Poem A Day: In Blackwater Woods

I almost titled this post “To let it go” but then I realized that everyone will think I am going to blog about Frozen. I am not going to blog about Frozen. I promise. I swear.

What I am going to blog about is the sadness of changes that happen to the places that have made us. Most especially those changes that happen when we aren’t looking, during those moments when we have turned away, either willfully or via distraction. Or both.

I no longer live where I grew up. In this, I know I am not alone. However, I don’t know many my age for whom the home where they grew up is somewhere they can no longer go. Frost said, in another poem, “Home is the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” But what happens when ‘there’ is no longer there? Or rather, when the place may remain, but none of the people that made it home. What then?

I’m facing the fact that my children will not know the place that made me. They will not play on the land where I played as a child. They will not know the people I have known there, because those people aren’t really there anymore.

A little over four years ago, my grandmother went into a nursing home. The last day I saw her in the house where she raised me, she was disoriented and sad, the dementia already beginning its slow burn through every synapse of her beautiful mind. I was pregnant then, with Maggie, when I watched her namesake, Margaret, leave ‘home’ for the last time. She has been there in the nursing home, and Maggie has only known her there. She has not, will not, know her easy smile while cooking, standing over the kitchen island with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, in her element. She will not know the woman who took me to brownies and held my hand through the sadness of watching my mother (her daughter) be lowered into the ground. None of them will know her, and this is another kind of death.

And now, she is nearing the end of her life. The dementia has ravaged her mind and body, and she is a shell of the person who helped me with my homework and was the closest thing to a mother that I have on this earth. The end is drawing near for her, and it is profoundly sad. Another deep sorrow, heaped upon the others.

My grandfather too, probably the proudest, strongest man I’ve ever known, is also slowing down. He has been living alone since the day she left, and his health is drawing those days to a close. It’s hard to imagine him living in the need of others, and even though he is 83, he seems so strong to me, still. Soon he may be leaving his home, and going to assisted living. The home where I grew up, where I played and laughed and learned and cried so many tears may soon be gone forever. My children may never again step foot into that house, may never see these people who rearranged their world to care for me in the home where all of this caring happened.

And I am completely powerless. I cannot make them well. I cannot make them young enough to do it all again, this time with my children. I cannot fill the void that exists where my mother and father should be. I cannot do anything but stand by and watch it all happen, from a thousand miles away. I still have to get up and wash the dishes. I have to play with the children, and feed them, and change them, and keep a smile on my face.

I have had to let them go gradually, so the pain would not be too severe all at once. I have tried to distance myself from this truth, but it haunts me in those quiet moments: soon and very soon, every parent that I have had will be gone. The people who shepherded me through the first 20 years of my life will be gone. And all before my 40th birthday. Who can say the same?

I am sad, I am bitter, I am resentful of those who have never known profound loss, including at times, my own husband. I am trying so hard to hang on to the idea of that place, but I know that soon, I will have to let it go.

So Mary Oliver speaks again, and I know these words are true and they are fall, especially this one.

In Blackwater Woods
Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Amen.


11 thoughts on “Poem A Day: In Blackwater Woods

  1. This one really spoke to me! I’ve actually been silently following along for a while, and definitely with your “poem-a-day” this month. I think it must have sunk in, because I wrote a poem on my own yesterday just as easily as if I’d been writing a grocery list staring at empty containers of things to replace. That’s not my normal – so I’m blaming you! 😛

  2. That is a beautiful heart wrenching poem. I will pray for your grandmother and grandfather, that is such a difficult transition and it is so hard to say goodbye to such vital places as a childhood home. Peace!!

  3. This is so beautifully said and brought tears to my eyes. My dad died suddenly when I was 11 and we did not see his family a lot after that. I can so relate to your losses and the sadness of knowing your children will not know these people who formed and raised you. I also am sad for you as you must walk in this world without them. It has taken many years for my husband and I to learn to cling to one another so that our family that we have created is our central focus, besides God and our faith of course! God bless you Sarah!

  4. Thank you, thank you for writing. You are a wonderful writer. So glad that you have become a part of our family.

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