woman!”
as if her grandmother
were a unicorn
or a primitive on display
at a World’s Fair
(see, they’re not like
It was hard to look at
that hard-edged face
(corners of her mouth
to admit, then,
that I loved her.
It was hard to see
what was written
in the wrinkles of her
skin, to know it is
not her alone
Her world is there,
etched in the creases near her eyes
which saw the water fountains
It was not my world.
It was not my world.
We invented continuity
with the radio.
They are in the desert,
under a dusty sun, in a place I will know to be
They have flown miles, day and night,
running from the winds of a hurricane,
driven like leaves on the breath of the sky
to a place where there is a temple waiting to be burned.
And I ask you, what comes after rust? Even suns
burn low, even hydrogen runs out.
And I will answer,
I am the spirit of reckless abandon.
All I ask this universe is one holy moment,
just one. I don't want it all
to stay still. All I
want is it all to blow away
in a puff of smoke and
ashes like a temple burning
in the desert.
us to decay like
good loam turned under
like the corners of our
sheets when we remake the
bed in order to retain some
semblance of stasis.
Vishnu never loved us: little
pockets of breaking desire,
Shiva's children who shake the
earth with dammed rivers and
drills. This is not wrong.
They're only endings.
We are always saying goodbye.
Thank you. Thank you for being there with me through all of these things. You are the only one who’s seen all of it. Who knows what really happened.
Thank you for putting me into shock that night when I opened my skull on the brick below the wood burning stove, shivering against my father’s body as he cradled me in my favorite blanket and took me to the hospital. It was the only way a child so small could be still long enough to make it through.
Thank you for my freckles, dark constellations on my pallor. Thank you for skin like a wick, that takes Sharpie well, and the bizarre markings I make connecting the dots, or scribbling a phone number, or inking designs over calloused hands used to work and roughness.
Thank you for my terrible brown eyes that in their nearsightedness have afforded me the sweetest odd intimacies, unable to see until my lashes scrape the faces of the ones I love.
Thank you for flexible quadriceps and unholy tense hamstrings. Thank you for untamable wavy hair, and tiny sinuses that clog so often that on the few clear days I have, the whole world smells new. Thank you for keeping records with my scars.
Thank you for reminding me to eat, for throwing fits and shakes when I want to disappear myself in tininess. Thank you for not letting me be too tiny, for demanding glucose.
Thank you for my reflexes, which have let me live another day. One more inch, body, just one more inch, and it would have been different…
Thank you. That’s all I wanted to say.
It’s always personal. But then, a good writer takes these characters, these places and ideas, breathes into them, fills their lungs with air, fills the hearts with yearnings using only a pen or a keyboard, and gives these strange people to us. And they come to mean something. These people, made-up and and make-pretend, become as real as our own families because that’s what a writer does: spies on his or her own family, and those nearby. That’s how these ink-on-paper people become real. No blue fairy. Just careful watching and a lot of thought.
And that’s what Ray Bradbury did: he made Martian boys, careless of their parents’ warnings, sucking down lungfuls of thin Martian air, wild and exuberant and unself-conscious, blind to the irony of the bones and ruins that made their games, he made them real. He made me one of them. He made it so that I could see myself among them. That is no easy thing.
For years in SF I’d felt like an outsider. There were never stories about me, this tangly weird girl-thing. But Bradbury was so sharp about catching childhood by the toes, holding community in his arms, capturing what is the very human, that I never felt excluded, even though he mostly wrote about men and boys, through he eyes of men, about men’s lives. I could see myself in almost all of them. He never shied away from tenderness, which is common to us all.
Mr. Sendak, it has been five years since the last time I cried for the death of a person I never knew personally. It was on June 15th 2007, when Don Herbert died.
I have loved your books and art since I was small, like many an American child. But even when I was little, I noticed something about your work that wasn’t present in so many other books aimed at my five-year-old head. It was a basic thing, though I couldn’t name it until I was older. It was a thing that Ursula K. Le Guin pointed out in her writings about writing, something she implied was missing in C. S. Lewis’s writing, when she reviewed The Dark Tower; he one-upped his readers, condescending slightly to write for them. Mr. Sendak, you trusted me. Respected my intelligence. Fuck, you trusted me to read, identify deeply with Max, and to go on his journey with him, trusted me enough to show me that place of wildness and release, unleashed, you trusted me to cut loose, to break free, and arrive back with Max safely. Maybe not safely, but at least mostly whole, and better for the experience. You trusted me, and all of the other children who would read your work, to get it. Because we never didn’t get it. But try to tell that to all the adults running around.
Don Herbert gave me a sense of empowerment in my ability to do; you gave me a gift just as powerful. You acknowledged my humanness, and instead of moralizing, sugar-coating, or sanitizing, you let me run wild in your pages, fierce and free, and trusted I would do right with this gift.
I hope I did right with this gift.
I do not write this as an offense. I do not write this out of spite. That’s not true. I write this out of spite, but not for her. It’s spite for a system of glossing over all the bad things, spite because we are encouraged to remember things in black and white: the good old days, the simpler times, the people who hurt us who are now deceased. We never want to say bad things of the dead.
My aunt was nothing so bad as that. She was my aunt. She was human. I wanted to go to her memorial when she died in 2007 and say, “She was a brick-headed ox of a woman. She was a Republican, and she was very good at not listening. I think Rush Limbaugh himself taught her the art of the shout-down.” I wanted to say, “She never read fiction, but she read mine, and liked it.” I wanted to say, “Once she sent a children’s story I wrote off to Scholastic without my knowing in order to get it published. I was both honored and offended that she hadn’t asked first.” She told my mother I worshipped Satan, even after I, the mysticskeptic, explained to her about goddesses and mythic reinterpretation. She had a hard time learning chess from me. Maybe I was just a bad teacher, but she dutifully wrote down all the ways the pieces moved and their values, and the rules of capturing en passant. I was proud of her. I was proud of her tenacity. She had such tenacity.
She died of a broken heart. When she was young, her first husband drowned. And then, in 1994, a car struck like lightning through a red light, through her husband, my uncle Carl, and rattled her heart in its ribcage. It never recovered. Not with a piece of it dead in the driver’s seat.
It’s a slow death that takes thirteen years to get you. Scarring in her heart tissue. Not supposed to have wine, but she did. It was cardiac arrest, but I know better. She’d told me how empty all those years were.
I felt like a traitor to my cousins’ pain there in the hospital room, but when I had my time with her, I told her, “I know how hard it’s been on you. I know your sons want you to stay. You just do what you need to. We’ll love you no matter what. Immortality lies on the lips and tongue; I promise I will speak of you.”
I keep my promises.
I never liked the traditional eulogy. “Eu” from the Greek, meaning “good,” and “logos” meaning “words.” Good words, softened by death, for those who have passed. Velvet syllables meant to erase a person, so that the absent sit easy in the minds of the living.
I would rather speak true things of the dead, because in that lies their immortality: to live on the lips and tongues of friends, to pass as stories from loving mouths to open ears. Forget nothing. Smooth over no detail. This is how we can honor their works– to never forget their mistakes, their cruelties and pettinesses, their triumphs and struggles, their joys, their pet peeves, the things they did to piss us off, and the ways they made our lives better.
If we speak only good words of those whom we’ve lost, we are no longer speaking of people. Forget gods and heroes and legends. Remember what was real: I could not understand my grandmother’s harsh critique of dying my hair; I shuddered at the infinite cruelty of beheading the coconut cake lamb every Easter; I was grateful when she kept my secrets; she had no mercy for small cuts and scrapes and was never gentle when brushing out my tangles.