December 22, 2011
Mother was never prepared for Christmas. We would drive around in the old car on Christmas eve looking for a tree. Most of the tree lots would be empty or closed. But finally, beside some gas station, in the dark, a sign would loom, “TREES” and a light would be on. “There’s one! Stop! See? I see a tree…Mother, pull over!” one of my sisters would say. We would all run over to the last straggly tree, pay for it, stuff it in the backseat with me, and head home back to whatever apartment or house we were in that year. Mother would have done all her Christmas shopping earlier that day or maybe the day before, and would stay up all night wrapping and trimming the tree. She never remembered to buy Scotch tape or wrapping paper though, so our presents were often wrapped in newspaper and masking tape. We moved so often that there was never a last years supply of anything. In fact, in ten years we moved twenty-seven times. From one university to another, from one chair to another honorary position, we traveled with the car full of poetry and pets, plants, and daughters. And now it is nearly Christmas, the first without my mother. But she continues to speak. “The eggplant is silent. We put our heads together. You are so smooth and cool and purple, I say. Which of us will it be?”
Mother dearest, don’t slam the door of his rented hacienda in my head today. I suffer too much over you and need a rest. You knew that exhaustion….on your crying jag with Mr. Tempesta or thrown into hell without a trial.
Mother was a lousy Christmas shopper. “Did you shop?” I’d ask as it neared the holiday.
“Oh, I will. Don’t let the cat out…Do you want hear a poem?”
“Yes, but did you buy anything yet?”
On Christmas a person was apt to get an odd selection of gifts from her… It is not to say she was not generous. She would give a person anything and everything, but she just didn’t shop well for holidays. I remember being annoyed at 22 when I opened an old book from her. “It’s The Bat Poet by Randall Jarrell,” she said.
“It was on the shelf in the living room!” I said.
“But it’s still a wonderful book,” she told me.
There was that Christmas when someone tried to burn all the wrapping paper at once in the fireplace, and the chimney caught on fire. All of us women in our pajama’s. The panic. The firemen tromping around among the presents.
We never threw away a single to and from note. Even now, 56 years of Christmas notes float from drawer to drawer through out my house. Mother believed that writing was sacred. Precious.
Mother here it is nearly Christmas and you are 33 days dead. Yet still I hear you teaching a class. I hear you giving a reading. I hear you laughing. How you used to lie in bed in the middle of the night reading and laughing. “I love Thurber,” you’d say when I would come downstairs to find out what was so funny.
Your poetry runs on a tape in my brain when I wake myself crying in my sleep. Fragments repeat themselves over and over.
“There is no choice among the voices of love”.
“and mirrored in the dark, the manikin.”
“In the silence between us, that is despair.”
And when I am not whimpering, I am half torn in two, and pulled like something stubborn from that life and thrust into this bleak freak world where it will have to do…staring out at nothing while you go on reciting in my head…
“Forgotten in a dream of forgetting as pain falls away into no pain.”
“This is the way it is. This is the way it is.”
Abigail Stone is the youngest daughter of the poet Ruth Stone (1915-2011). She is a novelist and songwriter. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Included in this piece are brief quotes from Ruth Stone’s collections In an Iridescent Time, Topography, and Cheap.